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No.83 Bicycle touring Africa – Morocco Part II – The fascination of the desert

Jan 27, 2019 | Africa, Blog, Morocco

I left Missour on a gravel road and was happy about my newly won freedom. Not having the police on my back anymore was just brilliant and from then on nothing stood in the way of camping.

The landscape was rather unspectacular. But even the unglamorous stretches, with their endless, empty feeling of nothingness, can still find a way to make me happy. Desert has been and remains my favorite terrain. Pure, unmatched joy for me, experiencing the absolute silence, having the stars within my reach and being able to give my attention to the supposedly small meaningless things.

Finding firewood was relatively easy here.  The dry palm fronds burn very well, even if their heat output is really low. But I am able to get my dishes cooked easily with them.

The nights were still cold, but dry and bearable.

Dromedaries crossed my way quite a few times and with not much going on out here the shepherds were happy for a little chat.

Shortly before a village I suddenly saw the first tourists. So far, I had not met a single foreigner. Now Spaniards acting as if they were race car drivers, driving like maniacs with their 4×4 monsters, hurtled past leaving me not only in a cloud of dust but also a shower of stones.

In the next village I was invited for the night right-off. A nice family, this time with only 2 children. In principle it always amazes me how many people live in such small houses. And how many people come to visit in the course of the day. And how much tea is drunk during these visits.

The women seem to be really only busy with cooking. And of course, with raising children. However, I have to say that the children are mainly involved in the daily life of the household, carried around or they play outside with others.

I haven’t seen a book or a game played within the family circle.

I was allowed to help with bread baking and cutting vegetables in the kitchen. I was shown the village and the surrounding countryside.

They were also crazy about being photographed. The mother of the house even changed clothes several times so that I could make a few portraits of her.

During this visit a person appeared again, pretending to be a policeman. He wanted to see my passport and wondered why I photographed people here in the village and what I wanted here.

But I just left him standing in the rain and he disappeared again.

Before the common meal, everyone’s hands are washed. One of the women pours water over the extended hands, the water ending up in a bowl. The towel goes around and only then everyone starts to eat. Soap is not used.

As always, I got the biggest piece of meat and as always, I tried to push it back into the middle of the plate.

Surprisingly, even in the remotest areas of Morocco there is still Internet reception from time to time. And so, as anywhere else, the Smart Phone has the everyday life of the people firmly under control.

In the village market stalls, you can seldom buy something useful, but for sure you can recharge your cell phone data.

Often you see people sitting together in some corner of the village, because it has the best reception there. WhatsApp and watching movies are the order of the day. They always want my WhatsApp number to communicate with me, but we can hardly talk in person, how is that supposed to work via phone?

When the men are thirsty, the women bring them water. When the men want something to eat, they sit down at the table. If the men need anything else, the woman is called. This also applies to siblings. When they work in the fields, women have to help carry heavy loads, despite the fact they are already carrying their babies on their backs.

As a Westerner, I naturally have my difficulties with all this. But it is not my job to evaluate it, I only observe. And as in every country there are cultural things that I like and others that I don’t quite like.

On the other hand, the men often treat the children very lovingly. And they are extremely friendly and helpful and very respectful towards me. As a guest I am treated like a man but with more freedom, as I have access to the men and women of the family.

Girls may already be married as teenagers, having dropped out of school to take care of their children.

I met a woman, in her mid-20s, who worked as a teacher in a very remote place. She drove a Volkswagen Golf and wore jeans and a turban instead of a headscarf. Somehow, we immediately felt like soul mates and sat down on the street for a chat.

I said to her: “You are very progressive in your appearance for this region of the country. Certainly, some people might have problems with you.”

To which she replied: “Well, look at yourself, after all you are much more exotic than me”. We both had to laugh.

She was tired of the female role and no longer wanted to be subordinate to men. She now goes her own way. She is convinced that the way of life here in Morocco will soon adapt to that of the Western world.

It’s a man’s world here, only men sit in the cafés, in larger villages you hardly see a woman on the streets. Also, in the shops and restaurants, one is rarely served by women. I think in the big cities one gets a completely different impression. But here in the country, the gender role is still very precisely followed.

