North West Africa 2009

North West Africa 2009

22nd Oct 2009 – 8th Dec 2009

Can’t resist another little trip after a long hard summer with the plum harvest etc. We are going to bike to Timbuctoo ! Since its November ,almost, we are going to cheat a bit and catch the ferry to Santander in Spain and then head south.  Back at the beginning of December.

27th Oct Tuesday

I set off fom Norfolk on a very heavily loaded bike. The day before my packing had become rather jumbled and it was a matter of just getting things on board! These things included a couple of bottles of wine for the meal with Sam and Ems,, Gina and Greg , Emma and Mike; all my green tomatoes from my greenhouse as I could not bear wasting the crop, and bits of forgotten dog stuff from Bandits stay, including dog biscuits etc. It was drizzling but stopped before London. After a quick run into Stanfords to get a map of Mali, I cut across to Queensway to collect/get some euros and dollars from Interchange. Having finally got my money (had to wait 15 mins for their card machine to work) I attempted to get on my bike but could not heave it into an upright position because it was so heavy! Had to find a stone to put under the side stand so that it stood more upright and therefore easier. I am sure I was being watched…very embarassing. Tomatoes, bottles etc now unloaded and feel much better. Still seem to have a lot of stuff….clothes weigh a lot. Clive has made a separate start. He has gone to Greenwich for the night to see his children. We meet in Portsmouth tomorrow morning to take ferry to Santander in Spain. We are on the same bikes that went to South America. I had hoped to take less stuff…less guides,less maps, smaller tent…which I have, but I think I have more clothes…silly of me.

28th Oct

Both eager to reach the ferry and we see each other on the motorway. At the terminal, Clive tells me he is going to be a grandfather next year! He had been teasing me about becoming a grandmother when Gina produces in January. We are quits! Quickly aboard, all very efficient.

29th oct thurs

Had a lie in! Can’t remember when I last had one of those. Then the tannoy on the ship began and that was that. We ended up reaching Madrid , just as the sun went down behind the hill tops. Lovely day, sunny, autumnal, but warm. Trees with their yellow leaves, countryside looking dry ( like east anglia)! We shot down a duel carriageway..we want to get to Morocco….and Spain in autumn..well it could have been raining but we were lucky. As it was, we twitched around on our bikes, settling slowly in to riding all day. My behind was getting used to the hard seat, my wrists to the handlebars, my knees to being bent and still . Clive’s back ached and he got tired. That means food stops every hour or so to keep him going! We stayed in a Formule 1. They are very basic but we hit lucky going out to the “commercial centre” where we found a whole ‘street’ of restaurants and free wifi. So got the phone on wifi while we ate and picked up emails. ‘Sending’ was another story.

30th oct fri

It is amazing what difference a day makes. Here we are, sitting outside in a temperature that is perfect, in Seville. Never been to the centre before. The cathedral is enormous! Lovely pavemented centre and humming with life. My camera has broken so we had a mission, a very expensive one at that, ( shut my eyes, put it on barclaycard and try and forget) to get a replacement. I love my photos and the trips can not be done without a camera. Luck has not been on my side re cameras..I had to buy an emergency one on the last trip after too much dust got in the one before. Now that has started having a screen that jumps up and down and there is something whirring inside (stuck). There is not much choice if dust and vibration come into play but choose an olympus of sorts. We had travelled in hot weather after a cool start through a dry looking Spain. Vines being tidied and then loads of olive trees; wind farms and solar panel farms. We wonder which is more good for the environment as we pass 2 separate trucks each carrying a wind turbine blade!

