I went into the town to try to post by broken kindle home and to try to get some insurance for the bike. It turns out all the other riders I’ve met from France and Spain are all covered by something called a ‘green card’ which us Brits cannot get anymore. I found an office for AXA, but they told me that they couldn’t arrange it in their small branch and that I could do it in Fes. I’ve since decided to opt for ‘fourth party insurance’ while in Morocco! I rode out at about 1 pm. I’d heard that it takes 3 hours to get to Fes. I took a wrong turn on the way out that sent me through the rush hour traffic. The road out of Chefcharouen headed south then I chose the go east through the mountains to a place called Ketama where I would head south for Fes. The view was beautiful but the roads we’re busy enough that I couldn’t stop for pictures. The roads were gravel in large sections due to road works, but the loaded bike ploughed through them no problem. Things were going well. Loads of blokes kept shouting st me to stop (to buy weed from them) but I rode on. Kids were smiling as I rode past. When I got to Bab Berred there was a traffic jam in the town. The road passes right through the middle on what could have been market day. The streets were full of cars vans trucks and people selling assorts. Some guy started the usual conversation and after a few exchanges I decided to ride up ahead on the wrong side of the road. As I pulled out, I caught one of the panniers on the back of a truck, ripping open the side pocket and dropping my tools onto the floor. Guys were shouting behind me and I saw it in my mirror. One guy brought the tools over to me and tapped me on the shoulder, another guy came over and tried to sell me weed and invited me to his house. I wasn’t really listening though cos I was stopping traffic at this point (not that it was going anywhere anyway) and people were honking theirs horns at me. I pushed the bike out of the way, stuffed the tools into a different bag and fobbed the other guy off. It took ages to ride through the crowd and when I was back on the road I realised how much longer the journey was taking. I should have there by now! i continued to Ketama where some other bloke at the petrol station was trying to get me to stay and smoke at his place. I rode on to few through more stunning scenery. The mountains got shorter and smoother which in the now fading light made them look sort of like sand dunes making me feel proper in country. i was considering rough camping for the night to avoid navigating the city in the dark, but instead I rode the last 30 km to Fes. When I arrived I was trying to get my bearings when a guy on a scooter rode alongside me shouting “hey my friend, hotel?”. I said no, camping, and he replied saying he knew one place, come follow. He then rode across the central reservation but I kept going, partly cos of the mad maneuver but mostly cos I didn’t want his help. I rode on for a bit but he came back. I told him that I was staying at Diamond Vert, but surprise surprise, his place was better. I stuck to my guns and in the end he directed me to the camp. I’m not sure whether he was setting me up or not, but I ended up in another traffic jam. When Morocan drivers come across an obstacle they frequently just go around it, therefore the two lanes of opposing traffic had turned into 3 lanes going nowhere in one direction and one lane mounting the kerb in the opposite direction. After ten minutes I decided the kerb was for me and did a u-turn across two lanes of stationary traffic. I joined behind a scooter with 3 teenagers on it. They were waving and pointing at my bike. When our lane came to a halt, they started talking to me, but with me not knowing any Arabic or French it wasn’t really going anywhere. I said the name of the campsite and they acted like they knew it. I worked out that one of them asked me if i liked Morocco and then if i liked Muslims. He was trying to tell me that they are not terrorists (by saying “Islam no” then miming out a machine gun letting rip). He needed to get fuel so I followed them to the petrol station. I tried to get his fuel for him cos he was going to show me were the site was but he wouldn’t take the money. We rode on. Keeping up with them was difficult. Loads of dodgy moves, u-turns on one way streets, going the wrong way around roundabouts and squeezing through gaps that would have ripped my panniers off. In the end they got me to the campsite. Not the one I wanted, but the one that the tout was trying to get me to go to! I’m sure this is just a coincidence though cos I saw them asking for direction while smiling to act like they knew the way. Anyway, I’m very grateful to the boys. The campsite wasn’t that bad, it had a bar – what like for booze? I asked the receptionist, but unfortunately the restaurant was a bit over priced I thought. The bar had a band playing Arabic music in constant drone and had a woman dancing the most half-arsed dance I’ve ever seen. I had a couple of beers and went back to the tent for noodles.
