An Aussie 990 in Africa

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

  1. anydavenow

    anydavenow Long timer

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    By the time I was ready to turn in, Mostafa had managed to charm me into staying an extra night and to spend the next day visiting a family of traditional nomads up on the plateau above the village.

    It took me a while to come around to the idea being still weary of my own ability to be taken advantage of and how unproductive it seemed in the Moroccan wilderness. But the combination of his genuine passion, an inspiring show of photos from his rickety phone and no doubt his brother's entrepreneurial influence Mostafa got me over the line.

    The next morning—after an awkwardly flamboyant breakfast (and a night thoroughly terrorised by bed bugs)—I spent a bit of time consolidating gear, photos and videos, and planning my forward route, while Mostafa prepared for our trek up the canyon. His family members milled around, ancient mum washing clothes on the stones under a lonely tree or brother heading off on his little motorbike with niece on the back to deliver her back to Errachidia where she was at school.

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    After Mostafa had completed his preparation—which appeared to mainly involve packing a small pink backpack with empty water bottles and handing me a colourful headscarf—I was invited down to the family home to join Mostafa and his mother for lunch: a simple but delicious tagine (as they always seem to be).

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    After lunch we set off at a brisk pace on foot north along the main road (the N13) which hugs the side of the gorge. A couple of kilometres along we turned off the road and headed east along a tributary of the river Ziz, stopping a little way up to fill up our water bottles with crystal-clear water from a natural source bubbling from under a rock.

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    We hiked for a few hours along the gorge and up onto the flat, rocky plateau above stopping to inspect some caves where goats had been coming for shelter (and a shit) for many years and for Mostafa to take numerous selfies.

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    The terrain reminded me a little of the West MacDonnell Ranges in the Northern Territory. As daylight started to diminish it got quite cold. I heard later that it had been snowing quite heavily at the higher altitudes around Ifrane further north and the road I'd come in on had been closed for a few days.

    Eventually, after passing a few signposts that guided our way, we came upon the nomads' traditional black woollen tent, sheltered on a shelf on the side of the valley. We were halted from afar by big barks from a a skinny, officious dog. He eventually calmed down after a minute or two and we were permitted to approach.

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    I spent the rest of the afternoon and evening with the humble inhabitants of that black tent who live a rudimentary traditional existence with a sprinkling of modern conveniences like some plastic containers for water, a single solar powered lamp donated by Mostafa and of course a sturdy little mobile phone with a built-in FM radio constantly pumping out berber music and prayers from the pocket of the patriarch, Ali.

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    It was fascinating to see their way of life. They subsist mainly off herd of hardy goats requiring work from before dawn until dusk by Ali and his son Mbarak to find enough vegetation in the barren landscape for the grazing. Mother and daughters are responsible for fetching water (a daily 10km round trip), wood (very, very scarce in this arid territory) and preparing meals. There is very little time for anything else. The simplest tasks take hours in these conditions.

    Communication was down to smiles, body language and Mostafa's broken English with neither I nor the nomads being able to speak French. Education was not a priority for them with much time and effort going towards basic survival. Despite the language and cultural barriers I felt genuinely welcome and honoured to be invited to spend time with them.

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    There was of course some money to be made for both them and Mostafa, but this wasn't something staged or hammed up to get make a quick buck from a tourist. Whether I was there or not made no difference to how they lived their lives and my contribution was considered a gift not solicited by them (just gently encouraged by Mostafa, my fee to him having been discussed separately). In retrospect, as I write this, it seems strange to even bring it up given the total amount for the experience was less than the price of a meal in Sydney but it was a juxtaposition on the intimacy of the moment and felt somewhat dissonant. I felt grateful that I was able to meet this "real" Moroccan family and not simply tick off a few landmarks and buy some curios in the more highly trafficked tourist areas.

    I was treated as an honoured guest, plied with delicious mint tea and fed a delicious stew with fresh flat-bread that had been cooking slowly all day on the fire. I was given a chance to try and flatten the dough into the requisite round, thin shape which I failed terribly sending everyone into stitches of laughter for trying to do "a woman's job".

