cooperative femenine d'huile d'argan, Morocco - Polarsteps
We kept climbing from Toufliht, through bigger mountainscapes; everything around us got so huge. We passed through corridors of roadside geode salesmen, some willing to laugh with us about the absurdity of trying to sell giant rocks to cyclists heading up a mountain. We caught stunning glimpses of the snowcaps, and wove between rocky peaks and past villages built into the landscape, scattered up cliffsides and clustered at the sides of streams. We got higher and it got colder. We stopped in Taddart 1 (Taddart 2 is a second village 2km up the road); we'd met a trio of German cyclists coming from this direction the previous day, and they'd recommended a gîte d'étape in Taddart. Strategically it was a good stop, placing us 16km from the summit of the Tizi n'Tichkal pass; it would set us up perfectly to head over the pass and down the other side the next day.
We found the gîte and found Abdul, who runs it; we got our bikes set up in the locked schoolroom downstairs, hauled all our gear upstairs, and went to the tagine restaurant next door, where the owner set us up with a dish of burning coals to stay warm and fed us mint tea, fresh bread, and a steaming vegetable tagine.
The gîte was unheated but abundant in blankets, and we spent the night burrowed into our little twin beds. We got up ready to tackle the mountain pass, hauled everything back downstairs, loaded the bikes, and took off. It was lightly raining and cold, not the best day to be doing this, but we were determined to press on through it.
The first strange thing was that there were trucks parked all down the side of the road through Taddart 1, and there was a truck-specific barrier on the side of the road and a lot of men milling about. We passed the barrier and they just wished us good luck and bon voyage, so we figured everything was good and continued up the road.
2km later, in Taddart 2, the road was 100% gridlocked and nothing was moving. We scooted up through the traffic until we saw a barrier, and a man in a vest came and informed us that the pass was snowed over and closed. He strongly encouraged us to get on a bus instead, a perplexing suggestion considering the buses were also blocked from going anywhere.
We were right next to a cafe, and we parked the bikes and sheltered from the rain with a pot of tea for a while to watch the gridlock (which the whole town was out just observing, too) and think about what to do. We found enough of a signal to look up the weather forecast for the pass, and it wasn't good.
Getting chilled to the bone, we eventually decided to return to the gîte; we rode back down the road, but couldn't find Abdul and we didn't have the keys anymore, so when Omar called us into his tagine restaurant-- the one on the other side of the gite from the one we'd eaten at the previous day-- we went for it and ordered tea and food. At this point Taddart 1 was also packed with backed-up traffic, and a Malaysian tour group had left their bus and was also sheltering at Omar's; they were taking the delay in stride and we talked with some of them about our respective trips.
Our one-day delay in this tiny High Atlas village turned into five. The weather was miserable and the gîte was cold, and the skylight in the central common area leaked badly and flooded the floor. One night the power was out, and then the next day both the power and water were gone. The wind rattled the walls at night. Towards the end we discovered a bright sunroom on the next floor up, colder than our dark little room but with couches, tables, and a perfect view of the mountains and, more importantly, the roadblock down on the street. We haunted it a bit, on the last couple of days watching as they sometimes opened up the barricade to let groups of cars through, then closed it again for hours.
The regular cast of local characters in our time in Taddart were the shy man who ran the convenience store across the road and sold us bread, cheese, eggs, chips and chocolate every day; Abdul, who managed the gîte and checked every day to see if we needed anything, and accepted our continuous request for one more day; and Omar, who ran the tagine restaurant downstairs-- we spent an evening drinking tea in his apartment with another traveller from Italy, and another day he showed us around his rock and gem shop down the road.
We were in the rotating company of other travellers at the gîte; a German family stayed a night, then backtracked down the mountain, then came back before finally driving the pass, and their update texts from the mountain helped us decide to finally go over. Lena and Stefan, also German, came in the night of the power outage fresh off a series of travel delays getting to Marrakech; the four of us and their hired guide were the only guests that night, and we stayed up talking and laughing in their room, all of us grateful for the company in a dark, cold space.
The last travellers we coincided with were Kevin and Juan Miguel (French and Spanish respectively, both living in the Netherlands)-- also on a bike tour, also delayed by the road closure and headed our way to Ouarzazate, timing that for the next three days forged us into a four-person-strong bike gang taking on the roads of southern Morocco.
🚲 Bike Jaunt 🚲
cooperative femenine d'huile d'argan