CHAPTER 4 – OVER THE HILLS AND FAR AWAY

 

 

May 10th

 

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

KM END = 13,480 (Trip =3,310 )

 

Route:  Chefchaouen > Ouazzane > Fes

 

OK no time for slacking, its off to Fes today, regarded by many as one of the finest example of a walled medina city in the world. Its a short 260km trip there, so we decide to make things a bit interesting by taking some of the squiggly white roads with big numbers on our Michelin map.

 

Second hammam of our visit, followed by a delightful breakfast in town, and its time to load up the bikes and navigate our way out of this hilltop town. Seemingly an easy task, but its market day, and the tiny streets are choked with locals selling their veges and donkeys carting them to and fro. In our bike gear, laden with our panniers we look like we have decended from another planet or perhaps separated from a German synthesiser quartet, but we make it down to the square where our bikes are parked and tell the nice chappy exactly which meter he can insert his 10 Euro Parking fee request into. You have to admire the bloke for trying though.

 

On the road and at the first gas station we meet up with an entourage of 17 bikes, mostly middle aged Brits on new reg Beemers on a guided tour of Morocco. Seems like this Ewan and Charlie thing has infected everyone these days, but they are a nice bunch of folks. Better they are here than Benidorm we reason.

 

Around the town of Ouzzache and we begin spying for our elusive backroad that will magically transport us, magic carpet style into the town of Fes. Ah yes, very sneaky stuff indeed... see the stuff that the others dont get to and perhaps come across the lost tribe of Nymphomaniac Berber women en route.

 

Anyone who has ever gone skiing with me will probably be laughing at this point. The usual upshot of me leading a group off piste usually results in a 2 hour hike out of a river bed muttering something like “Funny, because that path looked exactly the same as the really good one I was telling you about”.

 

Im not sure if it was when we reversed back down the one way goat track, or when a toothless lady pointed in the direction of a blank horizon when responding to our charades of where Fes el Bali was. But pretty early into our foray it became apparent that we were on a path not deemed incredibly important by the good people in the Michelin cartographic division. The first T juntion after that was posted only in Arabic. Go with your instinct.... turn right. Next T junction, not even an Arabic Squiggle to help us!

 

SO we just laughed, ploughed on for another 30 minutes on Hampshire like farm tracks, through olive plantations and herds of goats until we hit some beloved tarmac. Point the bikes West and after our 2 hour detour we find a sign to Fes and stick to it like varnish.

 

The scenery throughout this and all of the trip down to Fes has again been amazing. When God was taking orders for landscapes, I think Morocco opted for the buffet and got a little bit of everything on its plate. So far we have had mountains, forests, canyons, ocean cliffs and fertile farmlands all in less than 800 km.

 

Fes appears on the horizon and it looks mad even from a distance. Going in there and its a barrage of people and horns and hustling. The great thing about being on a bike is that you can twist the throttle and leave the annoyances behind – a far cry from the backpacking days, when touts clung to your backpack like barnacles until you scrape them off at the hotel of their choosing.

 

Park the bikes, check into our Pension and then its time to immerse ourselves in the famed medina. If you haven’t been there, think of the best bits of the Indiana Jones market scenes and stretch them all out to cover about 300 football fields. Completely bonkers. Surprise surprise we get hopelessly lost, but thats all part of the fun. For the odd dinar, some of the local kids will take you back to where you thought you were meant to be going. Pay as you go GPS, in retro style.

 

Dinner at the Bab Bou Jeloud gate. Delicious couscous and tagine again... after 2 weeks dare to say we will probably be cursing the stuff, but its great now and coupled with a goods night sleep even better.

 

May 10th

 

REST DAY FES

 

A day of learning today.

 

The word Fes actually comes from an ancient dialect of Touareg, and translates roughly as “The land of persistent carpet merchants”. To counter this, we have come up with an ingenious modus operandi to head all would be deal makers off at the pass.

 

Like any pre emptive defense strategy, the key element is to not let your would be captor / assailant get a toe hold in your territory. Usually the attacker will adopt the “Where you from, friend?” question approach. We were trying a variety of responses:

 

Victim: England thanks

Captor: Oh England! Lovely Jubbly ho ho... you come look at my carpet / jewellery / poorly crafted hash pipe? (Insert would be form of offloadable tat here)

 

Victim: Italy, Grazie

Captor: Oh Italy! Spaghetti, Ferrari ho ho... vuoi vedere mi...

 

Victim: Australia

Captor: Oh Australia! Kangaroo, Koala ho ho... you come look at my...

 

The answer to this conundrum was sublime in its simplicity:

 

Captor: Where you from, friend?

