Moroccan Finish Line/Wrap Up
I didn't realize when I started these that people would actually read them. I knew a few would but they were mostly for me. When I abruptly stopped writing family and friends reported being left out to dry! So I will try to wrap up my concluding thoughts about my Moroccan adventure from the comfort of England.
The last full day of riding was by far our worst day, it was our second crossing of the Atlas mountains and we had to do well over 150km (most of that between 20 and 30 kmph up hill). In hindsight it was obvious to see why we were one of the only teams to cross twice, you can only be overtaken by so many busses on a narrow road, throttle pinned, engine whining, and only doing 10kmph before it gets old.
By mid morning Jake had crashed and our spirits were as low as our fuel tanks. Looking at the ditch he crashed in we were lucky he was not seriously injured. We stopped and asked for fuel an endeavor that took nearly 2 hours for someone to go get and bring back litre water bottles full of gas. By the late afternoon Jake crashed again, I felt to blame we were tired and pushing hard having the most experience between us I should have known better. This was the first crash I witnessed and I was horiffied. Jake was a trooper though and he always got back in the saddle.
That night sprits were even lower than before, especially after losing Kelly back to his family. We were quickly cheered up by finding other monkeys at our hotel! In retrospect we were all converging on the same place so it made sense. I stayed up nearly all night freezing and conversing on our common balcony under a blanket, a vast improvement to the day so far.
The final ride into the finish line was interesting as it meant riding through parts of Marrakech. Thanks to the prior planning of one of the other monkeys, over half of the participants met at a gocart track for a failed attempt at an impromptu race. As a result we rode through Marrakech 28 strong. We were at the back though and missed our turn. After some stressful navigating and a wheelie culminating in a near crash on my part we caught the group and rode to the finish line together, reportedly in one of the largest mass finishes to date.
At the finish line we were plied with Matt's Gin and Tonic and our ears bombarded with a local drum line rocking out everytime new riders filtered in and up to the final podium. The podium it's worth noting: is only accessible via a steep narrow ramp and this year we also set the record for the most crashes and deposits lost on the stage (video below). I felt slightly sad as I removed my straps and belonging from my monkey, we drove that children's toy across an entire country, up steep grades and back down, on roads that even a real motorcycle would struggle on and it just kept going (albeit slowly).
From there we were bussed back to the heart of Marrakech for dinner and more drinks, as well as an award ceremony. We spent the next couple of days wandering the Souq, and taking the train to Casablanca to see the famous Rick's Café and the Hassan II Mosque. Rick's is a recreation of the famous gin joint from the movie Casablanca. Movie buffs will note the actual movie could not have been filmed in Morrocco at the time due to German occupation already taking place. The Hassan II Mosque is one of the only Mosques in the world westerns are allowed and encouraged to go into. The building was finished in the 90s and is strikingly beautiful. As a whole if you are debating going to Casablanca though, don't. As the countries economic capital and major port and one of the largest cities in Africa it was hard, despite trying, to find any real charm there. I'd forgo Casablanca and try to make it to Fez if I had to do it again.
On the final day my spirits were low. I realized I had come all this way and still had nearly 2 weeks until work started again. As a result I took a gamble on spontenaity and changed my flight for a 9 day layover in London. This has allowed me a soft landing, combining equal parts vacation and work in preparation of returning to the US next week.
If you've stuck with me this far thank you! Feel free to call it a day and sign off, if you'd like to learn a bit about Berber and Morrocan culture read on!
I promised more on the culture of Morocco in a prior post. I was amazed at the diversity of Morocco the most. The national language is Arabic, but outside of major cities Arabic is rarely spoken. Other common languages include French (hold over from colonialism), Spanish (likely due to its proximity), English, and in rural areas 4 different dialects of Berber. Morocco is split into 4 distinct Berber territories and each one has its own unique culture and colors of robes.
Interestingly though if you've ever seen any of the original star wars (episodes 4 through 6) you've likely seen these robes. Naively I once thought that George Lucas did a great job with costumes but really he just stole Berber clothes for jedi robes and likely modeled Jawas (the Droid stealing little guys) after hooded kids wearing the same robes who were just as quick to grab anything they can from you. Okay nerd tangent over...
