Travel: Marvellous Morocco – 2

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Pauly makes his way through the rocky trail out of the desert
Words: Rob Harris. Pictures: Rob Harris unless otherwise specified
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Do you ever get that slightly disconcerting wake-up moment when you’re expecting to be in your own bed, but you’re not? Try that in a bivouac in the Sahara.

After our previous day tackling the soft sand of the oued, I had slept like the dead, but awoke just after sunrise, took a few minutes to realize I wasn’t in Sackville and staggered out of my “room”.

I was greeted by a courtyard of such and meandered through some sleeping bodies and automatically made my way to wander around on the big dunes next door. Yeah, this isn’t Sackville.

The absolute silence was interrupted by the sound of Patrick moving motorcycles in the distance; a rather punishing task in the soft sand that the group had left them in when they had no more energy left to find a hard spot for side stands and just left them standing in the axle-supporting soft sand.

All the bikes had to moved out of the deep sand before the day could commence. Picture by Kellee.

Rather him than me.

Waiting in the shade of an acacia tree.

At breakfast, I was quite relieved to hear we wouldn’t be experiencing any more sand today. The morning would still be off-road, but after lunch it would be back to more solid ground.

“No sand” appeared to be a relative term as we hit a dry lakebed right out of the bivouac and were given a quick refresher course in some soft patches before we hit a rocky but firm trail through a positively Martian-esque landscape.

Almost immediately a warning light started flashing on the dash and I pulled over to get Hana’s expert opinion. She told me to see if any symbols were also lit up, where upon I saw a rather sad-looking image of a flat tire. Despite a small ding in the front rim (doh!), the pressure was still hard to the touch, so Hana told me to just carry on.

But I wasn’t the only one to suffer low pressure sadness and a mere 10 kilometres into the trail we spent 45 minutes under the shade of a thorny acacia tree waiting for the other 1200GS to get an inner tube fitted after a total loss of air.

Gary not doing so well.

The temperature was already in the mid-30s and Gary must have been regretting his decision to soldier on, taking the impromptu break to cuddle up on the ground with a cover over him, looking like death warmed up. He wasn’t suffering from vertigo after all – he had apparently drunk the water out of the tap at a hotel.

Hana and Patrick deal with Marcus’s flat in 35C heat.

I was starting to think that this may be another long day.

A short while later, there was another flat and I took the opportunity to check my wheel and pressure. It was still holding air but the terrain was getting quite rocky and I was starting to doubt the BMW’s cast wheels and tiny bash plate were the proper tools for the job.

Still, the bikes needed to get out so I interrupted Hana and Patrick — who were sweatily wrestling with an 800GS tire — for a pressure gauge to check my tire, but was brushed off. Should have brought my own, I guess… at least I was trying.

Mars! But with an atmosphere and a scattering of BMWs

Before long the track opened into a wide-open dry lakebed that we blasted across while scanning for any telltale colour changes that might just be soft sand. Then, like a classic mirage out of an old black and white movie, appeared a café, right there in the middle of the lakebed, surrounded by … nothing.

The locals made better progress through the terrain then we did! Photo by Kellee.

Surreal, yet most welcome.

Gary was now looking like death had been warmed up, left to cool down and then thrown in the garbage. It was obvious his riding was done for the day and the decision was made to get the 4×4 to come in and get him out, Hana remaining behind with him while the rest of the group rode out.

Being the guy with the bright yellow hi-viz jacket, I offered to take the role of sweep, which would also allow me to nurse the front wheel should the road roughen up.

And roughen up it did.

Suddenly I felt a big thwack through the bars. I’d obviously hit a big rock but for some reason I hadn’t seen it. “Thwack” again and then again, but I was scanning the trail ahead and I wasn’t hitting anything big. Then it hit me, the tire must be flat and I was riding the rim. It wasn’t obvious as the big GS was tracking true but either way it was time to pull over … thwack ….. thwack …… thwaaackkk.

