An Aussie 990 in Africa

Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Epic Rides' started by anydavenow, Oct 20, 2018.

  1. anydavenow

    anydavenow Long timer

    Joined:
    Nov 30, 2011
    Oddometer:
    1,117
    Location:
    Sydney, Australia
    23/10/2018 • Marbella, Spain


    As I sit at a the café next to Motos Ortiz patiently waiting for siesta time to end – and hopefully with it my parts delivery purgatory – I have dug out my phone to tap away another update to the ride report.

    [​IMG]

    Truthfully the last few days have been a bit testing, which is probably not a good indicator of my ability to withstand tests, given that it’s about to get a lot testier once I cross the Mediterranean.

    More on that later, but for now I’d like to fill in the gap between my departure from Paris and my arrival in Marbella in southern Spain.

    I set off from Paris mid-morning with plans to ride a section of the TET which starts (ends, actually) on the outskirts of the city. I had no idea what to expect and my hyperactive imagination oscillated between the two worst case scenarios of girly country lanes and a French hard enduro course.

    In reality it turned out to be the perfect introduction to the trip with flowing twin-track and grass lanes between the corn fields interspersed with little public thoroughfares through patches of forest.

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    It was great feeling the bike in its element and all the preparation finally coming together.

    The 990 felt planted and well balanced even with the load on it, and the front suspension now with heavier springs was a big improvement on stock. I’m used to babying it over any significant bumps so that the front doesn’t bottom out and kick the rear end up in the air like a racehorse running into a ditch.

    [Having trouble getting videos uploaded so will add shortly.]

    I was also pleasantly surprised by the tractability of the Mitas E-07s and they’ve continued to prove themselves throughout the European leg. I even had a bit of sand to deal with and remained pleasantly upright throughout.

    After finishing the GPX track section I switched to Google Maps and ducked onto the motorway towards Bordeaux where I was planning to stay with a good friend from high school for a couple of nights. Had a nice evening camping along the way and test driving my new pot set, but having forgotten to fill up the stove bottle I had to get creative and extract some fuel from the balance line.

    IMG_0613.jpg

    The motorway proved to be a poor choice as I got stung with a €33 bill as I exited near Bordeaux. Highly recommend allowing a few more hours and taking the slow option... or possibly riding around the boom if you have a foreign plate!

    After a couple of days of living, laughing and love (platonic) in Bordeaux I pried my bike away from my friend’s precocious daughters and got back on the road towards Spain.

    20181011-DSC04946-untitled shoot.jpg

    It was an easy day of blacktop towards the Pyrenees where I camped at a caravan park in the foothills of the mountains near Lourdes.

    IMG_0686.jpg

    The following day I caught up with a different section of the TET, having camped in a village very close to the track. As usual I was a bit nervous about venturing far from the main drag in foreign lands but my fears quickly dissipated once I actually got into it and I found it relatively easy going with quite a bit of (small) paved, country roads in amongst easy forest twin-track.

    But just when I got a bit too comfortable I got the wind taken out of my sails by getting stuck down a narrow, down-hill dead-end which took me a long time and a lot of calories to get out the bike out of. A few hundred metres later I got stuck on another rocky up-hill of small step-ups. I had a pretty tough time getting out of there, too!

    [Having trouble getting videos uploaded so will add shortly.]

    IMG_0733.jpg

    There's always a way out of these situations but it sapped my energy and confidence quite badly and I was really exhausted by the end of the day and a bit gloomy.

    I decided to take it easy the next day and just see how I felt, and not push myself to go off-road, but I started getting itchy wheels again after a few hours of comfort zone and I found myself turning off the bitumen for better or worse.

    This time it was very much for the better and I had an absolute blast on what was now a section of the Spanish TET. In the end it was a long day riding through undulating, arid country and olive groves with not another soul to be seen. Even the little villages I passed through felt completely deserted because it was Sunday.

    [Videos to come.]