    We sat around the fire as the night got bitterly cold and eventually the "elders" (myself, Mostafa and Ali) were excused to bed down in a small stone outhouse which doubles as a storage unit when the family moves on to other grazing during the year.

    We lay three abreast, fully clothed, on the rocky ground between thick, heavy blankets and I dozed off to the sound of Ali's FM radio playing eerie traditional music as it hung from the wall. I had a deep and comfortable sleep interrupted briefly by Ali thrashing around to catch and kill a mouse that was rummaging around in the corner of the hut. Ali's wife and the children slept in the tent further up the hill. I hoped that they had a few more blankets than we did.

    In the morning we were up early to enjoy a breakfast of more fresh bread (cooked in a slightly different style) dipped in honey and olive oil. Mbarak had already left hours earlier with the goats and after breakfast Ali accompanied us for most of the trek back down to the main road to hitch a ride into the town (nipping into the bushes just before the road to swap over to a pair of dress shoes he kept stashed there).

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    As Mostafa said after we'd left, the nomads have a life which is very romantic, but very difficult.
    #41
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  2. SoggyDonkey

    SoggyDonkey Been here awhile

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    Outstanding update. You are doing it right, my friend. Not just the reporting, I mean the experiencing other folks' lives. Beautiful pictures, too.
    #42
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  3. simondippenhall

    simondippenhall Simondippenhall

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    Dave: wonderful account of your experiences... thank you!
    #43
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  4. overlandr

    overlandr Dystopist

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    Thank you so much for this insight into the lives of these people.
    #44
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  5. anydavenow

    anydavenow Long timer

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    Feeling energised and inspired after my unexpected adventures in Ifri, I packed up and set off after a fond farewell to Mostafa and his family.

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    My plan was to ride the 183km to the end of the bitumen at Merzouga—the edge of the real Sahara—and camp there for the night. The next day I'd get cracking on the famous "MS6" route which skirts the Algerian border and was made popular by Chris Scott in his Morocco Overland book.

    I was looking forward to satisfying my growing cravings for something a little less paved but I could feel a classic case of sand-anxiety starting to build. No matter how much of it I ride it still seems to get me nervous.

    I picked my way along the rest of the river Ziz to Errachidia where I stopped at a kiosk and bumbled my way through an order of supplies for my forthcoming dinner: pre-boiled eggs, "La Vache Qui Rit" cheese, bread and tinned sardines. All of these would come to be staples for many of my self-made meals.

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    I loved the way the landscape imposed and wove itself into everything, it's colour dominating that of the buildings, clothes and even faces and not the other way around as some of us are used to in our big, modern cities.

    The next town was Erfoud, where I took the turn-off towards Merzouga.



    I soon started to see the tops of the majestic and massive Saharan dunes towering over the arid, stony landscape I rode through and I detoured off road up onto a ridge to get a better view.

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    I could see a group of four wheel drives careening across the plains and knew I was close to the desert playground of Merzouga where tricked up vehicles and camel tourists come to revel in the dunes while impoverished locals eke out a living supporting them with accomodation, food, fuel and always in demand mechanical services.

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    As I closed in on the sandy town I was chased down by a manic tout on a Chinese 125cc bike trying every trick in the book to get me to stop. He honked his horn and made gestures to imply there were all kinds of things wrong with my bike, his turban loosening and blowing in the wind as he bounced up and down through the potholed streets while tailing me.

    In an effort to give him the slip I turned down a back lane to cut around a main intersection and found myself in deep, powder-soft sand with my tyres at 37psi and my riding skills still stuck in tourist mode.

    As the tout closed in on me, floating effortlessly over the sand, I shouted "la, shukran!"—grateful for the "no, thank you!" Mostafa had taught me to say in Arabic (emphasising that it must be done in a stern tone). The technique to dismiss my pursuer worked, and the ones for riding in sand returned to me. The robed rider on his 125 faded into the distance as I pressed on to the other side of the town to find myself a camp spot, just after the end of the bitumen and behind a small dune.

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    There's nothing better than spending a quiet, solitary night in a camp site out in the wild and this one didn't disappoint. I even had good enough mobile signal to call my mum after enjoying my dinner of "tagine".

