2017 The Sahara

More G.O.T

I know nothing of Game of Thrones, other than it’s in its 7th series and a global phenomena. I do know some parts were filmed in Morocco and I was off to visit one location. Azgard is home to the Queen of meereen, mother of dragons, khaleesi of the great grass sea, queen of the andals, the rhoynar and the first men, lady regnant of the seven kingdoms, breaker of chains etc, etc, it’s also known as  Essaouira, probably the best place I’ve been to on a whim. Again it’s a coastal fishing port but more than that it is simply a wondrous town in classic castle fortifications. With a myriad of tunnels, walkways and ramparts. It is undergoing major reconstruction to it’s original state, no doubt a knock on effect of its popularity since G.O.T filming ended and being a UNESCO world heritage site. In fairness they have not gone all out touristy and filled the many tiny stores with tat, but instead they embrace local arts and crafts, or posh tat! I walked the fishing port as they finished trading for the day. I hate the smell of fish but the cackle of traders and tradesmen alike is intoxicating. Fishing boats being repaired amongst the fish they regularly catch. I loved it. I stayed a few hours soaking it all up and wishing I was here in a year or so when the construction machinery had all gone and the place was once again the genuine Essaouira . 

I’d seen no campsites so I opted for a little hotel on the outskirts. I wish I’d stayed in Essaouira as I had been offered a room in the labyrinths  of tunnels and passageways.I knew the next day would be a long haul. I was off to Casablanca against all advice not too.

Let’s talk hair

First let’s talk your hair. Just before leaving I saw adverts for shampoo with ancient argon oil of Morocco. So what’s in it? Well the oil is extracted from the kernel of the nut from the argan tree. It’s a laborious task. The nut, having been plucked from the tree by hand, has a fleshy skin that is stripped off and made into animal feed. The nut cracked open and the kernel extracted. It is then milled and massaged by hand to get the precious oil out. It’s a long winded process. The oil does have great properties apparently, but consider this. For years this site has been common in the region known for producing argan oil

It’s goats in the trees eating the fruit. They digest the fruit and poop out the nut with its precious kernel. That cuts out two thirds of the Labour costs. hmmmm just what are you putting in your hair? In fairness, if it brings some little wealth to the poor then let’s all get some.

Then there is my hair. I had a £1 haircut today. I was looking a little like so many of the goats I had seen so whilst in Tighassaline I popped into one of the many barbers. Big red leather chairs and gowns from the 50’s, clippers attached to the mains and plugs held in with hairgrips. The cut was great, the conversation limited. A quick trim with the cut throat that he dipped in alcohol and set fire too before using, all done for a quid. When was the last time you tipped double the cost of your haircut and were still chuffed at how cheap it was?

A day off.

I was up for breakfast and then spent sometime dealing with the blog. I find blogging helps me retain stuff I would normally forget. 

I said fairwell to Paul the owner and headed for the coast, today’s target Agadir. The poverty continued and then as I hit the coast suddenly the road was wider with proper road signs, a dual carriageway in fact. Then on the outskirts of Agadir a very modern view, like Marbella with high rise hotels and car dealerships. I was surprised and it continued to the beach. So package holiday in fact, I had lunch in an English pub, which bore no resemblance to any English pub except perhaps The Queen Vic on tv. Cheap dark red leather, dark wooden tables, warm beer and cold food. 

Anyway it turns out this once poor fishing-trading port and heavily fortified hill was much like the rest of Morocco until 1960 When a 15 second earthquake reduced the place to rubble. No small earthquake that one, taking with it the lives of 15000 people. Anyway that explains why most of the city looks like a holiday resort and less developed parts resemble a 1960’s council estate. My campsite was right in the middle of the 1960’s. Shabby chic we will call it, or just shite. The place must have been a mini Butlins at one time, but those days had passed. The pool has been empty a long time, with tiles falling into it’s dusty depths. It’s ok there’s no barrier round it. The buildings, toilets and shower blocks all decayed and the paint peeling from the walls. 50 year old bunting hangs like prayer flags in the Himalayas, all torn with the ravages of time, but at £4 a night I’m staying. The owner, as lifeless as his once thriving resort is just waiting for the developers to get this far along the beach, and they are coming, but I feel it’s a case of them getting here before his own deteriating condition brings his hopes to an end. Anyway, on the bright side I just made him £8 richer, now jog on and buy some toothpaste.
I walked the length of the beach, passing the many resteraunts and fast food outlets. Obviously I couldn’t pass them all, there was a copy Starbucks, Mcdonalds and ice cream sellers, what’s a man to do? Oh and Pizza Hut which is where I sit now some 24hours later, with my work discount card firmly in my grip! The beach is lovely, with golden sand, I could have taken my photos here and had a real holiday. The sunset very nice. I walked back along the block paved, intracately patterned walkway. Itself disappearing under a sea of chewing gum. One thing I like being obliterated by another I despise. I mean if you’re going to chew gum, be a little responsible, it comes in a wrapper people. Sorry but it annoys me. 

