TRIP TO MOROCCO . Part 1
With the prospect of adventures to come we set off from Boliqueime towards the ferry port of Tarifa in late April. The journey down was uneventful thankfully but we arrived at our accommodation just in time as the storm form hell was just starting to raise its ugly head. A swift dinner in a local restaurant and it was early to bed…………..
Waking the next morning after a very wakeful night with doors and windows rattling, we discovered the storm was still very much in full swing and the ferry port of Tarifa had been closed until further notice – our adventure had started a little early. A brief recon of options and we decided to move camp to the port of Algeciras where we were thankfully transferred to the only vessel sailing that day. The new destination would be Tangier Med rather than Ville and we would be about six hours behind schedule but we were happy we had found a means to get to Morocco……lining up to board it seemed we were not alone as accompanying us must have been 150+ bikes.
Arriving in Tangier Med the large group of bikes soon dispersed and we were alone again to make our way the 100km or so south to the town of Chefchaouan. The ride down involved an unplanned detour and we found ourselves heading along the Eastern coastline with the sun sinking to the horizon and in dense fog hardly able to see the bike ahead – as is the way in these situations spirits sank as did the sun but we were rewarded with a spectacular road across the mountains as we entered our final destination. Henrik’s infamous GPS soon located the hotel and we were soon tucking into our first tagine of the tour laughing about the day’s events.
Next morning we decided on a route that would take us south towards some lakes that looked interesting. Setting off the road was great, tarmacked and twisty, but as is the way when off the beaten track in Morocco it had hidden surprises which John was soon to discover as his Vulcan did an amazing impersonation of a Boeing 747. A sunken part of the road caused the bike to bottom out and both side pannier doors simultaneously sprung open and take off looked imminent. Upon investigation both panniers were structurally damaged so luggage was hastily rearranged - Henrik’s emergency planning proved worthy as he produced two ratchet straps that would allow Johns bike to remain as one. The journey continued and the roads became increasingly poor as we climbed over the mountains once more. Tarmac turned to dust and numerous stops were required as pot holes shook the panniers loose once more. At one point John decided to try another flying impersonation as he headed towards the cliff edge throwing his bike to the ground to save himself from take-off. I can only take my hat off to him as the terrain was tough for a GS – how he managed to get a Vulcan to perform as an ADV bike I will never know. Having found tarmac again we plotted a safer route to our accommodation for the night but the day had one last laugh for poor John as he struggled with a front wheel puncture. After a slight pause to repair the tyre we found the sun fast disappearing once again as we hunted for our hotel in the dark and as it turns out in the wilderness.
We were the only guests in an isolated hotel owned by a retired French hunter, set in the most beautiful of landscapes. Dinner was a simple but delicious affair prepared especially for us and we soon settled down in the very basic but welcome accommodation due to exhaustion.
Next morning at breakfast John had decided that it was too risky for him to continue. With broken panniers, a dodgy tyre, a very squeaky drive belt thanks to the dust and a shattered body to boot he informed us he would head north on the main highways for a few days before returning to Portugal. We agreed to start the day together and would take separate paths having crossed the Tazekka national park east of Fez where John would head north and Henrik and I continue southwards.
Saying goodbye was a sad affair however we were soon to discover that John had made a truly wise decision as Henrik’s infamous GPS took us on a route where only donkeys should dare. The previous day had been a good precursor for what was to come and as the day unfolded and the wilderness grew we found the terrain very challenging. After four hours we had hardly travelled and were very relieved to finally find some tarmac albeit in a remote location with civilisation still some way off. Fuel was now becoming an issue. I calculated I had about 30km left and the GPS was telling us the nearest fuel was 70km away. With little choice we continued onward, and as fate would have it upwards, along some truly beautiful winding roads that twisted and turned through some spectacular mountain scapes that were the low Atlas. The road was reasonable but as is the fashion in these parts would disappear for sections. The bike was now on reserve and I took every opportunity to free wheel the downhill sections to conserve fuel as I calculated how many km’s I had left. I also decided that chanting ‘Allah will provide’ over and over again in my helmet could only help.
Having reached the snow lined crest we came across a remote outpost with a few buildings scattered across the terrain. One looked like a makeshift shop and a few dejelleba clad gents mulled around outside. We stopped and with my pigeon French and gestures asked if they knew of any fuel nearby. After a few minutes and a gesture that we had money a 5 ltr water bottle appeared from behind a seated gent filled with the golden elixir. A few more minutes of negotiation and I had another 100km in the tank – Allah had provided. With renewed hope we ventured on to Middelt.
The hotel in Middelt was built in the style of a Kasbah and provided perfect security for the bikes within the compound walls. The location, alongside the main highway across the high Atlas, had attracted many bikes and we encountered many of the tour groups we had seen on the ferry. Sparklingly shiny GS1200’s with every add on money could buy accompanied by 4x4’s full of spares lined the courtyard. Couldn’t help feeling the bikes were not enjoying the adventure they were designed for.