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    As I popped down on my trusty 3-legged stool to get my riding boots off a realisation came: I'd left my favourite (and lucky) sneakers back in the guest house in Ifri!
    #45
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  6. anydavenow

    anydavenow Long timer

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    I was up early scoffing down my boiled egg and bread for breakfast, raring to go and excited about the couple of days of lonely dirt riding ahead of me. Although I was really a long way from home the terrain felt familiar and welcoming— a reminiscent of my of the Australian Outback's dirt, rock, sand and redness. The camels even looked the same.

    I packed up, dropped my tyre pressures a bit and dove onto the gravel. Merzouga is really the last decently sized town in the southeastern corner of the country, so once you get off the main road it's mostly single-lane gravel or twin-track. The riding was active but easy, and the landscape was spectacular.

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    As always, I was amazed to find "thriving" settlements in such remote, harsh and relatively inaccessible places. Every once in a while I'd come across a mud-brick "ksar" where a community or family would be giong about their daily lives, the rest of the world oblivious to their existence but in most cases not the other way around.

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    After a couple of hours I stopped for a photo and an old, white Defender pulled up beside me—the turbaned driver curious and keen. I was still a bit testy about being approached by locals and especially since the previous day's motorcycling salesman had tried to hunt me down, but this guy seemed relatively normal. I wasn't sure if Mohammed (predictably) was pushing anything, and without a shared language communication was tricky and I kept my guard up.

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    I picked up from him that it wasn't a great idea to head across the dry river delta solo on a big bike, that the fesh-fesh (very fine, powdery sand) in the river beds had claimed many a rider, recently one broken leg and two Africa Twins with burned clutches that he had to aid in recovering. He explained that he was on his way to his auberge (guest house) and that he'd be happy to show me the best way through the riverbed so that I'd avoid getting lost, stuck or injured.

    "No Dirham, no Dirham," Mohammed insisted.

    "OK," I sighed, resigned to whatever fate had in store for me.

    I putted along behind the white Land Rover as it lumbered its way around the piles of soft, white sand, picking the seemingly random path that made up this season's route through the dry delta. The pace was actually a little slower than I needed it to be to maintain my momentum through the soft stuff, so every now and again I had to wait for Mohammed to put a bit of distance between us and then catch up before I lost him in the maze of dust mounds.

    After a few kilometres we popped out on the opposite bank and Mohammed asked me what I thought of the performance of his "Berber GPS". I had to say that although that route through was fine it would've been a bit trickier trying to navigate across by feel, so I was grateful for his ancient technology.

    We pulled in momentarily at the tiny outpost of Ramlia, where I gather groups of four-wheel drive, quad and camel tours occasionally pass through bringing enough cash to sustain the tiny community. Ramlia was a bucket list item for me having seen a picture years ago of a dusty 990 S with the "Oasis Ramlia" sign in the background—at the time I thought "I have to go there one day." Finally, here I was.

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    Not needing any "essence" I was keen to keep moving and Mohammed offered to take me on a detour to a bit of a special lookout that apparently not many know about. We followed a sandy twin-track up between two rocky outcrops and emerged on what looked like an ocean of beautiful red sand. Low, flowing dunes that you could hit flat out on the bike like you were on an enormous rollercoaster.

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    After a bit of fun in the sand we made our way back to the main twin-track and headed towards the village of Sidi Ali where Mohammed ran the family guest house. Having got to know him a bit better the few times we stopped it was clear that he wasn't out to get me and he was a genuine and switched on guy. It seemed like he had a yearning for a more modern existence and certainly knew what was going on in the world, and that perhaps I represented a connection to the outside for him, but this was his lot.

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    I'm sure there was an element of marketing to the attention I was getting and I was encouraged to like the Facebook Page for the guesthouse, but that's as far as it went and I was buoyed by that fact (I'm still in touch with Mohammed and we message each other every few weeks.)

    I popped into the auberge for lunch and hung out with Mohammed while he showed me his collection of djembe drums and I picked my way through a tough, frozen chicken tagine and washed it down with a couple of remedial cokes.

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    I was a little weary from the sand work and the heat but a bit of sustenance and a drink had me ready for part two of the track. I was actually quite a bit ahead of where I thought I'd be by that stage, despite the detours. I got back on the road.

