Morocco: part 1

We rode out of the campground in Spain, at last………headed for The Dark Continent…… Africa.

It had been raining for most of the last week, with the sun only peaking through the dark and looming clouds for a few minutes at a time… us a teasing look at what the weather could be….but was not. We had been in so much rain since leaving Alaska on 15 July (2016) that we have had about all of the fun we can take with wet. We keep hearing stories of , “It is really unusual to have this much rain here in fill in the blank this time of year.” We are beginning to have doubts about that line……or we were there just in time for the new normal.

We arrived at the ferry terminal at about 1500 hours (3 PM) to catch the 1600 hours departure for Tangier Med. Plenty of time……right? As we wound our way through the heavy marine terminal traffic ( read semi trucks), and riding through yet another round-about, we were looking for a sign that said something like “Ferry Tickets” with an arrow pointing the way. Instead we found a guy standing at a side street entrance into a parking lot, complete with a building that might be the ticket office. This guy was holding up two hands making a gesture like a piece of paper and then waving us into the parking lot. In a last second decision of a go or no go into the parking lot, before we rode past our chance at a ferry ticket, in I went with Lana right behind me.

About that time I was beginning to wonder why he wasn’t wearing some official looking coat or uniform of the ferry boat company.

Turns out he could not speak English but it was easy for him to make us understand that he wanted to take us to the ticket office….. then he headed for the building at the other end of the parking lot. I left Lana with the bikes and with explicit instructions on what to do if this all went south. As I followed him towards the building he pulls his car keys out and says we will drive me in case it rains. It is less than 100 yards to the building. I stopped him and said no, I am NOT getting in a car with you. We had a little chat right there until he had a firm grip on the meaning of what I said. Then he “tells” us that the ticket office is just over there, with a casual wave of his arm. I told him we would follow him to the ticket office on our bikes.

He leaves the parking lot and takes off into a roundabout of thick port traffic like he was shot out of a cannon. When it dawned on him that we were not directly behind him he pulled to the side of the several lanes of traffic and waited until we caught up. Several roundabouts and many turns later he starts to leave the port area through the mandatory check point and into town. We thought screw this and took a different turn still in search of the now elusive ferry tickets to Tangier Med.

After a few minutes we find a sign to the Tangier Med ferry that we were looking for and we ride up to the gate……well, I road past the lady in the little booth and pulled right up to the gate…which was down (as in locked). Lana, who was behind me, stopped at the little booth…..and I rolled my bike backwards to where she was….only slightly embarrassed at my haste. The lady in very broken English lets Lana know that we need tickets first, but could not tell us where to get them. Well now, isn’t that just handy???!!!

Back out in the port traffic again we continue our search for a sign to the place where people can actually buy these elusive tickets. Meanwhile the clock is on countdown for the ferry departure.

After riding around for several more laps we pull back into where the, “let’s take my car in case it rains” guy had been----HAD being the operative word.

As we set there on our bikes contemplating our next move, here he comes, running up to us all smiles. He insisted that he can get us tickets in time for the 1600 hr sailing. So it’s off we go again to follow this guy. He gets in his car and starts it up….but it will not go into reverse. Before I can get my kick stand down and get off my bike to help him, he has it rolling backwards, jumps in behind the wheel and off we go again. (This was obviously not a new mechanical problem for him to deal with).

After what seemed far, far too long of a trip, we do an illegal turn across several lanes of oncoming traffic, to the blare of more than a few horns and hard braking, and arrive at an offsite ticket office……as in…… most likely not part of the official ferry system. We were able to get two tickets with the agreement that our ticket shark would show us the quickest way back to the boat…which he did.

I gave him a tip and we went to get in line. In the back of my mind I have this thought of “I hope that these tickets are the real deal so I don’t have to pay someone a quick visit to get this all sorted out.”

We arrived in plenty of time (about 10 whole minutes) and then set in a long line of all manner of vehicles for about 45 minutes as they loaded the boat. In the line next to us was a cargo van…like a bread truck in the USA…that was way over loaded!! Beside the entire cargo bay bulging with stuff, it had a full length roof rack that was stacked about four feet high with who knows what that was covered with a tarp. It was about the nicest job of tarping a load that I have ever seen. It had dual wheels in the back and the tires were about half flat from all the weight. There were small cars loaded to the max with barley enough room left for the driver. There was one nice Mercedes car pulling a trailer that had a Polaris RZR 900 on it. I drooled a little over that buggy!! THAT is the rig to take through the Sahara Desert!!