31st oct Sat

Have to ride motorbike on pedestrian ways to get from the carpark(underground) back to the hotel to pick up our luggage. This time we are stopped by the police. “Go slowly” he said….there was no other way! Can’t find decent internet open so waste time but eventually get on our way to Tarifa for ferry to Tangier. The weather is perfect. Who would go to Europe in July/Aug when Oct is as nice as this? Catamaran ferry takes us across in no time as Morocco is one hour behind Spain. After border formalities ( much quicker than Ceuta) the fun begins. We had earmarked an hotel from the guide that was in the Kasbah…in the old town/medina at the top of the hill. Up and up narrow streets , and with some help we find it. Now we have a self appointed guide on foot! ”Pink shirt”. Hotel is full as are the next 3. Pink shirt then ,of course, knows another! Its in the medina , down the hill. Off he goes, running down the hill. Two big bikes following, me behind Clive,…streets get narrower, some loose ground, some rather rocky bits, down a pavement, narrower and narrower. Pedestrians are now having to get out of our way because we can’t all fit in the narrow passageways. I desperately fit camera on handlebars as Clive shouts ” take a picture of me”. On we plunge, me trying to snap a photo as well, round sharp corners and down, all totally illegally. Muslim women were urging me on! Eventually pink shirt finds his hotel. It is faded grandeur and fine. Large row erupts at the gate between pink shirt and car park guard. They don’t like the likes of pink shirt. We managed to pay him off though…he did us a good turn really and had to run a fair way. Welcome to the moroccan way of doing things. No beer or wine at hotel ..could only celebrate arrival with a cup of tea.!

1st Nov Sun

We have really got into Morocco now and are spending the night very near Midelt in a Kasbah like hotel. Fellow guests are a motorcycle tour group who seem to have been off road riding. Not particularly friendly..possibly Belgian/Dutch! We have crossed the middle Atlas range…took us up to 2200m and down to 13c temp. Cold in my T shirt! We have done badly by failing to get a proper lunch ( more croissants for Clive), failing to get right milk ( we bought fresh by mistake yesterday so it has already gone off) and forgetting to buy bottled water.Plenty of rrrfyddonkey carts and horse carts still in major use in the rural areas. Small about of mechanisation and plenty of hand labour. Lovely fertile brown earth in the valleys especially south and east of Tanger through to Azrou. It was green so must have rained recently.Petrol a bit cheaper than Spain..just under 1€.

2nd Nov Mon

We have again had a longish day. Not because we wanted to, but lack of the right place to stay! Some hotels call themselves Kasbahs and are very grand, others seemingly sound great in the guide but look awful when you see them like the one that said it was new when it had obviously seen better days. So we pressed on to Ouarzazate against the sun going down…not very nice. Could not see very well and had to be careful . Shame really as we were in the Dades valley with lots of old mud villages, ksars, kasbars etc. They will be lost one day as keeping a mud building going is not so easy once everyone has moved out and the rain gets to it.!Clive enjoying speaking his arabic . Always a great surprise to everyone. Many speak english though and our smattering of french occasionally gets called on. Tonights hotel,Nadia, found in the dark, has few guests. Low season it may be but the weather is perfect, in the high 20’s.We feel Morocco more prosperous than 5 years ago. More people on bicycles and mopeds and less on foot or donkeys. Bicycles now a hazard!

3rd Nov Tues

We leave Ouarzazate and head for Tata, a place that we have been to before. We take a different route though , going on some skinny ‘white’ roads as per the michelin map. 5 years ago they would have been dirt but now there is a good chance they are tarmac. They were, a bit basic in places but great. Barren,magestic, brown rocky mountainous countryside. We climb a pass, nothing much lives here until you see a small patch of greenery…a sign of water and life. It is wonderfully unspoilt ! The odd humans scratching a living, the odd roaming dog, a man and his donkey, a camel herd. In the valleys, where there is a river, albeit mostly dried up, are the villages of mud houses and ruined mud built ksars.It looks like some new building has been taking place, for many of the compound walls look new, and there are new looking block like houses.Still being made of mud bricks. There is an air of life looking up, definitely more than 5 years ago. Villages expanding along with the population! People friendly, even while they charge you higher rates than the locals for your drinks! We really must remember to ask the price first.I am longing to see water coming down all these dried up river beds. We ride through so many…what does it look like when it rains and the flash floods come across the stony deserts? I would really like to be there.Police have been no bother to us even though virtually every major junction has a police presence. The locals get stopped, but we are waved through. Makes up for the overcharging!We reach Tata early enough to avoid the sun going down in our eyes again. Bad news though, there is no petrol in town and there may not be any for another 75 miles. I have only 55 miles worth! Clive has enough though…

