Sunday, October 24, 2010

Morocco 2

Fez is very intrusive on the senses. It's busy, has all kinds of smells (good and bad) and hosts dirty alleyways as well as glorious mosks and other fine islamic artwork. We get lost a bit in the medina, visit the tanneries, take a look inside some of the religious buildings, eat, get lost some more. In a way it's nice to not have a specific purpose for the day and just let ourself be overwhelmed by the experience. Because that's what Fes is, not so much an extraordinary beautifull city, but even more so an 'experience'.
For more pics see Europe and Morocco

We leave Fez through the "ville nouvelle". Nice to see this different, more orderly face of the city. Soon we find ourselves passing the pine and ceder forests of the Middle Atlas. The weather is gloomy and it's cold! (Africa was it?) But the scenery is nice and gets more impressive along the way as it slightly changes to desertlike plains. The colours change subtly with the light and the views are wide. The road is not so difficult (or could it be that I'm getting better at this motorcycling thing) and we even start to overtake some slower (indeed!) vehicles. Through the plateau between Middle and High Atlas we come to Midelt, a bit of an insignificant town in the middle of the beginning of nowhere. Again we are a bit disappointed when the guy who seemed just friendly takes us by the "maison des artisanats Berber", to look at some carpets and jewelry. Something for the lady, huh? On the bright side, we do get the feeling that we are left alone more often and ripped off less. Even some genuine heartiness here and there, for those willing to recognise it as such.
Our next stop further south is Errachidia. The trip is fun with nice curves alternated with faster straighter parts. We meet some collegue bikers on the way, while we stop to admire the view. As always time catches up fast and late in the afternoon we find ourselves looking for a picknick spot in the "gorge du Ziz". Nicolaas sees a good option in a place attainable through a rocky piste. I'm not sure about this... But after some persuasion I give it a try. Heavily loaded, unprepared and downhill. Good recipe for a fall, and of yes, there I go. But I'm not the only one... We have our lunch before we try to raise the bikes. First we take care of Nicolaas' bike. He feels like giving it another try and rides all the way down and back. Okay, the skills are still there! But maybe we should practise a bit first.

Morocco 1

The border crossing to Morocco from Ceuta was pretty straight forward, although it already has an african feel to it. There are no clear signposts telling you where to go or what to do. You just follow the advise of one of the many unofficial looking people hanging around and go cris-cross from one booth to another. And before you know it your pasport is stamped and you're driving through something like the Moroccan edition of Knokke. Well paved boulevards, newky built complexes, depolution projects... Seems like the governement is trying to make a good impression. To some extent it does, but the image is just too perfect and it's clear that ver few maroccans actually live here.
Our first stop is Tetouan, with its UNESCO World Heritage medina. Our GPS map of Morocco apparently doesn't include city maps. Hmm now what. We think out loud (through the SRC commnication system), while sombody starts riding alongside Nicolaas. The now so famous sentences: Bonjour. Ca va? Français? - no, belge - Ah Belge... Tu viens d'ou? Ou est-ce que tu vas? etc etc... It comes in many variations on the theme but almost always ends with a local who wants to take you somewhere (restaurant, hotel, souvenir shop), or wants to provide some kind of service... in exchange for a small token of your gratitude of course... But since we have no ground plan and are a bit lazy today, we settle for a 'guided tour' of Tetouan. Then we set off for our first stop in Morocco, Chefchaouen. Again, finding a hotel and a safe place for the motorcycles to spend the night takes longer then we hoped for. In the end we park them at the parking lot before the Hotel Parador, where a night guard keeps an eye on them till morning (a trick we'll have to use from now on) and go for a very charming hotel with a real '1001 nights' feel to it. Next day we wander around a bit in the small, often blue alleys of the lovely medina till noon. Then it's off to Fez. But first we have to cross the Rif mountains, famous for it's Kif plantations (read marihuana). It seems like everybody is into the Kif business because we can't pass a single person without them making smoking signs and asking us to stop, flashing their headlights from cars parked at the roadside or simply shouting: "Hasjish?". The landscapes are like the atmosfere, grim and arid. We ride past them steadily and only stop for a quick lunch. But still we don't advance as well as we'd hoped. The tarmac is in bad condition and the bends are impredictable. Dusk is falling and we still haven't reached the end of our climb though the Rif. What to do? We both don't really feel like spending the night here, so after some carefull deliberation we decide to go on, at least till we reach the valley. What first seemed so difficult, got better after we found a ourselves a good rythms and a hare (in th form of a minivan) with good headlights to follow. By the way turns in the mountains aren't half as scary when you don't see the cliffs... Finally whe arrive in Fez, where we find ourselves a dirty pension, get ripped off by the parking guard and have fruit for dinner because of the unchristian (or is it unmuslim?) hour of arrival.