We got our bikes loaded on the ferry, and after much insistence on my part they secured the bikes to the deck with a second winch strap.

Up on the main deck we hear an announcement that everyone needed to proceed to the Moroccan Police station located on board to have their passports stamped and to turn in their paperwork. Lana had done a lot of research on the internet as to what paperwork we needed to fill out so we could get it done in advance of our arrival…which we did……….except for the one little paper that we knew nothing about. We found that out after we had stood in line for about 20 minutes. The policeman told us that we needed a different form, to go get it, fill it out, and go to the back of the line……..(GOD knows just how much I like standing in lines. Well….. maybe “like” is not exactly the right word).

The onboard reception desk had the correct forms on hand in both English and Arabic. We filled them out and went to the back of the line, which was much shorter this time. After the bang, bang, bang of the stamp hitting our passports and several pieces of paper we were done.

The ferry ride was uneventful…… except for the very fortuitous (read: divine appointment) meeting of Daniel Kockel.

I had gone to a lunch counter at the stern of the boat to get us something to eat and they closed it, with the guy right in front of me being the last one to be served. I went back to where Lana was and we walked to the bow of the boat—still hungry--- to watch Africa get closer and closer. There was a small lunch counter there and I walked over to see if it was still open.

A young man was standing there as I walked up who had been talking to the server behind the counter, and she had just disappeared into the back. Hoping that he spoke English, I asked him if it was still open to which he replied “yes” in perfect English!! I could not read the menu, in Spanish, on the wall behind the counter, but I saw some fairly appetizing looking pictures of food. The waitress came back and I tried to place an order with limited success. So he very graciously helped me place my order and we sat down with Lana and had a wonderful and very fruitful conversation.

He is a very bright and learned young man, speaks nine languages (a very envious talent) and is an entrepreneur extraordinaire. He knows Morocco like others only wish they did and he was a terrific help to us. If no one else can get it done in Morocco….. Daniel can and will.

Daniel was heading up a 37 car caravan (rally) headed for Gambia, and his job was to get the caravan and two drivers per vehicle through the Moroccan customs entry point……a seemingly daunting task indeed. He was part of an organization that delivers cars to Gambia, sells them at an auction and builds hospitals and schools and supports the local community there with the proceeds. The participating teams finance their own participation, or find sponsors and do it for the good cause. This was their 21st time to do this rally.

We received some excellent advice and tips from Daniel and agreed to meet up with him in Marrakech.

By the time we got off the boat it was pitch dark. There was a policeman standing at the end of the ferry ramp checking passports again. He was very pleasant and talkative. For some reason I was a bit surprised by that. I asked for direction to the customs check point and he gave a vague wave in the direction to my right.

The ferry terminal traffic was heavy and we found our way to the line to check through customs. We reached the customs gates, and Daniel was already standing there, and he waved us into another lane. He said it would be much faster than to be in line with all of his rally crew.

We were then brought right up to the customs gate by an official, which put us in front of nearly everyone else on the boat. A very professional looking man took charge of us and got us through the entire entry procedure in about 30 minutes, complete with visas and stamped passports. He was very friendly, helpful and with broken English and an outstanding sense of humor, made several funny jokes which lightened the entire process.

We had the GPS coordinates to the campground where Daniels crew was staying, and we had that plugged into the GPS while avoiding all of the toll roads. Then off into the dark and unknown we rode.

We should have taken the toll roads. The back roads were not….well let’s just make it simple here……. we got lost. We were winding around some back roads in the dark (I hate riding in the dark and I really miss the LightForce and PIAA driving lights that were on my BMW~!!!). I was in the lead with Lana calling out the turns from the GPS that is on her bike. (My GPS does not work as well for this type of navigating).

Everything was going extremely well, or seemingly so. The traffic was nearly non-existent. The GPS said we were on course for the campground. We were going downhill and I came around a corner only to find a big steel gate across the road….and it was closed. The end of the road. The GPS had failed to mention this not so small obstacle.

We rode back to the last roundabout and took a different road. The GPS said we were on course riding on that road also….although we were pointing 90 degrees off of the direction of the gated road. Oh the marvels of modern technology!!! (We both have boat compasses mounted on our bikes in case the GPS fails us….like right then).

For all of you long distance adventure bike riders…..get a good boat compass and mount it on your bike. It is a life saver.

