Off-Road in Eastern Morocco

Part 3

Preparation and leaving civilization

An off-road adventure through the

Moroccan Sahara

Day 0 – Preparation in Zagora

From the first second we arrived in Zagora we knew that we wouldn’t stay more than for one night. Immediately after we arrived in town we had several people following us on their motorbikes trying to sell us camel and desert tours. What they didn’t know was we were about to start a real desert adventure way better than any guided tour can be.

Zagora was our basecamp to plan and adjust our supplies of food and water for the next day. After leaving our bikes in a cheap homestay a bit outside of the city center we went to the center to buy all the stuff we would need in the next days. We knew that there would be at least three tiny villages on our way but we couldn’t tell if we would be able to stock up with food in those settlements. The off road path until we would get back on a normal road is around 220 kilometers long and we estimated that it would take us at least four days to accomplish it.

Adding one extra day we bought food for five days. Couscous, rice, lentils, tomato paste, some veggies, bread and we still had at least one kilo of dates which we picked in the morning. What we couldn’t carry for 5 days was water. This would easily add up to 25 liters of water each which would probably slow us down more than it would help us. We ended up with seven liters of water each. This should be enough for at least one or two days but we knew that we were still depending on stocking up water in the settlements we would pass through.

It had been 9 cycling days and a bit less than 500 kilometers since I’d left Marrakesh and neither of us had taken any rest day since then. Not wanting to stay in Zagora for a second night we decided me do a really short cycling day the next day to give our legs some rest. We also were desperately in need to do some laundry. Zagora is located right next to the Draa River. Before we left Zagora in the morning we planned to wash our clothes in the river.

No doubt I was really excited about the next days but also tried to remind myself to take this route attempt serious. We didn’t have a lot of information about the route and every time we asked someone about this off road path they told us that even special built desert trucks got stuck on this path and that it wouldn’t be good for cycling. If something would go wrong it was really likely that there wouldn’t be someone to help us. Being self-sufficient and self-responsible are the foundations of adventures but they also mean that you put yourself in a certain level of risk to accomplish the journey. Estimating and balancing this risk is the key for a successful completion.

Sitting in a small café beside the main road we tried to rethink all the stuff we would need in the next days and double checked everything. Back in the homestay we started preparing our bikes for the upcoming days. In the last days our bikes went through a lot of dust and sand.

The chains were dry and we both had some weird squeaking noise while changing gears. Removing all the dust and dirt, cleaning and oiling the chains, cleaning the shifting cables and checking the pressure of the tires.  Our bikes were ready for the desert path into the unknown so it would be our physical and mental strength and of course the track conditions if this off road adventure would turn out to be a success or not. I was waiting for the upcoming days to happen since I first found out about this route.

It was finally time to conquer the Zagora to Taouz desert path by bicycle!

The route

Day 1 – Leaving civilization / 24.18 km – 12.0 km/h

We didn’t get up that early this morning. This first day was supposed to be a rest day so everything was easy going in this day. For breakfast we had lentil curry leftovers which we cooked on our homestay balcony the evening before. If we didn’t have any leftovers from the day before our usual breakfast was normally bread, some dates and if a shop was close by a milk drink. After packing our stuff and loading the bikes with the supplies for the next days we left Zagora on the N12 towards the north east.

Shortly after we left the city we crossed the Draa River and stopped beside a construction site along the river to wash our clothes. Like always we had some curious spectators watching what we were doing. I also checked one of my tubes which I’d changed a few days before for holes as it was slowly loosing air. No holes in the tube itself I found out that the valve was the problem. The leaking valve was fixed in seconds. I simply unscrewed it and used some grease to stop the air from leaking through the thread. With all of our wet clothes wrapped all over the bikes we continued cycling on the N12 which soon turned from a paved road into a wide gravel road. With once again perfect cycling weather we couldn’t watch as fast as our clothes were drying in the late winter sun of Morocco.

Beside the old N12 there was already a new huge road in construction. With more or less no traffic at all I was always a bit surprised about how big Morocco is expanding its infrastructure. We would follow the unsealed easy rideable N12 for about 50 kilometers. After that the N12 does a long left turn towards the North West. Shortly before this turn the real off road path towards Taouz leaves the national road to the right. From there we would rely on the GPS feature of our phones to keep on track. According to reports of motorists in one of the forums I was checking for information of this route before I left to Morocco it was easy to get lost as there were several small paths in this region, some of them also leading to the closed border to Algeria.

The worse the route conditions would get the more paths would appear because everyone was looking for their own best way through this desert area. With our limited resources of water the last thing we were looking to do was get lost so we planned to strictly follow the GPS route on our phones to not miss out any of the villages.

But this wasn’t something we had to worry about in the first day because we wouldn’t go as far as where the path would leave the N12 in this day. After a bit more than 20 kilometers of easy riding we decided to start looking for a camp site. It was our rest day and what would be a rest day without resting? Still in the same valley as Zagora we found a good spot on the right hand side of the road. The area was more or less flat with some smaller mountains surrounding us. In a 90 degrees angle to the road we probably cycled another 500 meters off road before we found the perfect camp site beside two smaller trees. Far enough away from the road not to be easily spotted this site provided us with a stunning view in this wide open valley. Carlos had some smaller problems with the shifting of his bike again. Our bikes were already completely covered in dust again and simply cleaning the moving parts of the bike was once again the solution for problem. This was probably not the last time we would need to do that.

Enjoying the view time was passing by quickly and it was soon time for dinner. In the beginning of February the sunset was fairly early. Most of the time I saw the sunrise and sunset in those first weeks of this tour. Before it was getting dark we collected some fire wood for a small campfire. This was the first camp spot in Morocco were I didn’t feel like I was hiding. With no village and people close by I really felt comfortable in this spot. Sitting around the small fire watching the flames jump around but also the sunset which was so intense this evening it almost seemed purple, I felt the first time in a long time to be surrounded by real nature again. Nature that wasn’t completely changed or destroyed by humans. It was also the evening I finally realized that I was back on the road living the life I was loving so much.

After leaving home to start a new adventure it always takes a while to get back into a traveling mindset. The weeks and months before a new journey is about to start I always think about the future but when I’m finally back on the road and have jumped into my travel mindset I stop doing this. I try to enjoy the current day without thinking too much about the next days. I stop waiting for the weekend because every day is the same. Monday and Sunday are the same when you’re on the road. I get lost in time and worry less about the future. This feeling of being completely free in time is hard to explain if you’ve never felt it yourself but it’s absolutely amazing. It’s something really hard to achieve in a regulated life in society.

For dinner we both had two massive couscous sandwiches with fried onions, garlic, pepper and zucchini. After only 10 days in the country I was already a big fan of the Moroccan bread which was usually a big round flatbread.  With a full tummy and recovered legs I felt ready for the upcoming days even though I still didn’t really know what our upcoming route would be like. I only knew that I loved the dry empty desert scenery of eastern Morocco.

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