Into Casablanca Adele, Tom and I rolled our coach arriving unusually early. For Moroccan standards this was impressive, considering all the other coach routes I had used in Morocco had arrived to every final destination late. Packs on, Adele’s arms loaded up colourful carpets and scarves, we made our way to the YHA just behind the port of Casablanca. The quieter streets and non existent touts was a pleasant change from the last week of incessant hounding back in Marrakech and Chefchaouen. Dropping our bags in our shared room, noting the used tissues on the floor and the dust/dirt that lined the edges of our shabby room, we quickly bolted out to the warm streets of Casablanca to hunt down some lunch. Shovelling down a pizza and panache, accompanied by a fresh jam doughnut, sleep beckoned and seduced me into a long afternoon nap on my higgledy-piggledy bed, shoved into the corner of our modest room.
Morning came bright and early as Tom hammered on the hostel door, impatiently attemping to open the locked door from the inside. Catching an early flight, I could understand his frustration. Giving the door a rough tug and a kick, I managed to be about as effective as a broken dishwasher. Knocking loudly on the managers door, who slowly arose, wiping sand out of his eyes and sleepily mumbled away, asking what the problem was. Poor old Tom was glowering at this point, and after snappily getting his point across, the door was opened and my English friend was on his way to Greece. Not long after, Adele and I spread our sleepy wings, Adele to Europe and I to a hotel on the outskirts of Casablanca for a few days of rest and relaxation, before I was set to go on my motorcycle adventure for two months through Morocco.
Greg from Wheels of Morocco picked me up in the morning, to help me kit up and organise all my gear for the two month long motorcycle trip. Decathlon was our first stop, where I managed to pick up a tent, air mattress, camelbak, towel and spare flashlights. Taking me to lunch with the crew – Dani from KTM, Kacim from Husqvarna, Soufiane from BMW and Nick who was touring Morocco, we supped on specialty fish tagine and salads, washed down by cold Coca-Cola. Making heads for Kacim’s Husqvarna shop, Kacim helped me kit out my riding boots, helmet and gloves for the road, before I headed to Dani’s KTM garage to have a stickybeak inside. With Greg sorting me out for knee guards and upper body armour, I was fully decked out and ready to go.
The team from Wheels of Morocco couldn’t have been more accommodating for my needs, from organising all the extra parts I needed for the BMW GS700 (being a brand new motorcycle, the boxes and crash bars were yet to be fitted) and getting them fitted smoothly and in a timely fashion. Motorcycles aside for a paragraph, Greg and Viki were the ultimate hosts over my two nights in Casablanca. Putting me up, they fed me like a king from waffles to a mouth watering beef hungarian Goulash. Viki’s boss in the kitchen, she’d be able to create a storm with wooden spoon and a box of air. Legendary in the least. Not to mention I had a huge comfortable bed all to myself, in a lovely house, on the beach just outside Casablanca, and an awesome German Shepherd who wanted to chew on my arm and ankles. What more could a man seeking serenity and calm before the oncoming storm ask for?
Loaded up and ready to go, the new BMW GS700 with 0km’s on the clock sat shining brightly in the sunlight on my overly accommodating host’s driveway the following morning. How that was going to change in the next few months of travel (if you’re reading this Greg, we’re both on the same page)… Sitting on our bikes, Greg and I kicked over our engines and roared off into the heart of Casablanca city, for a final fitting of boxes and to meet Nick in town to ride south together for a day. Being couscous Friday, you can guess what we ate for lunch right? Stomachs full, and rearing to go, I thanked Greg for all his great help and assistance in supplying the right set of wheels for me to ride, (well that and trusting me with a brand new set of wheels too) and off I went.
Slowly Nick and I made our way into the traffic of Casablanca. Riding on the right side of the road is a new experience for me, as well enduring the very, very, very, very, veeeeerrrry, loose rules of Moroccan roads. No one wants to stay in one lane. Moroccans are more then adept at driving across two lanes, scooters zipping by precariously, lane splitting the tiny gaps left by continuously beeping cars. Taxis were my nemesis for the first afternoon of riding out of Casablanca – half of them don’t seem to have brake lights that work, and immediate and hard braking occurs when you least expect. I quickly learnt not to plod along behind them. Oh and intersections… i’ve never seen anything like it in my entire life, cars literally line up to get to the other side of the intersection in the middle of the road, blocking entire lanes and yeap, hitting their horns like it’s Bomfunk MC’s time to shine.
With my heart beating a just a little quicker then normal after a few close encounters, I was wondering if I was going to make it through this birth of fire. As we got closer to the exit, truck and coach traffic began to get heavier, so mixing that with the already frantic habits of Moroccan drivers, and the fact I hadn’t spent longer then a half hour riding on Moroccan roads, especially at peak hour made it slightly nerve wracking for someone who hadn’t done any riding in the last 5 months. Before I knew it we had hit the national road and we were cruising at 130km/h into the night and onto Ounagha.
So, I’d been warned about riding on Moroccan national roads at night by friends who avoided these roads at all costs after dark. This was reinforced that night by the animal signs sprouting out of the ground every ten kilometres, roadwork signage appearing at the worst possible moments, asphalt switching to gravel without warning, potholes, wild dogs running across the road, cars with no visible lights… After almost colliding with an incoherent dog, I promised myself that I would never again attempt the national roads of Morocco at night. Nick and I spent 3 hrs navigating the national roads to Ounagha in the dark, me leading due to having a visored helmet and a much better highbeam on the GS. Riding through gravel slips, winding road dissappearing into the darkness and the constant worry of animals leaping onto the road any moment had me a little stressed out.