4th Nov Wed

Having been told by the petrol station there would be no petrol till the afternoon, we luckily checked and lo and behold there was some. So petrol no longer a problem. We sat , last night, along with fellow guests, tap tapping on our mobile phones and mini computers and laptops in the reception area, where it had a free wifi zone. There was again a tour group and several of them had laptops . We do not..just mobiles that can do email and internet when in a wifi zone. Very good, but not enough for up loading photos , skype calls,and on-line banking etc. Now that wifi is more common we are beginning to feel we should travel with a tiny laptop. Then we do not have to search out a cyber café. We rather enjoy the friendly cyber cafes with their funny keyboards! Great road through stony desert. Mile upon and very little traffic. The odd human out in the desert but no animals to see. One wonders how some villages survive with no visible means of subsisting. But new houses going up and others being repaired. We headed to a thermal bath place called Abeino, where we went to 5 years ago. Reassuringly the same, we headed for the door together. No, I had to go to a second one across the road..segregated. I got changed into my bather in the changing room and wondered if my bather was to scant for the muslim women I was about to be with…. They were nearly all naked! Large,enormous,one in bra and pants. None could swim but we all enjoyed the very warm thermal water. After, we chatted to a german couple who agreed with us that Morocco had really modernised and how improved the minor roads were (paved now). They complained about the lack of good food! We then headed down to Tantan plage (Al Ouatia), on the Atlantic. Scud coming off the sea, not that warm and very clammy. This is the boring stretch through the western sahara.

5th Nov Thurs

It is about 22c as we set off on the cliff top road to Layoune. It rains for us in the Sahara, the first rain since leaving England! Stony (hammada) desert gives way to some sand dunes that threaten the road from time to time. Anglers perch on the clifftop, trying to get fish; camels occasionally to be seen; trucks the main traffic on this lonely stretch of road. We stop a couple of times in rough cafes. In one we have an omelete, the safest food to choose. As a female I am not expected to be sitting in a café. It slightly throws the men; interested, but also put out. Clive fascinates them with his arabic. We get by. We finally get held up in police checks. This is going to be a hazard from now on. They are tracing our route. This is an area full of UN as the sovereignship of this region gets sorted. On the whole Morocco has it….. Layoune is a big place, sophisticated with all the UN around. We pay a fortune for a bottle of wine and drink it at a dark table in the corner of a restaurant. Draw back to Morocco..getting a beer or glass of wine is tricky or very expensive….muslims not allowed alcohol.

6th Nov Fri

We set off to cover 320 miles to Dakhla. As far as we knew there was no where to stay in between. Stony desert….flat but mts around. In places the sand was blowing across the road. On the whole the wind was behind us and as it strengthened during the day, we were really being blown along. When it was sideways it was more tricky especially with sand blowing across the road. Traffic little, trucks, tourists in campervans or cars were french ,except for one lone red landrover which was british…hurrah! We had seen no brits in vehicles so far in Africa. Police stopped us at least 6 times. We saw one overturned truck…blowout I suppose.Each time they want to record passport details and bike number plates…all written by hand at each checkpoint in a large book. They certainly know where we are!

7th Nov Sat

There was a certain policeman yesterday that said we need a visa for Mauritania. Checking on a really slow internet it seems we do.Text to Nick Sanders and Jason, whohave been down this way , claim we will be okay. Lets hope so. We breakfast in a café next door, accompagned by a TV on the AlJazeera channel. Every single item has guns, shootings, explosions or some other form of violence in it. We get given chocolate croissants with processed cheese spread inside; interesting combination. Tea, “lipton” is served with sugar lumps like rocks. You see old men pouring their tea from a height into their glasses…this must help break up the rock of sugar and distribute it, for you get no teaspoon. We are aiming tfor “a lovely hotel” just 80kms before the border. We will stay there and tackle the border in the morning. So its a short day (150m) through the most unimaginable stark desert landscape. In parts its beautiful, sand blowing and ethereal, in others the sheer size and flatness and sameness is mindblowing. The wind pushes us along. The hotel, basic, is definitely a bit of a find in the middle of the desert along with a petrol station and a shop, and an intermittent internet! The sand blows ,the wind howls and the view is flat stony desert. Our room is like a cell, bare central ceiling bulb, and one tiny high up window. No ensuite!! We relax and watch the comings and goings in the café, petrol station and hotel ( bit of a knocking shop, says Clive). Clive has lost a number plate bolt on his bike…we both clean our screens. Clive finds a bolt that will do the job.

