Day 15 – Dakhla | Nouadibou, Mauritania

Dakhla - Nouadibou, Mauritania

September 16th, 2011
Early start and manage to have breakfast – bread and the Laughing Red Cow spreadable cheese (La Vache qui rit – yes I think it’s hilarious too!!). Hit the road around 10am and head back out to the main road south. There’s a very strong cross-wind form the ocean which makes it difficult to ride. More windswept dunes and we pass the camps where windsurfers and kite surfers come to from near and far. Apparently this is one of the most popular, and cheap, spots to do this and it is a mecca apparently in kite-surfer circles. There is a lot of blowing sand, but it’s noticeably hotter than further north – this is definitely not the place for an open-face helmet. Sand hits your arms like a thousand little pins, coming in gusts. Time to put the jacket on again I think.

As we rejoin the main road south there’s our 1st sign post for Dakar – 1430km to go. We motor south across the barren expanse. This really is big sky country with endless horizons marking the boundary between the void above and the void below, sliced through by a ribbon of tarmac stretching in a straight line from the front wheel to the horizon. Fortunately as we’re heading south the wind is behind us and the biking is much nicer, 120km/h and it feels like you’re hardly moving. However this also means that the cooling effect of the radiator is diminished so I’m glad I installed the manual over-ride switch for the cooling fan – gotta keep the old girl cool.

Stop for gas and a bite some 200km from the border, the people are really starting to look distinctly exotic, long flowing Saharwi robes at the gas station. I refill the spare fuel tank just in case! A Mauritanian in flowing robe robes asks me where I’m going on the bike, “Dakar” I reply, “ah he says, you must come and stay in my Auberge (hotel) in Nouakchott”, the capital of Mauritania. “Just ask the last policeman as you enter the city” he says. Off course, I forgot the name of his auberge within ten seconds of him getting back into his battered Dutch registered Mercedes 190 diesel! This is virtually the only car that anyone drives in Mauritania as I am later to find out.

By mid afternoon we reach the border. The policeman is annoyed that I rode up to him and stopped, apparently I should have waited at one of the “Halt” signs about 20yrds back. However I chose not to mention in my defense that he was clearly snoozing or “resting” behind the barrier and I couldn’t see him when I was at the halt sign, ergo why I kept on going ….. I opted for “Sorry chef” instead! Visits to the various levels of government represented on the border went without a hitch, and also without a fixer as well, and it was pretty smooth. Just endlessly showing the same documents to guys with different colored uniforms. If I did this regularly I would need to have the documents laminated. I suspect that if someone is not showing you documents then you cannot be very important, ergo everyone wants to see them, I suspect same applies in the West a well, it’s just a little more efficient. Justyna encourages me to keep my philosophies of the usefulness of government people to myself, until at least we’re in no-mans-land. She has also made the observation that when it comes to “big things”, such as being stranded on a desert road with no chain and few options, I’m remarkably calm, patient and solution orientated, but when it comes to government people and little niggly things, I’m extremely lacking in the patience department!!! Can this really be true ???

We’re through, the last guy checks the same papers, the gates open … and ………. a nasty looking dirt road with a bunch of money changers and sweaty taxi guys awaits. We know, thanks to the great sage “Lonely Planet” that there’s approx 3km of no-mans-land between the Moroccan side of the border and the Mauritanian border post. We also know that on either side of the road there are minefields. However, not close … although we’re not sure, how close by! Heard that a French lunatic went off piste and managed to arrange a swift meeting with his maker back in 2009. But apparently he was a lunatic and asking to get blown up, according to his badly injured former friend at the time!

After a few meters we change some Moroccan Dirhams into Mauritanian Ouigia (I still can’t pronounce it and my counting in French still sucks so I think we got ripped off) – one of the happy thieves, I mean money changers, then tried to see if we wanted a taxi! In hindsight this would have been a good idea for JJ but neither of us likes being hassled. So we head down the road slowly on the bike. After a few meters it’s clear that we’re too heavy for 2 up with luggage on this road and it’s looking like non motorcyclist will have to walk ….. however 20 meters further on the “motorcyclist” hits soft sand with 200kg of bike and luggage and, for the first time finds himself horizontal on the ground. A quick dust off and time to avoid any soft sand, as I have little offloading experience – and I’d like to get our stuff there in one piece. So slowly does it. I’m able to take Justyna over short stretches that are half decent, but she ends up having to walk a fair chunk of the 3km to the Mauritanian border post. There are burnt out shells and hulks of cars on either side of the road as reminders that this was a war zone some 35 years ago.

We reach the Mauritania border post, it’s like a small patch of civilization in an empty and barren land. They’re courteous and there’s an “agent/fixer”, who for a few euros helps with paperwork, registration of the bike and insurance. the percentage of black faces has dramatically increased, really giving the feeling of getting close to sub-saharan Africa. The process here is pretty painless to be honest and surprisingly straightforward as well. Quite efficient in fact, a world away form a Nigerian border crossing. We finally mount up and we’re about 50/60km from Nouhadibou, the 2nd city (ok, out of only about 4 or 5) of Mauritania. The scenery in the twilight is astonishing beautiful, endless vistas of sand and dunes meeting the sky. There’s an extreme serenity about it, this is a place where all the distractions and troubles and issues of normal life do not exist. Only simple existential questions remain, where can I eat and where can I sleep!

We make it to Nouhadibou in the dark and eventually, after consulting the great sage lonely planet again find the Al Jazera hotel. It’s a place of faded glory and apparently used to be a Novotel before they quit Mauritania a couple of years ago. 17,000 Ouigia (I’m not sure there’s even a currency sign for this) later and accommodation is sorted, only need to find something to eat now. The guy behind reception suggests a Spanish place about 200yards down the street. Head down there and there’s a small restaurant with some locals in there and the management appears to be a Spanish family, and dad is watching a huge flat screen satellite television mounted on the wall with a gaggle of locals. A strange place. The Spanish influence lives on in this part of Africa.

Obviously fish is the local dish here, so I order the fish soup and Calamars. When the owners daughter, who’s’ serving us, asks what we’d like to drink I ask for a coke but make a joke about really wanting a beer. According to the great sage, Mauritania is a dry country, and searches at the border for illicit alcohol are common! She looks at me and laughs, “off course we have beer, we also have wine and whisky, everything thing here is possible with a little money” she says still laughing. It tuned out it was English beer. So I had 3 with dinner. A long and tiring day. Perhaps we should inform Lonely Planet about this place, but then again perhaps it’s better left under the radar 😉 A long but super day, really feel like we’re in an exotic place I also notice that we crossed the Tropic of Cancer today, but there was no signpost on the highway – that would have made a great picture!

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Day 14 – Tarfaya | Dakhla, Morocco

Tarfiya | Dakhla

September 15th, 2011
This is today’s cunning plan! More from the road later. (I’m in Tarfaya, feels like the end of the earth – but there’s high speed WiFi! Yeay)

Manage early start and a sort of breakfast – which consists of the 50/50 arab coffee and milk with sugar, it’s delicious. Ride down into the main dusty street of Tarfaya and stop for gas. A kiosk is selling still warm freshly baked bread, the round loaves that the eat in Morocco. It’s also delicious and we’re set for the long trek south. Today we cross the border into Western Sahara and Dakhla, in the far south, is the destination. This is going to be the longest single stretch that we do in one go, so it will be a long haul. Decide gas money could be a good idea and nip over the most interestingly named bank ever – Attijariwafa Bank…. Mr Attijariwafa never refused us once on our travels.

As we leave the town I realize that it is literally surrounded by an endless field of low sand dunes, as far as you can see inland, otherwise the landscape is perfectly flat. We rejoin the main road and start heading south. After about 30km we enter the one-horse town of “Teh” which straddles the old border of Western Sahara and Morocco.

A short historical aside here follows. Western Sahara was run by the Spanish until the death of Franco in 1975, at which point the Moroccans decided that it should be part of Morocco. Unfortunately the Algerians and Mauritanians disagreed, and on top of that nobody actually thought to consult the local Saharawi population who wanted none of them and to run it themselves – surprise surprise. Alas, for the locals, Moroccan troops occupied the country and there has been an ongoing integration into Mococco ever since. Most Moroccans view it as an integral part of Morocco these days and Moroccans are given incentives by the government in Rabat to move there – low taxes etc. But it is still a sparsely populated part of Africa. Many of the local Saharawis continue to live in camps across the border in Mauritania and Algeria and the liberation movement, POLISARIO, continues to insist on an Independent Western Sahara. The UN regard the territory as still under dispute, despite Moroccan insistence that it is now part of Morocco. Somewhere down the road the Moroccans and Saharawis will have to come to an accommodation.

