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.