Cycling Morocco – To the Waters and the Wild

As expected, the call to prayer came long before sunrise. I rolled over and covered my head. Big plans for an early start slipped away when I realised it was 8am and I was still in bed.

We ate breakfast on the roof terrace and collected the underwear and towels that had been drying overnight and set off around the walls rather than the shorter route through the city.

Walls of TaroudantWe’d ridden to Ouled Berhil before, though we’d missed the beginning of the piste.
Cycling Morocco outskirts of TaroudantWe’d also had a case of dead batteries and lost a section of track on the GPS, but we figured we’d remember the general direction. We had 53km to cover, roughly two thirds of which was off-road (piste).

At first, we travelled along the main road where we found evidence of the flooding.

BBC Report on the floods

washed away bridgeA bridge had been washed away, rubbish lay piled up in staggered rows like seaweed at high tide. A bike fitted with reed basket panniers wobbled, almost spilling its cargo of herbs that were stacked higher than the rider, as it swerved to avoid a pothole. I lost count of waves and responses to calls of ‘Bonjour Madame’.

We stopped for a breather. I spotted a pair of eyes peering through a tiny window in a wall next to the gate of an orange grove, so I waved. Moments later, a security man opened the gate and offered us oranges.

‘We’ll not bother buying oranges for a while.’ I said, popping a juicy segment in my mouth, ‘We’ll stop at orange farms instead.’

There was a flyblown café near the spot where the piste began. Two men of middle age sat outside taking tea, smoking Marlboro Reds and playing with their phones. They held their phones far from their faces like they needed reading glasses. We ate bread and triangle cheese sandwiches and packed spares for the journey. Let’s just say I wouldn’t exactly be pushing shoppers out of the way in Tesco’s so I could stock up on Dairylea, or Happy Cow or Laughing Cow or whatever the hell it’s called if there was to be a food shortage. I like real cheese, but it was triangle cheese or nothing. We went on our way leaving the middle aged men staring at their mobiles.

piste towards the mountainsThe moment my front wheel touched the dusty trail, I felt a lightning in my heart, and excitement like the moment you find out you’re going on a date. I looked at the mountains so faraway and pedalled along happily humming and singing to myself. At times, I rode faster to catch up with Dan for a chat, but mostly I spent the time looking around me.

ploughing fields in souss valleyMen forked brushwood into piles to make low hedges, women and children gathered stones from the fields making mounds that looks like ancient tombs.

Cycling Morocco on stony tracks The ground became stony, then rubble and we hiked across boulders and a dry riverbed. Finding a trail was difficult.

a river runs through itAnd then the path ended, split by a river.
‘We can’t ride through that.’

Dan agreed and climbed to a high point to survey other options.
where is the fordWe turned back to try a different track and again, I was unconvinced we could cross. It was a long crossing to do barefoot, so I sat down to think. A shepherd on the opposite side walked towards the  bank, then turned his flock away.

‘See what I mean,’ I said. ‘Even the locals are turning away.’

A family on a moped approached the water’s edge. Both mother and father removed their shoes and placed the toddler on the seat. They crossed safely and we could do the same. I’d never forded a real river and asked Dan to go first. If he fell, I would walk, no matter how long it would take.

(20 second video with shockingly unprofessional commentary.)

Safely across and buzzing from the rush, I walked for a while. My legs in disco mode, shaking unstoppably. It wasn’t long till there was another river, shallower, narrower and easier to cross than the first.

Cycling Morocco meraid crossing a river

fording a riverThere were stretches where we met nobody, the feeling of being in the wilderness broken by a distant whisper of a muezzin.

We sat on some rocks in the shade of an argan tree, beside the baked terracotta mud path, to devour squashed and warm sandwiches.

‘Morocco’s version of a toasted cheese Panini!’ I said, jokingly.

‘Shit. I’ve got a flat tyre.’ Dan said as he lifted his bike from the dust.

flat tyreIt was the back wheel, so there was much fiddling with the hub gear and bolts to remove it. Help whether we wanted it or not was on its way in the form of MotoMan.He parked his moto and switched off its loud spluttering engine and took over the task of finding the leak. His technique was fascinating to see; an exaggerated lick of the lips followed by holding the inner tube close to his mouth. He didn’t speak any French or English and we couldn’t converse in Arabic. He made at least two circuits of the tube and swept the inside of the tyre with his fingers for thorns. Nothing was found.
motoman

‘It’s fixed,’ I announced. ‘Look, it’s a Dr Sludge. It fixed itself!’

