On The Riad - Where to Ride Marrakech
The idea to ride in Marrakech came to me quite by accident. I’d always been interested in the place, ever since I met my future wife back in 1989. She had a travel brochure of Morocco on her bedside table. I’d never really considered going there before, having more of a preference for India and South East Asia. Nevertheless the pictures of deserts, the minarets and the people wearing their traditional jellaba robes were enticing in the extreme and I determined to visit it one day. Well to cut a long story short, we never made it. The trouble was that if you live in Australia and your wife’s family is in Great Britain, it’s very difficult to go that far without visiting them, unless you do it in secret. So we had to do our Moroccan experience by proxy instead. Fortunately, the country has become quite trendy in recent years and there are plenty of ‘Moroccan Style’ books, Moroccan cuisine videos and shops selling the distinctive Moroccan pottery. One man’s loss is another’s gain and while most of us would say that the demise of Angus and Robertson bookstores was a shame, it did have one advantage for me in that our local branch ended up selling all their stock for five dollars apiece. And browsing through the bargains I found a guidebook to Marrakech. “Hmmm…,” I thought. “I’ll get that and maybe next time I go to Europe I can organise myself a few days holiday in Morocco.” So I took it home and began flicking through the pages. Like many cyclists, climbing has a special fascination for me, especially long climbs. I’m a fairly chunky sort of fellow so I’m not the fastest climber around, but I do enjoy it, so when I came across the magic word ‘Pass’ my attention was caught. The page in question was about the Tizi n Test and the Tizi n Tichka passes, Marrakech’s two roads heading south over the Atlas Mountains into the Sahara. The Tizi n Test pass goes between the towns of Taroudant and Ouirgane and reaches 2,092m while the Tizi n Tichka is Morocco’s highest pass, reaching 2,260m. That’s 150 metres higher than the Tourmalet. Searching around on YouTube, I found several videos from motorcyclists who had ridden the passes, but nothing from cyclists. How good would it be then to discover a pair of climbs in such an exotic country, which is still relatively unknown from a cycling point of view? To create an article like this you still need someone to take the photos, and who better than Eamon Fitzpatrick, the photographer who came on the Les Dix Alpes trip last year? Eamon and I met up in London where we spent some time visiting the various Olympic courses before catching a ridiculously early flight out of Gatwick to Marrakech. Even the name ‘Marrakech’ sounds exotic and as the plane made its descent, I felt a sense of excitement looking out over the flat sandy-coloured roofs of the city, with the Atlas Mountains as a backdrop. We landed, collected the baggage, hire car and we were on our way into town. It’s a well-known fact that in many parts of the world one needs to bargain hard for products. Go to Bangkok and you have to negotiate for anything you may want in a market. Indonesia is the same, while in India you have to pay ‘baksheesh’ for everything. Go into a public toilet in Delhi and a hand will come around the door offering to sell you some toilet paper. Marrakech is the same, to a greater and lesser extent. Lesser because in general (the souks, or old city marketplaces, are an exception), you won’t be collared by someone for baksheesh when you’re just walking along. But greater because the people selling you something have a much greater tenacity than anywhere else in the world I’ve ever been. Our first encounter with this came driving from the airport where we were accosted by an old bloke on a motorcycle, “Where you stay? I take you! Follow!” he said.