I'm putting together this quick post in Anchorage, Alaska, as I wait for the weather to clear so I can head out into the wilderness to get started in a couple of days' time. The next big trip is just about to begin, but I still haven't had the time to finish writing about the last one, so in a last-minute attempt to get myself up-to-date, I'd like to present this snapshot with some of my favourite photos from the month I spent bikepacking through Morocco in the Spring of 2023.
I was exceptionally happy, and also rather relieved, to finally arrive in Morocco, as I've actually had to abort previous attempts to get there a frustrating four times over the last two years. Three postponements of the Atlas Mountain Race due to Covid, and then on the fourth occasion, having to bail out from Gibraltar and fly back to the UK for a last-minute work thing I couldn't miss. The latter was especially painful, as my ferry ticket to Tangier was already booked and paid for, and I could quite literally see Morocco just on the other side of the strait.
It was well worth the wait, however. Morocco is a wonderful country and a truly fantastic place for bikepacking. The people are friendly, the landscapes are spectacular and exceptionally varied, the food is tasty, the climate is generally kind, and, as a bonus, Morocco is relatively cheap as well. One month was not enough, and Morocco is definitely a country that I'd like to come back to.
As is my wont, I spent most of my time in Morocco in the mountains. The High Atlas Mountains, in particular, are truly spectacular, and it was a joy to be crossing high passes of more than 3000 metres once again. It was an unusually cold and wet Spring, with a lot of snow at higher elevations, and this did make things quite a bit more challenging from a logistical standpoint as some of the singletrack routes I'd planned were no longer viable due to the trails being completely obscured by the snow, not to mention that they would have been far more dangerous due to the risk of avalanche.
I had no complaints about the snow, however. Although it did make things more difficult, it also made the landscapes even more beautiful, and it added an element of challenge which I greatly appreciated. By far my favourite section from Morocco was over a pass from Dades towards Imilchil which was completely closed off by the snow. I'd been told by everyone I'd asked that the road was completely impassable and that it would be utterly impossible to get through, even on foot. It's been my experience that people are very quick to tell you something is impossible, but that usually, it just means it will be very difficult. Crossing the pass was certainly a challenge, with many hours of pushing and lifting my bike uphill through deep snow, but it was also the most memorable part of my journey. The best things usually don't come easy.
As I progressed north, the weather improved, and by the time I reached Tangier on the Mediterranean coast, the days were hot and clear. As I descended from the High Atlas, the landscapes changed dramatically, and I was very impressed with how varied I found Morocco to be. I'd expected the country to be rather arid, and this was largely the case for most of my ride from Marrakech to Fes. North of Fes, however, I was blown away by how lush and vibrant the landscapes were. Rolling green hills and pastureland were everywhere, Spring was in the air, and whole fields were carpeted with flowers. It was still mountainous, but the mountains were very different, and it was a wonderfully pleasant surprise from a section I'd expected to be overcrowded, tedious, and boring. I found northern Morocco to be a pastoral wonderland, and I thoroughly enjoyed my ride through.
I liked the cities somewhat less. I visited three of Morocco's four 'imperial cities'; first Marrakech, then Fes, and finally Tangier. Whilst I did find them quite interesting, and whilst I did appreciate the nostalgia they gave me for my time cycling back along the silk road, I found Morocco's cities much too touristy for my liking. Taking a walk through the souks is well worth doing, but I've never really been particularly fond of markets or bazaars, as there's generally not anything that I actually want to buy, and shopping, in general, has never been something I've enjoyed. In that context, it's no surprise that these cities weren't really for me, and I was much happier up in the mountains, well away from the beaten track.
Due to being short on time, I never made it down to the Sahara Desert proper, but this is an area I'd be very keen to get back to the next time I'm in the country. I did spend a bit of time following along the outside edge of the desert, and although very (head)windy, it was beautiful, with the edge of the mountains forming a dramatic white wall on the horizon. I regretted not having longer in Morocco, as there's so much to explore, and one month was barely enough to skim the surface.
Culturally and historically, Morocco is fascinating, and it was great to learn a little more about the Berbers and to visit a few historic sites such as the impressive city of Aït Benhaddou. Morocco seemed a bit of a melting pot, and so many different languages are spoken around the country. My French is rusty, but I nevertheless found it very useful, as my Arabic is very basic. Spanish was generally more useful than English, especially in the north of the country where quite a few people seemed to speak a little.
People in Morocco were generally very kind, welcoming, and friendly, especially in the rural areas. In the cities, I felt that money and tourism threw a bit of a cloud, as you could never be quite sure if a friendly local was being genuine or just trying to sell you something, or even scam you. In the countryside, however, people were almost universally lovely. In some areas, I found it a little difficult to wild camp due to the terrain and population density, but it was never a problem to simply ask permission to camp at any village. Several times I had local people insist on paying for my lunch, and I was always made to feel very welcome.
A month wasn't even close to enough time to explore Morocco properly, but it was enough to give me a pretty good introduction. A return trip next year is definitely on the cards, with early 2024 being a possibility. Morocco is definitely one of the good ones!
Slideshow gallery from Morocco: