Wildman's Ride the World 2012 Edition - Morocco & Portugal
Currently in Marrakech having just completed my first real adventure outside of Europe; a 1009 mile, six-day loop from Ceuta to Marrakech through the Rif and Atlas Mountains down to Erg Chebbi then across on the Southern road to Alnif, up to Todra, Dades and Ouarzazate and finally the Tizi-n-Tichka pass into Marrakech.
Wife has flown in for a few days vacation giving me time to share the trip with all y'all before I set off back via Portugal. My riding buddy is stuck in Er Rachidia with a busted bike which we hope will get fixed in time for him to get here for the ride back.
Getting here ...
I've had the opportunity to travel through work this year and rented a Versys in Kuala Lumpur to visit the Cameron and Genting Highlands back in April.
In July, after a business trip to Dublin, I rented a F650GS from Celtic Rider (highly recommended) and spent a couple of very wet days on the Ring of Kerry and Gap of Dunloe.
Finally, in August, thanks to the generosity of an inmate, I got a day to explore around Sao Paulo, Brazil on an XT660.
So this was the first real outing for me on the F800GS this year. Ferry from Portsmouth to Bilbao, a quick scoot down the autoroute to Madrid for a work assignment and then down to Malaga to meet up with Vincenzo on his Moto Morini 350 Kanguro. Vincenzo and I had linked up on the Horizon's Unlimited, "Travellers Seeking Travellers" forum and had agreed to rendezvous in Malaga where he stores the Kanguro.
A last minute acquisition of some travel essentials, a poor nights sleep at the Travellers Hostel and the next morning we were off to Algeciras for the noon crossing to Ceuta.
Day one ...
The ride from Malaga to Algeciras passed expensively (the autoroute tools in Spain are very expensive) but without problem and we were soon departing Europe bound for Ceuta.
Arriving in Ceuta, Vincenzo needed to fill up with fuel so we located a filling station. On leaving, we turned back the way we had come only for me to be immediately pulled over by the local police. I had crossed a white line. We should have turned right and gone to the roundabout to do a U-turn. Claiming to be French, guessing they didn't speak it and as they hadn't noticed my UK plates, I got away with a stern warning.
A quick stop for coffee and we were soon at the Moroccan border. No cameras allowed!
If you're heading this way, I recommend the use of one of the 'guides' who, whilst they claim to be official, are nothing of the sort but help you through the process of passport control, vehicle import, police check and insurance purchase. We ended up with two which, of course, cost us double but the 150 Dirhams or €15 (I've heard some negotiate down to €5) is a cheap price to pay for the efficiency of getting through customs. I'd look for the smallest guy; he seemed a decent sort.
Just under an hour to get through the border and we were away on the route down to Chefchaouen where we'd booked a hotel. We'd decided to book one night ahead each day. We avoided the autoroute and cruised slowly but assuredly down the national roads and arrived at our hotel, overlooking the town.
Mission accomplished, we were in Morocco and planning a great few days riding South.
Day two ...
We'd planned to ride 165 miles from Chefchaouen to Fez via the Route de L'Unite, through what "The World's Greatest Motorcycle Journeys" calls, "...the wild, lawless heart of the mountainous Rif region, where kif (marijuana) covers the surrounding hills...".
The day started well and after filling up with fuel and avoiding the fist-fight taking place in the middle of Chefchaouen high street, we were both enjoying the ride as we covered the miles east to Ketama before turning south and heading down the R509 towards Taounate. We received several offers to buy some Moroccan "chocolate" as we passed but declined and arriving at a small, pleasant looking village 22kms north of Taounate, we decided to stop for a short break.
A combination of short legs, a tall seat and temperamental side-stand meant that I had to help Vincenzo both on and off his Kanguro and having done so, I jumped on and fired up the BMW. The Moto Morini wouldn't start. Uh, oh!
We found the local mechanic, pushed the Kanguro there and took up residence in the local cafe were we became temporary celebrities, everyone wanting to share a the a la menthe and one of my cigarettes. We never got to the bottom of the problem with the bike although Vincenzo was blaming the quality of the fuel. The mechanic from Taounate was brought in, spark plugs were changed and carburetors cleaned. Eventually, after four hours, we left, me giving the mechanic a lift back to Taounate. Vincenzo was unhappy with the way the bike was performing but we decided to press on to Fez, arriving after dark (something we promised ourselves not to do again) and after recruiting a local guide, found our riad, Dar Warda, in the Medina.
