Sunday, 10 October 2010

September 12th - The road to Fez

Morning breaks over the campsite, and for once, we're not raring to get away early, as our French mecanic Tivo, who has promised to took at Alans' bike, is still safely ensconced in his tent.

We set about cooking breakfast, packing gear, and washing ourselves.
Now remember Jason nearly losing the engine bolt back in Spain? Well, I carry a supply of spares for the Grand Wazoo, amongst them, a bag of bolts. Jason goes off to hit the latrine, and a bolt from my bag mysteriously finds itself under his bike, covered with a layer of oil and water, and I go off to wash up, brush teeth, and watch the proceedings from a distance.

Shad, Darren, and Allan are in on the joke, and are intently watching as Jason calls me over on my return from the "Bloc Sanitaire". He seems genuinely worried and perplexed as to the origin of the newly found bolt, and the oil. After leaving him sweating for a few minutes, the origin of the bolt is revealed, resulting in a relieved Jason, who seems more than willing to part with a few expletives aimed in my general direction.

With Tivo up, and the carbs of Alans' Tenere being looked at, we enjoy relaxing in the morning sun, and I nip off with Shad, down to the camp cantina, where I manage to convey to the two ladies in the kitchen that I would love an "Omelettas Espanól", and was that "Por Favor" or "si vous plait", I can't remember, it's been strange jumping about between the little Arabic, Spanish, and French I know, along with chatting to some happy German campers, (in German obviously), so much so, that I'm never quite sure what's going to come out of my mouth when I open it. I think I'm having an identity crisis of sorts.

With Alans' bike re-assembled, the rest of team Moto Maroc hit the cantina for the same grub, which incidentally, was the best omelette I've had in ages. I head back to the Grand Wazoo, to prep her for imminent departure.

We're headed for Fez, over the Rif mountains, and into Ketema, "Banditsville".
A lot of travellers avoid Ketama, possibly due to the nature of its location, (being in the main cannabis growing region of Morocco), possibly because of the lawless reputation it has gained, in any case, we wanted to see what the fuss was about, so that was the plan.
Tivo, our newly acquired French mechanic, on his DT125, was headed to Fez too, but not via Ketama, as he considered it too dangerous, however, when hearing that we were going, he asked if he could ride with us, that way getting to see Ketama in the relative safety of a group. Hmmm, The Grand Wazoo vs Yamaha DT125, what the hell I thought, why not.
So Tivo joined us, and we rolled out of camp around mid morning, with the sun in a clear blue sky, and temperatures at 34 degrees already.

We're off to a good start, Shad goes missing in Chefchaouen, and Tivo drops his 125 on a bend, thankfully only scuffing his tent bag, and the bikes plastics. I go back into town to look for Shad, and get filmed by a pillion on a German GS, but Shad's nowhere to be seen. We press on, down the mountain to the N2, where we pick up Shad, who after getting lost, had left Chefchaouen by the back door, and come the long way round to meet us at the front. Glad to see he hadn't been abducted by the locals, we press on down the N2 to Bab Taza, and on to Bab Beret.

The mountain passes are spectacular, and make for great riding. The roads aren't in too bad a condition, however, oncoming drivers are unpredictable, so we learn to hug the mountainside on the right hand bends.

The smell of cannabis hangs heavy in the air over the Rif, the villages we rumble through are impoverished, semi-completed, squalid clusters of buildings, the ever present smell of rotting garbage and raw sewage fills our helmets at every turn.

There are very few women present, plenty of men, not apparently doing anything aside from smoking splifs and gathering at street side food stalls. We pass through the villages untroubled, by and large, the people appear friendly, or at worse, nonplussed by our presence.

We stop at a mountainside "restaurant", just past Bab Beret, a fairly nice building with brochettes being cooked outside, and plenty of locals occupying the tables out front. Once again, people seem friendly, we opt for cokes, mint teas, and kofte brochettes for all 6 of us. Plenty of food and drink, and a accompanying bill of 195 Dirhams, about £15.

Looking over the balcony surrounding the restaurant, the fields of cannabis are plain to see, stretching out in all directions, and so prolific, it's akin to driving past wheat fields back home, so much in abundance, and so openly grown, no wonder the air is so thick with the smell.

We finish our lunch and push on to Ketama.
The ride through to Ketama, and on to Taounate was superb, perfect weather, beautiful mountain passes, and minimal traffic, you couldn't help but feel a sense of extreme freedom and exhilaration as you constantly rode the bike through the plentifull left and right bends that took us up, over, and through the Rif mountains.

From Taounate and on to Fez, we lost our mountain passes, exchanged now for more sedate, but no less interesting plateau riding, down past Tissa, Ain Kansera, and on to our final stop for the day, Fez.

Coming out of the mountains, and down onto the plateau, I wasn't wearing a jacket, merely a light T-shirt. Naturally, I had gloves, trousers and boots on, as I felt that driving naked through cannabis country might not go down too well. However, the lack of arm protection saw be being stung on my throttle wrist by a drug fuelled wasp, no doubt employed by the locals to guard the seemingly unprotected crops.
It hurt like a bugger, and would for the next day, but that aside, it did make for some interesting throttle control as it happened.

