On a windy morning, we left behind the Rock of Gibraltar and we were staring at the continent of Africa once again. We never dreamed of coming to Morocco. Our original itinerary already changed many times, as I expected from the beginning. Morocco came about as a forced detour, because our European visas were expiring and we needed to get out of the European Union somewhere and come back for another 90 days stay. I never like "forced" anything so I wasn't looking forward to Morocco. I thought: "Let's get it over with, so we can come back and proceed north!". However, as I sat there on the ferry looking at the coast of Africa, my heart was telling me something else; I was getting excited and I didn't know why. Maybe because I was coming to Africa once more, or maybe the new frontier ahead was tickling my adventure spirit. In any case, I was curious to see what would turn out with this detour.
We arrived in Tangier, one hour away from Tarifa and even though it is so close to Europe, the moment you step on the dock from the ferry you are hit by the noises, smells and sights that only Africa can produce. I was back into familiar waters!
We passed quickly through customs and Immigration (quite a surprise for an African country) and headed straight for the Tangier Medina, the first place to see because that is where the action is in every city. Small streets, tiny houses and lots of people, children and little shops as well as the food places make up the fabric of any Medina. As Medinas go in Morocco, we realize soon that Tangier is not one of the best, but it made a strong impression on us because it was our first one. We settle for the only night in Tangier (locals say, forget the North and head for the South and Center) and we had our first Tajine, couscous and a local taste of the spiced drinks. I loved them from the first taste. Nothing better than spices in an exotic food.
Early the next morning we jumped on our bike and headed south to Casablanca. The road is perfect, the sights beautiful and Africa was pulsating in front of me again. Few hours later we pulled into Ocean Bleu Campsite in Mohammedia East, 30 km north of Casablanca. Everyone enjoys this side of Casablanca, apparently, as the city itself is nothing like the image it has in the world. Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman did not even step in the real Casablanca as the whole of the movie was shot in Hollywood and the only true Moroccan in the cast was the door keeper and he was not even credited in the cast list. Casablanca is actually a broken city, currently being rebuilt by the King of Morocco, who wants to remake the original beauty of this city, as designed by the greatest French architects. The city is the only one in the world that was entirely designed from the air.
Once settled in Mohammedia, we visited the beautiful Hassan II Mosque, the second largest mosque in the world and the only one that non-muslims can visit. It is an impressive sight and in my opinion, about the only one of the few things worth visiting in Casablanca.
2 days later we headed East for Marrakech; this was high on our list, especially for the famous Jemaa El Fna, the beautiful Medina, the Atlas mountains, the gardens and palaces. It is hard to explain in words when photos say so much more. Below you will understand why.
In Marrakech we stayed at the famous Relais de Marrakech, a beautiful campsite located inside La Palmeraie Conservation and few km outside Marrakech. The city is beautifully designed, clean and pleasant to the eyes.
While at the Relais, I spotted a small brochure with a place called: Les Cascades D'Ouzoud and I felt compelled to read it. This little brochure proved to be the beginning of an experience that would almost pop our eyes out as we discovered a Morocco that I never dreamed of, with places that seem unreal and people with more than 3000 years of history behind them.
Ouzoud is a little Berber village in the High Atlas Mountains, where farmers and sheperds made their living for many centuries. I found their place a paradise, hidden in the mountains and providing them with everything they need for survival; the soil is fertile (I saw the most almond trees I have ever seen before), the water and air pure and the landscapes out of a Swiss story book. On top of all that, they have the spectacular Ouzoud Falls, fed by the small Ouzoud river that looks quite unimpressive but creates a spectacle when it hits the canyon right below the village. Again, the photos will, hopefully, say more. We explored this place, with its amazing villages, canyons, caves, system of water falls and olive groves for 4 days. We camped at the neat and perfectly located Zebra camping, owned by Paul and Renate from Netherlands. Their camp is a perfect spot to enjoy the silence and the sights of the Ouzoud Village.