    IMG_0790.jpg

    The end of the day the thunderstorm I'd been outrunning all day caught up with me and I had a chilly few hours finishing off the section and finding a warm, dry bed. I headed for a town called Margalef and after finding the campsite flooded out (some of it axle-deep) I opted for the hostel, where I learned that the village was a climbing Mecca and apparently in the top 10 climbing destinations in the world. The riding is pretty good, too.

    IMG_0826.jpg

    The following morning I was off to Madrid, which was a fairly big day in the saddle. This was a bit of a detour to meet up with a good friend Stefano, who has done some epic trips in his time on his WR250R, which is currently in Alaska with some blown elections after having completed Africa and the Americas.

    IMG_0883.jpg

    I had a great couple of days with Stefano in Madrid, and miraculously, despite all the horror stories of European bike thieves running riot, the bike survived being parked in the street for a couple of nights.

    [​IMG]
    #21
  2. anydavenow

    anydavenow Long timer

    Joined:
    Nov 30, 2011
    Oddometer:
    1,117
    Location:
    Sydney, Australia
    Just came back to the thread to update and found an unfinished post saved on my phone (just posted above).

    I arrived in Sydney in one piece last night and have my work cut out for me to update this ride report.

    On the road it was just too impractical to keep it up to date given the time window I had to do the trip.

    Looking forward to sharing the trip with the ADVRider community and especially with those who contributed in ways big and small!
    #22
    KneeDrachen, olbob and Jeff Sichoe like this.
  3. 1coolbanana

    1coolbanana Long timer

    Joined:
    Aug 25, 2009
    Oddometer:
    5,703
    Location:
    NW Sydney, Australia
    :dukegirl

    :lurk
    #23
  4. mytmav

    mytmav bike & fourby junky

    Joined:
    Jan 28, 2008
    Oddometer:
    401
    Location:
    south of brisvegas
    Looking forward to seeing your travels, also which seat concepts seat is that?
    #24
    anydavenow likes this.
  5. anydavenow

    anydavenow Long timer

    Joined:
    Nov 30, 2011
    Oddometer:
    1,117
    Location:
    Sydney, Australia
    KTM (2004-15) 950/990 Adventure V2 *TALL* — 1077770780749
    #25
    mytmav likes this.
  6. mytmav

    mytmav bike & fourby junky

    Joined:
    Jan 28, 2008
    Oddometer:
    401
    Location:
    south of brisvegas
    Thanks Dave, appreciate that.
    #26
    anydavenow likes this.
  7. mytmav

    mytmav bike & fourby junky

    Joined:
    Jan 28, 2008
    Oddometer:
    401
    Location:
    south of brisvegas
    Waiting, waiting, waiting.
    #27
  8. steved57

    steved57 Been here awhile Supporter

    Joined:
    Dec 31, 2007
    Oddometer:
    826
    Location:
    East Texas
    Yep come on as you have us intrigued now - let's get on with the report and with lots of pics :)
    #28
  9. bungen

    bungen Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Jan 21, 2006
    Oddometer:
    148
    Location:
    Bungendore, Au
    This is going to be a cracker!
    #29
  10. anydavenow

    anydavenow Long timer

    Joined:
    Nov 30, 2011
    Oddometer:
    1,117
    Location:
    Sydney, Australia
    The encouragement/nagging from the inmates above has me creaking back into action. Below are a couple of videos that I'd mentioned in the previous post were difficult to upload from the road.

    First, a couple of snippets from Section 7 of the Trans Euro Trail in France which I started on the edge of Paris heading South:





    Next, a proper video I put together of various clips from Section 9 which was mostly easy going apart from one section that was quite tricky on a RTW-loaded twin!



    Finally, TET Section 17 (or part of it) across the Pyrenees and into the rain.