We arrived at where the GPS said our destination was, except there was no campground to be seen. Nothing. We were setting there on our bikes wondering what to do next, fiddling around with the GPS, when a car pulls up and asks us if we needed help. With broken English he said that the campground we're looking for was many kilometers from there. He knew where there was a hotel if we would follow him…..which we did.

He took us to a hotel where we could get a room for the night. (We had arrived in Morocco late in the day so all the banks were closed and we could not find a place to exchange Euros for Moroccan currency at that hour). It appeared to be a very nice hotel and I was more than a little worried about the price as we have a very small and limited budget. When I checked in and paid with a debit card (thank GOD they took it) and the bill was 500, I about had the big one!! “500??? Is that Euros?” I asked. He assured me it was Moroccan Dirhams. I was still a little nervous. I got to the room and plugged into the internet to do the currency conversion and it was about $50 US. (USD). Whew!!!! But that was still most of our daily budget in a one night stay. We can’t do that very often!!

We spent Thanksgiving there and had apricot curry chicken for dinner. It was about the best chicken that we ever had….....maybe because this is our first Thanksgiving outside of the USA, away from friends and family.

The food in Morocco is very inexpensive. A very good meal at a street vendor is often less than $3.00 USD each. If memory serves me the chicken dinner at the hotel was the equivalent of $8.00 USD each.

Campgrounds are equally inexpensive. We have paid as little as $9.00 USD a night and as high as $15 USD a night, and those prices are with electricity so that we can charge camera batteries, the laptop and etc..

GOD has used us to help several people with health problems….none of them were anything that we had planned, nor that we were looking for. One was a man with a shoulder injury, and the other was a woman with a wrist, elbow and shoulder injury from a fall. She was a doctor and was more than willing to let me help her.

Below are some general photos that we have taken in Morocco that we thought you might enjoy:

Oranges above and lemons below, growing in a campground we stayed at

Pomegranates growing in the same campground

Olive Tree and an old pot

The next time you think that your back is bothering you, I want you to remember this photo. You have no idea how much GOD has truly blessed you!!!!!!!

Above and below: The farrier

The Atlas Mountains are very spectacular and extremely rugged. Below are a few of the many photos we took while riding on the back roads

This is a flat spot where we could park our bikes. The road is very steep below and above here. In the background of this photo, you can get an idea of how steep it is past the bend of the road

Where Lana is setting on the burm, the cliff is near vertical for about 1,000 feet to the creek below

To give you an idea of how far this village is below us...This was taken with a 50 mm lens and that is considered roughly what the human eye sees. Those two little black dots you see on the right side of the road before the corner are two people walking....look closely!! The slightly larger black dots on the river bank to the right of the two people are cattle. The bigger black dots in the road just past the corner are two cars.

Yes it is straight off of there...about 1,000 vertical feet!!! Don't drop our lunch Lana!!!

Because I have already received a couple of email inquiries, I know that some of you are wondering: “So what do you think of Morocco??” Here are a few of our thoughts and observations to date, in no particular order:

  • The people are, by and large, very friendly, the younger people more so than the old people that are obviously fundamental Islam. If we speak first they are all smiles and want to talk to us…even though most of the time we are unable to communicate verbally very well, we can still manage to understand each other.

  • It is not often that you see the younger generation dressed in traditional Muslim garb. By all outward appearances they are breaking away from that. However we more often than not also see older people dressed in western style clothes. There is a great deal of women….mostly in the cities like Marrakesh, were Moroccan women dress in western style clothes. In fact I would estimate that it is about a 50/50 split between men and women dressed in traditional garb vs western style clothes.

  • The difference in Muslim women’s garb is widely varied. On the extreme side she will be dressed all in a black, very full dress nearly dragging the ground, with nothing but a very narrow slit in her burka (face veil) to see through….and some will wear a black net in the burka that they have to look through, and it is impossible to even see her eyes. The next down from the extreme will have her traditional dress on of a plain color, and her head and mouth will be covered. The next one down the “list” will have on the traditional dress of a subdued color but her face will be completely visible. Next is the woman that has western style loose fitting woman’s dress type pants and her head covered with her face showing. Next are the women that are dressed in very tight western style jeans and their hair covered. Then you will see a great deal of Moroccon women wearing tight pants and other western clothes and their long hair out. I do not know what the reason is for the varied clothing choices.