I cannot recommend this place enough. Reasonably safe parking at €3 per bike per night, a shared room with en suite and breakfast for €30 and the coolest and most helpful patron.
We decided to spend the next day in Fez, exploring the Medina and trying to get the right spark plugs for the Kanguro.
Morocco has three ancient Imperial cities with old Medinas; Fez, Meknes and Marrakech. I can't comment on Meknes but if you've got a choice and want to spend some time in one of them, make it Fez, not Marrakech.
Fez is a medina where you're invited to smile, you're invited to view people's wares, where you're invited to enjoy life. Marrakech is a medina where you're targeted as a money provider; it truly sucks. I've just spent the day with my wife in the medina in Marrakech. I was harassed numerous times for money, five times hawkers tried to lead us off the main thoroughfare and, presumably, to their shop. Two were particularly rude when I politely declined. Why anyone wants to come to Marrakech when Fez is so delightful is beyond me.
Vincenzo and I spent a great day in the medina at Fez, ate super tajines, changed money, found an internet cafe but ultimately failed to source the correct spark plugs for the Kanguro.
Day three ...
Quite a big day planned; 211 miles from Fez to Er Rachidia through the Middle Atlas mountains. We ended up doing 235 miles as it was nigh on impossible to find our way out of Fez on the right road and then took a wrong turn in Ifrane. Lucky that we did though because we saw some fantastic scenery crossing from Ifrance to Boulemane. After a quick stop there, we continued down to Midelt where we were befriended at the petrol station by Abdul who wanted to show us his carpets. We agreed although told him we weren't buying but the offer of tea was compelling. Abdul's friend, Mohammed did a sterling job of trying to sell us a carpet but we politely refused and headed out on our way again.
A little way out of Midelt the scenery grew even more stunning and I pulled over to snap a few pics when Vincenzo came roaring past shouting, "Paul ... no...". He had no clutch! So we rode the remaining 80 miles into Er Rachidia and straight to find yet another mechanic shop.
Both of us had very near misses during that 80 miles. First, an ambulance roared up behind, we discovered shortly afterwards, looking for it's pick up. Having passed Vincenzo it quickly came up behind me. I moved to the right and waved it past. As it passed me, two people waved at Vincenzo and I from the right side of the road. The ambulance driver, thinking they were waving at him suddenly braked and pulled to the right even though he was along side me leaving me nowhere to go but off onto the gravel shoulder at 60mph! He found his pick up a mile further up the road. Later, as Vincenzo made to overtake a lorry it suddenly turned left on him. No brakes, no indicators, just turned left. We laughed when we arrived at Er Rachidia and high-fived but really; we were both very lucky.
Er Rachidia seems like a good place full of nice people. The Hotel Milano can't truthfully be recommended but the Imilchil restaurant is good. Directed to the mechanic shop, the security guard from the college across the road, Aziz, came over to help interpret. Aziz speaks Arabic, French, English and German and we enjoyed chatting with him. The mechanic said he could fix the bike after evening prayers but it may take until the morning.
Day four ...
Morning came and whilst two problems had been fixed, a more terminal one had been discovered, one of the cylinders was venting. The mechanic said he could probably fix it but he didn't know how long it would take. I agreed with Vincenzo that I'd ride down to the Erg Chebbi at Mergouza some 80 miles away and we'd make contact by phone. If the bike was fixed as we hoped, I'd ride back to Er Rachidia that afternoon to continue the journey together. If it would take longer then I'd ride on as I had to be in Marrakech by Friday and we'd meet back up at some stage.
Despite a beautiful valley with many palm trees, after the excitement of the High Atlas the previous day, it was a relatively boring ride down to Mergouza but the dunes of the Sahara soon came into view.
Mergouza itself is not what I was expecting; it's a dump. I'm sure there's some nice auberges to stay nearby but the village itself is truly disappointing. As I rode in down the stony track, a 'guide' popped up inviting me to stop. I politely declined and continued on towards the dunes. Within a few seconds he was riding on a little moped to my left and just behind me as I picked my way through the potholed and very bumpy lane.
Now I'm about to tell you that I crashed the bike. The fault is entirely mine but I do wish this persistent fucker hadn't been there distracting me. I rode across a little hard-packed sand no problem and then not realising, rode straight into a sand berm that had spread across the entrance to the parking area. Front wheel didn't like it, rear wheel even less and over I went. Falling in sand isn't the worst experience as it's a relatively soft landing and I wasn't doing more than 10mph. Problem was that my right foot was hanging out for some reason, got trapped under the right pannier as it went down and turned. I was facing forwards, my foot was facing backwards.
