After crossing the border back to Spain, we made it straight to Sevilla for a couple of reasons. First, we needed a new tire for the bike, and a big city would be easier, as we only wanted one specific brand and model: Michelin’s newest Anakee3. Our previous tire, the Anakee2, had taken us last year from Romania to North Cape in Norway (Europe’s northernmost point), then back South to Italy, I had lent the bike to a friend while we went back to Guatemala and rented it during the summer to another guy who put an extra couple thousand miles on it. All in, it lasted for over 15,000 miles, which is a lot for a tire. We didn’t want to enter Morocco and drive in the middle of nowhere with an old tire. Then, BF was given strict dates on his Moroccan visa, and was only allowed a two weeks visit, so we wanted to get in on his first day.
We got to Sevilla and found a couple of garages, but none had our tire in stock. They could order it, but it would take another day. We kept looking, got tired, and gave in at the end of the day, calling one of those places to get the tire the next day. In retrospect we should have ordered it straight away and just got on with our visits because Sevilla is worth way more time than we spent there. The city is amazing, it has a beautiful historic center and we loved it.
At night, we went out for tapas to a couple of different places, which in spite of being a week night were packed solid. The tapas tradition is pretty cool, you order a lot of different things to snack on with a drink to accompany. Generally, once you finish your drink, you move to the next place, and can go to three or four places during the night, and get one drink and tapas at each place.
That is where BF fell in love with sangria, a cocktail made of red wine, orange juice, fresh fruits and fizzy water. Note taken to make sangria when we get back.
The next day was spent at the workshop, getting the new tire fixed. The guy did an awesome job but charged a pretty premium for the expedite work. Over $200 for the tire, installed and balanced. We would have spent another half day trying to DIY so it was money well spent. We then left and drove South to Tarifa, where the ferry departs to Morocco. On the way we stopped for seafood paella and ice cream in Cádiz, one of the only towns we got completely lost in, as it is a strip of land with seafront on two sides, every time we got to the sea, we thought we were West when we could have been facing the East. Note to self: take a picture on the phone of where you park your bike so you can locate it with GPS later. It took us about an hour to find the bike after lunch.
We got to Tarifa pretty late, too late to take the ferry, and slept there, which was a good excuse to wash down another liter of sangria before jetting off to Muslim territory.
The fast ferry from Tarifa, Spain, to Tangiers takes about one hour, two with customs and the wait. There is little competition, unlike the UK ferries from mainland Europe, so they charged over $200 for the two of us and the bike. The ferry company is pretty flexible so you can just get there, safe in July and August when all the Moroccans living in Europe go back home for the summer and the queues are insane. Getting off in Tangiers, it was still early morning and I was hoping the custom officials would be in a good mood.
As soon as you disembark, there is a dozen of guys who come running to you, to “help” with the bike registration. It was overwhelming but I had already taken my car there twice and I knew we shouldn’t listen to them. I filled the form and handed it to a real policeman, then we waited and waited, as the people who paid the touts were cleared first, then we were free to go.
Our first stop was Tétouan, famous for its traditional old town and market, where like in the medieval age, all the trades are still concentrated in one street. There is a jeweler street, an ironsmith street, a fishmonger street… BF was visiting Morocco for the first time, and getting lost in a maze of narrow streets, complete with dust and smells was not the best way to start the trip.
We quickly exited to end the day in Chefchaouen, a city known for its blue houses. Everyone paints his house blue, but every house has a different shade, and the town is nestled high in the mountains, a spectacular site.
We were tired and I took the first hotel that I visited, that was really basic, read uncomfortable and tiny, and we didn’t get a good night sleep. So much for sharing my love of Morocco.
Next we kept going South through the mountains, the weather was mild and the landscape rugged, as we climbed higher it was getting colder, which was perfect to drive and to sleep.
After another long driving day, we made it to the Sahara desert, where the heat was back to 100 degrees (35-40 celsius). I hadn’t been to the desert in 10 years and was really impressed at how developed everything was. We filled the tank in Rissani, the last medium town before the desert, thinking there would be nothing else further down the road, and it turns out that in Merzouga, the desert town at the feet of some impressive sand dunes, there was another one.
We chose to go explore the dunes with a couple of camels, and were taken by a nice guy at the top of the dunes to watch a beautiful sunset.
Going back, I told the guy in my broken Moroccan Arabic that we wanted him to go back to the village and leave us there so we could watch the stars but he looked too worried we would get lost, and refused.
The desert sky is impressive, it is so clear it looks like you can touch the stars, and there is no noise. They say some people are scared of too much silence. No wind in the leaves, there are no trees. No singing birds, nothing. You are alone with the silence.
The desert was one of the highlights of the trip, and after that, we overestimated ourselves and thought we could drive to Marrakesh in one day. The roads are pretty good but they are always one lane, and you can’t drive much faster than 50 miles an hour. The last section of the road is a mountain pass, that zig zags high in the Atlas mountains. It started getting dark, we were exhausted and stopped at a few hotels to get a room, every single one of them was closed as the season ended last month. We finally found a nice place that thankfully had a kitchen too and served us dinner as we hadn’t eaten all day. They had Moroccan wine, that has to be a remain from the French Protectorate era, as Muslims do not drink alcohol, that we were delighted to taste as well.
Marrakesh was another city BF didn’t like too much. It is pretty touristy and crowded with locals too, parking the bike was complicated, so we didn’t stay long. When I lived in Morocco I used to go there pretty often as it is the typical weekend destination away from Casablanca but didn’t like how people treat you like tourists (read: try to rip you off all the time) whereas in Casablanca they treated me like a normal person and gave me fair prices. So I didn’t mind getting out quickly to our next destination: Essaouira.
Essaouira is a coastal town that was under Portuguese rule for a while, and still has a charming old center, much more laid back and walkable than Marrakesh.
We found a beautiful hotel right in the center and spent the next three days relaxing, going to the fish market to eat grilled fish and seafood, and enjoying the slower pace of the city.
We took the coastal road to Casablanca, an old scenic road with stretches of straight lines… where the speed is limited to 40mph. As it was to be expected, the cops were waiting for tourists with a radar and stopped us. We got down, and the cop explained that he was going to give us a $40 fine but we had to bring him $120. Yeah, sure. But BF had given him his passport and the guy was holding it hostage until he got his money. So I took my phone and started taking pictures of the cop, he completely freaked out, and said he would give back the passport AND NOT FINE US ANYTHING if I erased the pictures. He did give back the passport and I was pretending to memorize his cop number on his uniform for collateral, so he put his hand on his chest to hide it. We were indeed going faster than the limit, but their attitude was plain corrupt. And the only other car they happened to have stopped also had foreign plates so it looked like they were expecting tourists. But soon we were on our way laughing about it.
We got to Casablanca after a brief stop in Oualidia, the only place in Morocco that breeds oysters, and I was happy to revisit the city I had live in for a year. We had dinner at Rick’s place, a restaurant that recreated the bar from the movie Casablanca, complete with piano player and waiters in costume, as the movie was entirely shot in Hollywood.
We kept going on the coastal road all the way back to Tétouan, enjoying the coast, the capital city Rabat and a few other sights. All in all, visiting Morocco was pretty different than the other times, it is a country you need to allow time for, we did quite a lot in just a few days, and were glad to go back to the comfort and familiarity of Europe. I can’t expect to be treated like I was when I lived here when we got around on a BMW bike with UK plates, people were expecting loaded tourists and treated us as such. But Morocco still holds a special place for me.
That’s it for now, next we go back to Andalucia and the Mediterranean coast of Spain!