    If you find them a bit blurry, I believe you can switch them to HD by using the little "gear" icon in the bottom right of the frame:

    Screenshot 2019-03-19 21.42.32.png
    #30
    Will Rogers, scudo, Bounty1 and 2 others like this.
  11. mytmav

    mytmav bike & fourby junky

    Joined:
    Jan 28, 2008
    Oddometer:
    401
    Location:
    south of brisvegas
    Better get creaking more Dave, vids are great, thanks for the updates,more coming?
    #31
  12. anydavenow

    anydavenow Long timer

    Joined:
    Nov 30, 2011
    Oddometer:
    1,117
    Location:
    Sydney, Australia
    More coming!
    #32
    1coolbanana, olbob and mytmav like this.
  13. anydavenow

    anydavenow Long timer

    Joined:
    Nov 30, 2011
    Oddometer:
    1,117
    Location:
    Sydney, Australia
    After a couple of nights of cramping Stefano's impeccable style I moved South towards Marbella, where I planned a night or two with a school friend of my Aunt's, Annie—a fellow South African who had emigrated to the "Costa del Crime" many years ago with her husband Tony. I took in some more incredible scenery on the 600-ish kilometer day but stuck mostly to the motorway, eventually starting to circumnavigate the toll gate booms, having been stung with a big bill already and deciding to leverage my Australian-plated anonymity.

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    Heading into the area near Malaga I was struck by everything suddenly becoming very familiar. All the signage and advertising, apart from official road signs, were in English! The coast line was riddled with "urbanizacións" of semi-detached villas crowding in lush, green golf courses. Doding Range Rovers I eventually found my way to my host's home in the foothills of the mountains, and parked up behind the Johannesburg-duty security gate.

    [​IMG]

    I was hoping to take advantage of T & A's hospitality for a couple of nights while I organised a set of tyres to post to myself further down the road, and a replacement fuel cap for the one I absent-mindedly left at a petrol station somewhere in Spain (not the same one I left my credit card at).

    [​IMG]

    The next morning I made my way into Marbella proper to Motoz Ortis, the local KTM dealer, which I'd previously been in touch with and thought would be well placed to supply me with a new set of tyres and anything else I needed before crossing the Mediterranean to Morocco, where KTM-specifics would start to become much rarer.

    The shop was well stocked with new EXCs and Adventures which was reassuring, and after waiting around for nearly an hour while the owner Carlos paid his Spanish respects to all the regulars who dropped in, my case was heard. Unfortunately I was unaware of a local public holiday which would see the shop and its suppliers closed until the following week, meaning I was stuck in Marbella for at least four days.

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    So we ordered in my tyres (another set of Mitas E-07 Dakars, which I'd been really happy with so far), the fuel cap, and a few other minor bits and pieces and I spent a few days hanging out and becoming fast friends with Tony, Annie and Dirk, another "adopted son" from Germany and an old friend of Annie's who was also checked in at her unintentional B&B while he got some very invasive dental work done.

    [​IMG]

    So I resigned myself to being totally spoiled by Annie over the next few rainy days, getting driven around, fed within an inch of my life and shown all the sights and sounds of the local region. This included a trip with Tony to check out the "fiera" in honour of the local saint (the subject of the public holiday). We got our timing wrong so were too early for the festivities and skipped lunch in favour of beer, facing the fury of Annie for skipping a meal when we returned home.

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    The next week rolled by and I eagerly set off to find out what was going on with my tyres. Once again I had to wait my turn while the KTM pilgrims came to pay their respects to Father Carlos, but when it came there was no good news and I was told to come back the following day. This cycle continued for a few days and started to get pretty tiresome. In the mean time I borrowed the workshop to fit my side-stand relocator (which I'd picked up in the UK) and even had enough time to have Chris Scott's Morocco Overland delivered by Amazon.

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    Eventually my tyres turned up and feeling the pressure to keep moving after being "stranded" for a full week, I got a bit agitated about the fuel cap and enquiries were made while I boxed up the tyres to drop off to a DHL agent.

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    It turned out my order had been "lost" and it would take another 3-4 days for a new one to arrive. More agitation and more calls saw some progress, with a fuel cap tracked down in another town about 120km back up the track.

