17 Oct 2004. Algeciras - Tangier.
You can ride all across Europe, looping in and out of France, Spain and Portugal without showing your passport once. Gibraltar is different. Having lugged my new tyres 40 miles across Andalucia to a 9am appointment at Gib's Motorcycle Pitstop without the document in question, I am refused entry at customs. Not even a photograph of it on my digital camera will do. I am already late for the tyre man.
Screaming vile blasphemies directed at Gib passport control, my own stupidity and the whole hollow, black, hate-filled moral desert that is the universe, I head back to Jimena to get it.
80 angry miles later I'm back in Gib. I'm allowed in without showing my passport. Too late - the tyre man can't do it now. But he knows a man who can...
Having left bike and tyres at Quick-Fit I spend the afternoon getting things photocopied, replying to emails and buying a year's supply of Lariam, all doable in Main Street, Gibraltar.
At 5pm I go to pick up the bike and find out the rear tyre is too big. A lot of tedious arsing about follows but eventually it's on. It's not until I'm on African soil that I notice that one edge is rubbing against the exhaust and melting the knobbly bits. Hope it's gonna be OK...
Saturday lunchtime is spent in the bar of the Algeciras-Tangier ferry with some councillors from Belfast and Glasgow and an Australian. We drink beer and laugh. It's the fast ferry, but there's a ferry-jam in Tangier harbour so it takes half an hour longer than the slow ferry.
By about 4pm I'm in Morocco, having dispensed about £20 to various people who have helped with form-filling, and eventually end up in a way-over-budget hotel with a great view of the port.
Unfortunately for me it's day 1 of Ramadan. My dreams of cocktails in louche bars turn to dust.
Never mind. I'm in Africa!
Oh deary me! Hashish...
Tucked away in a valley in the Rif mountains. It's Day 3 of Ramadan and the chit-chat from the street below my £7 hotel room is still chirpy. As a non-Muslim it's quite easy to get food and even beer, but you don't feel like stuffing yourself in front of people who aren't even allowed to swallow their own saliva from sunrise to sunset.
It's raining and chilly which is generally my cue to head south, but I'm going to stay one more night because it's beautiful, cheap, and there are some great people to chat to in the bar. George from Glasgow came up to me as I arrived yesterday and offered hotel advice and a sample of the local cash crop. Later I met Steve and Cameron, married from Melbourne, on a 4-monther round Europe and Morocco. Cameron used to work at 119 Wardour Street - I was at 122.
Coping With Ramadan - A 5 Point Plan.
1/ Have a sneaky omelette for breakfast.
2/ Skip lunch. Smoke some hashish instead. Sleep until 6pm.
3/ Go out and have dinner in the normal way.
4/ Drink beer in the hotel.
5/ Hey presto.
There's some fantastic stuff in the market. It makes you want to load up a van and deck out your bijou mews house in Highgate in Moorish chic. If you're a ponce. I might just have a cheeky smoke and a siesta now...
Five hours pass in the haziest and most disconnected way. At 6.30 it's sufficiently twilighty outside to start thinking about food. Half an hour later I'm devouring £1.50's worth of chicken tagine in the company of 4 minute cats.
No really unpleasant stuff. Maybe a certain amount of -ahem- personal itching.
It would be quite easy to come here and gradually fade away into a cloud of reefer smoke. To have a fat one at lunchtime, maybe two, then a couple more after dinner, eventually becoming a breakfast smoker and spending 20 hours a day in bed. Good job I'm off to Meknes tomorrow, where no doubt the situation is chalk to Chefchaouen's cheese.
21 Oct 2004 Rabat.
Oh maaaan. I'm being wafted through Morocco on a breeze of Islamic goodwill, set in motion by a thousand cheery waves fom chirpy schoolkids and gnarled old men. They must be thinking "What's that pasty fool doing here during Ramadan? Doesn't he know the bars are shut and you can't smoke fags until the sun sets?"
