En El Camino Otra Vez

March 5, 2023

Quick recap: after five months criss-crossing Europe last summer, from Douglas, Isle of Man to Dubrovnik, Croatia and from Nordkapp to Malaga, Spain, we stored the bike in Spain and spent two months riding rental Hondas in Thailand and Vietnam. Now, after a couple of months at home, we are back on the road, with no specific plans for the direction and the time interval.

We picked the bike up from storage at IMTBikes in Malaga. I can’t say enough good things about these guys; they are great to work with and take great pride in their services. We spent a couple of days in an apartment in the suburb of Huelin, literally next door to where we stayed last September, so we were familiar with the area.

The view from the rooftop terrace of our apartment peeked between the taller buildings at the sea and harbor.

One of our bags stayed in Houston as we flew to Frankfurt and on to Malaga. When I filed a lost bag claim with the airline in Malaga, they told me the bag was in Frankfurt. I showed them my phone and explained that I had an AirTag in the bag and it was actually sitting at Terminal D in Houston. They weren’t happy about being called out on it, but my bag arrived the next day. I was able to watch it transfer in Frankfurt and arrive in Malaga. Liking these AirTags.

Our apartment had a “Candy” oven in it…

The oven had two knobs. The knob on the left was “C”…

And the knob on the right was F. But not dual temperatures.

We actually found a great gourmet hamburger place a few blocks from the apartment. Spanish restaurants are pricey here (ALL restaurants are pricey here), though we’ll eat that too. We even ate Thai noodles one night. I thought after Thailand it would be longer before I could look at Pad Thai.

After some minor adjustments on the bike, like installing a new Quadlock phone mount and tank bag, we loaded up and headed about an hour out of Malaga to El Camino del Rey, or The King’s Little Pathway.

This series of walkways built on the side of cliffs was built in the early 1900s to connect two electrical power plants.

Over the years, the pathway became an adventure-tourism attraction, eventually leading to several deaths and the need to completely reconstruct it in a safer manner.

The entire elevated portion of the walkway is about 2.9 kilometers long, and the entire hike is about 7.3km.

We had a few sprinkles of rain on the way back to Malaga, and the two or three hours on the bike gave us a chance to “shake down” our setup again before heading further south to visit friends near Manilva.

Manilva, Spain

March 6, 2023

It was good to be back on the T7, and heading south to new adventures. We left Malaga and rode along the Costa del Sol towards Manilva. It’s a busy highway with occasional views of the sea, but still a good ride. At one point we hit stopped traffic and crept along, barely moving. Scooters split traffic and passed us by, but with the width of the T7 with the panniers, we were (mostly) content to just sit in traffic and wait. The temperatures were warm, but not hot.

That’s when this happened:

While stuck in slow-moving traffic, a car pulled up beside us. The driver rolled down his window and stuck out his hand, giviing us a sticker for our bike. “Chancletas” translates to “Flip Flops”, and is a group of riders from Malaga.

We took his sticker and exchanged thumbs-ups, and he inched forward in traffic. It took me a while to wrestle one of our stickers out of a pocket, but once Diana had it in hand, we split lanes back up to the car, and handed him one of our stickers. Just another friendly exchange between riders without a common language. We meet a lot of people this way, but rarely have we swapped stickers in traffic.

A little further south, we arrived at the winter home of our Polish friends Marcin and Ela. Unbeknownst to me, there was a conspiracy between Diana and Ela…and I walked right into it.

Walked right into a surprise birthday cake. Thanks to Diana, Ela, and Marcin. Didn’t see that coming. I later swapped the candles to “26”, but nothing about my mind or body says 26 any more.

We spent a couple of days at Marcin & Ela’s. Marcin had decided to take Ela’s MT-07 and join us for a week on our travels south, and his brother Lukasz was flying in from Poland, renting a bike in Malaga, and joining us as well.

The port near Marcin & Ela’s apartment.

It’s a nice walk along the beach here.

“Espetos”, or sworded sardines, are a traditional seafood along the coast here, cooked over an open fire on the beach.

