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Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Dizzying high to devastating low: From the High Atlas to the squat toilet

We get an early start to attack the Tizi n Test. The climb is very long but not very steep. So, we call upon granny and start eating away at the kilometres. The road winds past mountain villages with little traffic. It's turning out to be a really nice relaxing ride. Michèle is concentrating on the road and overcoming her vertigo. Frankly, I'm little pissed off at Lonely Planet for their exaggerated description of this mountain pass. It is by no means treacherous.

A ways up the hill we bump into Walter, Virginie and Elio.

Michèle comments: My vertigo is better described as "vertigo after effort". I don't feel any ill effects if I were to drive up the dizzying heights in a car, for example. But the effort of hiking up a mountain or cycling up a mountain pass, that can bring it on. This day, however, I was determined not to let it get the better of me. It helped having Walter, Virginie and Elio as company as we pedalled our way to the summit along the 30-kilometre winding climb.

At the top we spend the night camping in an unfinished building that belongs to an existing restaurant and guest house. The restaurant charges three times the price for a tajine that we've been paying.
- Seulement 100 dirams (about 10 euros) mon ami.
Walter argues with the guy, saying that a tajine does not cost 100 dirams. But the guy keeps telling us that he makes it better than everyone else. I guess we'll never know if that's true.

After a shitty nights sleep (I don't know, maybe it's the altitude) it's a 30 km downhill to the valley below. The other side is much more impressive and a bit more dangerous since you are going much faster.

It's very easy to get hypnotized by the view and to veer off the road. OK, so maybe it is a little treacherous on this side, especially if you are holding your camera in one hand.

Michèle comments: About that movie clip of the descent, I am sooooooo very glad that I was ahead of Benoit on the road and completely unaware of what he was doing. The descent was freaking me out enough, with its hairpin turns on a road of crumbling pavement and huge potholes and very rarely with a barrier. Yes, the way down did feel treacherous. If I had known that Benoit was filming his descent with only one hand free to brake, I would have lost it!

The road flattens out and takes us into the valley. At the bottom of the hill we branch onto a main road that will take us to Taroudant. Walter, Virginie and Elio have gone ahead. They have to be at the Mauritanian border by mid November. We won't be seeing them again and we wish them the best of luck in their travels.

It's hot and dusty. We roll into several non-touristic towns where we feel completely out of our elements. Every single person we pass gives us a unemotional stare. A wave is all it takes to draw a hello. These towns are bustling with activities with their souks and lack of traffic regulations. The heavy sun, dust, and burning oil from poorly adjusted engines makes it hard to breathe. Some of these towns are quite dismal. Half-finished buildings with rebar sticking out of them. Dusty open fields, littered with garbage, doubling up as a soccer field. Some of these people will spend their whole lives here. We are just passing through.

We buy some fruit for next to nothing and head out of town. At a shady spot it's time for a break. A young women with a child slowly drifts over. I wait for the usual request ... money. But instead she starts crying. Holding her baby and kissing him on the forehead. Feeling awkward we pack up and leave. She never ended up asking for anything. We never ended up offering. At that moment life felt so cruel. Not sure if it was a well-acted ploy, but some of these towns have all the ingredients for a dismal existence. How lucky we are to be vagamonde.

The dismal towns are left behind and we arrive in Taroudant. A compact city surrounded by a medina. It is bustling with activity. There are dense souks and shops. Streets that would normally be pedestrian have all types of vehicles whizzing by you. There's more money here and people are not as aggressive. You pay Moroccan prices like everyone else and there is no need to bargain. We end up staying in a cheap hotel for two days and run some much needed errands. Michèle comments: In Taroudant, the people on the street weren't all men for a change. The hotel where we stayed was run by women. There were women in the cafés, women on bicycles, some with their heads covered, some with their hair blowing in the wind. It didn't matter what they were wearing. I was just happy to see them.