I have hardly seen fully covered faces. However, some of the women are shy. Especially the nomadic women. The children, on the other hand, are very interested – whether girls or boys.

Villages are often very lively and It can be really fun to spend time in them. What I particularly enjoy is not only the very friendly atmosphere, but also how secure I feel here. I can stroll through the streets in the middle of the night without having to worry about anything.

So far, I’m totally excited about Morocco. Everything fits together for me.

I continued on, riding more small roads ending up in Boudenib. From there a 100 KM long gravel road branched off to Erfoud. A tourist destination, because Morocco’s largest sand dune, Erg Chebbi is not far away.

But until then I still had 100 KM track all to myself. The route varied considerably. Sand, boulders, palm trees, endless stones, passing dromedaries and the closer I came to Erfoud the more nomads I saw. Altogether a fascinating route.

To be on the safe side, I had 10 liters of water with me because I had not researched this track. But since the temperatures were quite cool, I didn’t need that much after all. I’d rather have more than too little in the end. Nothing makes me more nervous than not having enough water.

There were many side tracks but because I was using the App I was able to stay on course to Erfoud. Some places along the way were very sandy forcing me to dismount and push. But in the end the track was much easier than I had expected.

Shortly before Erfoud I met a nomadic family. The son had lost his leg and was definitely the most talented person with two crutches I have ever seen. How he ran with his crutches through this stony terrain was absolutely sensational. He was hoping for a prosthesis and asked if I could help him.

I camped nearby and was “tuned” to sleep with the sounds of donkeys and sheep.

In Erfoud, three little girls and a gang of boys confronted me with the negative effects of tourism for the first time. They wanted money and sweets and who knows what else and quickly became aggressive because I didn’t want to give them anything. A boy even grabbed my cell phone out of my pocket when I was putting on my jacket. That had never happened to me before.

Along the road hustlers tried to guide me to hotels and the restaurants suddenly had menus with prices three times as high as in other areas. These sudden changes were a real turn-off and I understood now for the first time why some people speak so negatively about Morocco. If I had such experiences every day, I would have moved on long ago.

These negative changes also made me glad not to have hit the tourist scene earlier and I realized I had done a good job in picking my route and avoiding all this so far.

In Erfoud I met Esther, a Swiss woman, with whom I spent a few days on an official camping site. Sylvia and Paul from Germany joined in. Sylvia said to me: “A Heike and also by bike? You look somehow familiar to me”. In the end we knew each other, having met in Mexico – the world is sometimes a village.

I took the bitumen road to Erg Chebbi and was allowed to stay in a nomad tent in a tourist hotel for free. There I met Anita who was traveling on a small motorbike she had purchased in Morocco. She has chosen a similar lifestyle, so we had a lot to talk about. By chance she has a friend who works for the Red Cross as a development worker, dealing with prosthetics. Maybe the young man will be in luck – although such a prosthesis has to be adapted.

From Taouz my route continued on gravel. This time along the Algerian border. At first, I was insecure, because I didn’t really know anything about the condition of the road. The people were also suddenly a little different. Lots of guys on scooters going who knows where, I didn’t find the atmosphere as positive as before.

Shortly before the first village I was stopped by a guy on a scooter. He wanted me to spend the night with his family. “Yes, sure thanks for your offer” I replied. He explained where his shop was so that I could find him. Just before dark I reached the place and right away went to him. But suddenly for some reason he had no more interest in me. Fortunately, another man took over who spoke Spanish very well and got me the key to the parish hall and let me spend the night there.

I unpacked my stove and started cooking when most of the villagers were already in their houses. Then the scooter driver came back and asked again if I would like to spend the night with him and his family. As a woman alone here is not safe.

“Oh, and why didn’t you say anything to me when I was at your store? No, I’ll stay here.” I replied.

The next morning, I went shopping at his store and then pushed on. A short time later I was again on the lonely road. And the same guy appeared again and suddenly wanted to see my passport.

I asked him, “What’s this all about?

“I’m the village boss and for your safety I want to see your passport.”

“Here in the middle of nowhere? Why didn’t you ask me in the village?

