Adventure riding in Morocco, Oct 2009. Part 1. - Kawasaki Versys Forum
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post #1 of 12 (permalink) Old 11-07-2009, 10:30 AM Thread Starter
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Adventure riding in Morocco, Oct 2009. Part 1.

Morocco France Spain trip
October 2009

This is not a detailed account of the trip since I did not keep daily notes. These are just my thoughts after returning home and recollections of particular events. It should be read in conjunction with my riding companion Brian’s report which is detailed on a daily basis with lots of superb photos.
I took the Brittany ferries day-ferry from Plymouth to Roscoff in Brittany, arriving late so I stayed in Roscoff. Never been before, nice place.
The reason for going to Roscoff is that I haven’t visited western Brittany before and wanted to see it. I half expected a sleepy backwater but it definitely isn’t. Very prosperous feeling and busy. I rode down the SW coast keeping where possible to small roads but there weren’t many left.
I stayed 2 nights with a friend near La Rochelle, then carried on down the Atlantic west coast of France on the tiny coastal road past the longest beach in Europe down to near Biarritz, which I hadn’t visited before. I stopped off a couple of times on wild remote beaches with up to a kilometre of dunes behind them, in 1 case approached along a long one-way trail.
I intended to go into Biarritz for a look but the frenetic traffic soon stopped that idea so I stayed in a very nice hotel in a village outside.
I stayed for a few days with my Daughter and Son-in-Law in northern Spain in the Asturias mountains west of the Picos de Europa mountains, also getting my tyres changed to the Avon Distanzia-SM which I had posted out to Spain. I needed them for Morocco and I knew they wouldn’t last the whole trip if I put them on in UK.
I met up with my riding companion Brian in Salamanca, where we stayed and then did a long day down to Algeciras where Brian got his tyres changed for knobbly Metzeler Karoo’s and we then carried on down to Tarifa ready for an early start on the ferry to Tangier.
The hassle in dealing with the labyrinthine Morocco paperwork was better and easier than I expected and we were soon on the road.
The first day we rode down to Fez keeping to the east, having a very good view of the Rif mountains whilst not straying into them, passing close by but not into Chefchaoun. All the safety and security advice said don’t go in there due to drug-related hassles, so we didn’t.
My first night in Morocco, in Fez, staying in a fine old Riad in the Medina was an eye-opener and very interesting. It was very hot. I got my first taste of the Souks and the Moroccan way of life.
We were heading for Marrakesh via back-roads and pistes so it took 2 more long hard days to get there.
Many of the back roads are either gravel or broken tarmac which can range from just very bumpy with lots of holes and broken or missing edges right down to small patches of tarmac in a sea of rubble. The mantra had to be “Only ride what you can see” because you can go round a corner on a fast well-surfaced road and find the road either goes instantly into tarmac-free rubble, or there is a 30 foot wide gap in the tarmac which is just rocks and rubble where an “Oued” or “Wadi” (river) flows across it in the floods. For many miles the surface is very rough and very bumpy and gives the bike a terrible pasting. I got my first rear wheel puncture on this 2nd day. The scenery however is magnificent and we did one long trail through the Cedar forests, which are superb old-established wide spaced cedar trees covering very large areas.
We tried the Aerosol can tyre-repair stuff which didn’t work but it showed us where the puncture was because the foam leaked out, it was a small slit due to the very sharp rocks. We then repaired it with a plug. That night we had trouble finding accommodation for the only time on the trip, as the towns in that part of central Morocco didn’t have a hotel. We stayed in a town which clearly never saw tourists and that was interesting to experience the 100% genuine Morocco. I bought a carton of Bic biro pens in the Souk (market), to give to the kids in the remote villages. The hotel was basic, no towels, toilet paper or soap, and we had to go to a separate place and pay to get a shower. It was only 8 Euros for the 2 of us so what can you expect, but there was no livestock in the room and it was clean enough.
Next day a lot more back roads and we rolled into Marrakech in the middle of the rush-hour as it was getting dark. Wow! What an experience. The ONLY rule of the road is that you drive on the right (more or less). Fortunately they all go slowly or it would be carnage on a monumental scale, rather like India.
Horse/donkey-carts, cycles, mopeds, all without lights, going every which way without warning. Fortunately the Sat-Nav took us straight to the hotel which Brian had stayed in last year which was a short walk from the grand central square.
