September 30, 2010 GMT
Meknes, Rabat, Ceuta (again), Casa, Marrakesh and Essaouira
Thursday 30 September 2010 – Essaouira (Morocco)
It took us 17 days to be able to leave the paradisaical blue city of Chefchaouen and yet we were quite sad to walk away from the riad Baraka and its kind British owners. Joseph led us in the right direction and we rode towards Meknes after refilling the Transalp. The ride was sunny and hot. The roadside filled up with more olive trees as we approached our destination. We arrived at our hotel early enough for a quiet walk around after having taken a good shower. Meknes isn't blue but its fortification walls and gates are stunning. The style is very African already with square shapes, very tiny windows and that tint of dry sandy mud. The crenelations at the top give it a medieval look that plunges me back to the glorious times of “Prince of Persia” which I was addicted to on my old 286PC. The streets of Meknes medina are much larger than in Chefchaouen. People are nice and friendly. No pushers, lots of veiled ladies, “caleches” (taxi-carts pulled by a horse) everywhere and not only carrying tourists, lots of motorized taxis too... they've got two kinds in Morocco, the big taxis, usually beaten up Mercedes-Benz 200D or 220D dating back from the 70's like the one we had used to go and get back from Tetouan and “petit taxis” which are smaller but just as beaten up if not more, sort of remains of Peugeot or Fiat for most of them. Just seeing these antiques everywhere is reassuring us about the level of fixing skills we can expect from local mechanics.
There aren't many bikes here. There're crowds of small 49cc mopeds, just like the one I was riding when I was a long hair teenager: Peugeot 103 or Motobecane. The richest ride scooters and we saw a good amount of Vespa zooming pass us in the medina. But no big bikes. Ours starts attracting attention. That's a change ! In Europe, our grand-mother Transalp was the oldest looking bike in town. Everyone there was riding fancy new models, even the cops in Sevilla with their shiny new Transalp. Bikers in Andorra had laughed at us asking if we were part of some sort of vintage competition ! All the mechanics we had consulted had said “it's a good bike but well... it's an old machine...you know.” with that little jump of their shoulders that meant there just couldn't be anything to be done about it. Some people we met had even looked shocked and in disbelief hearing about our planned journey while starring at our wheels like they would have done at a particularly disgusting public rubbish container. We never bothered. It's an old bike so what ? Great, we won't have to wash it and whine at the slightest scratches then.
And we did well... because here, our prehistoric vehicle has regained its former glory without having to remove a single smashed mosquito from its - rather sticky by now – dead insects infected fairing. Kids love it, parents stare at it with dreamy eyes, mechanics praise it as the best bike together with the Yamaha Tenere and truck drivers give us the thumbs up as we take them over. Due recognition and respect at last !
The other thing I like beside riding bikes for endless hours is taking pictures and videos. And the good thing about nowadays digital cameras is that one can keep shooting nonstop. I come from a time when would-be photographers like me had to carry a donkey load of lenses and flashlights doubled with a camel load of films. And one had to be shot conscious in those times. I envied the pros and their seemingly endless supplies. I survived two weeks on a Thai beach once by reselling one dose of Kodak a day to addicted travelers. Fortunately, these days are over. Ex-smokers can keep the illusion of having a pack of fags in their pockets except it's now called Canon or Olympus so small cameras have become. The Lumiere brothers might have put Thomas Edison to shame with their five kilos invention, the Japanese laugh last. Films ? Ha ! I've got 16gig on my SD card ! Who cares about contrast mess ups or disgraceful underexposures !? At worst, a little editing on the laptop and the pic gets as straight, as sharp, as contrasted and as centered as one can dream. Red eyes is now a thing just for pot smokers. There's no waste ! So I just keep shooting. All one needs to bother about is to avoid calling attention. I hold my camera against my chest, pointing left, walk in crowds and keep pressing while talking to Abby or looking in another direction. Then I delete all the crap from the card on our laptop, edit some of the pics and post the best ones on my Multiply. I like doing that, capturing someone's natural “atmosphere” feels like finding a large piece of strawberry on my jam coated toast or downloading free movies from the Internet. The medina of Meknes proved to be a perfect playground.
But I really wanted to see Volubilis. It would, hopefully, be much more interesting than the empty places we had ended up visiting in Meknes anyway. The first of those were the ex-royal stables. After all Meknes is famous for its pedigree horses. Fine, I love horses, I used to ride them when I was a kid, I was bold enough then, although I still had hair... now I don't have hair but I'm not so bold anymore. Go figure ! English is a very strange language.
So everything was fine except I don't see the point of visiting stables, being even imperial, if there's no horses in them. And then the second empty ripoff was a jail that an old king named Ismail had ordered to be built to contain 40000 prisoners. Apparently he used to kidnap quite a few foreigners and then wait for their ambassadors to come and pay a ransom for their release. Traditions are hard to wipe away sometimes huh ?
Anyway, to our greatest disappointment, the place was deserted, no moaning prisoners, no skeletons ornamenting dark corners, no over-salivating chained hystero-maniacs, not even ghosts of dis-handed camel robbers. No torture of any sort was taking place, at least at the time we visited, we were the only ones in agony, so boringly empty and pointless the whole thing was.
So we went to Volubilis. Not that we expected much action from a site deserted more than 15 centuries ago and further decayed by a devastating earthquake in the middle of nowhere but I'm sorry, I've studied Latin for too many years, I just have to see more mosaics and therms and columns. I like the way the Romans seem to be thinking since I visited Pompeii a long time ago, when I was a hairy hippie. I mean, who would paint a god weighing his genitals in a scale, against a duck, make him win and hang the whole thing right on top of his living room entrance door these days ? It wouldn't be just politically incorrect, it would be a social disgrace, an example of artistic taste gone totally wrong, who knows, even a blasphemy perhaps ! Well, to me that shows that Romans must have been far more relaxed than us, they didn't visit hot websites in the back of their wives, they ordered porn mosaics for their dining rooms instead. That's class ! Imagine the catalog of patterns ! That beats Moroccan carpets, no question asked ! What did crawling innocent babies see first in their early rampant lives ? The fornication of the god Pan with diverse pagans ! That calls for applause ! One is almost tempted to forget about the slavery thing when one realizes what a common lack of frustration the Romans were living by !
I notice that pornography ceases to exist as soon as it's antique. Then it's art. I've seen bunches of Athenians, sodomizing each others around vases, exhibited in Victorian museums and no one complained ! I have a personal photo collection of many delicious looking female bottoms shot, often in front of many consenting visitors, in several museums and parks around the world and I've never got arrested for statuphilia. They're pieces of art, yes, but still, they were made from real models... see my point ? Ladies disappear but feminine charm is immortal... if you love her beauty, turn your girlfriend into a stone for the eternity to appreciate, it will have more success than uploading a picture of your naked ex-girlfriend on some obscure website...
Volubilis has no statue, few columns but an interesting collection of mosaics, most of them representing hunting scenes or fishes except for two places, the Hercules house that presents the semi-god's diverse accomplishments in life and the house of Venus that did contain some nudity, mostly harmless to our present rigid morale since apparently no one had been mosaic-ed in the middle of smoking a cigarette.
I found a postcard representing a mosaic, wrote a note behind and posted it to my parents.