If you’re not a fan of these awesome sardines, perhaps some giant (and I do mean Giant) prawns will do.

I stopped at the local Yamaha dealer near Gibraltar to pick up an oil filter and oil to do a quick oil change, and had a chance to look around at models not sold in the US, including this Tracer 700…

This MT125…

And this XSR125. Very cool.

After an oil change and a “see you soon”, we were back on the road and headed to the end of it in Southern Spain.

Hopping Continents: Different Worlds

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.

Chefchouen to Merzouga: The Sahara, Berbers, and Camels

March 11, 2023

It has taken a while, but the Morocco we’ve seen on television and movies has arrived. This is the Sahara Desert.

In one day, from Chefchouen to Midelt, we experienced many different environments. Green fields, rolling hills, olive groves, pine forests (with monkeys!), mountains, snow, and finally desert.

In the middle of Midelt, on a somewhat busy side street filled with different shops, we found a nearly new, beautiful two bedroom apartment to rent for the night.

The apartments were built in 2019, just before Coronavirus, but due to the pandemic, they sat mostly empty for the past three years.

There was a nice area just off the street to park our bikes.

The third-floor apartment had two bedrooms and two bathrooms, a living and dining room, and a large modern kitchen.

We walked to dinner in Midelt, passing through more small side streets before emerging onto the main street. We had been referred to a traditional Moroccan restaurant, which turned out to be a great choice. The waiter was great fun, and the food was very good. Most every night, we’ve had some version of tajine, a North African specialty named after the conical pot in which it is cooked. There are various versions, including chicken, beef, “meat” (usually lamb or goat), or vegetable tajine. The meat is usually covered in vegetables or sometimes dates or prunes, and cooked in the tajine dish. It’s all been very good.

The next morning we continued on to Merzouga. The ride into Merzouga is pure Moroccan desert. The town sits at the edge of Erg Chebbi, a series of sand dunes. It is very much a tourist destination, and to be honest, that’s why we’re here. Merzouga allows tourists to experience a desert Berber camp, or at least the “Glamping” version of it, without worrying about becoming lost in the Sahara.

On the way to Merzouga we passed villages that seemed like the typical “oasis”…a patch of palm trees and green grass on the edge of a river, with the typical adobe-looking buildings.

Approaching Merzouga, the dunes of Erg Chebbi rise up behind the town.

It’s easy to spot camels and camel tours in this area.

Guests have a choice of how they are transported to the tent camps: you can ride a camel for a little over an hour, or take an ATV, or ride in a 4WD vehicle (about 15 minutes). After sitting on the bike for six hours today, we decided to take the fifteen minute truck ride to the camp, figuring that we might have a chance at visiting the camels at the camp.

On the way to camp

Our camp for the night

Typical Berber tent?

Um, maybe…if the typical Berber tent has a porcelain sink, a shower and USB outlets at each bedside.

These chairs made for a great photo. They’re actually on top of this dune so you can sit and watch the sunset.

The camp provided snowboards so we could slide down the dunes.

Funny how the Old Guy always seems to be the first to try these things…

On the way to dinner after a long, full day.

Another great meal, this time in a tent.

Chicken and vegetable tajine.

After dinner we sat around the campfire, as the locals played drums and sang Moroccan songs for us. Then they handed us the drums and let us give it a try. Marcin, being a drummer, was a natural. I also met Chase and Kevin, two great guys from Texas, who just happened to be sitting next to me.

Diana got to ride a camel. Check another bucket list item.

As I’ve said, everyone here is incredibly friendly.

Climbing the dunes at sunrise.

Marcin, checking out the camels just after sunrise. There’s nothing to tie your camel to in the desert, so the Berbers have an interesting method of making sure they stay put: they bend one of their front legs at the knee, and tie it bent with a rope. Three legged camels apparently don’t go anywhere.

After breakfast, we loaded up and headed back to town, back to the bikes and on to the next adventure.

Dades Gorge

March 12, 2023

Okay, I’ll reiterate what I said earlier about stereotypes. Northern Morocco, coming out of Tanger Med to Chefchouen, and south of Chefchouen, is not what I thought of as stereotypical Morocco. It’s very green.

