Monthly Archives: May 2014

Rabat (2)






Although I did not visit Volubilis many artefacts from the Roman town are displayed in Rabat’s museum of Archeology. I walked South following the Almohad city wall and towards the Grand Mosque via the impressive Bab er Rouah (gate of the wind).


The Archeological Museum is tucked away in a road close to the Grand Mosque and is cited as the most important in Morocco. It is really quite small and surprised me by its limited collection of artefacts. Maybe much of Morocco’s archeological heritage has been squirrelled away into private collections all over the world.






IMG_1115IMG_1111Continuing my historical tour I continued South to Chellah. This consists of the remains of the Roman city and port of Sala Colonia dating from around 200BC which are enclosed within a 14th Century fortress. This was, for me, one of the cultural highlights of my trip. The main gateway and walls are impressive and look quite gothic in appearance. Its builder; Abou al-Hussain ‘The Black Sultan’ also created a necropolis on top of the Roman site. The abandoned buildings and features are fairly extensive and include a number of tombs including those of Abou al-Hussain and his wife. The Roman remains include a ‘Temple of Jupiter’, ‘Arc de Triomphe’ and ‘Pool of the Nymph’. It has, quite surprisingly, all been abandoned for many centuries and inhabited instead by nesting storks.


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Salé and Rabat


IMG_1228   Finally, and after failing to find a spot to camp on the coast, I cycled into the city of Salé. The city is situated on the Northern bank of the Bou Regreg river opposite Rabat. Although overshadowed now by the capital, Salé is the oldest city on the Atlantic coast. Its Phoenician origins date back to the 7th Century and was a prized city under the great Moroccan Sultans. It shares many of the same characteristics as Fes or Meknes including a finely decorated Medersa. The city enjoyed further wealth and success during the 16th Century as a home for the successful Sallee Rovers pirates. The  occupying French force made Rabat the administrative capital of Morocco in 1913 and Salé became a residential suburb. Despite its proximity to Rabat, Salé has retained its timeless atmosphere and traditional way of life. I was keen to find a place to stay and spend a day or so getting to know this historically important city. The Medina is tightly packed with tiny passageways. With some difficulty I steered my bike through the busy markets and searched for a hostel or Riad. Salé does not figure in too many travellers itineraries over and above a day visit. I searched for the only Riad listed in my guidebooks. I spent a lot of time looking for it in the maze of passageways as the light began to fail. Eventually I found ‘La Repose’, knocked on the door, and was led to a comfortable lounge by a maid.  I was presented with a glass of water and told to wait for ‘madam’. The hotel, which consists of a converted Medina house, looked quite spectacular with an exotic interior. A French family sat eating a dinner nearby. I quickly realised that this place was a boutique ‘Moroccan experience’ hotel of some luxury. Having just cycled around 80 miles I felt and must have looked pretty rough. My dusty bike stood, totally out of place, inside the grand front door. I  knew instinctively this wasn’t going to work out. I felt like a large turd on someones favourite lace tablecloth. ‘Madame’ appeared in traditional Moroccan attire including hijab and sat down.. It turned out that she was, in fact English and very well spoken. She told me that there was no rooms available and could not suggest anything. And that was that. I complemented her on the hotel and pushed my bike back out into Salé’s Medina.. IMG_0969 It seems I had exhausted all possibilities of finding somewhere to stay in Salé. The next port of call would be Rabat. There are oodles of places detailed in the guidebooks for Rabat. I found my way over along the cycleway over Pont Hassan II bridge and found Avenue Hassan II which runs next to the Almohad wall of the Medina. Many hotels are grouped close to the Bab Bouba gate. I began my search for somewhere to sleep all over again. It was turning into one helluvah day. In fact it was a Saturday. The weekends are busy in Rabat.  I began working my way down the list of recommended hotels in both the Rough Guide and Lonely Planet. They were full. I was sent to other hotels by these hotels. They were full. I did find one at the lowest end of the scale but looked only marginally better than sleeping on the streets. My last option was to find the Riad Dar Aida where I had stayed on arrival at the beginning of my trip. I had already pre-booked a room there for my final night in Rabat. At around 11pm I was welcomed into the Riad by Majid who manages the place. He had a room for me! Brilliant. I stayed there for the rest of my stay in Rabat and although a little pricey it was a very welcome ‘splurge’ that provided both comfort and good amenities. And good wifi too. Time to recover, refresh and relax. Arriving back two days earlier than anticipated meant that I was able to enjoy a ‘mini’ holiday before returning back to the UK. IMG_1215 I would guess that my arrival in Rabat truly represented the end of my cycling tour of Morocco. All that was left was to dispose of unwanted gear, buy an oversize ‘chinese’ laundry bag for the flight and cycle to Rabat-Salé airport. The hotel manager told me that the ‘patron’ or owner does not welcome guests with bicycles or pets. However he would store my bike for the duration of my stay. This had the unfortunate consequence of leaving me on foot for my stay in Rabat and limited my usual range of exploration. I walked and walked and became a regular tourist. IMG_0992   I returned to the Kasbah des Ouidaias and the Baba Ouidaia gate, where I had originally taken shelter from the rain on arrival in Morocco.  The fortified citadel contains a monastery and its 11th Century mosque is the oldest in the city. There is a viewing platform and beach access from the walls closest to the sea but several young men blocked the road and said that it was for residents only. I gathered later that it is public access and should have ignored these mischievous people but at the time I turned back. IMG_0995  I made my way along the quay by the Bou Regreg. Rowing boats ferry passengers to Salé on the opposite shore.  Once past a sailing ship converted for use as a restaurant I walked up hill towards the Hassan mosque and Mohammed V mausoleum.  IMG_1002 IMG_0997 IMG_1005 The Hassan mosque was an  overambitious project that was begun in the late 12th Century by the Almohad Sultan Yacoub el Mansour. Its construction slowed even further after his death but then was partially destroyed by the Great Earthquake of 1755. Its minaret still dominates Rabat’s skyline. Behind lies the Mausoleum of King Mohammed V whose body was interred there following his death in 1961.The park next to the Minaret is a popular place for skateboarding. IMG_1009 IMG_1013 IMG_1035 IMG_1038 After dinner I took a walk through the Sidi Al Khattab (Martyrs’ cemetery) that extends from the Medina down towards Rabat’s 1920s built lighthouse. The headstones all face Mecca. I sat on the rocks by the sea watching the sunset.  On the road back I saw a lad throwing quite a large rock which hit a parked bus. A man jumped off the bus and ran towards him. People scattered as he too threw a large rock and which narrowly missed the first mans head. There then followed a chase as this second man turned and ran uphill.  A large gang of men ran after him. It seems they had been playing football and had some issue with the man on the bus. I did not fancy his chances against the mob after his blood. It seemed like a serious business given that if any of the rocks thrown had struck home they would have caused injury or death.. IMG_1053IMG_1057IMG_1064 IMG_1054 IMG_1074

