Day 5: Ait Benhaddou to Agdz

Thursday April 11, 2013, 100 km (62 miles) – Total so far: 552 km (343 miles)

Having arrived too late to see Ait Benhaddou the night before, I woke early and made the trip down to the river to see the famous kasbah. After getting lost in a couple of back gardens, I made my way down to the shore and crossed the stepping stones/bags of sand over to the building itself. The kasbah is best known for the amount of films it has appeared in over the years. Films like ‘Jewel of the Nile’, ‘The Mummy’ and ‘Gladiator’ have all used this location heavily.

Ait Benhaddou
Within the walls of Ait Benhaddou

The inside of the kasbah is well restored with some Berber families still living inside, the majority of them making their living selling art and various souvenirs to visiting tourists. The majority of the buildings were closed off but I was able to climb inside a few of them for a look around. I climbed to the highest tower overlooking the rest of the kasbah for a few shots and then wandered my way back down through the side streets to the exit. The exterior looks magnificent and so do parts of the interior but unfortunately the majority of the buildings inside were inaccessible. Nonetheless it was still well worth visiting.

The old town and the new
Within the tower

With the bike packed up I rolled down the hill out of Ait Benhaddou. After climbing over the Tizi n Tichka pass and descending down through the mountains I was being dropped into the searing heat of the desert. This terrain extended from here all the way to Zagora/M’hamid and the true start of the Sahara desert.

A strong wind was kicking up sand all the way along the road. When this is happening and you’re cycling along breathing in heavily from the effort, the sand only has one place to go, straight down the back of your throat. Due to this I wrapped a bandana around my mouth and continued on looking like a strange outlaw slowly pedalling my way through the desert.

I reached the main N9 road soon enough and followed this towards the large town of Ouarzazate. As I was aiming to spend the night in Agdz further south and due to the fact I had enough food and water with me, I bypassed the town and headed directly south for Agdz.

Small town where I joined the N9 again
The N9 cutting through the hills
Bypassing the large oasis town of Ouarzazate

The next 50 or so kilometres passed very uneventfully. Virtually nothing exists between the bypass for Ouarzazate and Agdz. I did pass one strange kilometre long stretch of road which had thousands upon thousands of plastic bags lining it. That was the only short relief I got from the monotonous scenery. I stuck my headphones in turned the music up full blast in both ears and cycled hard into the headwind aiming to pedal my way into some more interesting scenery.

Halfway along this stretch I ran into Stephen, a motorcyclist from England who had spent a good few weeks in Morocco already, taking on a couple of tough pistes in the mountains. After my second day I had seen no other cyclists but countless motorcyclists, it definitely seems like one of the best ways to get around this country with its long desert stretches and rough mountain pistes. This short chat broke up the monotony of the day but soon enough I had to drag myself away and start into that headwind again.

Thousands and thousands of plastic bags!
An ornate gateway at the entrance to the next province
Stephen from England
A short descent before the big climb of the day

After some hard work I reached the small town at the base of the only climb of the day. I was running low on water and food so it came right on time. This climb was all that now lay between me and Agdz. I loaded up on food and water and made an attempt to push non stop to the top of the climb.

I was lucky that the small town had appeared before this climb and that I was able to gather some food and water there. Otherwise I would have been running on empty. The climb took a lot of me and I crested the top of it pretty tired. I stopped for a few photos and relaxed overlooking a canyon at the top of the climb.

The start of the climb up to Tizi n Tinififft
The canyon at the top of the climb

All that lay ahead now was a long 10+ kilometre descent straight into Agdz. After the long hard slog today through completely featureless land I was looking forward to this. I put the MP3 player on full blast again, put on “Right Here, Right Now” by Fatboy Slim and set off down the hill pedalling like a mad man! The road started descending gradually but soon it started getting interesting. It tilted down at the right angle to build up some serious speed and some very interesting tight turns started appearing.

I challenged myself to hit them as fast as possible leaning the bike over as much as I could and pedalling hard out of each corner. I started picking up more and more speed and I began to find a rhythm swooping around each corner right on the edge of my grip. I had a long ribbon of road lying ahead of me, a brilliant view with sheer drops to my right and some fantastic music blasting in my ears. All the hard work of today was worth it for this.

Sweeping around the corners with more and more speed I soon caught up with a long truck that had passed me quite a while back when I was stopped at the top of the climb. I was going a bit faster and there was no way I was going to let this truck spoil this descent on me, so I waited until I had a long straight stretch of road ahead of me, sprinted out into the opposite lane and overtook him. I pulled away on him instantly and soon enough had caught another even longer truck, which had to be the length of an 18 wheeler. Passing this would be sketchy! I rolled up to it’s tail end and hung back.

There was no container on the back so I was able to see ahead of the truck well enough. There were no straights coming up so I waited until there were two sweeping turns where I could see far enough ahead. I slipped out into the opposite lane and pedalled as hard as I could taking the corners side by side with the huge truck. I just about came out of the last corner in front of him and nipped into the right lane. He beeped the horn which meant it probably wasn’t the safest overtake he had ever seen! I continued on high on adrenaline listening to Fatboy Slim’s “Ya Mama” and “Weapon of Choice” on repeat until I hit the bottom of the descent. There were countless great views on the way down but I was in no mood to stop to take photos. After such a hard slog earlier in the day that descent was pure perfection. I landed into Agdz with my heart still pumping from the adrenaline. The hard work involved in cycle touring is usually rewarded by fantastic views, chance encounters with great people and generally more serene things but the feeling on that descent today was well up there. Moments like that make me glad that I’m so addicted to cycle touring.

Kittens in the Kasbah overlooking the campsite

After all this, I ended up in a campsite based around a nice restored Kasbah on the edge of Agdz and pitched my tent for the first time since arriving here. I had a quiet evening here relaxing, reading and eating all that I could get my hands on.

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