There’s no real line or sign marking the boundary in Teh but we stop for gas – the rule of the road now is not to pass any gas stations, period! Head out into the desert again and after about 65km we hit the town of El Aaiun or Laayoune. This would technically be the capital of the territory and there’s certainly a military presence around the place, far beyond what we’ve seen so far on the journey south through Morocco. We’re also encountering checkpoints where we have to give the lone cops standing randomly on the road a “Fiche”. This is simply a piece of paper with passport details and parent’s names (important in the islamic world) as well as details of entry into Morocco and visa number. Had about 30 copies made up in Rabat, just photocopies and you just hand them out and everyone is happy. Occasionally we’d just get waved on anyway! I think it just depended how bored the cop standing in the road was. And off course the bike is looking fairly “touristy” with stickers etc on her!

Just south of Laayoune there is a huge dune field, with dunes up to 20m high. The wind blows the sand across the road and there are large earth movers sporadically along the road shoveling sand off it. Now it really looks like the stereotype of the Sahara, so off course there’s some posing for pictures beside big sand dunes. The bizarrest thing is that it’s not particularly warm, maybe only 25C, which almost makes it feel like cheating. It sure looks hot, like being in a foreign legion movie ….. or you kind of expect General Gordon and the Maadhi to be having beers together around the next dune reading over a film script – I guess both Charlton Heston and the Maadhi were gun lovers anyway 😉

The big dune field only lasts for a few kilometers though and we keep motoring south. Apparently Morocco has been described as a cold country with a hot sun – this would explain why it’s not uncomfortably hot! After another 100km or so we enter the town of Boujdour and pull off for a bit of lunch, some salad and minced lamb – small lamb burgers with fries! As we’re sitting there we spot a couple of bikes on the other side of the road – clearly overlanders packed for long distance. They’ve obviously spotted our bike parked on the street and they make a b-line for us. Two guys, Martin (German) and Henry (South African) join us for lunch and road stories. Martin has been on the road for just over one year. Travelling from Germany to Egypt, down the east coast of Africa to South Africa. Spending some time there and then working his way up the west coast of the continent. He has done 47,000km so far with only 2 flat tires, although he has gone through 6 back tires and 5 front tires in that time. Amazing, it makes my 3500km look positively humble. Henry, the South African, started in Cape Town in April and is riding to Casablanca and has 23,000km under the wheels since leaving. So both of them are nearing the end of their respective epic trips. Both are riding 650cc machines, Martin a Yamaha and Henry a BMW. You need to be able to pick them up by yourself so anything bigger is silly! Henry has some friends back in SAF who are keen on the old KLR650s like mine, he uses the term “Classic” – I’m feeling very complimented on the old girl. I think she felt it too as she pushed further south later on that day without any issues. The tire rubbing and shock issues seem to have resolved themselves. We loose some time with “road yarns” and stories of crossing Africa on two wheels., but it’s time to keep heading south before we loose the light and we still have almost 400km to go before we hit Dakhla.

It’s a long afternoon but we get the miles down. The landscape is flat arid desert, but there’s a perceptible change in the people. Much more in the way of traditional dress and people are getting browner. Also the percentage of black people is steadily rising, although all are still clearly sharing a distinctly islamic desert culture. The sun is sinking and it’s really starting to cool down and we’re still 100km from Dakhla and Justyna has caught got a chill. Those who bike know that once you get the chills it’s difficult to get rid of them. So wrap her up as warmly as possible with extra t-shirts etc (which are still warm from the heat of the day in the pannier) and press on. It’s been over 250km since the last gas station and I’ve tipped in the spare gas tank (5l, about 100km worth) that we’re carrying on the pannier to see us through to Dakhla. The road splits as Dakhla is on a peninsula about 40km off the main road and there’s a gas station and tea house there. JJ goes to get hot mint tea while I gas up and then join for a glass of the minty refreshment myself. There’s a bunch of old guys in the gas station glued to some kind of Egyptian soap playing on a battered TV up in the corner. As usual there are no women present. They’re all googling at it like it was the end of the world. While I can’t understand any of the dialogue it appears that the show is the same as all other soaps, with guys in suits and scantilly clad girls. No doubt this is the most titillation these guys get given that men and women don’t seem to mix socially that much in this part of the country.

We finally make it past the police posts to Dakhla, the final policeman being quite friendly. We’re now some 1500km south of Rabat the capital; it really is quite a big country! Find a hotel in the square – pretty cheap and likely in 20 years it will be a tourist hive. I notice there’s a bar. We go to inspect and it’s filled with old men men (no women as usual) with lots of empty tins of beer on the tables – we’re told it’s closed, although it’s only 10 o’clock. Justyna suspects it’s closed to women and that’s why we were turned away. So the dining room beckons and a tasty plate of fresh calamars. And fortunately they serve some Moroccan wine with it as well. The further south one gets the less one sees of alcohol. Although usually they do have some, but you have to ask! I have to wonder what’s the point of going to the bar for these guys – there’s nothing but other old guys to look at!!!

It’s quite a large town as far as I can tell and quite lively, but definitely feels much more African than further north. Time to turn as the Mauritanian border beacons tomorrow, and it’s another 500km day, hope we can fit it all in!

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Day 13 – Agadir | Tarfaya

Agadir-Tarfaya

September 14th, 2011

Covering the 636km from Agadir to Laayoune was the mission today. It was extremely slow going getting out of Agadir and got lost more than once in the southern burbs, and stuck behind the odd donkey as well. Finally found our way out onto the N1 heading south towards Tiznit which is about 100km south of Agadir. The route takes us due south and inland from the coast, which curves away to the south west, through scrubby rocky desert with a few scattered trees. It is very slow going with heavy traffic and lots of jockeying for position and some crazy drivers as well, albeit not as bad as in Nigeria – there is a semblance of lane discipline here! Am only averaging something between 55 and 70km/hour putting  Laayoune some 10 hours away, and I don’t really relish riding in the dark here on a sea coast with mist and trucks involved. So by the time I reach Tiznit I’m already pretty sure that we’re going to pull up short somewhere, probably Tarfaya, about 90km shy of Laayoune. The problem is that the number of places to pull up are going to start getting pretty few and far between once we’re past Tan-Tan and reach the Atlantic coast again. I also don’t relish the prospect of meeting the military gents in the dark either as Laayoune is just across the border in the Western Sahara, although Morocco maintains that it’s an integral part of Morocco. But I understand that there is a fair Moroccan military presence there and I prefer to deal with them in daylight!

The road quality is not bad actually, and in some places it’s as good as a main highway. South of Tiznet the traffic thins out and the highway winds up into a small range of low hills and mountains and it’s actually a fun biking road. The countryside is stark to say the least, but the bizarre thing is that it is not searingly hot. In fact it’s the prefect temperature for biking and even a little chilly frankly. According to Lonely Planet, Morocco is a cold country with a hot sun! Was not expecting it to be anything but baking this far south! There are some great vistas across the open plains that are interspersed with mountains Further south we come to the dusty town of Bouizakarne and the road turns on a more south westerly direction, although at this point we’re some 50km from the ocean. The terrain opens up into an immense arid plain with electrical transmission towers in a perfectly straight-line disappearing into the distance parallel to the road. Again, it’s not burning hot here, but this is certainly “Big Sky Country”, with the sun on the road and a brilliant blue sky overhead.

Another 100km further towards Tan-Tan there’s another set of arid hills that the old girl bombs up and then down again, with some super vistas of the surrounding plains as well. Descending the far side, it’s getting into mid to late afternoon and I catch a glimpse of the first massive sand dunes I’ve seen in the distance. It’s literally like a wall of sand, perhaps 150m high, so off course stop for some pictures with the bike in the foreground. Off course road trip pictures tend to be solely shots of the same bike, it’s only the background that changes! I was not expecting these dunes to be so huge, like a shifting mountain of sand. But I think there will be some more along this journey. The bike roars on.