Sidi Slimane to Kenitra




It was tempting to visit the Roman ruins of Volubilis North of Meknes. It figures highly as a ‘must see’ on the tourist trail. However, and having already researched the site on line earlier, I decided to give it a miss. Furthermore rather than follow the main roads back towards Rabat I pushed towards the Atlantic coast a little further North via the R705 and the Foret (Forest) du Garb.


Despite the missed opportunity to see the remains of Ancient Rome’s most Southern outpost I quickly realised the importance of Volubilis and the surrounding area to the Roman Empire. In every direction as far as the eye could see wheat and barley gently swayed in the breeze. I cycled past extensive vineyards and fields with countless lines of olive trees. It is one huge bread basket.






The R705 gradually climbs into the most Western hills of the Middle Atlas before dropping down towards the Atlantic  coast. I stopped in the city of Sidi Slimane at a cafe for yet another tajine cooked casserole.  Sidi Slimane is a busy modern city and administrative centre for the region. As I sat eating I noticed that cycling there was a popular form of transport.. more so than anywhere else I had seen in Morocco. People had pretty good bikes!



After dinner I set out towards the Foret du Garb which lies approximately 10 kilometres to the West of the city. I had noted this forest on a map when initially planning my trip to Morocco as a potential place to camp. The forest extends over quite a wide area and is home to a Moroccan airforce base.