    I decided that come hell or high water I'd set off for Morocco the next day.

    The plan was to get on the road early, backtrack to get the fuel cap and then race back past Marbella to meet the midday ferry to Tangier Med. I strapped the bulky box on the back of the 990 and sped off to the copy shop which was the DHL agent to drop off the tyres. Unfortunately I'd totally underestimated the cost of shipping and it ended up costing me over €250 to punt them over the straits of Gibraltar and down to a hotel I'd booked in Agadir, which I felt was the last reasonable point that I could get away with before I'd need to swap tyres over. It was one of many "oh well" moments to come.

    Early the next morning after a heartfelt goodbye from my new Spanish family I got moving to Zambrana Motos which turned out to be a huge multi-dealership supplier in the rural area of Mollina stocking Kawasaki, Husqvarna, Gas Gas and other brands along with a huge amount of accessories. If only I'd know about them earlier I could've got everything I'd needed here, but I was grateful for the forced leave I had in Marbella and the life long friendships I made.

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    It was down to the wire in the end but I made it through the fairly complicated network of roads down to the ferry port at Algeciras, was waved through the security checks thanks to my soft panniers being too annoying to unpack, and took my place in the queue ready to board the ferry.

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    The real adventure was about to begin.
    #33
  14. anydavenow

    anydavenow Long timer

    Joined:
    Nov 30, 2011
    Oddometer:
    1,117
    Location:
    Sydney, Australia
    The trip had many starts—the many watershed moments that made me think "this is actually happening"—whether it was getting on the plane to London, setting off for France or finally (after what seemed like an age in Europe) crossing the Straits of Gibraltar to the African continent. The moment I actually had to punt my bike up the ramp on this calm and sunny weekday morning was one of the more memorable ones.



    The atmosphere on the ferry was up-beat with a mix of passengers from many walks of life. There were European families in well equipped vehicles on their way to discover the exotic tourist offerings of Morocco, North African families on their way home from visiting their fortunate relatives in Europe and the odd trader on a run back or forth across the gap with wares available only on one or other side of the aquatic (and cultural) divide.

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    After we pulled out of port I went out on deck to enjoy the glorious weather and bask in the achievement of leaving the West. I offered to take a photo of an Indian couple who like me had not invested in a selfie-stick and they returned the favour.

    [​IMG]

    I wandered around on deck for a while and then went back into the main seating area to have the Moroccan policeman stationed in the corner take down my details and stamp my passport with a unique identification number. He was very friendly and interested in my trip, my over-the-top riding gear making it obvious that I was planning a fairly extreme holiday.

    I had decided to go to Tangier Med—primarily an industrial port—because I'd read that it was a lot less hectic and more modern than the older Tangier Ville and I thought it would put me in a good position to head to Chefchaouen on my first night. This thinking was wishful. On arrival on the Moroccan side I got my first taste of the African border crossing—though just a taste and much more palatable than those that lay ahead—complete with an abundance of self-important and ineffective officials and a total lack of coordination between the various state departments of customs, immigration and police.

    The port was large, sprawling and new and clearly an infrastructure project to be proud of but on that afternoon it was very quiet with only the motley crew and passengers who had come across on our ferry stumbling around in circles as if dragged by the crumpled papers they held in their hands, hoping for a ray of helpfulness from one of the disinterested officers.

    It took a few hours to do what seemed like a few minutes worth of paperwork, delayed further by the fact that immigration refused to accept the ID stamps in most of our passports and sent us off to wait in the sun for a couple of hours for a policeman to return from lunch with his vicious dog and verify the numbers on a computer in what appeared to be an abandoned toll booth.

    [​IMG]

    While waiting I met young Dennis, a 21 year-old German who was driving a senior-to-him Fiat campervan which he had saved up for while fruit picking for a year in Western Australia. The camper was named Karsten and had been well prepared on a minimal budget, most of which went into an enormous sub-woofer.

