Motorcyclist Illustrated October, 1975 - Morocco, an unpublished section

Motorcyclist Illustrated October, 1975

part 2

by Fergus Reilly

Morocco, an unpublished section
2231 klms

Ceuta, Spanish enclave in Morocco
October 19th, 1974
(day 46 - 9532 klms)


Oujda, Morocco
October 31st, 1974
(day 58 - 11763 klms)

Ceuta, Spanish enclave in Morocco to Oujda, Morocco

After an afternoon squatting by the bikes on bitumen in the hot sun we embarked on the 6pm ferry to Ceuta with headaches - our first taste of dehydration it seemed. After working our way through disembarkation chaos we headed for the edge of the enclave - Ceuta is a few square miles of Spain on the African continent and Africa really begins at the frontier. We were lost in no time at all - it was dark and - unsurprisingly, Fergus' headlight refused to work (it turned out the battery had exploded and was useless for the rest of the journey) and so we had to travel by the light of one beam guiding us. We had seen one signpost for the frontier but no more; the situation was becoming more uncomfortable as every policeman we passed (and there seemed to be an endless supply of them) made it abundantly clear they didn't like the lightless bike by blowing their whistle furiously.

campsite in Morocco from the inside of the tent

Moroccan Roadblock

Finally we were stopped and given the ultimatum - leave the country or be arrested - fortunately we were close to the border post and reached there without further ado, initially relieved we hadn't reckoned with African customs - something we were to learn about many times on our journey. Late - or so it seemed to us - at night is not the best time to be introduced to the intricacies of African customs, it seems that the way to drive through Africa is to import your vehicle when you enter a country and then export it when you exit the country - the process greatly aided by having a carnet de passage. As you would expect, importing a vehicle is not a straightforward process anywhere in the world and it is a banquet for bureaucrats everywhere - it involves logbook examination, baggage searching, insurance purchasing, driver's license verification, carnet de passage pawing - just to start with. Eventually it was complete and we were passed through the customs post relatively unscathed.

It was nearly 10pm by now and nightfall was long gone. We entered Africa proper tired, frustrated and increasingly desperate to find a safe place to camp - all the horror stories we'd been subjected to about the cut-throats and bandits roaming the Moroccan countryside were now running uncensored through both our heads causing further alarm! Eventually we saw a small building some distance up a side-road and decided to stop there as it seemed to be the only shelter we would find that night.

We formed the bikes into a circle around the opening and laid down to get some sleep - wondering in we'd even see the light of day again. After 15 minutes or so we became aware of a dim light slowly weaving its way towards us - our imaginations took off at an alarming rate as we came to terms with our approaching fate - the 10 minutes it took the bearer to reach us may be the longest 10 minutes of my life!

The light was carried by a wizened old man who spoke neither French or English but who went to great lengths to impress on us a sense of dire urgency that we follow him straight away. We were already deep into a state of dire urgency so we pushed our bike along behind him - wondering just what we were getting into. We soon arrived at a large complex of 2-story buildings all dark and quite foreboding as they loomed out of the darkness, threading our way between them we were urged to push the bikes up a short flight of stairs, along a wide corridor, through a door just wide enough to accommodate the handle bars and into a large room whose furthest reaches the lamp wouldn't illuminate.

This was our guide's bedroom with a simple bed and table and not much else we could see - much more gesticulating ensued after which we settled down for our first night on African soil - Sharyn in the bed, me of the floor next to it and the guide on the floor outside the doors acting like a guardian. In the morning we could see that we were in a large, empty school of some kind and our benefactor was clearly it's caretaker. We were woken at sunrise and given more tea - our fears having evaporated in the night we were on our way by 7am with a deep sense of gratitude at being so graciously looked after.