Descend into Tan-Tan, and there is a statue of two huge camels at the entrance to the town. We haven’t spotted the real camels yet, but I’m sure they’re around. Fill up with gas there and a couple of guys are interested in the bike and where we’ve come from, they assumed that we’re Dutch thanks to the plates on the bike, and wish us bon voyage as we head back onto the road. From Tan-Tan the road heads across a small stretch of plain to the coast on the Atlantic ocean and upon reaching the sea it veers west along the coast for another 220km to Cape Juby at Tarfaya, which is literally opposite the Canary Islands lying off the African coast. This coast is a mecca for surfers and wind surfers alike who come here to the empty beaches to take advantage of the Atlantic rollers and often high winds off the ocean.  As we turned west along the coast there were a number of random surfers walking with boards along the road in the middle of nowhere.

The sun is starting to set as the old bike motors along this coast road, there’s also a moistness in the air from the ocean and it’s tough to keep the visor clean as the sun sets. Visibility is not helped by the fact that the sun is setting exactly in front of me. So spotting a small herd of camels we pull off the road for a break. Take a walk over to the cliffs edge and there’s a droop of a hundred fifty feet or so to the rumbling ocean. The edge of the sandstone cliffs doesn’t look too safe but manage to get a few shots along the beach and of the cliffs into the setting sun. Nice break, but it’s really getting chilly and still have nearly a hundred miles to Tarfaya, which we know there are two hotels at. Motor on for another couple of dozen miles and stop for a snack in in the twilight at Sidi Akhfennir – chocolate chips and a coke!  Straight run now of 60 miles to Tarfaya, and it’s really getting dark, although I don’t particularly relish doing any stretch of this road in the dark frankly. We’re stopped by the police at one of the not infrequent road-blocks and asked to pull out our passports for the first time. A small delay and we’re on our way again!

After a not totally pleasant 40 miles we arrive at Tarfaya. and find a friendly lodge who helps us secure the bike and they rustle up a fish tajine for us. Delicious as the chills had started to set in by the time we arrived. Time to turn in. Need early start tomorrow as we have another 600km to put down before Dhakla tomorrow night, and there’ll be more sand I expect as well.

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Day 13 – Mechanical Problems

Hmmm, looks like the shock might have blown, time for some road trip mechanicing and a stop at the local Kawasaki dealership in Agadir before heading south ….. seems like getting the old girl to Dakar and bureaucracy are the two main hurdles on this trip!!

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Day 12 – Agadir, Morocco

Agadir - Atlantic Ocean

Amsterdam|Dakar – Day 12 – Agadir
September 13th, 2011
Woke up this morning … and something was missing ….. ahh yes, the ear shattering “Allah-u-Akbar” from the mosque next door in Rabat was missing! The muezzins had clearly found the volume button last Saturday and you could not hear yourself think several times per day when it goes off. I’m tempted to think God must get really bored with all this name calling – “oh look, I’m still as great as I was two hours ago and they’re reminding me again in case I’d forgotten” – it all seems pretty robotic by and large, the religion is simply an unthinking cultural habit for most! Although that trait is certainly not confined to the muslim or islamic world by a long shot!

At any rate, yesterday, on the stretch between Casablanca and Marrakech, I noticed the old problem of tire rubbing on the exhaust that I had had with a fat Euro exhaust on the way down to Istanbul two years ago. This hadn’t happened on the journey out to Fes last week with panniers and 2 up on the bike. So something must have been different. Justyna had apparently shifted back onto the back rack for a change of position somewhere along the road, and I think that this likely increased the moment/force on the back shock when going over the low frequency undulations on the road, say over a bridge. At any rate she now has strict instructions to stay on the seat and refrain from acrobatics. I figured the problem was fixed with this but the bike still seemed a little slushy at the back last night. However on a couple of gas stops the tire was no longer wearing on the exhaust – thank allah (in these parts) for that. The skinny Canadian exhaust I have in there is generally well out of the way and we’re carrying a fair bit of weight with 2 up and luggage, but most of the heavy tools are up front in the tool tube thereby pushing the heavy stuff to the front with little in the way of heavy items riding on the back!!

Checked it this morning and there seemed to be some oil where the shock joins the swing-arm linkage and I instantly reckon that the shock has blown. Being that today would have been the longest stretch on god-knows what roads – the nice smooth toll highways are now behind us – I decided that it was not a good idea to proceed until I’d checked out the problem. Bottom line, we’re right on the edge of the desert heading south and I’m not into taking silly risks. The guy serving breakfast at the hotel, it turns out, is interested in mechanical things and shows me which area of the city the mechanics and garages are at. And also where parts might be available if necessary. And most importantly of all, what the french word for “shock-absorber” is 🙂 Very handy when trying to explain the problem!

Head over there, after checking in for another night – this also means that a pile of laundry can be done as well. Find the dusty light industrial part of the city and things look hopeful – spot a bike repair shop fairly quickly. Older Moroccan guy is there with a friendly smile, listens to the explanation, and pokes around at the bike, says “not a problem” (quell surprise) and he checks the measurements of the shock and, after giving us two low stools to sit on in the shade, disappears on his moped. He does seem to know what he’s doing – and his guys are working on a couple of other Indian made okada style scooters. Always good to see a shop busy, as you know that they are more likely to know what they’re doing and be good if their customers keep coming back. It had a similar feeling to the oily garage workshop shop in Dromara, McKnights, but with the umm-ing and ahh-ing in French rather than with a Northern Irish brogue. About 20 minutes later the guy comes back with a whole Kawasaki shock assembly – it looks almost identical to mine – I’m amazed and impressed. I’m pretty sure if I showed up with the same situation in Europe or North america I’d have to make an appointment and it would take days. This is in minutes.

But I have noticed that this shock seems to be a little wider at the top, and slightly longer than the one currently in the bike. Our guy notices too but figures on giving it a try. Pop bike side-covers off and loosen bolts etc and within 10 minutes the back sub-frame is half off and we can get at the top bolt on the shock. Pull bike up on the side stand and in a few minutes the shock is out. There are definitely some fundamental differences between the one that the mechanic just purloined and the one that just came out of the bike. However the original shock in it is not showing any signs of leakage of oil of any sort and in fact appears to be in fine shape. What I do notice is that the stiffness adjuster is only at 3 instead of 4 – max. Dammit, was sure I had that set at 4 when I did the bike refurbishment in 2010! So I’m thinking it might be that the adjuster wasn’t at it’s stiffest setting after all!

Mechinic guy heads off with both the old and new shock to wherever he got the last one from ….. and returns with a ….. “non, they don’t have the same one as mine!” As the old one doesn’t seem to be busted, decided to simply put the old shock back in and make sure it’s locked at the #4 setting for maximum stiffness. Bike goes back together in 20 minutes, and manage to wipe it clean a little bit as it’s now 2384miles (3814km) since leaving Holland! Take a couple of pictures of the boys who fixed the bike – Moustafa the older guy is built like Danny de Vito and I felt like Arnold Schwartzenegger in the movie Twins when we had our picture taken!

Head back to the hotel, time to get rid of some of the smellies that have been building up and do a bit of laundry and perhaps even take a look at the beach! On the way back she feels a bit stiffer at the back which is a hopeful sign.

I couldn’t resist a beer at the “English Pub” and then went down to the beach to check out the Atlantic Ocean and took a couple of shots of the beaches at Agadir. It’s a colorful place to be sure. Tomorrow, bound for Western Sahara, long day ahead and no idea where to stay in Laayoune either!

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Day 11 – Rabat | Agadir, Morocco

Rabat|Agadir

September 12th, 2011

Got to the front door of the Mauritania embassy at 8.30am. Met a Dutch guy and a South African who are driving from Holland to Ghana. They’re selling their car there and will apparently fly back, we agreed that we might see each other on the Mauritanian border later in the week. In five minutes had passport back in hand and lo, it contains a double entry Mauritanian visa valid for 60 days. They certainly don’t waste money on fancy visas with holograms like many other countries. Nope, this looked like it was printed on a label from a hardware store and simply stuck in the passport, together with the obligatory couple of stamps so beloved of African bureaucrats.