Of course, I paid him no mind, hoping inwardly that he would go back to the village and not get any stupid ideas. Admittedly I was little nervous.

Luckily, he turned around.

The lonely track was far less lonely than I had thought at first. There was absolutely no traffic but about every 15 km there was an Auberge. So, an accommodation and the people were very used to tourists. But since I was the only tourist, it wasn’t negative like the other more heavily traveled areas. With the frequent small hotels, it was easy to keep my water bottles full, enjoy cups of tea and great contact with the people.

But I always slept in the tent under the starry sky.

Full moon is often a great time in the desert. And I enjoyed the extremely bright nights to the fullest. But it was so bright in the tent that I really thought somebody was shining a torch all night long directly into my eyes.

The track had a lot of sand. Which was really not easy. I had to push a lot. But it was terrific out there.

At night, I once heard some pretty strange noises. I don’t know yet what kind of animals they were, but I think they could only have been dromedaries. If you are all alone in the tent, strange noises that you can’t interpret can be a bit creepy.

What totally fascinated me were the many tracks in the sand. The dromedaries were of course easy to identify. Also, the lizards I recognized immediately. But I found the strange raindrops very impressive. I certainly don’t know what kind of animal or insect created them.

On Christmas Eve I didn’t want to be alone. Somehow it is a family celebration and so I wanted to have someone around me.

It was still about 2 hours before nightfall when I discovered a nomad family. And thus, I headed for their tent. The ladies were shy and didn’t really want any contact. But I was allowed to stay. I hoped that the men were somewhere nearby. Surely, they were still with the herd on the way and would come back shortly before sunset.

And so, it was. Until then I cooked my Christmas dinner on the fire. Set up my tent in their proximity and hoped for a beautiful evening.

It was already dark when the men came and with them surely 150 sheep. Well super. My tent was encircled in the shortest time the yelping dog and the many sheep made a proper noise.

The oldest man approached me right away. While the women had totally ignored me, the man immediately shook my hand and asked me into their tent. With a car battery, a lamp was switched on and I was served again Whisky Berber – strong sweet tea.

The communal plate consisted of totally overcooked vegetables, flavored with a bone with barely any meat on it. Everything tasted strongly of mutton. This was the first meal of my whole time in Morocco, which I could hardly eat. Sadly it was really disgusting.

Conversation or any real communication just wasn’t working out here and so, I soon left the tent again and tried to find sleep amongst all the sheep chaos. The dog drove me crazy because he yelped on and on right next to my tent and apparently nobody but myself was bothered by this.

For breakfast I was served soup and afterwards I politely said goodbye to the oldest man, while the women continued to ignore me.

Shortly before the end of the track in the direction of Zagora I came into a village. Tissemoumine. A man who spoke good English invited me into his home. In the evening the family barbecued turkey on the wood burning grill and so I ended up enjoying a delicious Christmas meal.

I camped up on the flat roof and played a little with the many children of the village.

The next day, shortly before the bitumen road resumed I met the first two European off-road vehicles. An Italian and a Swiss couple. We had an extensive chat in the middle of the road.

Now it was not far to the mountains. Originally, I wanted to stay in the desert, however, at the crossroads I decided to go right instead of to the left. Direction Nkob. A place full of Kasbahs.

Now the mountain world lies ahead of me. The Atlas mountains within reach. So far there is no snow. But the temperatures have dropped a lot in the last days.

I am curious what’s ahead!



  1. Hi Heike – thanks for another fantastic post. I had to stop my work to read it in full. Really beautiful photographs, especially the children. May I ask a question? My husband and I have booked flights to Iran in April for a cycle tour. Something I’ve always wanted to do. Did you use to find secondary roads or a paper map? Many thanks Lyn

    • Hi Lyn,

      thank you! Glad I was able to entertain you for a bit 🙂

      I didn’t have a phone when I was in Iran. Just in case you don’t know you need a VPN to use Internet in Iran.
      So if you like to download the map – make sure you download it before you enter the country.
      It could be possible that the map isn’t as accurate as in other countries……I used a paper map and asked people.

      Happy riding – you will love Iran!