After failing to get a beer we spent the evening exploring the square and the souk. Fascinating hive of humanity and with loads of tourists but there was so much local stuff going on that they didn’t spoil it.
Next day, (we had booked in for 2 nights so I could get my various repairs done,) we went into town. First to the tyre depot. They couldn’t do vulcanise repairs so I didn’t just want a new plug put in as our plug was ok.
Next to find a workshop where I could get a bracket welded onto my Ventura luggage racks which had bent due to the excessive hammering from the roads. I have used Ventura for over 15 years in some pretty severe conditions without any trouble so it shows how rough the roads were. We found a moped/bike repair workshop and the guy was superb. In no time the job was done, he went off with the rack and came back 20 minutes later with a perfect job that didn’t budge again in spite of even rougher trails to come. Whilst I was waiting I was directed 50 yards to a shoe-repairer who re-riveted the buckle on my new boots which had not even made it to Morocco before coming off.
Everything done well before lunch so we spent the rest of the day ”obtaining” wine and beer, celebrating Brians Birthday of 2 days before, swimming in the hotel pool and re-visiting the square again in the evening.
Next day just a few miles SW of Marrakech we struck off across the desert, sand rocks and small scrub. There were so many tracks everywhere. Comparing our GPS track later with the Marokko Topo GPS map we strayed over a mile from the proper track and in places it was VERY rough with deep drifts of small gravel in an Oued that got Brian stuck in, plus soft sand that my tyres couldn’t get any grip on, not even when revved. We eventually climbed out onto tarmac after about 87 miles onto the Col du Test at 7000 feet. Along this trail we passed a couple kneeling in their plot which was rectangular probably 50 feet by 100. We were in pure desert, not even scrubby shrubs. Their plot was the most brilliant green with no gaps just solid green, and I could smell it was parsley because they were harvesting it. There was no sign of irrigation or anything else for that matter and the sand went right up to the green all round. Maybe it was a mini-oasis, I don’t know, but it was the most astounding sight I think I have ever seen.
One trail we did was very rocky but Brian did it last year and said it was do-able for me. I was a bit concerned about my fragile plugged tyre but on we went. We came to one section that had been rough last year and they had obviously had a machine in breaking lumps of rock off the sides and making up the trail bed. They had not levelled or graded it and it was loose lumps of sharp fresh broken rock, incredibly difficult to ride. Brian was ahead as we bucked our way up the trail. We came to a narrow steep sided canyon and Brian disappeared into it. As I turned the corner and entered it my heart stopped. It was un-rideable. A loose jumble of rocks just piled in the bottom of the canyon, from small rubble to TV set size boulders, with little semblance of a track as such and deep holes in between the boulders. I could see that if I stopped or fell off, the bike would have to be carried out it could not even be walked out under power. There was no sign of Brian so I just kept the power on and leaped from boulder to boulder like a trials-bike. I don’t know how long it was but when I popped out of the top of the canyon Brian had parked up and was coming back to pick up the wreckage. His face was a picture when I emerged. Now Brian is a real expert off-road. He was once a KTM factory enduro rider. His comment was that was the hardest thing he had ever ridden on a big trail bike and he would have considered it un-rideable just looking at it. So the Versys has got unbelievable hidden talents. Clearly whatever lay ahead turning round and going back was NOT an option. Fortunately it was ok. Brian was riding a BMW GS1200 Adventure. There can be very few riders of that bike who can do what he did on it. (The only place in the entire trip where I couldn’t follow him on the Versys was dropping down into a gulley of deep sand on a previous day and powering out up the other side. I just stuck, wheel spinning uselessly and fell over.)
By the time I got to tarmac my tyre was flat. Examining it, it was finished, cut to shreds. A miracle it got me through that trail. It was 62km to Ouarzarzate so I set off slowly on the flat with Brian going ahead to see if he could find a 17 inch rear tyre, no easy matter. I only made it 30 km and rang Brian for recovery. He turned up remarkably soon with a guy and a pick-up truck who took me and the bike to Ouarzazate, the “BikersHome” hostal. Brilliant place, run by Peter a Dutchman and his delightful Moroccan wife.
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post #2 of 12 (permalink) Old 11-07-2009, 10:33 AM Thread Starter
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Part 2.