Justyna is lacking a Yellow Fever Vaccination, which is usually mandatory for travel to the Sahara and sub-Saharan countries. So some faffing around ensued at the Sheikh Zayed hospital and a taxi ride to a clinic, all of which resulted in … nothing! However I think that something done up in word and printed out on yellow paper with the name of a suitably obscure country at the top may work for her. At the end of the day the only purpose of it is to minimize the opportunities for being asked for bribes once we’re out of Morocco. Senegal is the issue as the Mauritanians didn’t even look at my yellow fever card. Or perhaps a tall tale about it being lost at the Mauritanian embassy may work, although no doubt “dash” will have to be paid! At any rate, we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it and I’m sure it will be “fun”.

Had an excellent sushi lunch with Amine overlooking the marina in Rabat before heading south. He also kindly agreed to hang on to my winter and water proof clothing and other bits n pieces that are not really needed when trying to conserve weight on a bike in the desert! Alas I even had to leave my History of Europe book behind, that saves at least a kilo!

So finally headed south from Rabat via Casablanca, about 70km to the south west. From there as we head south towards Marrakech, the terrain gets drier and changes from pasture to a reddish stony desert. Still making good time however and another 240km south of Casablanca we come to Marrakech and continue towards Agadir. The terrain continues across a flat plain with the shadow of the High Atlas in the distance as we continue southwest. After about 150km we’re climbing into the tail of the Atlas mountains going back towards the coast. It’s now dark with an almost full moon. making for much cooler temperatures than earlier in the day where I’d started to melt at one of the 10 million traffic lights in Rabat. Also, while the Moroccan gas stations are always good, well equipped with cafes and stores, they can often be quite far apart – I measured 80km between the 2 on the road between Marrakech and Agadir. The highways are super quality although unfortunately have that annoying French habit of “Peage” as it’s all tolled.

Finally we reach Agadir around 9pm and descend out of the mountains. I guess I should mention that the highways in this part of Morocco are good, but they always end far outside the city of destination and there is always a long trek in from wherever the highway stops. We go through the final peage followed by a long highway, part of which is lined with car dealerships and other industrial businesses – looks a bit like a strip in N.America frankly. After what seems like an eternity, cruising along this strip, we eventually come to the area near the beach. Turning right onto the beachfront strip, it’s filled with English Pubs, fake souks, hotels and nightclubs. It’s like Cancun or Torremolinos, except in French. Exquisitely tacky! Stop to see if there’s any room in one of the hotels and find the lobby to be full of vacationers of a more “mature” demographic, shakin’ it down and getting’ groovy to Boney-M and various hits from the 1970s and early 80s. The music was mind numbingly loud and it was difficult to tell if the volume level was an act of rebellion or merely practical so that guests did not need to bring hearing-aids. As I exited the building, after being told there were no rooms, I think a small part of my brain had started to melt and ooze out of my ears!

Managed to get a cheap place on the south end of the beach strip, much quieter and away from all the “action”. Seriously though, the town does seem to be a bit of a get away for Moroccans and French but does have that “all inclusive” kind of feel about it, interesting, I wasn’t expecting Agadir to be a holiday megalopolis. Certainly it’s one of the odder places to find an English pub! Tomorrow we cross into the Western Sahara and should end up at Laayoune, some 630km to the south of here. The checkpoints will also be thicker on the ground as well!

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Day 10 – Rabat, Morocco

September 11th, 2011
Went back to the medina to get my boot re-repaired, for free, and got some more fiche printed out. These are just pieces of paper with all your passport details, and not forgetting your mother’s and father’s names as well. They’re very important in these parts, although I wonder if they ever check. Apparently there are a large number of checkpoints in the western sahara which is claimed by Morocco but remains internationally in dispute and I also understand that the Mauritanians have a lot of vehicle stops, however it may have more to do with them trying to enrich themselves a little beyond their meagre salary. So having all personal details on a slip of paper that you simply give them seems like an excellent time saving device, so we can get on with the nitty gritty of bribing without delay 😉 So I printed some extra ones out and apart from that, it’s all about waiting for the visas tomorrow. Hopefully the visa gods will be with us!Share

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Day 9 – Rabat, Morocco

September 10th, 2011
Slow morning and long breakfast – the after effects of the usual bottle of champagne with Amine. Have internet access again so time to update the blog. My boot needs repaired again … I think some nails in the front rather than just glue could be in order. So back to the Medina as well. With a repack and low geared sprocket having two on the bike seems like an option, so Justyna is going to give it a go to head south with me on the bike and well see how it goes. There are tiny little scooters here which have no problems carrying two people, and I know from experience that south of here they can get up to five on an okada, essentially a hairdryer with two wheels.

So now just waiting for the embassy to open on Monday and if we can get visas there will immediately head south from there. So in theory, depending on progress, might be able to make Dakar next Saturday. Have sent a message to Willem in Nouakchott to check that we still have base of operations in Nouakchott. This timing does off course mean that side trip to the Eye of the Sahara is not going to happen. Oh well! And in hind sight, it was likely better that the chain situation happened on the road here in Morocco than on an empty road further south 200km from anywhere.Share

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Day 8 – Fes | Rabat, Morocco

September 9th, 2011
Nice Moroccan breakfast, french bread, jam, laughing red cow cheese (La vache qui rit) and the usual strong milky coffee. Decide leaving early is a good idea as getting out of the Medina, let alone getting out of Fes back onto the highway could eat up some time. So make it onto the highway by 11.30pm and should be in Rabat at 2p or so. all going smoothly so far.

Heading west we reach Meknes after about 50km and roll on past making good time. Suddenly there’s a crunch and the bike looses power, followed seconds later by the sound of something coming off. The engine dies and we simply coast onto the hard shoulder. I take a look back and sure enough there’s the bike chain lying about 50 yards back on the road. Walk back to pick it up and one of the links has snapped. Well so much for my high speed sprocket idea, although in saying that the chain had seen a lot of service. Fortunately I have the replacement lower geared back sprocket with me as well as a brand new chain. Only one problem – I don’t have the small tool required to rivet the connecting link in place and we’re roadside in the middle of the searing hot plain. This also means that we can kiss goodbye to getting visas today and are going to loose another two days in Rabat waiting until Monday when the embassy opens again. Shit!

So, what to do! Fortunately we’re only about 15km west of Meknes so cross the road and within seconds have thumbed a lift in a nice black mercedes which drops us off at the exit as the driver is going on. the driver says there’s a motorbike shop near the railway station in Meknes. We get an instantaneous second lift at the exit from another kindly Moroccan gent and he takes us into Meknes. Eventually find the motorcycle repair shop, but it’s closed! Well it’s not actually – it’s simply that the owner is across the street having his lunch and one of his boys runs over to check with him …. but apparently he will not be “Ferme” in about a half hour. So time for a coke at the same cafe – it was very hot out on the road! A half hour later the bike guy tells us that he can fix the bike if we bring it to him, and fortunately thanks to the magic of blackberry I managed to find the telephone number for roadside assistance in this part of Morocco. Get a taxi round to this place and a half hour later we’re headed out in a pick up truck to grab the bike!

Fortunately she’s still roadside and it’s hoisted unceremoniously onto the back of the truck, truly very embarrassing! Back at the motorcycle repair shop pull the front sprocket cover off to find that the chain, on it’s way off the sprocket has managed to slice all the wires into the stator – this is also not brilliant. within a half hour, new lower geared back sprocket and brand new chain are on and all the wiring has been reconnected again all for a total cost of €75. I doubt that this could have been done with the same speed and efficiency in Europe or North America. While things are less formal here there is a certain efficiency to overcoming problems that doesn’t really exist in more developed parts of the world I think.

So back to Rabat and back to the same cheap hotel in the centre of town. Very frustrating and decided that a nice dinner back at Le Grand Comptoir is in order. As I’m sitting there a guy walks in, I could swear that it is Amine Laghadi, a Moroccan guy that worked in HR in Maersk Nigeria when I was there. He walks past and then turns around and looks at me, and despite having the shortest haircut I’ve ever had he recognizes me. Joins us for dinner and much chat of the past in Nigeria and the storytelling goes on late into the night. Still, have nothing to do but do a repack again and wait for Monday.Share

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Day 7 – Fes, Morocco

September 8th, 2011
The local vino also seems to be a potent source of a sore head the following morning. But up and take a look around the medina, and get utterly lost. But there are lots of great cafes service a delicious strong milky sweet arab coffee. It’s also very hot. I’m starting to get tired of the medians, but this one doesn’t seem to be overly touristy, unlike Marrakech. In fact, both in Rabat and in Fes, it’s all about locals going about doing their own thing and outsiders simple mingle with the crowds.

