August 08, 2012 GMT
kiwi in Morocco

Following is a story of a trip I made in Morocco in April/May 2012. As background, I am a 63 year old Kiwi living on theCoromandel Peninsula of New Zealand's North Island. In 2011 I did a 21,000 km tour of Europe on my V strom 650. Following this trip in Morocco I toured Turkey and Albania. I am currently planning a 6 month South American tour beginning in October 2013.

I hope you enjoy my story

Landing in Blighty

The first glimpse of the UK after a summer spent in New Zealand was comforting. It is, in spring; a soft land, without the intensity of light and the raw,adolescent edge of the Coromandel landscape. The spring flowers and trees blush colour against the grey overcast sky.

In a few months, the Olympics will be held in London. And like the rugby World cup's impact, there is a Dulux freshness about the airports,public buildings and roads. Union Jacks, bunting, billboards, t shirts, retail outlets all proclaim their allegiance to the Olympic monetary ideal.

But despite the bread and circuses, you can still taste the recession in closed storefronts, half finished and abandoned building sites and real estate agency signs showing the rigours of a winter 's inactivity.

However, there is the hope of spring.

My first task was to get my V Strom 650 out of storage. I had charged up the battery and when I coupled it back into the bike, turned the ignition key, pulled in the clutch and hit the starter button, the bike gave a little cough and burst into life and after a minute was running sweetly at just under 1000rpm.

I had arranged to take it back to the dealer for a service, skid pan and warrant. On the winding Sussex roads, I slotted back into a comfortable groove. The contrast between the V Strom 1000 that I ride in New Zealand was apparent. Not only is the 650 more nimble but the gearing seems to suit my riding style. I do enjoy the 1000 and its power, but it is more lumpy and for me at least, the gears seem less tuned into the engine.

Insurance is always a trial in the UK, but with a year's no claim bonus and an established history I managed to get fully comprehensive for Europe, breakdown assistance, personal, legal and helmet cover for $400. In addition , the new policy gave me around 4 months continuous travel away from the UK.

On my journey around Europe last year, I took too much gear . So this year I decided to be very rigorous in my packing. Actually I was so selective that I only filled one pannier with my camping gear and clothes, so I decided to relax and added a few more t shirts and luxuries. I have also added a few more spare parts including brake and clutch cables, pump, puncture repair outfit and body surfing fins.

My plan is now to leave UK on April 19, catch the ferry to Dieppe, ride the 500km to Saint Nazaire and get the ferry to Gijon in Northern Spain. From here I will head to Algecerias in southern Spain for the boat to Ceuta, a Spanish enclave in Morocco .

I intend to spend all of May in Morocco, visiting the high mountains, desert and Atlantic coast. I will meet my wife in Marrakech for a few days and also visit, Fez and Casablanca before catching the ferry from Tangier to Genoa and head through Eastern Europe to Turkey.

I find it takes a week or so to get in the groove of traveling and being by yourself. My summer in the Coromandel is always busy with fishing , diving, riding, household chores and the volunteer fire force. You tend to miss company for the first week or so, then you settle down to enjoy your freedom, the new sights and culture and the people you inevitably meet as a solo rider.

Another adventure is about to begin.

Bexhill to Ceuta

The plan for the journey to the Spanish enclave of Ceuta on Morocco's coast involved three ferries. The first was from Newhaven to Dieppe, across the turgid and turdy English Channel .
Catching a ferry only 50km into the trip means you can cast aside early along with the mooring ropes your previous routines. You now have to invent, find, refine a whole new set of standards. You have to be more aware, sharper, sometimes cautious and get into a mind set that allows you to accept the vagaries of travel.
I love the anonymity that solo travel brings. You can watch activities without making any judgement and participate without responsibility.
Once on French soil, I had a 450 ride along the top of France to the Atlantic port of Saint Nazaire for the ferry to Gijon. My French journey started in bright clear weather and I quickly got into the groove of driving on the left.

However, just one hour into the ride, it all turned to custard. The wind rose and the trees on the roadside bent with the gusts, the rain sleeted down and the bike was pushed around like a Qantas steward in a rugby scrum. I abandoned riding that day and found a campsite in the walled garden of an old chateau. The storm raised its intensity during the night and although the walls gave me some protection, the noise meant I had to use my earplugs to get some sleep.
The next day I packed up in the rain and gritted myself for an uncomfortable 350km ride. Uncomfortable was an understatement. The wind and rain increased and I was pushed between the white road lines like the cursor in one of those old tennis computor games. I found cowering in the slip stream of a truck and dodging down behind the screen of the V Strom helped but the wind which veered through about 30 degrees, caught the bike broadsides with alarming frequency giving little chance to relax.