      Cheers Heike

  2. Great! Excellent pics an good text too!
    Kan you write the whole route for us, please? ?
    Bogdan and Daniella

  3. Great story and very lovely photographs! I wish you a lot of succes and strength in the mountains. They are great but often cols in wintertime.

    What are you doing with your pictures, do you editing them?
    I really love the atmosphere of your puctures!

    • Thank you Dory!

      Yes a bit cold – true!

      Editing them? Well, I do work on them a bit – depends on the picture – but not much.

      Cheers Heike

      • Great! You put the right atmoshere in your pictures!

  4. Heike, having followed you for several years now, I believe I know a little bit about you. So, I think I can safely say that you are enjoying Morocco more than a little. I’ve noticed over time that when a country is making you happy you make more photos and there is more variety. Morocco seems to be giving it all, fabulous portraits of men, women and children. Beautiful, breathtaking landscapes and fascinating street scenes.
    Your story was great as usual, but the connections with the people of Morocco that you are making is so clear from your photos, this blog could almost have been wordless.
    Thanks again, cheers & windless days!!!

    • Thanks my friend – Ron – you named it – I love Morocco!
      Best greetings to the USA – Heike

  5. Pushbikegirl, by the way I hope your Tip Jar gets filled up so you can continue to take us along. You’re doing a great job !!!!

  6. As always, your photos and account of your experience are very inspirational! Thank you for making the time to keep us updated.

  7. Another lovely report Heike. Thank you.

    Could those teardrop tracks have been some kind of rodent?

    • Hi Dexey,

      one of my followers send me an email and I think he nailed it.
      I copy his answer:

      Speaking of insects, perhaps your mysterious “drops in the sands” are the signs of larvae stage of some egg laying lace-wing insect (ant-lions).

      If you look at some ant-lions pictures online and what holes they create then his idea seems right.

      Always nice to learn about the diversity of life….

      Best greetings Heike

      • “Always nice to learn about the diversity of life….”
        Especially when you are sleeping on top of it? :0)

  8. I’m going to be in Sidi Ifni January 29-31, are you near? Let’s meet up. I’m the American cyclist who lives in Slovenia. We’ll be in Taroudant Feb, 1-3 too

    • Hi Jeff, sorry still too far away from Sidi Ifni.
      Could you do me a favour? I would love to know if there is still a possibility to extend a visa…
      I get mixed informations and I am puzzled if Sidi Ifni is still the place to go…

      Would be super helpful for me!

      Keep riding! Where is next for you?

      Cheers Heike

  9. Hi Heike,

    Big congratulations for your many interesting experiences and your freedom. Well done!

    I’ve traveled quite freely for many years (and hope to continue for many more years!) with a tent, hitchhiking, walking and public transportation, but never with a bicycle. However, I use the bicycle every day when not traveling, and I plan to do short trips (one week-long or so) to see if I like the experience and want to do a longer trip. So I’d like to know your advice regarding the following aspect of cycling: The thing that annoys me and worries me the most is the danger of cars and trucks in the road. In this post about the Moroccan desert I love the empty roads and the silence! So, could you recommend a few countries in which you can travel in roads with very few cars?

    Thank you and good luck in your travels!


    • Hi Jordi,


      Yes the traffic is something to avoid at all cost.
      The more people the more cars… check out the map and go for deserts and mountains….
      The more human-unfriendly a terrain the less people live there.

      But there are also minor roads/trails in many countries where you can get off-the-beaten-track.

      What I like to mention also is that I no longer want to make “commercial” for a specific country – rather for my lifestyle. And the lifestyle I chose can be lived right in front of your own door. I don’t know where you are from, but sitting in a plane and jumping into a new world within few hours might be all nice and exciting, but not very environmentally friendly and also not very relaxing, especially for only a week or two. Packing and unpacking a bike in a box and transfer it to the airport back and force is no fun. For a longer trip – fine – for a week – no.

      I recommend to start in front of your door and simply find the trails there are….
      But I guess you know all this by now – right?

      I posted my 12 favourite touring routes here maybe you can some inspiration through it

      Enjoy the roads…..Heike

      • Hi Heike,

        Indeed my question was referring to a long trip. With very few exceptions I rarely take a plane if not for at least three months. I’ve been living on the road for 13 years (and continuing) with very little money, and to travel to a distant location for a short period of time would be very wasteful also economically and wouldn’t make sense in order to have an appreciation of the place (I’m a fan of slow travel).

