We set off for Tarifa, both now on F800GS, via the superb A-355(?) which swooped around the foothills of Marbella, winding slowly through its descent of the hills. As we approached the coast you were rewarded with pristine vistas of the med, dropping away far to your left in an azure blue sky and you could clearly see Gibraltar sat up proud and arrogant.
Once we hit the coast motorway there was less interest until it again climbed near to Tarifa and at last you could see Africa looming as close as the Isle of Wight. Surely even Vince’s stomach would hold for that? Err no. We messed up the ferry times so had a 2 hour wait at the dock, but finally the catamaran got underway. Once Vince’s yawn rate exceed more than 2 a minute and his eyes wore an unflinching gaze directed at the African horizon, so tantalisingly close, yet (for him) so far I knew he was in trouble. The boat was pitching around quite a bit to be fair, but in a rare show of compassion I decided not to take the p*ss – in any case I think it would have been met with
a severe sense of humour failure.
The trip took an hour, despite its more optimistically advertised minute sailing time and I think Vince must have counted down every minute. Finally close to dock I left him to go unstrap the bikes. Immediately I noticed my tax disc roll had been broken off and was now absent. Hey-ho, welcome to North African tea-leavery. I felt some responsibility as with 4 years worth of tax discs rolled up on poncy paper I suspect it looked like a roll of bank notes.
Getting through the port at Tangiers was somewhere between the 3 hours of hell I had prepared myself for and the cheery “don’t worry you’ll sail through” optimism of the bike hire owner. The bikes were first on and as we knew we had to get the boarding cards in and passport stamped on the boat we made a beeline for the single chap stamping them and were promptly dealt with. This allowed us to avoid the enormous queue that quickly enveloped and lasted the entire journey. If Vince had to stand in that queue the whole trip I think the officer may have been wearing Vince’s breakfast. The
paperwork business at Tangiers was not so breezy. You were surrounded as you descended towards the customs by a mix of genuine officials and those on the make. In a ridiculously over self confident manner I told Vince to ignore the chap who was offering to help him and ride forward. This caused Vince much merriment as apparently half a dozen uniformed officers more or less jumped me and, the only one I actually saw, firmly told me to stay put. There then entered a period of confused malaise – no vehicles of any kind moved and the only movement was that of touts busy running around for your business. In some kind of haphazard order we had to register our CIN No in our passports on the police computer, get our temporary import documents signed and for the police to thoroughly inspect our luggage – down to reading Vince’s travel guide (or maybe that was his hidden copy of playboy inside). It all sounds so simple but the right official is never where he is supposed to be at the right time and with our paranoia about leaving the bikes alone at any one time the whole process took
north of an hour. The best advice we had from the hire place was to always smile and joke. And he was absolutely right – they actually were really agreeable and engaging people (whilst of course they proceeded to rob you blind.)
If getting through the port wasn’t quite picnic-like, nothing could have prepared us for the roads in Tangiers and in particular the roundabouts. Riding round the supposedly hairy Arc de Triomphe is akin to skateboarding in your back garden. The first roundabout we encountered was so ridiculously dangerous with such appalling road manners in abundance that you could only laugh. Something of a cross between Death Race (with Mr Statham), the Indy 500 and speedway. There were about 8 exits and as many lanes circulating the roundabout itself, but there was simply no rule as to who gave way, no lane discipline and traffic darted in blind from all directions. And the roundabout itself was strewn with gravel, from unmade roads nearby. I have never seen anything like it. As Vince said it was like being in a stock car race – only we weren’t in stock cars. Other roundabouts proved similar, although our first was the
worst, but to say you had to approach them with utmost caution is as relevant as saying that Greece has a few financial difficulties. I didn’t fancy adding Morocco to my international list of hospital stays so we were both relieved to have escaped the mania of Tangiers – which itself from our handlebar view held no visual appeal.
Once clear of the heart of the city the roads settled down and we were presently upon Tetouan. The road from Tetouan to Chefchaouen was what this trip was all about though. Lush green valleys in a cloudless sky with fertile peaks, lakes and in the distance rocky outcrops. You could see Chefchaouen in the distance dotted into the hillside – this was very definitely Africa. Small trucks with loads on their backs that would probably dwarf the Shard, all held together in their mother in laws’ hair nets tottered along the route at impossibly slow speeds on the ascents up towards Chefchaouen, competing with the equally rammed buses full of human cargo. The vehicles were ancient belching out great puffs of black diesel. There was the odd decent car, but simply ancient Mercedes were the normal staple – usually without a fastening for the boot which flapped around manically at any decent speed. Donkeys were everywhere and we had to slow for herds of goats.
As we arrived in Chefchaouen it was now 6.30 pm and we were actually quite tired. The nervous energy expended at being on your guard whilst off and particularly on the bike I think as sapping as the couple of hundred miles we had ridden during the day. We tried several hotels asking where we could park the bikes – each said it was ok on the street to which we simply moved on. Although of course in N Africa nothing is simple. Sensing prey we had to engage with a never ending army of touts – but always with a smile and a laugh, and then it didn’t seem too bad. One chap must have ran a mile, because at every hotel we stopped at he appeared offering to take our bikes to some secure location. Yeah right! It is harder to maintain a sense of humour when you’re tired and hot and so when we saw the Parador where we could park the bikes on the doorstep we just went for that. Still cheap by western standards though. As an example our Tagine mains at a meal taken as soon as we could were £3 each.
Wandering the medina is simply out of this world. If I never saw another thing in this country then that alone would suffice. Endless myriads of alleyways all painted in an ice cool blue were a feast for the eyes. The flooring a mix of cobbles laid in a simple yet elegant fashion. The guidebooks state that this maybe the finest Medina in Chefchaouen. Of course I couldn’t possibly know that but it was mind boggling – like walking around some kind of medieval film set. Because Chefchaouen is off the beaten track it is not beset by tourists (unlike Marrakech apparently) and corner cafes were frequented by classic picture book old men with grizzled faces wearing robes with suitable Arabic music or chanting playing in the background. The stalls full of dried chillies, seeds and brightly coloured colourings in woven sacks and in the air the heavy scent of hashish. It was a complete sensory overload.
The mosque looked like it had been forged from mud and was suitably impressive. Less than impressive were the calls to prayer that are relayed at high volume at 3 am for half hour and then again at 4 am for another half an hour. The 4 am call actually engaged in a double act with an even more powerful PA system. These are designed to rally the whole town, but if you are staying near the mosque as we were, impossible to sleep through. Bruce and I had joked previously when Vince had mentioned the problems of being near the mosque but I have to confess that I do now understand.
Anyway just scoffed some excellent breakfast so a quick facetime call to Noog, before a wander into the medina for some pics and then we’ll head off to Fes.
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