– Rest Day, Essaouira
Essaouira a decent
place to chill out for a bit, if it was not for this pan handler stalking us
through the medina for 2 days. Usually the guys asking for money in Morocco
genuinely need it… if you have a wretched leg, or are pushing one of your
family in a wheelchair who ain’t looking too rosy then by all means a couple
of dinars find their way into your tin. But this guy is unique! Fully able gent
with all senses functioning and well dressed to boot, but he has seen a few too
many B- Grade horror films and magically appears to the sound of screeching
violins around corners, eyes like a rabbit’s in headlights and hand
outstretched. He is agog to find we are not emptying our wallets into his cupped
palm so repeats the scene a few times through the day. Eventually we succumb
just to see if his facial expression changes – to our disappointment, not!
What is interesting
about this place is the number of “A VENDRE” signs on the buildings. And
there is no shortage of French queing up to buy up what is essentially pretty
ordinary property in an average beach town. It’s all quite a contrast -
the English phenomenon of “A home overseas” is searching out nice
spots where the language and culture are completely different from what we have
at home. For our Gallic friends it seems as long as they can still speak their
beloved French, then pretty much anywhere gets the thumbs up.
Lunch today on the
waterfront a big disappointment, but as Pierpaolo notes and anyone who has
watched Speed II, Rocky IV or Police Academy 8 will testify, the sequels never
quite measure up to the expectations set by the original.
KM START = 14,866
(Trip = 4,496 )
KM END = ???
Essaouira > Safi > Al Jadida > Azzenmour
By now we have
figured Algeria to be a logistical nightmare with no certainty of being allowed
in even with the correct paperwork. So our misión now is to undertake a game of
PONG on a Mediterranean scale. Head up to Tangier, catch the ferry to Sete in
France, then another ferry back from Marseilles to land over the net in Tunisia.
Our ticket from Tangier is booked for the 21st, so we have a leisurely 2 days to
make our way up the small stretch of Atlantic coastline.
better way to return to our saddles then with the deep cleanse and relaxation
provided by Hammam Number 4? Well it all looks good on paper, but the theory of
the sequel again makes its presence known, and we endure the most rancid public
hammam in the whole of the Ottoman Empire. The local guys in there are all
digging it though, having their various layers of crust peeled off while
performing Aerobics Oz Style. Seems the hammam doubles as the gym in this town,
and by the looks of the water, perhaps the leather tannerie and laundromat too.
Winding up the
coast roads and its all very forgettable stuff; apart from the industrial
nosesore known as Safi. The pipes of the Phosphate processing plant are all very
MC Escher in appearance, but the smell is beyond what my limited vocabulary can
sticks in the mind today, it is the role of the humble Donkey in Morocco. On
every road we have travelled in this country, we have seen a donkey and cart at
least every 5 km. This beast of burden performs the role of Vespa scooter,
Peugeot hatchback, Vauxhall Astra and Ford Transit van all in one; No wonder why
it won Moroccan car of the year for the last 5 years running.
situation change as the Moroccan economy expands in the future? I think not. An
average daily wage buys you 6 litres of gas in this country, but you can fill up
your donkey’s tank for free. Donkey’s don’t need MOT’s every year, and
you can get one on the road without compulsory Third Party Fire and Theft.
Donkeys are, at the moment, exempt from the congestion charge. Got a male and a
female (2 donkey household)? You can upgrade to a new donkey each year, at zero
cost and zero percent finance! Economically speaking, the donkeys integral role
in the Moroccan transport network is assured for the forseeable future.
of Al Jadida (renamed Al Jazeera by us) is a bit of a dog’s breakfast of a
town, so we push onto Azzenmour and are well rewarded. With no reservation and
our guide book hotel full, its up to the local kids to hop on the back of our
bikes and lead us through the twisting paths of the medina to a wonderful riad.
There is no commissión or asking for money – the kids here, now numbering 15
and drawn to the bikes like Posh Spice to a camera – just want to yell
“Bonjour” to us and have their pictures taken on or around the bikes. This
is the real joy of the country here and now – a place unaffected by the
tourist droves, where kids just want to be kids and foreigners are a fun
town, as recommended by the local police, is at an open air chicken restaurant.
