We had now left the relative tranquility of the Mediterranean coast and begun heading inland towards the Middle Atlas mountains. To get some distance under our belts we decided to take the main route. We’d only just started thinking that Moroccan driving wasn’t as bad as it used to be, then we arrived in Fez. It all came flooding back. In places like this the highway code might as well be replaced with the Beano.
By comparison to say India, it was actually fairly well organised chaos as opposed to total chaos but even so it pays to keep your wits about you. Every set of traffic lights was like the start of a Moto GP race, only with slightly more riders and a lot more donkeys. Local etiquette dictates that the horn must be applied constantly with only brief silences permitted when your spare hand is otherwise engaged in lighting your pipe or combing your moustache. There is no such thing as a two or three lane highway, just as many lanes as there are vehicles that can physically fit in the space without a pile up.
The entertainment value reached its peak when Charlie failed to slow down for a roundabout. We looked on in awe as he weaved through the tiniest of gaps narrowly missing a bloke walking against the traffic pushing a wheelbarrow made from a bath tub. We assumed he’d simply earned his Moroccan stripes quicker than the rest of us until we found him later at the side of the road looking for his rear brake pedal.
We decided to make a tactical pit stop for fuel and food and after a long lazy lunch of grilled kebabs we decided to get clear out of Fez and head towards the mountains to camp for the night. More often than not, our overnight stays are decided by necessity rather than choice and today was no exception. As we started to ascend in to the mountains it became clear Charlie was now having a problem maintaining “speed” and was starting to go so slow that he got overtaken by a crisp packet floating in the breeze. We pulled in to the next town and asked for directions to a campsite.
The favoured response from the locals was to point to the top of the hill that overlooked the town. We assumed this meant that there were no campsites and they were simply directing us on to the next town. The top of the hill was indeed a “campsite”. There are several reasons why this is a shit location for a campsite. More than several as it happens so let’s just stick to the top three:
- Reason 1) It was dry, dusty and windswept. Not a good combo.
- Reason 2) We had to camp on a steep slope since it was somewhat difficult to get 4 tents pitched on the summit
- Reason 3) It’s quite difficult to get a metal tent peg into limestone
We should also add that the owner seemed to have the area’s largest collection of stray dogs who kindly left it until about 3am before they started barking and fighting and then a donkey which sounded like it was either giving birth or dying joined in the chorus.
This was only topped by waking to find that an irrigation pipe was leaking and rather than irrigating a patch of dying grass it had in fact irrigated Charles’ tent. On a positive note, Charles, assuming that he’d pissed himself in the night, got up at sunrise and so by the time the rest of us awoke he’d already pretty much fixed the problem with his bike (dirt in the carb) and set about knocking up breakfast. It was a beautiful sunny day and we had an awesome ride ahead where we would be experiencing our first 3,000 metre peaks.
In all the excitement Kaspars was already out of the gate and winding his way up the valley before the rest of us had finished our morning ablutions (one wet wipe under the armpits and one down the pants). By rushing off Kaspars broke one of banger rallying’s golden rules which is that you never lose sight of the person travelling behind you. For the most part this is a failsafe to ensure two things:
- 1) That someone who has broken down, run out of fuel, crashed etc. does not get left behind
- 2) That the person following doesn’t lose sight of the person ahead and end up taking the wrong turn.
On this occasion it was Kaspars who came off worse. A few hundred metres up the valley we started findings bits of his luggage. First a bungee strap, then his jacket, and then his rucksack. A few hundred metres more and we started finding bits of Kaspars’ bike. First his number plate and back light and then his top box. At this point we were expecting to find bits of Kaspars himself but fortunately he had noticed that his bike had started handling really well and realised this must mean half of his luggage was missing.
The nuts and bolts holding his luggage rack to the back of the bike had made a bid for freedom and in the process so had everything on the back of the bike.
After spending a while combing the roadside for the rest of Kaspars’ belongings we deployed the “banger rally temporary fix procedure” and set about his bike with gaffer tape and cable ties so we could limp to the next village for repairs. Some friendly locals who were cannibalising a Peugeot 306 as spare parts for a Mercedes 230E duly stepped in and found us some replacement nuts and bolts. After a bit of spannering we were on the way again albeit an hour or two behind schedule. Not normally a problem this, in fact to be expected, except that today we’d set ourselves a massive target of 350km to reach the village of Imilchil, gateway to the incredible Dades Gorge.
Things went well from this point and we had time to enjoy the stunning national parks despite having been in the saddle for nine hours already. The heat of the day was now being replaced by the chill of dusk. Our thoughts were on finding a hotel in town and downing a well earned hot drink. As we rounded a mountain bend we nearly went head first into a group of villagers coming back from market. The donkeys got spooked by the bikes and carnage ensued as villager after villager got catapulted out of the saddle and tomatoes and oranges started rolling down the hill like someone had emptied the kiddies ball pit in McDonalds.
After some apologies and general rebuilding of cultural ties we got a few kilometres further on when karma struck. Kaspars’ back tyre was as flat as a pancake. Again, not normally a problem and to be expected, except that at this point no one had questioned the contents of the toolkit or envisaged we might need waterproofs in Morroco as the heavens opened. We hurriedly fashioned some waterproof jackets whilst Oz strode over holding the toolkit with a sense of purpose. A sense that was short lived when it became apparent that he’d packed 5 spanners all of the same (but wrong) size and no tyre levers.
So in summary, we were stood half way up a mountain wearing bin liners, with no way to remove the back wheel or get the tyre off. The sun had now dipped behind the mountains and the temperature was dropping further. At this point we had to deploy the “banger rally dig-yourself-out-of-a-hole procedure” which basically means using items for other than their intended purpose. Since Oz (as far as we can work out) has no intended purpose, he was sent to the naughty step. By luck more than judgement he had at least packed a pair of mole grips and pliers and these along with a large rock were used to release the wheel spindle. The tyre was then removed with the combination of a screwdriver, bottle opener and one of the metal struts holding Kaspars’ luggage rack on.
Now piss wet through and in near darkness, we still had over 50kms to go to reach Imilchil which on these mountain roads meant another 2 hours of riding. We finally stumbled in to town, shivering and aching to find Chez Bassou, a hotel frequented by many explorers. 20 minutes later we were tucking into hot tea and little while later, a sizzling lamb tagine. All hail Moroccan hospitality. It beats a muesli bar from a Travelodge vending machine any day of the week.