This was written for friends at home to keep track of my adventures with my great friend Jo Chandler on a couple of BMWs on a trip through Europe to Morocco. It was amusing enough that I thought it might as well be saved here… I thought it was as good a away as any to kick off this new blog… It’s exactly as written and not proofread, so excuse any typos.
Morocco by bikes. The Wrong Way Round. Part 1.
Great moment yesterday as we rode the last stage to Marrakech. We cruised through the foothills of the Atlas, riding side-by-side, CHiPs-style, standing up on the pegs at 85mph to let the breeze circulate round the nadgers (a regular trick to avoid ‘boil in the bag bag’ – thank god for the invention of mesh bike clothes), while dancing to The Mars Volta for me and Jamiroquai for Jo through the helmet headphones, as the bikes ticked up 2000 miles from home on the odometers. After negotiating the madness of the Marrakech traffic (not quite as bad as India, but pretty wild for keeping two bikes upright while totally lost), we lucked out and got a good air conditioned room near the Djema El Fna (quickly christened the Finbarr Saunders Square, for obvious reasons). Later we headed off to the madness of all the stalls, musicians, hasslers, dope sellers and veiled women selling henna tattoos (‘…beard, madam…?’), After getting slightly bored with everyone shouting, ‘Hey rasta, smoke hash…?’ (dreads just paint a bullseye on you as far as the thoughtful gentlemen with the reefers go), we headed for the hotel roof terrace and sanity, where we realised that we had actually got here without major mishap…. But I’m getting ahead of myself…
The Wrong Way Round – Part 2.
Jo made a few mistakes the first day, starting off with drinking huge amounts of beer on the ferry from Ireland with some other biker chappies. I had had an inebriated phone call from him, waking me up where I lay in a tiny bunk on the ferry from England. I had made the girly decision to actually get my head down for a few hours before a big ride on the wrong side of the road, but, as anyone who knows Jo will realise, such a boring decision would be unthinkable. I saw trouble looming, and I wasn’t to be disappointed. He was woken up by one of the ferry staff, with difficulty, ten minutes after he should have been up and sorting his bike out to get it off the boat. Still pissed, he wobbled off to Morlaix and waited for me to arrive in a cafe, where he made his second mistake – drinking bucketloads of that hideous coffee that the spoon stands up in. This got him totally wired as well, kicking off vast dollops of paranoia and culminating in the voices starting to tell him to put his feet down and crash, a suggestion he fortunately declined. At the first fuel stop he made his third mistake – filling the tank too full. As he lurched inside to piss out excess alcohol and caffeine, his bike quietly pissed out the excess unleaded from the breather pipe into a sizeable pool in the parking space. This was pointed out to me by a French couple, whose idea of evasive action was to stand next to it and spark up a couple of ciggies. With visions of the embarrassment of having to tell people we had returned home by train after both bikes went up in a fireball 25km from the ferry, we moved on rapidly. Impressively, despite mental handicap, Jo managed to stay aboard for 400km to La Rochelle, and the first hotel of the trip. It was there that I was introduced to what would,over and above the smells of Moroccan medinas, become the olfactory memory of the trip – Jo’s ‘Toxic Sock Syndrome’, clearly caused by ‘Tremendous Fungus’…
The Wrong Way Round – Part 3 – Bikey Stuff.
I miss my Harley for its character and ability to set off car alarms just by riding past, but these BMW’s, even though they are two-a-penny after Ewan and Charlie’s six-hour advertisement, are far better in the real world. Comfy, mile-eating, and pretty quick, they are also great fun in the twisty bits, even fully loaded. We even took them off-road for a km or two, down a loose sandy track to see some dodgy mini-Stonehenge near Asilah, and managed to stay upright, but only just. Afterwards, bathed in sweat from fighting the beasts in the sand, we took less notice of the odd pothole in the roads, far more confident of their abilities. Oh, and all of you who took the piss out of us for kitting out the bikes with sat nav, Bluetooth phoning, music, and bike-to-bike radios can all bugger off! It’s been amazingly useful for passing ridiculous comments about passersby, and could you possibly imagine entering Morocco without Ozric Tentacles’ Bizarre Bazaar blasting into the headphones? Of course not! Seriously though, the sat nav helps you to focus on the lunatic drivers trying to run you off the road without having to read a map on the tank bag at the same time, and the radios are superb. Apart from the obvious nonsensical prattle, always preceded and followed by the word ‘arse’ instead of the usual ‘over’, (causing games for how many times one can use the word ‘arse’ in a sentence before saying ‘arse’, but favourites remain the simpler ones – ‘…arse… ARSE!… arse…’ at times of distress, or of course ‘…arse… roger… arse…’), there are times it can be a lifesaver with crazy drivers, warning of horrendous sidewinds when passing lorries, and just yesterday it saved us from being horribly separated just after Casablanca when Jo screamed a warning at me seconds before I would have headed off down a different motorway to him, after which finding each other would have been very hard. No, after decades of paying my dues with lo-tech motorcycling, I’m totally sold, and you can all take the piss as much as you like!!!