I had hoped for a dense wooded forest to make camp for the night. I was wrong. The ground was mostly sand and the pine trees provided little cover.  After a bit of a trek pushing my bike deeper and deeper into the forest I found a half decent spot with some ground cover and a good view. But no sooner than I had settled in to my sleeping bag for the night than the tent became surrounded by noisy goats. Two herdsmen appeared and were curious as to my identity. After a brief exchange we shook hands and they continued moving their goats through the forest.  Its odd.. but it seems that wherever you are in Morocco, however remote,  you are never far from someone that will notice you. This certainly makes  solo ‘stealth’ camping difficult. I was a little worried that I may have had a visit from people attached to the nearby airforce base should they have been told of the strange foreigner camped in the woods. But the night was blissfully uneventful.


The next mornings ride took me quickly out of the forest and into Kenitra closer to the Atlantic. My plan was to camp next to the sea before  making my way further down the coast to Sale and Rabat. Once past Kenitra the road dropped down as it ran South following the line of the coast. It was a superb ride despite an increase in traffic. But my enthusiasm for finding a good place to camp on or near a beach led me back towards Kenitra via the seafront at the local resort of Mehdya. It was a pretty nasty little seaside town which had as much appeal as the worst kind of English equivalent. Escaping the horrors of Mehdya or Merde-ia as I renamed it took me past a large multi-hotel building site.   I backtracked to where I had left the main coast road. Giving up thoughts of an ideal spot to camp by the sea I decided to try and find somewhere to stay in Sale instead.

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I cycled along the N1 South to Rabat through Sidi Bouknadel. The ride along the coast road reminded me a little of a similar road running South to Negombo in Sri Lanka. It had quite an exotic, yet local flavour with roadside markets and smiling people.    Once again I was making a return run having ‘done’ the distance and encircled much of a country riding my bike.

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The N6 or ‘Route Principle Fes Meknes’ from Fes to Meknes was a fairly pleasant morning run. Once out of Fes’s suburbs and into countryside the road gradually dropped down through a series of undulating hills. The fields of crops contrasted greatly with the Southern plains that I had seen.  There is little to distinguish it from similar farmland in Spain or France. Closer to Meknes the cereal crops gave way to fields of olives tree and grape vines. I stopped at one ‘Domaine’ hoping to pick up some wine but to no avail. Farmworkers were very friendly though.

Meknes is a modern metropolis with its ‘Ville Nouveau’ extending East towards Fes along the main road and railway line. The old city and Medina stands proudly on hills to the West.  Several short climbs brought me up to the sultan Moulay Ismail’s  city walls and to the Bab Mansour; one of the most beautiful gateways I had seen during my visit to Morocco. The sultan made Meknes his capital city during his reign of Morocco (1672 -1727) and this gateway was one of his crowning achievements.


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The fearsome sultan Moulay Ismail transformed Morocco during his 50 odd years rule. His enthusiasm for building and creating formidable architectural works entailed being fairly ‘hands on’  and included doing a little labouring himself. He used some materials including marble columns for his gates and buildings from the nearby Roman town of Volubilis. He also fathered over 1000 children. He must have been a busy man. However his main reputation came from his capacity for killing people sometimes in quite an arbitrary fashion. Looking at one of his wives would have resulted in a quick dismissal and death. It has been estimated that he killed over 30,000 people and made public displays of severed heads as a way of instilling fear and maintaining order.

The Bab Mansour and nearby smaller Bab Djemma en Nouar now provide the entrance to indoor displays. Opposite them is the Place De Hedim; a grand square or courtyard that leads to the Medina and food halls.



Place el Hedim is similar in some respects to the Djemma el Fna in Marrakech. The square takes on a different life in the evening as street entertainers including snake charmers draw crowds around them. One side is lined with open air restaurants with an indoor food market behind. At the far end of the square is a green roofed palace and large tiled wall with, now redundant, water pipes.




The indoor food market was a dazzling display. Many of the stalls were enhanced by beautifully hand painted alcoves and intricately patterned boards. The food displays themselves were a sight to behold. Stopping at a butchers stall a young lad demonstrated to me how he could, with some force and a big smile, remove a tongue from a cows head.


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Beyond the food hall and back across the main square past the mosaic tiled wall I entered the narrow passageways of the Medina to try and lose myself. Quickly I happened across the entrance to another ‘Bou Inania Medersa’ which was open to non- moslems on the payment of 10 dirhams. It was quite similar to the one I had seen at Fes and had been built around the same time  (1340-1350). Despite being built by his predecessor Abou el Hassan it also, like the Fes Medersa, took its name from the Sultan Abou Inan.