I arrived at St Nazaire bedraggled, cold and tired to find the ferry had been cancelled . but I had a priority reservation for the next boat in four days time. The counter clerk told me it was the first time they had cancelled in three years. I considered my options and felt that four days in one place so early in the trip was not appealing. The ferry and flight cancellations had given the hotels a bonus- there was no room at the inn. I had to ride another 40 km to find a campsite , I erected my still wet tent in the high winds, double pegged the lines and crawled into my sleeping bag, made myself a brew and exhausted fell asleep.

The next day, there was no rain although the wind was still high. I packed up and hit the dual carriage way heading through the flat coastal wine growing region of Bordeaux, then Bayonne and across the border into Spain.

The rain and wind picked up as I crossed the Pyrenees, indeed if anything it was the worse of the trip. It was just to risky to continue, so in Burgos I called it a day, found a hotel, stowed my bike in its courtyard, bought a bottle of wine, had a hot shower, toasted the day several times, dried my riding gear and slept for 10 hours.

What a difference a day makes. The next morning was bright, cold with a moderate wind. It was so nice cruising across the plains of Spain at around 120kph, with the bad weather experience behind you. The road was boring, straight and flat. I got in a convoy of Spanish bikers and they made the ride interesting buying me lovely calamari lunch and swapping motorbike war stories.

My friends stopped at Seville, but with only a further 200km to the ferry terminal at Algerciras to go and at least three hours of day light I carried on, refusing their offer of a bed for the night.

I caught the midnight ferry and an hour later I was setting foot for the first time in North Africa. It was warm, dry but everything was closed. No hotels, no restaurants. I found a beach, unrolled my swag, made a brew, had another toast and fell into a deep sleep, the only sound being the waves lapping the shore and the warm wind rustling the tussock grass in the dunes.

The Border

I awoke with the sun and an audience of five stray dogs , I made a brew, packed up and headed for the Moroccan border. Ceuta is a pretty town with duty free petrol and a razor wire fence surrounding it to keep out illegal economic migrants.

I was waved through the Spanish checkpoint and girded myself for Moroccan authorities. I had read about the touts posing as officials and extracting money to “assist” you to enter Morocco. I planned to do it all myself.

Crossing the 100 metre no man's strip between the two countries was theatre. One minute you are in manicured lawns, order and direction. The next you are hitting a pothole and being yelled at by swarthy men in long robes, three day stubble and instant camaraderie.

“ Hola, bonjour , hello my friend. Let me help you. “

I slowed, then stopped and was immediately surrounded by four men , trying to grab my hand, give me a paper, show me their credentials and asking for my passport.

I dismounted and pulled myself to my full height, flipped up my visor and looked slowly at the four men in turn.

“ Good morning, gentlemen. Thank you for greeting me so warmly on my entrance to your beautiful country. I would like to try and enter by myself. and if I get stuck I will come and see you. “ I had rehearsed that speech.

I grabbed my tankbag with all my documentation and headed for passport control.

But before I reached there , my hand was grabbed and I looked to see another tout, his eyes were bloodshot, unsteady on his feet. He thrust a paper at me.

:” Take this , give me passport “ His hand tightened on mine and I just ignored him dragging him along with me. He then came round in front of me and shoved his face into mine. I could smell the alcohol on his breath. He would be as much use getting me through the border process as tits on a bull.

“ Stop . Give me passport,” he slurred. I tried to be polite and shook his hand from me.

“ No thanks , I am good. Please let me pass .” By this time a crowd of touts, officials and other travellers were watching.

He tried again to grab my hand and asked for my passport, but I dodged past him and made it to the booth and handed over my passport .

Then he started to yell and spat on the ground, followed by a string of multi cultural expletives. I ignored him and out of the corner of my eye I saw him take a few steps then fall down on a heap to the ground. He just lay there , not moving. I watched him for about 10 seconds and realised he was not going to get up, so I rushed over to him . I checked his airways. His breathing was laboured but his pulse was reasonably strong. I laid him in the recovery position and opened up his airway and gave him a crack on his back. He let forth a projectile of vomit, luckily missing me. That action seemed to do the trick as he opened his eyes, sat up and gave his head a shake, stood up and staggered away , pushing himself through the crowd.

My actions in going to his aid, galavanised the officials. A police officer grabbed me and walked me over to the passport official and gave him a string of instructions. Myself and my bike were taken to the head of the queque, processed and sent on our way with a welcome to Morocco in less than five minutes. I didn't even have to fill in the forms – it was all done for me.
Who said getting into Morocco was hard!
Border to Al Hoceima

As nothing was open at the border and I really did not want to hang around, I headed for Chefchaouen, about 100km in the Rif Mountains.