I took some pictures of kids playing in the fountain to cool off in the afternoon and some pictures in the markets. the entire Medina in Fes is about 1200 years old and it is one of the old imperial cities of Morocco. the medina itself is huge and finding your way around is pretty difficult. Find the Cafe Clock and have another bowl of harira and a “Spiced” coffee – which turns out to be something similar to an iced coffee, but very tasty.

At 6pm managed to find the Riad Fes which was well stocked with Pastis in a stunning setting around a small pool in a central courtyard. Wasn’t feeling hungry having eaten in the late afternoon, so some snackies and an early night. Need to head back to Rabat to pick up visas etc tomorrow and heading south on Saturday finally.

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Day 6 – Rabat | Fes, Morocco

Rabat | Fez

September 7th, 2011
Early alarm and we’re at the gates of the Mauritanian embassy bang on 8.30am. There a small group of people queuing at a gate in the wall. We manage to purloin a couple of application forms and fill them in with all sorts of useless information. It’s asks for the name of your hotel in Mauritania, so I look up google on my blackberry and randomly pick one in Nouakchott to put on the form. Hand the forms in and are told to be back to pick them up at 3pm on Friday. So much for speedy service and have now lost another 48 hours. I had read that they were quite good at this embassy and could usually get the the next day. Alas not this time!

So decide to go to Fes, about 200km east of Rabat, and check it out to fill in the time. Do a repack and manage to arrange to leave all unnecessary stuff behind at the hotel. Not much need for winter fleece here in Morocco. Manage to get both of our stuff plus tools and bits into the two nice metal side panniers. And we head off 2 up on the old girl, with very little issues in handling whatsoever. I’m surprised on both counts. As behead east from Rabat the temperature rises substantially as we get away from the cooling effects of the Atlantic.

No issues and the pillion passenger doesn’t seem to have an issue with the level of comfort, or lack thereof, on the back and we get to Fes in the middle of the afternoon after crossing the arid plain. the air temperature gauge is showing that it’s around 42C or so. Decided to stay in a cheap Riad in the old Medina in Fes. It’s pretty deserted and after much gaffing around and lots of locals trying to show us the way to it .. for tips off course, we finally fin it down a small side street. Off course by this time it’s Pastis hour in my world but we have difficult locating somewhere to eat that serves anything stronger than soft drinks and tea.

Finally found a great rooftop place and had the most delicious soup ever – Harira – it’s a lentil, tomato and chick-pea soup that’s very traditional in Morocco, and is used to “break the fast” at the end of the day during ramadan. It’s the best soup I’ve ever tasted, I’ll have to try to figure out how to make it in the future. A traditional Honey and cinnamon chicken dish followed. Also managed to snag a bottle of local Cabernet to take back to the Riad – where there was an excellent rooftop view of the stars. Not too much light pollution in this neck of the woods.

While it’s all very nice, it’s still a bit frustrating loosing the time as the purpose of the trip is in the destination rather than touristic sightseeing along the way.Share

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Day 5 – Rabat, Morocco

September 6th, 2011
Strong coffee out on the terasse and a pastry for breakfast in yet more bright sunshine. Nice to see the sun again for more than several hours straight. The plan is to head out to the Mauritanian embassy to see about getting a visa. You can’t get one at the border and I’ve read that people who try are turned back and have to come all the way back up to Rabat, which is some 3 days travel each way. Lonely planet says that consular hours are until 3pm. So head out there about 11am, and manage to find the Mauritanian embassy tucked away down a leafy side street in the southern part of the city. It is entirely deserted!!

Manage to find a gatekeeper who talks out of a small hole in the wall about head height who informs us that we have to be at the front gate in the morning at 8.30am as they only hand out the application forms then. So much for getting a quick visa. Spend the rest of the day doing bits n pieces like having my boots resoled, as I discovered a hole in them. Although they’ve seen plenty of action on just about every bike trip I’ve made since 2008. A shoe repair guy in the Medina lends me a pair of the most untrendy sandals ever while he repairs my boots, all done in about a half hour, not bad service I reckon! Checked out the Medina and the harbor overlooking the ocean. It’s not a huge city really, but it’s difficult to navigate around without a map or in my case GPS and google maps. Went back to “Le Grand Comptoir” restaurant for dinner and another taste of their excellent French cuisine. And off course a Pastis at the end of the day. Also spent some time repacking as I hadn’t packed very efficiently in Europe.Share

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Day 4 – Marbella, Spain | Rabat, Morocco

September 5th, 2011

Halfway to Dakar in just 3 days!

Up and have a proper breakfast for a change, followed by a few quick emails and telephone calls to tie up loose ends, and also write up Day 3 for the blog. Then heading to the Ferry at Tarifa. This blog writing does eat into the morning a bit though, but nevertheless it’s fun to do.

Another beautiful September day, just the perfect temperature for riding, not too hot and not too cold, this is important stuff when you’re sitting in a ferry line underneath the burning sun for half an hour … while wearing black!. Get some spare euros for as a hard currency reserve and head for Algeciras 75km down the road. The countryside is very similar to the Ligurian highway between Nice and Genoa, one minute you’re in a tunnel under a mountain and the next minute you leave the tunnel and are instantly on a bridge 1000ft above a valley, just for a moment, and then you plunge back into another tunnel. The last stretch up to Tarifa is great sweeping curves and has stunning vistas over the straits of Gibraltar looking across to the mountains of Morocco.

Overlooking the Straits of Gibraltar

Am about 10km out from Tarifa and suddenly the bike chugging, damn, I was so busy enjoying the road I’d forgotten to fill her up. Reserve tank gets me to Tarifa with no problems although the ferry terminal was a little difficult to find. Get a ticket on the fast ferry which crosses the straits in just under an hour and head on board. Finally feel like I’m getting going on the journey. Ferry takes off under beautiful skies and we head out. The straits are very busy with shipping but I need to join the slow moving queue onboard where the Moroccan immigration guy is stamping passports.

We arrive at the terminal in downtown Tangiers and manage to be 1st in the queue to process the paperwork for the bike. I fill in my green form with the details of the bike and try to give it to the guy behind the window and am told that I should wait by my car. A helpful “fixer” or agent type guy shows up and I give my paperwork to him and after about 15 minutes and 10Euro of waiting around he comes back with a 6 month permit for the bike in Morocco. And with that I depart and head south from Tarifa to Rabat. It’s a bit blowy en route as the wind is coming off the Atlantic but by 7.30pm I’m in Rabat and have hooked up with old friend from Maersk Canada in downtown Rabat. Nice dinner and chat as per usual.

Local vs. Long distance – Leaving the hotel in Marbella
Shipping in the busy Straits of Gibraltar
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Day 3 – Cerezo de Abajo | Marbella, Spain

Day 3 – Cerezo de Abajo|Marbella

September 4th, 2011
Realised that I will be close to Tarifa tonight, probably stay in Marbella or something, so at the end of 2.5 days on the road I’ll have covered 42% of the distance to Dakar, albeit the easiest part. So by the time I hit Rabat I’ll literally be halfway there! not bad going, but it only slows up from here I think!

Excellent Spanish coffee and some kind of sweet pastry things for breakfast and then time to hit the road again. Slept the sleep of the dead last night, and it looks like bright sunny skies finally for the final leg of the trek south in Europe. This is a great little town (Cerezo de Abajo), and had coffee on the terrace with a bunch of local Spanish. Much better than some faceless hotel chain in Madrid – definitely a good start to the day.

Cruised south around Madrid in the bright sunshine and making really good time. Both the Spanish and French are really good about sign posting if you’re going long distances. About 120 miles down I stopped in a field, and checked my mail and voicemail. News regarding a potential job in Istanbul with a Dubai based shipping line. It was truly strange to be standing in the middle of the rolling plains of La Mancha, surrounded by the countryside that Cervantes described in Don Quijote, talking to a Swiss and an American in Dubai about a job in Turkey. Truly one of the most memorable moments I’ve had in a while!