Sunday and it’s time to explore the Souk. Housed in the inner city enclave, itself one of the few ancient parts to have survived the quake, it is one huge market place. The usual thriving hustle and bustle amongst 900 stalls. It’s a blast of colour and smells, not all good. It was busy with locals but no holiday makers I could see. I’m sure they go there because the traders are great at spotting them. I loved the vibrant atmosphere and good natured banter between sellers and this non buyer. 

After that it was time to tackle the fort on the hill which would have happened if it weren’t so far away and blocked by Pizza Hut. It can wait until tomorrow. 

I did however pass the royal palace where the guy who looks like David Walliams, on their money, lives. Apparently he’s the king.

And apparently he is very popular, doing great stuff to move Morocco onwards, so why does the palace have an outer fence like normal with armed guards on the inside and outside every 30m? Added to that there is an inner wall that you cannot see past. 

I think I got away with it

So from my short lived desert drive I had no choice but to head back to Zagora. A short while into the journey I saw a hitch hiker. He looked European, I stopped and picked him up. He was a German lad about 20years old, having taken a year out of college he was off to see the world and after just 6 weeks had done France, Spain, Portugal and now Morocco. He was impressed to be in a right hand drive car in a left hand drive country. He was really interested in my story and I in his. He asked “People give cars names in England, does your car have a name?” “Oh yes Dubless Ba……” I stopped, thinking it best not to mention the war! “Oh Douglas, isn’t it usual to be a girls name?” Great now he thinks I’m gay. “It’s a German car” I said trying to save the conversation. Anyway my companion for the journey was headed to South America next, hoping to get a working passage on a ship to Brazil and then hike to Chilli and Peru. I dropped him in Zagora and we wished each other a safe onwards journey.

For my part I was headed across the desert highway. A ferociously straight road cutting a path between mountains and desert. It was getting hot, like 37 degrees hot. Dubless was coping well, but it was reported to be reaching 41 before the day was out. I had nothing to do but drive for endless miles trying to contemplate the enormity of this country and its geographic marvels. The monochrome mountains with defined lines from the earths pressure forcing them skyward and then the natural erosion that shapes them over millions of years. Man it was hot, with no shade to rest the car in I kept going until hunger got the better of me. I stopped in a tiny town with a cafe, parking, as directed in the shade of the only tree, in the middle of a roundabout. The waiter, chef, owner, builder, washer up’er asked what I would like. There was no menu and he recommended the only dish of cous cous. Ok that’s the one for me. In due course a huge plate of cous cous topped with many soggy non descript vegetables arrived. It was now a race between me and the flies to eat. Like a game of reverse ‘Whakamole’, I had to jab the fork anywhere there wasn’t a fly and hope there hadn’t been one there before. Cous cous, as a meal is very filling and washing it down with water makes you quite bloated, quite quickly. I thanked my man and paid him the £3 he wanted. That’s with a tip! He was also the car park attendant and showed me back onto the trafficless road. I had more time to think as I drove and I wondered what the youth of poorer Morocco wanted from life? They all have mobiles and some internet access. Do they long for a better life in the western world or are they happy to tend livestock, walking the herd miles every day so they can feed on scraps of shrubs at the roadside? Morocco is beautiful but it’s a harsh baron beauty that I was at home with, for now, but how long would it hold my attention if I had to work endlessly just to put a meal on the table and a second hand shirt on my back, I didn’t know.

I decided to head for Akka a reasonable sized town which should have a hotel. The town before was small and well kept so my hopes were high as I travelled through the next deshevilled village, however as I left I saw that had been Akka. I returned and asked for a hotel but they didn’t have one and clearly the Berber hospitality hadn’t reached this far yet, so I continued onwards. It was at least two hours to Guelmim but that’s where I was headed. The sun set and again I was driving unlit roads with Dubless and his impaired lights shinning the wrong way. Two cars passed in the other direction one had lights which was a bonus. Then the roadworks started. It’s fine because running at the side of this highway is a dirt track and so they direct you onto this, but this time that track went on for ten miles. Dust blew everywhere the heat still radiating from the earth made the whole thing pretty rotten. The only accompanying noise being Dublesses knocking joint. I was tired long before Guelmim and saw lights of a town to the left. Turbo g off I saw another hitch hiker, only this time local. He needed a lift and I needed a hotel, a win win surely. Error no, he speaks no English or French. Dropping him off I saw another guy and in my best French asked if he knew of a hotel, “do you speak French?” A little he says, so I try again to which he asks if I speak English! And for some reason I say “Yes a little” with a French accent, I’ve been in the sun too long. I needed an oasis and this guy directed me to one.