Finally at 11pm, we found Mohammed in the tiny farm village of Ounagha, jumping up and down like an excited child, and we followed him into his farmland, spinning our tyres through thick, heavy, mud logged trails to park inside and rest our weary bottoms. Welcoming us into the comfortable farm house, Mohammed brought out a huge tagine pot, full to the brim of soft, rich farm beef, tomato and olives, topped by a gigantic amount of fresh fries. We tore off hunks of bread and used them as our eating utensils, tucking in with the battle fervour of crusaders, wiping up the rich sauce and soft meat into our bread spoons like seasoned veterans. Without doubt, one of the best tagines to date. Woken up in the morning by Nick’s ominous snores, Mohammed didn’t waste time in dishing out a massive breakfast of black olives, msimn, baguettes, traditional round bread, fresh butter, honey, olive oil, cheese and a mix of jams. Virtually everything was homegrown or homemade, and was rich on my tastebuds. Finishing off with a few glasses of mint tea, I craved a walk to wake up and get my body processing all the delicious food I’d been gorging on.
Hills of Ounagha
Ali, Mohammed’s neighbour gave Nick and I a tour of the low argan hills of Ounagha, around thirty kilometres outside Essaouira. Argan and Olive trees were spread about the low rolling hills as we tracked around on rocky orange trails past old wells, turkeys, Barking dogs and sheep. Flowers coloured the soft green fields of the farmlands around Ounagha in purples, yellow and reds, which were fussed over by the buzzing, pollinating bees. Long, ripe green fava beans hung off the small limbs of the plants, making the limbs droop low into the grass. Snapping open the bean skins, we ate the beans fresh, the sweetness quite addictive, so we roamed through the field like cheeky children on a treasure hunt, demolishing every fava bean stalk in our path. Picking fresh lavender out of the fields, I breathed in the smell of the alluring scent, the fresh air and some sheep poo. It was another peaceful day in Morocco.
It’s always been a struggle to leave any Moroccan host before lunch, because they absolutely insist that you eat again, and again, like fattening a lamb before the roast. An oversized Couscous was on the menu this time, served with chicken and a neat, but huge, army of vegetables encircling the hot couscous. Surely this was much too big for four men to eat. Huge green chillies lay on top, and braving the heat I took a huge bite… before quickly trying to quench the burn with a glass of goat yoghurt in front of the laughing audience of Mohammed, Ali and Nick. Mouth still faintly burning, I finally dragged my pot belly out of the comfortable cool lounge into the heat, to my beloved GS700, farewelling both my hosts and Nick with a hug and a handshake, and jumped into the warm cockpit for the ride to Marrakech. Forgetting to switch off the ABS on the way out almost proved to be my undoing in the thick red muck on the way out – I fishtailed left and right in a world of confusion before realising the ABS was still on. Whoops!
On route to Marrakech
The road to Marrakech was fairly uneventful as rides go, up until I crossed the nothingness of the span of flat rocky fields to the entry to Marrakech. Seeing the traffic in person is one thing, but driving in the ridiculous go kart race was another thing. I felt like I was Toad in Super Mario Kart. It was all a bit overwhelming at first, cars steering every which way (there is lanes to stick to, but Moroccans just plain disregard them), scooters squirting off into unknown alleyways, and everyone seemed to be tailgating the other. I got by, squeezing through the high density grand taxi zone, around women fighting with each other for taxi’s, vegetable stalls, street tobacconists and all kinds of knick-knacks into the kasbah, where I danced the Marrakech dance on my BMW through the bulging crowds. Passing butchers with large slabs of meat hanging above my head, people skirted out of the way of my comparative beast (well when you’re comparing it to the 70cc mopeds) and I found myself back inside the Dream Kasbah, bike and all just barely fitting through the doorway.
On route to Imlil, I took a diversionary road to Lake Takerkoust, about an hour from Marrakech. Time to test my horrible off road skills. Remembering the advice I received from another trail rider that ‘speed, in most cases, is your friend’. I twisted my wrist and zipped over the dusty trails into the off road section, through tiny villages sitting close to the waters edge, braking hard for sheep wanting to cross and goats who gave me quizzical looks before running away. I had a hair raising fee moments dodging what looked like 80 year old trucks, somehow rolling up and down the rocky, wet hills. I took the GS for a swim in some muddy slosh pits, as well as colouring my new boots in a new shade of rusty orange. Rear tire spinning, mud all over me, I had a blast just scooting on through the minefield of obstacles.
By the time I got out, I realised what I’d been missing, being a road rider my entire life. I loved the way the rear of the bike flicked when I hit the throttle a little too hard, or latched onto some thick mud patches. Forgetting the time, I realised it was getting onto 4pm, and I was already running a few hours late. The boys (Vik and Julian) were waiting for me in Imlil, a village in the middle of the atlas, at the foot of Mount Toubkal. I raced out of the last section and hit tarmac, quickly refuelling and jetting off to the mountain village, taking a few wrong turns on the way through. After speaking to a few confused bus drivers who couldn’t understand my Australian or my rubbish French, I tried again using my scribbled all over map. As I finally rolled into Imlil about 5 hours late (well, that’s my trademark), the relief clearly showed on the guys faces. It was time to climb Toubkal.