We decided to ride straight from Fes to the Sahara dunes because the map showed little of interest for a stopover, a fact reinforced by the shabby settlements we were to later pass en route. As Vince would say decidedly “one-horse”. We figured we could always duck out at Midelt or Er-Rachidia if we were just too fatigued. It would have been a long day’s ride on European roads with European standards of driving – the Morocco factor doubling the effort required.
Unusually we decided to take heed from the folly of our previous departure at midday and determined to set off early to get as much riding as possible before the heat of the day started proper. Panniers packed from the night before and arising at 6 am had us under way before 7. It was a deliciously cool 19C when we left and the roads out of Fes were empty – no sign of the motorised touts that vied for your business on the way in. Soon we were ascending the Middle Atlas. Any increase in temperature as the day wore on was offset by the increase in altitude so the temperature stayed fairly constant. It was a
fantastic ride, the road curved back and forth as it ascended the atlas surrounded by Cedar forests. Presently as we left the cedar forests behind the landscaped changed to that of a high altitude desert. We were at just over 6000 ft (damn useful those GPS things) and the road had levelled out, into a series of straights as far as the eye could see 30-40 miles or more each one. With nothing on the road it was an opportunity to make some good progress and we edged the speedo up to 90mph. This was fine, if somewhat bone-rattling as the road surface was poor up here. The landscape was barren desert but the sheer scale of it no less interesting. Periodically a whole slab of desert would have shifted from the base creating weird mini cliff like structures that ran for miles. The landscape changed from pale to deep red, more becoming the deserts of Arizona or the Australian outback.
Although we were well rested from 2 days in the palatial Palais Jamais, our last evening meal in the medina had not agreed with either of us and apart from the usual symptoms I had a nagging nausea.
This aside we were making excellent progress and it was only prudence that elected we stop in Midelt at around 11:30 for a drink, because we could have carried on. I felt worse when I wasn’t riding anyway. If there is a cure for diarrhoea then perhaps it is being faced with Moroccan toilets en route – the one shown here was actually one of the better ones at the café in Midelt. Anyway stupidly we hadn’t brought any loo roll.
We were feeling uber-confident we would now make Erg Chebbi, however a couple of hours later in Er-Rachidia we were completely spent – I certainly couldn’t continue. As we came off the plateau the mercury increased up to the mid-thirties and that was in the shade. I have no idea what the effect of the sun itself was, but for example it felt like my boots were placed in an oven. We rolled into a café and just drank fluids for an hour. We hadn’t eaten all day and although we both felt under-par we knew we had to get some calories to give us the fuel to continue. We checked the guides for accommodation and there was
a highly rated one at the top end of the dunes, i.e. nearer to our current location. Other places were another 25-30km south, which seemed a long way given our current tiredness levels.
If we were physically tired the scenery provided something of a lift. The Ziz river cut a gorge through the arid landscape and the road was now winding through gorges, clinging to their sides. Mesmerising riding. As we turned one such corner we were confronted with an overwhelmingly lush valley – the Ziz oasis. Palm trees and general dense greenery hugged the river floor, whilst up on the road there was nothing but sand and rock.
Our accommodation selection, saving us a precious few km, had seemed a grand plan until we realised at the turn off at Erfoud (the place had an identity crisis – calling itself Erfoud and Arfoud intermittently) that the bitumen ended and we were to take the piste. No problem we felt and we had the bikes, if not necessarily the skill, to do that. As we approached the end of the black top we met a couple of Aussies coming the other way. Matey boy on his KTM Dakar
990 had all the gear, but cited the piste as too hard going with too much deep sand and quote “it wasn’t worth breaking your leg for”. Hmm, we didn’t have many other options anyway so we set off. The sand is amazing, it is so fine that when displaced it fills the resultant void with the fluidity of liquid. I think they call it fesh fesh. The piste fluctuated between what we more or less expected, corrugated and rough but more or less compact surface, and 20-30m stretches of fesh fesh. We both managed to get through each stretch although not very elegantly – mostly waddling through under power. It was almost impossible to tell where the road actually was as there were tracks in all directions and no delineation across a broad flat plain. The “road” though was shown on the GPS and I tried to keep as close to the yellow line on the GPS as possible.
After about 45 minutes we came upon the Kasbah in the most remote location you can imagine – there isn’t even a road for 10km in every direction. It was quite a sizeable place, like a mini-fort but constructed
out of mud and straw compound which is typical of construction here and uber-authentic to boot! The compound had large gardens through the middle with various terraces and a pool area, with a few bedrooms dotted around the outside. It must have easily occupied a several acres – although I guess real estate isn't exactly at a premium here. With a well providing water for the compound, including the pool and carefully manicured terraced gardens it truly was an oasis in the middle of nowhere.
We secured a double bedroom each and then just flaked out on one of the terraces. I was totally exhausted and I don’t think Vince was that much better – we had been riding for 10 hours with the last few hours in interminable heat. But we had made it to the Sahara proper!
Note: This has not been posted up for several days due to lack of internet in the Desert
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