Our first morning in Morocco was punctuated by petrol station stops - Sharyn's bike was consuming more and more fuel so I reset the carburetor to it's leanest setting which seemed to work well - at this stage I had no thoughts about the electronic ignition being problematic. We drove along excellent roads through fairly empty countryside punctuated by dry river beds and occasional crops. We passed several queues of djellabah-clad men and colourfully dressed women patiently waiting for the next bus which, as often as not, would be full and roar past them without stopping. The other common means of transport we saw were the donkey and the Mercedes Benz saloon - both common sites throughout our journey in Morocco.

We were enjoying the empty roads with solid surfaces and long straight stretches as we traveled through the arid countryside with spasmodic patches of agriculture but it became obvious our intended destination for the night - Rabat - was going to keep us on the road until after dark so we elected to stop for the night at a seaside campground just outside Plage Mehdia which had immaculate amenities, including a pedestal toilet, for a next-to-nothing tariff, Morocco seemed to be turning out very different to the warnings we had in Scotland.

Donkey transport in Morocco
surfing the Atlantic

It was here we first met with the omnipresent kif vendors - often emulating cloak and dagger antics reminiscent of a farcical remake of Casablanca. At times the encounters were so cloaked in deviousness we were unsure whether the individual was wanting to buy or sell. Even the campsite guard got involved, offering special discounts for the campsite patrons! The local beach was blessed with some good surf that day and we met some surfers from Australia enjoying what would eventually become yet another renowned surfing break.

I had been suffering from a persistent cold ever since we crossed the English Channel and decided to start a course of Paludrine since it seemed it wouldn't get better as long as I spent the day on the bike - it was a 6 week course and was to have major consequences down the road. This was also the day we passed the 10,000Km mark.

We had a late start as it had rained during the night and we did our best to dry the tents before packing everything for the day's ride which would take us through Rabat. There seemed to increasing official nervousness about travelers as we began to encounter roadblocks manned by armed police with rather atrophied senses of humour. Continuing down the coast we came to another idyllic beach side near Oualidia - expensive camping fees persuaded us to try free camping a few hundred metres south of the campground and we were happily set up when an emissary from the campground arrived bearing a formal letter explaining it was “interdit au camping la” (forbidden to camp there). When we explained we couldn't afford the camp fees, the letter was immediately torn up with a grin and the explanation that the patron was an Algerian who “knew nothing about Moroccan hospitality”!

Deciding to rest for a day we received a regular stream of well-wishing local visitors, many of whom brought us food or other welcome gifts which seemed completely at odds with what we had been so warned so often to expect in Morocco. Despite an overcast morning this was a perfect place to take a day off and we basked in the warmth of the local hospitality and the intermittent sunshine. Next stop was Marrakesh - the archetypical Moroccan destination and - so we thought - just a leisurely day's drive away so we started with a leisurely departure and were on the road by 8:30.

Police Roadblocks were becoming more frequent, each with several grim submachine-gun-carrying officers and the viscous spiked mats stretched across the road which would only be moved aside once they were satisfied we were legitimate travelers This process took varying amounts of time - the last one of the day lasted over 2 hours as they made us unpack every single item on both bikes. By the time we were repacked it was after dusk in the middle of the countryside with no safe haven in sight.

Again the bikes lights (or lack thereof) made the going extremely difficult and we ended up camping in a field beside the road - the only security being a sparse thorn bush which we hoped would obscure our presence from police patrols and wandering bandits. Marrakesh - so near and yet so far! We were back on the bikes by sunrise the next day and ensconced in a popular campground deep in the suburbs of Morocco by late afternoon where we planned to spend 4 days exploring the city and surrounds.

The hospitality we had enjoyed in Oualidia caught up with us here as our bowels turned to water - very hot water at times - and we spent a day munching charcoal tablets and visiting the ablution block frequently! The next day we were well enough to visit the Medina where we enjoyed exquisite orange lassies on an umbrella-clad balcony overlooking the main square with its date sellers, snake-charmers, story-tellers - each with an enthralled circle of spell-bound audience. On each side runs the seemingly endless rabbit warren of stalls through which courses the life-blood of the market endlessly haggling over the price of dates, figs, baubles, materials, spices,ornaments, kitchen goods, grains and, of course, the omnipresent tourist wares.