    Dennis was just as baffled as me at the border crossing process. Neither of us could speak any French but his English was much better than my German and so we had a great chat while waiting to be set free into the Moroccan landscape.

    [​IMG]

    After we had our ID stamps confirmed and touched up with a Bic pen by the police officer we were free to exit the customs area and get set-up with local SIM cards and money from some of the well equipped kiosks at the exit to the port.

    Though it was all relatively routine and hassle-free (just slow) it felt like an achievement to have finally arrived and I was in good spirits happily chatting away to anyone displaying a hint of familiarity with English.

    [​IMG]

    Checking my GPS before setting off convinced me that it was now far too late in the day to get anywhere near Chefchaouen and that my options were really limited to camping at the port or heading into the dreaded Tangier City. So, I looked up a place to stay online with my new SIM card and found a hostel for a good rate and with great reviews in the heart of the city—thank you booking.com!



    The motorway was in good condition and within an hour or so I started to hit the edge of the city.

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    Naïvely, I still had assumed getting to the hostel would be as easy as popping the address in my GPS and parking out front, but Tangier had other lessons in mind for me. As I got closer to the dot on the map the line leading me there became more and more convoluted, looping back on itself and seemingly spiralling concentrically towards the target. I had heard the word "medina" before—and surely I'd seen hundreds of photos of those quintessential and complex old towns—but somehow I hadn't prepared myself to enter the ancient, narrow and hap-hazard streets never designed for modern-day vehicles.



    I popped out into an open area with cars and bikes parked in close quarters on the uneven paving and people—mostly young men—milling about in the dusk. I kept following my GPS track but it got to a point where I couldn't possibly ride any further due to how narrow the gaps between the buildings got. I was close, but not quite there. A couple of local guys came up and enthusiastically offered greetings in various languages until one stuck, and then asked me which hotel I was staying at. I told them and they confirmed that it was deeper into the medina and that I would have to leave my bike in the parking area. I found a spot next to the only other "real" bike, which was a GS 800, and as I started wondering about what I was going to do about securing my stuff a tall, suave guy with a BMW jacket on came up and introduced himself.

    The owner of the jacket and bike was Chris, a Tangier local of mixed Moroccan and Spanish heritage, a common lineage in this ancient melting-pot of a city. He took a great interest in me and my trip and was full of tips for Morocco and West Africa, even offering me free accomodation at his AirBnB in Abidjan (Côte d'Ivoire) should I want it. We exchanged numbers and he offered to send me some route planning tips for my route South through Morocco. He'd never ventured much further than Togo, and suggested that once I hit Nigeria I was "on my own" in more ways than one.

    All the while my two "brothers" who had offered me initial directions had been hanging about patiently listening and being completely ignored by Chris. Once he said his farewell to me they sprang back into action to establish a relationship so crucial to the forthcoming sale. I arranged with an older, quieter gentleman in a hi-viz vest (a uniform familiar to me from South Africa's informal security sector) to watch my bike overnight for a small fee (advised by Chris) and I set off in the direction of the hostel with my dry bag, tank bag, helmet and gloves. The two touts wouldn't have a bar of it and insisted on helping me carry my heavy bags due to the long distance we needed to walk to the hostel.

    [​IMG]

    The hostel turned out to be about 40 metres away, and a faux-heated argument about payment for the services ensued. I parted with too much for it and learned the first of a few lessons of this kind.

    The hostel itself was very small and narrow, rising up over four floors with a winding, tiled staircase connecting them. The staff were young, cosmopolitan and interesting and made me feel very welcome. I took a well-earned shower in the malodorous broom-cupboard of a bathroom and ventured out to get some dinner at a local restaurant a few blocks from my hostel, recommended by my hosts.

    [​IMG]

    I enjoyed wandering around the steep, darkened and lively streets of the old heart of the city. It was very vibrant with all ages out and about on the warm evening—restaurants buzzing, old men strolling and kids playing unattended amongst the rubbish and stray animals.

