March 8, 2023
I spent my early years growing up in the Los Angeles area, in an urban concrete jungle. When I was thirteen years old, my parents decided we were moving back to Texas, where I was born, and where I had visited relatives on occasion, but hadn’t lived since I was two years old. In my mind, all I could see was dirt roads, cactus, and a little red brick school house. That was my stereotypical view of Texas, based mostly I’m sure on what I had seen in movies, on television, and in magazines. Many people from other countries have this same view of Texas today: they think we all ride horses, wear big hats, and carry six-shooters.
Okay, maybe they’re not really that far off.
Growing up in the United States — and I’m sure it’s true of most if not all cultures — I was shown stereotypes of other cultures, countries, and people in this same way. Delivered via movies and television programs, we’re shown that the French wear berets, striped mime shirts, and neck scarves; that Australians are all like Crocodile Dundee; and most wrong of all, that nearly every other place outside of the United States is dirty, dangerous, and full of criminals that hate Americans.
Nothing could be further from the truth, and many of these stereotypes were about to be proven wrong once again as we headed south.
Diana and I left Marcin & Ela’s place on Wednesday morning, and Marcin and Lukasz were just a bit behind us. We planned to meet up either at the ferry at Algeciras, or further south. It turned out that the guys just barely missed our ferry, and had to take the next one, but they were close behind.
At least at that point.
On the ferry, tied down, and headed the short hop to North Africa.
By mid-afternoon we were in Tanger-Med, Morocco. The immigration and customs (vehicle importation) process went quickly, and within twenty minutes or so we were headed to Chefchouen.
Riding south from Tanger Med, the scenery was not at all what we were expecting for Morocco, and it showed our lack of knowledge of the area and our stereotypical thinking. We had expected to immediately be in a desert-like environment, with rocks and dirt and very little vegetation. Instead, we experienced the opposite. Everything was bright green, with lush farm fields and rolling green hills.
We rode through lush green fields and green hills on the way to Chefchouen.
Unfortunately for the Polish boys, the same border process for their ferry was not as smooth, and they arrived in Chefchouen hours later, just after dark.
Chefchouen was our introduction to Moroccan city design. If you pull up a satellite view of Chefchouen, or Marrakech, or most cities in Morocco, you’ll have a hard time determining what is a street and what is an alley. And it’s like that while driving also. A street may be a street for a short distance, but suddenly there are steps. A large portion of Chefchouen has no vehicle access. GPS directions usually will take you to the end of a street, then draw a gray dotted line to the address you want, which may be several blocks away and via a maze of alleyways, because there is no vehicle access to that point. This is the norm.
The view from the terrace atop our apartment in Chefchouen.The bike is parked near the large tree in the middle of this photo.
We would have never found our apartment if the host hadn’t met us where we parked the bike and guided us to it. Even after we were there, the only way I was able to identify it again was this blue heart next to the door. Otherwise, it was a blue door on a blue building in a sea of blue buildings. There were no other identifying aspects. It was about three hundred meters from the bike, up a series of blue alleyways, with several turns. After a couple of failed attempts to carry stuff from the bike to the apartment, I finally was able to establish a route and not get lost. Even once inside the building, the doors had no markings. Our door was on the third floor, and you had to count floors to make sure you were at the right door because they all look the same. So much so that one of the couples in the apartment below us walked into our apartment one evening by mistake. We all shared a good laugh.
The final walk up to our apartment.
There are a LOT of cats in Morocco. Walking the streets of Chefchouen, they were everywhere. Very chill cats.
This cat at dinner had his act figured out. He sat on the rail near me, acting very chill and aloof. After we finished dinner, Diana took this photo. Look closely at what he’s looking at. Seconds after this photo was taken, he jumped onto the table, stole my chicken bones and ran. There’s definitely a reason he was fatter than most cats in Chefchouen.
Breakfast the next morning. Same restaurant — we enjoyed it — but no chicken-thieving cat this morning.
The kasbah, near where we stayed.
View of the Spanish Mosque from our terrace.
Asking the host of a hotel or apartment on a site such as Booking.com or via WhatsApp if there is safe parking for a motorcycle at their location will get you a sometimes vague answer. Typically the answer is “yes”, which means that there is parking within some walkable distance, usually in a public parking area, and yes, it is safe.
It’s taken a while to adjust to these ideas. We’re Americans. We think other countries are less safe than home, or that people in all countries steal things the way they do in America. It isn’t like that. Yes, the public parking area where we parked our bike for two days in Chefchouen has “guards” that watch over things, but it’s not like some countries where they are armed guards. These are guys who just hang out and watch the lot. Nothing ever happens. You don’t have to pay them extra to watch your vehicle. It’s hard for us to explain or accept.
While packing up on the morning we left Chefchouen, we were approached by a group of guys from Dubai on BMW GS1200s. Several of them live part time in Morocco, and keep their bikes here, getting together to ride once or twice a year. The gentleman who approached us introduced himself as “Frank”. He said he noticed that we had put the cover on our bike overnight, and told us that wasn’t necessary. Later, in Midelt, I asked the owner of an apartment where we stayed if it was safe to leave the bikes outside there. He replied, “It’s a small town. There is no crime here.”
Of course I am the eternal pessimist, so I am slow to let my guard down, and still lock the bike up, often even placing the cover on it. Our Polish friends laugh at my over-protectiveness. It’s just the way I am: I see the bike and all we carry as our home, and we can’t afford to lose it. People look at us confused when we walk into a restaurant with our helmets in our hands. They don’t understand why we don’t leave them sitting on the bikes like everyone else.
Diana made a comment the other day to Lukasz and Marcin about how certain models of Hyundais and Kias had become targets of theft lately in the States, and Lukasz asked, genuinely, “Why would someone steal a car?”
The idea of auto theft was a totally foreign concept to them.
That kind of says it all.