The Tizi n’test is what I had been looking forward to perhaps more than anything else in Morrocco, a famously dizzying, heart-stopping road through the High Atlas mountains towards Marrakesh. Fortunately it did not disappoint. We set off from Oulad Berhil, a small village around 10km west of the turnoff for the Tizi n’test. The first part of the road was a (comparatively) gentle, winding ascent up into the mountains. We stopped for tea and sweet, shortbread like biscuits in a roadside cafe with beautiful views.
After this came the most spectacular section of the road. In places it was little more than a single cars width, on the bike this was fine (as long as we didn’t meet anyone coming the other way) but I felt very sorry for a couple we passed in a campervan who were clearly desperately wishing they had taken a different route!
Although the road was mostly paved the tarmac would inexplicably end at some of the narrowest and most exposed stretches, before picking up where it left off a few moments later. In several places there were large overhanging rocks, which making the route even more dramatic. Rather than try to describe the views, I will let you see for yourselves:
From the other side of the mountain:
Although it was less than 200km to Marrakesh we decided to break the journey by staying overnight in a home stay in the tiny Berber village of Ijoukak. It was the perfect way to end such a spectacular drive and one of my favourite experiences so far in Morrocco. We arrived at the village in the late afternoon and after asking if anyone knew our host Said, we were led to his family’s home. Said had not yet arrived and although his parents spoke only Amazigh (Berber) they warmly invited us into their living room, where they gave us Moroccan tea and popcorn. Said it later turned out was working at a hotel in Imlil. Concerned that we would not otherwise have anyone around who spoke English, he had arranged for his friend who had grown up in the village (and was confusingly also called Said) to drive all the way from Marrakesh to greet us. It was a very thoughtful gesture. Although Said’s elderly father managed to convey a great deal with a toothy grin and friendly ‘ça va?’ (it was the one French phrase he knew so he used a lot) it was wonderful to have the opportunity to talk at length to Said about life in the village and in Morocco generally.
Before dinner Leon’s cravings got the better of him and he decided to take a drive to the nearest shop to pick up some smokes. Khadija (Said’s mother) had jokingly asked if she could go with him, but it was actually the elderly Said Snr who ended up getting a lift. He had been dispatched to go and buy a new tagine dish for dinner and flagged Leon down as he passed him on the road. Despite the fact that he must have been in his mid-late 70’s at least, Said Snr hopped nimbly up onto the back of the bike (a mounever it took me quite some time to perfect), eschewing the side saddle approach favoured by most his age and instead rolling his long djellaba up around his waist so that he could put a leg either side. After stopping at various shops (to the great amusement of locals) a suitable tagine dish was found. Unfortunately whilst driving back, carrying a fragile old man and his equally fragile tagine dish, Leon came the closest yet to having a serious accident. The normally empty road was unusually busy, he had a lorry in front of him blocking his view ahead and another vehicle immediatly behind. The turnoff for the village was on the opposite side of the road and unwittingly he cut out into the path of an oncoming lorry. He has no choice but to accelerate in order to get out of the lorries way, meaning that they ended up bouncing down the dirk track down to the village at breakneck speed, before eventually coming to an abrupt stop. I asked Leon if the old man and tagine dish were OK? He said that Said Snr had apparently found their near-miss hilarious, thoughout the whole thing he could hear the old man giggling madly behind him.
Dinner that night was eaten with the family in their living room, harira soup to start, followed by chicken tagine. Both dishes were accompanied by homemade bread, which had been baked in a traditional clay oven. As you can see from the photos below the oven is in two parts, one part is filled with firewood this heats the other part which is where the bread is cooked (you can just make out the raw dough which is spread around the sides of the oven). Desert was a selection of oranges, not something I would usually get too excited about but I fully expect to go the rest of my life without tasting a clementine as perfect as the one I had in Ijoukak.
After a hearty breakfast of more oven baked bread, omelette, locally grown olives and homemade jams we set off again. The above picture was taken as everyone came to wave us goodbye. We will make a quick detour to Marrakesh (where I can hopefully pick up some new motorbike gloves) before heading to the coast and then beggining our journey South to Western Sahara.