Bugger.

Oh dear. The damage after a flat. Left; when first realized. Right; after being ridden out by Patrick.

It wasn’t a pleasant sight. The rim was more pretzel than wheel and I had no choice but to ride it to the closet acacia tree, make myself comfortable and wait for reinforcements.

You wouldn’t think that there would be anything to graze on but camels and goats do seem to find something. Photo by Kellee.

Reinforcements came in the form of the Newfoundland regiment with Pauly first and then Brian second. The rim spoke for itself (“I’m fucked chaps, best leave me here to die”) and Brian was dispatched to pass on the bad news while Pauly kept me company under the acacia.

Predictably, no sooner than our arses had sat that a goat herder boy named Nana, who literally materialized out of thin air, joined us. We spent the next half hour chatting in pidgin French and paying him handsomely for some fossils he had found in the desert.

This kid didn’t beg and had something cool to sell. He was also all smiles, kept us laughing and was a joy to be with. Nothing like a breakdown to make a memorable moment.

The sunset was magnificent! Photo by Yann.

Alas, things soon took a turn for the worse when Patrick arrived. He told me I had ridden too fast (odd, since he wasn’t riding with me at the time) and that my ride was over (I had destroyed a rim after all) and determined to ride the injured GS out while I took his GS, with Pauly sweeping.

Brian … left.

It was a huge damper, and by the time we’d made it to the lunch stop I was so pissed off that I was more than happy to ride the last bit in the truck – especially since the last bit of the ride would be in the dark.

To top it all, the hotel in Tata was of the no star kind to boot and my room smelled of poo.

My spirits were decidedly boosted when Brian sat beside me and said the Newfies had had a discussion and should I be charged for the wheel, they wanted to contribute to the cost as they figured it was something that could have happened to anyone under the circumstances.

It confirmed what I already knew after the failed CMG Labrador adventure last year: Newfoundlanders are a special sort of people. In a moment of betrayal to my Yorkshire roots, I declined their offer.

After all, I had been invited to ride the tour at no charge and so could justify some budget to cover this (and they may have some charges of their own to deal with), but it was a marked high after the day’s low.

TWISTING THROUGH THE ATLAS TO AGADIR

Oh to ride those roads!

Today was a road rider’s dream … if you were riding that is. Due to the wheel issue the day before I was not, and had to watch the group ride through some of the most spectacular single lane mountain roads I had seen. Sadly, in the back of a hot truck — with a driver trying to keep pace with the two-wheelers — it wasn’t so much fun.

Odd how something can be so good on a bike yet so bad in a car.

After two days of such remoteness it was a little odd (but welcome) to be back around people and in a modern western-style hotel in the resort town of Agadir. But the day had been a day that the rest of the group really needed and the mood jumped from a low the day before to one of adrenaline filled bluster as we drank beer in the hotel lobby.

BLASTING UP THE COAST TO EL JADIDA

Our desert days were behind us now, and all that remained of the trip was two days of coastal highway and a 1,000 km blast back to the base in Malaga, Spain.

Although I’d managed to keep my guts in good working order, today I felt something was starting to be amiss, confirmed by a stinky visit to the loo. However, it wasn’t as bad as some. Kellee spent the night doubled over in foetal position and was only able to get out of bed after a doctor came in and drugged her up.

As is often the case with CMG, her loss (she couldn’t ride) was my gain as there was now another bike free and after some bike shuffling, I was back in the saddle. It was good to be there and the morning was spent dodging mad Moroccans in Audis and spotting how many goats you can put in a tree.

The ancient city of Essaoura was fantastic.

Goats in trees? Yes, it’s true. This area of Morocco is known for Argan nuts which are harvested by putting a load of goats up the tree and then harvesting the nuts that come out o’ their collective arses. It’s a shitty job but someone’s goat to do it (sorry).

The hotel in El-Jadida was pretty fancy.