The Wrong Way Round – Part 4.
France went by pretty fast, and was a bit like France. It also rained, it was cold on the bikes, and the crosswinds were horrendous. As anyone who has ridden a motorcycle knows, crosswinds are the worst thing, apart from crashing and snapping your farting strings, of course. It’s not so much the wind itself, but when it disappears as you pass a lorry and you have to predict, or try to, the amount of wind that you will encounter when you emerge from its sheltering bulk. If you get the angle of predictive lean wrong it can be most disconcerting, and this is how it went on until well into Spain, where at least the rain stopped. Tired at the end of a long ride one day we pulled into a roadside bar/hotel that looked a bit like The Titty Twister in From Dusk Til Dawn, and so it proved to be. Naively I asked Jo if we should stay there as it was the easy option, but his comment, ‘I’d rather stay in my own earwax,’ was proved to be the right choice when some very dodgy young ladies appeared in an upstairs window shouting at us and screaming with laughter. When one of them got her tits out, which Jo missed, and some shady characters started pulling up in cars, even I twigged what was going on, and we buggered off. Big mileage rides got us down to near Algeciras ready for the Ceuta ferry, and after a half-hour crossing we got to the Moroccan border. It’s exactly as you’d expect – queues, sweltering heat, misunderstandings, queueing yet again at another wrong window, then getting sent back to the first one you were at, which is now closed. But we got in eventually, and it’s great. There’s loads of hassle all the time, and everything’s a bit shonky, but that’s the charm of it. Asillah is a great intro to the country – not too crazy, small, cool breeze from the sea, and a few beaches. We had a couple rest days there after the constant riding (if you can call horse cart rides and taking the bikes off road a rest – see photo album), then headed the 500km or so to Marrakech, where we are now. It really does have one of the greatest squares in the world, and the stalls and musicians and shops really are sensory overload. Stunning! We will have a ride out from here on the bikes up over the Tizi ‘n’ Tichka pass in the Anti Atlas to overlook the Sahara, and I will try to keep these blogs going more regularly. Now, however, I have been sitting in an oven of a cyber cafe for what seems like forever, putting all this lot together on a faded AZERTY keyboard, and I want to go and find some air con desperately. I’ll post pics of the Djema El Fna after we’ve been out with the cameras tonight.
The Wrong Way Round – Part 5.
First of all, sorry I can’t get more pics up tonight, and we’ve got some great ones. Some incomprehensible shonky problem with the computer here means I can’t get them to CD – the only way of uploading. I’ll have a go tomorrow morning when it might be possible. We are off in the morning to Azrou, which apparently is all green and cool… Only 5000 degrees then, probably. Today started off in comedy fashion as, outside the Hotel De Foucauld, we got the bikes ready for our mountain road trip up the Tizi ‘n’ Tichka to have a look at the landscape changing towards the Sahara and dodge a few potholes, buses and goats on the winding road to the summit. Jo discovered that somebody had snipped the insulation tape he uses to hold on some sort of charging port for his vibrating butt-plug or somesuch device, but no harm seemed to have been done. However, we were all ready to go and Jo tried to start the bike – nothing. The horror quickly set in, because we have no breakdown cover for Morocco, and what we don’t know about bikes is, well, practically everything. We wandered round the bike kicking this and that, and cursing the local vandals, but still no joy. Then I decided to try mine, and the same thing – totally dead. A bit more checking of headlights, brake servos, and wiggling a few wires did no good. At the exact moment that Jo said, ‘Are we being a bit dim here?’ I realised that we’d left them in gear to stop them slipping backwards, and as any normal fool knows, BMW’s don’t start on the sidestand… or in gear with the clutch out… Twats! After the usual police roadblocks (with stinger devices nicely set to burst your tyres if you have the wrong moustache), the road became pure heaven with about 80km of fantastic bends through the valley and up into the mountains, with some great lunacies to contend with like lorries backing onto the road, and very dodgy overtaking. We spotted ‘Le Coq Hardi’ cafe on the way up, and with that name, marked it as the definitive lunch spot for the way back. Jo had the genius idea of taping his phone to the indicator and getting 38 mins of on-bike video before the battery ran out near the top, so we didn’t get that, but the section we got was perhaps the best anyway. Loads of haggling with insistent Berber chappies at the top for some trinkets, and we were quite pleased with how much we got them down to, but I suspect we were still well and truly Berbered. And then a great ride back down through the now preheated oven to our refrigerated room in ‘Hotel De Fucker’, via, of course, ‘The Hard Cock Cafe’ for lunch. Best comments of the day over the radios must go to Jo – firstly, when starving, after the ride took longer than we thought, he delivered, ‘I could definitely do with some hard cock now!’ Then when I hadn’t noticed that he had a Mercedes tailgating him, I was told, ‘ Hurry up man, I’ve got an impatient moustache up my arse.’ More from the gange-soaked slopes of the Rif mountains next, when we get to Chefchaouen and have time. Ah, one last thing that has been bugging us – a nice big nugget of camel dung to the first person who can tell us who it was who referred to the French as ‘cheese-eating surrender-monkeys’. Laters…
The Wrong Way Round part 6 – Malfunction day.
