After one bad night's sleep, a good omen: I run into my friend Dave Russell-fellow Californian, itinerant rum aficionado and incurable motorcycle junkie-at the hotel breakfast buffet. He's spending a few weeks traipsing around North Africa on an R1200GS with Ayers Adventures, plowing through miles of sand and rock with panniers on the abysmal stock rubber. I'll be on Continental Twinduro knobbies with clean socks and underwear back in the chase truck. Why worry? Prayer is so much more effective.
Geared up and ready to go, I thank God for black coffee and light traffic heading out of town. Day one looks like an easy 138 miles or so, heading southeast on the N9 toward the Tizi-n-Tichka Pass. Built by the French Foreign Legion in 1928 to avoid paying protection money to the Glaoui brothers who ruled these mountains for 40 years, the 6700-foot Tichka road goes from spectacular to terrifying and back in the space of two corners, depending on how hard you push and who or what's coming the other way.
Abandoned movie sets loom like heat-induced hallucinations as we ride into Ouarzazate from
Our traveling circus was a huge hit with the under-12 set. Every kid wants a pen.
Entering the riptide of shoppers at Djemaa el Fna is easier than finding an exit.
A few miles down the road, the mud-brick citadel of Kasbah Telouete-former home to the aforementioned Glaoui mob-crumbles silently in a wash of spring sunlight. A bit further along, the well-preserved 11th century movie ksar of Aït Benhaddou sits just across the Oued Ounila River from our afternoon coffee stop, looking much the way it did in Lawrence of Arabia and Gladiator. The few people who still live there scratch out a living guiding curious tourists. Like most old actors after reconstructive surgery, Benhaddou looks more authentic from a distance. At this point, I'm more interested in the cold beer and hot shower 20 miles away at the Berber Palace Hotel in Ouarzazate. One of our relatively inexperienced Canadians joined the over-the-bars club this afternoon, and because 10 out of 10 traveling journalists prefer Casablanca Lager to intravenous morphine, I'm taking it easy.
Besides, there's a certain satisfaction that comes only with parking a dusty German Adventure Panzer in front of a five-star hotel, strolling through the lobby in full off-road regalia and watching a smiling, fez-topped barman pour the indigenous chilled malt beverage into a tall glass. Drinking it is almost anticlimactic. Almost. One day down, three to go. Meanwhile, Hendrik von Kuenheim proves to be a nice guy, a compendium of all things BMW and an excellent host. When he puts down his cell phone and gets on an F800GS, this man can go.
Ad hoc Moroccan road crews designate exceptionally deadly corners with a large red dump tr
Our guides explain their pioneering catch-and-release plan to local law-enforcement repres
Gorges du Dades slalom: a rapid zigzag between rock walls and roving bands of erratic pede
When our minders crack impenetrable German smiles and refer to some section of the route as eenteresting, pay attention. Especially when two of them are instructors at BMW's Hechlingen Enduro Park and the other could be if he wanted to. Upon closer inspection, the dry, loose, rocky riverbed they find so fascinating provokes more poignant reactions in my sleep-deprived neuro-circuitry. Signals from the excitable, pain-evading ones replace rational, analytical right-brain with stone-cold panic data every 30 feet, triggering the release of sweat, adrenaline and other, less welcome bodily fluids. Thanks to God, GU energy gel and Dr. Axel's effer-vescent electrolytes in my CamelBak, it's all good.
Dades Valley dirt roads are predictably unpredictable, with deep ruts, a construction crew and/or knots of waving children hiding in the dust of every village. Red dirt fades to shades of gray, set off by widening slivers of green wherever there's water. The terrain on either side goes from lush to lunar to surreal and back again, punctuated by more mud-brick burgs in various stages of collapse. Ascending a deliciously lethal section of switchbacks for some mint tea affords a breathtaking aerial view of the Dades Gorge: the major tourist attraction out here. High winds, scattered showers, a sinking sun and one suicidal goat make the last stretch of pavement a little too breathtaking, yet we roll into the Hotel Xaluca Dades behind an armada of package tour busses tired, but happy not to be a package tourist.