Within 3 miles I turned onto a gravel track leading to Borj Biramane a hotel like no other. It was fantastic, laid out with different shape and size rooms in a large expanse of land all linked by footpaths to a central reception, it was a delight to walk the grounds and see little covered rest areas and dinning tables under tent type covers. Very chic bebowin I would say. But I needed sleep and for £35 I had a double room with air conditioning. 

A big chunk in one hit.

I’m getting behind with the blogs as the mileage has been very high and the roads not always straight! So this episode should be called, Put more stuff on your pickup, Game of Thrones, dont visit the worlds biggest movie studio, write me a letter and finally……

So leaving Marrakech I travelled the Tizi n Ticha pass, a tarmac festival of sublime corners and vista’s that I struggled to take in. Such is the size and height of the High Atlas Mountains, climbing to 2000m or 7200ft the road was torturous for the Bug but hey I wanted to be on a bike anyway. If Dubless was struggling spare a thought for the many trucks and pickups loaded well beyond their maximum capacity for sure.At the very top was a rest area and as usual I was hounded by touts of tat. “No really I don’t want a life size crystal encrusted model camel”. Travelling on I was heading for Ouarzazate another place on my trip list. On arrival you pass a huge movie studio. Checking up, the internet tells me its the biggest studios in the world and has been the set for Gladiator, James Bond and many more films. It did also warn that the sets were starting to decay in the desert. It was at this point I checked the map to find Ait Benhaddau a world heritage site and film set for Game of Thrones. I had wanted to visit it, I’ve never seen G.O.T but I wanted to say I had been there. Anyway I haven’t because I’d already passed it. So I booked to see the studio. The internet didn’t lie. It is the biggest studio in the world due to the fact its in the biggest desert in the world and nothing more. The tour was on foot and the sets quite run down. It was interesting and worth the £5 entry, but if you have the choice go to Ait Benhaddou.

From left to right. Aladins home, James Bond?????, Gladiator, some building that took 3 months to build for 3 seconds in the film, Egyption tomb. Game of Thrones series 3 but you can’t go closer!!!

I stayed in Ouarzazate that night in a colourfully decorated hotel. I was finding hotels are cheap and offer better rest than a campsite. Next morning I was off again. Stopping to get water in a non descript town I was approached by a smartly dressed local who spoke great English. I was waiting for the ‘sell’, but he engaged in conversation about my trip, my plans and offered some good advice. Then he asked if I could help him write a very short letter in English. I was happy to help and he duly showed me to his home. The place was the typical run down type of building synonymous with the poorer parts. He got a pen and paper and dictated the letter to his friend Paul from France, shouldn’t that be Pierre? Paul works for ‘Medicines Sans Frontieres’ and had been in Morocco helping nomads get medical assistance. Anyway the letter complete we spoke more about his work as jewellery maker. He made me coffee and I was enjoying some propper Berber hospitality. He asked if I was married, for some reason I said yes, because it is expected and to say no is weird apparently. So he wheels out the bracelets and chains he has made for various tv companies who film in the area, and before I know it I am looking at jewellery for my fake wife! Then the selling began and I ended up giving him £5 for the coffee and chat before having to be quite rude to escape. My genuine Berber experience may have been as fake as my wife, but it was momentarily nice. 

That night I made Zagora, which in a different version of this story was the start point of some serious off road biking. Many bikers have photos taken with their bikes at a sign indicating ’52 days to Timbuctu’. I chose my hotel and decided the night’s entertainment would be to find the iconic sign, only to find the sign was attached to my hotel less than 20 foot away. The sign dates back to the camel train traders who travelled from Zagora to Timbuctu in order to trade spices for other goods and return to sell them on. I couldn’t get Dubless up the kerb to have a picture taken at the sign.

There was a great thunderstorm that night.