Match of the Day Morocco is playing on the televisión. The food is great, and
the game a savoury reminder of what passion and committment on the football
field actually looked like before Murdoch and his henchmen threw gazillions to
the talented yet mono neuroned oafs on the back (and front) pages of his
ragtops. Exemplorary staff – hungry in attack and granite hewn determination
in defence. The bit about the fans carpet bombing smoke flares on the field when
their team went 2 – 1 up with 8 minutes to go wasn’t exactly sporting
KM START = ??? (Trip
KM END = 15,620 (Trip
Azzenmour > Casablanca > Rabat > Asilah
the terrace overlooking town, retrieve our bikes from the stable in the medina
(even our bikes enjoyed the local hospitality!) wave goodbye and take a few
goofy photos with the super friendly kids and its off up the coast to the most
famous of Moroccan towns.
delights the day will hold! Casablanca … the very name of the place can turn
the most stubborn of homebodies into a wistful travelling romantic. As Etain
O’Carroll phrases it in The Lonely Planet Morocco (2006)
brash, restless and eager, Casablanca is Morocco’s heaving metropolis… Casa,
as the city is known, is a city of incredible contrasts… it offers a unique
insight into Morocco. In many ways, Casa represents the hopes and dreams of the
country and once you’ve had your fill of Morocco’s more traditional charms
it can be a fascinating place to discover.”
term “shit hole” I find less prosaic yet infinitely more succinct.
It’s very easy to
get caught up in the romantic imagery of that wonderful 1942 film, starring a
stellar cast of Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman and Paul Henreid, all performing
at their mesmoric best. But let’s not forget that back then, as it is now,
Casablanca is essentially a story of 2 people escaping a shit town. Looking at
the choking traffic and Industrial Lego architecture, Pierpaolo gives the
dubious virtue of crowning it the “The Milan of Morocco”, and with no
consideration to the optimisitic musings of Etain O’Carroll, we take the lead
set by Victor Laszlo and Ilsa Lund and get out by any means possible. Only by
visiting this place do you realise what a gentleman / masochist Humphrey Bogart
was by volounteering his only ticket out of here - to the bloke that stole his
Which brings me to
another point of digression. In CHAPTER 1, I make reference to our preparations
for Algeria and Tunisia perhaps being undermined by my penny pinching purchase
of a 1989 edition of the Lonely Planet Guidebook to the area. It being 18 years
out of date will surely make it of limited use (but very cheap – Alloga TM)?
Au contraire, mon
frere! After being unimpressed by various towns that receive good write ups in
my new Lonely Planet, I was starting to question if I had lost touch with the
whole “travel – enjoyment through discovery” ethos. Geoff Crowther and
Hugh Findlay’s words are however a comfort when looking at the 1989 edition,
basically stating in 20 words that you can give Casablanca a miss from any
Why this difference?
Has Casablanca suddenly become more interesting, an anthropological hot spot, a
24 hour party town all in the space of 18 years? Of course not. The thing that
has changed is the authors who write the books. I myself am a self confessed
cultural and archaeological ignoramus, and as such I like my guidebooks written
by similar individuals.
Etain O’Carroll and
the vast majority of the new Lonely Planet authors all seem to have degrees in
political science, cultural anthropology and other such avenues of study. They
are in other words masters at looking at things we bypass or take for granted,
and justifying them as important or interesting.
Geoff and Hugh are
like the lads next door. It’s pleasing to read on the cover that Hugh wandered
around the world doing this and that for many years, and Geoff gets lost in
Africa when not brewing mango wine at home. These are honest blokes that
didn’t spend 3 years writing a thesis on an infinitely dull topic. If I want
to know about cultural upheaval in the Roman Empire circa 100 AD then I’ll ask
Etain and Co, but if I want to know if a place is crap or not, then
I’ll take Geoff and Hugh’s archaic advice as gospel. As such I will
make a point of researching old edition travel guides for future voyages.
As the Canberra of
Morocco, there is no compelling urge to discover the gems that await in Rabat,
so we motor on all the way up to Asilah – the last decent town on the coast
before the hell hole of Tangier.
The road is again
forgettable, save for a 15 kilometre stretch of Van Gogh Provencale landscapes.
Twisting licorice road, deep red clay loam soil, dark green olive trees
sprouting from the sides of the road with grenades of wildflower yellow and
purples – all set against a powder blue sky.
It all puts a smile back on the face, one that is quickly wiped off at 50
km/h on the next roundabout.
Touch the brakes
before entry, lean in, twist the throttle on exi…. WHAAA??? Why is the bike
still leaning down? And whats that rubbing on my trousers? And how is it I can
now see my front wheel?!