    At the point closest to the Algerian border I passed a military checkpoint where I had to provide some details and the lonely but friendly officer asked if I mightn't have any whiskey for him in my backpack. All I could offer him was an awkward chat using the (literally) two or three French words I had at my disposal and a few smiles and gestures towards various bits of my bike.

    The rest of the afternoon was spent picking my way up and over the lip of the crater of a huge, extinct volcano—not detectable at ground-level other than by the fact that every square inch of ground is covered in dark red rocks. The track was high, rough and rocky but heaps of fun and I was in my element.


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    As the sun started to hang low I caught up to an 80 series Land Cruiser bouncing along the track through the middle of the crater. The occupants looked a little stressed and were clearly tourists, so I pulled up alongside them to check in.

    They were Olivier and Christine, a very nice French couple on the road for just a few weeks' holiday, but although they were pretty experienced in these parts they'd done some damage to the Land Cruiser's power steering over the rocks and were a bit over the track as it was hard going without the power-assist.

    I suggested we pull up and make camp together, and they agreed. I rode up ahead to find a suitable spot and look for some firewood. This wasn't an easy task with rocks as far as the eye could see and not a singe tree, but after traipsing across the plain to a dry stream I found below eye level some dead trees that were passable and dragged them back to camp.

    We could see a little hut a few hundred metres down the road and soon enough heard the rumble of an engine and saw someone heading towards us. As it got closer the noise the thing made was quite impressive and it turned out to be a huge Polaris ATV in camo with a couple of gendarmes and a dog on top. The gendarmes asked the usual officious questions but once they'd sufficiently flexed their military muscle they assured us that there was "no problem, no problem" and we were more than welcome to camp here. They would keep us safe and if we needed anything they'd be happy to help, especially if we had any whiskey.

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    I borrowed a rake from Olivier and Christine and cleared some rocks away to be able to pitch my tent—quite a job and I envied their rooftop version on this occasion. Once I'd set up they spoiled me with a delicious meal and even some wine, making me envy their four-wheeled set-up even more! It was great chatting to them and finding out about Olivier's years as a rally mechanic. He now owned an 1190 and had done plenty of riding in Morocco.

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    #46
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  7. anydavenow

    anydavenow Long timer

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    A compilation of some video from MS6:

    #47
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  8. 1coolbanana

    1coolbanana Long timer

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    Thats epic Dave :clap:bow
    #48
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  9. mrsdnf

    mrsdnf Been here awhile

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    Orsm story Dave. You have a lot more nerve than I. :-)
    #49
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  10. Bounty1

    Bounty1 Been here awhile

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    Nice video Dave, loved the rock garden at the 2:36 mark onwards!
    #50
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  11. msahern5

    msahern5 Jumping at Shadows

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    Thank you so much for your story. Wonderful.
    #51
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  12. anydavenow

    anydavenow Long timer

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    Thank you for the comments, guys. Next episode coming soon.
    #52
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  13. 1coolbanana

    1coolbanana Long timer

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    :lurk
    #53
  14. husqvarna

    husqvarna Been here awhile

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    Excellent report - don't weaken; keep up with the rest of it!
    #54
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  15. simondippenhall

    simondippenhall Simondippenhall

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    Loving the report, Dave, and your sandy adventure!
    #55
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  16. anydavenow

    anydavenow Long timer

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    A point of clarification:

    A reader of this ride report decided to anxiously alert Mohammed at Hamada Kemkem to my casual culinary criticisms pertaining to the petrified poultry.

    Mohammed was understandably concerned that this small detail may unfairly paint his establishment in a poor light. As I do consider Mohammed a friend I want to clarify that this was not intended as an in-depth review of his services, and from everything I saw at the auberge and from getting to know Mohammed I would in fact suggest visiting. I mean it, and I'd be staying there a night or two if I returned to MS6. Good place to base yourself for some riding in the area, too.