The next day, taking advice from my Berber friend the previous day, I headed for Mhamid the start of the desert as we would consider it, but not before having to send yet another tout off. I really didn’t want a fake, genuine Berber night in the desert. The road again was amazing and I saw my first camel, followed by many more. The desert with its rolling dunes doesn’t just start like a trip to the beach when you turn the corner and there’s the sea, the desert sand encroached inland, slowly tingeing the rock with the fine yellow colour and as the miles click by the sand takes over until you reach Mhamid. Through the dirty tiny village and then the road ends. This was it, over the crest and my journey would begin, well it would on the bike but in Dubless it may well end. I was feeling a bit elated that despite all that had happened I had made it to the actual desert. Seconds away and a 4×4 came round the corner, stopped almost blocking my way. Out jumped two guys dressed in, what I would consider Toureg clothing, brightly coloured djellaba, with head scarves that covered most of their faces. They came to either side of the car. In hurried speach they each explained it was to dangerous to venture further, my car wouldn’t cope, I would get lost, we are close to the Algerian border, this is a training ground for terrorists. In short I needed a guide and a 4×4. Guess what? They had both at a reasonable cost. I looked at them and their impressive knives, not wanting to upset them and I said very quietly “oh fuck off”! and then a little louder and in my best English ” Thank you so much but I’m English and we like a challenge”. I drove round the big black Mercedes and headed for the crest of the hill, watching in the mirror for them to come after me but they didn’t. Just more touts, or maybe they were being genuine. Finally I was in the sand, quite firm under the wheels it was a little like a car park at the beach. Then as I drove on it became more rutted and the sand scraped the bottom of Dubless, occasionally causing him to lose traction. Like a novice child in a swimming pool we were getting out of our depth. The last thing I wanted to do was walk back to Mhamid and seek out those guys to come tow me back. I turned Dubless round and on firmer ground stopped to take a picture. Within seconds there were three snarling dogs making for me. I jumped back in the car and with my little following of snappy dogs, made my way back. So after 17 days, some 10 days late and endless trials. The bike, the engine, the Rav4, the touts, the beggars, the officials, the fixers, had all frustrated my efforts but I had done it. I had driven less than 2 miles in the sands of a real desert. The photograph looks like it could have been taken on any beach in the UK!

The T shirt says “The only impossible journey is the one you never start”.

I was still a long way north of my intended destination but I was running out of time, so I decided to drive across the desert highway.

Marrakech

We rocked up to Marrakech mid afternoon and booked into a campsite. It was a lovely site with hot showers and a pool. The guy who runs the place taught us some Arabic for thanks and no thanks, before booking us a taxi to go to the ancient medina market. The journey had taken longer than we thought because we detoured to see the Cascades Ouzed or waterfalls. The road to get there was incredible, which is good because we never did find Morocco’s most famous waterfalls. 

Our taxi dropped us at the marketplace and because we couldn’t get my phone to connect to his for the return trip he gave us his spare phone with the number ready to dial as soon as we were ready. In essence that sums up the hospitality we had seen throughout Morocco so far. I’ll deal with beggars and touts later.

The market was an explosion of colours, smells and sights. All set within the ancient city walls. I wasn’t keen on snake charmers and would have been happier if the pesky little killers had been in baskets like you see in the movies, but oh no, let’s just leave 8 or 10 venomous snakes on the pavement and occasionally glance at them to check they are still there. We decided to look closer a bit later as neither of us were keen on the slithering dealers of death. We walked endless corridors of sales stalls, the wood carvings, clothing, spices and all manner of traders made for a great evening. We found a resteraunt and ordered a beer free meal. We were on the third floor overlooking the stalls. It was getting dark so we headed to find the snake charmers, hoping the little buggers would have had their tea. However it appears snakes like an early night and we couldn’t find any, either that or they had done a slither off whilst unattended. A quick call on the borrowed phone and our lift arrived.

Did I  mention the campsite was rock hard and I couldnt get the tent pegs in? I slept in the car again. In the morning there was a new arrival, a guy with a busted Land Rover. I didnt get to know him other than to hear his story and assertain that I couldn’t help with his blown intercooler hose. I told him my story, “Honda XR400, they’re bullet proof” he said. That’s it I’m off. I thanked Ian for his company over the past 5 days and set off. 