Well yes, I am starving by 4pm (after a cheeky hotel breakfast) but I'll live. It's good for the shock absorbers anyway. I cracked at 5pm today and bought a bag of quite nasty cakes and a packet of crisps, and snaffled them in my hotel room, crimson with shame - until I noticed that a Moroccan bag of crisps contains an insulting 15g of product. I call that half a packet.
In retaliation I have decided to get a taxi to the Sofitel tonight and pay whatever they ask in order to drink icy Flag lager.
Meknes yesterday didn't really happen for me. I arrived late afternoon, sweaty and hungry and collapsed into a hotel, which later on appeared to be miles from anything. Rabat is good. There are women walking the streets without veils, bold as brass. I had a wander around the medina this afternoon. Quite a lot of beggars with body parts missing, but everyone else was consistently cheerful even though they're all starving and have been for days.
*SLURRRRP* *adopts Scooby voice* Oh boyoboyoboy! That is sooo cold and sooo good. And sooo criminally expensive. I think it works out at £4.80 a pint. It might take a moment to come up with a justification for paying that much. Bear with me... OK. Fags are only a quid. That'll have to do. And there isn't anywhere else and I don't have a TV in my room. So fuck it. Only 22 days of Ramadan left.
22 Oct 2004. Rabat.
What's your mental image of a Moroccan policeman? Itchy trigger finger? Aggressive demands for paperwork every 2 miles? No sir. Try huge grins, waves and high-fives, one of which I received from a moto-cop on a BMW. The one time I do get stopped in Morocco (for speeding) I am let off with a very slight frown.
Went out in search of the Embassy of the Islamic Republic of Mauritania. A fruitless search as it's moved to Casablanca. But dammit! Those cops are great guys...
Three minutes after the air-raid siren that says "you can eat now", the streets of Rabat are empty. Not in an eerie way because you know everyone's tucking into grub and fags. I stop at a red light and a young fella comes up to me and proffers a fig (or a date) without a word. When was the last time someone slipped you some food in London because they thought you might be hungry? (I wasn't because I'd pigged out on supermarket cheese sandwiches earlier).
And if you're trying to think of a joke involving a young Moroccan boy offering me a date next to a red light, relax - I'm way ahead of you.
Casablanca tomorrow! Oh PLEEEZE let there be a bar that doesn't charge a million quid for a pint. I made a vow to get drunker'n'Humpty and I intend to stick to it.
23 Oct 2004. Casablanca.
Pictures of the Mosque. Ramblings from a bar.
The Casablanca Regency Hyatt. 8pm. As I loiter at the bar, a cockroach bigger than any I have dared to believe in - mouse size - clambers up onto the black marble counter from behind the beer pumps. It is audibly grunting with the effort.
I freeze with fear as it rumbles, Panzer-fashion, past my olives. I consider flicking it across the bar but I'm too scared.
I've been in "Casa" (as the Lonely Planet says you should refer to it if you want to appear debonair) four hours and three people have stopped me in the street to wish me well. Only one wants money for tea.
There are some terrible, belching, pissed-up London boys at the bar. "Is it spicy" meaning "I won't like it". Luckily they've spotted the McDonald's around the corner.
Looking at the map of Africa, I judge it's going to take me 8 years to get to Cape Town at this rate. Maybe there's something wrong with the projection.
I'm not staying the night in this gleaming monument to decadence. I'm here because they sell icy pints of Flag. I'm horribly concerned about how much they cost though. A cup of coffee in the Tokyo Park Hyatt was OH CHRIST EIGHT POUNDS five years ago.
The London boys are so pissed now I fear one of them may soil himself - and others.
Something just landed on my arm. Either a mosquito that could happily swallow a golfball or a morbidly obese cranefly.
Hotel du Palais is the second consecutive hotel with no toilet paper. Welcome to Africa. Prepare to Squat!
Earlier today I was interested to note that the Playdoh Corporation have expanded their interests into the field of luncheon meats. Not sure pink is the ideal colour for "turkey" though...