By great good fortune he had a part-worn Metzeler Tourance dual-sport tyre, my size, which I bought off him. We fitted it next morning.
It was only when we went off later that day riding through the Ouazazate desert film studios, past fake castles forts and mosques that I realised how much grip I had had on the Distanzia. On a steep difficult rocky trail with rock-steps I tried to get up with the Tourance tyre and I had absolutely zero grip. The wheel spun uselessly and I fell off. Then thinking back I realised that the Distanzia had gripped like glue to everything it touched. Brian had apparently been having slides on the gravelly broken roads which I had not had, and on the seriously rough and difficult rocky stuff I was never short of grip. It was obviously the soft compound of the semi-supermoto tyre that gave me this grip but was its own downfall as it was cut to pieces.
I have never ridden a trials bike, or a trail bike on trials tyres. I now have a much better understanding how the top trials riders do the impossible things that they do.
On reflection, the tyre caused me a lot of hassle but the riding I had done on it was so superb, on both trail and tarmac, that it was worth it and I don’t regret taking it. If I had had the Tourance on in that canyon, chances are that the rear would have slid sideways off the first boulder and that would have been that.
The front Distanzia was faultless. When I took it off in Northern Spain after 4290 miles it was only half worn and not cut up at all. I will use it again. The Tourance went in the bin, I won’t use one of them again.
We did the desert track from Foum Zguid to Zagora straight across the northern edge of the Sahara Desert, 75 miles. The northern track, not the more southern one which takes several days and is beyond the capability of our bikes or certainly me on my bike. It was very rough and stony in places for long distances with several diversions into rough ground where the road was washed away, some of the diversions were over a mile long and just tyre tracks in the desert. There were several sudden sections of deep sand, one of which I encountered at speed and so nearly came a cropper with no control and my replacement rear tyre wouldn’t give me any drive at all, plus Brian who was a bit close behind only narrowly missed me when my speed suddenly dropped.
The heat was killing that day. My home-made Perspex screen softened so much in the heat that the wind-pressure bowed it inwards between the supports. I only once experienced heat like that, in Death-Valley USA. It was less hot riding with the visor and sun-visor down and all the vents closed because any air blowing in was like a back-draft from a furnace. I can’t begin to imagine what it is like in August. Too hot for me that’s sure. It was totally remote with nothing, not even the shepherds and their flocks and no houses till we approached Zagora. Not a place to break down. We were flagged down a bit before Zagora by a French tourist couple in a 4by4 who were lost. In spite of our advice he carried on back along our route to Foum Zguid. He would definitely not have got across before dark since we got into Zagora well after 1700hrs and negotiating some of those diversions in the dark and without satnav with a route map on, I would not have liked to do. Of course we never heard anything. I hope they made it.
Whenever we rode through remote mountain and desert villages, some of which were heart-breakingly poor, the kids came running out trying to stop us. Before I bought the pens which we had been told to give them as they need them for school and many of them can’t even afford a pen, it was very upsetting for me to just ride past them shouting for us to stop and give them stuff.
Once I had the pens I began to learn there is a definite technique to this believe it or not.
I should have had a spare compartment in my tank bag just for the pens because little hands were in the bag in a flash where my wallet and all my other stuff was as it was the only place I could put the pens, about 12 at a time was all I could get in. Say 3 or 4 kids are there but by the time you have stopped and taken your gloves off loads of other kids come up out of the ground like magic. I learned very quickly that if you can’t give them all one it is a catastrophe of huge magnitude to the kids that miss out. I shall never forget the image of the face of one kid who missed out as I had no more without unpacking my luggage which would have been impossible. She was sobbing as uncontrollably as if I had murdered her entire family. On another occasion one kid’s pen hadn’t got a cap and I couldn’t give her another because they had all gone. She was devastated and so was I at her disappointment. On other occasions when all went well the delight of the kids at their new pen was a joy to behold.
Brian soon got in on the act. He bought a big bag of mint sweets and started giving them out even though we had been told we shouldn’t because it rots the kids teeth apparently due to the shortage of water. He told me later of one occasion when a nice well spoken little girl asked for a pen after receiving her sweet. Brian told her that I would give her a pen and pointed to me behind. When I got to her she was standing waving the sweet and I didn’t stop because I hadn’t enough pens to give to them all. I had thought her reaction to my passing was a bit extreme until Brian berated me later for not stopping. I felt awful! So I berated him for not waving to me to stop for her. You wouldn’t believe it would you? We only wanted to be kind to the kids.
We were also told to give aspirin because there is no health care for many of them, so if you go try and get a supply of separate packs with say 4 or 6 aspirin in. One guy actually asked me for Aspirin so it is true. And keep room in your luggage for a better supply of pens than the box of 50 which was all I could carry. They cost 7 Euro in the Souk.
Even though these people have nothing they were so friendly and welcoming to us as we rode by on our large flash motor bikes which NO-ONE in Morocco can afford. In the towns as well the welcome is so warm and genuine.
In the northern, mainly Arab areas, the women are totally on their own planet. They show absolutely no sign that you are there. Not a flicker as you pass them either riding or walking down the street. It is strange till you get used to it. In the south and in the Berber areas it is different. They still have their head covered but with face visible same as the Arab women, but they are friendly, they smile and wave as we pass. It just feels so much nicer. I know I shouldn’t but I felt sad for the Arab women.
When I returned to Spain after only 13 days in Morocco I felt uncomfortable at the dress and the behaviour of the western women. It is no wonder the Moslems are disgusted by our behaviour if I got conditioned in 2 weeks.
Brian had to make a dash back (him being a worker and all that) to Tangier. He was planning to go as far as poss in 1 hit which I didn’t want to do so he left me in Tinerhir and went almost to Tangier in the 1 day. That’s a very long way on those roads but he has got the perfect bike for it.
I wanted to do the Dades and Todra Gorges because it is unlikely I will be back in Morocco.
The Dades gorge is pretty missable really and touristy but the Todra Gorge is something else. Still touristy but scenically magnificent and unique. The narrow part of the gorge looks like the photo’s I have seen of Petra in Jordan, the “Rose Red City”.
I set off back up north heading for a Gite near Azrou which had been recommended. Near to Ifrane which is the coldest and wettest part of Morocco according to Chris Scott’s book.
On the way up I stopped for petrol in a remote station and there was a local-use café there. I asked for a mint-tea. The guy sent for another guy who proceeded to give that poor glass the scrubbing of its life. I watched for about 5 minutes whilst the guy nearly disappeared in detergent bubbles, I do not exaggerate, I then went and sat down and it was another 5 minutes before the tea arrived. I mention this because it began to add up with previous happenings. One night Brian and I smelt fish and chips in a souk in “I think” Tinerhir. We tracked it down by nose and found a guy frying little fishes on a barbq. He gave us a bit to try. We ordered some and they sent us inside up this long dark passage to an incredibly scruffy little canteen-like room. We sat down and Brian went over to the wash-basin (which were in virtually every restaurant we went into in Morocco complete with a bar of soap) and washed his hands. I didn’t and a guy came up to me and pointed to the wash basin, “wash your hands you scruffy bugger” (In Arabic).
Now I reckon there must be a government campaign to educate the people to hygiene for tourists. Tourists are absolutely vital to their economy and the reputation for Montezuma’s Revenge can’t help their case. Mind you, they still have some way to go, on my first night in Fez a customer in a restaurant accidentally knocked over a table-box of tooth-picks which went on the visibly filthy floor. The customer and the waiter bent down and very carefully picked them all up and replaced them in the box then to my horror put them back on the table. It clearly was normal to both of them to do that. How did we have 2 weeks there with no tummy problems?
The fishes by the way were delicious, served with bread. We asked them for a bottle of “Pomme” the delicious sparkling apple drink and as always off shot a man to buy one and 1 minute later there it was.
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post #3 of 12 (permalink) Old 11-07-2009, 10:35 AM Thread Starter
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Part 3.

