Still heading south to try for the warmth of more Mediterranian climes...First stop Donana for another birding spot and LOTS of sand. Spotted some purple chickens (one for Paul and Jane there), short-toed eagle, glossy ibis (even Imogen thought they were cool) and purple heron (what is it with this colour?!) Typically, we got fantastically lost, ended with a 15km ride through deep sand with Imogen walking, luckily James remembered a groovy tip from Chris Scott about letting air out of the tires and hey! it works - result. Alas, we were discovered by a ranger who reminded us that we were in a national park, small worry that we would have to turn back, through the sand and with the light fading fast...
Onto Cadiz where there are no hostels or camping, madess! Again with the light fading, another gorgeous free camping spot on the dunes by the old walls beckoned.
The great thing about travelling and being in random places is the people that say hello, one memorable moment was the Portugese lorry driver carrying several tonnes of oranges, so we gladly accepted his offer of an immense vitamin C and fructose rush.
We headed to the port for the boat to Morocco, slighty nervous at the prospect! We can't quite believe that we were fleeced by a Spanish policeman even before we got onto Moroccan soil officially, pah! The Moroccan officials were scandalised at this behaviour, from an Euro official too (so were we!)
One of our first stops was the fantastically mellow Chaoun, soon to be twinned with Glastonbury I'm sure! We even met the owner of Starchild by our hotel, what a small, small world. The Rif Valley grows mainly one crop, yup, kif (or for you Brits, grass), so drug busts are common, but it did add an air of total chill out vibe to the place!
Still heading south to try and find warmth (must head out of the mountains, as the pass yesterday was 1907metres...brrrrr....). Onto Volubilis, a huge Roman city near Meknes so Imogen could get some ruins in.
True to form, we've had our brush with carpet buying and yes, a lovely Bedouin tapis made from camel hair is now (hopefully!) winging its way back to dear old Blighty, must learn to say no.
Had our first brush with the speeding police (!) but when they found out that we weren't with the Spanish 4x4's (who WERE speeding) and Imogens charm offensive in her best GCSE French (thanks Mr Sadler!) were were sent on our way with nothing but smiles and cheery handshakes - phew.
Now attempting the great Erg Chebbi, so we are surrounded by rufty tufty bikers all eager to get going. Apparently one of the local bridges is down from the uber storm yesterday (so were the roads for a while - your intrepid travellers decided on a hotel for the night rather than camping - what wimps!)
Final note to the London and Tonbridge aiki lot that graded - well done, all stars the lot of you, and Paul, you'd better be a 1st kyu by the time we're back!!)
Arrived at the great Erg Chebbi, which is as amazing as everyone says. Needless to say, James and his pal Gunter (on a DR400) did the 40km circuit around the dune on piste (and off, when the bike got dropped!)
We declined the offer of a 5am watching of the sunrise over the dune and opted for the far more civillised 7pm version....
We headed on through the most amazing scenery (strata of deep reds and malachite green), via free camping 'comme les berebers' where even in the middle of nowhere, there'll be an audience, watching your strange rituals of trangia stoves and tent-erectage.
Onto the Vallee du Draa, where our little desert campsite had a pool! Alas, the 'melange' of (we now suspect) dirty well water and an untimely lunchstop in the fabulously monikered Agdz, meant that James was laid low with a viral and bacterial infection, which involved a visit to the local doc (only opened 3 weeks earlier!) who, after an ultrasound exam, pronounced 'beaucoup de gas' and prescribed a plethora of antibiotics and an anti-vomiting injection.
400 Dirhams later, we limped on, through the stunning Todra Gorge - best roads and piste yet, hair-raising bends (the sort to give mothers everywhere kittens) and fun water fording, testing James' bike handling skills whilst not feeling tipettytop.
(note Imogen not on bike at this point!!)
Onwards through strange little towns, one of which necessitated a stay due to James not feeling on top form, and, in the daylight of the following morning, reminded the intrepid twosome of Mos Eisley spaceport.... those that know will understand!! ("Never has there been a more wretched hive of scum and villany" - a tad harsh, but the local copper, when hearing of our night time destination said "c'est pas sophistique")
Next rendezvous was Beni Mellal, home of trekking guide and friend of aiki pal Paul, Abdoul. A couple of days respite at his auberge in the mountains, with his glorious cook Fatima (check out www.plein-maroc.com), and James was duly summoned to give a demo at the local aikido club, where the Sensei is 4 times Morocco weight-lifting champion and a dan grade in 3 different disciplines.
Note the colour of Sensei James's dogi and Imogen's very cool hakama (result for IM!)
A couple of bike free days then beckoned in Marrakech as the temperature gauge hit the 40° mark... souks, snake charmers and all around the sights and smells of Maroc's most famous Imperial city.
Next stop, the Atlantic coast....
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- NEW! HUMM Morocco: May 13-16, 2015
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