London boys are out of control. Expense-account bastards. Per-diem effluent. I've been there and it's great.
24 Oct 2004. Casablanca.
Yousef is the man. Whatever you want - 24 hour Ramadan-free lager, kif, a
Mauritanian visa, a Honda garage, he is The Fixer. Later I will curse him and stare into the bowels of my wallet in consternation, but I will have learnt a valuable lesson (i.e. stay away from Yousef).
25 Oct 2004. Casablanca.
Thanks to Yousef we jump the queue at the Mauri embassy in the most disgraceful style. I meet French Fred there who's riding to Dakar. Neither of us know the score so hopefully we can share our ignorance on the way down.
Yousef suggests I smoke some kif before going to the embassy to get my visa, in order to "open my mind". I explain that it's more likely to make me open my sleeping bag, and decline. Consequently I am successful at the embassy. Like wow! Big visa!
26 Oct 2004. El Djadida.
Having handed over a sizeable bundle of dirhams to Yousef - I'm not sure what for, but he suggests it has something to do with "friendship" - I get the hell out of Casa and rumble off down the coast to El Djadida. I ride around the town twice without seeing anything that looks like a hotel, so I aim for the beach and stand (sitting is for people that haven't just ridden 150 miles) gawping at the Atlantic and smoking fags. The sea is enormous and so is the sky.
After a while a twenty-something on a BMX comes up and introduces himself. Hello Abdul. 15 minutes later I'm in his house being invited to dinner with his family.
One minute later I'm offered a room for the night. Half an hour after that Abdul and I are fishing, in the late afternoon sunshine, from his boat. It's a lot of fun. I catch three and there is much laughter.
Later we eat and then get to smokin'.
The next morning, though it's Ramadan, I am brought coffee and bread and honey. On my way out Abdul's mum says I am now one of her children and I can stay whenever I like. I don't know what to say so I pocket the silverware when she's not looking* and scarper. Dear M'Barek family - Uh, thanks!
27 Oct 2004. Essaouira.
Very nice. It's so touristy that I'm not the only European in town even though it's R'dan. Apparently Jimi Hendrix used to come here on his holidays. I bet he checked whether it was R'dan first. Sorry - I'm becoming obsessed.
28 Oct 2004. Essaouira.
In the medina one can stuff one's face while watching Arab musicians play just loudly enough to mask the noise of their stomachs rumbling.
I wander around afterwards admiring the handicrafts with minimal sales hassle. I even find a photographic shop that dumps all my pics onto CD for £3.
The ramparts are very fine.
Apparently Orson Welles filmed the opening scenes of "Othello" here, doncha'know. Finally I slope off to the internet cafe.
At dusk I arrive back at my bike, parked just outside the medina wall. I reach for the key pocket - and *SLAP* my heart drops down onto the top of my bladder. No keys. It's very humid, I'm wearing a jacket and I got very lost indeed trying to find my way out of the medina. I'm sweating like a pig with malaria. My spare keys (the ones that were originally taped under the saddle - do try and keep up) are, intelligently, locked inside one of the boxes to which one of them is the key. Still with me? I'm fucked. There exists one more spare set, but they're in Petworth, West Sussex, and the post isn't all it could be in England, never mind Morocco.
Bathed in sweat, I hop back into the medina to retrace my steps. The restaurant doesn't have them. The internet place doesn't either. The photo shop is shut, and I'm fairly sure I didn't leave them there anyway. I get very lost again. Mmfff... no sweat left in body...
I really don't know what to do now, so I decide the best course of action is to go across the road and check into the blisteringly expensive Sofitel opposite. It's a good move. A luxury hotel is exactly what's required in a moment of true sweaty panic. I have a bath and watch BBC World in a shag-pile dressing gown lined with dormouse throat fur and eventually nod off, forgetting the world of pain that lies ahead.