Why am I mentioning such detail ?
We were in the middle of ruins, lost in the middle of nowhere, there wasn't a single soul living around. Why was there a post office ? Were there that many tourists really ? Can I have a job here, please ?
We had planned to go to Fes the next day. We didn't. The Transalp had decided otherwise. It started on one cylinder... again. Damn it! It looks exactly like that time when one CDI unit failed. We had that fixed in Carcassonne and we even had a brand new spare unit with us just in case but could it fail that quickly ? We'll never make it at that rate, that part is hard to find and costly. This time I'm frankly disgusted! This bike is a constant pain in the neck!
The carpark guardian approaches. He's a 30 years old jovial looking dude. He suggests to go and get a mechanic and he soon returns with a greasy gentleman riding a smoky Vespa.
-”Italian bike” he says straight away, pointing at his old tuned up scooter, “best mechanic !”
My mind gets confused for while, stuck between pictures of Geoff's Ducati back in Hong Kong and the pile of crap in front of me but, by the time I was going to say hello, the mechanic was already checking the Transalp out. He checked the spark plugs but I already had done that. Then he said, it's the segments.
How long would it take to be fixed ? Three hours, really ? Ok, then... go for it !
Storks were flying above us. A whole flock of them. Their flight was very graceful and easy. We couldn't take our eyes off them. We had seen some huge nests on top of some columns in Volubilis, the same sort we had seen on top of some electric posts along our way in Portugal and we guessed they were built by storks, they looked just like the ones in Alsace in the East of France.
Three hours later, the cylinder had come back to life. It needed a valve adjustment, the mechanic said. But he wasn't speaking French very well and I suspect he said the first thing that came to his mind because how could a simple valve adjustment fix a cylinder on strike ? However, the bike was working again, that was the main thing, and the mechanic was assuring me there would be no problem crossing Western Sahara and Mauritania with it. I mention it here so that I can sue him later, should something ever happen !
But visiting Fes was now out of the question since we wanted to be in Rabat on Monday to obtain our Mauritanian visa as soon as possible. Rabat must be expensive and modern we thought.
We made the trip there the next day and ended up in a riad in the medina of Sale, very near Rabat, called Dar Nawfal.
The place was huge and our bedroom was the size of a dormitory but the riad was splendid. The terrace, where we had our meals, wasn't as pleasant as Joseph's one but we were happy to relax there for hours, eating grapes and listening to the muezzin sing.
Well, sing... I don't wanna sound too picky or critical, but, as much as it sometimes sounded magic, like in Chefchaouen when the muezzins of all the mosques seemed to have had an agreement or a sort of order in their performance. Some were creating a kind of choir in the background while another would sing the main lyrics, it sounded great. As much sometimes one has to wonder how minaret singing selections are being made. Or is the muezzin that old ? Shouldn't he be in an hospital rather ?? I mean, it really sounds like he's dying !
Some others laugh... I'm not kidding ! Or at least they giggled. Makes me wonder... why don't they just record a nice voice somewhere and simply broadcast it ? It's always the same “God is great” anyway. It'd save lots of disturbance. Imagine having an amplified alarm bell instead on top of European churches, wouldn't that be a reason for endless complaints !? Sounding at 4:30am too ! I guess it's ok to party loud all night around here coz one can always point at the nearby mosque for making more noise anyway !
Sale, we were told, used to be a republic. It's said also that it was created by pirates and that's why it was a democratic land, electing its leader. So that's where the guy who pirated my Facebook account the other day must have lived, I thought, you bugger !
Abby's visa for Morocco has almost expired ! What the heck !? Well, she had entered the country with her Hong Kong passport instead of her British National Overseas one. Hong Kong passport visas for Morocco, she just discovered on Internet, are only valid for one month, BNO gets three, like me.
Abdulah, our host at the riad Dar Nawfal, suggested to take us to visit the cops to see if they could extend Abby's visa. Bad news, they said it would take longer than the expiry date to get all the permissions required. Alright then, no worries, we still have a few days in front of us before the deadline, we'll simply ride back to the border which is only 300km away and then Abby can cross and come back with her BNO passport stamped for 3 months.
We failed fulfilling our Mauritanian duty the next morning. Breakfast on the terrace was too good, we arrived at the consulate at 11:15. It closed at 11:00. So we spent the day visiting Rabat medina instead, we took a look at the tomb of Hassan II near the Hassan Tower (near Hassan Square right at the end of Hassan Av. yes) and then walked back to Sale.
I told Abby, please don't make jokes about Hassan...
The next morning, we didn't have breakfast and rushed instead to the consulate where we arrived fifteen minutes early. Some French guys started talking to me while I was filling my visa application and gave me some cards of places to stay in Mauritania. We discussed petrol and it definitely sounds like we need to find jerrycans and, more annoyingly, a place to carry them on the bike. I hardly see how we could load more than ten liters and even that is pushing it a bit.
Anyway, the guy at the Mauritanian visa counter took our applications and off we went... only to realize soon enough, that we had totally forgotten to mention the fact that we needed the visas for the 25th of November and not for just now. We returned. At the counter, the employee wouldn't hear a word of it. It's too late he said, the applications are already inside, there is nothing he could do... I didn't insist much, just watching the way he looked at me, I didn't stand a chance. So I sent Abby instead and soon enough of course, the annoying dude was calling his mate inside and fixed the problem. Forget multi-tools kits, take a lady along instead, efficiency and satisfaction guaranteed !
The visas were ready by 2:00pm. They gave women priority which was a good thing because there were only two women, Abby and another for a queue of about twenty dudes who all decided it was ok to jump me in the line.
I guess they did so because they knew Abby would return immediately with both our passports which she did, and two shiny new Mauritanian visas. Then we went to the neighboring Senegalese embassy to get Abby her fix. Being French, I don't need a visa for Senegal. Being Chinese, she does. I've stopped even commenting on this sort of frustrating nonsense but no worries, the feeling is still there, it's still boiling deep inside... I hate borders !
And nope, it wasn't going to be that simple ! Senegal embassy in Rabat, just next to the Mauritanian consulate, isn't, I repeat, is NOT delivering visas. Senegalese visas are available in Morocco, but in Casablanca.
Sometimes it's not boiling just deep inside...
Repressing our profound desire to yell at representatives of countries we had yet to cross, we just passed our way, hijacking a fine patisserie on the go in order to vent off our excess of bitterness.
We had nothing left to do in Rabat, it was time to get to the border. We would grab that evasive Senegalese visa in Casablanca on our way back to Marrakesh.
Leaving Rabat unfortunately meant turning our back from Abdulah's mother excellent cuisine that made such a nice change from the usual couscous/tagine menus but hey, life sometimes feels like ripping off a wet bandage from a still fresh wound, it hurts but you gotta do it. Looks like we'll get lots of those feelings if we keep on meeting nice people and then leave...
Lots of cops in Morocco ! There's at least two every 50km. One can tell they're out for money, all the locals complain about it. They stop cars for speeding as the limit drops from 100km/h to 40km/h every time one approaches a roundabout which is almost as often as in Europe (except they're there for absolutely no reason whatsoever) and then they wait for bribe to let go. That's all they're after, it's so obvious one's gotta laugh but damn ! So far we've been ok. I tried a bit of over-speeding and was signaled to slow down twice but they didn't stop us. I don't think they speak English and our plate is British, that might be why.