Time to leave Marrakech. It’s great, but sooo hot. It was 45 degrees the day before we left, and Jo and I are not the best with such heat, so the plan was to make it to Chefchaouen with a night’s stop on the way in Azrouh. We would avoid the motorways for some more interesting riding, and hopefully the climate would cool down as we got nearer the mountains. As we got the bikes ready it was hard to imagine our paranoias of the day before. Surely the bikes were safe in the hotel’s secure parking, particularly as they were guarded by such a huge dog, and by the minefield of dog’s eggs that it had laid so thoughtfully around the bikes, making life very difficult for any would-be tamperer. What could go wrong? Jo taped the phone back onto his indicator for some more on-bike footage of the madness of the city traffic, and we were away. We’re getting the hang of this city riding now. If you go slow and dither, it’s terrifying, but if you ride aggressively, overtaking on either side, and muscling your way into small gaps, it’s all great fun. All went well, and we got more great footage, until we stopped on the outskirts of town for fuel, and when pulling away, I had a brake failure warning light. I chanced it, and just down the road it kicked in again, but it was worrying. Jo also started to complain about his iPod charger messing around, and after a few more stops with the brakes misbehaving, and now the cruise control refusing to set, we were sweltering under an awning on some desert road, where Jo had got his wish to see some camels, fiddling with wires and phoning BMW Southport for some answers. It turned out that the rear brake sensor had some crap in it, which was confusing the braking system and cruise control, telling them both that the brakes were permanently on. So we fixed it by wiggling it about and hitting it, and it seems to be okay now. Just then, Tom phoned to say that he had taken Detta’s mountain bike out, and the rear brake had locked on, and could I talk him through fixing it. Odd coincidence. So off we went again, and pretty soon the sat nav just died. Not that it’s much use in Morocco, as the maps are not very accurate, but I’ve got my music on it, and I was enjoying an extended Tool appreciation day. Never mind. Stopped to fiddle with it, and Tom was on the phone again. There was a burst pipe in the kitchen, it was flooding badly, and could I sort somebody to come round and fix it. This was getting ridiculous now! What else could go wrong? Well, the icing on the cake was when getting to Azrouh, and the worst hotel we’ve had, the most expensive in town too, and checking my bank balance, which turned out to be a tenth of what I thought I had. This would worry me until I could get to an Internet cafe and check it properly. So, did we have a bad day? NOOOO!! We had the best riding ever, through so many changing landscapes, from desert to green hills, flat, straight roads to twisty switchbacks. It was absolute biker heaven. And there were also, of course, the usual Moroccan comedy moments on the road, capped by a guy who had totally lost control of his donkey while trying to ride it and manhandle a 30ft section of large diameter flexible tubing. The beast had clearly had enough, and decided on a one-donkey stampede, which almost had me cocking up a corner as I laughed at it. We went out to dinner and sat there watching an electrical storm, and later lay in bed listening to a dog with Tourettes, which never stopped barking for a second the whole night. And one of the mateys from the mosque started up doing the regular two-stroke motorcycle engine impersonations at 4am. This guy was loads better than the one in Marrakech though, who used to keep popping out of second gear. No, this guy was an expert, and I drifted off again with visions of him dragging his knee through Druid’s bend at Brand’s Hatch. Now, I’m sorry, instigate a fatwa against me and call my teddy Mohammed, but I just don’t see the point in organised religion and never will. Good comedy value though…
The Wrong Way Round – part 7 – Chefchaouen.