Nov 8th Sun

We head for the border through moon like landscape.At the border it takes quite some time to get out of Morocco. Unfortunately we keep being told we need a visa for Mauritania , that they stopped issuing visas on the border 4 days ago! Until then all would have been well. Some poor people are stuck in the desert in no mans land unable to go forward or back. We can give it a go, as we will be allowed back to Morocco. The Mauritanian men here on the border look great in flowing blue robes and smart baggy pants. They have a regal look and are polite. We head off on the sandy track into no mans land. I try a piece of sand and fall off, trapping my foot under my pannier! Clive to the rescue. All is well. We reach Mauritanian border and are refused entry. They say their stamp for the tvisa was taken away by big boss 4 days ago. We ring the british embassy in Nouakshott and talk to the British consel . He will try and help. We sit on the border for about 4 hours. It becomes obvious from conversations with some french and observing what was going on , that everyone was in the same boat. We were not the only ones coming to the border without a visa. A frenchman we spoke to had used the border 15/20 times and this was the first time he had problems, having always got his visa here. He had a youngman with him who’s father was number 2 in the Mauritanian army. Phone calls to him were not producing results. The British consel did his best, did phone us back, but the answer was no. The only way to rget a visa now was to go back to Rabat, the nearest embassy. This is what some were doing….those on big overland trips that just had to go to Mauritania . It means 2000kms there and 2000kms back….for the visa. Probably take 4 days minimum. It is not for us. We go back over no mans land and re enter Morocco. As Clive says ‘its not meant to be’. Perhaps fate is telling us something. We look at the various overland trucks, including the british red landrover we spotted the other day, that have been left while their occupants take a taxi and then overnight bus to Rabat and back. 4000kms! The story is that the situation has been created by Sarcozy talking to the Mauritanian president 4 days ago and telling him that the EU was getting tighter on immigration from countries such as Mauritania . Also , the story went, that the mauritanian ambassador complained that he had not been paid. He should have been paid from visa fees but because this has been happening at the border the ambassador in Paris was not getting any money….the border guards have been pocketing it instead. Whatever…a few days earlier and we would have made it… but perhaps not got back! Head back to next door to last nights hotel. We had noticed it as we left this morning. Tiny bit better for £4 more!

9th Nov Mon

Head back to Dakhla. Stop in nice café and whilst there, a man and woman approach us. They have seen the bikes, they are Brits who are living here in Dakhla. He is an ex biker extraordinaire, fisherman extraordinaire and many other things. She is a photographer. They both smoked like chimneys.They have an appartment and currently live there with 2 dogs, 3 puppies and 4 cats. They invited us to stay, and we accepted. Colin and Freya entertained us with lovely earl grey tea made with the slightly salty bore water that supplies Dakhla, and endless stories and facts about Dakhla and the area, and themselves. We went out in the evening to a restaurant run by a french lady and had our first bottle of wine for a few days! It was all a nice pick up for the let down about Mauritania . The facts I picked up… The desert has jackals (2 types),gazelles,rabbits and hares running around in it at night. There are also snakes and lizards etc. The big bird of prey I saw was an osprey. Lots of them here. The ones from Scotland (ringed) have been found here. Lots of fish and shellfish. Huge sardines, mackerel, vast sea bass etc. European fishing boats come here and fish. All sorts of interesting deals go on apparently. It has held a world kite surfing event here. The wind blows most days. No wind power farms because the town is owned by just two men and each of those men run petroleum companies. Hence town’s electricity is generated by diesel generator. The two owners are moroccan but one is Saharawese, ie local. They are definitely rivals! Very weak communications ie internet, for most people and the water supply is intermittant at the moment. Future tourist destination? Probably as has an airport. We also chatted about the trade in cars and drugs via Mauritania and this road which we had noticed.  Next day 10th, head on up to Laayoune.