Traffic is ok so far, the general driving isn't bad, the most dangerous commuters are the pedestrians who tend to cross anywhere without much care. The rest is quite fine, not worst than in Hong Kong anyhow.
120km/h is fine on that deserted highway that takes us back to Ceuta. The Transalp is happy at that speed and Abby too. When I hit 130, the bike start wobbling a little and the air flow takes Abby's feet off her foot-pegs. No rush. We arrive in Fnideq, the nearest Moroccan town to Ceuta and Abby takes off to the border while I take a nap.
She returns a few hours later with duty free cigarettes and a brand new visa for three extra months in Morocco. We're getting there !
We leave early after breakfast the next day as we want to make it in time to the Senegalese consulate in Casablanca. Fortunately our GPS knows the address so it should be a breeze to get there. It took nearly four hours but we eventually parked our bike neatly in front of the consulate without hesitation thanks to it. My nervous system appreciates modern technology.
Abby got in while I smoked a cigarette outside, under the floating Senegal flag. She returned soon and announced that, should she choose to enter Senegal with her Hong Kong passport, it would take weeks to obtain an eventual permit. But if she choose to go with her BNO passport, she doesn't even need a visa, she'll get three months, just like me.
I just had to get in too and ask confirmation myself ! Abby was right...
Casablanca looked very European and very costly too so we didn't hesitate long before heading towards Marrakesh where we arrived at nightfall. The first hotel we spotted was an Ibis, we booked it, it had been a long riding day, the third of the kind since our departure, we were knackered. No muezzin was loud or out of tune enough to wake us up that night !
What is it with all Moroccan medinas that makes merchants sell exactly the same stuff everywhere ? I'm looking for a new leather cigarettes holder so that I can remove from my sight all the warnings, anti-smoking slogans and disgusting “medical” pictures that I'm forced to buy with my smoke. They're all the same everywhere, Chefchaouen, Meknes, Rabat now Marrakesh... and they do look as if they were manufactured in China too ! However that's the first time we see wild animal skins for sale. Live ones too ! A young guy offers us to buy a chameleon. A buzzard gives us a strange look from behind the bars of its tiny cage while we avoid breathing too deep as we pass the skull of a wild boar hanged on the wall by its semi detached face. Nevertheless, we resist the temptation to shop around quite well... In fact, being riding a bike is a perfect safeguard against shopping sprees. We've got no room, full stop. Try beat that argument ! The only additions we collected since our departure are a can of chain lube and a spare CDI unit. And a Templar looking Malta cross for me from Carcassonne... which I sort of regret purchasing since we're now in Muslim land. That's probably not the most diplomatic piece of ornament one could wear in a land full of Sarrazins... although I did travel in Muslim regions before with the Star of David around my neck. Yes, I am a stupid trouble loving atheist... but I survived it much easier than one would think, so much for prejudgments.
Anyway, lost in Marrakesh medina, surrounded by dead wilderness, approached by shark looking impalers of errand rolling crusaders, stunned and disorientated by scores of identically supplied stalls of spices, leathers goods, colorful carpets, brass kitchenware or oriental patisserie, having various reprehensible substances offered to us at prices defying all competition, Abby and I began walking in a circle. Twice we found ourselves face to face again with the semi-detached one of that seriously decomposed wild boar and the buzzard was now starring at us with a very irritating look on its beak.
Of course, as soon as we gave him a pretext by asked him for directions, the guy we had stopped started following us, offering hashish from his sock and morphine on the go. That's just the way it is. It doesn't matter where we end up, that's the sort of stuff we're regularly getting when walking the streets. We just have to live with that and try to ignore it quietly. People would follow us and talk to us in the most friendly way and at the end of the conversation request some tip from us. For what ? For talking to you ? For replying you when you asked where I come from ? What sort of custom is this ? Should we start charging also for all the unrequested invitations to purchase carpets we had to politely decline ? We're tourists and we're dying to throw our money away, is that the general idea ? Or is it just aggressive marketing ? Why is it that people just can't tell the right price of stuff and try to nick more money just in case ? When it isn't led by greed, isn't bargaining simply the direct consequence of a previous cheating attempt ? When then can I trust to pay the right price ? Never ? Why !? Strange atmosphere for doing business anyway...
The other day, we saw two guys fixing a horseshoe to the hoof of their mule and we took a look as Abby had never seen it done. One of the guys asked me for thirty bucks for taking pictures. I pointed to him that I didn't have a camera. Then it's ten bucks for looking, he replied, not laughing. I asked him how much he charged for breathing Moroccan air and we passed our way.
Enough of large cities anyway, let's go to Essaouira instead ! Essaouira is one of the first city I wanted to visit once the plan for this trip started forming in my mind, thanks to a friend who lived in Morocco for years and described it as one of the most pleasant spot he had found. It's a little town on the Atlantic coast and it should be cool. That's where Abby and I had planned to stay for a while, at least a month, to regain our strength and take a good breath before heading towards Western Sahara and Mauritania. The tourist season is well over, now is the perfect time to leave Marrakesh and finally see how it looks.
The GPS gets us out of the city and in the right direction with ease and style. Essaouira isn't far away, a two or three hours ride at most. Soon the landscape changes around us as we ride into... the desert. I'm not sure when exactly the view opened up that big but I suddenly realized that we were surrounded by an immensity of nothing, up to the horizon. And I loved it ! I felt like a bird playfully flying low as I swung the Transalp from left to right on that very long straight section of road towards the ocean, like a surfing stork on a moon large land of emptiness ! It wasn't the same “Easy Rider” stuff like the one I had felt in Portugal, that was more planetary than that, like a ride in space. Can't wait for Western Sahara then !
As soon as we entered the limits of the city, we spotted some dudes on the roadside waving keys at us. We had heard about them being the best providers of flats for rent which was exactly what we were after. I stopped the bike next to one guy and, sure enough, he suggested to show us some places.
We told him what we were roughly looking for and he took us to a couple of furnished apartments before taking us to a place, slightly off city limits, where we discovered a cute bungalow sort of place in the middle of a garden, far from any mosque and with a spot to park our dear grand-mothership.
The flat's got a bathroom, a kitchen with gas and fridge, a bedroom, a living-room with satellite TV, what else could we ask for ? Ah yes, the price... not cheap, however far cheaper than a month rent in Hong Kong. We'll take it then, for one month. We wanna visit the region for a while, take some rides in the wild a bit, get off-road, try the Moroccan “pistes” we heard so much about, see how good the Transalp can handle it.
It's nice to settle in one's own place for a change. We totally unpack the bike, decorate our place a little with the sarongs we took along with us, making it feel home a bit.
The beach is five minutes away from our place. It's a huge one, it's got camels, horses and quads racing on it. The sea sees kite-surfers racing, above it mostly. It's a perfect place for this sort of sport because of the wind that blows almost non-stop from the ocean. It's not that we're freezing really but it isn't very hot frankly. We easily could do with a few additional degrees. There's tons of seagulls everywhere, the sound they make reminds me of Brittany... the temperature as well actually. There's a dove in our garden that could be singing from any French garden. If I smell pancakes I'm straight out of here to Mauritania !