It’s a road trip

I think I can condense the last two days into one brief post. Sunday I was stuck in Chefchaeoun. I walked down to the new medina and was very happy to see a huge market and festival atmosphere. The only thing to cause me concern was my own stupid concerns about personal safety. I need not have worried. Everyone was in a good mood and always willing to chat, even if I couldn’t understand a word. The market was packed with stalls selling, mostly cheap toys and for some reason peanut brittle. At least 70 percent of the stalls were selling it, it was a wasp fest. There were three or four air gun stalls where you tried to hit sticks of chalk with tiny pellets. The stalls were so small that some pellets struck the metal frame and ricochet into the crowd, it was hilarious to watch the indiscriminate shooting of relatives and shoppers, by young children. After that I went to the small gardens in town where a guy had an ostrich for some reason. I just added it to my growing list of animals seen so far, I know it’s a bird but you know what I mean.

Later in the day I returned to camp where Ian and I drank most of his coffee and made plans to move on the next day. We would travel together to Marakech

In the morning, unrefreshed from another night on the collapsed bed, we met up and went in search of insurance. It was really easy to get one month cover and even easier if the car is in your name. Both now covered for, well probably the only thing it covered was passing through Police checkpoints, we hopped in a Bedford Rascal taxi back up to the camp. We both wondered if the little van would make it up the steep hill with three on board. It straddled mostly in first gear.

We set off towards Marakech as a  small VW convoy. We drove and drove. The day got hotter and hotter, in my mind we weren’t moving very fast at all. I did insist on stopping at a recognised beauty spot to get a picture of the mid atlas mountains. It was now so hot I couldn’t put my arm out the window and my water bottle was hot enough to make coffee. The scenery was great with mostly barron red soil in the open areas. A martian landscape and other areas were barron black rocks. No wonder film crews make their sci-fi movies here. It completely lends itself to Star Wars and The like.

The driving through towns was scary with mopeds, taxis, busses and pretty much every road user out to get you. I was sure Dubless was going to get battle scars. Its like playing Grang Theft Auto but never go above 50mph in the smallest car you can get and set to the hardest level, then play for 9 hours. Do all that sat in your mums fan oven and that was our day. When night came it just got worse. I was petrified as I led the way through mountain roads and villages, all unlit. The varying surface conditions and massive drops allied to dodging mopeds, with and without lights, bicycles, no lights, pedestrians in dark clothing on unlit roads and obviously all manner of livestock and donkeys. We were heading for a campsite which we never found. Convinced that carrying on would result in an accident we stopped in Kasbah Tadla. Ian saved the day by asking a local where we might find a hotel. The guy went off and came back in his car telling us to follow him. It was easy to tell the area we ended up in wasn’t the plush end of town but £15 each got us a room. The Hotel Atlas was actually really nice, despite a mattress formed from concrete. After a street vendor chicken wrap I was ready for bed.

Campsite extremes

So having made it to Martil I followed the signs for the campsite. The roads to Martil were lovely and smooth with only two Police checkpoints along the way. I must get insurance I remembered. My fixer had suggested Martil as a closer stopping point than Tatouan. He said the campsite was fine and they have a beach. They certainly do have a beach, not quite golden sands but certainly very picturesque, the street is wide and lined by cafes and resteraunts. I turned right towards the campsite and instantly into an area that looked a cross between a derelict housing estate and a building site. I wasn’t sure. I was less sure as I turned into the campsite. It looked like a gravel parking lot, but there were a few tatty old tents and a British registered VW campervan. I quickly used the loos which were clean. By the time I got back to my car the owner was there. He assured me it was safe to leave the car whilst I went to the beach as he has security. It would cost about £8. That was all fine and I went to town to locate a WiFi signal and resteraunt. I didn’t bother with the local dish as I’m pretty sure the further south I go the less the choices will be. So pizza, cake and a coffee capable of waking the dead, just what I needed before bed. I walked the seafront thoroughly enjoying the Friday night atmosphere of families enjoying a walk in the mild evening air. I wanted to get a SIM card as using my phone would be too expensive. There was nowhere but it was a great walk.

Back at the campsite it was dark and still warm, I wasnt really in the mood to put the tent up in the dark on the gravel flooring. So I reclined the car seat and climbed in. I must have been tired as the next time I woke it was to the unmistakable sound of the Imam calling morning prayer. It was 6am and far to early for me to pray but I did say a thankyou for getting me this far. A morning coffee and post the last blog before I was ready to set sail again. The owner of the campsite asked if I had a tent. I do but I didn’t use it. He dropped the price to £5. 