The single lane road was busy with smoky buses and trucks, potholed, being repaired and waiting for repair. As I climbed, the temperature dropped and the wind rose , but after about 90 minutes I had my first glance of the town.

Chefchaouen is the tourist face of the area that supplies around 40% of the world's hashish. Its blue washed houses cling to the Rif mountains and its walled medina is small but perfectly formed. Easy to get lost and easy to find your way out .

I found a hotel by the West gate and was unloading my bike when I was approached by two men – one older and smiling, one younger and scowling.

The older man begin the ritual to establish my language. I continued to unload muttering New Zealand hoping to confuse them

“ You are going to park here,” said the younger man with a touch of growl in his voice.

“ Yes while I unload.”

“ If you stay here you must pay the guardians. We are the guardians. Everyone who stays here must pay the guardians.”

I have been in Morocco about three hours and was having my second shakedown.

“OK no problem, just let me unload.”

I walked into the hotel and asked the lad on reception who spoke passable English “ What is it with these guardians”


He said nothing just looked at the floor, and I turned around to see the young guardian just behind me.

OK, pay the guardian.

“ Hello my name is Peter, “ I said to the guardian. “ What is the cost of your services for two nights and what do I get for the money.?”

“ You get the guardians looking after your bike. It will cost you 50 dirhams”

I hate paying bribes and protection, but as this was the only parking space I paid up.

I spent two nights in Chefchaouen. It rained continuously but I sampled the cuisine, walked the walls, drank mint tea At one of the cafes I met an Australian couple who had bought a home in the medina and spent three months a year there.

They had seen me on my bike and asked about my itinerary. I said my next port of call was Al Hoceima. They looked at each other in horror.

“ You are traveling alone aren't you? “ asked David. “ Well whatever you do don't stop on the road unless you have too. It's , without exaggeration, beyond the law in some of those towns. But on the plus side it is a pretty ride if there is no fog or low cloud.”

I loaded the bike in a light drizzle and another guardian asked me for a further night's guardianship. I had planned to leave after getting some breakfast but as I was reluctant to make a further contribution I left straight away. The decision not to have something to eat especially after only having a light meal the night before would impact on me later that day.

After about 30 minutes of climbing, the weather got worse. The rain and wind increased and the temperature dropped to around 3C. I have never been so cold, even skiing in minus 17C. There was low cloud and I could hardly see. I needed to put more layers on and just as I decided to stop a green Mercedes with tinted windows drew alongside and waved me down.

Heeding David's warning, I upped my speed and looked behind me to see him following. He came right up behind me and honked his horn and flashed his lights. I dare not go any faster, I could hardly see and I had lost all feeling in my hands.

He chased me hooting and yelling out of the window for about 10 km, then as we got near the town of Bab Berret he stopped.

By this time I was frozen. I had to stop and warm up. Even with my heated grips up full I had no feeling in my hands and I was beginning to yawn and feel sleepy, the first signs of hypothermia. I pulled over, got the side stand down and dragged myself of the bike. I was literally shaking all over.

Just then a man came over and asked in English : “ Are you OK.”

“ Yes I am very cold and I need to put more layers on and get something to eat. “ He grabbed me and my tankbag and we walked into a large , smoke filled room full to the gunwales with locals. It was not noisy, only just a slight hum , and even the TV showing Italian soccer was turned right down.

My new friend got me a coffee and took off his lovely sheepskin coat and put it around me. I was shaking so much that I could not lift the coffee and when I cupped my hands around it , I spilled it over them and did not feel it.
After about 10 minutes , I began to feel human again. A coffee, mint tea and a sticky bun had revived me. The combination of cold and lack of food in the last 24 hours had played havoc with my system.

Hassan introduced me to his two friends Ahmed and Hussein. They asked me what I was doing and as the conversation went backwards and forwards, I learned that my saviors were drug dealers selling hashish to Holland and Sweden.

“But the market is not so good now. We have to get some new areas – but it is so competitive. “ His conversation reminded me of that of a marketing manager – new markets, diversification, threats, opportunities.

“ Well what about selling another agricultural product. “ I asked

“In the past 10 years we have had EU advisers here and they told us to grow avocados. They also told that to every village in the valley. It takes five or six years to get the first avocado crop. How do we feed our families during that time? The crop will all ripen together with a short selling time. The only outcome is cheap avocados for the EU, “ said Hassan.

“ We have been growing and manufacturing hashish for generations. We will continue to do so.”

I look around the room. Even though the customers, many of them glassy eyed and smiling at nothing in particular, were dressed in traditional garb, you could see the expensive Swiss watches, designer eyewear and the sheepskin coat that Hassan had draped over me earlier was made in France. Outside were serious four wheel drives. Avocados would never provide that.