Abby and I are watching the seagulls on the beach for a long time with the watch towers of the medina in our back. We walk around in the little streets, surrounded by, once again, the same display of Arabic touristic gear then go shopping at a nearby supermarket to fill up our empty fridge.
A quick look at the internet gives us an idea of what sort of pistes we can find in the region. But no map to check them with. We decide to ride South, towards Agadir. The wind is quite frightening, I have to slow down several times and hold the bike tight. After a dozen kilometers, we spot a road on our right that seem to head back to the coastline. Soon the tarmac disappears. The path is covered with rocks, pebbles and sand. After a few kilometers a crossroad gives a purpose in life to a road sign that points to a certain Zifouane beach on my right. Let's try that. The path gets worse. There's now holes among the rocks. In some parts the sand seem to have piled up to form quite a good layer. The Transalp couldn't care less. I try the third gear and give some gas, it doesn't care either. Good bike ! The landscape around us is amazing, we're surrounded by mounts and we can spot the sea shining in the sun in the background. We cross the path of a few camels, a few kids mounting donkeys and a flock of goats and sheep that seem on their own.
The road takes a nice long curve around a valley. Abby gets off and decides to film me riding it. While I'm gone, three vagabonding camels arrived by the road and seemed unhappy to see her standing there, They starred at her and yelled loud. Abby was glad to see me back, I think.
Soon later, the path took a distinct downward attitude and as we rode and slid the slope down, I spotted a little river at the bottom. Ah ! There we are, I thought, finally, time to get wet !
The way forward must have been in use at some time but it had become obviously too deep now and another path to the left, and then back around, seemed to be the new favorite in town. I try. The stream of water looked much more shallow and sure enough, the Transalp went through happily. Then it was all downwards. The ocean got closer and closer until we reached a deserted but huge beach laid at our feet, down the cliff. The immensity of the sand, plane and untouched since the last tide, seemed to be moving in the sun light as if sucked into the flood. A small boat coming from behind a cape touched ground and disembarked piles of cases of freshly assassinated fishes that were loaded on a donkey's back and carried up towards us. The dead silver bodies passed in front of us, aligned in their plastic coffins while we watched silently, holding our helmets in our hands.
On the way back, the Transalp showed signs of thrill, as we crossed the little “oued” again, by splashing Abby and me from head to toes. Or maybe I was speeding, I dunno but I ended up with my feet swimming in my shoes for the rest of the day. Next time I'll wear my boots.
Abby has now learned the skills of spaghetti cooking so our nutritional future in ensured. The wind still blows hard, it would be a signal 3 if we were in Hong Kong. I've got to find a garage and change the oil of the Transalp, last time was in Carcassonne. Apart from this terribly worrying task, well, we also plan to have siestas, naps, relaxation periods, slow cruising rides and as much of a good time as we can get. Life's hard.
Nish & Abby
Posted by Pascal Leclerc at 09:16 PM
September 13, 2010 GMT
From Sevilla (Spain) to Chefchaouen (Morocco)
Monday 13th September 2010
I cannot believe how much time has passed since my last blog entry ! I guess that's what happens when one is in a sort of paradise. Time flies.
Let's rewind it a bit.
I was feeling annoyed by the diverse smoking interdiction I encountered here and there on our way if I recall correctly. Things sort of cooled down since.
We rode the bike to the Honda concessionary in Sevilla that day to have it fixed with a new speedometer controller and a new clutch cable. We were there at ten and they were waiting for us. A mechanic who looked like Charlie Boorman younger brother took hold of our dear grand-mothership and pushed it to his personal mechanical repair area. The garage was huge and had about five of these areas, with a mechanic at work in each of them. Everything was clean and tidy. There was music in the background and a good smell in the air. Looked like great working conditions there ! The staff was nice and friendly but we hardly could communicate. I showed them the state of the cracks on our bike's fairing and asked if they could do something about it. I was thinking more like gluing it together and I was delighted by their “no problema”. They were going to stitch it back solid together as well !
We were invited to wait in the display area, away from the repair workshop. Lots of models were in that room, from the huge Goldwing to the CBR and VFR. The latest Transalp model, the grand-daughter of ours, was present as well, with its double brake disks in the front, its efficient windshield, its center stand and original paniers. Very nice... It's been 23 years since Honda made its first Transalp, ours that is, and despite having had two reshapes and an increase of 100cc since, it's still there, in a good place, on Honda motorcycles catalogs. That's reassuring.
From time to time, I went to check on the progresses. I was impressed by the stitching the mechanic was doing onto the fairing. That too was reassuring and I remembered in time that our front mudguard needed stitching too. “No problema” he repeated ! Cool dude ! I decided to take a picture of him next to our lifted up grandmother Transalp.
A few hours later, we were back on the road with lot less vibrations, a fluid clutch and working speedometer and counters. That's it, we can now leave Europe !
Before we even reached our hotel, the left indicator cable detached from its socket and hanged on the side of the fairing ! Back in the garage, the guardian helped me plugging it up again without unscrewing the front panel off but that was still a good sweat to fix it back. Ungrateful old machine !
The guardian spoke fluently French, unlike the hotel reception grand-fathers we had dealt with so far. Go figure ! Then I figured why when he began telling me that his French ex-girlfriend was Al Capone's grand-daughter...
I almost finished Pedro's bottle of Porto wine that evening before Abby and I went to have a last good Sevillian dinner. Strangely, we weren't too impressed by the little restaurants we had tried so far. The temperature remains high, even at night, so the terraces of the restaurant vaporizing outdoor shelters. I'm not too sure about the whole efficiency of it but that's the first time we'd seen that. Nice thought anyway.
Why do parents take their kids along these days when they go to restaurants late at night ? Have baby sitters all disappeared ? I never even knew they were an endangered species ! What ever happened to the 21:30 maximum bedtime curfew for non-teenagers ? Where has it gone, this couple of late evening hours, almost stolen from sleep, this tiny little gap of time when parents can finally recenter their lives on themselves, just enough to remember, almost masochistically, that they are indeed free human beings and not just merely slaves to hopeless whining under aged gollums ? No more ? Looks to me like too many parents are abusing their kids with late sleeping habit syndrome ! But why do I have to be abused in return by the above-mentioned nuisances ? It's not my fault ! You'd be in bed or lurking into your nanny's bra if it was just for me ! Stop throwing ketchup at me and quit shaking that bottle of Coke in my direction ! All I'll get for it is a semi-embarrassed smile from your dad and a timid sorry from your mom with an overall “it's not his fault, he's just a kid” flavour to it ! Exactly ! It's just a kid ! What is it doing in a place for adults at hours for adults !? Why are you, parents, imposing your hellish life to other innocent customers !? You had your non-Durex time, could you please kindly assume the consequences on your own now !? There you are, with your three years old brat yelling out of his lungs at 23:00 in a decent restaurant and all you do is talk louder !?
And I'm the one who gotta get out to have a smoke !? In order to preserve those lovely powerful little lungs, no doubt !?
The sense of values... I must have lost it somewhere... or is it the Porto wine I had before dinner ?
Time to get packed again. All considered, packing the panniers has proved to be the most annoying part of our little adventure. Unpacking them is fine, but the reverse always feels like a drag. Do the panniers shrink or something, we seem to be getting rid of lots of stuff but it's never enough. The panniers are always packed to the maximum.