11th Nov Wed

Heading north we pass an overturned truck and stop. It is the end of hopes and dreams for 4 italians. They are not hurt but their unimog/unicat has its roof ripped off and all their stuff is strewn a round. A blow out on a back tyre caused them to leave the road and roll. Tyre was good. They are trying to right it with the aid of a land cruiser but it is too heavy. In Tarfaya we take photos of…… airplane statue on the beach and of the Casa Mar a trading post built on a rock in the sea by a scottish man called Donald ….. Its a lovely spot on the edge of the beach but in the sea. The town is still the same old dusty place as it was 5 years ago but we do find a café/hotel and order a fish tagine. It takes at least one hour to appear but is very good. Luckily we did not have far to go after and were happy to sit and watch the sandy scene. Clive has told me he has been approached for a job in Angola; it has given me plenty to think about. I walk along the beach and look at a wrecked wooden fishing boat on the water’s edge. In the evening we meet a couple who had also been caught up in the boder visa problem. They have driven all the way back up and now back down, 4000kms. They want to get to Senegal, where they have a place, and leave the car they are in, there. It has taken them 5 days so far!

I have lost my ipac, the gadget I write the diary on! It is my fault, I think that I left it on the black bag on the back of my bike after having been at a café today, and it slide off. It is not a disaster, everything is backed up, pin protected etc, BUT 3 days of diary were lost so I am going to have to rewrite now, from my human memory!

Thurs 12th Nov

Leave our beach side hotel south of Sidi Akhfennar, and head for TanTan and Guelmime. In TanTan we are approached by a german asking about the Mauritanian visa. He does not have one. Sadly we watch him turn his old campervan round in the road and drive back to Rabat, a round trip at this stage of 1400kms! We head for a place called Fort Bou Jerif, near Guelmime and off the tarmac road by about 9kms. In the evening a man came and did a snake charming act….laid on for some Irish who were staying. One of the women had short shorts on…Clive thought all wrong for Muslim country. She did not have the most beautiful legs nor was she young!

Fri 13th Nov

Bou Jerif was very nice but overpriced so we do not stay another night but moved on. Head for the sea on the non tarmac, gravel road. It should have been 12kms, but we wandered slightly. We could see the sea and the tarmac road we were headed for. However it was a tricky ride to reach it. First was a pretty nasty right hand bend on the side of the hill on some rocks. This set my heart going but worse was to follow. A left hand followed by a right hand bend all going steeply downhill and very rocky. The left hand bend was very frightening, quickly followed by the right hand. It is not that I was in mortal danger because we were going very slowly, just the thought of all those rocks, me and the bike! Anyway survived it and were soon down. Clive said well done. I think well done to him too on that big bike of his. A campervan watched us come down and turned round! It would never have made it. On to Sidi Ifni, surfing place with a horrible rubbish dump on its outskirts and then on along the coast. It is just how I would imagine the Algarve to have been 50 years ago and can imagine it will look like in the future….ripe for development. Through Tiznit ( looked nice) and up into the anti Atlas. It was very hot down at sea level ;34c; so was wonderful to be up to above 1000m and cooler. It is all very brown looking, dry and lovely Berber villages . Sadly much of the Berber architecture will be lost as their lovely mud built buildings have been deserted. Dust to dust etc. Stay in Tafraoute.

Sat 14th Nov

Take a day off in this nice little town. Take a walk to look at a rock carving in a nearby village. Get diverted by a Berber who wants us to look at his house. He is young and polite and not pushy so we go along and look. It is very interesting, lots of original bits and pieces including ducking through the low doorways . He has been doing up this home so at least one Berber home will be saved! He is cheating a bit by using concrete and straw, but full marks . He hopes to have tourists staying one day. He takes us to the gazelle rock carving….his home was more interesting. Last night Clive got into banana smoothies. Whilst I had some surrupticous wine from a plastic bottle in my bag, Clive had 3 banana smoothies. Not sure who was drinking the most healthy drink. Neither of us taking much exercise !! Today Clive has more….I think it was 5….he really likes them! This town is famous for almonds and shoe making. It is only a small town so we had a good look round all the shoe making stalls. We also managed to change the oil on my motorbike. First we bought some oil and then I rode it round to man with a small garage. No booking it in , you just arrive and get on with it. We helped with some tools and oil and filter and he provided the labour and the old oil disposal facility ie hole in the ground! We are also in the Argan growing region. Argan oil is sought after and quite rare. It is wonderful in salads. 5 years ago we bought a litre very cheaply. Now, here , they want 270 dms per litre. (about 24 pounds). We have declined so far but hope to find some better priced further on.