  • We often see a Muslim women dressed in traditional clothes and (by her clothes apparently) a no-Muslim women walking down the street arm and arm

  • If we are stopped alongside of the road for anything it is not long until someone stops to see if we need help. At times it has been the next car!!! At other times it might be five minutes until someone stops. It is not always the young people that stop.

  • For many years I have warned people in America to quit eating wheat as it is poisoning them and causing them to be very fat. It also causes a lot of phlegm and mucous in their lungs and colon, leading to disease. I have told some of you that are reading this blog the same thing!! The wheat that they use here (and in France and Spain) is not what we use in America!!! I am not sure what the difference is, but it does not cause these conditions. (However my suspicion is this: All of the wheat in America are manmade strains, and some of it is GMO and it is ALL been sprayed with about every chemical that can be put on it and still let it survive. It is my guess that the wheat that they use here comes from somewhere other than America---most probably Russia where GMO anything is illegal).

  • Yesterday we were riding through this very impoverished looking village and we saw a guy deep frying bread dough in olive oil. We were about famished so we turned around and went back. He was deep frying the bread dough in the bottom third of a 15 gallon drum, using a propane burner underneath of it. It was obvious that this partial barrel had been used for cooking for many years….so I figured that whatever was in it originally was long gone. We bought 10 of them for about 10 cents USD each. Try that at Dunkin Doughnuts!!!

  • We were stopped alongside a very rough section of pavement where cars had to slow to a crawl in some of the places to get through the pot holes in the one lane of pavement. We were eating our fry bread (doughnuts). A guy dressed in traditional Muslim garb, riding a little motor scooter, stops and asks if we have a problem. We didn’t of course (this time) so I offered him a doughnut. At first he very politely declined, but I took one out of the bag, and he took off his glove and very happily accepted it. With many thanks he rode off down the road all smiles.

  • Not long after that we saw a women walking down the road towards us. She was wearing the Muslim garb. She asked if we needed help. Lana spoke to her and said no thank you, that we were OK and then offered her one of the two remaining doughnuts. The lady looked into the bag, reached in to it and fumbled around for a second or two and then took the whole bag. She was very, very appreciative and shook Lana’s hand. A lot can be lost in translation.

  • We got great enjoyment out of those two events!! Being able to interact with these two people in that way made the money we spent on that bag of fry bread doughnuts the best money we have spent on this trip so far.

  • We hate riding at night, especially on the four lane roads (in the USA it would be called a freeway) where the speed limit is 120 Khr…..and some are doing far in excess of that. It is very dangerous!!! Many do not stay in either lane but just run down the road straddling the lane dividing line, and do not move over for motorcycles. They will drive down the road for many miles with, for instance, a left turn signal on and keep changing lanes with the left signal always on. And I do not think that they could possible know how to drive without a horn….they honk at about anything or nothing. We found that one or two short honks is a friendly hello….and we have received MANY of these. Some Moroccans believe that it is bad luck to drive at night with their headlights on (true story)!!!!! We have found them at night on the four lane roads….we saw them just in time. And the moment that you take your eyes off them they are lost to you….you have no idea where they went!!!!

  • At a campground we stayed at we met one woman from The Netherlands who rode a Honda with a side car. She said that in the last two years of travel she had met only one other women rider besides Lana traveling long distances on a motorcycle. She also told us that she will NEVER ride at night in Morocco. She has even pulled off the road in a safe place, where she could not get hit with a car, and slept in her side car all night to avoid riding in the dark. After our experience we believe that this is the only sane choice that there is!!!

  • Traffic laws, other than speeding, seem to be nonexistent, or at the very least never enforced. I used to think that lane splitting was something that only motorcycles did….but not in Morocco. Cars lane split if there is the slightest opening.

  • Cars come around blind corners on your side of the road more often than you would want to witness. A motorcycle must always take a right hand corner as close to the gravel as you can get…especially on the narrow roads of which there are many.

  • Today we were riding in the Atlas Mountains and we came up behind an accident between a car and a motor scooter. The bike rider was laying there in the road dead. No one was tending to him….waiting on the authorities to arrive.

  • The trucks are loaded to an unimaginable weight and height. There must not be any weigh scales (we have never seen any in France, Spain or Morocco, although I heard from a truck driver that there are some in France and Spain but most everyone goes out around them). But I have never heard of or seen any truck weigh scales in Morocco.