Dan put the wheel back on the bike and pumped up the tyre. MotoMan was befuddled and decided to stay with us despite the snail’s pace we were making on sand. He rode between us, fumes belching from the Moto’s broken exhaust, sickening me. He rode closer to Dan, checking the tyre for air. He waited for me to catch up and pointed to a far off village. ‘Ma maison.’ My house.

thumbs up from motoman‘Shukran.’ I said, thanking him in Arabic. I expected him to ride off to his village, instead, he asked for a pen. He wrote something in Arabic that I haven’t had translated, then he made a pillow for his head with his hands and pretended to eat. He was trying to invite us to stay. I told him we planned on getting to Ouled Berhill that day and he waved goodbye as a flock of sheep wandered by.

sheep on the piste‘It was very kind of MotoMan to offer such hospitality,’ I said. ‘But what’s the point when we can’t communicate?’

‘Sure. It would be hard work.’

Another few miles along, Dan had another puncture. This time, he changed the inner tube and I patched the damaged one.

Night was closing in and I put on an extra layer. We rode as quickly as we could, reaching an ancient olive grove, in the final moments of light. Only a few kilometres of paved road separated us from a town. Together, we sat on the gnarled trunk of a fallen olive tree, gazing west, to the waters and the wild.
bicycle in sunset near ouled berhil

Click here for the full route 

Author’s Note

The last few words of this piece were used in the title. Although I was cycling Morocco, I have a fondness for poetry, especially Irish poets and this ending was inspired by the following poem:

The Stolen Child

By William Butler Yeats

WHERE dips the rocky highland
Of Sleuth Wood in the lake,
There lies a leafy island
Where flapping herons wake
The drowsy water-rats;
There we’ve hid our faery vats,
Full of berries
And of reddest stolen cherries.
Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world’s more full of weeping than you
can understand.

Where the wave of moonlight glosses
The dim grey sands with light,
Far off by furthest Rosses
We foot it all the night,
Weaving olden dances,
Mingling hands and mingling glances
Till the moon has taken flight;
To and fro we leap
And chase the frothy bubbles,
While the world is full of troubles
And is anxious in its sleep.
Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world’s more full of weeping than you
can understand.

Where the wandering water gushes
From the hills above Glen-Car.
In pools among the rushes
That scarce could bathe a star,
We seek for slumbering trout
And whispering in their ears
Give them unquiet dreams;
Leaning softly out
From ferns that drop their tears
Over the young streams.
Come away, O human child!
To to waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For to world’s more full of weeping than you
can understand.

Away with us he’s going,
The solemn-eyed:
He’ll hear no more the lowing
Of the calves on the warm hillside
Or the kettle on the hob
Sing peace into his breast,
Or see the brown mice bob
Round and round the oatmeal-chest.
For be comes, the human child,
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
from a world more full of weeping than you
can understand.

 


You might have missed
Part 1 – Marrakech and a change of Plan
Part 2 – Agadir to Taroudant – Dan does the funky chicken
Find out what happens next in
Part 4 – Highs and Lows on the road to Aoulouz
Part 5 Riding in the slipstream

 

 

Meraid Griffin

Freelance writer, adventurer and public speaker. Descibed in the Sunday Times as a ‘modest explorer’. Nothing modest about me.

5 Comments:

  1. I had a river like that on the Isle of Wight.

    It appeared across the National Cycle Path 4 miles from sand own between cycling one way and returning 4 hours later.

    Chalk!

    • Meraid Griffin

      Ferdinand, a wee bit of the unexpected makes for an interesting ride don’t you think?. Nice to get out no matter.

  2. Jem (Sooper8)

    The media here didn’t say a word about the terrible floods there did they?
    Great photos by the way!

  3. TROP belle aventure, très belle région, j’ai trop aimé ces belles photos, BRAVO

Leave a Reply to Meraid Griffin Cancel reply