Despite all this the Berber culture is one of the most hospitable I've ever met. One local told us over tea "that [we] have the biggest hearts", and I could easily believe it, most days. Everyone was quick to lend a hand when we needed it and welcome us to their city for food and company. While it is easy for me to gripe about being hustled or children trying to steal my hand sanitizer (and using it as shampoo) in the context of Morocco it makes sense. The country is always under construction (new homes might take decades to complete, we passed several towns where one person would be painstakingly adding blocks to rebar construction one brick at a time) and divided into the haves and have-nots with a great many more have-nots. In such a poor region of course someone will want to take you on an unsolicited tour of the Medina for a few dollars. It's ironic seeing tourists refuse to pay someone the equivalent of $2 or haggle over a few cents when in the long run it means very little to the tourist but can be the difference between having a dinner or not for a local.
All and all I found Morocco to be a hospitable, friendly, and loving country I'd highly reccomend you give it a try.
-Ar Timlilit (goodbye)
Morocco Day 9
When I started this morning looking at our route I thought that I would not have much to talk about today. But boy was I wrong, you'd think I would know better by now.
We got an early start and put in a lot of miles. We were feeling pretty good about ourselves by the time we reached Oarzazate (pronounced war-za-zate). On some of the hills up to the city I noticed my bike seemed to be making a little clatter from the top end at higher rpms up hill. After lunch I decided to check it out and noticed there was a small oil drip coming from the stater case. So we had to find a mechanic. One hour and $20 later I had new seals and an oil change, hopefully Jeremy is good to go. I'm still worried that the seal coming loose was a symptom of a larger problem. Either way having this work done on a motorcycle in the US would have cost 100s of dollars and taken weeks just to get it into the shop.
Oarzazate is known as the Hollywood of morocco with many movies and TV shows filmed in the area including: Game of Thrones, kingdom of Heaven, gladiator, babel and the list goes on including a whole slew of classic movies. Filming is so common here we met a man at the motorcycle shop (actual hole in the wall) that was an unsullied extra from Game of Thrones he told us he only works as an actor in movies when they come to town and has no other job.
I was unaware of this however, Kelly is an avid movie buff so he set us straight. After my breakdown we only had a chance to visit one movie set the location of Juruselaum from kingdom of Heaven, and Astapor from GoT are the most popular movies that were shot there but other titles include Ben Hur and the new Aladin.
I was amazed at how convincing the facades were and it was not hard to imagine with the proper framing and lighting the scenes from the TV shows and movies.
We were short on time so we had to rush to Ait Ben Haddou. I say rush but really that means 40 kph tops with the throttles pinned. Ait Ben Haddou is a UNESCO world heritage site that has served as the background for many movies and TV shows most recently as the city of Qarth in GoT. This is not why I wanted to see it I wanted to see it because it is ancient and looks to be carved from the very fabric of the earth and made to stand the test of time. The city is currently only occupied by 4 families. We hiked to the top to watch the sunset over the valley and it was easy to see why this spot was picked for the fortress, the same breathtaking veiw we were taking in offers 360° of unobstructed line of sight to anyone approaching for miles. We finished our evening with morrocan mint tea watching the sunset from a cafe near the top of Ait Ben Haddou. As we were leaving we found out that the owner of the cafe was restoring the building because it was her great grandparents home. I really could not think of a better end to my day.
Morocco Days 7 and 8
I don't even know where to begin, this country is amazing. The geography is so interesting. Yesterday we came up the valley du Todgha, and today we rode down the dadès gorge (you might recognize the curvy dadès gorge road from just about every car show).
We gained over 2, 000 meters in elevation and ended up back down close to where we started. We started out yesterday morning on the approach to du Todgha we could see glimpses of the valley but we had no idea what we were in for there was very little warning. We rounded a brown building selling Coca-Cola and we were slapped in the face by cold wind funneled through the gorge and I nearly rear ended a tour bus parked in the road. Ice cold snow-fed water burbled underneath the bridge and around the sides of the canyon in mini aqueduct channels that looked to be 100 years old. We stopped to take in the veiw but didn't stay long on account of the freezing wind.
We were surrounded by the red, tan, and sometimes light green walled canyon for the next few hours while our little monkeys struggled to climb out of the canyon. Eventually we popped out of the canyon on to a high plain/steppe that could just as easily been in Mongolia or Nepal (not that I would know, I'm just going off what I've seen). The going was slow in 2nd and sometimes all the way down to 1st gear until we got closer to our final destination, Agoudal. The road steeply switchbacked and my poor little Jeremy did not have enough "speed" or "power" so I walked him for about 1/4 mile up hill until I could get enough speed to jump back on, at which point he screamed and groaned (much like his namesake) but kept on.
