CHAPTER 3 – INTO AND AROUND MOROCCO

 

May 6th

 

KM START = 12,204 (Trip = 1,834 )

KM END = 12,408 (Trip = 2,038)

 

Route:  Valencia > Denia > Xabia > Benidorm (eek)

 

Breakfast with Federico, Estrella and the kids, a few photos and we are off down the coast. On the road and it feels like the first day of holiday riding – sun on our backs and amazing views of the coastline from twisting coastal roads.

 

Road from Denia to Calpe is fantastic. No desire to head to the big smoke of Alicante so we decide to crash the night in Benidorm – the logic being there would be plenty of cheap beds and none of the hassle of a big city.

 

My God! Where to start with this place, and what to write what has probably already been slandered so fully. I am sure one of the devils trick questions is whether you would like to spend eternity in a Mediterraneran country, on the coast all day in the sunshine. What he neglects to tell you is that place is Benidorm, whereby you wish you had chosen eternal damnation in the roasting fires of Hell – Option B.

 

The unbridled passion for concrete is beyond that of Stalinist Russia. Hopes of dinner were dashed when our roast chicken and vegetable dinner led the CSI Benidorm team to conclude that the chicken may have indeed been roasted in a previous incarnation, but the lab results came back negative with no traces of vegetable matter apparent on the plate.

 

A bus ride home with a group of purple rinse English bingo tourists, followed by a stroll along the chic ocean boulevarde home, where another middle aged expat sat with her Murph and the Magic Tones synthesiser and proceeded to destroy all your favourite songs from the 1850s and 60s. Pierpaolo is under strict instruction that at any point, should I ever call this entertainment, he is to take me out into the back paddock and shoot me.

 

 

May 7th

 

KM START = 12,408 (Trip = 2,038 )

KM END = 12,809 (Trip = 2,439)

 

Route:  Benidorm > Alicante > Vera > Almeria > Nador (Morocco)

 

Wake up feeling great, then realise we are in Benidorm so elation quickly subsides. plastic breakfast, some photos to remember this abomination by and peel out early en route to Alicante in search of an Algerian Visa.

 

Pierpaolo and I joke about the time here in Benidorm, and think it as a wonderful remedy for anyone thinking of early retirement. If ever there was an incentive to stay working you just need to take a look at that place. The potential to be used as a base for corporate team building exercises is also discussed, as in this light work seems like a fantastic option.

 

How did this place come about? One theory is that it was all a big competition to find the most inappropriate building structures for a coastal town, but instead of submitting scale models for consideration, you could actually submit your entry in life size. The competition organisers were swamped with over 600 applicants, with the whole thing being sponsored by the Spanish concrete industry and UK Pension Funds. Its a little bit out there, but there is some currency in the general idea.

 

At Alicante port we are given no news on visas, but advised to head to the consulate in town. Its a public holiday in Algeria, and embassies are of course slave to anything that allows them to reduce the amount of those hectic 10.00 – 13:00 working days, but we are told that if you bang on the door loud enough, someone will come.

 

Sure enough, loud banging yields helpful people and we are advised that a 7 day transit visa is no problem…just dont mention the South in your travel plans. One can only imagine what goes on in that corner of the country, but we stay safe and talk of our long held desire to trace the majestic Algerian coastline. Only problem being that the visa takes 2 working days to process. So this will have to wait for another day.

 

Ideas of  heading to Gibraltar via the Alhambra of Granada seem to head off the rails…seeing all of the port signs in Arabic has aroused in us a need to get to Morocco ASAP. Plans are quickly changed and by lunch, we are heading to Almeria for a night ferry to Nador.

 

Almeria has a nice friendly port town feel to it, and already the Arabic influnce is present in the signs and the shopkeepers. Our 11PM ferry is delayed – Pierpaolo looks at the inside and says its quite evident why! One of the vehicle loading ramps has collapsed and is dangling waywards like a piece of deranged metal spaghetti. Thanks that our bikes werent going up it or beneath it at the time. But a Motley collection of 12 smoking captains, 17 handwaving locals, 23 disinterested bystanders and 1 forklift truck manage to make amends and by 2AM we are on the seas heading to Africa at last.

 

May 8th

 

KM START = 12,809 (Trip = 2,439 )

KM END = 13,220 (Trip =2,850 )

 

Route:  Nador > Driouch > Kassita > Al Hociema > Ketama  > Chefchaouen

 

Wake up in Africa! What a great feeling. Going through customs and immigration at 6AM – the usual sort of hustle and hassle you would expect at any such place, but even the hustlers turn out to be helpful and gladly point us in the right direction without demanding any baksheesh.