Victim: (in comic Eastern accent) Poland / Latvia / Estonia (insert name of unspeakable language of a nation with no identifiable icons)

 

At this point the would be victim walks free from his assailant, as there is absolutely nothing the captor can retort for a bizarre country he can’t speak the language of. I would encourage all of you to use this approach in foreign countries and in your monthly sales target review meetings.

 

By the afternoon we have out medinaed ourselves, so we write inane scribblings such as this on our web page, upload a few snaps to keep you all extremely jealous and grab dinner in the Ville Nouvelle.

 

Tomorrow is loosely planned. It’s a big haul on the bike to the Saharan sands of Erg Chebbi, and will require crossing the Atlas. We estimate it took Hannibal a bit more than a day, so no specific agenda but to head on south and see how far we get.

 

 

May 12th

 

KM START = 13,480 (Trip = 3,310 )

KM END = 13,992 (Trip =3,822 )

 

Route:  Fes > Sefrou > Boulemane > Midelt  > Ar-Rachida > Erfoud  > Erg Chebbi

 

The snow capped Atlas come into view today, but not before riding through pleasant old colonial gardened towns such as Sefrou. We stop for breakfast and reflect how it is that the French managed to pass on the art of making coffee so well to the natives, but seemingly left their own training manuals at the port of exit in Tangier 50 years ago.

 

What the French also passed on is how to build a decent bit of road. Parts of the ride today bare similarities to the Route Napoleon and that magic bit of black ribbon through the Gorges du Verdon. Not surprising, as it was probably the same Froggy engineers that built the roads in the colonies, or if not, their Moroccan counterparts... all of course trained in French schools of engineering. For this, I grant Les Bleus forgiveness for Foie Gras and even the musical crimes of Plastic Bertrand.

 

Stopping for one of many photo breaks that day (jaw dropping rifle barrel highway through the desert, pointed directly at the High Atlas) and 2 English lads come from up behind us, pullover and have a natter. As you tend to do in the middle of bloody nowhere. They are on a brand new Beemer 1200GS and a KTM Explorer, and have just ridden down from the North of England in 2 days! Just popping down to Morocco for a few days of sniffing about, prepping for the Paris Dakar next year. Lovely guys, but we can’t help thinking about the expression “Only mad dogs and Englishmen in the heat of the noonday sun”. Its 32 degrees. Probably told the wives they’re just popping out down to the shops for a loaf of bread, and might be able to scramble back in time before either of them notice.

 

The riding is good and we are chewing up the kilometres. The route chosen has by chance skirted around the High Atlas and just through the Middle Atlas. 100km/h, honest officer, but a long time in the saddle starts putting strain on legs, neck and back.

 

Now sitting on a bike for such a long period of time, and its hard for some kind of relationship not to forge. On a journey like this, a bike is many things – a provider; a companion, a saviour and often our reason just for being here. But today it becomes a mobile yoga studio, as we try a variety of positions on it to alleviate the various aches and pains that accumulate. My 2 favourite moves so far are “Rectal Tennis” and the old yoga stalwart, “The Dog”

 

Rectal Tennis came about due to the phenomenon of Numb Bum, well known by all distance bikers. Hours in the saddle, sitting on the same nerves and arteries...after a while the blood flow to your gluteus maximus, hereby referred to as “the ass”, becomes limited. What is needed is a rush of blood to this region, which I find is most conveniently achieved by dropping the sides of ones ass on the saddle from a height. What proceeds on the bike is a series of Left Cheek, Right Cheek rallies with the saddle performing the role of tennis ball. A good match can go on for about 40 seconds, so there is a need to explain to Pierpaolo, travelling behind me, exactly what I am trying to achieve.

 

Next there is “The Dog” which in classic static yoga form involves sitting down on your knees and stretching forward, head down with your hands stretching to the wall in front. Its superb for uncricking all the cricked bits in your back and neck, although in a concession to road safety I merely place my ass on the back seat and keep my head up when stretching out my back. Oncoming cars can alter your posture quite horrendously.

 

Over 400 kms notched up and we are surprised to have reached Erfoud, gateway to the middle of nowhere. Erg Chebbi is only 80 kilometres away, and already we can glipse sand dunes hovering in the heat hazed distance.

 

Getting closer to our target, and it feels like we are riding on the set of Mad Max (Road Warrior for you Seppos out there). Long barren stretches of highway into nothingness, with occasional signs scrawled on metal placards declaring a Hotel of some sort, or Essence Sans Plomb. One of these is for our Auberge, so we turn off the highway and onto the first of our desert pistes... 3km of gravel hardened sand that lead us to a collection of 30 mud huts bacing onto a genuine desert oasis. This is the stuff of dreams and movies, and as we sip our welcoming mint teas and stare off into the mountains of sand in front of us, we can’t believe the day we have had. From ancient medina, to garden cities; to barren lands; to mountains and now to the desert. Morocco continues to boggle our minds and dazzle our senses.