I checked the car over before setting off for Tetouan and then the road to Chefchaouen. I got slightly lost and ended up going through Tetouan. Each set of lights or give way sign there was a different beggar pleading for cash. I actually didn’t have any, but it did mean having the central locking on and windows only slightly open. Eventually clear of the town I started to head up into the mountains, the little car with less horse power than one actual horse didn’t get into fourth much, let alone fifth, but was being very good on hay consumption. I followed lorries that bellowed smoke like you wouldn’t believe and cars alike. All overloaded for the steep roads. I did wonder where Morocco stands on global warming and if they have a congestion charge? Every car without fault has some form of accident damage. I was getting very precious about Dubless. In town you needed eyes everywhere to not collide with cars and people alike, now on the hills they didnt care where they went for overtakes. Hauling past lorries, busses and anything else that was in their way and at any location. “Oh I’m heading towards a blind hairpin on a mountains edge, now would be a great time to overtake this VW and three busses”!  At Zinat I stopped by fruit at a stall, I picked up two apples. When I got back to the car I was swamped by children with all manner of goods to sell, none of it, any use to me or even slightly desirable. I made it clear as I pushed my way back to the car that I wouldnt be buying today. Once in the drivers seat one little chap had wedged himself so the door wouldn’t close, hands out begging. I had to push him away. I still didn’t have spare money. As I drove off I was left wondering what right do I have to push these people away, but I can’t give to them all and there isn’t a system to choose who get hangouts and who don’t. I may have no money but look what I do have. If their bike broke down they couldn’t just summons up a new car to carry on the journey. It was a thoroughly difficult situation and I didn’t like it. I had read a book ‘There are no fat people in Morocco’ by Lawrence Bransby and he had a similar issue. I recommend his book, if you are planning a trip here, its far better than my ramblings (Plus he actually did it on a bike). On that subject it is quite true that in a car you see the picture but on a bike you live it. I dearly wanted to be on a bike far more than I thought. Two days ago I just wanted to be in Africa. 

1. If your coach overheads drive with the engine cover open!

Soon enough I climbed the steepest hill yet to Chefchaouen. The campsite was at the very top of the road. I pulled in and met the owner who promptly showed me round and gave me directions to the old town. The campsite Azlam was very nice and appeared packed with overland vehicles, motorhomes and of course adventure bikes. The town of  Chefchaouen was one place I had on my list of must visits. I know little about it other than nearly all the buildings in the old medina are painted blue. I decided to walk down. The steps down were a short walk away and no sooner than I left the campsite I was approached by a guy wanting to show me round for just a few Dirham. I didn’t need a guide and telling me his family worked the campsite didn’t help, nor did trying to get me to walk the wrong way. Having offloaded him I walked down the steps, it was a long way and I ached. The town is built on the side of a mountain and everywhere you go is by steps or stairs. I had a coffee and accompanying Orange juice as I wrote the days blog. Then climbed the strength sapping hill back to base camp. I spoke to the owner and told him I had not managed to get insurance yet. He informed me that I must get it before moving on, as the road check, on the spot fines were very big. It had been a pure oversight and now it was going to cost me more time because it was already late on Saturday and the commercial district did not open on Sunday. I was staying until Monday. There are worse places to be stuck for sure.

I strolled back to my car and noticed that the VW camper I had shared the site with the previous night was also here. I introduced myself to Ian. He was travelling alone to Marrakech where he was going to meet his daughter for a holiday together. I relayed my plight and we sat together drinking his coffee.He had spoken to two Harley Davidson riders whonhad told him they met me at Hostel Rio Grande. Ian has a Harley of his own and is a knowledgable chap with many contacts. I told him about the insurance thing and suddenly he was in the same predicament. He had not got cover for here either. Ian is a very nice guy, also just trying out his first prolonged trip abroad in his motorhome. He was thoroughly enjoying it. We spoke about where to go next and he suggested he would travel to Ketama I pointed out that the area was the biggest cannabis growing area in the world and it was not unknown for unaware travellers to be robbed. I believe it is very rare but knowing the luck I was having……..  So back in the 1950’s there was a revolt in the Rif mountain area and as a result of that the government withdrew all aid to the area. Cannabis was once grown across Morocco but due to international pressure the rest of Morocco has stopped, but Ketama remains very poor due to the sanctions and they produce what they can, which is a lot. Obviously the actual farmers dont make so much money and the area remains poor, so incidents of the uninitiated traveller being pulled over and having their valuables removed is known. Anyway for all you pot heads, the regeon is in the Rif mountains and that’s where the term ‘Riffa’ comes from. 

I got back to my tent and climbed in fairly tired from mountaineering. As I laid down the bed collapsed. I got up reconstructed it but the plastic retainers couldn’t cope with my weight on the very slight slope. I plugged in my iPod turned the volume up and fell asleep with aluminium poles digging into my side. 

