Leaving Marrakech I found myself on the N9 towards the Tizi-n-Tichka pass. My intention was to take the N8 and R210 East towards Demnate but somehow was funnelled amongst the traffic onto the N9. No worries, I thought, I will cut North via a side route. Oddly though my efforts kept swinging me back onto the N9. Initially it was frustrating. Various maps were useless and were less than representative. However it proved to be a good route and took me past farms and villages. Increasingly the road worked its way up into the Atlas and offered wonderful views. Finally I took a turning North towards Sidi Rahal on the R210.
The ride across and down towards Sidi Rahal was quite exhilarating. I camped past the highest point but with great views of the snow capped peaks to the South and the Great Plains to the North. Once at Sidi Rahal I had to make my way East to Demnate. It took some effort to get up to Demnate and the heat made it all the more difficult. As a town Demnate appears unremarkable but provides an important crossroads in each direction. I continued climbing into the pine forests before reaching Imi-n-Ifri and a wonderful Gite.
Imi-n-Ifri (grottos mouth in Berber) has a natural bridge created by a collapsed cave. It is quite an extraordinary sight and with care it is possible to walk through it.
I wandered down after dinner and the air was filled with the sound of toads. One jumped close to my feet and in the dark I took a picture.
The Gite is quite near to the cave and the river continues behind it carving deeply through the rocks.
It was all quite beautiful and unspoilt.
I stayed two nights at the Gite and enjoyed wonderful hospitality from the owner who was a retired mountain guide. I was in two minds about what to do next. I could take the road over the Atlas to Skoura and recommended by a friend. But I feared the heat in the South for cycling (it had already been unusually hot) and looked instead to traverse the Atlas East towards the Ait Bouguemez Valley and La Cathedral. Finally I opted for the latter. Ait Bouguemez or ‘happy valley’ had only recently become accessable to travellers and I had heard it described as ‘like Nepal’. I decided to ‘do’ the R302.
I cycled over the busy A7 and thought I had entered a rather modern suburb of Marrakech. But it was the town of Tamensourt. I plodded on and finally found Marrakech. Traffic was heavy and like Kathmandu pollution made my eyes water. I found navigating the city quite confusing but once close to the medina I stopped at a cafe to get my bearings. The Hotel Aday is part of a cluster of budget hotels close to the expansive Djemaa El Fna open square. They are not easy to find and in an alleyway between two roads leading South from the square. Hotel Aday lives up to its Rough Guide reputation as a clean well run place and I was quite spoilt with an en suite shower room and window onto the street. Exploring the medina was an adventure. Despite my aversion to commercial centres the colour and diversity of activity is a wonder to behold. With tiny passageways spread in every direction local tradesmen and craftsmen have clustered together in different areas. Although warned of scam artists and hustlers I did not encounter any at all. There are, naturally, salesmen trying to pull customers towards their shops. But it is good natured and the shop displays they have created are quite compelling. I stayed a few nights and wandered for hours. The square is a focus for entertainers and comes alive with lanterns at nightfall. Having read about animal cruelty issues there I personally did not see a single snake or monkey being paraded in the square. Horse drawn carriages provide tours and are lined up between the square and the Qessabin Mosque which dominates the skyline. Cycling around the Medina walls took me past the royal palace and its rose garden. I doubt I even scratched the surface but enjoyed my brief visit to ‘old’ Marrakech.
Having stocked up on some particularly good freshly ground coffee I headed East for the mountains…