The answer is you
dropped your bike, dummy! Pity it wasn’t in the sand, but I scramble off the
roundabout lane clear of any traffic coming from behind, prop the bike up on the
side and wait for Pierpaolo. No cuts or scratches or bruises, the bike is
absolutely fine – just a few scrapes on the kickstand and front forks, and
some swiss cheese treatment to the back pannier bag… a lucky escape. Thank God
for full protective clothing and leather gloves. Naturally it can never be the
biker’s fault, so I look around on the road trying to justify this fall from
grace. Diesel spill? Gravel?
Actually it’s a
join in the middle of the roundabout lane. The inside of the road is a good 3
inches higher than the outside on the joining point, and coming into the corner
I’ve scraped my centrestand on the top of it and lost the whole show. No
excuses, my responsibility - should have read the road conditions better. With
bike and body all in tact it’s a subdued 2km ride into Asilah.
Asilah is the same
sort of feeling as Azzenmour – very relaxed ex Portuguese seaside town with
nice friendly locals. We find our hotel easy and enjoy a fresh caught seafood
meal, recollecting what a carbuncle on the backside of humanity Casablanca was.
, 22nd and 23rd
KM START = 15, 620
(Trip = 5,250 )
KM END = 15,674 (Trip
= 5,304 )
Asilah > Tangiers > Sete (France)
questions are now being raised between Pierpaolo and myself, primarily “Why
does our room smell like a seal with halitosis”. It’s something that we have
been mildly aware of not just here but in our last hotel. Admittedly, 2 blokes
on motorbikes with limited changes of clothing in 32 degree heat was never going
to be the Chelsea Flower Show riding in to town, but we are at an impasse.
sniffed, t-shirts are questioned, and after this hasty Spanish Inquisition of
our garments it is our socks (Pierpaolos were worst, honest!) that are sent into
the solitary confinement of a plastic bag. The detectives slap each other on the
back after a mission well done, and life resumes as normal.
It turns out
to be a big clean out day. Our bikes, jackets and trousers are all totally
filthy so we make a point of getting them all scrubbed up and presentable for
the ferry tonight. Jacket and trousers are taken to a mystical chap next door to
the hotel who runs the garage parking place. Speaking in rhymes and with
perpetually glazed eyes, it enters our mind that The Grateful Dead lost one of
their percussion section on their tour of Asilah back in ’71. But he gets the
job done and by the time we roll out in the evening we are looking catalogue
avoided Tangiers on our visit as it is reknowned to be a dump. What dilligence
in our decision making! For fear of using too many metaphors in this blog,
“The Tijuana of Morocco” would fit the bill nicely. Anarchic cars and trucks
puking out uncombusted diesel against a backdrop of flat roofed and flaking
buildings. That’s why we didn’t send you all a postcard.
lifted when we remind ourselves that the 36 hour ferry to Sete has a “disco
bar and swimming pool” on board, according to the brochures. We ride our bikes
up the ferry ramp and park them next to a nice German lad, going back home early
to lick his wounds after crashing his bike in the desert. There is a nutty fella
with a Fresian coloured URAL and sidecar from Hungary, returning from doing the
world famous (in Bamako) Budapest to Bamako Rally. We tell him we’ll see him
on board – we have urgent matters to attend to.
basket cases after a 2 week stint in The Priory, we dump our bags in our
Lilliputian cabin and head straight for the bar. Cold beer tastes amazing after
this abstinence, and pretty soon we end up chatting with Laki the Hungarian. Now
to those who don’t know what a URAL motorbike is, it is EXACTLY a BMW R71 of
1940 with all the mod cons and accessories you would expect of the period - drum
brakes all round and even a modern foot operated gear change! Made in Russia,
cos it was Stalin that bought one, disassembled it and reverse engineered an
entire factory to knock out replicas in order to mobilise his military
Laki’s 2nd / 3rd / 4th language, but he proceeds to machine gun out various
disconnected stories of travelling in India and Africa, which only goes to
confirm that in this day and age, you really do have to be mad to buy a Ural.
escaped us – its 11pm already and we realise we have not eaten. And so the
nightmare that is the Tangier – Sete ferry dawns upon us. No restaurants are
open, there are no shops on board to buy food – the best we can manage is a
bag of crisps and yet another beer at the disco bar. A rather rotund DJ in his
mid 40’s is spinning the discs to a dance floor occupied by 5 French girls
stepping side to side. It could be worse I guess, and as Allah would have it,
the Moroccan folk fusion disco starts coming through the speakers and not
coincidentally the 5 French girls disappear from view. We retire to the comforts
of our cabin, if ever the phrase could be used.