Apologies for the large number of photographs shared below but it was a very interesting place to visit and the detail is quite amazing. It was possible to walk up stairs to the first floor and look inside small cells  which provided simple prayer rooms with windows onto the courtyard below. Another flight of stairs allowed visitors on to the roof. The  ribbed domed roof in the panoramic photographs below is quite unusual and unique as an architectural feature in Morocco.

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The open area behind the main wall and gate of Bab Mansour provides an inner courtyard area (Place Lalla Aouda) with plenty of trees and seating. I took a gate through the next main wall and made my way beyond the Eastern wall into a more modern Meknes.  Trying to get back I became quite lost in the maze of passageways and dead ends but was quickly pointed back in the right direction.

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On arrival in Meknes I had found one of the cheapie hotels listed in a guidebook. The Hotel Regina is on the heavily congested main road leading up to the Bab Mansour. A very helpful young chap provided me with a ground floor room. I looked at it quickly and although spartan to the extreme thought little about it before setting off for my afternoon walk around the old city. On the way back I had a delightful meal in a cheap local cafe.

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Once back at the Regina hotel I realised that conditions there were much worse than I had initially thought. There was no real security. There was no electricity or light. Both the window and door were unlockable from the inside. It was, in effect, a  prison cell type room with little to recommend it. I have become a little less keen on such arrangements since I was a victim of an attempted robbery (and stabbed) in what I thought was safe accommodation visiting Bir in India last year. I asked for another room. Nothing was available so I trudged off to find another place despite it getting quite late. The Maroc Hotel nearby was the answer to my prayers. I was able to leave my bike in a central courtyard (with mature orange tree) and was provided with a wonderful room at the same price (100 dirham) as the ‘hole of Calcutta’ Regina Hotel.  I was in heaven and slept like a log. After a hot morning shower and a good breakfast in the ground floor lounge I packed up my kit.. The R705 West led uphill past the old walls and  ‘grand taxi’ rank of Mercedes saloon cars.  It was a brief visit but I liked Meknes; its relaxed convivial atmosphere and genial people.



Fes (2) Medersa Bou Inania



Walking East of the Kasbah En Nouar along the Talaa Kebira main passageway into the Medina led me to The Medersa Bou Inania. The religious and most extravagant monument created during the Merenid period was completed during the 14th Century.  The cost of producing such a beautiful monument were so great that on completion the Sultan Abou Inan threw the accounts into the river and declared that such ‘a thing of beauty is beyond reckoning’. It certainly is a sight to behold even now and has been partially restored to its former glory including a wooden ‘water clock’ of 13 windows with overhanging struts perched above the main entrance in the passageway and also pictured in my previous post. This monument is regarded as the ‘Taj Mahal’ of Morocco. Somehow I slipped, accidentally, into a prayer hall that was supposedly off limits to non-muslims and sneaked some shots. Oops!

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My 3 day stay in Fes did not all go as planned. I was keen to try out different foods. One less than palatable thing was a salted rancid butter. I bought a little and forced it down..with a little bread. This turned into a bit of a horrorshow experience. My guts turned into a portable water cannon and I was so faint with dehydration that I could barely stand. The salty sachets of medicine I got from the nearest pharmacy tasted horrible too. I lost my third day in Fes laying in bed and trying to get fit for the next stage of my bike ride. My fault I guess. I imagine that the rancid butter  I ate had been teeming with bacteria and given me food poisoning. Anne, at home, suggested that maybe I had contracted dysentery and it was not something that she would like brought back. As a nurse she is always so caring… However  I improved sufficiently to feel fine  (and stand without falling over) about cycling to Meknes.


I left early and made my way to the gate Bab Mahrouk. Swallows filled the air and swooped low. The main walls have small holes in them and swallows use them for their nests.

Once again I felt a little sad to leave. It is difficult to leave such amazing, magical places. Despite the tummy complaint Fes had been a wonderful experience and most of the people I had met one way or another had been very friendly.