The GPS is set to Algeciras port, it's 185km away, we got one full tank of gas, one pack of cigarettes, it's daylight and we're wearing our helmets... Go !
It's also very hot. We began our journey early but by 10 o'clock, even riding at 130km/h on the highway, the breeze feels like an hairdryer set on hottest. The landscape is very dry, the sun reflects on the tarmac, my shades do me real good. Lots of tiny flying insects choose my visor as a cemetery. Not much traffic. Lots of ups and downs, water down the valleys sometimes but mostly sun, dries and sundries. We're not stopping. It'll be worst. The bike is doing fine, the cooling system works great. The GPS takes us straight to the embarkation area. I park in the shadow. A young dude approaches us and asks if we're going to Ceuta or to Tangiers. Then he proposes his service to get us tickets. Abby decides to follow him. I stay with the bike and have some fags. A couple of them later, I see Abby running back. She mimics me to wear my helmet. I do.
“The boat leaves in 15 mn !” she yells as she approaches the Transalp, “we gotta leave now !”
“It's not far, we'll make it !” I reply, turning the bike back on.
We were the last to enter the huge belly of the ferry but we made it in time. There weren't many vehicles in that boat. An employee came and strapped the Transalp to the wall. Clear to go ! Bye bye Europe ! The large gate of the ship shut down and we were free to reach the upper level and enjoy a well deserved drink.
We took a few pictures of the Rock of Gibraltar as we passed it by. It reminded me of Hong Kong, here was another tiny but very well located British rock with a city built at its feet. A short hour later, the buildings of Ceuta came to sight. Another rock actually, but linked to the African continent by a narrow strip of land. We disembarked and passed the gates of the harbor with no difficulties. We took a short ride around the city to find a petrol station and refill the bike. Good surprise ! The price of a liter drops to below one euro ! What a difference after Portugal and France !
The beaches are quite tempting and full of Spanish youngsters with their jet skis and fancy gears but we carry on. The fort of Ceuta with its narrow defensive canal is quite a sight. We park the bike nearby and take turn to shoot some pictures. The heat is unbearable. We find a little coffee shop in the shadow and stop there to cool down. The GPS has trouble calculating our route to Fnidq across the Moroccan frontier. It has to use two maps, that's why I guess. We're done with the Garmin European map we have used so far and it has to load the new Moroccan one. Takes ages !
We went old school and asked for direction. Easy, go straight, it's a couple of kilometers away. Who needs GPS !?
Ceuta belongs to the Spanish despite Moroccan views on its territory but once we approached the border, it didn't wait long to feel 100% North African with a majority of women wearing a veil on their heads and sheppard looking men dressed with long woolen coats complete with a thick hood. The cars all looked as if Mercedes had been ruling Morocco a long time ago but was now definitely ruined. The Spanish border was almost non-existent for exiting travelers. The Moroccan border looked far more busy, even from a distance. Lanes of cars, crowds of people, lots of noise, dust and heat. I take a lane. A guy approaches and asks for our passports. He wears a plasticized, vaguely official looking card on his shirt which reminds me of the fake plasticized copies of my driving license I made before leaving Hong Kong.
“Is your bicycle registered” he asks.
“Hey watch your language Mate, who're you calling a bicycle !?” I nearly reply.
Actually, I don't know what to do. Who's this guy anyway ? All I want is wait my turn and get our passport stamped. Should I believe him when he tells us we should be in another lane to have the Transalp registered ? Hmm, it's going to cost money but I think he does know what he's talking about. Alright then, guide us Mate !
First we show our passport. Nope, that's no good, the bike should go first. Ok, then, we change lane and park on the side. Ah, now we gotta have the passports stamped. I take care of it. No problem for my passport.
“Abby Chung ? She's Chinese ? She needs visa !” says the uniformed custom officer.
Damn, that's a new one ! We checked of course, Hong Kong citizens don't need a visa for Morocco.
The custom officer grabs his phone, calls the superior authority, gets clearances and confirmation of my rightful claim and stamps Abby passport as well. We can stay three months !
“Ok, now we do the bike” the dodgy card holder says. “Where are papers ?” Abby pass it on to me and I'm pushed towards another counter with another uniformed official inside. I wait my turn which involves surviving the hysteric yelling of an obviously sexually frustrated Moroccan female volcano who's car wasn't cleared fast enough for her taste. All the men present, including guards who had gathered around her, alarmed by her level of noise, remained quiet, eyes attached to the ground, none of them brave enough to face such a barbarian Berber Valkyrie. She won her case, jumped into her car next to a puzzled looking smaller husband and they drove off. My turn !
Bad timing... the custom officer is obviously pissed off by his previous cyclonic encounter. He checks the bike papers carefully and, of course, detects the bug...
“How come your name on your passport doesn't match the name on the motorcycle registration papers ?”
That's a very clear question, I must admit. Now will he like my answer to it ? Looking at the frowning on his face, I have sudden doubts.
“Well, I live in Hong Kong. Alan Giles is a friend of mine who bought the bike for me in England. I flew from Hong Kong to England to pick it up. That's why the papers are in my friend's name.”
“Do you have a procuration letter from your friend then ?”
“You need one. I cannot clear the motorcycle without it. Next !”
Damn, that was quick ! I return to our suspiciously badged guide. Time to be a little more useful Mate, if you want any money that is !
“Oh, there is no problem at all, now you go to see superior inspector, you explain him. No problem.”
Alright then, I go to see superior inspector, greet him and explain my problem.
“What's your profession ?” he simply and abruptly inquires.
“Er... I am a French teacher at the University of Hong Kong.”
“Alright then. I clear up your motorcycle.”
He signs a paper and walk away with no further comment.
Great, I think, but what's the local connection between a British registration paper and a professional activity in South East Asia ? Weird.
I return to the vehicle clearance counter and meet my sweaty officer again. I show him the paper signed by his boss.
“a...yeah?” he asks.
“ayeal!” he repeats
“Sorry ? What ?”
“Year-of-da-moto !!!” he adds with an exasperated tone. A drop of sweat falls from his eyebrow.
“Oh yeah, sorry, 1988 !” I reply hurrying, fearing further delays.
He reluctantly signs the documents, the bike's clear to stay until February 2011. Strange, we only can stay until the end of December 2010. Go figure ! The main thing is: we're now fully admitted in Africa !
We give 10 euros to our guide. He proved useful after all and we haven't got smaller change anyway. He has a large grin as he grabbed the banknote and even tells the final custom officer, the one in charge of checking the content of our luggage, to clear us off with no further hassles. Hearing that, the officer just signs a paper without even looking at the Transalp. Something tells me uniformed and non-uniformed dudes are all in the same venture around here...
The whole thing tool about 20 minutes and proved quite painless. What about the insurance though ?
After all, our European green card ceases to be valid here.
“Oh, you can take one in Tetouan, about 100km from here” our custom guide says.
We'd think there would be a counter for that at the border but that's just our logic. The local one must be different. But what happens when one unfortunately crashes before Tetouan ? I guess no one wants to know.