    I'm sure that most readers will have taken my comments in the intended spirit—as adding colour to the story—and are far more likely in fact to visit after reading than go elsewhere in the area, perhaps with expectations properly adjusted for happy dining in the Sahara. I'm not editing the post, but I'm happy to back Mohammed as he's a good guy with a nice, family-run guest house catering with care under difficult conditions to fussy Westerners like myself. Hamada Kem-kem looked like a lot of fun and I recommend checking it out, in case that wasn't clear. Which it was.

    Another recommendation that I'd make is that in future the Spanish Signaller mind their own business.
    #56
  17. OzCRU

    OzCRU Been here awhile

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    Loving your RR Dave!!
    :lurk
    #57
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  18. Shaggie

    Shaggie Unseen University Supporter

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    Gidday from NZ :wave

    Loving this!

    #respect

    Shane
    #58
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  19. anydavenow

    anydavenow Long timer

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    I woke to the stirring of my French companions on what was a crisp, clear morning on the rocky plain.

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    After sharing a quick coffee we started packing up our respective camps and getting ready to set off. The coffee was quite strong, as was the corresponding laxative effect, which left me in a rather awkward situation with not a single tree or other modesty aid within visible range of my tent.

    I won't reveal too much about the approach I developed to relieve myself, but suffice to say it was a significant reminder that there's a solution to every problem given enough time and not enough choices. One's own ingenuity never ceases to surprise you on a trip like this and it's always important to remember that you can't solve all problems in advance from the comfort of your frontal cortex. Once you're faced with a situation on the ground (no pun intended) it's amazing what you can come up with. Definitely one of my proudest poos.

    Olivier and Christine set off a few minutes before me while I fiddled with my gear, not yet having achieved peak packing performance. The Landcruiser was well on its way to the horizon by the time I fired up the bike and started picking my way through the rocks back to the main track. A loud clang suddenly emanated from the bash plate and the bike went completely dead. The starter button did bugger all—something serious was wrong.

    Still glowing from my Bear Grylls-esque achievements earlier that morning I managed to suppress the panic and started approaching the problem methodically. I had my suspicions and they proved to be correct. A rock had broken the side-stand switch off. I got my tools out and got to work trying to sort it. I had neglected to fit a bypass for it before shipping the bike out (one of those things that simply didn't make the deadline) but I was carrying a couple of resistors and a vague memory of how to "trick" the system into thinking the magnet was in range of the dwell switch.

    Luckily this proved to be unnecessary and I found the magnet on the ground near where I'd hit the rock. I was able to zip-tie and heat shrink the remains of the magnet to the switch, and stuff the little bundle down under the bash-plate. It's still like that and will probably remain there until the day either me or the bike go to that big KTM shop in the sky.

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    The gendarmes had got wind there was a problem and one of them had spent about 10 minutes walking up to see if he could help but by the time he got to me I was all sorted and ready to go. I still didn't have any whiskey for him, unfortunately.

    I enjoyed the last blast out towards Zagora, riding through an incredible expanse of irrigated groves, dotted with villages, in a large river delta. By the time I hit the bitumen again there was a bone-chilling wind. I later discovered there had been heavy snow in Ifrane, and the roads in and out of the mountain town where I'd passed only days before were completely closed off.

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    I felt sorry for my poor nomad friends exposed up on the plain, and the locals I saw huddled over on their scooters or donkeys. Despite it being a sunny day the air was very icy.

    I stopped along the way for my usual bread and cheese lunch to find that my Laughing Cows weren't so happy any more, so I pressed on and opted for a late lunch in a little cafe in a town just out of Agadir.

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    Approaching Agadir things started to get more and more developed and modern. I noticed more female drivers, and in nicer cars, modern architecture and less of the harsh, rural Moroccan wildness that I'd seen over the previous few days. The city has an interesting history, having been destroyed in an earthquake in the 60s, where up to 15,000 people are said to have died. Since then it appears to have surged ahead with many modern buildings and infrastructure having been built. Make no mistake, it still has the elements of a shabby city in a developing country, but it wouldn't be that out of place somewhere along the cost in France or Spain.

    I'd booked myself into the Ibis Budget Hotel, mainly as I'd used it as the address to have my tyres sent to from Motos Ortiz in Marbella some weeks back, but that justification became secondary once I walked into my cosy if bland little room and spotted a nice, clean, white sheet.