Just outside of Fez, I came across Shad's 800 on its side in the road, with him resting against the armco barrier next to it. Thankfully nothing serious had happened, it had been more a case of a dismounting error which saw him and "Sam" part company.
I will add, that thus far, Tivo had been fantastic, his little 125 although lagging behind in some places, had managed to keep pace with us on the bigger bikes, and after 166 hard miles through the mountains, had reached the outskirts of Fez with us.

It was now 7pm, and we had lost daylight. Furthermore, we had no idea of where we were going to camp either. We hit Fez in the dark, and it was mayhem.
Traffic was gridlocked, lanes had absolutely no meaning to anyone, we were surrounded by swarms of moped riders zipping in and out between us, and we all became separated in heavy traffic. Tivo was off and filtering with Shad, oblivious to the fact that with our panniers it wasn't so easy to filter. Me, Jason, and Daz, were in eyesight of each other, but still separated by maniacal Moroccan drivers, It was bad.

Street names were undecipherable in the dark, traffic was everywhere, Alan came past me with no helmet on, and his rear numberplate hanging on by one bolt, after being rear ended by a car further back. Touts on scooters were everywhere, offering above the hubbub of the traffic to take us to hotels, whorehouses, drug dens, or any other place we wanted.

Myself, Jason, and Darren regrouping, we made sure all lights were on, and dominated the road, making sure the Remus, and Darren's HID's let everyone know we were about, as there seemed to be no structure at all to the driving system in Fez.
Up ahead, the cause of the mayhem became apparent, one of the million Mercedes taxis we'd encountered had demolished the central reservation, and along with it, a palm tree. Police were at every intersection, trying to regain some modicum of control. This time, we pushed past even them, trying to ride our way out of the madness.

Up ahead, I caught sight of some hazard lights, Shad, waiting for us on the central reservation at a junction, he pointed down the road to Tivo, engaged in conversation with a tout on a scooter. We pulled to the side, and it was agreed that the scooter tout, who smelled strongly of booze, would take us to a campsite...
We gave in, Fez in the dark had beaten us, and we were glad of the assistance, so away he wobbled, leading a pack of laden BMW's, and of course one small Yamaha, to the "International camping site" just off the R503, on the outskirts of Fez.

Fez, was probably our worse experience of Morocco, partly down to a bad judgement call of attempting it at night, but also down to the miserable tout we'd encountered.
We were annoyed that we'd found ourselves at the mercy of some unscrupulous money grabbing hustlers, and vowed not to fall into that trap again. Here's how the rest of the evening unfolded.

We arrived at what was actually a pleasant campsite, though marred by the fact that they had us by the balls, and they knew it. Unsuccessful haggling saw us coughing up 450 Dirhams for the 6 of us for tent pitching privilleges.
Somehow, in the fracas, a taxi had been arranged to take us into town later for a meal as well, another 350 Dirhams... whew.

After pitching tents, which saw Darren break 3 titanium pegs, we washed up, changed, and met the taxi.
Aboard, was none other than our scooter tout, who apparently was now our self appointed guide to Fez. He offered to take us to his brothers restaurant in the old Medina... yeah, you guessed it, another sting coming.
All we wanted was some bright lights, and street food, what we got, was a deserted Medina, and a restaurant, (an ornate one at that), with meals priced at a minimum of 300 Dirhams per head.
We revolted, and refused to eat there, as if by magic, cheaper menus were proffered, but we'd had enough, and demanded to leave. The restaurant manager came over and asked why we didn't want to eat there, and appeared annoyed, we made feeble excuses about wanting a different type of experience, and left.
Alan told our tout that we wanted to eat where the working man eats, and we were then taken back to the taxi, and driven to a bombed out looking area of town, most definitely not where the tourists go.

Perfect, the streets were alive with bustling, smokey food stalls, and street traders, this was were we wanted to be, we ordered the taxi to stop, and clambered out.
Our tout was intent on ordering food for us, but we had had enough of being mugged off, and took matters into our own hands, and found a stall in the middle of all the chaos and took up residency there.

Several mint teas, even more cokes, and rounds of brochettes later, and we were satisfied, and ready to leave.
All the time, not only was our tout making a pest of himself, but I spotted the campsite owner lurking in the background too... Were they concerned for our safety, or did they see us as the proverbial golden geese? who knows, but we were taking no more advice or recommendations, and having eaten and drank our fill, headed back to "camping a-la-internationale".

Our self appointed tout wanted a fee for his services, but we knew that we'd been mugged off, so gave him 30 Dirhams, (about £2.50), and told him not to spend it all at once.

We retired to our pitches, and almost simultaneously, hit the sack.
No campfire brew-up, no chit-chat... Everyone retires in silence, either Moto Maroc team morale is at a low, after being so foolishly taken advantage of, or the days hard riding has taken its toll

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