 

Official customs and immigration police could not be more helpful, and within an hour we have our visas, Feu Verts (vehicle Green Card) and are on the road. Hooray for Moroccan tourism – we love you!

 

Initially the route to Chefchaouen was thought to be just a dull transit to escape the Spanish motorway option, but within a few kilometres our assumptions are blown out of the water. The roads are amazing, with perfect tarmac, camber and scenery. Kids waving whenever you pass by and scenery that is like a rolling collection of great landscape paintings.

 

The diversity of our 400km in the saddle is mind boggling. Some parts remind me of the Australian scrub, fields of Irish green, other bits like the mountain forests of Northen California. The smell of a cut eucalyptus further confuses the senses, and its hard to imagine that you are actually in Africa. But the towns are a reminder – wide streets that are like rifle barrels, shooting off into nowhere. All filled with hawkers, merchants, donkeys and belching diesel trucks. Its chaos, but its a privilege to be part of it all.

 

Amid all of this, the thought of doing Africa from North to South springs to mind… we both can start to understand Tonis obsession with African overland travel.

 

By the end of the day and I can confidently say that I have had the best days riding in my life. A great decision to come here earlier than planned. We have also had cheese (sort of -  Le vache qui rire) sandwiches for 3 meals straight and we hanker for some real food. We arrive in Chefchaouen, a wonderful medina town on the edge of the Rif Mountains. The walls of the town are all painted blue and its a perfect place to chillo ut for a while, refuel our bellies and enjoy the feeling of being in another continent.

 

May 9th

 

REST DAY – Chefcahouen

 

A chance to relax and stay in one place for a full day. Ambitions stretch as far as going for a walk, taking a hammam, and washing our clothes so that they are no longer biohazard material.

 

First one is the hammam. 50 metres from our hotel with no hot water, we venture down and subject ourself to washing the Arabic way. First thing is to leave any preconcepetions about African hygiene you may harbour at the hotel, along with any inhibitions! In towns where few people have running hot water, this is the only place to wash themselves.

 

Basically it involves going to the local bathhouse (8-12 for men, 12 – 8PM for women) and paying someone to beat the living crap out of you for 20 minutes. All in your jocks. Admittedly its not a very good advertisement for this personal hygiene routine, but it captures the essence of it all.

 

We undress in the hall to our jocks, don some communal flip flops, then go into a shower area with a tiled bench. The masseur runs a trough of hot water and gives you a bucket which you can douse yourself with liberally. Then the fun starts.

 

I am instructed to lie down on the floor face down, whereupon the massueses arms and hands start tearing and thumping at my body. Strangely enough I am enjoying it (please no Brighton jokes!), with the masseuse expertly contorting me to positions best reserved for Christmas turkeys.

 

Then I become one with a piece of restored furniture, as the massuese takes to every square inch of my body with what feels like 40 grade sandpaper. So this is what a deep clean feels like! I feel about 3 millimetres thinner all over by the time he’s finished, and then its my chance to sit back and laugh as he repeats the routine to Pierpaolo.

 

We leave the hammam feeling fantastic, and decide that hotels with no hot water is not going to be a problem for the rest of the trip. Some delightful breakfast, served of course with lashings of heavenly mint tea, and its time for a hike into the mountains.

 

A rough idea of heading to a village up in the hills seems a good idea, but finding our way to the correct path is harder than imagined. A local chappie advises us to follow him, so somewhat stupidly we agree. What proceeds is a hike up the steepest goat track you can imagine, with scree and rocks falling as we climb higher and higher.

 

En route, our guide meets up with a friend of his who is driving a flock of 40 goats up the same track. We take a break and a few photos with the goats, and they smoke what would be one of many kif (marijuana) pipes together. Bill Clinton would have been proud, as neither of us inhaled :o)

 

To cut a long story short, we are shown a very beautiful part of the Valley which would have been inaccesible had we not bumped into our guide. Wonderful rock formations, fields of kif in cultivation and contact with the local farmers and shepherds that would not have taken place if we were by ourselves. But in true Moroccan style, there was payment expected at the end, for which we somewhat begrudgingly gave the guy 250 dinar (25 Euro), a fortune considering the average local wage is about 60 dinar per day. Lesson number 1 in Morocco is that nothing is for free, and negotiate before you set off. But there were no bad feelings, just a raised level of awareness.

 

Back down to town with aching legs, with a shave and a haircut in the Moroccan stylee (cut throat and naff in that order!). After that its off to dinner overlooking the Kasbah in town. An amazing day, for which we say our thanks into our pillows as we drift off to a heavy nights sleep.

 

Tomorrow will be time to head south to the ancient city of Fez, and towards the Saharan sands of Erg Chebbi.