Europe 2

Crossing the Pyrenees was the first real motorbiking challenge. The first few kilometres went great although we didn't make it to light speed of course. I still felt a little uneasy in the turns when driving too fast (meaning anything from 40 to 60kms/hr depending on the turns and the slope). The fact that the weather had turned on us, leaving the asfalt wet and sometimes unreliable didn't help of course. By the time we crossed the first pass, it was getting darker and I was freezing, soaked from the measly rain and beaten by a firm breeze. As we crossed the second pass, on came the downhill part (of course), this being my favorite part, especially in the dark... Anyway, we made it through without a scratch. But I can tell you guys that we rode right past the campsite-sign and on to a nice and comfy hotelroom in Izaba, Spain.
When we took off the next morning, the weather looked fine. Clear blue sky, nice mountain village, what more could any traveller want. We chose to do some more small roads through the spanish side of the Pyrenees, with again some nice steering opportunities in beautifull landscapes. From the plains afterwards we mostly remember the pounding icy wind. Is this the South of Europe or did we take a wrong turn??? As we got closer to Soria we both got a little tyred, but were determined to go on. Which turned out to be a little disastrous. We weren't able to find a suitable hotel/hostal (with parking like facilities for motorbikes), so Nicolaas guided us back out of the city towards Garray where we had seen a pension. Unluckily this was past the paradorhotel, which in daylight might have been good for some nice scenery. But in the evening it was just an utterly dark small road, going steeply downhill in some hairpin turns. (anybody noticed a pattern??) Tyred as I was I suddenly panicked and didn't want to move any further. Some arguing followed and Nicolaas got very frustrated, as did I for that matter. In the end I gathered all of my courage and went further downhill, encouraged by Nicolaas. Pfew. We ended the day in Garray with some serious meditation to do. Situations like this can't happen again!
After we left Garray we did a marathon ride of 698 kilometres in one day, almost reaching Malaga. In Manilva we stopped to have the tyres changed before heading to Africa and ended up spending the night next to the caravan of one of the employees of the garage, because the job couldn't be done the same day. Then the final stretch of 50 kms to Algeciras, booking a ferry to Ceuta and suddenly we were out of Europe (geographically anyway) very quickly. Ferry booking: 16h45, departure time 17h, arrival time 17h45, and practically no formalities...

Europe 1

Although it's only been two and a half weeks, it seems ages ago that we left home... A lot has happened since. We had a rough start. Since we didn't manage to leave until late in the afternoon, our first day trip ending in the dark. But our hearts were set on crossing the belgian-french border at least, even if it meant facing the streetlightless french highways. We had some luck in finding a camping ground that was clean and had a Buffalo grill just opposite for an authentic fast food meal.
We didn't have to wait long for the first "accident" to happen either. Ready and packed I wanted to set off but unleashed the gear handle too quickly when in the grass. The back wheel spinned, I lost balance, the bike fell, ... against Nicolaas' bike, with Nicolaas on it and... you get the picture. Both bikes on the ground with Nicolaas' leg stuck in between, leaving me to lift the bike to unravel the knot. Oh dear... Are we really going to Africa? But after some unloading and reloading we had lunch on the town square and there we got our first 'sign'. The sugar was wrapped in African designed paper... Coincidence? We didn't think so! Things were surely going to go our way from then on...
And they did. Apart from getting up too late, some unefficient packing rituals, a minor fall, some driving in the dark, varying meal times and some getting used to the bike on my part, our trip through Europe was pretty uneventfull untill we got to Spain.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Set... Go!

Finally, departure! We have been looking forward to this for such a long time, that it doesn't seem real now. Instead, it almost seems as if preparing the journey was the whole thing and the travelling itself was superfluous. Right now, we've said goodbye too many times and there is just one thing on our mind: hitting the road.

Everything a motorbiker might need on a 6 month trip through Africa...