We’d been in Agadir for four days, hardly venturing out of our hotel. That was intentional. Nev needed a couple of days to prepare our tax for the accountant and I wanted to catch up with our blogs and sort out photos. Poor wifi, even when using our phone data, was a source of frustration, stretching out the hours we spent indoors. We’d been on the go since April and even though we had a few periods of 2 or 3 nights in one place, that was always to take in the sites, and we had walked many kilometres each day. I particularly was keen for a proper rest, so apart from a couple of walks around the block to get food, a walk to the Souk, and two visits to Agadir beach, we had been very laid back. It seems that Agadir may not have more much than that as far as tourist sightseeing goes. The city was totally destroyed in an earthquake in 1960, and up to 15,000 people killed; 1/3 of the cities population at that time.
I’d be fooling myself if I didn’t acknowledge that I was anxious about riding in Morocco. So to get a feel for the country, we decided to do a three day loop on the bikes.
Day 1, Agadir to top of Paradise Valley
40 km Ascent 1130m Descent 538m
We easily rode to Agadir’s outer suburbs and admired the grand real estate we passed. Some of the very large homes had green lawns, something we hadn’t seen until now, as the green spaces representing parks on the map had been browned off dust bowls. We were advised later that this suburb was the home to expats and corporations. Then we turned a corner and faced brown hills, scrubby bushes and cactus. Nev commented sarcastically “I’ll be interested to see what ‘real’ desert is like!” Our route planner had taken us on a little road, with a patchy tarmac surface, and virtually no traffic; which is a good thing. We had been climbing through the outer suburbs but the climbing now began with a vengeance. We climbed 536m in 14 kilometres at 4kph, not much greater than walking pace! Then we plunged into a valley, loosing all the height we had gained, and joined a well formed (main) road, climbing at a gentle gradient into Paradise Valley. The oasis of many date palms was a stunning contrast to the arid countryside, festooned with scrub and cactus that we had been riding through. On our approach to the valley, there was a shop with items that would appeal to tourists. The shop keeper ushered us to the rooftop “for the best photo” and invited us to enter other display rooms on the way down, of many colourful bowls and plates, some jewellery and Ammonites, as well as rocks broken to reveal coloured crystals. All very beautiful but we are not adding to our load, “no, not even a necklace”. Around the corner we stopped at a small shop, hoping for lunch but came out with an ice-cream and bananas. Up to now we’d seen two shepherds watching their small flocks of a half dozen sheep, and a female goat herder so we found it interesting to sit under the shop’s canvas porch, in the shade, watching the comings and goings of a number of people. A couple of motor scooters for a petrol fill from a plastic soft drink bottle, a delivery of bread, carried in a cane basket on the back of a motorcycle. We snacked on the supply of food we’d brought with us; dates, apricots, walnuts and almonds before getting back on the bikes and facing the heat.
Onward and upwards, there was a lot of dusty road works; it appeared that they are trying to make the road edges more secure so that when heavy rains come, the road will stay intake. We passed a couple of places where huge chunks of concrete had dropped away. At the moment the river is flowing at such a slow rate, some restaurants (that appeared to be not open) have put plastic chairs and tables in the stream of water, so that potential customers can cool their feet while eating. A heavy rock on the seat kept the furniture from floating away. We continued climbing gradually in intense heat as, in the afternoon, there was virtually no shade in the gorge. We came across a parking area, and vehicles parked along both side of the road. With thirty vehicles in one place, we applied our usual thought of ‘this many people can’t be wrong’ so we pulled into the parking area and walked down to another palm shaded Paradise Valley, and stopped for a soft drink at a restaurant. One group of tourists was eating lunch of tagine. Tagines (clay pots with burning hot coals underneath) were lined up along the bench waiting for customers. They looked delicious but we weren’t hungry. Back at the bikes, the carpark attendant came over for a chat. As we were about to ride off he said “there’s one other matter; the car park fee”. Fair enough!
