September 1, 2012. Watching reruns of "Friends" was not how I expected to cross the Straits of Gibraltar and start my African adventure but there we were, hermetically sealed in the cabin of a "fast ferry" that rushed us from Algeciras, Spain to Ceuta (a tiny Spanish alcove next to Tanger, Morocco). I opted for the gentle introduction to Africa because I had been in Tanger before albeit more than 30 years ago. This way I could do the customs formalities at the land border and it proved a good choice.
Why was I here? The idea first popped up in conversation over fresh palm wine on the deck of a small tour boat in The Gambia in 1972. Having flown along the Atlantic coast of the Sahara on an exceptionally clear day, I was mesmerized by the vast expanse of sand and the sharp contrast of the bright blue ocean. ďWouldnít it be fun to cross the desert by motorcycle?Ē A young manís dream.
40 years later itís a possibility but now for different reasons. First, motorcycle travel is my retirement hobby. I have been on a few international bike trips but this one has always stuck in my mind. Africa has always been an interest of mine but this is not a sightseeing trip. I want to go to push my brain a bit. I feel I need to challenge myself, to make the countless decisions, the constant focus on the road and traffic, finding a camping spot or hotel every day, crossing borders, getting visas, etc that motorcycle travel requires. I suppose it is the exact opposite of package tour travel which I can also enjoy for different reasons.
Now once I have crossed the desert I hate going back the same way Iíve gone so there isnít much else to do but keeping going to Cape Town then head home to Canada.
Iím now in Morocco and culture shock is a good term for the strangeness I of it all. However after recent travel in Latin America and Turkey I find it more interesting than strange. Now it is 3:30PM and I need to think about a place to stay. I take the 1st exit to the modern city of Tetouan in search of an ATM and some local currency. My GPS says there is a campground not far from the city and within a half hour Iím at Camping Alboustane in Matril.
There couldnít be a better introduction to Morocco! Close to a large Mediterranean beach, the place is packed with Moroccan families on a camping/beach holiday. Soon the tent was up on the sandy pitch and I was on the beachfront enjoying my first Tanjine. The diversity of dress on the beach was amazing, from fully covered to bikinis. Itís seems no matter what women decide to wear they always make themselves attractive.
September 2, 2012. Off to a late start as camped next to me was a bearded Austrian man who must be in his 70s riding a vintage military spec 250cc PUCH. A genuine character. I wonder if Iíll look like him in a few years!
The days ride took me to the capital of Rabat where I need to apply for a visa to Mauritania. Luckily I spent time finding the Embassy as it had moved recently. I need to be there at 8:30AM sharp to get my application in process. There is no camping near Rabat and it was now in danger of getting dark. I wandered around the centre of the city until I found a reasonable hotel however without secure parking for the bike. The solution was to lock the bike to an iron railing outside the hotel entrance. It was a busy place as a large mosque was across the street. Would the fear of the divine be enough to keep my bike safe? To be sure I paid a street parking guard to watch over it through the night. To my surprise he was still there in the morning.
Next day I joined the ďinterestingĒ to say the least crowd applying for visas. We were the 3 gringos out of about 30 people pushing to get into the little office at the same time. My visa would be ready the following day at 3:00PM.What to do? Not wanting to spend another expensive hotel night in busy Rabat, I rode about 60kms south to Mohommedia to Camping LíOcean Bleu on not surprisingly, a beach. It was very quiet and a good place to rest up, do a little bike maintenance before commuting back to Rabat for the visa then returning for another night. I finished a great new book on modern African History and gave it to the camp owner as a gift. It turned out his father was in the office and spoke good English. He seemed genuinely grateful saying it was hard for him to find books in English. It also took a kilo off my luggage!
Today took me through the traffic madness that is Casablanca. They demonstrated some really appalling driving there. One habit Moroccans have is to assume motorcycles only require 1/3 of a lane. Even on an empty highway they will pass you in your lane! Cars today are so quiet that you first notice them only as they skim past your elbow. Itís given me a few good starts.
Morocco has been very windy since I arrived but today was particularly gusty. It takes all the fun out what would have been a nice ride along the Atlantic coast. Between 12 and 2 PM the highway passed through little towns that were blanketed in smoke from the outdoor grills of competing roadside vendors of beef and chicken tajine. I couldnít resist so I stopped and had this delicious lunch.
I thought about pressing on to Agadir after reaching Essaouria but I suddenly felt tired. Was it the wind or the heavy lunch? Either way I followed the first camping sign which led me to Camping Le Calme. Just what I needed! And they had hotel rooms for a few bucks more than camping so I used the opportunity to do laundry and charge batteries. I soon realized it would have been better to camp as the room was very warm. To open the screen-less windows was to invite in the numerous mosquitoes. It seemed ridiculous that after a very hot day you could not enjoy the comfortable evening temperatures! A fan was offered and it did help.
Not needing to break camp got me off to an early start for a very interesting day of riding. After industrial Casablanca the coast road climbs through the foothills of the Atlas Mountians. The curvy roads and dramatic scenery were a welcome change from previous days. As is normal along the coast, mornings are cool and foggy. This made photography difficult (at least for me) so I was unable to capture some beautiful coastal scenery. I sailed through Agadir, the popular tourist resort area. The beaches are great, the hotels huge but Iím not here on holiday.
South of Agadir the geography changed rapidly from scrub brush to looking more like a desert. The population thinned out accordingly with rather long distances between villages. Then there are those biblical looking figures, both men and women, in flowing robes, walking alone seemingly many kilometers from any sign of life. What are they doing there? How far do they have to walk? These are the questions.
By the end of the day I was getting a taste of what was to come - very long, empty roads with my constant companions the sun and the wind.
Just outside of Tan Tan I saw a very professional sign for desert camping. In a fit of poor judgment I decided why not take that rocky road (or piste as they say here) and camp in the desert. Well, as my guidebook later noted, this was a very rough road. I went a couple of kilometers before I hit a series of sandy sections which I managed but then decided to abandon finding the place as the sun was beginning to set and I didnít see any sign of how far it was away. On the return trip I hit some ďbull dustĒ which is very fine, powdery sand that looks firm but can be deep. Before you know it, Iím on the ground! Well I did learn I can lift the bike up on my own.
I made my way back to the highway and with the help of a Gendarme found a nice little hotel in Tan Tan which let me park my bike in their lobby. I could not find an internet cafť that was open. That evening, in search of dinner, I walked the crowded main street noticing how almost all of the men are dressed in the long blue robe-like garment draped over both shoulders, open at the sides. It looks like it would take some practice to wear comfortably. Ample ventilation was evident which would prove itís serviceability. The dark street lit only by the light from the open shops with men and women appearing out of the shadows as they rushed down the street in their robes made for a mysterious exotic setting - at least in my imagination.
Posted by Ross Davidson at September 26, 2012 11:08 PM GMT
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