Sensibly we chose to leave Chefchaouen for Fez at midday, so we would be en route in the hottest part of the day. Sure enough the temp gauge quickly rose to 30C and in full motorbike kit anything black attracted the full ferocity of the North African sun. It was hot and tiring work. The road out of the Rif yielded visual treats aplenty and the road snaked enough to be interesting, without being that technical. But you had to concentrate like f*ck and you certainly would have been foolhardy to corner at anything like close to the limit. You never knew what was round the corner – a suicidal truck driver trying blind overtakes with near head-on misses ahead, or homicidal maniacs cutting the corner forcing you off line. Both were commonplace. The road surface varied from Silverstone quality to bump-city with continent sized potholes. More variable was what was actually on the blacktop. We followed one diesel spill for miles which culminated in the whole side of the road soaked in the stuff – best avoided on two wheels. Roundabouts helpfully seemed to be the prime location for vehicles to dump their excess diesel loads. We respected the villages
or any other apparent signs of life, particularly juvenile, and tiptoed around, else we rarely went much above 70 even on the straights. There were police roadblocks every 10-20 miles anyway although the closest we got to any trouble was a ticking off for going too quickly and cautioned to slow down. My fault, Vince had gotten ahead of a suicidal truck driver who threatened to kill himself and everyone in a 100 yard radius so I blipped the bike to pass him just shy of the checkpoint and a good humoured finger wagging. The people here really are very warm and friendly.
The picture uploaded of the hay truck is typical of how overloaded the vehicles get – as you can see the stacking is an art form and the fact that this vehicle is somehow drivable quite incredible. I should just add that this is not some wide angle lens effect – this was taken with my basic snappy. Such ubiquitous vehicle overloading had taken its toll on pretty well all vehicles suspension – cars, lorries, buses. Even smarter looking cars (i.e. not decrepit old Mercedes) had absolutely no control on the corners - you could see
the back end bobbing about at any sign of eagerness around a bend. It was as if all vehicles had to have their rear shocks removed as an import requirement.
It was about a 4 hour ride to Fez and with an hour’s stop for lunch and fuel we arrived in a dripping mess in 32C heat at around 5 pm. We had a Riad in mind and had it keyed into the GPS. The route into town was hilarious. We were on a road thick with people, donkeys and goats and other than our two bulbous machines the only vehicles seemed to be scooters – I think I saw one car. We were riding through a food market. Either side of the street, the stalls produce beckoned - glistening in the warm late African sun. We were crawling through the browsing hordes at walking pace. The difference between them and us not speed but attire – they weren’t sat on rapidly overheating motorcycles with fans on full pelt in motorbike kit, yet they made similar progress. We approached a junction and the GPS indicated that I was to ride in between two stalls that came together at the
corner of the market. It clearly was not going to happen, not unless we wanted to start a riot so we gave up and took Vince’s excellent suggestion of stopping for a drink. The bar owner pointed us in the direction of the Riad and one wrong way round a roundabout later we passed the large hotel that he said we would. The simplicity of parking the bikes in a secure car park and the palatial entrance of the Palais Jamai were too hard to resist and instead we dived in, negotiated the best rate we could and took refuge in one of the smarter locations in Fes and it is in a peachy position – just on the edge of the medina but with a panoramic view of the whole thing.
A quick spruce up and we headed out to the medina for some nosebag. As we strolled down its ever narrowing labyrinths, caravans of donkeys carrying impossible loads, competed with standing and walking space in between truly ancient middle aged buildings and architecture. The buildings were fronted by the most intricate Cedar doors, amazing hard carved plaster and beautiful mosaic water fountains for the inhabitants without running
water. It was alive with industry – workers bashing out metal work arts and crafts, silk spinners, loom workers, leather workers, bakeries all hunched in tiny dark airless and lightless low ceilinged rooms. It was truly mind blowing and other-worldly. We had struggled to maintain bearings in Chefchaouen’s medina – which is kindergarten stuff compared to the medina at Fes. Mohammed started walking with us chatting about football, the international language, and soon we realised that he had assumed the role of unofficial guide. After three of four turnings and complete loss of direction we actually didn’t care and instead directed him to our visual and more importantly gastronomic needs.
We chose to spend two nights here which gives a much needed day off the bikes. The plan is to head to the desert at dawn on Thursday morning. It is a very long ride (the guide books say 12 hours, but that sounds an exaggeration) and the temperature will continue to rise as we head south – the 6C of Madrid a distant memory. Erg Chebbi is the aim for the day, but we will bow out earlier if we are just too tired or dehydrated. Vince has
the water needs of a camel but no matter how much I drink, including a continuously refilled Camelbak water pack I am dehydrated. We pass over the middle atlas just south of Fes. This seems to delineate the north from the Sahara dominated south.
Note: Video is actually a voice memo of the call to prayer at 4 am when in Chefchaouen. It will play on quiktime, but not media player
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