Our Ibis hotel isn't far from the border and very easy to find. We rush to our room as we're in grave need for a shower, cold if possible. The episode at the border has dried us up despite the shadow. Our room window opens up onto the blue Mediterranean sea. We can see Ceuta on our left. Jet skis are zooming their way, fishermen are dropping their line into the flood a few meters away from the sand beach. Down the window, the hotel swimming pool on the terrace invites us for a quick dive. We rush down for a large drink.
Abby takes a swim while I upload some recent photos to our blog. Some other French tourists are having Ricard for appetizer. The speakers play French hiphop music. The sun slowly sets on the Mediterranean sea. Abby sits in front of me. All is fine and gets even better when my first portion of Moroccan “tagine” lands in front of me.
The next morning, after a buffet breakfast, we watch a couple of Spanish travelers pack their Harley. I'd never seen any Harley with so many gadgets, options, decorations, statuettes and all. The couple wears HOG colours and the side of the tank says: “My Dreams”. They don't speak any English or French.
Abby didn't try their Chinese, instead we got busy readjusting our bags into the panniers. No need to rush though, the ride to Chefchaouen, our next destination, is only about 150km away.
There's an empty highway that leads to Tetouan, less than 50km away from Fnidq. The guy at the payment counter seemed surprise to see us. Then the road becomes a little two lanes way in the middle of olive trees. I notice the vineyards are missing. We're in Muslim country now. The road becomes more and more curvy as we approach the Rif. The vegetation is very poor. I spot a few Normandy cows, lots of donkeys and small goats. There're mostly corn fields when the earth gets deeper and olive trees. As we reach higher, small pine trees try decorating the landscape but they're too few and the rock stands solid, eternal and slightly yellowish behind them. We stop to turn our GoPro onboard cam on.
Sitting in the shadow of the rare vegetation, small groups of young men watch us pass. About 50km from Chefchaouen, one of them, recognizing us as rolling strangers, quickly stands up and, brandishing a little white plastic bag in his hand, waves at us while yelling in arabic.
“That's it !” I think, “The show begins here”
Chefchaouen, like Manali in India, has an excellent reputation among pot smokers. The quality of its local production is a fact that has been passed along all around the world for many years now. Ketama, a little town nearby has actually fallen victim of it. Once a nice ski resort and holiday spot in the mountains, the local growers have put so much pressure on tourists that everyone stopped going there, which makes it a rather dangerous spot today, even for other Moroccans. I guess we're about to cross many hashish would-be dealers from now on...
However, to my surprise, no one else stood up rushing to the middle of the road to offer goodies to us passersby. I started wondering why. Some guys simply gestured me discreetly. What's the whole paranoia ?
Then I noticed a clean looking white pickup truck with tinted windows that seemed to be following us since a while. I was cruising at 60km/h, enjoying the landscape and many cars had passed me over. Not that one though. Spotting a truck and a slow car in front of me, I gave some gas to overdrive them. So did the pickup. It stuck to me all the way to Chefchaouen and then disappeared. A bit puzzled, I was about to forget about it. The road sign “Chefchaouen” was in sight ! I had wanted to come here since dozens of years and there I was at last ! I slowed down, in the direction of the sign to almost a stop in front of it and that's when I discovered, hidden under the dark shadow of a centenary olive tree standing behind the sign, a very official police car in front of which stood a very official cop, looking amused by me discovering him there and waving me to pass my way.
Then I understood the discretion of the young smoke dealers along the way and the sticky presence of that white pickup in my back... all was very well organized, had I stopped for a quick deal on the road side and I was doomed right at the city gates ! As I said, the reputation of Chefchaouen is ancient and well known.
And quite accurate too...
We cruised the mountain city for a while. The air was fresher despite of the glaring sun. Some of the streets were very steep but the Transalp did brilliantly. We find a station to refill it and inquired for our hotel. We had spotted a few the night before on the internet and one had particularly impressed us by the amount of good comments it had gathered recently. It was owned by a British family and their riad (traditional Moroccan house) was claimed to offer a superb rooftop from which to watch the blue city.
I parked the bike next to a bunch of taxis and asked my way to the Baraka hotel while shutting down the camera.
An old man, introducing himself in English as an official city guide, offered to lead us there while his friend would be watching after the bike meanwhile. We decided that I would follow him while Abby stayed with the motorcycle and the luggage.
I was led to Chefchaouen medina. The place really deserves its name of “Blue City” as most walls in the narrow little streets of the medina are painted in different shades of blue. It's a tradition that apparently dates back from the time a large community of Jews lived here. My guide, while chatting pleasantly with me, led me through a maze of tiny blue alleys and we soon arrived in the lobby of the Baraka hotel where I was welcomed by Joseph, Trevor's brother, who are taking care of the place with their mother Ann.
Joseph first took me to the rooftop and I was totally seduced by it. It's made of a serie of tiny terraces linked by a small bridge and stone stairs, it's got a barbecue area, a covered area with TV and DVD. It's all painted in different shades of blue, the view upon the rest of the city is one of the best. And then I saw the room he was offering us for 15 euros a day, it was all nicely decorated the Moroccan way, it had showers and toilets and a healthy continental breakfast was thrown in as well. Just perfect !
We went down back to the lobby and found Trevor in a TV room from which a strange smell seemed to originate. I knew too well what it was and enthusiastically congratulated Joseph and Trevor for the quality of their riad atmospheric environment...
“Trust me, we'll be very good there.” I promised Abby on my way back. Joseph had driven me back to her on his scooter and would guide us back to his place with me, trying to follow him along the narrow paths of the blue medina. Abby jumped on Joseph back, so as to give me a chance to make it without crashing in every corner. Everything went fine and we parked the Transalp right in front of the entry with Joseph's assurance that no one would ever nick anything from it.
Abby loved the riad, our room, the terraces, the view. Everything was just perfect. As we watched the accumulation of intricate blue houses that seemed to climb its way onto the immortal mountain behind, the muezzin of a nearby mosque, then another, and another, started chanting “Allah Ouakhbar”, most probably as a charming local, somewhat naive way to welcome Abby and me. Now, at last, we were properly introduced to Africa ! The strange and somehow slightly irritating thing is that they repeat their welcoming fuss at least five times a day and even in the middle of the night at about 4:30am ! But we simply don't know which local authority we're supposed to contact to make it stop. We'll try to enter next city more discreetly just in case...
“Ramadan”, we were told, “is nothing for you to worry about. You'll be served whenever you like as usual. It's only for Muslims. They can't eat, drink, smoke or touch a woman during daylight. But you can.”
Yes, that's true. But how does one feel when being the only drinker in a room choirboys and girls ? How does one feel when eating plenty at the table of a terrace under the dreamy eyes of starved mouthwatering devotes ? When one smokes walking along entire non-smoking streets, one ends up noticing at once and feeling a sudden but heavy impression of solitude that leaves you standing, a little stream of smoke evaporating its way from the nostrils, feeling stupid with your damaged, tar covered, heavy breathing lungs. Ramadan is therefore excellent for quitters as long as you stay outside.
That's when a bad boy bad attitude looking like fella approached me for a cigarette. I gave it to him while he was trying to push me some hash, eager to see if nicotine atheism had began covering Chefchaouen with its dark wing of debauchery and politico-social incorrectness but no, he simply placed it in his pocket and declared he'd be smoking it later. So during Ramadan, you can push drugs onto innocent tourists but you can't light up a fag huh !?
