Off-Road in Eastern Morocco

The route, Introduction and the first days

An off-road adventure through the

Moroccan Sahara

Introduction

Before I flew to Morocco to start my third long term bicycle tour in which I ended up cycling through ten countries, all the way from Marrakesh in Morocco to Bucharest in Romania, I checked the online maps of the country for remote and non-touristic routes to cycle.

Reading some reports about old routes of the rally Dakar, which passed through Morocco in the past, I got stuck with one specific route. Located in Eastern Morocco I found some information about a remote 220 kilometers long, off-road path along the Algerian border all the way from Zagora to Taouz. With only a few villages along the path and no real information about the track conditions I wasn’t really sure if this path would be possible to cycle. According to the satellite pictures this route would lead me right through the hearth of the Moroccan desert. Trying to research more about the track I only ever ended up in online forums for off-road motor biking. I wasn’t really surprised that I couldn’t find a single report about someone doing it by bicycle.  Checking for the weather in this area I quickly found out that the only time this track would maybe be possible to cycle was winter. Good for me as my flight to Marrakesh was in the end of January!

Leaving the roads of Eastern Morocco to follow an uncertain path along the border of Algeria in summer would be impossible. The weather records of the last year already showed temperatures reaching 30 degrees and more in the beginning of February, the only time I could possibly try to cycle this path.

I estimated that it would take me three to six days to accomplish this route. Carrying food for six days and more isn’t that much of a problem when you travel with a bicycle.  You can easily carry a few packs of rice, pasta, couscous or lentils for dinner, oats and milk powder for breakfast, and bread, nuts and other stuff for lunch.  Stocking up with the right amount of water is the thing you should be aware of. Estimating how much water you need can be hard, especially if you don’t know how warm it will be, how much energy it will take to make progress on the route and how long it will take to arrive to the next place where you can stock up your resources again. Brutal hot weather and long distances between water tanks made me carry up to 25 liters of water on my first bicycle tour in Australia back in 2013.

Still not really sure if it would be a good idea to give this route a try but also with quite a bit of excitement I saved all the route information I could find on my phone. Sometimes you have to take a risk to create a new adventure. Leaving the comfort zone and maybe challenging your physical and mental limits are the things that it takes to start a journey into the unknown. Journeys and days like this are hard to predict, not always fun and will leave you with possible problems on your own. In the same time those are the days in which you learn the most about yourself! Having full responsibility about your actions, knowing no one will be there if you’re in need of help is something we don’t have in a socially controlled environment back home. I think this is one of the reasons that makes it so interesting for a lot of people to start an adventure into the unknown.

On the 26th of January 2016 it was once again time for me to leave Germany. With all my gear sorted and packed I was sitting in a plane towards Morocco. With no time limit and almost no route planning I was on my way to start my third long-term bicycle tour. Not knowing when I would come back and where I would end up made it way harder for me to say good bye to family and friends this time.

The route

Arriving in Morocco

I had the luck that I found someone who was happy to host me for my first nights in Morocco. After I received my bike and all the other gear at the special luggage claim in the Airport of Marrakesh it was time for me to figure out how I would get towards the city center, where I would meet Mehdi and Ayoub, two guys from Casablanca who invited me to their home in the hearth of Marrakesh.

With more luggage than I was able to carry, including the massive bicycle carton I ended up blocking the whole rear entrance of a crowded bus which was making slow progress towards the city center. Ayoub told me that they would pick me up at a certain bus stop which I had written down on a small paper. I asked the bus driver to let me know when it would be time for me to leave the bus. This whole situation was more stressful as it may sound as I had no idea where I was going. I couldn’t call Mehdi or Ayoub, there were so many people in the bus, and at every bus stop and I wasn’t sure if the bus driver had it right.

I was more than happy that everything turned out well. I jumped out of the bus on the right spot and Mehdi and Ayoub were already waiting for me. We carried all my stuff for the next weeks and months to their place. After unpacking and checking if my bike survived the flight without any damage we went to a small square in the city to have something for dinner. Everything was good. Nothing was damaged, nothing got lost, I found my hosts and we enjoyed a good meal and ended up having a long talk before we went to bed.

What a great start!

I started the next day setting up my bike and trying to figure out my route out of the city. After visiting some of the main “attractions” of Marrakesh I decided that I would leave the city already the next morning. To put it bluntly, the city changed a lot towards tourism, and not in a good way. Besides the countless number of tourists coming over to Marrakesh to have a nice oriental holiday experience while ignoring the unmissable effects of their all-inclusive “adventures” it was impossible to walk somewhere without someone trying to sell you something. Monkeys in chains, snakes to put around your neck and many other cruelties just because of foreigners paying for an unusual holiday picture.

I knew about these things going on there before I got to Morocco but it doesn’t make it less shocking and frustrating for me every time I see something like that. It’s a worldwide problem. No matter where you go you will always find people on holiday who just don’t give a **** about the country, people, culture and animals, in order to have a “perfect” holiday. To make matters worse, one of the first things I experienced on the roads of Marrakesh was a group of 4 German tourists loudly complaining that they couldn’t find a shop to buy alcohol.

Just think about it!

You can find a more detailed article about my feelings and thoughts within my time in Morocco over here.

With the help of Mehdi and Ayoub I went to a few shops which are just an open room right next to the road most of the time in Morocco. I went in to stock up with food, water and some herbs. You won’t find price labels in these shops. It’s normal to negotiate about prices and there’s often a different price for tourists. This is why I created this list to give you an idea about the basic cost of things in Morocco without getting ripped off.

Price list (in Moroccan Dirham / February 2016)

  • Bottled water: 1,5 liters = 5-6 Dh / 5 liters = 10-12 Dh
    • Bread (depending on the size) = 1-3 Dh
    • Egg = 1 Dh
    • Tangerines/kg = 5 Dh
    • Lentils/kg = 12 Dh
    • Rice/kg = 10 Dh
    • Pasta/kg = 12 Dh
    • Peanuts/kg = 24 Dh
  • Pressed dates/kg = 6 Dh
    • Tomato paste = 2-4 Dh
    • Milk drink „Mixy“ (500 ml) = 5 Dh
    • A coffee = 5-10 Dh
    • Tea: a single cup = 1-3 Dh / a pot = 5-10 Dh
    • Crepe with Cheese or Chocolate = 2-5 Dh
    • Tajine (per person) = 15-30 Dh
    • Cheap hotel/campsite = 30-60 Dh
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