For the past few days, we’ve ridden through what I thought Morocco would look like: desert. Not Sahara Desert sand dunes, but just desert. Our friend Michal referred to it as “African Utah”, and that’s a pretty good description. It looks a lot like parts of Utah and New Mexico, with flat-topped mesas that look kind of like Monument Valley, and vast rocky desert with adobe-looking buildings sticking up. Some of it reminds me of riding through the Navajo Nation.

It’s also practically overwhelmingly friendly. Old men dressed in traditional Gandoura wave from the roadside as we go past. Young children wave, and many run into the road and stick their hands out, palms facing us, wanting to slap hands as we pass by. Others make twisting-throttle motions, wanting us to rev the bike up (the best: a young boy of maybe six, holding his mothers hand, looking down as if he’d recently been scolded, and with his other hand to his side where his mother couldn’t see, making the twisting throttle motion. I laughed in my helmet and revved the bike a few times for him). None of these people can see our Texas license plate before we go by, or the Polish number plates of Lukasz and Marcin. But it’s obvious we’re tourists from our bikes and gear. And it’s obvious that we are welcome here.

After returning to the bikes from the Berber Camp, we loaded up and headed down the road again, this time towards Dades Gorge. We stopped in Tinejdad for lunch, and there the owner of the restaurant, who of course spoke no English, told us that we should do the loop from Todra Gorge, just north of Tinghir, up to Agoudal and back down to Dades Gorge. I had actually planned to do this loop, but I wasn’t sure if Lukasz or Marcin would be up for it, as I was aware that at least part of it was unpaved. While sitting there, Lukasz googled it and started reading off his finds on the internet:

“World’s Most Dangerous Road”
“Difficult piste”
“Takes eight hours or more to complete”

With each quote, he was definitely more convinced that they would take the direct route to the hotel. I was more convinced to do the loop. And Marcin wanted to follow me.

We finally agreed that they would follow us through Todras Gorge and another hour or so up the mountain, but if the road turned bad, they would head back.

I’m glad they decided to at least try the first part, as I think they enjoyed it and got a good look at some incredible Moroccan scenery.

I’m also glad they eventually had the good sense to go back down and take the main road to our hotel in Dades Gorge.

We split off around 5pm about 20 miles south of Agoudal. It turns out the road to Agoudal, with the exception of some potholes and some shallow water crossings, was great, and we were able to make good time. And the road just after Agoudal was exceptional, except for a bit of snow. I was telling Diana that it was a shame Marcin and Lukasz hadn’t joined us when we rounded the corner and ran smack out of pavement, into a muddy, snowy, rocky two-track.

End of the “road” part of the road. Or viewed another way, the beginning of the good stuff.

Now I was glad they hadn’t come this way. And I was loving it. Diana wasn’t too sure at first; with the exception of the Dalton Highway in Alaska, this was her first taste of off-road. And this was no highway.

The snow and mud only lasted a short distance, and once we dropped a bit in elevation, it was dry. The “road” is about the width of a car. It’s dirt, with lots of rock; not loose rock but the kind that juts sharply out of the ground. One side drops steeply for several thousand feet. It’s not a cliff, but if you were to drop a motorcycle off of it, you wouldn’t be pulling it back up. You’d live though, as long as you could slow your tumble to a stop.

There are definitely some epic views up here.

The scenery was spectacular. We were at high altitude with clear skies and distant views. I turned the GoPro on and off several times over the course of the ride, but somehow now I have no video from the GoPro. I am bummed about that, but fortunately Diana had the nerve (and sense, or lack of it) to capture some video with her iPhone from the back of the bike.

The dirt road eventually turned back to potholed pavement and we continued through Tilmi and several other small villages until we arrived at Dades Gorge. To be honest, the Gorge itself isn’t as impressive as Todra, but the overlook just south of the gorge is a popular photo spot. It was too dark as we passed by this evening, so we decided to wait until morning and return.