29 Oct 2004. Essaouira.
Things look better after a room service breakfast on the balcony overlooking the pool. The worst-case scenario is that I'll have to stay in Essa for an unspecified period waiting for spare keys, and buy a big chain in the medina to lock up the bike properly. And not lose the key.
In the event I don't have to do any of that. I head off to the photo shop and, three words into my faltering French explanation of my problems, the man in the shop shouts -HUUUAGGHH!- with laughter and waves my keys under my nose.
I could kiss him but his moustache looks rather bristly and there seems to be some pastry in it, which, given that it's Ramadan, must be last night's. So I don't.
Instead I race back to the cheaper of the two hotels I'm paying for today and hightail it to Agadir.
If you're interested, the tax on the Sofitel bill was more than the entire bill for three nights in the cheap one. Oh dear. That cannot be allowed to happen again.
NOTE TO SELF: Don't do anything stupid from now on.
The same day. Agadir.
The hotel in Agadir is -thank God- the cheapest so far. £5.25 for a room with a shower! And it only smells a little bit of sick.
There are no cynical children in Morocco. You wave - they wave back, grinning like tiny Bob Monkhouses. Usually they wave first.
If you tried this in England you'd be greeted with a chorus of "fuck off grandad" and then locked up for being a nonce.
After Agadir it's unknown territory. Agadir is still a little bit Europe. The LP guide says it stinks of Ambre Solaire, and all you can hear is the rustle of Der Speigel and The Sunday Times. But further south we're into Western Sahara territory. Disputed land. Gawd knows what happens there! But I'm sure it's very nice.
A Ted Simon Moment
30 Oct 2004. Guelmim.
As I'm paying at a petrol station near Tiznit, a Honda Africa Twin pulls up next to me and Mr Thomas Meisner from Germany introduces himself.
I didn't think anyone actually rode AT's to Africa - they're so goddamn heavy. He's on his way to Togo, and he needs to be back home in December so he's been doing 500 mile days. My pathetic 150 a day makes me feel like an utter girl.
We ride down to Guelmim together. It's great riding with another human after 3500 miles alone. The Anti-Atlas scenery gets better and better.
In Guelmim hotels are scarce and within minutes we're joined by Shiagar...
Shiagar and some berk
and Hassan (both crammed onto a moped) who, naturally, offer us refreshment and mattresses at their place where, soon, we're sipping sweet tea and entertaining ourselves with my guitar.
After smoking a number of Sahara Bensons, it is decided that we should go to an oasis and spend the night with bedouins. "OK", we say, inwardly wondering if all this is really happening. Maybe it wasn't.
We don't make it to the oasis as the road is flooded and the surface is washed away in places. Instead we end up at a hotel with a hot spring attached. Very nice. No idea where it was.
31 Oct 2004. Sidi Akhfennir.
In the morning we go with Shiagar and Hassan to the oasis, for breakfast of dates fresh from the tree in a bedouin's tent.
Then we're off down the Atlantic coast, with several stops to point and laugh at the wild landscape, and the fact that we're within sniffing distance of the Sahara. I'm holding Thomas back with my 150-mile-a-day year-long dawdling, but by sundown we're both starving and happy to stop at Sidi Akhfennir, where the hotel's on the beach, the Ricard's on the table and the tagine's in the oven.
A French couple who've left Ivory Coast after 30 years because of the trouble, with only the clothes on their backs and a car, tell us they met the locust swarm not far south of here. It turned the sky black and the road to mashed-insect sludge. Looking forward to that...
1 Nov 2004. El Marsa.
Woke up next to an endless Atlantic beach. There's nothing to beat a sunny Monday morning on the border of the desert and the sea, apart from a massive bacon sandwich with English mustard.
Half an hour down the road, Thomas and I officially enter Western Sahara. Or not, if you're the Moroccan government. We part company as he wants to make it to Dahkla today and my coccyx doesn't. All the best old chap! An excellent fellow on a mad mission...