Me, Shep and Dubless hit the road

I should have slept well that night as the week-long delay was over and I could now get on with a holiday, even if it needed to be ammended. I couldn’t sleep, I now had a whole new set of issues to deal with. Insure the car, tax the car and even though I had the old V5 log book there were no papers to actually say the car was mine. Frank had completed the V5 transaction online and printed out the e-mail confirmation of transfer so that was handy. I had read that Moroccan officials were very particular about the vehicle documents being in order. That’s right people ‘Morrocan officials’, me, Shep and Dubless were going to Africa. Well we were certainly going to give it a good try. On the way back the previous night I had stopped to enquire about ferry prices at one of the many booths along the way selling ‘cheap’ tickets’. It was going to cost about £250 return with Dubless. There was no point in buying at that time as Dubless had been mine for only ten miles and I didn’t want to commit. Plus a friend, Mark, had written that he had purchased his ticket at the ferry port with ease. It was now getting light so I went to check that Dubless has managed to spend the night without wetting himself, the ground was dry, all four tyres were still holding air and all his fluids looked good. The engine started as it should and ticked over quietly. I checked the spare, its always a good sign when the spare is good and the original tool kit is in pristene condition. Ok that’s it book a ferry, tell the landlord you are moving out and beg him to look after you bike for a while. It was all good and DJ was going to stay under cover out of sight. It was time to pack, I put all the things I wanted to take on one bed and all the things I could leave behind on the other. When it was all laid out I wondered how DJ had ever pulled such a huge amount of stuff with me plonked on top as well

Their is an old add age about adventure bike travel it says lay out everything you want to take and put your money with it, now halve the stuff to take and double the money. That was certainly coming true on this trip.

I searched for ferry tickets and ‘aferry.com’ came up trumps with a two way ticket for just £152. Things were looking up. I was packed and ready to go, I needed air in the tyres and some fuel, although I had repeatedly drained fuel from DJ into a small bottle and transferred the 20L into the car. Well the bike wasn’t going to need it anytime soon. I set off down the slope from Rio Grande Hostal and out onto the road, with heightened senses I listened for any knock, rumble of clunk. There were none. I stopped to fuel up, they had no air for the tyres. To the ferry port without issue, this is going well I thought. At 4.30pm I boarded the ferry but not before having to show the ticket lady that I wasn’t actually carrying a dog. On the ferry I carried Shep upside down to the boot and closed it down. I didn’t want anyone thinking I’d left a dog in the car, so they could smash windows to stop the poor thing overheating. It was a high speed ferry and as such you couldn’t go outside, which was a blessing because it got very rough. Just past the end of Gibralter you could indeed see the mountains of Africa and within an hour we docked. As I drove off I was flagged down to be one of three cars searched by customs. The two cars in front, both with roofracks were full with plastic bags containing all sorts of merchandise presumably for resale in Morocco. In due course I was called forward, female officers checked all my tech in the front and opened the boot with a yelp as she discovered Shep. I had to make him roll over to prove he was a fake pet. Honestly this isn’t the fun idear I had originally thought it would be.

But finally, a week late, in a different vehicle, with a lot less money in my pocket and a totally different adventure to the one I had expected I rolled out of port and into Africa. Only it wasn’t! The port of Cueta is on the African mainland but is in fact still Spanish. Official Africa was 3 miles away and through immigration control.

The roads were much like those in Spain and the signs easy to follow. Now if you think customs at Heathrow is a palace, try Cueta. The queue was short but slow moving and there were fixers everywhere. Fixers are people who will aid you through the process for a few pounds. I had wanted to get by without one but shortly a skinny, tardy looking guy turned up at the window with papers in his hand. “I get you through, no cost”. I showed him that I had papers and I would be ok. He was rather persistent, to which an older shorter man came over and berated the youngster sending him away. This chap was calm and collected and he showed me his ID card. “I work here to help visitors” he said “Not like these others”. He said he would assist me through customs and passport control as it was my first visit. We chatted as the queue moved forward. He was Berber by birth and had moved here to work. Then he said “Do you think the ID helps?” At that point it dawned on me he was just another fixer with an ID which could have told me he was an animal welfare officer for all I knew. Lets hope he’s not Ive got an upside down dog in the boot. At passport control he handed my papers to the guy who stamped it and returned it. I then had to park the car and go to a Police office to get a visitor number, which involved filling in another form away from the office and returning. Then the car documents needed to be checked at another window. They were not ok. In anticipation of this I had contacted Frank from the ferry saying he needed to send me a note saying he had sold me the car and it was legally mine. However here at passport control there is no signal and I have no clue if the paperwork has arrived or if it would even help. I’m going to have to blag it. Between me and my helper I convinced the man in the booth the car was mine. I then had to chase after a senior officer to get his authority to enter, literally chase him round as he tried to ignore me. The fixer doing his best to get me through as well. Once that was stamped it was back to the booth where all my documents were input on a computer, even the chassis and engine number. Then Inhad to get two more stamps from two more fleeing officers and go back to the booth to be allowed in. My fixer had been great and probably worked harder for that entry than he anticipated. He then offered to take me on a week’s guided tour, seeing all the great places in Morocco. Well that’s every kind mate but I’m on an adventure on my own and you stink, get a bath and here’s £10 for getting me through. His reply “twenty would be better”. Our business concluded it was time to actually enter Africa.