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Fes (Fez)



I pulled an all nighter and, having arrived in Fes (Fez) El Bali at three in the morning, found my way to the Western gate of Bab Boujeloud. It is a focus for travellers and many of the budget hotels are nearby. Once again street cleaners were my friends. The well equipped municipal cleaning services are very efficient at clearing the streets of the previous days rubbish. I had wandered in to a Southern gate of the Medina and after asking directions was escorted to Bab Boujeloud by one of the cleaners. I found the well recommended Hotel Cascade just inside the gate and returned to sit next to a Cafe with some of the cleaning team managers. The Cafe opened very early and so was able to enjoy a badly needed coffee.


The Hotel Cascade figures in every guide book as the ‘grandaddy’ of budget hotels with an excellent position to explore the medina and unmatched roof terrace with good views. With such publicity it is oversubscribed by backpackers.  Once open I peered in the doorway. The stairs are narrow and it looked quite unsuitable for carrying my bike. As it turned out there were no rooms available. Wearily I began the arduous task of finding somewhere suitable to ‘hang my coat’. Round and round I tramped. There are lots of Riads tucked away down passageways but the thought of forking out for some overblown boutique hotel kept me from making enquiries. Eventually I found myself at the gateway to the old Kasbah en Nouah a few minutes walk up from the Cascade Hotel. I was suddenly met with a flashing smile and an invitation to look at his ‘hotel’.. My knee-jerk reaction to such suggestions is usually a polite ‘no thanks’ but on this occasion I thought I would check it out. Through the 15th century gate and immediately on the left was the ‘Pension El Kasbah’. This man was the owner.. and his father had a small food shop opposite. It was delightful and cheap! Traditional Moroccan furnishings, fabulous hot shower, rooftop balcony and good facilities.  Initially I was offered a slightly pokey room without a window but then negotiated a lovely double on the first floor close to the wifi router. Lady luck had smiled on me and I had landed very nicely in Fes.



Fes itself compares to Marrakech in terms of the Medina and its complex maze of passageways that provide a spectacular display of medieval buildings. However Fes predates Marrakech and enjoyed a ‘golden age’ of prosperity during the 13th to 15th centuries during which it became the ‘Baghdad of the West’. The Medina at Fes El Bali has UNESCO world heritage status and is cited as the worlds largest car free urban area. Personally I preferred Fes as a city over Marrakech and felt that it offered a better experience. Fes is set amongst hills and has many historical sites spread across the city as a whole. The old city Medina reminded me of Kathmandu and a magical step back in time. However Marrakech seemed better for shopping, traditional crafts, workshops and well positioned as a starting point for desert excursions or mountain trekking. I feel lucky to have had the privilege to visit both places..

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Ouaouizarht to Beni-Mellal



Having enjoyed a wonderful evening and night overlooking the reservoir I continued my way down and then followed the road East  towards the Oued (river) Laabid. Once again I was astonished at the profusion of spring flowers everywhere. April is a beautiful time to visit Morocco and before the heat starts to drain the life from the countryside.


My plan was to reach the town of Ouaouizarht and then North to Beni-Mellal which is a major transport hub for traffic moving between Marrakech, Casablanca , Rabat and Fes.  The Middle Atlas range runs parallel to the High Atlas but then stretches as far North as the Rif mountains East of Fes. I was presented with three routes to get to Beni-Mellal none of which were particularly great. The most direct route was via a busy road over a mountain. A more favourable route headed East and climbed slowly before finally stretching over the range and then circling back West towards the city. I studied that road a little through binoculars before setting off in the morning. It did not look fun.

The ride down through fields was lovely. The rocks and soil seemed a darker red than I had seen before and contrasted greatly with the brilliant green of the spring vegetation. It is a quiet area with traditional buildings and little traffic. The road connects with the Northern shore of the reservoir via a new bridge and road cut into a hillside.


Once in the modern town of Ouaouizarht, which took a little longer to reach than expected, I considered my options. The best route to take really was the most difficult. With the help of a local student I packed my bags and bike into the boot of a ‘Grand Taxi’ (Mercedes) and ‘experienced’ a ride up and over the mountain that separated us from Beni-Mellal. Looking at the road and its traffic I was glad I did but at the same time it was a little hair raising. The driver drove as fast as he could and overtook every other vehicle at every opportunity which included blind bends. I was crammed into the rear of the car which was carrying 7 people and seated next to car sick man. He spent the journey with his head hidden by his partially unravelled turban and his face in a plastic bag. Lovely. Once over the top of the mountain and descending I wished that I had been on my bike to enjoy the ride down. However the traffic was quite heavy and happy to be driven instead. It was a fair old distance to Beni- Mellal once we hit the plains and at around £4 thought the taxi ride an absolute bargain.

