Published: May 30th 2012May 30th 2012
Given we had ridden so many amazing routes during our tenure in Morocco we could hardly be disappointed that today’s ride wasn’t one of them.
We had elected to head for Larache, which sounded a pleasant enough Atlantic coast resort and allegedly had a top end boutique hotel, the Hotel Riad which would offer a welcome change from the sub-backpacker standard of our smelly Meknes Riad. Studying the map we felt it would be far more interesting to cut through the countryside rather than sit on a dull motorway via Rabat but we needn’t have bothered.
If Morocco is some kind of world centre for sh*t driving then the epicentre of sh*tness had to be Tangier. As you drew closer to Tangier so it seemed the worse the standards of driving became. We had ridden through several big cities and whilst the driving had never won any awards none had been as bad as our first day. This route was busy, full of completely insane truck drivers who regularly would overtake each other on short straights leading up to blind bends. Several times near head-on collisions were only averted when vehicles coming round such bends were forced to a
grinding halt. If we had been flying round such bends at 70mph we would have at best been forced off the road, at worst wiped out – so you tended not to do that. And there was always one truckie that would out-pyscho the rest – today’s award for driving like a complete James Hunt went to a petrol tanker – great! When I saw he had been pulled up at a police roadblock later on I allowed myself a rue smile. The truck drivers in the UK are a relative paragon of virtue. The route too was dull – once we had left the environs of Meknes the road was arrow straight, but despite its popularity was more like a country lane.
The countryside was similarly bland, a brief pique of interest at a salt production centre by the road which occupied hundreds of cricket pitch sized pools where sea salt was drying out to varying degrees, long passed – and I had missed the turning for Volubilis. As we ventured further from Meknes it became gobsmackingly poor. We saw some of the worst shanty towns we had yet witnessed and great swathes of rubbish. It was still
Africa but it was her darker side. Generally the poverty here can be quite extreme and there is no infrastructure to save people. We had seen so many people blighted by polio, which could have been prevented by a simple vaccine laden sugar cube, it was tragic. Against this backdrop it is easy to understand why they see any westerner as simply a wallet. Even the most modest of family income is a vast fortune to these people. I don’t care whether this is a politically correct statement or not but perhaps some of our public servants who are bleating about their pension cuts should take a trip here and gain some much needed perspective.
Having (or at least trying to have) a modicum of empathy with the gulf in our and their fortunes allowed us to be pretty tolerant most of the time of the continual pestering that accompanied you, as you just pulled up (or sometimes before you had). Normally a quick chat, a big smile followed by a few “Non Merci’s” was sufficient but sometimes you just craved to be left alone and to not have to bother and occasionally your patience threshold was breached. Normally
if the perpetrator of services offered did so with more edge and less grace than is normal. Vince had his in Merzouga with his “we’re just going to take some photos and f*ck off, OK?” delivery I had mine in Larache.
Because of the quality of the road and the heavier traffic it had been quite a long day to really only ride a couple of hundred miles. Having arrived in Larache mid-afternoon we were being yelled at as we circumvented the bottom loop of town just before the Atlantic. We just couldn’t find this Riad and we rode round and round. When we finally stopped a couple of locals struck up a conversation, as they always do and they always start with something along the lines of “we just want to help you, we are free we don’t want your money, my aunt’s brother’s cousin’s uncle lives in Liverpool, we love English people - welcome.” According to these local geezers, one probably late forties the other probably early sixties, the Hotel Riad was a building site and they had knocked it down and were buying land and building but they knew of a fantastic hotel – the best
in Larache. After a little hesitation we agreed to let them show us and were presented by an absolute sh*thole. Despite being “free” they still asked for more when we gave them 30 Dir (about £3 for 30 seconds work) – but then as Vince said if you gave £1m they’d ask for £1.5m.
We considered our options - Vince adamant this hotel must exist so we set off again and sure enough we found the street and a chap outside a bar pointed us in its direction. And then up popped matey-boy from earlier who offered to then take us there – presumably for more wonga. I was well f*cked off, and when he said “I take you there I no lie to you” I was off – “Yes you lie to us, you not our friend we find hotel, you go away”. I just couldn’t believe the bare faced cheek of it and I don’t think he could believe the rebuke. Ahh, but there was a problem. Vince had noticed the building site down the road and actually it was the Hotel Riad – oops. I hadn’t noticed him frantically waving behind my back “No, no” –
too late. Oh well, he was a pushy git anyway.
Eventually we gave up on Larache and whilst it may have had potential we both concluded it was a sh*thole. Instead we pushed on up the coast to Asilah and for the first time in the trip actually had the hotel address located in the GPS.
To compare Asilah and Larache is to compare Sandbanks and Southend, they are worlds apart. The walled city ramparts enclosing a beautiful medina hard up against the Atlantic were a class act and Larache had nothing in its arsenal to compare. The town was deserted though, I guess this is considered out of season. Hard to understand why, it was certainly hot enough but it made a good place to stop.
We had allowed an extra day to get to Tangiers to hit our planned Thursday Moroccan exit which dovetailed with our Saturday Bilbao crossing. This was (unusually) sage planning in case any more sickness afflicted either of us. If it didn’t then it allowed the possibility of a couple of days relaxing in a top place on the coast, if we could find one, which also appealed. But we now found ourselves only 30km from Tangiers in an average hotel (still better than that awful Riad Bahia in Meknes). The Hotel Zelis was fine and I’d go so far as to recommend it, in as far as you can recommend a £25-£30 hotel, but to stay another night just to leave on Thursday when we would have seen everything the, thoroughly pleasant, town had to offer by the middle of Wednesday seemed daft. We were just staying in Morocco for the sake of it. So we decided that we will leave today, and just have 10 days in Morocco (rather than 11) and spend an extra day taking it easy riding up through Spain.
So this is the last African blog. Morocco – an amazing place, but I am leaving it pretty shattered. I am still not back to full health and less strength. God knows what I weigh. I have absolutely loved it and it has been one of my best travel experiences to date - but I won’t be sorry to be the other side of the straights later today either.