  1. The beach at Milta, Africa
  2. There’s 20L in that tank I’m not leaving it
  3. Coffee to keep you awake forever
  4. These 130 pieces of paper contain all my details for the many police checkpoints, however they also say I’m on a motorbike!!!
  5. Shep loves the car
  6. Too much kit
  7. Last night’s campsite.

And how long will that take?

I had a lay in, nothing to do, no tech to slave over. It was going to be a good day. Showered and spruced up it was getting to mid morning and the clouds were lifting, I’m going out, I’m just going to go and see what I can find to look at. Then the phone rang, yeah I kid you not, an actual phone call. “Hello?”  “Hi I’m Frank, you want to see the Rav4”. “Yes I really want to see the Rav4”. “And I would love to show you it today, but the clutch has gone, I mean I can get it fixed if you want to wait”. Frank must have heard the slap as my forehead struck my palm “And how long will that take?”. However all was not lost as Frank had another UK car. A Volkswagen Polo, for around the same money. If I could get to Sabillinas today I could view it a full 24hrs earlier than expected. “I’m on my way Frank”.

I knew Sabillinas was towards Estapona, but where the hell do I get the bus? Easy I will bus into Algeciras and then bus to Estapona. All very easy. I was sat on the bus to Algeciras when Frank called again to ask how I was getting to him. He laughed when I told him, “You are going the wrong way”. He went on to say that he could have picked me up. Anyway he would pick me up from Estapona. At Algeciras I boarded a bus that travelled right back past my hotel and on to La Linea and then onto Estapona. I dived into McDonalds as I had not eaten that day and shortly after Frank turned up. Frank is Dutch by birth and had spent 20years in America buying, selling and exporting classic cars. Anyone who knows me will know my inherent distrust of car dealers. But Frank was a nice guy and he drove better than any Spaniard. He told me how he had decided to come back from the States and set up in Spain because the weather is so much better than The Netherlands. He wanted to start refurbishing houses but it was 2007 and the property market had collapsed. He tried a few times but money was eaten up and not much was made. He had to start making money again and for the time being at least he deals in a few cars. He lives in a gated community, bloody car dealers! But in fairness it was a nice place and so far no hard sell. Alejandro turned up and was pleased to finally meet me. We all had a good long chat. had another day to waste before I may or may not hear from Alejandro’s partner.

The car did look quite good, despite no badge on the front and a dent in the rear offside door. I crawled all over it and had a test drive. I couldn’t really fault it. Let’s face it the car has 60,000 miles with one owner from new and an MOT until next July, it should be ok its a VW or ‘dub’ to those in the know and they are bullet proof, just what people say about the XR400!. So there I was stood at the side of the road contemplating the various options. I could spend the £450 and get the bike recovered, buy a mechanically sound mountain bike and go to Morocco fairly cheap, or I could buy the car and go home with the bike in the back stripped down, sell the car once home and I’ve hopefully not lost too much money. At this point my phone bleeped and it was my sister saying she had a quote to pick up the bike and deliver it home this week for just £400. It’s an omen! So I bought the car.

As we climbed the hill out of Sabillinas I was trying to think of a name for the car with no badge. Then it struck me ‘Dubless Badger’ and just like its name sake, World War 2 veteran flying ace Douglas Badar, this little car with its 1.2 eco friendly, planet saving 3 cylinder engine, also had absolutely no legs! As my dad used to say “It couldn’t pull the skin off a rice pudding”. But if it had even a hint of the determination shown by all troops in service around the world, it would get us home safe, and why not its German!

Back at the hotel I took another look round it. Even the spare tyre was good with the original tool kit. The engine was still dry and the oil still on the dip stick. The water levels and fluids all seemed ok. I could relax, tomorrow would be a new stress free day. 

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