Riding a Harley-Davidson through Morocco – Part 1 of 3

I am just back from a 3,000 mile ride during the last week of March 2014 to Morocco, and I needed some distance to find appropriate attributes to this adventure. “Great” or “Fantastic” would be too easy or modest, and a “once in a lifetime experience” should stay reserved for the birth of my son 30 years ago.

This ride to Morocco was “extreme”, “exceptional” and “surprising” on many levels.

I am not the biggest fan of surprises, and the 1,350 miles inside Morocco offered surprises beyond my expectations. The most positive surprise was the landscape, and its variety. From deep “Instagram’ colours of green fields and blue seas, to “Star Wars” red sandstones, deep brown gorges and vast “Laurence of Arabia” expanses, Morocco really surprised me with its natural beauty, and I regret to have run out of memory cards for the GoPro midway. Riding in a group of 9 motorcycles, you can not stop at each corner to get your proper camera out, and should I visit Morocco again, I will be better prepared.

It took us 4 days from the UK to the south of Spain, 24 hours of which were spend in a ferry struggling through gale force winds in the Bay of Biscaya.

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Crossing to Africa – Straight of Gibraltar

On Day 5 we rode from Algeciras in Spain to Casablanca, proper Morocco. After a short ferry crossing to Africa, we knew some form of chaos would greet us at the Moroccan border, and we prepared all papers weeks in advance, following advise from numerous trip reports on the internet.

But its was not chaos what greeted us, it was pure mayhem. Outside and inside the border control area hundreds of locals literally fight for you to select them as your private “handlers”, or guide through the system. Throughout these 2 hours you are in constant fear never to see your passport again, while you are willing to pay more and more Euro’s for this traumatic episode just to end. As I speak French, I was lucky to be able to have a more detailed discussion with my handler, who managed to keep me away from panic attacks and positioned me in the right spots in the right long queues in front of the right uniformed officials. Yes, plural: queues, officials, each check and stamp and re-check is performed by a different angry looking border guard. Those who thought they can beat the system without handler learned it the hard way, standing at the wrong spot, in the wrong queue in front of the wrong official.

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Finally in Morocco

Thinking of it, the “handlers” are kind of officials without uniform. They are tolerated, maybe invited by the border guards inside their working space, and I would not be surprised if these officials receive some cash for allowing the “handlers” the properly prepare the papers of this horde of crazy tourists, and put them in the right queue in front of the right official. Everybody wins, and at the end you are actually in Morocco, with just 5-10 Euros less in your pocket. Consider crossing into Morocco like buying a house. The Moroccan “handler” is your solicitor, helping you for a fee to sign the right papers.

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Near Tangier

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After the ferry crossing and border mayhem its close to lunchtime before you are in, and you have 270 miles ahead of you to then find your hotel in Casablanca, the biggest city of Morocco with a metropolitan population of nearly 5 million. No scenic coastal roads today, its a straight dash to Casablanca on a surprisingly good motorway, where one could get a first contact with local traffic its motor vehicles which were able to pass their last UK-style MOT test decades ago. During my 4 days in Morocco I saw numerous Renault 4CV my mother drove in the 60s, and the white Benz 190D my uncle had 25 years ago. Good cars, they still run in Morocco. It felt like Morocco is the graveyard of every Benz sold in Europe, once these 5 seater cars are considered unsafe for our roads the end up as 8 seater taxi here. And its not just passenger cars, its trucks, buses and vans. And if the engine is broken beyond repair, a donkey will pull it.

DCIM102GOPROGood roads – just here…

Finding your route in Morocco was not as easy as I hoped. One unexpected issue was that road numbers like N8 or N13 are rarely shown on signs, and I quickly gave up to find the label P3625. While larger cities are written in our roman alphabet, once you move into more rural areas readable road signs become rare.

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Near Rabatt

The standard Garmin Zumo 660 sold in the UK has all maps of Europe, but not the map of Morocco. I knew this, and decided against buying the electronic map for the price of maybe 7 donkeys or 69 chicken. I elected to treat Morocco like a ocean of water, with me sailing my Harley from waypoint to waypoint – in a theoretical straight line. I stored all our hotels and relevant junctions in my Garmin, and from then on all I had to do is follow the arrow, like a compass showing the true course.

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Diving into Casablanca

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On each of our 9 days we had a different Ride Captain leading us, while towards the end of each day in Morocco my Garmin compass guided us to the front door of the hotel. It worked perfectly, even in Casablanca, although we had to realise it was the wrong IBIS we reached. A taxi then lead us the final mile to the correct IBIS hotel… ups.

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All pictures from Day 5 can be found here:

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click on image

to be continued
In Part 2: the ride to Ouarzazate and the blizzard of Azrou

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