I roll into El Marsa at "lunch" time and check into an overpriced hotel for some surreptitious dates and fags and a siesta. The TV in my room has Eurosport, which infuriatingly broadcasts in English and German simultaneously, both at exactly the same volume, so neither English nor German viewers can make out a word of it.
Soon-ish it's dark. Every cell in my body is yelling the words "pork chop! pork chop!", but that simply isn't going to happen. I half-run downstairs to the restaurant, where the waiter explains, as I goggle at him in disbelief, that they don't serve food. Out on the main street, things aren't much better. I'm ejected from the first restaurant I try by a waitress, when I have the brass neck to ask for something to eat. Bear in mind that it's dark now and other people are eating with apparent ease.
So I try a kebab shop. My requests are greeted with blank-eyed incomprehension, followed up with laughter and pointing. Defeated, I stumble over to a trestle table which bears some sorry-looking bananas. I manage to buy a few meagre items. The unmistakeable sound of people swallowing whole roast chickens continues all around me.
Back in my room it transpires that the hard-boiled eggs, which are to be the centrepiece of my meal, aren't. I throw them out of the window, hard, and chow down on bread and pears.
2 Nov 2004. Somewhere in the Desert.
Ho-hum. The obvious shot.
In the morning I can't get out of El Marsa quickly enough, but the ride down the coast of the Sahara would have cheered me up even if last night's pear sandwiches had given me dysentery. I stop and inch towards the cliff edge for a look. Huge unreachable beaches stretch for dozens of miles 250 feet below.
The day rolls by and somewhere past Echtoucan, I come to a petrol station with a restaurant attached. It's nearly 6pm. The manager tells me I can camp for free in the station, so I stop and eat, believing myself to be set for the night.
Unfortunately I haven't counted on Son Of Chucky, holder of this year's prestigious "Most Annoying Child In Morocco" award. Five minutes of him following me round and making motorbike noises while holding his hand out and repeating the word "Dirham?" is enough to convince me to ride another 10 miles and camp in the desert.
Putting a tent up in a gale in the dark on a clifftop is entertaining in a bad way, but being nowhere near Chucky Jr. is well worth the effort. An hour later I'm in the tent with an iPod, a billion zillion stars overhead and a mind altering substance which I proceed to smoke. The combination is very good indeed.
Where's my bloody breakfast?
12th Nov 2004. Nouakchott, Mauritania.
A week is a long time in politics, according to Harold Wilson. Four days in a Mauritanian hospital is much much longer. If Harold Wilson was a hummingbird, a single beat of his tobacco-stained wings would equate to a week in politics compared to ninety-six hours of grainy Spanish TV with no sound, and being unable to get out of bed and switch it off.
I had an accident, d'you see. I hit a lump of sand in the desert - the things people leave lying around - and broke my collarbone, and, depending on which doctor you believe, several, a couple, or none of my ribs. I lean towards two ribs myself.
Seven days have passed at the Auberge Sahara. It'll be a while before I can carry on but St Louis in Senegal is only 200 kms away and it's beckoning...
The point is, you can't expect to try and ride a motorbike across Africa and not fall off at some point and break something. (Well done if you have actually managed it). It's all part of the adventure. Owchhh.
The day before the accident, I met Nadia, Arno and David - mad Frenchies in a battered Merc - at the Maroc/Mauri border. We got lost together and hired a guide, then camped in the desert. The evening's entertainment was provided by tea made accidentally with gin instead of water, and later, Francois' bottle of Calvados.
Sometime during the night we saw the (second) longest train in the world go by.
Morning came and we headed for Nouakchott. Also present were Kikuchi, Bob and Jean-Claude. Rumours of a road to NKT have been greatly exaggerated, unless our guide was deliberately taking us off-road to make himself seem worthwhile.
Somewhere along the way Bob found a kitten and, somewhat effetely, called him Benin. Jean-Claude managed to turn his car upside down. I fell off.
Kikuchi - from that day forward known as the Desert Samurai - rode my bike the next 400kms to NKT, without falling off. I rode in the Merc, hungrily swallowing Arno's excellent painkillers.