The smoke in the room was beginning to get to me. I felt elated and I guess I was getting a high through the second hand smoke. I remember President Bill Clinton when asked if he had smoked marijuana replied: “ I smoked ,but did not inhale.”

Well Mr Clinton, I can truly say I inhaled but did not smoke.

Hassan invited me home, but the rain had stopped, and I had layered up and felt ready to ride again. So I left my new friends , but not before Hassan gave me his phone number, in case I needed help.

I hopped back on and began the descent to the Med. But nature had one more surprise for me. It started to snow. I rode carefully and even stopped to take a picture of the bike against a snow bank. After about 30km , the sun burst out, the road improved and the temperature rose.
David was right, it was a nice ride. In the sun!

I made it to the coastal resort of Al Hocieme just before dark, found a hotel, had a hot , hot shower and had a great stodgy meat meal. I crawled into bed and felt really warm for the first time in what felt like days.

I reflected on my luck meeting Hassan. Here was man whose trade and occupation we can only revile but who showed compassion and aid to traveller in distress.

What judgement do you make?

Al Hoceima to Figuig

I wanted sun, peace and little drama on the next stage of my journey. What could go wrong if I took in the old Imperial cities of Taza and Oudja then headed south into the desert town of Figuig.

Al Hoceima is having serious money poured into to establish it as the next Mediterranean must go to resort. The road is being dual carriaged, shopping malls being built and perhaps even an Irish theme pub – Paddy Mohammeds.

I took the secondary road toTaza in bright, cold sunshine . It cut through the mountains and over three or four low passes. There was little traffic, only old vans and farmers on their donkeys heading for the local market.

I saw a most incongruous sight on this road. A man in neatly pressed clothes astride a donkey, two paces behind him was a women bowed double under a load of firewood. Her clothes were dowdy – but then it it hard to get the right outfit to transport firewood with. It was like a scene from the middle ages and all the talk I had heard of emancipation was disapated by that scene. I stopped and debated taking a picture but decided it was best left a mental memory

Taza was quiet, laid back. An old fortress town with crumbling fortifications,

The next morning I decided to take the 200km toll road to the border town of Oudja. It was not expensive – about 3 euros for the distance . I stopped halfway at a modern service centre. Like the motorway , it was empty and the staff served me tea with a silver service flourish.

I was getting into the desert proper now. Scrubby plants, vast flat plains and a bit of heat shimmer from the road. I kept the bike at 120kph, just enjoying the lack of traffic , the heat and the dynamics of the road.

At the toll booth, the young fellow saw my New Zealand sticker and said
“Lord of the Rings” . We talked for maybe 15 minutes and he volunteered to ring his friend who had a hotel in Oudja and get me “ special price”

I tend to avoid these arrangements , but he seemed sincere and so I went to the hotel where for Euro10 I was given an excellent room with a balcony and even a bidet. At last a chance to wash my feet.

Oudja was a university city – and a bit of tourist backwater since the border with Algeria closed in 1995,

My dinner that night was enlivened by a group of students discussing, in French, the impact social media was having on the Arab Spring movement. Top of the table was a young woman with charisma to spare. She was a born leader, with flashing black eyes, enthusiasm and a real trick of using her voice to draw her audience in.. Her colleagues, the waiter and myself were hanging on every word. At one stage she caught me watching and mentioned it to her audience. They all swivelled to look at me and I reddened ,

“ Pas de problem – Anglais “ she asked .

Non , Nouvelle Zealand, I replied .

“Ah Lord of the Rings and you beat France in the rugby world cup,”: she said in perfectly accented English.

I would follow this lady to the barricades – well at least until my bedtime.

What a contrast with the firewood lady I saw just a hours previously. Monique I will watch for your name.

The desert road to Figuig is boring , so I just opened the throttle, put on my Ipod and sang away the 400km only stopping for the four police checkpoints. This is still a sensitive military area and they like to keep tabs on subversive superannuatants.

Figuig, is an oasis town with a traveller's past. A stop on the way to Mecca but with the closed border now the end of the line. I pulled into the town square, parked and sat down outside the cafe enjoying the sight of the palm trees, jagged hills and the diversity of the inhabitants.

The ladies of Figuig have a tradition of wearing white robes with only one eye showing. Bit like a Canterbury rugby team supporter.

Ishmael , the owner of the local auberge found me and I ended up staying at his home for two nights. I slept in a room on the roof, got lost in the streets, had meals with his family and got to know more of desert tribe's outlook.

On the second night I was sitting outside my room watching the sun set when four local ladies in traditional garb joined me. They were surprisingly forthright in their approach and asked me all sorts of questions about NZ, my travels, my family and yes Lord of the Rings.