I've got to get my values right ! Damn !
Abby and me were sitting twenty meters away from the Baraka hotel, at the terrace of Hassada's restaurant. Well, I should say rather that we were sitting at one of the three tables M. Hassada has placed outside of his tiny little food stall. He makes very good orange juices from fresh oranges he takes from his refrigerator. For the couscous, the goat cheese and salad, he orders from other people hidden behind unnoticed doors. For the dessert, he slices himself some more oranges and serve them with a toothpick. Sometimes, he doesn't even care for money. He sends someone else to get it. He's a very cool guy and the food is delicious. An old man passes by to say hello to M. Hassada and puts his warm hard hand on my shoulder. It relaxes me... even further. We had a little conversation in the TV room with Abby and the two brothers, if you see what I mean. Just breathing the air had got Abby all weirden up ! She was falling asleep in her couscous asking what the hell they must have put in it to get her so tired all of a sudden. I was laughing, having difficulties to finish any thought in my brain. Damn ! Looks like we're gonna be stuck in this town for a little while !
And did we get stuck ! All the above happened two weeks ago and we're still here ! How does one do to leave paradise ? Why ? What for ? We even enjoy British TV served on a large plasma screen and a traditional roast on Sundays ! Joseph cooks like a chef and most of the time, we're the only guest and have the whole rooftop for ourselves.
We quickly gained back constant personal access to the Internet by purchasing a USB modem. We'd be staying at least three months in Morocco so that was worth the cost.
First I found perfect reasons for staying in this riad among this cheerful and kind family. Abby and I had shot many riding clips along our way down from Wilton. Being HD, the files obtained were huge in the hard disk and we had collected a whole bunch of them. It was time to burn them on DVD and send them to our good and talented mate Robin in Hong Kong for him to play with a little. Finding a good DVD provider was no hassle as Joseph proved to be a very good source for information about places and prices. It shamelessly took me about eight days to burn thirty five discs and post them.
We woke up early that morning because Joseph, the owner of our "riad" had said that Mondays were the busiest days to go to the Post Office. We decided to skip breakfast since it generally means spinning the first doobie of the day and we arrived fifteen minutes early at the gates of the Post building. There was already a crowd sitting around the courtyard in front. All we had taken with us was the box of DVD and our wallets.
I light up a cigarette while checking around to see if I could get some piece of newspaper to block the disks from shaking too much in their container. Suddenly I hear a loud “Pss” behind me. I turn and see an old man looking pissed off at me. What the heck ! What have I done again !? He points at my cigarette... damn it ! I don't believe it ! There we go again, even here in Chefchaouen, a city that exists and even prospers on smokers ! I was about to become disagreeable when I remembered in time that we were during Ramadan period and again, I couldn't see anyone else smoking around. Hmm, better show some respect huh !? I mean, if even the gods are after me... So I went in the street to finish my smoke and tried harder to find some piece of newspaper. It was too early and most shops were still closed. I found some paper however and returned to the Post Office. They were about to open the doors and Abby was in good position as the crowd was now all gathered up in front of the gates. Then the Post of Morocco opened up for service and the crowd started to frantically try to elbow itself inside. We followed. Ah, but there is some modernity in Moroccan posts. You've got to get a ticket now with a number on it and wait your turn. I thought the poor touch screen turn ticket delivery machine wouldn't survive the rush as everyone tried to take over his neighbor and reach it first causing the touch screen to receive about three dozens of impulses at once. Fingers everywhere, even out of the touch zone. Hilarious ! Abby and I were straight out of the postal video game as we obviously needed far more practice. We just watched the compact mass of people dressed in all sorts of exotic fashion, some with thick coats made of wool and hoods over their head while some other were dressed like French campers waiting for an extra free portion of cheese and fries. Others were accompanied by their wives who's hat looked like it had been manufactured in China and picked from a set of drinking party accessories.
An old man pressed in wooden cane on my right foot and took advantage of my retreating movement to take my place in the queue. Finally a surveillance officer arrived and altogether blocked the access to the ticket machine with the determined look of a principal who's not going to start his speech until all pupils are aligned and silent. He soon gave up on his disciplinary attempts however as none was going to move an inch anyway and he took on distributing the tickets himself instead to at least save the machine from those maniacs multiple assaults.
We came 58th, which isn't so bad considering the surveillance officer's cunning trick of telling us we didn't need any ticket which sent us straight to a counter only to be rejected for not having one.
Then we waited. I had found a chair for Abby and there was plenty to see... how an old man had to dig under his djellaba to reach the pocket sawed inside of his trousers in order to reluctantly extract the much adored banknote which he very slowly handed to the post employee while shaking his head with regret if not remorse; how hard it was to even decide if a girl was pretty or not under the layers of her mixture of American and Arab clothes. They wear jeans and a robe on top of it so you can only guess the size of their backside. I guess their bras are made of reinforced concrete bonnets as it looks as if they're wearing Mercedes-Benz fenders and the veil on their heads conceals the thickness of their hair. Damn, nothing's for free in this country, not even the beauty of the girls !
As I tried to roll up the piece of newspaper I'd found so as to block the disks from sliding up and down in the container, an old man sitting next to Abby took it off my hands and rolled it himself. He then... well basically he did what I had planned to do and then looked at me with a triumphant smile on his face. Merci beaucoup ! I smiled back, thinking, he's going to charge me for it next. Nah, he didn't ! Just a friendly old man with some free time in his hands. Nice !
There was a poster in the waiting room of a postman walking on a wire across some cliffs with a parcel in his arms. The sign said: Ready for anything to get your parcel delivered. I mean, you have to laugh isn't it ? Coz really, how many parcels disappear this way every year huh ? Makes you wonder... how many pensions are being paid in vain to fallen postal equilibrists widows and how much is a decent helicopter these days ? They just have no notion of sensitive investments in here, do they !?
I also watched a fly but that wasn't very interesting. Finally, one hour fifteen minutes later, it was our turn. There was no problem about the box of DVD being naked, they had a postage box to provide. I wrote Robin's address on it but the paper seemed so humid and old, I could press too hard on the pen because it would have punctured the cardboard. I just hope the ink will make it up to Hong Kong ! Then the surveillance officer took the parcel off my hands and did the packaging himself, cutting the tape paper with a paper clip, it all looked quite professional. I guess the round DVD box is going to travel quite a bit on its own inside its postal cardboard container as it is twice too big but hey, this is Africa. We paid a relatively low fee for the service but then the counter employee said: Can I see your passport ?
Damned ! We didn't have it. How about my ID card I asked ? Yes, that will do fine replied the veiled employee. That's when I discovered my ID card was with my passport... at the hotel.
How about my driving licence, I asked on a desperate tone (for Allah's sake please don't make me queue again !). That did the trick, she accepted it.
Thank you Hong Kong for doing such a nice reproducing job because little did she know that she was copying my information from one of my photocopied driving licenses !
And that was it, after one and half hour and having presented ourselves early to the gates of the Post Office, we were finally free to go and have our well deserved breakfast back at the hotel.
That day, if someone had asked me what I'd done, I'd have proudly replied, I managed to send a parcel to Hong Kong at the Post Office, Mate !
So was life and the rhythm of everything in Chefchaouen and now was doobie o'clock ringing again.
