Half an hour from the border we find a glorious 10km beach with an older Spanish style hotel with 10 million dollar views right on the beach and next to Club Med Resort. Our room with ensuite and verandah and breakfast was €35, but jumps to €80 in July- 3 weeks away!! Two nights and we were on our way top get some true Maroccan culture.
It was a culture shock on this side of the Mediterranean. Things are not so clean, roads not so good, buildings old and in bad repair and capitalism is in its raw state. One biker we read about said that in Morocco he had more things stolen off his motorcycle than anywhere else on his round the world trip. We watch the bike very closely and had nothing stolen.
If we ordered something in a restaurant and didnt ask the price, then they will charge whatever they can get away with!! We ordered 2 mint teas (yummy) and expected to pay 2 dirhams, but got charged 20!!
The markets are the same as they were 1500 years ago and its amazing to see medieval cities alive and well living inside the walls of the old city or medina. The merchants were a lot pushier than in Europe and we really had to say No Merci many times before they got the message.
One carpet salesman invited us into his shop because he knew some Aussies. When we looked hesitant and said we didnt want any carpet, he looked shocked and assured us it was only for frienship, not business. That lasted about 2.5 minutes before he started laying out the carpets on the floor! You should have heard the sales lines like:
they are a good investment and go up in value,
you can sell them for a profit when you get home,
you could help out a poor Moroccan family!!
South of the Med coast we rose into the Rif mountains to find the old walled city of Chefchaouen. It was a small and quaint town with most of the stone buildings painted various shades of Santorini blue. The atmosphere was amazing especially in the amber light of sunset. Dinner was in Aladdins with the blue colour scheme inside as well. They tried to rip us off by charging too much, so when that didnt work they tried to short change us!! Still it was a great night. We then drove across the top of the Rif Mountains as its supposed to be the most scenic route and the marajuana growing area of Morocco. Everyone on the side of the road tried to stop us and sell us drugs and one car chased us down, nearly running us off the road, just to sell us drugs!! We could see it growing everywhere and could touch it as we drove past!!
Next stop: Fes, the largest of the medieval cities. We were warned that the touts, merchants and would-be guides are out to hassle the tourist and in order to avoid that pressure we hired an authorised guide from the hotel. It worked a charm as he allerted us to all the tricks and no-one really approached us. The guide was pleasant as well as very informative.
The weather was starting to heat up in Central Morocco, so we found that by touring the mountains or along the Atlantic coast we could stay 10-15 deg cooler. Wherever we went there seemed to be countless castles, ruins and Kasbahs (a small walled group of buildings housing a few rich families). This area has had an unsettled past with many races such as the Arabs, Romans, Spanish and the Aboriginal people called Berbers all fighting for occupation.
The most spectacular stretch of road was along the Northern coast of Morocco within view of Spain. It amazes us that the Med Sea is so crystal clear with so many European cities dumping their wastes for the past 100,000 years or longer. The sea is a beautiful opal blue and clear enough to see the bottom a long way out.
Crossing the border back to Spain after 2.5 weeks in Morocco was hassle free with only a stamp out and a collection of the motorcycle entrance papers. No reentry stamp or papers back to Europe. Fuel at the duty free city of Cueta was .60 cents per litre as opposed to .90 cents on the Spanish side. In general things are about half the price of Spain. We did not come across a single motorcycle traveller and only heard about one just ahead of us going down the west coast of Africa. This may be our next trip in 2006!!
From Morocco we go back to Spain and then towards Portugal.
Pats highlight to date was Alhambra, an extravagant, Moorish castle overlooking Granada, which would rival any dwelling Queen Elizabeth would have, but was started well before Christ by the Muzlims from Morocco. We have never seen such granduer and it is yet to be fully restored. For anyone travelling Europe, this is a must which rates up there with Ankor Watt in Cambodia.
Belindas highlight was a beachfront hotel in La Marina, south coast of Spain, with beachviews from the bath. She kept singing a song about being in heaven!!!
You can smell Spain as you drive by the aroma of olives and fermenting wine. Wine and alcohol in general is so cheap compared to Australian prices, but that is where the cheapness ends!! We like the fact that all countries in Europe have the same currency and no official border crossings. Central and South America was a hassle for both these reasons.
So far the toll roads are too expensive and the pace too fast. We would rather ride along the slow, free roads with all of the character, drifting through the villages and stopping for tapas or menu del dia at quaint outdoor restaurants.
On the south coast of Spain we stayed the night in a whitewashed village called Los Negros. It was along a very rugged coast with its own sandy beach sheltered between high rock outcroppings. The sunset turned the sky to an orangy- purple colour which reflected onto the white and very Spanish haciendas and beach.
On the drive to Granada we drove through the mountainside whitewashed villages of the Sierra Nevada mountain range. We stayed overnight in an elevated village known for its medicinal hotsprings. It seemed the average person on the street was overweight and over 65 years old. Water fountains continuously pour out from the mountainsides to give us as much free pure water as we can carry. Windy roads carry us slowly up 2000m where we have to don our winter clothes to keep warm near the top. Temperatures dropped from 30 deg on the coast to 15 deg in the mountains, but the roads are clear and dry and the riding was free and easy.