It's time to head towards the town of Aït-Baha where we know there's a hotel. As we pedal out of town, I can sense something is in the mail. I'm not feeling well and I start to regret leaving our hotel room in Taroudant. The map shows several secondary roads to Aït-Baha. We end up going on several wild goose chases trying to find them. Towns get poorer again. At a cross roads this guy comes up to us with the usual questions that lead to the usual request ... money. Since we are eating a snack we offer him some. He says all he wants is money. We all want that I felt like telling him. Besides, this guy is well dressed and he has a cell phone. Time to go. Another small goose chase and we're on the right track. At this point I'm feeling like shit. Gastro imminent. We won't make Aït-Baha tonight.

At a road side convenience store, we ask if there's a place to stay for the night. The guy opens a door besides the shop. It's an empty rundown apartment. He says we can camp there for a small fee. It's cleanish and there's a toilet. I'm going to need it. We set up, order a tea and nibble on some fruit. About an hour later we get a visit from a sketchy looking official. He barges into the apartment, has a quick look around and asks for our papers. We go sit outside where he writes down the information. His writing is so bad that I wonder if he's literate. At one point I even tell him that he's missing some information. When he's done he looks up at me and says with an annoyed looking smirk:
- Y'a pas d'problème mon ami (No problem my friend).
There better not be because I'm going to be busy on the toilet all night. The guy finally leaves and the man who rented us the apartment says:
- T'inquiète pas, c'est mon oncle (Don't worry, that's my uncle).
With that done, it's time for the intense chills and chattering teeth. Of course, a third world sickness would not be complete without lining up to the squat toilet about ten times during the night. This is fucking great!

To be continued...


  1. OMG, who needs a roller coaster ride when you can just watch that descent video!
    Lianna (Michele's little sis)

  2. What progress you have made my friends! delphine and i went home and found jobs (in our respective cities) (i in weimar, where i have gotten started, she in paris). i like reading your diary -- I like to imagine that we are still on the road ourselves. i miss it!!!

  3. Lianna! No kidding, that descent video still gives me chills. I can't believe that Benoit did that. Oh wait, yes I can.

  4. Hi Robert and Delphine, How little progress we would have made if we had not met you in Iceland and learned that stretching routine. It has saved us from shoulder pain, and back pain, and every other kind of pain... We hope to meet up with you again. Maybe you'll be back on the road soon?

  5. great blog

    Michele and Benoit

    I remember hitching thru the Atlas Mountains 38 years ago..some spectacular scenery!

    cousin Al

  6. Hi cuz! Do you think the Atlas mountains have changed much? The scenery is still spectacular, that is for sure. Thanks for your comment. When are you coming to join us?

  7. Tu fais le cascadeur maintenant Benoit???!
    I like how it definitely looks like you're going straight into the void and stop at the last minute...were you actually losing control at that point? Freaky...
    Anyway, I sympathize with Michele, I wouldn't enjoy seeing no women around.
    Where next?
    Stay safe,

  8. j'adore la video de Benoit; Michele je suis sur que tu aurais pu faire la descente sur ton velo a une roue... :-))


  9. Caroline: I was not losing control but putting my hand back on the handle bars but still holding the camera. Makes for a nice effect. I could have lost control if I waited a few more seconds. Anyway, all is well.

    Seb: Le velo a une roue n'est pas une bonne idee pour une descente comme ca. Y a surement un fou qui l'a deja fait.

  10. Hi Michele

    My cycling partner is in Brazil, I think...Any idea when u will get to India or Australia?

    Ps: make sure everything is cooked in Morocco..that is where I picked up hep A

    Take care, ride safe


  11. Wow,wild ride, looked nerve racking - kept wondering what was coming up the hill, and where you'd go to pass...
    Great to see your tremendous progress! hope you're feeling better Benoit
    Kay Kay

  12. Hi Al, India is not on the agenda at the moment, but who knows! We'll let you know if that changes. As for Australia, we still want to get there someday, though it seems so very far. We got vaccinated for hep A and B. Still, we are being careful of what we eat.

  13. Hi Kay Kay. Thanks for the comment. I am feeling much much better now. The ride down was a little nerve wracking. Probably not the best idea to film it.