Agoudal sat nestled in a valley near a stream with some of the first trees we've seen all week. At the cities edge we ran into a pack of fellow monkey riders destined for the other side of the Atlas mountains. They were surrounded by kids who were grabbing and pulling at their clothes, and trying to jump on their bikes. I slowed to wave then had to retrieve my hand sanitizer from a little theif who plucked it from my bag. I doled out drops of hand sanitizer to a dozen little hands while kids jumped on Jake's bike and started pushing his horn button. "We got to go I yelled", and we took off. This was a stark contrast to the rather polite kids we met on the way up earlier.
A side note on Morocco's kids it seems like birth control is not a thing here every city we come to is crawling with youngsters. They are especially prevelant at the edge of town where there always seems to be a lookout posted as soon as we slow or stop a horde appears. Most mean well but as a group they can be quite aggressive, some riders reported having rocks or sticks thrown at them, while other were nearly pulled off their bikes when high fives turned into arm tug-of-war (I stopped high fiving after hearing this). When we stop at a cafe, as soon as a local adult appears they flee for fear of being reprimanded.
We reached our hotel in Agoudal and relaxed in the common room near the wood stove with our hosts (berber hospitality is amazing, I'll save that for a future post). The pass to the dadès was about 1,000 ft higher than Agoudal and we were led to believe it was steeper and since it was not paved, in wosre condition than the road we came up to get to Agoudal. So our host procured a "truck" (which turned out to be a van used to haul goats in the back) for 400dh (40$) each. Not wanting to walk our bikes up the pass and since he said he rented a truck for 2 monkey riders last year, we agreed.
Turns out the road wasn't that bad. While I sat in the back with our three bikes among the sheep and goat dung fuming about missing out on the most fun road so far, I tried to justify the van ride. Sure it was an experience I'd never get again, and we got to spend time with our silent berber driver and take in the scenery but where is the fun in that? At the top of the pass we unloaded the bikes but I was so disappointed/upset I couldn't even take in the veiw.
I decided to turn around and ride the last pass (the steepest and highest of the 3 the van took us over), while Jake and Kelly went on. The bikes would have had no problems on any of the grades at all. It was a little muddy and in some spots there was snow and deep tire ruts but I had a blast. This and the next several hours of dirt road to follow boosted my morale.
I caught up with Jake and Kelly a couple hours later. The 3 of us passed 2, 1250 cc bmw gs' coming up the hill and I couldn't help but wonder who felt sillier us or them! Still I can't wait to get home to my own giant 1000cc motorcycle.
We finished the day heading down the dadès gorge and into the valley of fire after having a late lunch by a stream and watching goats climb the steep canyon walls.
Morocco New Years Day and Launch
Everyone was a little slow moving in the moring the festivities carried well into the new year and most of the night. I woke before sunrise as the carpet walled tent was cold so I decided to get up to warm up a bit. I went upstairs to the lobby to try to upload pictures for yesterday's blog but was surprised to see camel (herders? Shepherds? Caravaners?) we'll settle for camel care takers on their iphones surfing the web and watching YouTube videos. It struck me as a interesting juxtaposition of the old and the new.
I gave up on the pictures and went to the roof to watch the first sunrise of the decade/year I wasn't too surprised to see the fountain frozen over along the way.
As the morning progressed I could see the same nervous/hung over look in everyone's eyes that I had. We prepared to launch early but started late. The caucaphony of horns and little red lined monkey engine revving was headsplitting. I helped others where I could; helping tie bags down and restart engines hopefully I won't be dq'd for helping but that's what a lot of this is about for me, community.
There was a split second where I thought, "what the hell am I doing here in Africa on this diminutive motorcycle", the flag was waved and I grinned and revved Jeremy for take off and the thought hasn't crossed my mind since. We moved through the tight opening of the kasbah like water through a narrow channel bumping off one another and expanding on the other side. On the other side 49 monkeys were rocking and rolling! Dust was everyware people were whiskey throttling and dumping clutches making monkey sized wheelies a common site, some went down, some got stuck in sand, it was like a child's version of Mad Max crossed with a mini Dakar rally.
It was a great day despite 1/2 of our adopted group getting seperated and sometimes feeling like a mother goose worried about her ducklings I had a blast. I'm a positive person and like to think I smile on a day to day basis but between the laughs and good conversations on new years and the smiling under my helmet my cheeks are sore, no not those cheeks you pervs. I guess I need to smile more daily to exercise for when I do events like this!