The road just kept on going and the plains of La Mancha turn into the hills and a rocky narrow gorge as you cross into Andalucia, little wonder that this corner of Spain held out the longest against Ferdinand and Isabella back around the time of Columbus – the last part of muslim El Andalus receded into history on a January day in 1492.The sky was a crisp blue and the jagged peaks of the Sierra Nevada mountains loomed in the distance. The old bike just kept sailing along and took everything in her stride. Eventually we descended down and around the city of Granada, famous for it’s magical Alhambra Palace. If you go there get a copy of “Tales of the Alhambra”. It was written by an American in the late 1820’s, the former American ambassador of the young republic to the Court of the King of Spain. This was an important post at the time as Spain still owned most of what would become the Western United States, including California, Texas, and all parts in-between.

Sierra Nevada Mountains – Southern Spain

Cruised on along the coast in the late afternoon sunshine and eventually 120km later around the sprawl of Malaga and on towards Algeciras. Decided to just get a place in Marbella some 90km shy of Tarifa where I’ll take the ferry tomorrow. Even rode along the front of Puerto Banus, still filled with tourists and ostentatious displays of “conspicuous consumption” as the say in Economics! I think a lot of the guys who ran off with the money after 2008 came here! No doubt some of Bernie’s billions has been lavished here as well!

Ended up getting a nice room at a hotel on the Marbella/uerto Banus road. Pretty tired as I covered 700km today. A celebratory beer and a plate of salad and Calamares followed by bed! All in all a pretty good day to be perfectly honest 🙂

One final little note – if you ride down the centre of Spain, there are no tolls on the road! only in the extreme north when you cross the border and in the extreme south between Malaga and Algeciras! Good to know!Share

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Day 2 – Tours|Cerezo de Abajo, Spain

Day 2 – Tours|Cerezo de Abajo

September 3rd, 2011
A bright but slightly overcast day on the Loire. Pack up the bike and set off south towards Bordeaux some 330km to the south. By late morning I am crossing the Gironde having just crossed through the vineyards of the right bank, hit the left bank. There are the signs for some of the most prestigious vineyards in the world, St Julien, St Estephe etc, which normally I’d be pulling over and inspecting for quality, but not this time.

I haven’t been this way since I was 14 back in 1983 on a family holiday with my parents. Off course the vineyards were off limits then and would have been wasted on a skinny 15 year old anyway, although a carafe of two may have been sneaked past the parents from one of the hotel bars at some point! I keep heading south towards Bayonne and Biarritz and pass the turnoff for Arcachon where we had rented a villa in 1983. The place sticks in my mind simply because it was the first time in my life I saw naked breasts on the beach – vive la difference, there were lots of reasons to love France on that beach ;).

Bayonne and Biarritz, well, it started raining and was rather miserable, perhaps its simply the fact that I’m getting close to the Pyrenees. The traffic on the other side of the road is horrendous, I cruise past some 20km of tailbacks, half of which seem to be fruit and vegetable 40 trailers heading to northern Europe form Spain and Portugal. There was the odd truck of port heading north as well! A lot of freight seems to be passing through here – Bridgette Bardot cannot be happy about this!

Hit the Spanish border and the rain has stopped and road has become a perfect biking road, long sweeping curves through the mountains, and lots of bridges and tunnels – and all signs are now in Spanish and Basque, the latter being completely undecipherable as it’s not related to any other European language – in fact they have no idea where it, or the Basques, actually originate from, or how they came to be there. The Canadian exhaust on the bike that replaced the rather quieter European one last year after it was nicked from the bike in Rotterdam seems not to have too much in the way of baffles in it and the other day I realized that it’s almost a straight pipe with only a US Forestry Service approved spark arrestor in it – I hope the Basques approve. Discovered that if I ride almost in the centre of the tunnels you get the full effect of it reflected by the curve of the tunnel walls – excellent – not quite screaming eagle, but not bad regardless!

No rain on the plain in Spain!

One las long 3km tunnel and out the other side and the country side has changed entirely to big rolling plains of Castille & Leon – and no more Basque on the signs either. Heading towards Burgos and on towards Madrid. It reminds me of driving across Saskatchewan as the sun sets in the west. Glorious sunset and I pull off the highway into a field to take a break and admire it. I also notice that it’s getting cold and a chill growing. Motor on but by 9.30pm decide to call it a day and pull off at a small town about 60miles north of Madrid. Very rustic Spanish town with a small hotel and lots of locals congregated in the bar. Negotiate a room for €35 and the girl says something about it being “Frio” (cold) outside – it is. But a dinner of Octopus, bread and a glass of local beer soon helps. Off to bed. Covered 950km (590 miles) today and I’m pretty tired – the longest one day distance I’ve covered on a bike was 625 miles from Minneapolis to Sturgis back on 2008 with Lars, so I was quite pleased with that. Looking at the map it’s 803km to the ferry terminal at Tarifa on the south coast of Spain. So I think I will simply stay on the south coast of Spain on Sunday night and then head to Morocco on Monday morning – riding tired is a really bad and dangerous idea!Share

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Day 1 – Oude Wetering, NL | Tours, France

Day 1 – Oude Wetering|Tours

September 2nd, 2011
Some sensible people would say that if you want to travel the 5900km odd from Amsterdam to Dakar in Senegal in West Africa – take a plane. Simple, hop on the train to Schiphol and in a few short hours, and hopefully with a pitstop in the KLM/Air France lounge in Paris you’re wheeling over the Atlantic in final descent onto the narrow spit of land that is the most western tip of Africa.

Some sensible people would also say, “Why Dakar”, why not take a nice tour somewhere where there are nice biking roads, tourists etc. And why do it on a bike as old as this one. When this KLR650 rolled off the production line in the spring of 1987, I was pretending to study for my A-levels in school, Belinda Carlisle was topping the charts, the Japanese were about to buy the rest of the world, there was no such thing as islamic terrorism and the twin towers still stood. How the world has indeed changed.

Why Dakar – well, it’s on the coast and is on just about the only route that you can get into sub saharan Africa, across, or rather around, the Sahara without needing a lot of money, equipment, support groups, local fixers and a gaggle of TV cameras to help you get famous! So to those who think being an overlander on this route is “tough”, it’s about the easiest way to get to Sub-saharan Africa. without vast amounts of time and expense being required. Did I mention that the coast road is generally rather less hot that the interior thanks to the Atlantic.

When you get on a plane there’s always this physical an mental disconnect between where you leave and where you arrive. And it’s particularly stark when you leave a nice European airport and land in Africa. I well remember the 1st time I landed in Nairobi in 1986! Seeing the landscape and people change gradually gives a much better sense of connectedness I think – so I wanted to see this gradual transformation first hand, and I figure it can be accomplished in three and a half weeks as the road is now sealed the whole way and Western Sahara (claimed by Morocco) is largely quiet.

Thanks to some ongoing negotiations on the home front, I’m a day late, but ended up setting off Thursday, Sept 2nd. Bike is fully packed, all essential tools for most eventualities are on-board and the machine itself is about as good as she’s been, probably since 1987! Various modern upgrades etc and all essential parts are updated. Left Oude Wetering and headed down the highway, usual heavy traffic in Rotterdam and off course the obligatory road disaster in Belgium (accident in the Kennedy Tunnel in Antwerp) so it was slow going. However made it across the border to France with beautiful weather under clear skies finally. By the time I hit Paris the bike was running as smoothly as I recall her ever having done, and despite the added weight on the back is performing admirably. The higher geared back sprocket makes for a slightly higher cruising speed and she cruises along nicely at 120kph.

Rocinante ready to hit the road

Pushed on into the evening and it kept getting warmer the further south I got and there was a super sunset over the golden French countryside. Reminded me of a similar evening riding across Wyoming 3 years ago, easy to lay down the miles in these conditions. I finally arrived at Tours last night and a small B&B on the edge of the Loire river beckoned. Checked in and in bed by midnight with 800km down. All in all a good day. Tomorrow it’s across the Pyrenees and down into Spain, want to get as many miles down as possible as I’d like to be applying for that Mauritanian visa in Rabat, Morocco on Monday 🙂Share

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T-minus one week

Well it’s one week before leaving on the southbound leg of the great bike journey from Amsterdam to Dakar and back. Packing list is mostly under control and  various bases of operations are in place along the way in Morocco, Mauritania and Senegal. Last prep for the bike is underway and decent side panniers acquired thanks to Metal Mule in the UK.