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    The delight induced by the sheet was surpassed only by the enjoyment of a hot, strong and very badly needed shower—though I must say that it's amazing what you can get done with two wet-wipes. After verifying that my big parcel had arrived with the awkward, French-speaking female robot at reception I collapsed happily on my slightly concave mattress, relatively safe in the knowledge that I'd be undisturbed by bedbugs.

    I spent a few days in Agadir enjoying the Frenchy food and culture, running a few errands and getting my head straight about the upcoming border crossing to Mauritania. I had a long stretch of dead-straight bitumen ahead of me through the disputed territory of Western Sahara after which I'd be crossing into the "real" Africa and cutting the cord with conventional tourism that was still loosely attached.

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    I went to a Decathlon store to replace my missing shoes and get a few other bits of clothing—having learned a bit more about what I needed.

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    I'd under budgeted on underpants and was carrying a bulky down jacket that really wasn't necessary further south than Europe. I sent that and a few other bits and pieces, like a plastic plate and my TuneECU cable, home from the post office (at great expense).

    One evening I also got a chance to catch up with Dennis and Karsten, who I'd met at the port at Tangier Med, and we went to an American-themed burger joint and enjoyed what really were excellent burgers. Dennis, operating on a very small budget, had found a quiet car park in a residential area where he could camp out for a few days undisturbed. The nice thing about the cities in these Arabic countries is that they feel very calm and safe at night—and I think that has a great deal to do with the lack of alcohol and conservative culture. People are generally very honourable.

    After dinner I got a tour of Karsten and his rather impressive sound system—the style and volume of the music would place Dennis in a good position to run legitimate bush-doof for a few hundred people, and no doubt had the locals convinced another earthquake was on the way to destroy their city once again.

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    I didn't really need to hang out in Agadir much longer but I was starting to feel really nervous about the next step. I had at least one very sleepless night. I was procrastinating, spending too much time in my room sorting photos and talking to friends, family and my significant other online and not doing enough facing the music. I didn't have anything specific to hang my fear on but Mauritania just felt so intensely unknown to me and it was getting to my head.

    I had also been thinking about riding the infamous "railroad track" which ran through the desert along an industrial railway line from a port city just across the border to the town of Choum in the interior of the country. That would mean about 500km of deep sand to cross. It was something I'd dreamed of doing ever since I'd heard of it, but I had no idea whether I was up to the task or whether it was even possible on my big bike. I'd originally planned to tag along with a four wheel drive for that section, the driver of which I'd met on a Facebook group, but due to my delays in Spain I'd missed the window and if I was to make this dream a reality it was going to have to be solo. I had heard of it being done on bikes, but I hadn't yet found any evidence of anyone doing it on a big bike or solo.

    Though I hadn't made my mind up about the railroad track, just the idea of it was adding to my anxiety and I was working myself into quite a state. Despite that, I knew that I couldn't avoid moving and I would have to get back on the road eventually. It was time to move.

    I started getting things sorted, organising my money and trying to contact a "fixer" I'd been given the number of to help me with the Mauritanian border formalities. I treated the bike to a wash at the modern service station next to the hotel and did some maintenance, giving the chain a clean and lube and the bike a general go-over. The bike took a bit of oil, needing about half of the 500ml I was carrying.

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    I went on the hunt for my tyre parcel and the nerves flared up again when it took some time to locate. Eventually a manager was called and after a number of other staff were recruited for the search they were found in an unused hotel room on the ground floor.

    [​IMG]

    The tyres I had on the bike were still in very good shape, so Agadir turned out to be a premature point for a tyre change. I decided to carry the new ones as far as I could manage before changing them, despite vowing before I left that I would never carry tyres!

    Rejuvenated after a few days of civilised life, I was ready (not ready) to get back out there and head for the Mauritanian border.

    [​IMG]
    #59
    Riel, TheBritAbroad, OzCRU and 11 others like this.
  20. 1coolbanana

    1coolbanana Long timer

    Joined:
    Aug 25, 2009
    Oddometer:
    5,709
    Location:
    NW Sydney, Australia
    Loving the story mate.

    :lurk
    #60
    anydavenow likes this.