I woke up in the horrible hotel in Azrouh, and knew that something wasn’t quite right. I was definitely ill, but certainly didn’t want to be laid up there, so I took an arse pill to temporarily shut down the Angel Delight dispenser, and put on a brave face. It wasn’t too far to Chefchaouen, about 250km, so we decided to go for it, and get me stretchered off somewhere if I popped off the bike or threw up in the helmet. Actually it didn’t turn out too bad, and even though the ride felt like I was experiencing it through cotton wool, it was quite a nice feeling. The temperature was only 17 degrees when we started too, so it was far more comfortable. I still felt a bit spaced out, so Jo led the way the whole day and all I had to do was follow him. It’s funny how a bit of illness makes you soft and sentimental, and I spent most of the day thinking about the new addition to the family, due in September. I guess most of you know now that Detta and I are expecting, and the day we got into Morocco, she had had a scan which told us that everything is fine, and we are going to have a girl – Amelia. Since then I’ve been looking at some of the kids here, who are probably about the same colour as she will be, and just wondering what she will be like – I’m really looking forward to meeting her! Also, I must just say a huge thank you to Detta. Jo and I were originally planning this trip in September/October, until I found out that Detta was pregnant, so we brought it forward. She has been so understanding and chilled out about me going away, and I just know that bringing up a child with her is going to be a lot of fun. Thank you! So, anyway, we got to Chefchaouen, and we are both absolutely blown away with it. Beautiful blue-painted houses against an amazing mountain backdrop. Every street you go down just seems totally perfect – I really can’t stress enough what an utterly gorgeous place this is. We found the most fantastic hotel, with the sweetest guy running it, who kept on bringing up mint tea, and then cooked me some food. He made the mistake of telling Jo that the fridge was full of beer and to help himself, so he cleared it out – twice. He was also quite concerned about me I think, as I really was ill, very shivery, feverish, and a bit disorientated. But after a weird night, it seems to have cleared up this morning, which is nice, as this area is in the thick of gange production, everyone is so chilled, and when in Rome… It would be rude not to!
The Wrong Way Round – part 8 – “Shonk”.
Shonk; n, slang, a collective term for items of a shonky nature; faulty appliances, comedy plumbing, Dominic Smith-style carpentry. Now nowhere is as shonky as India, where absolutely nothing ever works, but in Morocco they have their own subtle touches of shonk that make one’s stay all the more enjoyable. Yesterday I mentioned that this was the best hotel we have stayed in. Well, for those of you who may think that this meant that everything was perfect, I thought I’d put you right on that. It is indeed a fabulous place, with incredibly friendly and helpful owners, and no lack of creature comforts, but the touches of comedy genius are still worth mentioning. It is interesting to see that not all shonk is down to neglect and age, as this hotel has only been open a short time, so we get to see how much shonk is actually designed into the original plans. At first glance the room looks idyllic, but it’s in the bathroom that we begin the tour… First thing that came to light was the bolt prank, removing the tab that lets you unbolt it again, discovered by Jo when he locked himself in for some time after his first dump. He now manages this after every dump, and owing to the amount of dumping he does, he spends some considerable time in the bog every day, rattling the door and cursing. If you do manage to get the door open, you have probably forgotten how low the razor-sharp door frame is, and you reopen the wound from yesterday’s headsplitting accident. That is, if you have managed to escape a serious fall and sprained ankle from toppling into the shower tray, which is set lower than the floor and cunningly disguised behind the edge of the shower curtain, exactly where you would put your right foot while brushing your teeth. The worst bathroom accident by far is risked when actually on the bog, owing to a very popular Moroccan man-trap, the loose bog seat. Actually, I don’t think we’ve had a safe one yet. It may not seem too serious to the ladies, but picture this… You are balancing carefully, leaning sideways to wipe/wash/hose down your arse, when suddenly the shonky item breaks free and you are turd-bogganning over the edge of the bowl, slicing off any dangling parts with a hideous cigar-cutter action. The other staple is the loose taps. No problem really, but to tighten a set of taps in a sink is probably not even beyond my plumbing skills, but they never, ever, do! Jo reckons that after every job, they look at that particular piece and say, ‘Every time the same – just this bit left over. I wonder what it does?’ And then there are the tiny touches, where we have imagined the owner calling the builders in one more time and saying, ‘Can you set the two switches in the bathroom so they turn the lights on in opposite directions so the hippies are more likely to put wet fingers in the plug socket, which you can fit just underneath. Oh, and while you’re at it, can you shorten one of the legs on the bed, and put the door handles on sideways so everything’s just a bit on the piss?’ But at least everything works, unlike Asilah where the birds would fly in and shit all over the pillows, there were no towels, there was only one blanket for two beds (even though it was the size of a football pitch), and you had to fill up the cistern with the arse-hosing hose, then rummage inside it to flush. Even the horrible Azrouh hotel had its annoyances, but just annoyances really, as they were clearly designed with less humour than most. There we had just a short shower curtain instead of a door to the ensuite, to more fully appreciate each other’s arse activity, and the hot water in the shower marked as the cold, but which wasn’t hot anyway. Showers also always point at odd angles, and never where you can actually get the stream on your body without contortion. An amusing one is what Jo refers to as having a ‘Uri Geller morning’ as you fight to stop the tin foil-thin cutlery bending while cutting an omelette. Another favourite is exposed wiring and ‘fuse’ boxes. In a country where you would swear that electrocution would be the major cause of death, it is remarkable that it just doesn’t seem to happen. Anyway, I could go on and on, but that’s just a taste for you, and I fancy nipping off to smoke some more anti-diet medication to enhance the shopping experience.