It is quite disconcerting speaking to someone whose only part you can see is one big, beautifully made up eye and a carefully shaped and surprisingly exopressive eyebrow

I asked them about their life and told them the stories in my fractured French about the contrast I saw between the firewood toting lady and Monique , the firebrand.

They looked at each other, then back at me . The oldest of the quartet – at least I think it was the oldest replied.

“ Just because our clothes are traditional , does not mean our ideas are. We Figuig woman have many ways of influencing our men. You know we would never have to carry firewood if there was a donkey about.”

I was sure I saw four eyes twinkling in unison.


Figuig to the High Atlas

The desert around Figuig is destined to be the battery of Europe. Plans are well advanced to set up solar and wind farms that in the next 25 years will meet 15 per cent of Europe's power requirements.
Adding to this a huge aquifer under the rocky desert has been discovered and there is the potential to grow biofuels.

As you drive along this desert highway, you see the infrastructure being developed and wonder whether anything, even hardy ethanol producing plants, would survive let alone provide economic growth.

Just as I was mulling this over I crested a rise into the town of Erfoud and spread below in the river valley was a vast sward of green. And because it was so unexpected, the green seemed that much more intense. Palm trees reached over three stories, the dates and oranges were plump and juicy and the temperature seemed to cool 10 degrees. Like those cake recipes – just add water.

The road to Merzouga took me back into the desert, the heat increased and the wind blew sand across the road and I had to keep my visor down. Sand managed to creep inside my riding gear and it was like sitting on sandpaper.

Merzouga is the stepping off point for Erg Chebbi – a 300 metre sand dune that rises out of the flat desert. As I drove along the road I could see the dune changing colour as the sun set lower. It started off as a silver slash, then shifted through the spectrum to end blood red .

The touts found me in the town square. I have had a change of mind about the touts I met in southern Morocco. They are very laid back, not insistent and will leave you alone if you ask. I guess touts are just another form of advertising and when I think of all the the intrusive advertising we put up with in our daily lives back home then these are far more pleasant and informative.

I was found an air conditioned auberge with swimming pool,air conditioning and half board for 10 euros.

My plan was to take a camel ride for two days into the desert. I did not want to go in a large group and for 190 euros I could go with just two others and a guide.

As I was unloading my bike, a bus full of German tourists arrived. You could almost hear the camels groan as the overweight passengers alighted.

Dinner was set for 8pm and I arrived 5 minutes late find only one chair left and the German party ready halfway through the soup course.

“ You are late, sit down, have a wine,” said a florid man next to the only empty chair. Germans, I have found in my travels are usually good fun. If you can tell jokes about sheep and bottoms, do not mention Winston Churchill and can speak about Lord of the Rings then you are quickly accepted.

My florid companion questioned me about my travels. As the meal progressed his supply of wine was steadily decreasing. At 10 pm I decided to turn in . My dinner mate leaned over to me.

“ I want to do what you are doing – but she won't let me” He said nodding towards a large bottle blond Frau at the other end of the table. She looked very formidable and I really did not want to contribute to a domestic .

“ Well , its not that hard. You just buy a bike and go for it. “

“ She would kill me “

As my parting shot I told him “ Look you get one chance at life. If you have a dream and it does not cause great heartbreak you should go for it.”

“ It would cause heartbreak to my wallet, : he said.

“Well you have to work out whether half your savings is worth more than a lost dream.”

With that he looked over at his wife, turned back to me and with a look of complete loathing said:
“ She would want much more than half and she is not worth that. “

My camel trip was delayed due to high winds and then the organiser said he could not get a guide for a small party. So I decided to move on to the High Atlas Mountains.

As I was loading my Gernman mate joined me.

“I did not sleep last night. I have decided to follow my dream .I will tell her when I get home to Dusseldorf. Maybe we will meet on the road.”

I looked at him. His eyes seemed to have a new lustre and did I imagine he had a different step in his stride? Did I just contribute to providing a German divorce lawyer with his kid's private school fees? Probably.

I headed back to Erfoud and followed the N10 and at Tinerhir headed north through the Gorges de Todra for the mountains.

This is one of the bestgmotorbike rides I have ever done Once you cut through the gorge you climb up to nearly 3000m. The road is smooth, well maintained with curves made even for a loaded V strom. I had the bike in fourth gear and was pulling around 3500rpm. The bike lapped up the cool mountain air and I stopped often to take in the views of the moon like mountain landscape and the road snaking below and ahead of me. There was little other traffic on the road and the only bike I saw was a local contentedly smoking as a freewheeled his moped down the hill, feet resting on the small petrol tank.