After Granada we drove inland towards Cordoba. We thought we had seen some lovely cobblestone streets full of character, but this was something else. We strolled the streets till 11pm ( nothing to do with the fact we got a wee bit lost!!) It was very hot- we didnt realize how hot until we saw the temperature was 36° at 9pm!!
Slightly closer to the coast and a bit higher and about 10° cooler we found the city of Ronda. This city was built centuries ago on the top of a cliff and is split in 2 by a river gorge. A stone bridge of considerable magnitude was constructed in the 1700's spanning the gorge to expand the city and extend travel to the opposite side. At sunset we watched the falcons swoop and dive in the updrafts as though they were jet fighters. Flamingo dance classes were conducted in the amber light of sunset on a stage platform overlooking the valley floor. Two hundred dancers moved in harmony to the guitarist and spanish singer ( the Spanish really have style!)
Having heard about the rock of Gibraltor for so long, we had to visit. It astounded us for its military history; it has been an English fort since the 1700's. The rock has 33 miles of tunnels honeycombing inside; with ports for cannons to fire at enemy ships as they approach. Only the rock is English with Spain surrounding it, but never able to conquer it.
We rode the Super Tenere up the rock up its narrow road spiraling nearly to the top where you can see both Europe and Africa from the same spot as well as the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea. With all the rock and dirt that was taken from the tunnels they made the airport running across the ithsmus so that you drive across the middle of the runway to reach the Rock from Spain. Gibraltor is a tax free zone, so we were surprised to see no bargains available except fuel and cigarettes. The accomodation is double that found in Spain, only 1km away!
We took the 35 minute ferry across to Morocco the next morning to find a huge queue 2 km long to get through customs. One of our favourite customs in Spain is that all motorcyclists can move to the front of any line any way they can to take the front position, even at traffic lights. So we hit the front in a matter of minutes and we were through shortly afterwards. We were surprised to find that we need not check out of Europe before entering Morocco, which may prove invaluable when we store the bike in Europe and only have a 6 month permit for the Super Tenere. We will see when we have to go back in!
Stay tuned for Moroccan adventures during the month of June.
Sorry, this has taken so long, too many things to see and too little time!
Palma, Mallorcas capital city, has an old city area surrounded by fotified walls with turrets on all corners. Inside is a medievil city with narrow cobblestone streets, stone buildings and modern shop facades; tapas bars and small restaurants flow their tables right onto the streets. Outside the walls and on the waterfront is the sheltered harbour mooring the most expensive boats in the world- those being owned by the Arabian oil rich Sheiks.
Windy ashphalt roads took us to all extremes of the island to explore resort beaches, old hillside towns and the sheer high cliffs. It was strange to see Dutch style windmills scattered throughout the island that were once used for crushing grain and pumping water from low lying areas. There were hundreds, where there used to be thousands.
We hiked to castles on mountain tops and treked cliff faced trails to catch sea views with Peter, Hella and the 3 Lea Muskateers!! The triplex are 3 years old, how could 3 triplets be so different in personality?
After 2 funfilled weeks in Mallorca we ferried back to Barcelona to explore its Rambla (an open aired market) rambling the length of an old river bed full of live statues requesting money for immitating Pharoahs, Christopher Collumbus, to someone sitting on the toilet! You dare not take a photo without first depositing money. We saw one statue spring from its pedestal scaring the shit out of 2 young girls passing by.
Barcelona is the home of such great talent as Picasso, Salvador Dali and the great architect- Gaudi. The Imax theatre was so real that Belinda got sick on one of its rollercoaster rides until she closed her eyes and realized she wasnt moving at all!!
We were hosted by a young professional couple- Marta and Roger, who opened their home and their hearts to us. We met through the internet webpage- www.globalfreeloaders.com They welcomed us strangers into their home and showed us the sights of their home town- Sabadell.
Heading south along the Med coastline the beaches were great with many rock outcroppings which have a huge castle on top to protect that part of Spain many hundreds of years ago. Our winding tour through inland mountains found many more castles perched on mountain tops with villages surrounding. We found a great classic hotel (brought up to todays standards) on the inside of the ancient wall next to the gates and overlooking the river that protected the walls of Valderrobres. Very picturesque. We spent hours wandering the narrow, cobblestone streets and many ascending stone stairs leading to the elevated castle and cathedral.
Wherever we go in Spain the roads are great and even the "bad" ones are supreme compared to parts of Ruta 40 in Argentina. Everything here is so civilised, organised and well signposted. The Spaniards are very friendly when approached, but the Spanish Argentinians would approach us to invite us into their lives. Spaniards lead the life of late outdoor dining and it has taken us awhile to change our timeclock to eat at 10pm!!
We love driving through the rolling countryside, through whitewashed villages and spotting the castles on all of the tallest hills. After having been in many castles we have decided that they look the best from the outside, so seldom venture in except for castles like Alhambra in Granada. We will tell you more about this in the next installment, coming soon to your screen!!
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