    Groups of young men congregated around smart-phones or the odd television to watch football and hang out. The lack of any alcohol whatsoever means that scenes like this which might normally feel threatening felt quite the opposite, despite the mild chaos. Everyone was respectful and behaved—except the touts of course, but eventually I even got the hang of ignoring their forceful attempts at gaining my attention (and money).

    After dinner I (somehow) navigated my way back to the hostel to retire for the night. I was totally exhausted. My old friends from the car park clocked me on my way past and were once again very eager to engage, but this time hoping for a sale of some no doubt overpriced hashish. After repeated, manically friendly attempts to convince me they gave up and as a parting salvo the more eloquent of the two expressed his disappointment, shouting at the top of his voice that as a "fucking tourist" I should "go back to where I fucking came from!"

    I assured him that I would, but not quite yet.

    [​IMG]
    #34
    TheBritAbroad, Shaggie, scudo and 7 others like this.
  15. mytmav

    mytmav bike & fourby junky

    Joined:
    Jan 28, 2008
    Oddometer:
    401
    Location:
    south of brisvegas
    Keep it coming Dave
    #35
    anydavenow likes this.
  16. overlandr

    overlandr Dystopist

    Joined:
    Nov 30, 2003
    Oddometer:
    6,021
    Location:
    Sydney
    Very enjoyable writing style, I hope you can continue....!
    #36
    anydavenow likes this.
  17. simondippenhall

    simondippenhall Simondippenhall

    Joined:
    Apr 19, 2006
    Oddometer:
    307
    Location:
    Hampshire, England
    More, more...;-)
    #37
    anydavenow likes this.
  18. anydavenow

    anydavenow Long timer

    Joined:
    Nov 30, 2011
    Oddometer:
    1,117
    Location:
    Sydney, Australia
    Often, the friction I felt on the way into a new places tended to be unidirectional. Once I had spent a night and acclimatised I felt much more relaxed and could take in what was on offer and remember that I was finally on the trip I had always dreamed of. But by the same token my mind would find new and creative ways to be anxious about the inevitable next move.

    [​IMG]

    Already feeling at home in my little Tangier tower after a thoughtfully presented breakfast I prepared myself to head to Chefchaouen (via Tétouan) where I'd originally planned to be on the first night in Morocco if it hadn't been for the delays at the port. I set a comfortable target with only about 130 km of riding for the day, planning to head further south past Fes towards the southeastern corner of the country—where I'd heard the riding was good—over the coming days.

    Being too early in the morning for the touts to be out, I loaded up the bike and gave 20 Dirham to the quiet and relatively toothless gentleman in the high-viz vest who had diligently kept watch over the car park all night. I felt much better about giving my money to this humble person who had not tried to trick or pressure me into any spurious transactions. His parting offer to sell me hash was a little problematic to my narrative.

    Tétouan was a relatively clean and pretty town of mostly whitewashed buildings, bustling on its weekly "market day" with residents throughout the region heading there to buy, sell and bargain and the explanation for the many well-laden donkeys that I had to share the roads with coming in and out of the town.



    I arrived in Chefchaouen without much prior knowledge of it (a common mistake of mine arriving anywhere and a regrettable, constant side effect of having limited time to get to Cape Town). I was welcomed by this picturesque mountain city bathed in blue paint and well stocked with European hash enthusiasts here to sample the best that the Rif mountains had to offer.

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    Thankfully, this time I'd researched my accommodation a little better and I knew I'd likely be able to park in front of the hostel I'd booked. This was on the beat of car guard Lunez, a youngish but wizened man of the streets who I drove a hard bargain with, agreeing to pay 20 Dirham up front and another 20 on my departure in the morning. As the trip progressed I realised how pleased some of those on the receiving ends of my transactions would have been. I still had a lot of adjusting down to do when it came to price. Lunez was a lot more enthusiastic about his hash dealing than his car guarding so he took some to convince that I wasn't interested.