Day 4 and the plan was to head to Imilchil following small roads and tracks down to the R704 and then onward through the famous Dades Gorge. We had been in this area before, three years prior, and had spent 9 hours tackling a road that disguised itself very cleverly as a rocky riverbed. I was keen to avoid such thrills again and my trusty guide Henrik assured me he had studied the route to the last detail and had found another way through that his infamous GPS would unveil. As we ventured further the landscape seemed eerily familiar and we soon stopped at a T junction I remember well as the point I had been three years earlier when I realised that I would not die a long lonely death in a riverbed. Henrik continued to reassure my growing doubt that we were about to repeat the same fate assuring me we were close but there was a new route to be enjoyed. As we continued along the ever disappearing road
isolated Moroccans were waving frantically at us – we waved back. The tarmac turned to rock, the rock turned to river bed………………………..and we turned back!!!!
Deep breathing soon had my blood pressure near to normal and we plotted a route back north hoping we could pick up a new route across to Imilchil. As we ventured on thick dark clouds streamed across the sky, the temperature dropped to 3 degrees and hail stones the size of chick peas rained down on us. With no direct shelter we parked up next to a small school building. The kids looked out at us and we hoped they would invite us in to shelter but alas they closed the door and we were left to weather the storm al fresco. The hail was laying like snow and was soon a few inches deep – there was no way we could ride so had to be patient until a thaw set in. An hour later and we felt confident that we could continue but as we headed across the mountain terrain we encountered areas where the hail had formed deeply and had to rely on following tracks that trucks had ploughed through. It was bitterly cold and we were gradually getting soaked through as the day slipped away so decided to return to the previous night’s Kasbah where we knew the heating was on to dry out. After eight hours in the saddle we were back where we had started.
After three days of adventure we were behind schedule and feeling weary so opted for a day of safe tarmac and followed the N13 over the high Atlas down towards Errachidia. A great road and amazing scenery. From there the new target was the Toudra Gorges for a video moment and then a trip to the Dades Gorge. Having satisfied the tourist in us we then set a route for Ouarzazate, a town I previously had visited in 1992 and remembered as the last small town before you entered the vastness of the Sahara…………..
Several hours of tedious riding later, and once again in darkness, we entered Ouarzazate and crossed what was now a glittering oasis akin to a mini Las Vegas (how times had changed) to find that nights hotel. Described as an EcoLodge and located in the middle of a desert quite some way for the town I think I have had better nights camping - our rooms door had been kicked in so was not secure, the lights were so dim only cats could see anything, no hot water and the owner tried to screw us on exchange rates the next day.
With only 2 days left we plotted a route that would take us north again and once again crossed the High Atlas this time via the N9. A spectacular road which is slowly being turned into a major highway but still offers excitement for bikers. A quick photoshoot at the summit and then lunch at quite possible the best roadside restaurant for tagines and all for fourteen euro.
As we neared Marrakesh we needed to head north east, back toward Fes, so we opted to bypass Marrakesh itself and go cross country once more as Henrik’s infamous GPS found trails rather than roads to navigate us around the metropolis. Local residents looked on as if they had never seen a GS as passed by remote enclaves. Back on tarmac and we now crossed a vast agricultural plane as the day slowly slipped into darkness once more. It was time to find a hotel but we seemed to have entered the Bermuda triangle of hotels. Initially we had a choice of two, the first being slightly akin to something out of the shining with the local area highly skilled at stripping motor vehicles in 60 seconds so we opted to travel to hotel number two only to find no room at the inn. Spirits were low again as we contemplated
our first night under the stars but there was an outside chance of a room some 30km ahead so we pressed on.
Hotel Angle Atlas and SPA sounded a bit luxurious for us but turned out to have passed its sell by date. Having checked in, tired and dirty we wanted dinner only to find they had no restaurant as the place was empty. I think the manager could sense our agitation as he explained the nearest eatery was a further 30km away…………..a brief but firm conversation later, followed by a one hour pause we were presented with a chicken tagine for two.
Our penultimate day was a short trip up to Fes. The last trip we had made, we arrived in Fes with our customary tardiness and barely saw anything so this time had decided to arrive with plenty of time to do a spot of sightseeing. We breakfasted with two Dutch adventure riders, the only other inhabitants of the hotel. They were riding a couple of Honda Dominators in the opposite direction so we exchanged information on routes and then made the short journey up to Fes.
Fes did not disappoint and we found an excellent hotel deep in the medina for our last night before heading back up to Tangier and the ferry home, with only the odd detour care of Henrik’s infamous donkey trail finding GPS.
Can’t wait to head back down there………………………..