The Gite near Azrou was a super place, if a bit cold due to the altitude, run by a Moroccan couple who speak good French and English. They are next door to the official Moroccan Govt trout-breeding station, for release into all the trout rivers in Morocco. I was able to have my own private tour of the whole place by the very friendly caretaker. As well as normal grey ones they breed a variety of “Yellow Trout” which is big and very bright yellow. I don’t know if they are available elsewhere. I had superb trout for dinner that night but it wasn’t the yellow ones.
The weather for the whole trip was amazing. I had not seen a drop of rain for 4 weeks until I got to Azrou. I went for a ride through the beautiful Cedar Forests on the multiplicity of legally rideable trails and I had ½ hour of moderate rain. That was the only rain apart from a bit of light rain in the Picos later that I had the whole trip. Amazing!
I rode up the coastal motorway back to Tangier.The ferry and paperwork back from Tangier to Tarifa was quick and easy. I stayed in Tarifa again as it was late when I got there. Such a nice old town.
I have wanted to explore the western side of Spain, up the Portuguese border for a long time, so after riding the amazing twisty road over from Algeciras to Ronda and then up to Cordoba I rode up through the provinces of Sevilla and Extremadura, just inside the border. A superb area was the “Reserva Naturel Sierra Norte” in northern Sevilla. A huge empty area with just reservoirs and nothing else, superbly scenic and the 51km road across it with no side turnings I had completely to myself. A bit bumpy but big-trail-bike heaven, all corners.
North of Exremadura it was not so special, a bit desolate and not scenic. I rode alongside 1 ridge about 15 to 20 km long with wind turbines all the way along spaced at about 3 to 4 blade diameters apart. I like turbines but these looked like a wall and were definitely not an addition to the admittedly bleak surroundings with very little signs of life around.
I stayed in Zamora the large city next north above Salamanca. Noticeably un-modernised and un-spoilt. I liked it there. Very like the “fifties” in feel.
I finished off with one of my all-time favourite areas in the world, The “Picos de Europa” mountains in eastern Asturias. The ride from Bonar through Pueblo de Lillo, Riano, towards the San Gloria pass then turn off to Posada de Valdeon, then up the gorge to Cangas de Onis should be indelibly marked on every bikers map or GPS. Sensational scenery and roads to match. Un-missable!
Stayed in Pueblo de Lillo and then to stay with friends near Oviedo for 1 night. Monday morning back to the tyre depot to put my road tyres back on and onto the Santander-Portsmouth ferry.
Dark when we docked so I stayed in a pub north of Winchester to have some real-ale. They had 3 on tap and they were all 3 almost off. What a disappointment after 5 weeks effectively beer-less.
Nice ride home up the motorways next day, warm and dry.
What a humongous trip.
33 days. 5910 miles.
2500 in morocco. 4290 miles on the dirt-tyres.

