January 10, 2008 GMT
The Anti Atlas Mountains

“I’m not anti Atlas” he said. “I’m really quite pro-Atlas”.

1 to 9 Jan 08

Aatlas 003.jpg

Every parking space in any big town is controlled by a parking “warden” who makes his meagre living by organising the parking and guarding your car or bike. I paid the guard in Agadir well to keep our Elephant safe and also had him give it a New Year’s Eve wash; the first since leaving home. For reasons that will become obvious later in this story, his effort was wasted.

Into the Mountains

Morocco is defined by its mountains. The Riff Mountains press hard against the Mediterranean in the north. The Anti Atlas slashes across the country and isolates the arid south. The Middle Atlas and mighty Atlas Mountains form a defining backbone driving from the northeast down to tumble into the sea at Agadir on the Atlantic coast. Other lesser ranges such as the Sahro ensure that almost everywhere in the country is framed by mountains.

Bike riders love mountains because mountains have mountain roads! Corners!

Aatlas 005.jpg

An hour after riding out of Agadir on New Year’s Day we had crossed the fertile Souss Valley and were heading into the foothills of the Anti Atlas Mountains. The road wound up into the hills that were heavily terraced to use every available piece of fertile land. Although the surface was often treacherous, with gravel on almost every corner, the riding was great fun with stunning sights that kept us interested.

Aatlas 010.jpg

Passing through high valleys we found many kasbahs. Some were ancient and crumbling back to the earth. Others, like this one, are still in use.

Aatlas 015.jpg

An overnight stop in the hill town of Tafraoute reintroduced us to chilly mountain weather. But after a great day’s riding in the foothills, we were looking forward to pressing on into the mountains.

Aatlas 017.jpg

From Tafraoute, we climbed north east into the Anti Atlas Mountains along an exhilarating black snake of a road towards the mountain village of Igherm.

Aatlas 020.jpg

At a high pass we stopped to get our first view across the top of the range, and…

Aatlas 019.jpg

…added a little nitrogen to the depleted soil.

Aatlas 021.jpg

Aatlas 022.jpg

We found tiny and very poor villages clinging to the rugged hills. While the soil is rich in this area, there is little flat land and very little water. These villagers literally scratch out a living.

Aatlas 025.jpg

We rode on through the village of Igherm and turned south east towards Tata through some spectacular mountain valleys.

Aatlas 027.jpg

The Anti Atlas have been thrown up like huge skeletons stripped of vegetation and soil…

Aatlas 030.jpg

…all backbone and ribs…

Aatlas 037.jpg

…with extraordinary colours reflected from weathered minerals.

Aatlas 026.jpg

The road snaked down the valley and provided an exhilarating ride. At our overnight stop at Tata, we were in great spirits. We ate a hearty Berber meal at a rambling hotel that was full of “expeditioners” heading into or out of the deserts of the south. These folk pay a lot of money to be squeezed into a Landrover or Landcruiser and be driven into the small patch of sand that Morocco calls a desert (it wouldn’t qualify in most places) where they stay at a “Berber Camp” before returning to the comfort of the Tata hotel.

If we hadn’t been so excited by the two days of amazing riding so far, we might have checked the weather report before making our next decision. With the sort of blissful ignorance that always precedes a beating, we decided to go north into the mountains again and to make for the village of Taliouine which is the centre of saffron production.

Our first leg was to revisit the village if Igherm, this time by a different, higher mountain pass. As we rumbled up through the hills we took this photo of a small oasis.

Aatlas 045.jpg

This was the last photo we took for the next day and a half. Twenty minutes after this we were climbing through the cloud base on a treacherously slippery switchback mountain road. It started to rain and didn’t stop for the remainder of the day.

We stopped at a village café for hot coffee, and to put on more warm clothes and our outer waterproof suits (and to provide much entertainment for the locals). We pressed on through the mountains covering 45 km without getting out of third gear.

It was still raining when we arrived at Taliouine so we elected to leave the saffron cooperative to its own devices, find an omelette for lunch and get warm in our hotel. We ate dinner in our hotel still warm in our riding suits. We were finding out that Moroccans don’t have much in the way of heating in their homes or hotels. It is simply too expensive. People just put on more clothing and put up with the cold. That night a German family staying at the same hotel came to dinner with a blanket from their room to keep warm in the icy dining room.

Into the Desert

If the Taliouine hotel had been warmer, we might have snuggled in with a novel and waited out the rain. As it was, this seemed like a second best option, so the next morning on went the nylon suits and we rolled the Elephant out onto the road.

By lunch we had reached the village of Agdz in the Draa Valley and had left the rain behind.

Aatlas 048.jpg

The village of Agdz was so pleased we were coming that they decked the town out in national flags. The visit by the King the previous week was merely incidental!

The fact that we were out of our rain suits, however, did not get us out of trouble. The winds that had brought rain and snow to the mountains blew itself out across the desert creating a dust storm that limited visibility and kept our helmet visors down. By the time we got to The Palmeraie Hotel at Zagora it was blowing hard and we were keen to get us and the bike indoors.