We arrived at our hotel for the evening, La Gazelle du Dades, just as the sun was setting, and met Lukasz and Marcin as they were arriving. This hotel didn’t have the greatest reviews online, but it turned out to be much better than expected. The room was comfortable, and dinner was good. I think some of the online reviewers must have been expecting a five star resort for their thirty bucks. You get what you pay for, and we felt like the rooms were good quality for the money we paid, though the dinner may have been a bit over-priced. I’d definitely stay there again if we were headed back through this area.

In the morning, we led Marcin and Lukasz back up to the scenic overlook and the gorge for some quick photos.

Outside our hotel the next morning, ready to go.

At the overlook near Dades Gorge.

At the top of “Not-The-Most-Dangerous-Road-In-Morocco”. But still one of the scenic spots.

This was our last day riding with MotoJary (the Polish guys), as they were headed back toward Spain and we had another week to go in Morocco. We rode together toward Ouarzazate, and had lunch at an outdoor grill before saying our temporary goodbyes and going our separate ways.

Our last meal together. It was time for something besides tajine. Turned out to be some good pizza.

Saying goodbye to Marcin and Lukasz, or “Doober 1” and “Doober 2”, as Roza calls them.

Tizi n’ Test Pass: Another “Most Dangerous Road”

March 17, 2023

We spent a couple of nights at Bivouac Lot of Stars outside Ouarzazate before heading further west to Taroudant.

This place (Bivuoac Lot of Stars) was a small oasis in the middle of the city. Nothing fancy; in fact, a bit the opposite. But comfortable.

Lots of peacocks here. These were hanging out on the wall next to the door to our room. More were on the roof of our room. And yes, they can be loud.

But tthey are also cool to look at.

The owner’s scooter got a new 2RTG sticker before we left.

Our hotel for the next two nights was on the west side of Taroudant, and somehow we had to ride through Taroudant to get there. This seems sensible, since we were approaching from the east, but we had been on a two=lane highway for miles, and when we got to Taroudant, we went from highway to alleyway in the blink of an eye. It’s more than a bit weird to go from wide open desert to suddenly in between shop stalls, following pedestrians, donkeys, and bicycles at a walking pace.

This lasted for about ten minutes and then we were back on the open highway again. In another fifteen minutes we were turning onto a dirt road to our destination, Le Tour du Toile.

We’ve spent a couple of weeks now in various hotels, tents, and bivouacs in Morocco, and this place has to be one of the most serene and peaceful places we’ve stayed. It’s in the desert, in what feels like the middle of nowhere, but once you enter the walls, it feels like its’ own oasis. The people were very friendly — this seems to be the story of Morocco — the room was comfortable and the food was great.

And they insisted I park the bike in the courtyard right outside the front door..

I had originally intended to do a loop through the Anti-Atlas Mountains, but we were so comfortable here, we decided to just relax for a couple of days.

From Taroudant, we headed north towards Marrakech over the Tizi n’ Test Pass. You can google it and you’ll find many articles describing this pass as one of the “Most Dangerous Roads” in Morocco. There seems to be a theme here. Nearly every pass is “most dangerous”. At first I thought this must be a term assigned to any road that is less than straight and flat; a title given by city dwellers, YouTube vloggers, or luxury tourists who experience these roads for the first time while riding in a limousine or rental car, perhaps accidentally detouring off the intended path.

Later I decided that perhaps these “most dangerous” monikers were bestowed years ago, when the road was the primary connection between two places, in this case Taroudant and Marrakech, and thus there was a lot of commercial truck and bus traffic on the road. I can definitely see how these roads could be considered more dangerous when faced with an oncoming bus or gravel truck veering around a switchback at a very unsafe speed.

Today, the Tizi n’ Test Pass, much like the “Death Road” in Bolivia is mostly a tourist road, used by cars, motorcyclists, and bicyclists for tourism purposes. There are still locals living along the road as well, but the main road from Agadir to Marrakech has long replaced this small mountain pass. Traffic is almost non-existent. We passed perhaps a dozen cars in a couple of hours on the road.

It’s a great ride, and highly recommended, although it would have been much more pleasant without the construction work that was happening on the Marrakech end of the pass.