Morocco in November '16
This trip I didn´t do alone, but in a group of 13 motorcycles riding 2200 km through Morocco.
The season 2016, I decided to extend by taking a chance of travelling on a borrowed motorcycle with a group of complete strangers. Morocco would not be really my first choice for the destination, if it had not been that time suited me the best. As well, the group of people I would have been travelling with, spoke my mother tongue. I have been exposed to foreign languages for more then a decade now, and suddenly I felt that I needed to hear my "own" language. I found a Polish company which lent me a motorcycle in Spain with all documents needed to cross the Europe - Africa border. At first sight, everything looked easy-peasy. I would borrow the motorcycle in Spain, documents, people, who would watch over me, and the extension of summer. A week before the trip, I received a conformation for the accommodation. Summer clothes were packed, one set of warm pants, shirt, and a jumper, and, of course, motorcycle gear. I was eagerly waiting for my next adventure.
When I landed in Spain, the weather was great. It was exactly what I was expecting on the "Costa del Sol" - coast of the Sun. Over twenty degrees Celsius and Sunny. Late evening, the same day, I picked up the motorcycle, and as I am considered short for a person, the suspension and the seat were lowered for me. Hence, I could put my feet (almost) completely on the ground.
The real trip started around noon, the next day, and it took less then two hours to arrive at one of the largest ports in Europe - Algeciras; located in the south of Spain, and another two hours to cross the Strait of Gibraltar. When we approached Tangier, a Moroccan port, it was already dark. Dark, cold and cloudy. I was not completely aware that the little rain that welcomed us, was just an announcement of ineluctably approaching African winter. I was definitely not prepared for it, and that the "easy-peasy" trip would turn into a real adventure.
Most of days during the trip, the rain poured down on us soaking us to the bone. The temperature was oscillating between +4 and +11 C, and while crossing the Atlas mountains, it dropped down to -3 C. It became dangerous when a thick layer of icy snow flakes started to cover our face shields. The snow surprised everyone. We had to reduce our speed to a minimum and slowly drive down to a region located between Middle Atlas and High Atlas mountain range. Luckily, we also had days with no rain and no snow. These were given to us when we were getting closer to Merzouga, a small village in southeastern Morocco, also known for being located in the area of Erg Chebbi - large seas of dunes formed by wind-blown sand. The landscape was beautiful, and we could especially admire it when we climbed one of the highest dunes and enjoyed light and shadow changes during sunrise, early that morning. Sitting on that dune gave us unforgettable views. On one side, we saw only the sea of sand reaching out to the Algerian border. And on the other side, far, far away from us the snow-covered peaks of High Atlas Mountains. Exquisite impressions.
Together with Boguś - one of the members of the trip, we decided to stick together and ride leaving the rest of the group already on the second day of the trip. We enjoyed each others company, and as well the style of riding and traveling fit us both. We quickly learnt how to communicate without speaking, when was the best moment to stop and take a photo, and when the other person needed to have a break and rest a bit. Boguś helped me with my bags, when I was shaking from the cold and I could not even sign documents at the hotel. He complained about the motorcycle when it was not working properly. He also gave me his spare gloves when mine were totally wet. A Soul mate, and a real gentleman.
As we decided to stick together, we also rode side by side through Todra Gorge, visited a nomad village and spent last two days in Marrakesh. In Rissani, a town in eastern Morocco, we purchased large bags of colourful pencils, erasers, notebooks, fruits and sweets, which we gave away to kids in the nomad village. We ended up drinking coffee on the roof of a house in the middle of "nowhere", and smoking cigars, while enjoying views of a sunset over Marrakesh. I really enjoyed his company.
Once we left the city of Marrakesh, the sky had covered with dark and heavy clouds again. Downpour of rain accompanied us till Tangier. Seven hours in the rain, and as soon as we arrived to a hotel, where we spent our last night in Morocco, I found out that in the room I was allocated to, there was no warm water and heating system didn´t exist. The service of the hotel, without arguing, offered me two large apartments. One apartment was freshly renovated while the other apartment had warm water. If I had had the third one with a heating system, probably I would have felt like I am in Moroccan paradise. Well, I did not get a room with a heating system, but instead I found a kitty. A small, dirty, stinky cat, which warmed up my bed. The temperature inside the apartment was reaching a maximum of +4C, and hence my shoes, and gloves did not dry out until we came back to Europe.