Main Square the Medina, Marrakesh, Morroco

We posted our first installment to Motorcyclist Illustrated - exposed film and hand-written copy - the authorities were highly suspicious of the films' content and grilled us in broken English as to the content - whether they were shots of Moroccan crimes or army installations - maybe they were regarded as equally censorable images? They package was finally accepted and we were, once again, free to return to the campsite where we joined a group of fellow travelers in sampling the local kif cake which took care of the rest of that day.

In the Atlas Mountains, Morocco

Our brief sojourn ended with another leisurely departure as we headed south west towards the Atlas Mountains via El Kelaa and were once again subjected to intense searching at a road block which once again left us in the middle of nowhere with dark approaching and no hospitality in sight. At least we were becoming more relaxed with finding a roadside wadi or shelter to spend the night.

We passed through increasingly mountainous terrain with near-invisible villages clinging to rocky mountainsides, each wit its complement of enthusiastic children who would run beside the bikes as we passed through their community - always cheerful and always with some unseen wares to sell. Sharyn's bike continued to chew through spark plugs at an alarming rate and I was grateful KLG had given us as many spares as we wanted. The mountain air seemed to be making the plugs foul rapidly and we were happy to reach Beni Mellal with its 17th century Bel-Kush kasbah overlooking the Beni Amir plain on our return to lower altitudes


The broad plains below Beni Mellal clearly benefited from extensive irrigation - no doubt from the winter snows in the Atlas - and were a thriving agricultural centre populated with the ubiquitous donkey carts transporting an endless variety of harvests to market.We passed through Fez and cashed another travelers cheque as the Moroccan money was clearly not going to see us to the border. We were now passing trough the Moyen Atlas but the roads continued to challenge us with frequent hairpin bends and steep gravel sections - a delight normally but quite stressful on bikes as loaded as our were. More roadblocks dotted our passage but thankfully the only interest shown was in our passports and we were waved on without extensive searches.

We camped in an empty campground in Taza where we were given a room at no extra cost and spent the evening enjoying conversation, kif and mint tea with the camp guard who was, as always, well-versed in Mediterranean affairs. The next morning we spent in Taza at the Medina, enjoying the notoriety of being the only tourists in town and being treated to the local specialty of fish and oyster kebabs cooked to perfection over charcoal fires. I think the dried fig price reached it's lowest here at 10p/kilo - more than we wanted but it seemed to be the smallest quantity we could buy, we also restocked on embroidery threads - this being the past-time we had chosen for the journey as it involved the least weight. We searched through the ever-present urban rabbit warren in vain for the Grand Mosque, repeatedly running into the town wall.

Our journey was made all the more enjoyable by a never-ending chorus of “You are welcome in Taza” delivered in faultless English, we spent the balance of the day sewing and slept well after thoroughly servicing the bikes including shortening the chains by a link as they had stretched significantly with the mountain work in the Atlas.

The next morning found us hopelessly lost in Oujda looking for the border post to Algeria - we eventually found it and a huge queue at passport control where chaos seemed to be reigning supreme and we settled down for the interminable wait to be processed, reminiscing on our fond memories of Morocco and the groundless fears we had been inundated with before arriving.

Algeria, however, was to prove a different kettle of fish altogether.

the Beni Amir plain below Beni Mellal

Kelty, Scotland - Algeciras, Spain

previous leg

Kelty, Scotland
Algeciras, Spain
September 3rd, 1974
October 19th, 1974
day 0 to day 46


of the

next leg

Oujda, Morocco
Tadjemout, Algeria
November 1st, 1974
November 12th, 1974
day 59 to day 70
Oujda, Morocco - Tadjemout, Algeria