I was so enamored with the ride that I missed a turnoff that would take me to back to the N10. At 5pm I decided that I should call it quits and find somewhere to stay as the sun was sinking behind the crags and it was getting colder. I found a lovely little inn, had a great meal and spent the night talking to the customers and drinking far too much tea.

With proper directions, a tank full of fuel, I freewheeled back through Gorges du Dades, riding through the Valley of the Roses.

One of the great things about travelling on a bike is that you not only take in the sights but the smells. In the aptly named valley, the perfume of roses hung richly in the air. It is the only place I have ever been where I did not have to stop to smell the roses.
I spent the night in Ouarzazate- a town with a long history on the caravan trail and a lovely place to prepare for a further exploration of the Sahara. I even went for a swim in the 30 metre pool. There is something decadent about swimming some laps on the edge of the desert.

What a couple of days of great riding, from stark , sandy barren desert thorough lush green palm plantations and up snow tipped mountains along with wonderful Moroccan hospitality and food.

And of course , perhaps influencing another German to join the two wheeled nomads. Just don't tell the missus about me!


Figuig to the High Atlas

The desert around Figuig is destined to be the battery of Europe. Plans are well advanced to set up solar and wind farms that in the next 25 years will meet 15 per cent of Europe's power requirements.
Adding to this a huge aquifer under the rocky desert has been discovered and there is the potential to grow biofuels.

As you drive along this desert highway, you see the infrastructure being developed and wonder whether anything, even hardy ethanol producing plants, would survive let alone provide economic growth.

Just as I was mulling this over I crested a rise into the town of Erfoud and spread below in the river valley was a vast sward of green. And because it was so unexpected, the green seemed that much more intense. Palm trees reached over three stories, the dates and oranges were plump and juicy and the temperature seemed to cool 10 degrees. Like those cake recipes – just add water.

The road to Merzouga took me back into the desert, the heat increased and the wind blew sand across the road and I had to keep my visor down. Sand managed to creep inside my riding gear and it was like sitting on sandpaper.

Merzouga is the stepping off point for Erg Chebbi – a 300 metre sand dune that rises out of the flat desert. As I drove along the road I could see the dune changing colour as the sun set lower. It started off as a silver slash, then shifted through the spectrum to end blood red .

The touts found me in the town square. I have had a change of mind about the touts I met in southern Morocco. They are very laid back, not insistent and will leave you alone if you ask. I guess touts are just another form of advertising and when I think of all the the intrusive advertising we put up with in our daily lives back home then these are far more pleasant and informative.

I was found an air conditioned auberge with swimming pool,air conditioning and half board for 10 euros.

My plan was to take a camel ride for two days into the desert. I did not want to go in a large group and for 190 euros I could go with just two others and a guide.

As I was unloading my bike, a bus full of German tourists arrived. You could almost hear the camels groan as the overweight passengers alighted.

Dinner was set for 8pm and I arrived 5 minutes late find only one chair left and the German party ready halfway through the soup course.

“ You are late, sit down, have a wine,” said a florid man next to the only empty chair. Germans, I have found in my travels are usually good fun. If you can tell jokes about sheep and bottoms, do not mention Winston Churchill and can speak about Lord of the Rings then you are quickly accepted.

My florid companion questioned me about my travels. As the meal progressed his supply of wine was steadily decreasing. At 10 pm I decided to turn in . My dinner mate leaned over to me.

“ I want to do what you are doing – but she won't let me” He said nodding towards a large bottle blond Frau at the other end of the table. She looked very formidable and I really did not want to contribute to a domestic .

“ Well , its not that hard. You just buy a bike and go for it. “

“ She would kill me “

As my parting shot I told him “ Look you get one chance at life. If you have a dream and it does not cause great heartbreak you should go for it.”

“ It would cause heartbreak to my wallet, : he said.

“Well you have to work out whether half your savings is worth more than a lost dream.”

With that he looked over at his wife, turned back to me and with a look of complete loathing said:
“ She would want much more than half and she is not worth that. “

My camel trip was delayed due to high winds and then the organiser said he could not get a guide for a small party. So I decided to move on to the High Atlas Mountains.

As I was loading my Gernman mate joined me.

“I did not sleep last night. I have decided to follow my dream .I will tell her when I get home to Dusseldorf. Maybe we will meet on the road.”

I looked at him. His eyes seemed to have a new lustre and did I imagine he had a different step in his stride? Did I just contribute to providing a German divorce lawyer with his kid's private school fees? Probably.

I headed back to Erfoud and followed the N10 and at Tinerhir headed north through the Gorges de Todra for the mountains.