    [​IMG]

    The accommodation was (like many hostels around the world) a vestige of extended adolescence. My room felt like a modern-day opium den with 5 unmade beds buried under dirty clothes, empty water bottles and half-smoked joints. I was sharing with a Spaniard, an Argentine, a Belgian and a Brazilian and the building was full of characters—some quite bizarre and others bizarrely normal. One of the guests was a 50-something Danish marijuana enthusiast who had come to follow his dream of volunteering on the illegal plantations in the mountains, uninvited.

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    After a wander around the old city and a light and delicious dinner of a kind of savoury pancake I joined my hostel-mates under the moon in the front courtyard for a fun night developing new and highly effective in-jokes. I was one of the first to retire but had a very unsatisfactory sleep thanks to a mattress which I'm convinced was made from an amalgamate of hay and carbon-fibre off cuts.

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    The next morning I picked my way over the snoring carcasses and got packed up to leave. After a quick breakfast and not-half-bad coffee down the road I said goodbye to the more entertaining of the hostel dwellers and we ratified our friendship by connecting on Facebook.

    [​IMG]

    They had emerged while I was out and were busying themselves with the construction a day's worth of joints.

    [​IMG]

    Lunez was nowhere to be seen, so his 20 Dirham went unclaimed.
    #38
  19. anydavenow

    anydavenow Long timer

    Joined:
    Nov 30, 2011
    Oddometer:
    1,117
    Location:
    Sydney, Australia
    My confidence was returning and I happily picked my way from Chefchaouen to Fès, enjoying the quiet, easy roads skirting the feet of the Rif mountains. The landscape grew drier and harsher as I went south.

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    I'd found some GPS coordinates for a parking area just outside the Medina, and imagined a stressful scene similar to what I'd found in Tangier. Thankfully it was a little more spacious and less hectic, and the guard kindly led me to a fenced off area that my bike could share with some homing pigeons and a few rabid dogs.

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    It was a very long walk in hot and heavy gear into the depths of the old city to my hostel, but it was well worth it. What I thought was just going to be a basic hostel based on the price turned out to be a newly refurbished guest house with a huge internal courtyard, beautifully done and with staff who gave me a very warm welcome along with my obligatory sweet mint tea. They had a variety of rooms (some very luxurious) but even the dorms were very well appointed and it was a different class of tourist staying here compared to my last digs in Chef.

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    I shared a dorm room with 2 brits (Ami and Josh, siblings), a Texan (Michelle), a French-Canadian (Nicola) and a mysterious Filipino who never materialised and whose name I never learned.

    Fès is highly touristed and everything in the old city centre is geared toward extracting the maximum number of Dirhams from foreigners. Despite knowing better I fell prey to a wily young tour guide who spoke great English and knew his way around the back streets. Sitting on the ruins atop the hill overlooking Fès we bonded over a shared cigarette and the speculative, positive effects of camel milk on the male libido—all part of establishing a relationship from which to leverage a donation from me later on.

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    A guide wasn't strictly necessary but given that I only had an hour or so to spare before sundown it turned out to be worthwhile and I got to enjoy some interesting sites, such as visiting a working tannery and a stereotypical rug factory, as well as being fed into the clutches of a snake/argan oil salesman.

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]
    #39
  20. anydavenow

    anydavenow Long timer

    Joined:
    Nov 30, 2011
    Oddometer:
    1,117
    Location:
    Sydney, Australia
    The culture shock and novelty of being in Morocco had made the few days I'd been there feel like a month, but I was starting to adapt and my mind was freed to wander towards the thrills that the south east corner of the country—the edge of the Sahara—could offer. I went over some of the tracks meticulously documented in Chris Scott's Morocco Overland book and settled on a loose itinerary that would suit my schedule and (limited but growing) appetite for the unknown.