  • The truck drivers in Morocco often times do not secure their loads!!! We have seen pallets of cement blocks setting on a 40’ flatbed. The blocks were banded to the pallets but the pallets, stacked two wide across the trailer bed, were just setting there, not chained or strapped to the trailer!!!

  • The only night (and I pray the last) we were on the road in the dark riding on the “freeway” we saw what would be called a bob tail two axel truck in the USA, loaded with hay. Now Lana and I have loaded and stacked MANY, MANY tons of hay on semi trucks, bob tail trucks, pickups with trailers, and on pickups. We always thought that we were very good at being able to get a BIG load of hay well stacked on a rig. We found out that we are nothing but a couple of rank amateurs when it comes to loading and stacking hay on a truck!!! We have no idea how they got that much hay on these Moroccan trucks…..and keep it on there. I wish we could have gotten pictures, but it was too dark. However!!!! Here is a photo that I found on the internet that is exactly what we saw. To our friends that are ranchers…..If you think you know how to load and stack hay on a truck….you are just pathetic novices like us!!!!

  • We come across police check points every once in a while in our travels. We have never been asked to stop.

  • Motor scooters are everywhere. Many thousands of them. Docker seems to be one of the most popular brands…made in China

  • There are a lot of Docker three wheelers. It has a motorcycle front end with differential rear axle and a cargo bed. They are extensively used in what I would call miniature trucking companies. They haul anything that they can get on it…..and they can get an unimaginable pile of stuff on one.

  • The people here are extremely industrious. They will do anything to make a living. They have burrows with freight carts, mules and horses pulling freight wagons, short strings of burros packing everything from brush to food stuffs, to firewood and on and on. Today we saw a short string of burros and two guys were shoveling sand into pack saddle baskets on both sides. It was a small excavating company. (Dwight…think about selling all of that fuel guzzling iron you have and get a bunch of burrows and a few shovels!!) (And Tal….you can branch out…sell something other than big iron. You can probabley haul about 1,500 to 2,000 burros for less than the cost to move one D-11 or maybe 7,500 for the cost to move a 777 Cat).

  • The condition of horses, mules, and burrows vary. We have seen some in such poor shape, and they were still working them, that it is all that I can do to keep riding on!! Then there are others that are very well kept, fat and slick and being worked.

Both of these horses were stallions and were very well behaved and well cared for!! This guy takes very good care of his horses...unlike the sorry SOB that owns the horse in the first photo.

  • Fresh tree ripe fruit is very abundant and dirt cheap. Fresh coconuts, oranges, apples, pineapple, bananas, etc. None of it is covered in what most people call wax, which makes them shinny as in the USA. (It is NOT wax, it is varathane varnish…like you paint your furniture with!!) And it is all ripened on the tree…not in a ripening room in a warehouse.

  • We bought a box (about five pounds) of fresh tree ripe tangerines for less than $2.00 USD. It is very inexpensive to eat in Morocco….out of the grocery store or from street food vendors.

  • The beef that we have had here, on a number of occasions, is the best we have had anywhere (with the exception of the flavor of the beef from the Aleutian Islands in Alaska) and it absolutely the most tender beef we have ever had anywhere. We can cut any of it with a fork!!! It is all grass finished, not grain finished. Here is the difference and how you can tell the next time you buy a steak or eat one in a café. Grain finished beef (in other words the cattle were fed grain, like corn, barley, etc. before they were slaughtered), their fat is white and that is Omega 6 fatty acids which is very harmful to your health. Many times we have seen beef for sale in stores in the USA that are advertised as grass finished and the fat is white. That is NOT grass finished, I don’t care what they tell you!! (Lana and I have owned and operated two cattle ranches where we raised organic grass finished beef so I know what I am talking about here!!) Grass finished beef has yellow fat, which is Omega 3 fatty acid which is the same as fish oil…it is extremely good for you. As another benefit of grass finished beef, the yellow fat is alkalizing and helps to buffer the acid of the protein when it is metabolized in your system.

  • ALL of the beef that we have had in Morocco is grass finished, and that is without ordering grass finished beef!!!

  • The food here is absolutely delicious. We have never had better tasting food anywhere. When we were traveling in France and Spain we had people complain to us about how bad the food was in Morocco…but we have found the opposite to be true.

  • There are honest and dishonest people everywhere in the world. Morocco has its fair share of both.

  • So how do we like Morocco?? All in all we really like it here. I will write more about Morocco later. Stay tuned!

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