The highlight of the day was a welcome stop for lunch and a quick shop in the UNESCO Heritage ancient town of Essaouira. It was refreshing to be in a town where the hassling of tourists was on the low side and non-persistent. Alas, as with most things on the tour, time was tight and we were back on the road within the hour.

Unfortunately at the hotel, for some unknown reason, my room seemed to default into the party room – well, the room that everyone seemed to end up in, beer in hand. It meant for a lot of hinting (like getting into bed and trying to sleep) before the room finally fell quiet, but it was good to hang out with what had become a pretty close-knit group.

EL JADIDA DASH TO MALAGA

Oh dear, is there anywhere free of this crap?

Kellee was still too nauseous to ride, and Sigred joined her in the 4×4 at lunch, as the bug spread. Almost everyone had succumbed at some point to gut issues – some noticeably worse than others.

Surprisingly we only saw this once, considering some of the driving practices.

Sadly, today was much like the first, with the need to cover miles and get back to the less interesting north of Morocco and the ferry back to Europe. It also meant more people, tourists and traffic, all very noticeable due to their absence a few days before.

It was a 580-km marathon and we finally made it back to base, in the dark, exhausted, but eating pizza and drinking beer, taking a moment to contemplate what we’d just done in the last 10 days – 2,750 kms of road chaos, soft sand, rocky trails and twisty mountain passes that is marvellous Morocco.


THE SUM OF THE PARTS

So what was our impression of the tour as a whole? Glad you asked.

It’s definitely a riders’ tour with plenty of time in the saddle and the occasional stop to catch a view.

Well, this was the first run of this route and it felt like it with some rough edges and overly optimistic days. However, it had been a riders’ trip from start to finish with maximum saddle time. Maybe that was a little too much to ask of the average rider, but on the whole the group (who we surveyed) seemed to be good with the fact.

Some of the desert riding was pretty tough going.

As for rider skill level, you should be skilled in both on and off-road if you are to do this trip, though more so off-road. I’d consider myself pretty competent in both areas and had no issue with the road riding (though you have to be comfortable with traffic chaos in the towns, some funky passing out of towns, and long days in the saddle), but some of the off-road — especially the deep sand — was pretty tough.

Of course, this was the inaugural run of this tour and as with all first tours you can expect some issues.

For example, the days were too long (and some of the route not pre-ridden) with everyone agreeing that it resulted in no real time to sightsee. The schedule was a bit tight for photos and stops, and there were short stays in some spectacular hotels. Which is fine if you want to just ride, but then you do feel like you’re just skimming through this unique country and culture.

The scenery was spectacular but the days were long. Photo by Yann.

Also, taking people into the Sahara on the bikes as supplied was a little on the optimistic side to say the least (lighter dualies would have been perfect, but the desert is what makes this trip so interesting and I hope it is retained in future versions).

After a day in the car, ‘Arris was eventually released back into the wild.

Hana says that they have since adjusted the route* for subsequent tours to reduce the time in the saddle, but adds that there is always the chance of long days, depending on the circumstances of the day, which is to be expected.

There were also some complaints that no spare bike was supplied as advertised in the promo literature, though Hana informed me that her bike was that spare bike. She would offer it up and ride in the truck if needed, she said, though they “only provide a spare bike if one has a technical failure or break down, not if damaged by the rider” which I think is their CMG clause.

However, there were some other problems too. Obviously I had a few issues myself regarding the GS front cast wheel and was told I was responsible for the damage despite arguing that — in my learned opinion — my bike (as well as some of the others) was not suitably prepped for the conditions we had to ride through.

Punctures happen and were taken care of by the staff. Other damage could get costly.

Unfortunately this banter led to a bit of a breakdown in our ability to communicate, and after I told Hana to just deduct the full amount and be done with it (700 Euros, about $1000), I ended up only having a smidge over $500 deducted, which seems to be either a compromise rate or an error.