Aatlas 078.jpg

Like many hotels, The Palmeraie was happy for me to park the Elephant in its foyer…

Aatlas 051.jpg

…where we had to warn it not to fraternise with the mounts of some crazy Spanish cyclists.

When the dust settled the following day we decided that, having come this far south, we may as well go to the end of the road to the old caravan town of M’Hamid. The weather looked good, we felt good and the Elephant had had enough time with the cycles.

Aatlas 053.jpg

The Draa is Morocco’s largest river and its valley is broad and dry with a thin line of green marking out the water course. A little further south, the river simply disappears into the desert sands only to reappear and find its way into the Atlantic just north of Tan Tan.

Aatlas 056.jpg

As we went further south, thatched fencing was used to stop the sand blowing across the road and …

Aatlas 068.jpg

…the desert came up to meet us.

When we arrived in M’Hamid we were surrounded by touts offering guides into the desert, Berber camp experiences and “jeeps” to take our luggage, before we had even switched off the ignition. So…

Aatlas 066.jpg

…we didn’t switch off. We just headed out of town and went to find some desert ourselves.

Aatlas 070.jpg

Finally, we found a little shade and decided to boil the billy. Almost on cue, a bunch of Berbers turned up in a rat-arsed Renault R4 and offered to take us to their desert camp for a sleep-over. We sent them packing and were delighted when…

Aatlas 072.jpg

…they got stuck a little up the track. We reckoned that they were the desert experts, so we packed up and left them to it!

Aatlas 059.jpg

Down this way camels are still used for a lot of basic transport tasks. This train was heading off to re-supply a camp. While we found this fellow…

Aatlas 074.jpg

…hobbled in the desert and waiting for his owner to come back from market.

Since both Jo and I have done our time sleeping under the stars in the freezing desert, we decided to leave the sandhills to the tourists and the touts and head north again to see if it had stopped raining on the mountains. Bike riders will understand this sentiment, others will just have to figure it out.

Into the Gorges

Next stop was El-Kelaa M’Gouna in the Dades Valley, also known as the Valley of a Thousand Kasbahs.

The town was packed for market day and we found a Berber wedding procession blocking one side of the road.

Aatlas 089.jpg

About 50 women with musical instruments paraded the bride along the street on the way to the ceremony.

Aatlas 143.jpg

Here in the south, where the population is nearly all Berber, we found women to be much more prominent in everyday life. They often spontaneously waved and smiled as we rode through the villages and they are engaged in commerce in one area or another. We didn’t see this in the Arab north.

Aatlas 114.jpg

In El-Kelaa M’Gouna, we shared our overnight stop with a group of about 16 riders who had paid a king’s ransom to spend a week riding dirt bikes in Morocco and following the Paris-Dakar. They had only been in country for one day and one rider already had an arm in a sling and they were all pissed-off about the cancellation of the rally. The Elephant wasn’t interested in any skinny bummed KTMs, so we left them to it.

Aatlas 083.jpg

The road up into the mountains was another spectacular ride…

Aatlas 094.jpg

…always with the snow covered Atlas Mountains framed by the powder blue Moroccan sky.

Aatlas 091.jpg

We found many spectacular old kasbahs running up the fertile valley leading to the Dades Gorge.

Aatlas 129.jpg

And the higher we got, the more eerie they became against the snow covered mountains.

Aatlas 123.jpg

The gorge finally appeared at the head of the valley and the road clambered up in a series of impossible switchbacks. Through a narrow pass at the top, the road dropped away into a second valley beyond the gorge. Unfortunately this section got little sun and the snow and hard ice made it an unlikely prospect on the bike. We did a three point turn and headed back to the top of the pass…

Aatlas 127.jpg

…and the café at the top of the world for hot coffee…

Aatlas 125.jpg

…and a little route re-consideration.

We decided to do what we often do when faced with an impasse and went back down into the valley and found some lunch. In this case, our favourite lunch, the Berber Omelette.

Aatlas 138.jpg

These are made in a tajine and contain onions, skinned tomatoes, olives and saffron. Delicious!

Aatlas 175.jpg

We also thought the name of the restaurant was appropriate since Jo’s nephew, Christoph, has just become a father. His wife, Siobhan, gave birth to Ava on New Year’s Day.

Aatlas 180.jpg

Further east at the village of Tinerhir, the proprietor of the Oasis Hotel let us park the Elephant in the storeroom. I would recommend that anyone planning a trip like this spend some time practising riding their fully laden bike up stairs. It is a skill you will need!

Aatlas 130.jpg

Our last adventure in the south was a ride up the Todra Gorge. Jo had been in this area in 1971 and the only thing she remembered from that trip were the goats…

Aatlas 147.jpg

…and the goatherd she met. She reckoned that this eight year old…

Aatlas 145.jpg

…is probably the great grandson of the fellow she met in ’71!