Sorry I'm a couple days behind. The internet has not been good enough to post to the blog and post photos had to resize the pictures... Weird it's like I'm in Africa or something....
Morocco Days 3 and 4: New years in the Sahara
We spent all day Monday the 30th on a minibus weaving our way over the high atlas and back down the other side until we reached our final destination in Erg Chebbi. The trip took roughly 13 hours but we arrived to a huge welcome celebration complete with local music, drinks, and dinner. I was exhausted and sore from being cramped in the minibus for that long and it didn't take long for me to wander back down the lamp lit carpet covered path to my carpeted berber style tent, where I slipped into a blissfuly freezing and slate hard bed. My sleep was punctuated by dreams of Saharan frost bite but, I pulled through to new years day.
New years eve was the most exciting day yet, as this is when we got to meet our trusty somewhat rusty monkey steeds. The Adventurists must have filmed the videos on their website with really short people from indirect angles because these bikes were even smaller than I thought!
We spent the afternoon building and rebuilding a suitable platform for our bags. My first attempt failed the donut test and my bag fell off. On the test rides I realized my monkey (AKA Jeremy) sometimes will have a 4th gear and other times it tops out in 3rd gear, I suppose it is par for the course. All and all despite being smaller than imagined monkey Jeremy is in better shape than I thought it would be. However I made a modification you can see below that will add much more power and at least 1cc making it a whopping 50ccs now! This is also how Jeremy got his name. Seriously though when I walked up to Jake's motorcycle with my helmet on I couldn't even hear his bike idle!
As I watched the last sunset of the decade slip behind the sand dunes, I reflected on how lucky I am to be able to experience new years here like this. The sky gradually transitioned from shades of tangerine and dark orange to deep blues, the kind you can only ever see in a sunset and cannot be recreated on the finest of artists palaattes. Despite the bikes being reportedly "perfectly shite" I can't wait to start new years tomorrow with the launch of the event.
I rang in the new years with excellent company and too much of Mr Matt's spiked punch to keep me warm. The evening was spent around the campfire with the berber band playing intermittently as they saw fit. Makes me wonder what the rest of the new decades new years can hold that will be better than this for me.
It's morning now and I have to catch the first sunrise of the decade then load Jeremy for the adventure ahead. I can't wait to start the run in less than 2 1/2 hours hopefully he'll make it longer than 3 hours from now.
Note: I hope to post daily wifi permitting. All of the posts are done on my phone so please excuse any typos. Fellow absurd monkey riders I apologize if my posts are long they are meant mostly for friends and family at home and as a journal for me to look back on.
Morocco Day 2: The Souq Hustlers
Highlights: Marakesh Medina, Making new local friends, and meeting new Monkey friends...
We started the day yesterday heading to the Souq in the Medina of Marakesh. A Souq is the word for a market and the Medina is the walled in area of the old part of a North African city. We knew it was going to be a touristy area and there would be a high chance of being hustled but nothing could prepare me for what was about to come.
Right off the bat we hesitated too long to look at a snake charmer. As a result 1/2 a dozen guys came out of the wood work and started piling me and our new friend Hunter with monkeys, Jake got a snake (dodged that bullet). I knew what was going to come afterwards and the state of the chained animals did not make me happy either. So paying them was not something I wanted to do. Unfortunately they were very aggressive so to get them to back off I gave them 100dh (10$)! Even that was not enough and I had to just walk away fending off unwanted advances.
This was my first of many incidents like this. Some people in the Souq were genuinely helpful and wanted to give us advice/directions for others directions came at a cost. After the first 2 or 3 hours I hadn't even purchased anything but was out a caribiener (it was cheaper than a 100dh note) and 30$. We finally broke free of our last unsolicited tour, "the berber tannery" and stopped for lunch to calm the nerves and reassess.
Once we were able to grow a thick enough skin to ignore/walkway/say no or a combination of all three to unwanted directions (tours) we were able to get lost in the labyrinth of the Souq. Narrow passageways of merchants surrounded us on all sides selling everything from vibrant delicious smelling spices to hand painted signs and beenies. The Souq was an experience I will remember for the rest of my life. The passageways seemed infinite it was so easy to get delightfully lost among the wares. A 3 foot passage turns into a super Medina highway of sorts. Locals on motorbikes and donkeys dodged, walking visitors lining the sides of the stalls. Your senses are assaulted by unique smells, vibrant colors, an assortment of sounds, and the brushing of rugs against your skin as you weave your way through it all.