My impression of the country was very positive. The local culture has been strongly influenced by three cultures; Arabic, Berber and French. Because of the former French colonial expansion into Northern Africa, the names of the cities are written in two languages: Arabic and Roman. Therefore, we had no issue reading the signs. Berbers were very eager and open for a conversation regardless of gender. However, the Arabs were mostly reserved and suspicious. Arabic women were wearing different types of hijab, and we were warned beforehand that it was not allowed to take photos of them without the permission of the man accompanying them. During my stay in Morocco, I did not experience any harassment from the local men. Neither in big cities nor outside. But I also was not looking for unnecessary contact with them. If I had to ask for help I would rather ask a woman. Only once my presence strongly aroused interest of the locals when I entered a post office alone and the women inside were sitting on one side of a waiting room while men on the other. Women were smiling and looking at me with a curiosity rather then with negative emotions even though some of them were wearing burkas and I had a motorcycle gear on and open, wild hair.
Good quality roads guided us through the land that had some extra features. Farmers riding their donkeys while reading messages on newly purchased smart phones, peacocks tacked to metal boxes which were suppose to attract travelers, stands with pomegranates, dactyls, and organ oil along roads, and old blue Mercedes 250C which, apparently, was a status symbol to the locals.
Moroccan nature is just outstanding. Red burning rocks of Atlas Mountains contrasted with blueish sky (when it was not raining), sun rise over sea sand was a must see. Snow covered peaks of mountains and a dense forest of palms growing in an oasis created an unforgettable landscape. Extremes that nature pronounced and exposed behind every curve left a feeling of caving for more. In addition, our visit to cities like Fes (with the oldest university) and Marrakesh contributed to our increasing knowledge about the country.
Since Mohammed VI, the tourism sector is strongly advocated with the goal of doubling the number of tourists visiting Morocco to 20 million by 2020. Hence, the King's focus for initiating policies that would ensure time-bound creation of a world class tourist destination with hope that it would become one of the key drivers for the economy propelling the country's development. This, for a tourist like me, made the visit pleasant and comfortable.
Despite fears that would accompany anyone (specially women riding a motorcycle), who, for the first time, chose to travel in these areas, everything turned out to be largely formed by stereotypes. Locals were very friendly, the food delicious (although for some people it might be considered as monotonous), the roads were in a very good condition.
Hotels, riads, camping places in Morocco were cheap, and good value for money. However, with no heating, which in winter when nights can get cold, could be a problem for some people.
Places, where I stayed overnight, and which I liked the most:
- Hotel Taddart - beautiful interior design, outstanding views on the High Atlas mountains, hot water in bathrooms, tasty breakfast and dinner. Helpful manager, who speaks, German, English, and Arabic.
- Hotel Kasbah Taborihte - beautifully located in the George of Todra. Most of service was done by "Speedy Gonzales", an extremely positive Berber, who wanted to make our stay unforgettable. At the end of a cold day, he enamoured us with the entire ceremony of preparing Moroccan tea a'la Speedy Gonzales (with a pinch of extra herbs, straight from his garden)
- Riad Jnane Agdal in Marrakesh - perfect service. Manager helped us to find all what we needed in Marrakesh, even in the middle of a night. Good quality and fragrant cosmetics in bathrooms.
Things I did when I was not riding:
- drinking moroccan tea served by an elderly woman in a tent in the middle of nowhere.
- climbing a dune to watch a sunrise over Erg Chebbi
- visiting a nomad villages and just talking to the locals
- riding camels
Things I would prefer to do on my next visit to Morocco :
- climbing a dune in sandals, and not in boots!
- riding my own motorcycle, instead of a rented one.
- visiting the country not later than the beginning of November in order to increase chances of having good weather.