After Thursday’s 10 hour ride, the latter half in crippling heat, I reasoned that I had a right to feel tired that evening but more than that I was totally exhausted and barely able to move. A couple of hours later the reason for this became all too apparent as the bug I picked up in Fes surfaced with ferocity and I was eventually unable to move from my bed for the next 36 hours, save for (very frequent) trips to the loo. I did try once to leave the room to get some more water, but only made it a few feet from the door before being overcome and from then on sent texts to Vince when I needed something. He was brilliant but never short of a quip or 10 this led to his brother, Bruce, somewhat uncharitably labelling him Florence of Arabia! Bruce is of course a complete buffoon, but he is also bloody funny and his cheer-up texts did make me laugh. The problem, down here more than most places (save perhaps Death Valley) is dehydration. I was losing an impossible amount of fluid through various avenues which meant almost no matter how much I drank I
was unable to keep pace. I developed a fever and my vision went wobbly. I can honestly say I don’t recall ever feeling so ill.
Anyway enough of that, we planned to set off and escape the desert on the Sunday (having arrived Thursday). There is only one time to travel down here and that is early so we were up at 5:50 am (well OK Vince knocked on my door at 5:50 am) and after three pieces of dried toast we set off on the piste to go down to Merzouga and the dunes. I actually mis-navigated and took us back the way we’d come in, which to be honest was actually rather easy and not worthy of the pigs ear we made of it coming in.
We had met another Aussie biker a few days previously who was unimpressed by the dunes and described them touristy. As he also scorned our enthusiasm of Fes’s El-Bali medina with “one medina is the same as the next” we just assumed him pig-ignorant but although touristy doesn’t quite capture it he did have a point. The road runs out in Merzouga – literally. Over the space of about 2-3
miles the tarmac is replaced by a loose gravel surface with the shabby town occupying some of it and then the gravel simply disappears under the massive dunes of the Sahara and in every direction all you can see is the picture book Saharan landscape. This really was the end of the road the only way other than back was over thousands of miles of desert – it was also thus our furthest point from home. The problem with Merzouga was its ease of accessibility, you could drive right to the edge of the dunes in a VW Golf, and thus it had become touristed. Moreover it had a slightly unpleasant feel, as towns such as this tend to and the endless streams of people trying to sell you cack and show you and take you to more cack seemed more disingenuous than elsewhere. Not short of paranoia as to where I’d leave the bike I wouldn’t have parked in town for 5 minutes. So we didn’t stop and headed straight to the end of the road to the dunes albeit still followed by cycle based touts.
It had dawned on us earlier that despite our initial misgivings that
actually our Kasbah, the Kasbah Derkaoua, was the real deal – simply because it wasn’t easily accessible. To us that was the real Sahara and the owners could take you to camp in some more remote dunes in a 4x4 if you wanted. Experiencing Merzouga merely reinforced how fortuitous we had been to select this place and the people who ran it couldn’t have been nicer.
We had been in the Sahara for days (my fault of course) and had no real reason to hang around Merzouga other than to take a few snaps of the dunes themselves, which were indisputably superb. Because of my navigational goof we had lost about an hour and we were in quite a hurry to get some snaps and get as far north as possible before the heat started to melt you. Vince was certainly shorter of patience than normal and explained in a perfectly civil tone to the umpteenth request to go see some local wares “Look we’re in a hurry, we just want to take some photos and then f*ck off. OK?” as he perfected his role as relations ambassador. He was of course spot on. And we did exactly that!
Vince had noted I was riding erratically and when I nearly clipped a lorry round a bend on the way to Merzouga I realised that my plan to head further west to see the Todra Gorges was perhaps not the sensible option but to head north for Midelt, as Vince had suggested was. This was about half the distance of the trip to Fez and a decent enough distance for someone who was still somewhat weak and, no two ways around it, initially riding like a tosser. Vince had been slightly surprised at the enthusiasm with which I ran up a mini-dune in Merzouga in my bike kit and unsurprised that I nearly barfed afterwards – I’d only had a bowl of rice and some toast in 3 days.
We stopped in Erfoud at a chemist for supplies – more rehydrating powder and I guess their equivalent of Imodium and set off North. Every mile we rode now would take us a mile nearer home.
This part of the journey we had done before but the Ziz valley is simply stupendous and one of the best rides you can imagine so we were not sorry to repeat
it. The River Ziz must have spent thousands of years carving through the Saharan stone to make this gorge and it really was resplendent. We mentioned the lushness of the oasis at its core in a previous entry, but as you rode along the edge of the oasis the most vibrant coloured flower bushes (no I don’t know what they were called but they were pretty - alright?!) greeted you from the side of the road – it resembled a fastidiously manicured garden. Such detail we seemed to have missed on the route through previously. Also the settlements were cliché desert Africa – low storey mud built dwellings of a single colour. It was a hard life down here and still hellishly hot.
After sensible breaks we ended up in Midelt at a decent hotel. Our itinerary now seemingly shaped more and more shaped by the availability of decent accommodation than things to see! But we have seen so much, that is hardly a problem…
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