This is one of the bestgmotorbike rides I have ever done Once you cut through the gorge you climb up to nearly 3000m. The road is smooth, well maintained with curves made even for a loaded V strom. I had the bike in fourth gear and was pulling around 3500rpm. The bike lapped up the cool mountain air and I stopped often to take in the views of the moon like mountain landscape and the road snaking below and ahead of me. There was little other traffic on the road and the only bike I saw was a local contentedly smoking as a freewheeled his moped down the hill, feet resting on the small petrol tank.

I was so enamored with the ride that I missed a turnoff that would take me to back to the N10. At 5pm I decided that I should call it quits and find somewhere to stay as the sun was sinking behind the crags and it was getting colder. I found a lovely little inn, had a great meal and spent the night talking to the customers and drinking far too much tea.

With proper directions, a tank full of fuel, I freewheeled back through Gorges du Dades, riding through the Valley of the Roses.

One of the great things about travelling on a bike is that you not only take in the sights but the smells. In the aptly named valley, the perfume of roses hung richly in the air. It is the only place I have ever been where I did not have to stop to smell the roses.
I spent the night in Ouarzazate- a town with a long history on the caravan trail and a lovely place to prepare for a further exploration of the Sahara. I even went for a swim in the 30 metre pool. There is something decadent about swimming some laps on the edge of the desert.

What a couple of days of great riding, from stark , sandy barren desert thorough lush green palm plantations and up snow tipped mountains along with wonderful Moroccan hospitality and food.

And of course , perhaps influencing another German to join the two wheeled nomads. Just don't tell the missus about me!


Ouarzazate to Tangier

It is very difficult to get accurate road information in Morocco. Google maps told there was a road through the desert from Mhamid to Foum-Zguid, the hotel manager was unsure, but a Dutch motorcyclist assured me there was a road.

“ Look it is drawn on my Dutch map. So it must be OK”

Anyway I rode the 300km to Mhamid and as I got deeper into my ride, the desert changed from rocks to sand. There was a single strip of bitumen and I had to veer into the sand a few times to avoid large military trucks
Might is right is the road rule here.

Mhamid is right on the desert. The sand creeps up the main street like waves at a beach. Unlike Merzouga there is little infrastructure, but the dunes come right to its front door and beyond, held back by a Canute like fence e of palm fronds.

I stopped at a small cafe on the outskirts of town. Mr Himi, poured me a cold coke and tried to sell me a 4wd trip into the desert.
“ Too hot for camel and too much sand for your bike. 4wd very nice. “

I could think of nothing worse after the freedom and airiness of the bike to be cooped up with other people in a 4wd, driven by a taureg wanna be rally driver.

So much for Dutch maps. There was a track, not a bitumen road and it was closed due to sand

I gave up on a camel trip and desert road to Foum Zuigd and headed back for Zagora. At 4pm it was 44C degrees. I had to keep my visor down as the hot wind blasted my lips . My jacket was open to catch the breeze and as the sun dipped it became pleasant ride between the rock walls of the ancient river valley.

Accommodation in Zagora was of the European desert hardship variety with a price range to match – but a tout found me a nice room with dinner and breakfast for $35. I changed the oil in my bike and cleaned the air filter.

I also haggled over some desert jewelery for the wife. Some nice desert amber pieces, bracelet of turquoise and amber and some green topaz. The haggling was not intense, very gentlemanly over numerous cups of mint tea. Eventually we settled on half the initial opening price and for around $150 I had numerous brownie points.

The road cut through the mid Atlas range. The bitumen faltered to dusty gravel for about 60km and and my only road companions were shepherds and a few nomads trekking into the mountains. I spent the night in a hotel in Tata and had dinner watching desert Arabs flicking their robes as they walked up and down the main street. This was not the plastic desert , I had experienced further east, but the real McCoy with some hook nosed , hard looking men hanging around the hotel lobby.

The next morning I followed the signs to Sidi Ifini- a coastal town the Spanish only handed back to Morocco some 30 or so years ago. The road followed the ridge between the desert and the mountains, then after climbing the coastal range I caught my first sight of the blue Atlantic, with lines of surf and white sand beaches.

Despite the guide book claims, Sidi Ifini was disappointing. It is home to a large fish canning factory and the much vaunted art deco and Moorish buildings were being displaced by modern holiday developments. I rode down the main street , took a few shallow breaths and decided to keep heading north.

I found an apartment at Mirleft, overlooking the beach and stayed for two days. The wind was hot off the desert , exceeding 40c but the water was a cool 21c .

The surf was small but it was great to just wallow in the waves and snorkel – but the fish life was sparse - particularly if you are used to diving on the Coromandel.

My route took me to Agadir – a town destroyed by an earthquake in 1960. The disaster so overwhelmed the recently independent Morocco that they just bulldozed everything into piles and threw lime over it and rebuilt.