A couple of pics of the old girl below, with the new panniers and as she is at the moment with the back sub-frame removed for a little spot weld tomorrow. Some stainless steel bolt replacement, a new rear back brake caliper are all that remain.

The route plan is to head south from here via France and Spain to the Strait of Gibraltar. From there it’s ferry from Tarifa to Tangiers and from there the coast road all the way down Morocco, Western Sahara, Mauritania and Senegal. Route from Amsterdam to Dakar is in the order of 5900km. Should be an interesting ride 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

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Solo 178 Sail Boat

This is a small page for my little Solo. She’s called the “Grey C” and was built in 1964, all wood construction. And she’s been teaching me how to properly sail 🙂 However I unfortunately had to sell her in 2011 when I moved to Istanbul.

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Berings Koolputtersbier

Koolputtersbier

Recently tried Berrings koolputtersbier, made in a small brewpub in the north east of Belgium only for the Cafe ‘t Vijgeblad in Beringen. It’s named after the people that worked in the mines in this part of Belgium up until the 1970s – and, of course, it is as black as coffee. In saying that a Koolputter, from what I can tell, is the canary that used to be taken down the mines way back in the day.

This is, in fact, a rare example of a Belgian style of stout. Very deep red if you hold it up to the light. It has a typical Belgian “Brussels Lace” that lasts. Smells of coffee and burnt malts, chocolate, and is very fresh overall. Taste is sweet, alcoholic, roasty and a light but fine bitterness follows – much less than Guinness.

Dark Ruby

Drinkability is fine but be aware it’s 10% ABV so handle with care.

 

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Best Bourbon Barbecue Sauce

Ribs and BBQ sauce

Ok, so the last batch of ribs I did was ok, however I wasn’t completely happy with the sauce, there was something missing and it wasn’t the whisky! At any rate after comparing a couple of different recipes I came up with the following.

Ingredients
1 Tablespoon sunflower oil
1/2 Onion (finely chopped)
1/2 Cup Red wine vinegar
1/4 Cup Ketchup
1/4 Cup Hot sauce (I prefer Franks or Cholula)
1/4 Cup Molasses
1/8 Cup Water
1/4 Cup Bourbon Whiskey (I used Jack here)
Few pinches of dried thyme
1 tsp salt
A couple twists of ground pepper

Method

The end result

Finely chop the onion and fry it in a small saucepan with the oil. Once the onions have turned golden add the red wine vinegar and simmer for 5 minutes to reduce. once it has reduced nicely remove from heat and add the ketchup, hot sauce, molasses water and whisky. Stir and simmer for 5/10 minutes to combine the flavors. Finally add salt, pepper and thyme stir well and remove from heat. Leave to cool.

Baste slow cooked ribs (per previous post) and leave for an hour or two. Longer the better really! BBQ on grill to taste. Just super 🙂Share

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Кагор (Kagor) Wine – Cool Story

Kagor - best €3 wine in the store

On recent travels in Eastern Europe a quick visit to Tesco reveals a completely new world of wine from the likes of Georgia, Moldova and all sorts of other places in the extreme east of Europe that are not exactly noted for their wine. Although they should be noted for their price! As the joys of a post communist world.

So I picked up a bunch of different, and completely unknown (at least to me) wines, the most expensive being around €5.00, and loaded them into the car for the long drive back across Germany from eastern Poland. Forget the French hypermarkets. So I’m just starting to try some of them. Here’s the first:

Кагор” (in Russian) “Kagor” (in Latin script)
No idea, but it says it’s 16% on the bottle, off course this is the only part of the label I can read. It’s red from Moldova, near the Black sea on the border with Romania. Turns out it’s sweet and essentially like a very smooth Port. I can only imagine that it’s some kind of fortified wine. Absolutely delicious and tastes a lot like “more” – the typical effect that desert wine has on me. So time to do a little research on it.

Turns out that Kagor is a Russian corruption of the name of the French town (and appellation) of Cahors, north of Toulouse. Seems that a pope decided it was good enough to be sacramental wine around 1000 years ago and it’s been pretty popular ever since. Kings, Popes and Emperors have been into the stuff for centuries. It was on the tables at the wedding of Henry Plantagenet and Eleanor of Aquitane, Peter the Great imported the stuff into Russia and liked it so much that they planted some of the Malbec vines in Moldova a couple of centuries ago to copy it. Which is where the Moldovan version comes from today.

No doubt there will be elitists that will scoff, but it’s totally up to western quality standards, and if you can somehow get your hands on it – especially for about €3.00 a pop – you can’t go wrong! And your car will being having issues with the back springs just like mine.Share

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Moroccan-French Wedding

June 19th, 2011

Having immensely enjoyed the Harley road trip with Glenn last October in Morocco, an invitation to a French wedding in Marrakech from Antoine & Emma, new friends that I met in Casablanca last year, was an opportunity definitely not to be missed. So on Thursday June 9th headed down to Casablanca, rented a small Peugeot, and drove down to Marrakech. Thursday night and Friday were spent in the markets and tea houses and on Friday met up with Glenn & Saija who’d just driven that day down from Spain.

Some refreshments and a quick catch up later, we head off into the Atlas mountains to cover the last 60km to where the wedding reception and festivities were being at the held at L’Oliveraie de Marigha which is just south of the small town os Asni. Antoine’s Father, Alain, hosted a very chiq soiree at his villa in the mountains, complete with endlessly flowing champagne, local dancers and drummers and roast lamb and other delicious foods. Quite something to behold.

The next day everyone headed down the mountain and back to Marrakech for the service in the Catholic church there at 3pm, and following the hour or so service we all headed back up the mountain to Asni for the grand reception – and a much cooler mountain climate. With tables laid out among the olive trees and overlooking the mountains in brilliant afternoon sunshine, it was indeed as spectacular a location for the reception as it is possible to get. Again the French rule of seemingly endless champagne kicked in and dinner didn’t get underway until somewhere around 10.30pm or so, at which point there was a professional firework display almost rivaling the Symphony of Fire in Vancouver. As someone from Paris whispered, “this is by no means typical for a French wedding”. By 4am in the morning it was time to hoist the white flag and surrender, although there were still people dancing when I left.

Slow start the next day by all, and a “come in your own time” lunch buffet was available back at L’Oliveraie, all sorts of Moroccan and French food, simply delicious. Bid adeu to new friends and old and headed back down the mountain. to Marrakech and then left/west to Essaouria on the, hopefully cooler, coast. At one point in the journey it was 42C and the little peugeot had no aircon – I think I lost a couple of pounds on the road there! Spent 2 days exploring Essaouria properly this time and enjoying the fresh fish pulled straight out of the Atlantic there. Also went for the double shave – although unlike Glenn last year I didn’t have my scalp shaved as well 😉

Finally spent Wednesday (June 15th) driving along the coast road up through the Safi and Oualidia, stopping back at the fish restaurant I’d been at last October. Finally stayed at a (also the only) hotel by the Airport in Casablanca as flight on Thursday morning was 07.35, and safely back in Holland late Thursday afternoon.

At any rate, it was a super experience and many thanks again to Emma and Antoine, the bride and groom for the opportunity to join an exceptional celebration, and look forward to my next trip back to Morocco – it’s a truly exceptional place. Enjoy the pics.

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Queen’s Day, Delft

April 30th, 2011

Their Royal Highnesses de Souza

Headed down to Delft to spend Queen’s day with a few friends. We toured the crowds in the streets in the centre of the town and then we had a lovely BBQ back at Peter & Franci’s.

I experimented making ribs for the first time – they actually turned out to be delicious.

[Click on the photo to go to the album]

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Queen’s Day (Koninginnedag) BBQ Ribs

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Koninginnedag BBQ Pork Ribs

Christening of Peter’s new bbq in Delft took place on Queen’s Day, which is the national holiday here in Holland. I decided to make the some ribs for the occasion.
I just tried a recipe from the internet that wasn’t too involved and tweaked it a bit. I put some Old Bay seasoning in there, but I don’t think it really adds anything, so I’d say skip it. Also next time I think I’d try molasses instead fo sugar. Also this amount of hot sauce seems to be about right – definitely a bite to it, but not overpowering. At any rate they came out delicious. The picture on the right is how they came out.

