Part 3 - A rock and a hard place
It was good to know that in the 12 years since we’d done the Plymouth Dakar Rally the Moroccan border experience hadn’t changed much.
As soon as we arrived in Ceuta we were approached from all sides with gentleman claiming to be the best fixer in town.
“I know Chief of Police”, “I know the King of Morocco”, “Do you support Manchester United?“.
B is for bureaucracy
It’s hard to fathom how clearing customs took over two hours when the actual border process involved handing over terribly photocopied copies of the customs declaration form and our passports and acquiring a stamp.
The customs officer’s ink pad was so dry that the stamp was illegible. He might as well have been stamping the documents with a cartoon dinosaur.
“Have you got insurance?” “No.” “Will you get insurance at next town?” “Yes.” “OK go”
We went to the next town. We didn’t get insurance.
Having escaped the bustle of the border our plan was to start with a nice gentle run down the Mediterranean coast. Although it was now early evening we were in no hurry.
Two days earlier we were sat outside a cafe in a small town in Spain trying to work out where to stay. An old man walking by turned and without speaking placed his hands to his cheek in a “sleep” gesture. We nodded. He reached behind Matt’s head a pushed a wooden door open. It was an apartment overlooking the square and it was all ours.
From that moment we decided we would not beast ourselves looking for places to stay. We would let the world come to us. As the sun began to drop we stopped at a beach front cafe, parked up and gazed out to sea in a moment of total relaxation.
The waiter offered us some mint tea which we gladly accepted. It was so loaded with sugar you could have laid bricks with it. As we sat there pulling faces like our tongues needed a shave, curious locals started to mill around. Some did the stand-at-a-distance-hands-behind-back-stare. Others offered a greeting.
As we paid the bill a smartly dressed man called Aziz asked if we wanted to stay the night as his place. With an expectation of pitching tents in his back yard, we were surprised to be offered the top floor of a beach-front house, with its own kitchen, bathroom, and walled garden to park the bikes in. The plan was actually working.
Talk about a free upgrade
We were showered and sat on the rooftop terrace before the sun had set. The only thing to top this off would be some cold beers. Aziz took a deep intake of breath, shook his head, saying it was not possible. By way of apology he promised to get us weapons grade hashish within five minutes if that helped. We politely declined.
As if fraught with guilt, Aziz then summoned his 10 year old son, gave him some money, and sent him off in to the night. About an hour later he came back with a couple of carrier bags of…cold beer!
It was now us that were fraught with guilt, although only until the top came off the first beer.
Don't wake the wife
Aziz said we could drink on the strict condition we didn’t wake up his wife. Assuring him that we weren’t likely to go all Magaluf on him, he bid us goodnight and woke us the next morning with a breakfast of hot coffee and cakes. He really was a first class host. In hindsight we should have savoured it all a bit more.
After the customary round of photos, swapping of email addresses, and false promises of meeting up again in the future, we headed out for the next leg of the journey towards Fez and the Atlas mountains. Things had gone way too smoothly up until now so it was inevitable really.
This is more like it
To get some distance under our belts we decided to take the main route. We’d only just started thinking that Moroccan driving wasn’t as bad as it used to be, then we arrived in Fez. It all came flooding back. In places like this the highway code might as well be replaced with the Beano.
In comparison to say India, it was actually fairly well organised chaos as opposed to total chaos but even so it pays to keep your wits about you. Every set of traffic lights was like the start of a Moto GP race, only without waiting for the lights.
Local etiquette dictates that the horn must be applied constantly. Only brief silences are permitted when your spare hand is otherwise engaged in lighting your pipe or combing your moustache. There is no such thing as a two or three lane highway. Instead, lanes are formed by the number of vehicles that can physically fit in a space without a pile up.
Brake like a Flintstone
The entertainment value reached its peak when Charlie failed to slow down for a roundabout. This particular roundabout was either five or eight lanes wide depending on whether you count people selling melons as traffic.
We looked on in awe as Charlie weaved through the tiniest of gaps. He narrowly missed a bloke walking against the traffic, pushing a wheelbarrow made from a bath tub. We assumed Charlie had simply earned his Moroccan racing stripes quicker than the rest of us. Until we found him on the far side of the roundabout looking for his rear brake pedal.
After the laughter had subsided we partook of a long lazy lunch of grilled kebabs then decided to get clear out of Fez and head towards the Atlas mountains.
Fez was now fading in our mirrors. On the outskirts of town we happened upon a slight structural defect in the road. To even bother with a traffic cone in Morocco you need a hole big enough to swallow a tank.
We slowed to a halt to let a taxi pass. Behind, a faint whimper was followed by the sound of a T80 sliding past with Greg behind it rather than on it. Normal service had been resumed.
We kept pressing on, stopping only for the occassional leg stretch and roadside wee whilst trying to ignore Greg’s protestations that his leg was hurting.
Slower than salt and vinegar
As we started to ascend in to the mountains it became clear Charlie was having a problem maintaining “speed”. The bike was refusing to rev and as the incline began to increase he got overtaken by a crisp packet tumbling in the breeze.
We agreed to stop at the very next campsite. This took longer than anticipated since it was at the top of the mountain.
We couldn’t afford to be choosy but you literally couldn’t design a worse campsite if you tried. We had to camp on a steep slope since it was somewhat difficult to get 4 tents pitched on the summit.
We shan't be returning
We decided to award the site our own 3 Michelin Tyre rating based on its standout features:
1) The home made sign saying “Piscine” with an arrow pointing to a pile of broken bricks
2) The 3am donkey chorus which sounded like a cross between giving birth and dying
3) The difficulty getting a metal tent peg into limestone
The shape of things to come
If there was a positive it was that our camping experience could only get better, surely. We would normally sit around the fire having a good chat over a beer but we were mostly too busy trying to find a route through the rocks within which to lay our roll mats.
In the end tiredness took over and we …zzzzzz