The afternoon continued with climbing and more climbing. For me the best approach was to put the bike into ‘walking mode’, that is gear one, and try to ride at a cadence of about 60, one pedal stroke after another, while focusing on the view of the stunning gorge cliffs to the side, rather than looking up to see how much more climbing there was because I knew it was going to be never-ending. The heat was intense! Nev thinks my Garmin is incorrect when it displayed 40C, but even drop it by five degrees and it’s too hot for my riding comfort. We’ve come from 6 weeks of flat riding in cool temperatures to the opposite extreme and my body is struggling. The best thing Nev did was pre-book a room at Hotel Tifrit, with a pool, (that actually contained water) 17 kilometres before Imouzzer (which we know is at the top of the climb). We take a refreshing swim before dinner of grilled chicken, couscous, vegetables, and chips. We are offered wine, and are so surprised (we had been lead to believe that alcohol was generally unavailable) that we said “yes a glass with dinner would be nice” didn’t ask the price (advice we had read about). We are given a bottle of Gris, made in Morocco! After dinner we established that breakfast would be served at 8:30. That is late for us as we still have 17 kilometres to Imouzzer and would like to ‘beat the heat’ but apart from dried fruit and nuts we have no supplies, so we have no option but to wait.
Day 2 Paradise Valley to somewhere in the middle of nowhere!
75 km, Ascent 1544m, Descent 1774m, Riding time 7 hours and 4 minutes!
We had the bikes packed before 8:30 but hadn’t noticed any signs of other life at the hotel. We went to the restaurant and waited. Eventually we were served a fried egg each, and given some flat bread buns, honey, almond butter and jam.
On the bikes we rode the 17km to Imouzzer in 2 hours 6 minutes! The scenery continued to be stunning as we climbed to the full height of the gorge and then had a small reprieve when we turned into a high broad valley with some crops, or fields ready for planting. At Imouzzer we found a cafe open and when we asked about food we were offered lunch of fried eggs, garnished with olives and tomatoes, served with flat breads and bowls of oil and honey. Quite tasty but at this age do we need to watch our cholesterol levels?
The next 17 km was covered in 50 minutes as we dropped into another valley. With a bit of a head wind holding us back we dropped at a comfortable rate, not needing to brake too intensely. Stretched before us was ‘wow factor’ scenery. The valleys we viewed were oases of green palms; quite a contrast to the reds or golds of the cliffs, that changed from valley to valley.
We knew we had three major climbs and had completed two of them; each at least six kilometres long, with gradients of 7-12%, we rode no faster than walking pace and stopped for many photos along the way. At the top of the second climb, we came to a road junction and I found that Nev, who had been navigating, hadn’t bothered checking because his phone was flat! We should have turned off “a few k’s back”. Ten kilometres! Actually 9.8 to be precise. I was furious! We had already ridden 50 kilometres, I was feeling exhausted and was hanging out to get the last major climb over with. Now our options were to continue 49 km to the coast from this point, and end up many kilometres further north of Agadir, probably necessitating an extra night out, or turn around and back-track. It was my decision, so I chose the latter, and fumed under my breath as we road down the climb we had just completed and then climbed for six kilometres. I tried to focus on the second opportunity to enjoy the amazing scenery but my head was filled with negativity. We found the turn off, and it was on to a very steep single lane concrete track.
No wonder neither of us had noticed a turn-off; and probably had we done so, we would have reviewed our options, and considered alternatives, that would have likely meant we would have ridden in the direction we had just turned back from. We didn’t want to cover the same road three times so with no option now, we started climbing. We came across a group of African men who were building more concrete road in a different direction. They indicated to Nev that the road we were about to ride was good! Not long after, the concrete ran out and we were riding a rocky four wheel drive track. We followed this! And surprisingly passed a few people. At one point a 4WD vehicle came towards us, full of local people. I told myself that in other circumstances (overnight trip with friends, and good provisions), I would be finding this ride an adventure, but neither of us had drunken any water for ages and we were each down to about one cup left. I must admit I was beginning to feel very afraid. Occasionally the surface was loose rock and I was afraid I might have an accident. I was afraid we were going to have to camp out with only our snacks to eat, and virtually no water; although I told myself this was unlikely to kill me. I was afraid we would be lost in here forever! My Garmin, that did have a good map, was almost flat. Nev’s phone was charged but for some reason he couldn’t see the course. Our power pack was flat. No-one knew where we were. We passed some women who had been collecting Argon nuts and from their flask, they filled one of our drink bottles.