The Wrong Way Round – part 9 – Ermmm..?
Well, Jo’s chatting to Liz on the computer here, so I’ll have a go at something to tell you, but not much has happened – not that we can remember anyway… Oh, I know, I forgot to write about Jo falling for a comedy phone scam. Sometimes you get Bluetooth thingies trying to get into your phone here if you forget to turn that facility off after using it on the bike. Somehow I have been lucky enough to make the choice to reject them all when asked, but Jo accepted one in Marrakech, and now he can’t text me, as if he does, the same text he sent the day he accepted the bug gets sent, and then again, and again, and again. Clever little buggers. Also worth mentioning is an amusing waiter here, who looks particularly menacing in a very dodgy chesty-pants and loud waistcoat combo. Nobody eats at his place, probably because he’s a bit scary, looking as though he’d much rather have a kid on his lap, offering a sticky packet of ‘Abdul’s Originals’, and he never smiles. Yesterday though, when having lunch opposite, we found out why he never smiles – he’s only got one tooth, a front one, and it’s about an inch long and angles sideways. We only discovered this when a young guy ran up and started tickling him, causing a revealing grimace. Now we reckon it’s probably a popular game here to get to see the tooth… ‘I’m bored, let’s nip down to Abdul’s and give him a tickle.’ Oh, and oddly, in such a peaceful place, we’ve seen a couple of ambulances, but they don’t seem to be in too much of a hurry, and nobody seemed to be hurt. Jo reckons that the only use they have is if somebody runs out of gange. Hence there is much amusement imagining the wording of the emergency call every time we hear a siren… Well, that’s about all I can think of right now. We’re off to Spain tomorrow, and on our way back up, catching the Santander ferry to Plymouth on Thurs 15th, getting in on Friday. So, if nothing else entertaining happens, that might be about it. Right then, it seems so long since breakfast, and we’d better think about skinning up some lunch…
The Wrong Way Round – part 10 – Epilogue.
Well, here we are in Gijon on the north coast of Spain. Hard to believe that we got here in two days from Chefchaouen, but we did do a monster 884km (550 miles) yesterday, which was knackering, so we have one last rest day to space about and sleep to recover. It rained a lot of the time on the ride, which didn’t help, but as usual we managed to find some great roads and stunning scenery – emerging from a long mountain tunnel into cloud being the abiding image of the day. Gijon looked a bit big and impersonal when we got here, so with the bikes very low on fuel, the light gone, and the rain starting again, we headed off down the coast to what looked on the map like a lovely little seaside town to hunt out a cute hotel. It was then that I realised I didn’t sort my headlights before leaving England (we have avoided night riding), and they point skywards, making the unfamiliar road markings very hard to deal with, especially in the rain – no fun!). The town turned out to be very menacing, with shuttered windows and no hotel – just the sort of place that you wouldn’t stop unless it was life or death – more likely death, judging by the look of it – just the sort of place a couple of young fellows could get rogered, dismembered, then rogered again. So, it was back to Gijon, and eventually, near midnight (as is the way with all things coming good in the end, when travelling), we found a hotel, and lucked out too! It’s reasonable, comfortable, overlooks the port, the plumbing works, the seat is attached to the bog, which is in turn attached to the floor (although for how long, with the onslaught of the tail end of my ‘Berber bottom’, we will have to see), and it has a laundry service! All that remains is to ride an hour or so to the boat tomorrow, which didn’t seem like a problem, except we just saw on a restaurant telly that the north of Spain will be plagued by thunderstorms tomorrow. Ah well… So, over and out, I guess, erm… ‘arse’…