After five days of excellent riding through the warm and pleasant Moroccan winter, the Globebusters / Motorcycle Outreach West Africa research expedition has reached the ancient Portuguese Port of Essaouira, for a well earned rest day.
Craig Carey-Clinch and Barbara Alam have covered just under 700 miles through the impressive mountain areas of the Rif and Middle Atlas.
The Berber mountain town of Chefchaouen was the atmospheric first stop in Morocco, the daunting backdrop of the high Rif peaks, hanging over this ancient and for many years independent city. The Medina and street markets providing a colourful start to the expedition proper.
A journey then took the riders and their BMW R1200GS out of the Rif and towards the Imperial city of Meknes. The vast Roman ruins at Volubilis were visited, as was the holy town of Moulay-Idriss, a place where the Muslim faithful can experience the Haj if Mecca is beyond their means.
Passing through busy and hectic Meknes, a night was spent in the foothills of the Middle Atlas in the regional town of Azrou and the following day, the Middle Atlas were challenged, with a long and twisty climb of several thousand feet through breathtaking mountain scenery to Azilal and then onto the spectacular waterfalls at the Cascades d’Ouzoude.
The long ride to Essaouira then followed, via the traffic chaos and pedestrian anarchy of Marrakech.
Tomorrow, Craig and Barbara head south once again. After a night high in the Anti Atlas at the town of Tafraoute, the Sahara Desert beckons
All has gone well since our last update, just prior to leaving the UK. A smooth flight to Malaga was followed by a taxi ride to pick up our bike, courtesy of James Cargo, who had shipped it to Marbella. A shakedown ride to Ceuta, across the Straits of Gibraltar in Spanish Morocco revealed that all was well with the bike and our kit.
Ceuta is a pleasant place, not quite Europe, not quite Africa, hotels need to be booked in advance to guarantee a place to stay and food is difficult to find before 9pm. It makes a good staging post for any trip into Africa.
The crossing into Morocco has become very straightforward compared to the chaos and rip-off hustling of my first visit eight years ago. We completed border formalities in under 20 minutes, a bit of a record.
Northern Morocco has become one huge building site, as billions is sunk into new hotels, apartments and infrastructure. Even scruffy Tetouan is cleaning up its act and the familiar stench of sewage that used to hang over the city has gone.
The ride to Chefchaouen was spectacular. The good road takes you higher into the Rif Mountains until the city is revealed, its white walls sparkling in the late afternoon sun. We had dinner on the main square and explored the winding, narrow lanes of the fascinating Medina. Lots of blue painted buildings here, a colour which is associated with the Berber people, but we understand was actually introduced by Jewish refugees in the 1930s.
The following day’s ride took us out of the mountains and into a rolling landscape of treeless green hills, interspersed with numerous olive groves. We stopped at Volubilis to admire the acres of Roman ruins and pressed on to Azrou for our night stop.
When I visited Azrou in 2000, the road was barely acceptable and only a few fly-blown cafes and restaurants lined the dusty streets. Nowadays, it’s a bustling and interesting market town, with numerous pavement cafes and modern commerce. Morocco changes and develops visibly each year it seems.
The ride to the Cascades d’Ouzoud took us along the foothills of the Middle Atlas, spectacular scenery and excellent riding along variable, but tarmaced roads. The climb to the Cascades is full of dramatic scenes as the road takes the rider 3000 feet above the Central Moroccan plain.
The Cascades themselves are a truly beautiful series of waterfalls which fall about 350 feet to pools lined with cafes below. We stayed in the Riad which overlooks the falls, set as they are in an amazing mountain location.
Yesterday, we left the mountains behind us and headed for the coast at Essaouira, where we are now. This is a less pretty ride, but Marrakech lies en-route as does a strange but interesting area of complete aridity, which looks very like the desert further south.
The bike is running well and provides much better flexibility than our faithful but modestly powered GS Dakars of the 2005 adventure. The usual kit packing controversies apply as we debate each day about where we left some item or other when we last packed!
Tomorrow we head for the Anti Atlas, via Agadir. The route we’re riding makes the best of the mountains, as the terrain flattens out considerably after we enter the Sahara.
In five days we aim to be in Nouadhibou, Mauritania, where we will take our next day off and mail you all again â€“ provided I can find a decent internet cafÃ© this time!
Our best wishes to you all.
Craig & Barbara, on the road.