First of all,
we have to descend beneath the car decks to get to our Cabin on Level 2. On a
ship this is usually a giveaway that you are travelling peasant class, as there
aren’t usually many window seats below the waterline. Perform some kind of
origami and fold ourselves into our tiny bunk beds and turn off the light. And
then we are aware that Cabin 2652 is located at the back of the ship inside the
engine, approximately 150 cm from the main crankshaft bearing. The continual
vibration and the smell of diesel is overwhelming to the point of sleep.
DAY 2 in Hell
Wake up all
disorientated – pitch black in the cabin but its 11:30 AM and breakfast has
been missed. The Cafes and restaurants are closed and the 2 shops on board are
simultaneously shut. Not even a vending machine in sight. Oh dear. Have to hold
out till 12:30, when the first sitting of lunch occurs. The formality of
travelling in the nautical world is killing us.
I take a walk
around the ship up to the lofty heights of the 6th level and amused to find
large cabins, fake Reeboks parked outside,
full of dishevelled Moroccan men smoking cigarettes and reclining in the
opulence and serenity of their surrounds, with full 180 degree Mediterranean
views. I have the feeling we got sold the dud tickets!
At 12:30 we
obediently form single file outside the 1 decent restaurant, only to get knocked
back bouncer style because we are in peasant class and forbidden to eat amongst
the bourgeoise. We are pointed in the direction of the general cafeteria, and
whilst queing up, the convivial ambience of the surrounds makes you want to ask
the person next to you “So what are you in here for”, expecting a reply of
“10 for Armed Robbery” or something similar.
Looking at the
entrails on the trays of our other inmates, it seems a wise move to plump for
the vegetarian option, which is basically riz a la concrete and bread from the
Flintsone period. Our stomachs are empty, and like a car crossing the Nullarbor,
we are relieved to fillup at this opportunity rather than question if its 98
octane or not.
As the Chinese
proverb goes, out of crisis comes opportunity – they even write the two words
using the same charcters I am unreliably told. The message here is that if any
of you can suffer 36 hours at sea and fancy a career change, then there is a
fortune to be made selling 24 hour sandwiches and pizzas on the Tangier – Sete
ferry. But don’t expect much in the way of staff accommodation.
facilities. The swimming pool in the brochure has been mislaid at customs or
something and is not on this boat – the open air solarium is however in
operation, and after our meal we seek repose in the sunlit breezy space amongst
the noise of “technicians”
affixing wonky seats to rusting posts.
As it can be
surmised from all of this, the situation on board is truly crap, but it all
serves to further confirms our suspicions on Cruise Ship holidays and their
relative ranking in our “Things to do before you die” list. I used to think
Hell on Earth was IKEA Croydon at 3PM on any given Saturday, but now I know it
is a 2nd floor cabin on the Tangier – Sete ferry. The thing that amazes us is
all the French passangers onboard seem completely oblivious to how shit the
whole thing is.
tidbit of information from Laki, and something for the scandal seekers amongst
you. Going back to Ural motorcycles, Laki tells us, to our disbelief, that there
is now a 6 month waiting list for
these anachronistic mobiles. And its not because Wallace and Grommit are about
to do Mission Impossible IV, with John Woo destroying trailer loads of the
things in the finale 15 minute stunt sequence. Demand never used to be like
this, or at least they weren’t until the company was taken over by a US
investment firm 3 months ago. 2 months ago it just so happens that the Iraqi
army placed an order for 300 of these machines, as they are allegedly well
suited to carrying munitions and breaking down frequently in the sand. Did
someone say “Inside information”?!
Going back to
our cabin, and there is a smell above and beyond what the diesel fumes can
carry. We trace it to our board shorts , and suddenly all accusatory fingers in
the case of Stinky Smell vs The State point in the direction of the
Essaouira Hammam 3 days ago. We issue an Amnesty International apology to our
captive socks, imprisoned under false charges, and isolate the board shorts to
their cramped concealed quarters.
The Scandal sheet stops here and normal reporting will resume after our next ferry. We can only hope its better than this one.