 
Ingredients
4 pounds pork spareribs
1 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup ketchup
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce
1/4 cup Kentucky bourbon
1/4 cup chili sauce (Cholula)
2 cloves garlic, crushed
2 teaspoons Old Bay Seasoning (Actually, after trying this, I wouldn’t bother with it)
1 dash ground black pepper
1 dash HP (or A1) sauce

Directions
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).

Cut spareribs into serving size portions, wrap in double thickness of foil, and bake for 1 1/2 hours.
Unwrap, and drain drippings. Place ribs in a large roasting pan.

In a bowl, mix together the above ingredients for the sauce. Coat ribs with sauce and marinate at room temperature for 1 hour, or refrigerate overnight.
Preheat grill for medium heat. Position grate four inches above heat source.
Brush grill grate with oil. Place ribs on grill, and cook for 30 minutes, basting with marinade.Share

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2009 – Regent – Spätlese – Rhineland, Germany

2009 - Regent - Spätlese - Rhineland, Germany

Ok – something different. This is a light summer wine, low alcohol at only 9.5%, very fruity and also low acidity, so again something I’d not normally try without the expectation of impending heartburn.

It’s made from the regent grape. I’d never heard of this until I came across this wine, but you get that a lot while exploring wines in Germany. Names are often different or grapes are entirely local. This grape is a hybrid cross of both European and North American (i.e. disease resistant) vinerfa. It’s new and was only released for cultivation in Germany in 1996.

If you find yourself winding up the Mosel river, stop in Cochem. in the town there is one Herr M.Back, and his hobby is making this excellent thirst quencher from the steep slopes on the opposite river bank. I believe his sons help. He also has a little weinkellar and runs tastings for small groups in the evening. He can be found at 026-71-31-51 or gaestehaus-bach@freenet.deShare

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Egri 2006 Leanyka – Szarvas Karoly – Eger, Hungary

Egri 2006 Leanyka - Szarvas Karoly - Eger, Hungary

Well, here’s something a little different on the wine front. I got this in the wine town of Eger in central Hungary back in 2008. Yes, there’s a story to this one too – I like there being a story behind where I get my wine, better than just trundling to the liquor store I guess!

Anyway, it’s June 2008 and I have a wedding to go to in a small town called Kishvarda in eastern Hungary near the border with the Ukraine. The groom (Zsolt Katona) has one of his friends (Gabor) pick us up in Budapest to drive to the wedding the day before. We stop in a small town called Eger to buy wine – for those in the know this is where the famous “Bulls Blood” wine comes from.

We picked up some of that, and I had this bottle still loafing around at the back of my fridge, winerack for a few years now. So it was time to try it chilled last weekend.

I’m not sure what grapes it’s made with and I’m not having any luck matching it on the internet with anything I know. It’s got low acidity and consequently smooth and well aged, but still good fruit, although probably just about on it’s last legs.

So if you happen to be in Hungary, and can somehow read the label, or at least be better armed that I was with the translation, the wine caves of Eger are wonderful to visit – go with a Hungarian, it’ll be even more fun.

I’m looking forward to some more interesting wine experiences in Hungary as their wine country takes of – the land of amazing Tokay. Also try wine tasting in a castle – just super.Share

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Rack of Lamb Persillade

Rack of Lamb Persillade

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I made this the other Friday after picking up a couple of small racks of lamb at a Carrefour in Belgium. Sure, it’s an expensive cut of meat, but it’s well worth it and it’s also pretty easy to prepare and cook as well.

 

This is a traditional French recipe with “Persil” being the French word for Parsley. The heart of the recipe is the parsley rub that coats the lamb when it’s roasting and is delicious. At any rate here’s the method below.

Ingredients

* 1 rack of lamb, frenched (about 500g in this case, approx 1lb)
* Good olive oil
* 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
* 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
* 2 cups loosely packed fresh parsley leaves
* 1 tablespoon chopped garlic cloves (3 cloves)
* 1 cup fresh white bread crumbs
* 2 teaspoons grated lemon zest (2 lemons)

Directions

Preheat the oven to 210C (450F).

Season rack with good olive oil, salt and pepper and then seal in a pan for 10 minutes on medium heat

Meanwhile, place the parsley and garlic in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade and process until they’re both finely minced. Add the bread crumbs and lemon zest and process for a second until combined.

Quickly press the parsley mixture on top of the meat. Drizzle with a little more oil and put immediately in the oven and roast for another 15 minutes.

Take the lamb out of the oven and cover with aluminum foil. Allow it to rest for 15 minutes, cut in chops, and serve.Share

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Johnny’s Experimental Steak Marinade

Johnnies Experimental BBQ Marinade

Johnnies Experimental BBQ Marinade

Barbeque season is upon us, well, at least here for the last week or two. Anyway, I found this recipe in a bbq book, and decided to try it with a couple of changes last weekend. Absolutely delicious and even has a slight hint or mustard, even though there is no actual mustard in it. Definitely worth trying !

Method
Simply add all the ingredients to a blender and also add some roughly chopped onion and garlic and zap it for about 20/30 seconds – not too fine. Then simply add to the meat.

Ingredients
1/6 cup (40ml) light soy sauce
1/4 cup (60ml) olive oil
1/6 cup (40ml) fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons (30ml) worcestershire sauce
1.5 tablespoons of dried basil flakes (I’ll try fresh next time)
3/4 tablespoon dried parsley flakes (also try fresh parsley next time as well)
A couple of twists of fresh ground black pepper
2 teaspoons of your preferred hot sauce – to taste!

I marinated a nice piece of sirloin in this for 6 hours and it was super. The above recipe makes enough marinade for for a 12oz (400g) steak. This was just perfect for the two of us and was served with sauteed potatoes, sauteed mushrooms, and a mixed leaf salad with feta cheese. Dressing was a homemade vinaigrette of balsamic and apple cider vinegar with added honey and garlic, lime juice and a little water. (Nope – no oil – trying to avoid the budda look)Share

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2005 – August Cellars – Gewürztraminer (Oregon)

Sunday April 24th, 2011

2005-August Cellars - Gewürztraminer

2005-August Cellars - Gewürztraminer

It’s been sunny warm summer-like weather for over a week now. I decided that this wine needed to be uncorked to see how it’s turned out. I picked it up in 2006 during a couple of days trip down the Oregon coast. Driving through the Willamette Valley southeast of Portland we came on a small winery and picked up a few bottles of their Gewurz and 2005 Reisling. I figured these were getting on for 6 years old so they were getting towards the end of their life.

By far one of the smoothest examples I have ever had of this, subtle and fruity but with a long drawn out smoothness in the sweetness. This wine would not usually be my cup of tea but this was outstanding. I wonder if all the shipping over the last few years has helped. By car from Oregon to Vancouver. Truck to Toronto. Two Years cellaring in Toronto, then shipped by container via Bremerhaven and Algeciras to Nigeria. Cellared there for 18 months and then shipped up to Rotterdam and then van to Oude Wetering ……. not the smallest footprint – but absolutely delicious.Share

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8 Days in Normandy

March 21st – 29th, 2011

Mont Saint Michel

We departed on March 20th to the town of Rouen, Normandy for five days of French and some “faire de tourism”. Beautiful town and I had fun revisiting the idea of learning French. It was somewhat tougher for Alissa however as she had never tried to learn a language before. However she enjoyed picking up words and phrases and we were able to dramatically improve our capabilities by the end of the week. On the Friday night this led to the ultimate test – an invite for dinner on Saturday night – only french spoken. Actually it was a lot of fun as per the post below.

Normandy is also the home of William the Conqueror (1066 and all that) as well as all sorts of fantastic foods, beverages and historical stuff etc, such as the Mont Saint-Michel, pictured above, the home of many enormous gothic cathedrals, the Bayeaux Tapestry and the famous D-Day beaches. It is truly well worth a visit. We visited month Saint Michel and the Bayeaux tapestry which is 70metres long. If so inclined you can actually download a jpg of it from the wiki page linked above and scroll along the story – although, trust me, the commentary is what really makes it jump out. We’re leaving the beaches for another visit as they’re too much to see in one day.Share

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