Perhaps the goat could be related to the one she saw back then; or perhaps not.

Aatlas 144.jpg

Aatlas 158.jpg

The road up the gorge had been washed out the year before so progress was slow. When we finally cleared the gorge and reached the last village…

Aatlas 156.jpg

Aatlas 150.jpg

…we found a group of Brits on BMWs and a KTM parked to clear mud from the back wheel of one of the bikes.

Aatlas 151.jpg

After the mandatory discussion on the benefits of shaft drive, we bid both the boys and the gorge farewell. We headed back to the bitumen and the road west to Ouarzazate and access to a pass over the High Atlas.

By the afternoon of 9 Jan the Elephant was parked on the veranda of another hotel and we were drinking red wine and talking about riding over the mountains into Marrakech.

This time we will check the weather report before we start!

Posted by Mike Hannan at January 10, 2008 02:41 PM GMT

Renedian Adventures

HU DVD Summer Special!

Now that summer is here, get On the Road! Take 30% off the Achievable Dream - On the Road! 2-DVD set until August 31 only. Get On the Road! Learn the tips to staying healthy, happy and secure on your motorcycle adventure!

Our veteran travellers share their tips (and great stories) for staying healthy, happy and secure on your motorcycle adventure.

"A fantastic, informative and inspirational DVD."

"It's brilliant - thank you very much!"

Check it out at the HU Store! Remember to use Coupon Code 'ONTHEROAD' on your order when you checkout.

What others say about HU...

"I just wanted to say thanks for doing this and sharing so much with the rest of us." Dave, USA

"Your website is a mecca of valuable information and the DVD series is informative, entertaining, and inspiring! The new look of the website is very impressive, updated and catchy. Thank you so very much!" Jennifer, Canada

"...Great site. Keep up the good work." Murray and Carmen, Australia

"We just finished a 7 month 22,000+ mile scouting trip from Alaska to the bottom of Chile and I can't tell you how many times we referred to your site for help. From how to adjust your valves, to where to stay in the back country of Peru. Horizons Unlimited was a key player in our success. Motorcycle enthusiasts from around the world are in debt to your services." Alaska Riders

contest pic

10th Annual HU Travellers Photo Contest is on now! This is an opportunity for YOU to show us your best photos and win prizes!

NEW! HU 2014 Adventure Travel T-shirts! are now available in several colors! Be the first kid on your block to have them! New lower prices on synths!

HU 2014 T-shirts now in!

Check out the new Gildan Performance cotton-feel t-shirt - 100% poly, feels like soft cotton!

What turns you on to motorcycle travel?

Global Rescue, WORLDwide evacuation services for EVERYONE

Global Rescue is the premier provider of medical, security and evacuation services worldwide and is the only company that will come to you, wherever you are, and evacuate you to your home hospital of choice. Additionally, Global Rescue places no restrictions on country of citizenship - all nationalities are eligible to sign-up!

New to Horizons Unlimited?

New to motorcycle travelling? New to the HU site? Confused? Too many options? It's really very simple - just 4 easy steps!

Horizons Unlimited was founded in 1997 by Grant and Susan Johnson following their journey around the world on a BMW R80 G/S motorcycle.

Susan and Grant Johnson Read more about Grant & Susan's story

Membership - help keep us going!

Horizons Unlimited is not a big multi-national company, just two people who love motorcycle travel and have grown what started as a hobby in 1997 into a full time job (usually 8-10 hours per day and 7 days a week) and a labour of love. To keep it going and a roof over our heads, we run events (22 this year!); we sell inspirational and informative DVDs; we have a few selected advertisers; and we make a small amount from memberships.

You don't have to be a Member to come to an HU meeting, access the website, the HUBB or to receive the e-zine. What you get for your membership contribution is our sincere gratitude, good karma and knowing that you're helping to keep the motorcycle travel dream alive. Contributing Members and Gold Members do get additional features on the HUBB. Here's a list of all the Member benefits on the HUBB.

Books & DVDs


All the best travel books and videos listed and often reviewed on HU's famous Books page. Check it out and get great travel books from all over the world.

Motorcycle Express for shipping and insurance!

Motorcycle Express

MC Air Shipping, (uncrated) USA / Canada / Europe and other areas. Be sure to say "Horizons Unlimited" to get your $25 discount on Shipping!
Insurance - see: For foreigners traveling in US and Canada and for Americans and Canadians traveling in other countries, then mail it to MC Express and get your HU $15 discount!

Story and photos copyright ©

Sorry, you need a Javascript enabled browser to get the email address and dates. You can contact Horizons Unlimited at the link below. Please be sure to tell us WHICH blog writer you wish to contact.

All Rights Reserved.

Contact the author:

Editors note: We accept no responsibility for any of the above information in any way whatsoever. You are reminded to do your own research. Any commentary is strictly a personal opinion of the person supplying the information and is not to be construed as an endorsement of any kind.

Hosted by: Horizons Unlimited, the motorcycle travellers' website!
You can have your story here too - click for details!