Hmhhh.

Others in the group had various amounts deducted from their damage deposits too, some of which were also arguably an issue with lack of prepping, though some were clearer cut.

It seems that little boo-boos were mostly forgiven, but there was one case of someone being charged close to US$1,700 for a new header even though the bike was already well-used. The cost of new parts for a seemingly lightly-damaged original part was a sore point with a couple of others too.

So the big question is would I recommend this tour to others? Obviously, I had issues, and though the organizers will likely continue to dispute them, I can only say it how I experienced it (and what my notes tell me). But two-thirds of the group would still recommend it. Those that didn’t cited issues with the damage deposit and the less than tactful guide being as the reasons.

It would be too simplistic to write the tour off, as you do get an awful lot for a relatively cheap entry fee of €2100* – bike rental, food, accommodation and a chance to experience Morocco off the beaten track!

If you’re the type that likes to spend their holiday riding, are good with long days and a spirited pace and don’t mind the occasional past-its-prime hotel (though most were highly graded by our group), then this trip certainly can offer you all that.

Whatever you decide, Morocco needs to be on your bucket list.

Of course, I would recommend confirming what bike you’d be riding (800GSs are probably the most suitable for the conditions, though they have hard seats) and get clarification on the rules of the damage deposit. Oh and maybe factor in some extra cash for possible bike damage just to be safe.

MORE INFO

* According to the MotoAdvenTours website, the tour is now 12 days, two additional days being inserted after the bivouac to reduce the distance on that rocky trail and to give more time to enjoy the twisties through the Atlas the next day, as well as allow for a day off in the beautiful town of Essaouira – all good changes.

Of course, that adds to the price, the cost of a single rider, rented bike and shared room up €300 to € 2,400, which is still pretty cheap. They seem to have also added the option to bring your own bike which would save you €800 and potential damage deposit issues …

Note, to see the map in large size, click here (oh, and this map is our best guess of the route, some details may have been slightly different, but you get the idea).


Gallery

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7 COMMENTS

  1. I’m going to Morocco every year with my BMW R1200 GS Adventure, alone. I’m not a professional rider. Usually I go offroading from Nador to Merzouga. There is a rocky and sandy route but I never had a problems with my tires. I mean the problem is that some people don’t have enough experience riding. Is not the fault of the tour company, in this case. You are using the power of the “press” in order to attack this company, but as you are describing, you was riding the bike and you damaged it. So, it’s your responsibility.

    • Hi Eduard, I’m not trying to attack this company, I merely write what I experienced. I think they are potentially onto a good thing but they do need to change a few things and putting bikes with cast wheels down rocky trails is one of them. i think I would be abusing my power if I didn’t say these things. And BTW, the 1200GS Adventure has spoke wheels, which is exactly what you want for this stuff … which is probably why you have never had any problems.

  2. 2 inner tubes
    12 bikes
    8 days………………….What’s up with that shit?
    1200GS / Heavy Bike /Alloy Rim / Super Rocky Terrain / Tire loosing Pressure / No More Tubes to
    Place on Bike…………….AND you are told to ride the bike out……….AND then get chewed out by the ‘guide’……….Who had left the group far behind…………..AND then being charged for the rim???

    PROPER FUCKED

    I will spend my money with another tour company for my Maroc trip this coming Fall.

    Glad I read this report.

    ‘Arris tells it like it is…..Good on him ……..La vérité trouve toujours la lumière.

    btw: I met Trahan 3 years ago. He is a tool.

    • I actually only rode in the support truck for a day and a bit and the two inner tubes was disputed so I didn’t include it in my piece, but no doubting that the tour needs to be massaged a bit. I do hope they do that as it was quite the adventure and they take you through some amazing places.

  3. Good article, as usual. Should point out a typo, though: it should be “cited”, not “sited”.

    Cheers. Looking forward to your next adventures. 🙂

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