    From Fes, I needed to head to Merzouga where I would find the feet of the dunes and the end of the bitumen. I decided to break the 500km trip up into two days to keep things predictable and found on booking.com what appeared to be a guest house about half way down, so I popped that in the GPS and got on the road (after retracing the long hike from the bike to the hotel). My bike was still in one piece and I had a good stop & chat with the owner of the X5 despite neither of us speaking a single word of each other's language. KTM/BMW and a thumbs-up is more than enough for some good male bonding.

    The first few hours out of Fes started out cloudy and then got very, very rainy necessitating a stop to throw on my cheap and cheerful RJays rain gear. I'd decided to take a separate rain layer on this trip rather than the Goretex suit and given that it never got too cold it was a good choice.

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    As I climbed up into the Middle Atlas mountains I was struck by how European things started to feel. Lovely dark, green and relatively pristine pine forest lined the winding road and the only giveaway was seeing the many sopping stray dogs lying on the bitumen to soak up a bit of the remaining warmth from the road surface.



    Passing through Ifran things got even more surreal. The little alpine town feels like a Swiss transplant. Clean, organised and beautiful with pitch-roofed cottages and modern cars plying the perfectly maintained streets, displacing the usual fray of donkeys and clapped out utes.

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    Over the mountains things dried out in both senses. The rain dissipated and the terrain became arid and flat again. Having not eaten and the time being well past 2pm I started looking for sustenance. Despite being determined to seek out some "local" food, I succumbed to some English signage and pulled in at a cafe clearly targeting tourists like me. I paid the price (literally) though the food was delicious and I had a warm conversation with the maitre d', Salim, a real character with flowing robes, a turban and a limited supply of badly stained teeth.

    Salim and I became fast friends and as expected this lead to him trying to sell me a camel tour in Merzouga which was run by his "brother" who would look after me and could offer me a place to stay. Having a brother in any given town that one may or may not be going to emerged as a common coincidence in the Arabic countries I visited, the result of a mix of genuine hospitality and wily entrepreneurship.

    I exchanged WhatsApp details with Salim and got on my way. He warned me of strong winds on the plains near Middelt, which would be just before I started making my way into the High Atlas range, and that I should "take it easy" through there. He wasn't wrong. The strong wind and pelting rain were quite a challenge.

    [​IMG]

    The High Atlas mountains are quite different from the Middle Atlas and have an Arizonan feel to them. The road snakes along valleys separating crumbling ridges of brown rock, with vegetation struggling to take hold.

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    The day seemed to have dragged out despite the distance being well within my capability, and as the sun started to set I scolded myself for riding too close to dusk. Poor visibility and oncoming trucks had me eking out the last 100km or so until I arrived at the waypoint I'd set for the guest house.

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    The spot where I'd stopped was an open gravel area on the side of the road, which followed the gorge of the river Ziz, and was across from a tiny village of low mud houses nestled against the side of the rocky valley. I couldn't see any sign of a hotel or guest house but after a few seconds I noticed a figure running down the hill towards me in the dusk.

    The figure turned out to be Mostafa, the owner of the guest house who had been patiently waiting for me to arrive and make good on my booking.com commitment. After verifying that he was indeed who he said he was and not just some opportunistic village resident he led me up the hill to one of the mud houses and directed me to a place to park, then showed me inside to his very homely and authentic Berber "maison d'hotes" where I was the one and only guest.

    While I settled in and Mostafa fixed me a delicious tagine some local men from the village wandered in and gathered in the sitting room to drink their contraband wine and whiskey with much thigh slapping and guffawing at various videos on their phones.

    The boys cleared out after dinner and I spent the rest of the evening getting to know my host. He was an intriguing man who had a deep appreciation for the natural and cultural (Berber) wonders of his home region. He had also travelled widely in Morocco and North Africa while working as a mentor taking groups of troubled kids on trips through Mauritania, Senegal and Mali. Unfortunately a change in French government had seen funding for the program cut, but that had led him and his brothers to set up the guest house next to their childhood home, where Mostafa still lived with his elderly mother.
    #40
    mbanzi, Bounty1, LC8TY and 5 others like this.