Later we passed a women, with two boys who were loading donkeys with boxes, but she didn’t understand that we were asking for water, I’m using the Duolingo App to do a crash course in French, but not learning fast enough! We continued riding until almost dark and fortunately came across some women walking towards a mosque. We followed the direction they went and noticed some lads playing soccer. We hoped they would speak English so headed over to them. Their English was as limited as my French but we eventually got the help we needed; a flat place to pitch the tent, and some water. Then they offered for us to go to their Souk. I picked up the words ‘to eat’ so we accepted, wondering if we were being asked to join them for dinner. We were taken to three little shops. From one we purchased apples, tomatoes and the flat breads eaten here. The next store we purchased a can of Sardines, and the third store a bottle of soft drink for us, for our new friend, and for a small boy who had tagged along. We were guided back to our tent where we made peanut butter and tomato sandwiches (thank you Russell Brown for introducing us to this weird combination when we visited New Zealand in February) to eat, followed by apples for dessert. Neither of us could face the sardines. As soon as we finished eating I lay down, and promptly fell into a deep sleep. A couple of hours later I woke to a cacophony of dogs barking and donkeys braying. The animals alternated the chorus throughout the night. I’d turned my phone off to save battery, expecting I’d wake early as usual. The call to prayer disturbed me at around 5:15 a.m. but my next conscious moment was when light infused the tent at 8:30.
Day 3 Somewhere in the middle of nowhere (AIT OUSSA) to Agadir
51.2km Garmin closed but Ascent approximately 450m Descent 766m
The young man who had helped us last night had explained, a number of times, the direction we needed to take this morning. While we broke camp we saw many men arriving at the Souk, on donkeys. We also saw two vehicles on the road in the distance, so that was encouraging; we shouldn’t be entirely alone. Having breakfasted on a handful of our nuts and dates washed down with water, we set off.
We had 11 kilometres of mostly climbing on the rocky track, at first towards the mountain, and then left, left, left, as we had been told. We passed a group of men, some in a vehicle and three walking beside it, who were carrying guns. I asked what they were hunting and they produced a couple of dead hares that they will eat. We saw a few children who waved enthusiastically, and two vehicles came towards us, that we made room for. We were almost at what appeared to be the highest point, when we stopped for Nev to deflate the tyres a little so that we didn’t bounce around so much. Five hundred metres later, we were on firm tarmac.
And so began our descent, initially along a ridge through an area bordered by areas of scrubby Juniper, and then for five kilometres downhill, along the lip of an arid gorge. Eventually through the coastal haze, the Atlantic Ocean came into view. The road passed by the village of Aghroud, then dropped to meet the main coastal road at a cluster of what appeared to be old holiday shacks. The cafe was closed, but the owner of a little shop offered to prepare us a four-egg omelette, served with bread and mint tea. He advised he was a waiter at a large hotel complex nearby and took a photo of us and the meal, so he could show his boss how versatile he was. Three kilometres down the road we passed a number of resort style accommodations, and some rather lovely restaurants!
Our final thirty kilometres was an easy ride along the coast, taking the main road, with a broad shoulder through the surfer town of Taghazout and then along the newly made promenade that made up the foreshore of many kilometres of building construction of holiday apartment complexes in varying stages of completion; some looking like the project had been abandoned. There are many old cars in Morocco and the final few kilometres on the four lane main road into Agadir was rather fumy, and that was later replaced with a very fishy odour as we rode through the industrial and port areas. Finally two weary travellers arrived back to the comfort of a hotel room and a much needed shower.
Lessons we have learned; again! (maybe dementia is setting in!)
Take more water than just our 2 bottles each
Take a meal; just in case (at a minimum: bread, bananas, peanut butter)
Check the course before setting off, for both gradient and distance ´off road´
One of us is to have the course visible at all times
Try to find cafes that serve meals other than eggs.
To see if we learned our lesson you can read about our other ride in Morocco (Marrakesh to Fez) here