When we left Ouzoud, Renate recommended that we take the road less traveled to Ouarzazate, crossing the High Atlas on a mountain road, 2200 m high. "You will never regret it" she said, " you will not see more than 5 cars and the landscapes will shock you". What an understatement that was! There were no more than 3 cars for 7 hours on that road, a tiny, mountain track through very isolated villages and very high up in the mountains. Carmen filmed the high passes, so soon you will be able to see this episode on our YouTube channel. It was challenging riding, soft terrain at times, high passes with snow on the mountain and lots of curves. But it was the best experience to date as far as biking was concerned. We arrived in the Valley of the Dades late at night, tired, dusty, but super excited. In front of us there was the Sahara and my nostrils were flaring like a camel's nose in the desert wind. Deserts will always stir me to the depths of my soul and Sahara is one I wanted to encounter since I read of her in my childhood. I slept uneasy that night, knowing that the next day we would leave the high Atlas behind and enter the largest desert on the planet.
The morning was cold and brisk, as only the desert mornings are and the Gorges de Dades were shining brightly in the sun. The road was winding through spectacular scenery, with rugged rocks on each side and oases in the middle, following ancient riverbeds to the desert. As soon as we cleared Errachidia we could see the horizons opening up and the winds of Sahara rising in the East. It was a feeling that cannot be described properly, unless you are a Hemingway or a Bernard Shaw, and I am neither one. My deep love for Africa and for the desert compelled me to open up the throttle until I felt Carmen's fingers pushing deeper into my side, signalling a slight stress level increase on her part. "It would look stupid" she said, " if we die within reach of Sahara and not ever see her". Her logic seemed impressive.
Few hours later, we saw yellow dunes rising on the Eastern horizon and my heart started to pump harder; I was coming to Sahara on my own two wheels, a little like the Berbers on their dromaderies, who are the first and true nomads of our world, self sufficient and free.
Even though Merzouga is a popular destination for Sahara-bound expeditions, we decided to pull into the little Berber village of Hassi Labied. It is a clump of mud and clay buildings, right next to the Erg Chebbi dunes (which no one, even the Berbers, knows why they are called like that) with lots of children running around and shouting as we entered the village on our bike.
We ended up camping at Oceans de Dunes, a simple campground owned by 5 Berber brothers. We loved it from the first moment, not only because it is walking distance from the dunes, but also because these people did everything themselves, from building it, to cooking the food, to making expeditions into the desert. All together, they speak English, French, German, Spanish, Arabic, and a couple of Berber dialects.
Not even 2 days from our arrival, we asked Hussin to get us a couple of Dromaderies and Berber clothing so we can get into the desert and sleep in their "bivouac", a desert dwelling of the nomads. Below you will see our transformation into Touareg Berbers, as they called us. To ride into the Sahara on these amazing animals, to sleep under the stars and to eat a slow cooked Tajine, prepared by two Berber men, was more than I expected. I knew the feeling of the desert from the Kalahari, the Namib, and the North American Deserts, but Sahara blew me away! The peace, the camels, the colors and the miracle of water in the desert, not even 2 meters underground, are just a few of Sahara's attributes.
At the end of our "forced detour", we feel overwhelmed; Morocco turned out to be THE highlight of our trip so far, perhaps because it was a new and unexpected change and perhaps because it is a special place, that offers so much diversity and beauty. I fell in love with a new desert and a new tribe and I have now new friends in this country.
Update information for all those that are wondering about the stories and determination behind this expedition:
Here you will find the story of our orphans and of our Sports Academy for Orphans. It is a challenging project that aims to reach over 20.000 orphans and underprivileged children in the area where we live and to build a future for them.
Due to our consistent talk about this project to virtually everyone we meet on the road, the news is spreading and thousands of people, organizations, newspapers, magazines, etc are finding out and stay in touch with us.
Our blog is growing every day with people from the far corners of the world and we thank you, all the readers, for telling others to follow up with our adventures.
Enjoy the photos below, they tell the story much better than we ever could.
A view of Tanger Port and riding through the narrow streets of Medina
Our camp at the Oceans de Dunes, Mohammedia East, near Casablanca
Jemaa El Fna, the famous market and food place in Marrakech Medina
Leaving Ouzoud Falls towards the mountain passes of High Atlas
Other caravans of camels taking people into the dunes