After the Medina we visited other historic points of interest. On our way back to the hostel we passed the place we ate dinner the night before, the servers recognized us and tried to flag us down speaking a combination of Spanish, Arabic, and English. We politely declined half lying by saying we would be back. We worked our way down several more winding blocks, blocks is not the right word as it it implies square corners that do not exist here, then we decided to turn back for a snack. The severs were on their 2pm "lunch break" but were so delighted to see us that they invited us to eat with them. We sat around Tajin (a spiced hot dish containing some meat and vegetables) with 8 of our new favorite locals. They explained the proper etiquette of eating with only 3 fingers on your right hand as they passed bread around to scoop the delicious food out with. I enquired about the unique spices as they told us about their daily routines and what life in Morocco was like. We finished dinner and offered them money but they only smiled and declined. Such a great change of pace from the morning, I hope more of the people will be this friendly as we move out into the country today.
We finished the evening at a bar that looked like it was out of a Hollywood movie set, I half expect Humphrey Bogart to be behind the bar. We met the other monkey bike riders here who had arrived this far. The bunch is from all over the world! Stories about our time in Morocco so far were swapped as we laughed and shared appetizers and jokes over drinks while a belly dancer worked her way through the tables. The group all seems to be some of the best people I've ever met and our shared passion for adventure is exciting. This trip is only starting and it's going to be a hell of a ride.
Today we are heading to the desert to get our bikes at the start line. There won't be a day 3 post as. Ost the day will be on a bus. I'll post when I have wifi next.
Note: I hope to post daily wifi permitting. All of the posts are done on my phone so please excuse any typos. Fellow absurd monkey riders I apologize if my posts are long they are meant mostly for friends and family at home.
Morocco Day 1:
I thought about starting this post complaining about the length of the flight and lack of sleep on the way here but I'm not (even though I kind of just did). Besides why would I frame our the first post of our adventure so negatively right off the bat! No this first proper, post starts with the hectic trip from the Marakesh Airport. We found our driver after considerable delay he whipped us through traffic dodging minibusses and other cars honking more than not. We got to the central part of Marrakesh near our hostel late, the gravity of where we were started to set in "This is Africa", "we're in Marakesh" I thought over and over on the way to this point.
The driver turned down some narrow cobbled alleys and streets then stopped and said something about it being difficult to go further, he pointed down a narrow alley and said we needed to go that way. Jake and I were on high alert, after 16+ hours of travel and I knew we stuck out like sore thumbs. The dark lit alley before us looked scary but we pressed on. We started to meander through a maze of tight alleys and corridors flanked on either side by tall tan colored walls occasionally broken up by more side passages and large doors of all shapes and sizes. We passed stray cats, with their hair hackled eating garbage, and unfamiliar people who I am ashamed to admit made my hair hackle like a stray cat. We took more than one wrong turn my bag was beginning to cut into my shoulder as we decided after a few minutes to retrace our steps. A man approached us and asked "hostel?", we nervously replied yes he gave us directions then offered to sell us hasheesh which we politely declined. We followed his directions and just before reaching the hostel our path was blocked by a group of men. I started to get worried the closer we got but they smiled, parted, and one man pointed us on to our destination around the corner.
Sometimes it is easy for me to forget that most people are kind. Last night I was reminded of that again and again. On my last motorcycle trip through Central America that was the case too, but nobody talks about the good people back home only the bad experiences. The people here so far have been very hospitable and helpful!
Afteer checking in our helpful host gave us directions more or less back to where we were dropped off to find food. Starving we set out into the labyrinth more confident this time. We quickly found some cafes serving food along a street intermixed with the heady aroma of wood fired stoves and food spiced with things I never knew existed, punctuated by the smell of exhaust fumes from the scooters and motorcycles zipping by on the narrow street.
We stopped at one of the first places we found, the waiters seated us in the street and helped us order some of the best food I have ever had. My back was mere feet from from vans and cars passing each other both ways in a road that would normally be as wide as a one way back home. I didn't care we're in Marrakesh and in 3 days we will be on our trusty monkey steeds.
Today we are going to explore the markets of Marakesh. Will post on that when I can.
Note: I hope to post daily wifi permitting. All of the posts are done on my phone so please excuse any typos. Fellow absurd monkey riders I apologize if my posts are long they are meant mostly for friends and family at home.
Leaving LA for London then on to Morocco!
All packed for the January monkey less than a week until we leave!
Getting stoked for the 2020 Morocco monkey run!