AFRICA NORTH TO SOUTH
Who: Michael Beckett
When: Start date: 2 of October 2007 - Finish 6 months as long as it takes
Where: UK to Cape town, Via: France, Spain, Morocco, Mauritania, Senegal, Gambia, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, Nigeria, Cameroon, Gabon, Congo, Angola, Namibia, Botswana, Zambia, Malawi, Mozambique.
The route is only roughly planned Iím taking it as it comes and just heading in a rough southerly direction.
The bike: A 2006 BMW R1200GS.
Never before have I put so much planning into something so unplanned, taking the summer off and basing myself in Brighton to prepare for this epic adventure. I had ten weeks to get this mission underway, Bike preparation, paperwork, health, cooking, camping, video and photography were amongst many things that I had to sort.
The day or evening as it turned out to be finally rolled round, the night before the bike was still in bits and a few hours before all my equipment was still strewn all over the floor in my parents lounge. I raced down the A3 towards Portsmouth cutting it fine to catch the overnight ferry to Caen. Once onboard I had a sleepless night due to over excitement at what laid ahead. Rolling off the ferry into a French misty dawn, I cruised along the route national starting my southern bound journey.
I couldnít resist dropping into a vineyard named Chateau de Thau in a place called Bourg-sur-Gironde, just north of Bordeaux. I had spent a summer here with my best mate Matt Bolger seventeen years previously when we were fifteen. In the summer of 1990 we helped out around the vineyard in between causing mischief and drinking the produce of course.
Albert and Alison were very welcoming and very kindly put me up for the night, packing me off in the morning with as much wine that I could carry, which was only one bottle.
Heading off again I was keen to explore the Atlantic southwest coast of France, an area of France I had not yet visited. I road down through pine tree lined roads stopping occasionally at idyllic little villages and sandy beaches Biarritz was where I checked into a hotel for the night.
In the morning I loaded up and fired up the GS, another day of riding a detour over the Pyrenees was well worthwhile. The roads were fantastic and even with the sixty-five Kilos of luggage that I was carrying the bike handled like a dream, the chicken strips on the tyres disappearing and my motor-cross boots scrapping the tarmac at times.
I rode through the night arriving late in Madrid, had a stroll round a couple beers, sleep then off again on a mission to get across the strait of Gibraltar to Africa.
Picking up a couple of riding companions at the ferry terminal in Algeciras. Chris, Alan and I made ourselves comfortable for the thirty-five minute crossing to Ceuta. A Spanish enclave on the North African Coast. So we crossed to the African continent to arrive back in Spain again! A half hour ride through hectic traffic to the Moroccan border, we spent the next two hours clearing customs, buying Moroccan insurance was on of the entry requirements.
Chefchaouen was a tranquil town set on the side of the Kef Valley, after we were established into our cheap and clean hotel. I settled down to feel more relaxed than I had in a long time. I could have easily stayed in Chefchaouen for a week or more but in the morning we rode east through the Rif valley. The three of us snaked along the twisty mountain road, roadside dealers offering us hashish at each bend.
Fes the spiritual capital of Morocco was my first experience of a Moroccan Medina. Within these tight walls were a labyrinth of tiny streets, which were bursting with people all busy creating. leather and bronze being the main industries.
The 9th of October was a very holy night being the most important night of ram madam. The mosques were overflowing with people praying the night away and as I fell asleep with the sounds of the Koran in my ears.
Rabat, a chance to get a visa for Mauritania, after a goose case finding the embassy I was quiet relived when I was told by the official behind the desk to come back at twelve Oíclock the next day. I hung out with other travelers in the shady courtyard of the hostel.
Bikes packed up we pulled up outside the Mauritanian embassy, well at least Chris and I pulled up outside. Alan managed to ride his Triumph inside the side of the Ambassadorís car, complete with diplomatic plates his aluminum pannier, made a bang as it put a nasty dent in the side of the Mercedes. No he didnít own up to it, no note left under the windscreen wiper and somehow no one noticed with three visas in our passports Chris and I parted company with Alan, he headed to Casablanca while we rode down the European style auto route to Marrakech.
As the Atlas Mountains loomed up in the distance so did a storm of dust, rain, thunder and lightening. Each city in Morocco is a complete contrast to the next and Marrakech was no exception to this. People come out at night, with street performers, snake charmers, people telling the stories the main square of this city was alive. We indulged ourselves on street food whilst trying to find a beer, no chance!
We rode out of the hotel lobby where our bikes were parked up for the night and out of the city up over the Atlas Mountains the road went up to an elevation of 2200 metres. Riding through hail and rain nothing was stopping us despite waterfalls cascading down onto the roads turning them into rivers in some places.
I preferred the more laid back people of southern Morocco and the night in Ait-Benhaddou was spent in the hospitality of a Berber family in a comfortable house made of mud and wood. In a most idyllic setting where a river flowed through the desert.
Now it was time to leave the tarmac and head out onto some of the pistes. We rode on gravel and sand past palm trees through villages with children running after us waving. This is what it was all about this is what I had come here to experience! We camped and slept under the stars, eating figs and dates this is what it is all about.
So far Iíve met some wonderful people, which has been one of the many highlights of the trip so far. A few husslers aside they are all very welcoming and all speak good French, which is really good for me as itís giving me some much, needed practice.
I'm writing this in a place called Tan Tan plage just east of the Canary Islands. With 750 miles through Western Sahara to the Mauritanian border, Iím up at first light tomorrow morning heading for more adventure, meeting more people and riding father South through this amazing continent. As they say in Arabic Inshallah (god willing).
Michael Beckett, 17/10/07. Tan Tan Plage.
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