So - blah blah blah ouch oohyah etc - I end up here at Auberge Sahara. It's great and cheap and the perfect place to sit and wait for a few weeks while me bones mend. Kania, who runs the place, is like a mum, but, er, younger than me.
I've renamed Bob's kitten Stewart. I think it suits.
He's dead now. No, really.
Disgusting Smells Of Our Time #1:
Locusts cooking in a motorcycle engine.
3rd Dec 2004. Nouakchott.
The tumble was four weeks ago today. 15 days to go until they can take the steel pin out of me collarbone. Progress is slooow but life is easy and cheap. Fags - proper ones - are 40p.
Some fine people have passed through the Auberge. Godert* and Anke for example. He fixed my shattered headlight while she fixed my dinner.
Andy and Ivan from the UK, riding to Cape Town, were good enough to drink beer to excess with me. Andy even had the decency to look shocked when Kania and I explained that we had hit Stewart over the head with a shovel, as there was no room at the inn for an orphaned kitten. (We hadn't).
*pronounced "[hawking noise] ode [hawking noise] t"
Current guess by medics is that I'll be able to head off (for Mali or Senegal) early in the new year. Come on you bones!
29th Dec 2004.
I've been here nearly 8 weeks. My ribs are certainly heading in the right direction. Coughing, for example, is possible once more. Steel pin comes out next week in theory.
Days tick by and people pass through. Larry from Wexford for example, who spent Christmas here and - well done Larry - likes drinking beer. On Christmas Day he brewed up some very strange tea using Christ knows what. We sat on the roof in the afternoon being very strange, and in the evening the Auberge turned in to Disco Sahara with the assistance of Curtis Mayfield and a fat stack of Chinese beer.
Pre-accident, I rode through the locust swarm in the southern tip of Morocco. It was a revolting experience, and as with so many revolting experiences, I'm very glad I had it. I knew it was coming and wasn't keen, but when the first one hit my visor like a rubber bullet I yelped like a kicked puppy. After 10 miles of hitting - say - 1 locust a second, they began to thin out. After 15 miles they were gone, but an insistent voice in my head began to tell me, as I plucked their broken bodies from my lap, that that may have been only the advance party.
30 swarmless miles passed. Then *THWACK* - I hit one. Then a few more. Within 2 miles the road changed from tar grey to locust red. That would have been OK if the bastards had stayed put on the road, but the noise of the bike made them jump to head height just in front of me. Consequently the next 40 miles were 5-locust-a-second territory, riding with face screwed up against the horror. And oh Jesus the stink...
Last week saw the return of the mighty Thomas Meisner. While I've been sitting here eating camel kebabs and scratching my beard, he's ridden to Togo and back, picking up Miss Sierra Leone on the way. (I've seen the photos and there's no doubt in my mind). What a great bloke.
Andy and Ivan have made it to Namibia somehow in six weeks, although Ivan's managed to break his wrist and lose all his clothes in the process. Ivan is, however, a man of solid iron, and rode 1000km after the fall to get to a hospital.
This week I became, at 49 days, the longest-serving resident of Auberge Sahara. The previous title holder, at a meagre 48 days, was a whisky-for-breakfast French alcoholic who left here for Bamako, where the hospital promptly gave him a complete blood change.
My camera is irreparably buggered. The dust and grit thrown up by the ore train (the night before the accident) is mostly to blame, but my attempt to mend it can't have helped as I had two small pieces of plastic left over when I put it back together.
Turns out Stewart is a girl, and not a very clever one. I have suggested renaming her Stupina.
Things you can't get in Nouakchott:
a/ A game of darts.
b/ A pork pie.
Things you can:
b/ A ride in the worst taxi in the world. All the taxis in NKT are the worst taxi in the world.
c/ Excellent fish.
e/ Interestingly, constipation.
Our veteran travellers share their tips (and great stories) for staying healthy, happy and secure on your motorcycle adventure.
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