I will have to lower my expectations of what mileages I can expect to cover a day. Even when roads are sealed and in good condition, twisties take a lot of gear changes and single lane traffic always gets you stuck behind something. It took me all day to do 178 miles.
After last night, I finally started listening to my French MP3s. Being able to speak French will greatly help me further down the line in Africa. I can remember some of it from school, like numbers and greetings but I can’t string a sentence together or understand anything said to me. While leaving the campsite, I got talking to the guy in the reception. He recommended I take a guide into the medina cos its so big and easy to get lost. I mulled this over and then agreed. It was only a tenner and the woman who came to guide me was very nice. We went to see the royal palace then went to see the various craftsmen of Fes.
This is were I felt like I was stuck in a tourist trap because each place we went to ended in someone trying to sell me stuff. Usually this would do my head in but, the people were quite charming and I found it generally interesting learning about the various crafts and I found some stuff that I may have bought under different circumstances. I have eyed up a table and rug to buy when I get a house, but for the time being they would look stupid on the back of the bike and I’m trying to cut down on the about of stuff I’m carrying. Still, I got to see the tannery, the main reason why I came to Fes, I had a go at weaving silk cloth and got pampered with all sorts of creams and oils made from algan oil.
I got back to the campsite in the late afternoon. The campsite is located on the outskirts of the city and there isn’t much around. I ended up going to the local supermarket, which to my surprise had a booze section. Beers, wines, spirits, pretty much as much as at home (even had a bottle of 10 year old Ardbeg, for 550 dirhams. What do you think of that Sunshine?). So anyone who wouldn’t consider Morocco as a place to go cos there is no booze I can assure you that you can buy drink here, although I really think that you should seek help if booze is important to you enough that it would keep you from going to a country.
After a chilled night i got up early so that I could get to Rabat with plenty of time to find a place to stay. A French rider I met in Chefcharoeun told me of a campsite in Temara that he was going to try so I headed for that. Besides another wrong turn, I had now got used to using the GPS/SatNav on my mobile phone and getting to the campsite wasn’t a problem. The campsite being closed was a problem though so I rode around to find a internet cafe to look for alternative places, although Temara is clearly a more affluent area than other places I’d seen. I found one hotel that had been recommended to me but at about 25 quid for the night, I decided to look again. I went back to the same internet cafe, where I got chatting to the owner, Nordin, who can’t speak English or Spanish but we had a conversation of sorts through Google translate, which is far from ideal (kept asking my to ‘enter my score’ which I now realise meant bring my bike inside!). Nordin offered for me to stay at the internet shop and was very welcoming. I agreed and we went to watch the football in the local coffee shop. Now those of you who know me will know that I cant stand football, but I watched it anyway and our cross-language mid game conversations probably made as much sense as most of the football conversations I’ve overheard in the office at work.
I went to the Mauritanian embassy in the morning where I had expected to meet a huge queue of overland travelers but I was the only one. As time got on more people turned up and it was really nice to chat to people about their intended travels, particularly those like myself who are new to the overland game. I had to duck out of the queue to get some photocopies of my passport but still managed to get the kiosk first. I was also the first to be turned away as I hadn’t filled out an address in Mauritania, which of course none of us would have. I wrote ‘Transit’ following some advice, but then was only allowed a 15 day visa. 15 days should be fine to cross the country but maybe not enough for the exploring I’d like to do, especially when you take into account that I probably wont be able to make it to the border in the ten days that I stated on the application. The road to Marrakesh will be easy but beyond that it will be twisty mountain roads of dirt tracks. Oh well, as with everything, I shall just have to roll with it. The fact that visas can be obtained at the border at inflated prices suggests to me that I can probably pay (or bribe) to get extra days anyway.
I’ll be leaving Rabat tomorrow when I get my visa back. I spent the rest of the day taking in the sites of Rabat with Nordin. He has been an excellent host and wouldn’t let me pay for anything. He even bought me a pocket calculator to help me with black market money changes (I had bought one in Spain but lost it as soon as I I left!) and has invited me to come to his home town, Tata, in the south for the big Muslim celebration where a goat gets killed on Monday. I was actually planning on going to Tata but I don’t think I’ll be able to make the miles in time. Not sure how he is going to drive there in such short time.