Ted Scott
Kawasaki Versy 650 twin with modified suspension both ends and an engine/exhaust bash-plate.

You can access Brians report with superb photo's on the UK BMW GS site, link:-
http://www.ukgser.com/forums/showthread.php?t=207808
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post #4 of 12 (permalink) Old 11-07-2009, 10:55 AM
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Wow! Sounds like an adventure for sure!



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post #5 of 12 (permalink) Old 11-25-2009, 11:39 PM
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Morocco is on my to do list for sure, and seeing as how I've got plenty of family on that side of the world... I see it coming up sooner rather than later.


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post #6 of 12 (permalink) Old 11-27-2009, 09:30 AM
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I lived in M-Land for two years for the Peace Corps in the late '80's-early-'90's. Nice to read about it from a two-wheeled perspective. I've long wanted to go back and ride it.
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post #7 of 12 (permalink) Old 11-29-2009, 02:39 AM
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Ted, how does your engine/exhaust bash-plate look like.
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post #8 of 12 (permalink) Old 11-29-2009, 07:43 AM Thread Starter
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Algard bash plate.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Kawen View Post
Ted, how does your engine/exhaust bash-plate look like.
There are loads of photo's of it elsewhere on the forums. Search on it. I got him to make me a non-standard extension to carry the underside further back to overlap and go under the front edge of the silencer box to stop it snagging on rocks and logs. It worked perfectly in Morocco apart from 1 bolt vibrating out and causing vibration of the plate with only 1 fixing bolt left in.
Ted.
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post #9 of 12 (permalink) Old 11-29-2009, 09:34 AM Thread Starter
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Here is a picture of it after the Morocco trip.
Ted.
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post #10 of 12 (permalink) Old 11-29-2009, 03:38 PM
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Uhmmm............I think you may have deleted your Photobucket account or Album , because all the pics are gone from the link in your 3rd post , This link -------------> You can access Brians report with superb photo's on the UK BMW GS site, link:-
http://www.ukgser.com/forums/showthread.php?t=207808

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post #11 of 12 (permalink) Old 11-30-2009, 04:57 AM Thread Starter
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Sorry Blackhammer. It was my mate not me who put the photo's there. I don't know if he deleted them.
I will see If I can access them.
Ted.
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post #12 of 12 (permalink) Old 11-30-2009, 02:45 PM
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Thanks Ted

No worries bro , it happens all the time ....... people assume once you post the picture it's all good , but they actualy post a "link" to the image on photobucket , so when they delete their account all the pictures they posted in various forums go the way of the Dodo ...........hope your mate can post them again

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