Beni-mellal is a modern city and has little to attract travellers aside from its transport links. However the local open market was in full swing and walked through. The old walled Medina of the city has been modernised beyond any historical interest. However I cycled around it and chatted with some cool friendly people including a few local lads with bikes and shared the strawberries I had just bought.


My original itinerary had been to visit the ‘royal cities’ of Meknes and Fes before cycling down through the High Atlas and then returning to Rabat on a coach via Marrakech. Having travelled down the coast and then to Marrakech before the Atlas I now had my sights set on completing the Royal City tour. Fes, like Marrakech, is a big attraction for travellers. So I decided, given my timescale, to book a coach ticket to Fes. Using regular coach services is very cheap in comparison to those offered by private tour operators. Rather than staying over night in Beni-Mellal I opted for a night bus. At the bus station I struck up a conversation with a young woman from Marrakech who, as it turned out, had been stood up by her boyfriend. She had travelled all the way from Marrakech to meet up with him only to be told that he was ‘too tired’ to meet her. We got on quite well and had coffee and a good chat at a local cafe. Enarbaj caught her bus back to Marrakech and I waited for my 9pm coach to Fes and the third part of my tour of Morocco.



Cycle ride to Zaouia Ahanesal in the High Atlas, Morocco


The beginning of the second half on my cycle ride along the R302 which traverses the High Atlas past Agouti towards La Cathedrale. This video was shot from one of the highest points (approx. 2800m) and drops quite nicely down to the village of Zaouia Ahanesal. Awesome ride with fantastic views. I was travelling at over 35mph at various points although had to rein in quite a bit for the turns. Surly LHT around 23 kilos fully loaded.. plus me.

Note: Oddly the video’s soundtrack linked via WordPress sounds slightly butchered by the host despite the fact that the music is already combined with ambient sounds; wind etc. But, and this is interesting, the same video on my Facebook page sounds fine. So I suggest you check out the Facebike link to the right for a better audio experience.

Tilouguite to Barrage Bin-El-Ouidane




With an early start I continued North of La Cathedrale on the R302 which was now a sealed road. It led in time to the town of Tilouguite where a souk or market was in full swing and where I had an early lunch. IMG_0494



Once gain the road began to climb until I had a long view of the surrounding mountains. It was somewhat bleak and windy as I climbed towards one final pass before reaching the reservoir at Bin-El-Ouidane. It took a while but then the road levelled, cut through grazing land, curled and began to drop. The road went down and down and down.. The road surface was poor and badly weathered. Clouds clung to the hillsides. Eventually I had a view of the reservoir that lay below. I felt a little sad as I felt I was leaving the High Atlas range, possibly for the last time. But the view of the ‘barrage’ or reservoir was quite thrilling and was a remarkable sight. I pitched my tent before dropping too far so that I could enjoy and wake up to the wonderful view.


La Cathédrale



The combination of sunshine and good temperature made for a perfect cycle ride. Although it was a fair old ride up towards the pass which would finally lead to La Cathédrale, the mountain road did not present too much of a challenge and nicely wound around and up through the range. The Marathon XR tyres were in their element and tackled the rough track with ease. My legs were now pretty good and I was able to quickly climb and enjoy breathtaking views. Awesome!


I had to cross a few rivers that cut across my path and, like my experiences in Ladakh, the road was sometimes crumbling away or partially blocked by rockfalls but I did not have to unload or carry the bike. It was good to have a decent snow fed water supply.











Apologies for this post being a little picture intensive especially to anyone on a lacklustre internet connection. However I loved this part of my journey and want to show how absolutely amazing this part of the world is and, hopefully, encourage others to cycle this route. The R302 from Demnate to the Bin el Ouidane reservoir via Ait Bougomez is less than 200 miles of breathtaking scenery and quite a departure from the mainstream Moroccan ‘experience’.

Once up and over the pass close to Le Cathedrale the road dropped away and I cycled down through a pine forest and towards the river Melloul.  The great monumental rock at Le Cathedrale is a huge draw for climbers and base jumpers. The magnificent rock stands proud above its surroundings. It reminded me a little of Sigiriya or Lions Rock in Sri Lanka.