A lot of groaning and grunting ensued. I managed to get my foot out from under the pannier and hit the kill switch. On hand a knees I looked up through the shower of Saharan sand falling through my visor and the little fucker who'd been following me was squatting there, 10 feet away.
Well, once again, I forgot the "sleeping" GS picture I think due to the pain in my right knee caused since the boots had mostly protected my ankle, my knee had taken most of the twist. I put out the side stand, picked up the bike and moved onto the parking area. This picture cost me a lot of pain. :lol3
The 'guide' tried to lure me to the "co-op" to partake of some tea which, I'd learned by then was let me sell you stuff, so I rode on and found a service station with a tea room.
As I hobbled to a table and sat there, a thunder storm blew in and I also got the news from Vincenzo that his bike would take until Friday at least to fix. Today was Wednesday and I had to be in Marrakech by Friday. I had to press on alone.
Day four ... part two ...
As the rain poured down, I studied the map. There seemed to be two choices, either back to Arfoud and hit the small road across to the N10, the main Er Rachidia to Ouarzazate road towards Todra and Dades or back to Rissani and head west on the N12 before turning north to meet the N10 at Tinghir. The N12 won the day. A truly good road with some stunning scenery.
I think I saw eight cars and two lorries on that 60 mile section into Alnif. I stopped in one small village as a sand storm was approaching. Good job I did as we all had to dive inside to take cover. It took two of them to force the door shut! There was also a flash flood as one of the wadis took the storm water away from the mountains across the road.
I arrived in Alnif feeling pretty beat up and exhausted but was delighted to find a great little hotel, the Palmiers, run by Lassiene. €15 per night, comfortable and spotlessly clean room, en suite and a great salad and omelette Berbere. Over dinner, sat at the next table to the Alnif Commandant of Police and local Army Colonel debating security, Lassiene and I discussed many things. He delighted in telling me of the remarkable efficacy of the, "butter that's lived for 30 years", a local remedy for many complaints made, as best as I could understand, by some crone three villages away. So it was that after dinner and having been introduced to Lassiene's extended family who were watching television in one of the back rooms, I had, "the butter that's lived for 30 years" liberally applied and vigorously rubbed into my right knee. Funny, it did feel better although I sensed that I smelled a bit. :D
Great write up so far.
Days five (Todra and Dades) and six (through the Tizi-n-Tichka pass into Marrakech) coming tomorrow.
Great report so far.
Great news! Just heard from Vincenzo that the mechanic says his bike is now "perfect"! He's 2,400 dirhams (€220) lighter but has spent a nice couple of days in Mergouza by coach from Er Rachidia. He will test the bike tomorrow and we're aiming to meet up in Rabat on Wednesday evening for the ride back to Ceuta.
Day five ...
Next morning, my knee was no better. Clearly the efficacy of, "the butter that's lived for 30 years" is in question. After hobbling down to breakfast I packed the bike and headed out quite early to ride up to Todra Gorge and Dades. Once on the bike my knee proved no problem at all.
Todra was, to be honest, a little disappointing. I'm sure that it's geologically interesting but I found it to be drab and unexciting, full of tourist coaches. I rode six or seven miles past the narrowest part of the gorge in search of the track across to Dades but the deteriorating road quality and resultant slow speed encouraged me to u-turn and travel via the main road.
Dades was much better but the weather was closing in with more thunder storms encouraging me to press on to Ouarzazate. The road was good, the bike was set up perfectly, the scenery spectacular across the plateau with views north to the High Atlas and south and I was really enjoying the ride.
Ouarzazate, the, "door of the desert" and the largest of the southern oases eventually came into view.
Day six ...
The last day of serious riding in Morocco; just 125 miles from Ouarzazate into Marrakech but what a day! The Tizi-n-Tichka pass stretches for the vast majority of that 125 miles.
My pictures don't do justice to the altitude, technical complexity and stunning scenery of the ride.
Temperatures varied during the ride from 28C (82F) to 7.5C (45F) as I climbed through the pass. I rode through gorgeous sunlight and torrential downpour. The road quality is generally good but with some degradation apt to catch you out mid-corner. It was sobering to witness a car being winched up having gone over the edge and down into one of one of the ravines. I took my time and riding into Marrakech I passed five police check points as the King of Morocco was in town but eventually, the haven of the Sofitel in Marrakech where I'd planned a little luxury break with my wife came into view. I arrived literally five minutes before her. Perfect!
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