        Thank you very much for recommending your 12 favorite routes post. It looks the kind of information I was asking for. I see you also dislike cars. I’ll read it with interest.

        Happy travels!


  10. Thanks again Heike for the photos and your story its facinating to read and look at.
    Im trying to motiveate myself to get out there and live a more simple life but the lure
    of the dollar is strong.

    Happy Traveling.


    • Hi Richie, if the Dollar makes you happy then you are doing the right thing or not?
      Happy greetings…..Heike

  11. Heike,

    The pictures are absolutely stunning, portraits of peoples of the beaten track are so interesting.
    Having worked in desert for oil exploration, I have stayed in remote locations for many years and worked with locals and made good friends. In Morocco, there are really nice people, maybe the most welcoming in North Africa which is a hotspot in that regard.
    The desert is so beautiful, not damaged by humans, empty, you feel you are alive and of value in these places. It is also pure, you dont get this feeling anywhere else. No wonder that religions are sometimes born there. We also notice the plants and life with more acuity due to its rarity and how precious it is. Plants are often beautiful and suddenly bloom in flowers at the occasional rain. Time has no limit, there it is very clear, we can see how small we are and somehow understand our real value in the world.

    • Thomas, so well said – yes the desert is an amazing place! The best part of it – no one wants to live there – so we desert lovers have it all to ourselves….
      Best greetings Heike

  12. What an interesting journey you are on Heike!! Great to see even when the women, well, most of them, work so hard all day they still have smiles on their faces!!! Thank you so much for the story and pictures of a place I’ll never see in person. So glad I follow all you bikers traveling the world so I can see it for myself in my living room!!! Keep safe and happy travels!!

    • Glad you are enjoying it 🙂
      Best greetings to the living room….Heike

  13. I love what you said about observing–I read somewhere that “observation is the highest form of intelligence,” and I believe that. Your work on your blog is so valuable for all of us readers and followers–thanks and safe travels! hugs

    • Catherine….thank you very much for those lovely words. Sending you best wishes and a big hug….
      Cheers Heike

  14. Hi Heike,

    your photos from Morocco are truly amazing!!! And although they are telling the story – I still read – or rather swallowed the blog post. What a great adventure you are living! Thank you so much for sharing!!!

    I had the pleasure travelling to Morocco twice for windsurfing: approx 20 years back to Essauira and last year to Dakhla (West Sahara).

    Before the first trip I had doubts, if I would feel comfortable in an Islamic country – and boy was I wrong! I met so many amazing people, always friendly and respectful among each other and versus foreigners, saw school girls some in mini skirts, others long skirted with scarfes – playing and laughing with each other. I fell in love with the otherwordly landscape and nature, the food, the music and the diverse craftmanship with the beautiful wood carvings and the colorful tiles.

    Although my short trips were much different and superficial compared to your journey, I fully understand your passion for country, people and your way of travelling.

    I wish you safe travels, more encounters with amazing people and nature, a helping hand when needed and a continuous curiosity that enables your adventure!

    Grüße aus der Heimat (Weinheim)

    • Thanks very much Sanne 🙂 Glad to hear you had a great time as well…..

      Haben wir uns letztes Jahr auf einer Parkbank im Rhein-Neckar-Zentrum unterhalten 🙂 Oder bist Du jemand anders?

      Cheers Heike

      • Das war ich nicht, aber das kann ja noch kommen ?. Obwohl es in der Region NOCH schönere Plätze als eine Bank im RNZ gibt. ?
        Gute Reise!

        • Gut 🙂 Dann mal bis irgendwann im Hermannshof 🙂

  15. Heike,

    Lovely photos. I envy your travels. I was in Turkey in 1996 and I also noticed the absence of 15-30 year old women. Sad. I was 25 before I realized the world is a different place if you’re not a 193cm, university educated, white man. Fortunately the world is much more than the madness of human foibles!


    • Yes we have tons of advantages – but we are usually the ones who complain the most…..very sad…best greetings Heike


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