Sun 15th Nov

Before we leave we chat to some dutch. They have flown from the Netherlands to Agadir for 8 euro each. They have then hired a car from a Moroccan company for 20 euros a day. Not bad! Lovely ride in the mountains towards Agadir. Brown parched earth, argan trees dying, prickly pears dying…when did it last rain? Lovely Kasbah on a hill top, plenty of donkeys in use and lots of villages, living on what? No crops in these parched conditions .But they seem to be thriving if builders are anything to go by…the only trucks on the road are builders and we see them at work in the villages. We come down on to the plain and we enter another world. All peace and charm are gone. It is ugly, it is hot, dirty, smelly and much more traffic. Why do we have to make economic activity such a dirty thing? We stop in Tamanar. In this place near the coast we last got our argan oil, five years ago. We remember the dirty little shop. At first we are quoted 300 dms! You have to be joking… goes Clive and comes back very successfully with a litre for 130dms…expensive compared with last time but seemingly a good deal. Find upright place for it on the bike, not easy! Head for Sidi Kaouke, on the coast .Having lost my ipac now writing on my phone…its slower! In the evening we leave our guesthouse to find a restaurant. Its dark with no street lights in this little community. After a few attempts we are guided to a funky place round a corner. We are the oldest people there. We ask for beers,and the only thing to eat, fish tagine. It takes about an hour for food to appear. We then have to eat the food in the dark/candle light. ..made finding fish bones very hard.! The noise from the surf is loud as we walk back trying to find the moon amongst all the stars!
We are obviously heading slowly homewards and I hope nothing surprising happens. There is no point continuing the diary. ….
21st Nov Sat
We take the 10am ferry to Tarifa from Tangier. We have had an enjoyable ride mostly up the coast. We have seen very poor farmers and villages subsisting next door to brand new, nasty rich developments . We went to Casablanca and savoured the medina, the 3rd largest mosque in the world, and Rick’s cafe (superb). We whizzed through Rabat.
Bikes behaved beautifully, bluetooth communication failed because my microfone fell off! We got ripped off in cafes because we forgot to ask the price before ordering. In this case, they would always double the last price they thought of. Trying to rip you off to the end, the guy at the port wanted money for pointing us to the passport office!
That is the only bad thing about Morocco. Sometimes you don’t mind. …but not usually. Its a lovely country, safe, beautiful,interesting. Easy to come in your own car or hire. Downside is the muslin society, wailing imams, lack of beer/wine (but it can be bought at a price ), and the poor second class citizens, the women.
When we reach Tangier I get a text to say my ferry from Santander has been cancelled. No more ferry for a week.

22nd Nov Sun
I did not want to go to Portugal with Clive (it was always the plan that Clive went to Portugal for a week on the way back to see to his villa there. He was always booked on a ferry one week later than mine ). So……decided to go and see Gina and Greg in St Tropez on my way up France. It would be a day’s detour!
Clive and I go north together to Cacere and then split, he heading west and me east. One 500 mile day in good sunny (but cold at height ) weather. Next day reach Greg and Gina in sunny St Tropez! Gina now 7 months pregnant. Looking good. Wednesday set off again. All motorway and reach Reims, 580miles. Should have stopped earlier but could not find convenient hotel. At the end it rained and visibility became bad on bike. The day cost about 100€ in petrol and motorway fees….and that is by motorcycle! Then Reims to Calais and ferry. Stung for 68€ (no £s) for a one way ticket on the ferry. Reached home, 5,600 odd miles.

3rd Dec Wed

Clive finally arrives home. He left Portugal on Sunday, overnight in Salamanca and then Santander ferry on Monday night. He encountered snow, rain, and cold. On the ferry he lay in his cabin for 17 hours while the ship battled through force 8/9 gale in the bay of Biscay! When he went to get his bike off the ship in Plymouth on the Tuesday night it had a flat battery so he had to push it, in pouring rain, till he was through customs. Then the AA came to the rescue. More rain and cold as he motorbiked via London to Norfolk.


Africa Long Distance Touring