It is a pretty city, hugging the narrow plain between the mountains and the sea. As I drove through at 11 am there was still a sea mist coating it. There were numerous beaches but I headed on for Taghazoute, the reputed surfing capital of Morocco.

Abdullah found me just after I stopped for a mint tea in the town square. He owned a surf shop, mobile phone shop and several other enterprises.

After numerous cups of tea, he made arrangements for me to stay in an apartment with cable TV, balcony, air conditioning , wifi right on the beach for less than $30 a night. He locked up my bike in his spare shop , and also threw in use of a boogie board.

I stayed eight days in Taghazoute, surfing , swimming, reading, drinking tea and just getting to know the fishermen, the waiters and the surfers. At 5 am a dozen or so dories would head out for fishing. Four hours later they were back in with a few calamari, dog fish, bream and skate. The catches were pretty sparse, but they sold quickly in the market.

It was an idyllic routine made pleasant by spending time with Abdullah and his family, trying out the different tagines and breads. I saw one other European , an elderly Hungarian lady whose accent and look reminded me of Ingrid Bergman in the film Casablanca. She had spent more than 50 years here , after fleeing the Hungarian uprising and making a new life for herself in Morocco. She dressed elegantly in that mid European style and held court in the local auberge where I took breakfast. Surrounded by her dogs she puffed away on a long cigarette holder and switched effortlessly between Arabic, French and English as her audience demanded.


It was time to move on as I had to meet the wife and sister in law in Marrakesh. It is strange after 30 plus days of being alone , speaking everything but your native tongue to be thrust back into a domestic routine. We had our three daily meals, I shaved every day and felt myself grow distant from the locals.

Marrakesh with its souks, big central square and easy going population is a gentle introduction to North Africa.. We walked, rode the tourist bus, haggled and bought nothing, ate splendid lamb and beef sofltly cooked in a tagine and enjoyed the hospitality of our hotel. The waiters were obviously fans of Del Boy from Only Fools and Horses as everything was lovely jubbly

Leaving Marrakech, I headed for the Atlantic coast visiting Casablanca, Rabat. It is a wild coast with a mist that hangs around till around 11am, booming surf and the world's largest sardine fishery. The coast road took me to Tangier where I was to catch the Genoa ferry to head to Eastern Europe and Turkey.

If you do have a motorcycling tour bucket list – then put Morocco on it. It is varied, hospitable, inexpensive ( fuel is $1 a litre) . It will enchant and challenge but it will not disappoint..

Posted by Peter Hazael at 11:47 AM GMT
January 13, 2012 GMT
Kiwi through Europe and Turkey


A New Year. A new challenge. That means a new motorbike tour.

Last year I rode 21000km through 22 countries in Europe on my 2008 Suzuki V Strom 650. The blog is on the kiwi biker.co.nz site under blogs/three months in Europe

I finished the blog on that trip by hinting I was contemplating a tour of Morocco and Turkey in 2012. Well I have contemplated and I am off in April 2012 for a four month tour. This year the trip will not be entirely solo as a couple of friends want to join me for the Turkish leg.

Following my return to NZ in September 2011, I spent a few weeks skiing and then headed off to SE Asia for a 2000km bicycle ride through Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand. It got me fit. All I have to do now is maintain a semblance of that level. The blog for that trip is on Crazy guy on a bike.com/ three kiwi jokers.

My plan is to arrive in the UK in mid April, fettle the bike for a week including fitting a belly pan. Then catch a ferry to Northern Spain, cruise down to the Mediterranean coast, catch a ferry to Morocco and brace myself for my first introduction to North Africa.

I will spend four or five weeks in Morocco taking in the desert, mountains and coast, have a break with the Mrs in Marrakech, sampling the local delicacies.

Then catch a ferry to Genoa in Italy , meet my friends and meander on a route to be decided to Istanbul.

From there I will revisit Gallipoli, head for Lake Van and Cappadocia. I have a yen to visit Georgia and from there perhaps catch a ferry to the Crimea and then wander back to the UK via the Baltic states, Finland, Sweden and Denmark.
Well, that is the plan . But don’t hold me to it. I found that I was easily influenced on my last tour to go off the beaten track and just follow my whims.

I will be taking my camping gear, as it gives me independence , I will load up my Kindle with books, my I Pod with crap tunes and take a few changes of clothes. Taking too much just complicates things. Oh and I will add my body surfing fins - I hear the surf is great in Morocco.

But that is a few months away and I have a summer to spend on the glorious Coromandel - fishing, diving, riding, eating.

And there is planning and dreaming to do. If you have any tips that may help me , please let me know.

Posted by Peter Hazael at 03:49 AM GMT
 
 

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