My second good excuse for staying a bit longer was the desire I had to explore the region. After all, all that good atmosphere had to be planted somewhere nearby. I wanted to have a look.
Joseph took us for a 5 hours walk in the mountains. We were stunned by how marvelous it looked. The views were just astonishing and a perfect match for the way we felt. Cool that is.
Abby and I had had several walks inside the medina but it wasn't the same. There's always shadow in the medina, either because the houses are built very near to each others or because the local inhabitants have carefully covered the street with vines or curtains. The walker feels hot but not too much.
This time, there was no shelter. Abby had half a bottle of water in her bag and we learned to be careful taking just only one seep of it to prevent our throats and mouths from becoming too dry. I tried breathing only through the nose to save on saliva but the slopes demanded too heavy breathing and I gave up. We walked all our way up for a pretty long time before reaching a tiny little village with strange exotic gardens. They were planted with mature marijuana male and female plants for they're here for the seeds Joseph explained. The heads of each specimen was fat and full of seeds. A little breeze brought me a lungful of fresh pollen perfume. What a smell ! A bunch of kids, hired by Joseph, took us further uphill, with difficulties, towards a superb spot from which to watch the mountains around. We sat down on a large rock for a while, contemplative, happy and thirsty. But then the kids took us to a small hidden torrent that freshened us instantly. We gave the kids five Durhams to share and went on our way home, literally crossing entire fields of ganja in the process. What a land ! And thank you, Joseph, for taking us there. You rule Mate !
Abby and I have tried most good restaurants in town by now. They would all serve us during Ramadan except one, the Darcom, where we had to wait until eight o'clock. We shot several cool pictures from the terrace on top of the Aladdin restaurant but the best couscous ever was still M. Hassada's, wherever it really came from. Sometimes, after the muezzin had chanted his usual “Allah Ouakhbar”, he would come up on top of the minaret and blow a long trumpet around. Other muezzins on top of other minarets responded. It happened at one in the morning once. We just had gone to bed and it proved to be a delightful sound to fall asleep with. We're in a different world, that's for sure. The presence of the religion is quite strong here compared to all the other countries I visited with the exception of India perhaps. Ramadan was well respected as far as we could see. There are very few women wearing the complete burka, some simply have a veil, or a veil and a hat, some young ones are dressed the western way. The same goes for men, the older ones dress traditionally and the younger ones like their pair of jeans and their t-shirt. That gives us a pretty open and tolerant overall picture when we walk in the city. Yet, we feel that traditions and religion are very well respected and present giving the place and its population a very distinct identity. We couldn't be anything but foreigners here. We'd be awkward, I think. Like in India, we're only approached by locals for business reasons. The most clever of all being that carpet dealer who managed to get us as far as entering his outlet under the false pretext of having Abby translate a note in Chinese a previous visitor had left. When it came to having tea, we safely retreated back to the street. A minute more and we would have been doomed to buy some rug five times its price if not more. Carpet dealers are renown and compete for achievements ! Sobbing tourists are remembered overloading the local postal services with ridiculously oversized piles of outrageously overpriced carpets for their entire unaware family and neighbors. There should be a warning sign at the entrance of that town !
We escaped the carpet dealers but one shadow was still darkening our blue heaven. The bike wasn't insured yet, was it !? We had rushed by Tetouan where that guy at the custom had told me I could get it done without any further thinking because surely, Chefchaouen would have an insurance office, wouldn't it ?
It does but after visiting both of them, we understood that we needed an “assurance douaniere”, a sort of custom linked insurance... and there wasn't any in town, had to go to Tetouan.
That also served as a third excuse for not leaving Chefchaouen.
Since we were worried that the insurance in Tetouan would refuse to insure the Transalp for not having it registered to our names, we contacted Alan in Southampton and begged him for a procuration letter which he sent us asap. Thanks Matey !
Joseph had some shopping to do in Tetouan and would show us the way to the insurance office. We took a taxi in the early morning – nine thirty that is, no need to go all “wow !” - and began our journey to the “big city”. Our driver had probably watched Luc Besson's “Taxi” series and was obviously still impressed by it. He looked cool, drove cool but disappeared after we had reached town with Joseph's groceries in his trunk. He delivered them to the hotel in Chefchaouen of course but we'll never know why he didn't wait for us. Not to worry, that gave us plenty of time to walk through Tatouan world heritage medina, although it isn't blue, and take a good look of that rather busy looking, almost border city. Ceuta isn't far and tons of goods transit by Tetouan. The Spanish built a church there once, it can still be seen on the main square with all its crosses intact which, to me, is a cool and rare sign of tolerance. Getting the bike insured was a breeze and costed us about 2000 Durhams for three months. Not bad.
Now that it was safe to ride the Transalp, it was time to take a serious look around Chefchaouen and use my fourth reasonable point for not leaving just yet. We checked our maps and Abby suggested to go to Ketama. I quickly checked on Internet and only found at that point what dangerous reputation it has. The only ways out were leading towards Meknes or towards Tetouan. We asked Joseph. He mentioned a neat little ride to a place called Akchour. We couldn't find it in our maps, the GPS ignored everything of it but Joseph knew !
I'm just not good at listening at directions. Now I know he told me fine, it's all recorded on the GoPro, but it took us ages to get there. We went towards the right direction first but didn't find any sign pointing to it, so we came back, turned around and went opposite direction to Meknes, then back to Tetouan and finally... asked someone who, of course, could speak fluently French, as all Moroccans did so far, a thing I know perfectly well being French myself. What the hell is wrong with me when I drive that I just can't stop and ask ? I guess that's why the GPS is such a cool gadget, gotta be related. So now that I was really in need for help, I could remember indications just fine - gotta change that habit though - and off we went.
It's not Akchour, it's the way there. Once we turned in the right direction, the road became worst. First the tarmac had pealed off, then gradually disappeared. Gravels, a thick deep layer of it followed. That was the twistier part of the ride. Then just dirt. At one point, non 4X4 cars had given up in front of a steep hill. I stopped the Transalp to give time to the dust lifted by the previous vehicle to settle and twisted the throttle. The front wheel hit a large rock and bounced right, another rock made it bounce left and we safely reached the top. We rode along a very green river which was a pleasant colour to meet again after all that blue. The bushy vegetation in the middle of it and the mountains in the background made it feel as if we were in Norway or something. There were some coffee shops on the roadside and we badly needed one. Inside, kids were playing billiard and I felt like having a game with them, why didn't I ? Further back on the piste, we crossed the path of about six adv riders, waving at each others. I have no idea where they stay or where they came from. We haven't seen them in town. So far we only met two Germans on their way back home.
The end of Ramadan provided a divine fifth opportunity for staying a little bit longer in Chefchaouen as everything would be closed for the next few days. There was no point in us leaving for expensive Fez or Meknes if it was to see just empty streets. We might as well stay in our irresistible while affordable Chefchaouen until things reopen.
They did yesterday and I am presently using my ultimate sixth reason for staying just one more day, typing, delightfully in peace on the terrace of our blue riad, under an even bluer sky. Well then, I'm done now, so I guess we're really off tomorrow to visit a little more of Morocco ! Inch Allah !
Nish & Abby
Posted by Pascal Leclerc at 07:47 PM
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