Malle Field Report: Morocco
A Love Story
By Jonathan Cazzola – March 2017
It was the first time I’d met Ed Talbot Adams and the second or third time I’d met Sam Pelly, the two founders of LMA – Legendary Motorcycle Adventures. I could tell by their varied backgrounds; Ed’s history with the special forces and Sam being a father to three girls that I was in skilled, patient and safe hands. I quickly came to realise we shared the same strong love for motorcycles, adventure and dogs.
Sam and I’s meeting point was Gatwick airport at silly o’clock in the morning, which meant I had the centre of London pretty much to myself… needless to say I arrived quicker than I should have and Sam pulled in just after me. It was on!!! So excited!! Then it was a short flight into Gibraltar to meet Ed and the support vehicle to take us on to our starting point deep in Andalusia.
We started off at Ed’s place. I’ve never seen cactus so tall, fruit so plump or a landscape so varied as the rolling hills of Andalusia and this was only our meet and jump off point while waiting for the Royal Enfields to arrive. We had a couple of days to explore the area, get to know each other better, test the swags and make friends with some of the stray dogs. One particular dog stood out, a small terrier like hound, very timid unless around a familiar face, but with such a lovely nature. We made friends and for the next week I was being convinced by the team to adopt her…
On day one we took the late ferry over from Tangier Med over to Algeciras to be greeted by one of the thickest fogs I’ve ever seen, not ideal in the pitch black of night, on new roads. Having never ridden a Royal Enfield bullet, the nostalgic feeling everyone talks about that I felt when leaving the boat was quickly replaced with one of fear and blindness.
Not being able to see more than 8 feet ahead of us, our only trick to not being run off the road or missing one of the tight winding turns was to hug the rear end of whatever vehicle overtook us and we could keep up with. Still.. you know the rule with riding bikes, of course I knew exactly what I’m doing..??!
We safely navigated ourselves down towards the coastal route through Tetouan pointing somewhere in the direction of Chefchaouen and it’s just at this moment I realise why I love motorcycle trips so much, reconnecting with sensations you’d forgotten about since being a kid; being shit scared, full of energy, senses firing on all cylinders and finding everything exciting and new!! Winning.
After a couple of howls at the now visible moon and some high fives we confirmed we were on the correct road to Chefchaouen. My bike went well, smaller and more nimble than I’m used to, which I knew would become it’s charm on the roads ahead. We stopped for a brief slice of pizza and to be warmed by the famous moroccan mint tea as well as a smile from the lovely locals who welcomed us in like they’d been expecting us.
The night sky couldn’t have been clearer as we trekked onwards up towards the ‘Blue City of Chefchaouen’ a place I’d only seen in photographs and had always hoped to visit. Welcomed by an array of shooting stars, it feels like everything had been laid out perfectly for us, nothing complicated, just the simple things in life that we miss living in a polluted, overcrowded city, why do I live in the city again??
Chefchaouen is incredible, a beautiful mix of colours, sounds and cats. All set on a cooling backdrop. The entire city is painted in different shades of blue. We decided to check into one of the local riads, a maze of carefully hand crafted tiles, wood and iron work, in such detail, the kind of detail you need to sit and look at for hours to notice everything.
We were tired and after a short lap of the city in search of a beer, we found out that some of the locals can be quite offended when asking for alcohol, we discovered that what you need to do is find one of the small tuck shop style shops still open, then there’s a fair chance he’ll have a beer for you. Or a bottle of vodka that he won’t let you leave until you’ve helped him finish! Tired and slightly tipsy we stumbled back to our riad and passed out for a relatively smooth nights sleep, all apart from the earwig that found it’s way into my underpants and took a shine to my private part.
Day 2 we did another quick lap around the blue city, it’s like a completely different place in the day, packed with medina’s full of market stalls selling all kinds of fruit, veg, natural dyes, surrounded by craftsman making unique souvenirs in front of you, all using traditional tools – wood turners, wool hat and rug makers, toys, ceramics, etc. We could have spent all day there, but we had a long ride ahead towards Fez.
Not far outside of Chefchouen on a long left hand sweeping corner the Enfield started to wobble, then rock left to right, then soon realised there was a problem, we had a puncture! Shit, had we planned for this? We stood scratching our heads for no more than 4 minutes when two young locals stopped and within 10 minutes had assessed the issue and one was off to get tools. He returned around 20 minutes later and we removed the wheel, he then switched places with his friend and took off with our wheel returning around 30 minutes later with it fully repaired. While away I asked how far they were going each time and in broken French/English/Arabic he told me it was around 20 miles of winding roads. Damn, they were fast! We waved good bye to Omar and Moundir and headed off behind schedule onto Fez.
We reached Fez just as the sun was setting which is usually a good thing but it was contrastingly intense compared to the calmer road in. Everyone wants to be your guide, trying to navigate you one way or another to their friends hostel or riad. It was slightly overwhelming after the peaceful day on the road but we understood it was part of the culture and tried to roll with it but with so many guides gently pushing us in one direction or another we sped off on our own path up into the historic city of Fez, stopped for a breather and then reconnected with the first guide we saw. I’m convinced he has seen this kind of thing a thousand times before, waits just around the corner, gave us some space and then came back and said ‘so now you want hotel?’, sheepishly we replied, ‘yes please’.
Our plan was to wild camp most nights but the closer we got to the main cities and the later it got we decided it best to bunk up in the occasional hostel but swore that this would be the last time we paid for accommodation on this trip. At every turn we were greeted by mosaic temples filled with some of the most beautifully hand crafted interiors I’d ever seen, a reoccurring theme that contributes to Morrocco’s endless charm, all carefully hand built by skilled people over long periods of time.
Having visited modern tanneries, it was high on my list to visit the Fez tannery. We take for granted how things are made these days and forget all about the processes involved. The workers were up to their waists in liquids, dipping and dying hides in different pools all to be stained with different colours made up from water and natural dyes, made completely from natural plants and produce.
Day 3, after stocking up on supplies and repacking our kit we venture onwards towards to Azour and the Ceder forest with talk of endless pine forest and Barbary apes. We stopped only for fuel and to pick up a traditional terracotta Tajine pot. Accompanied by the talented travel journalist and chef Chris Caldecott, it would be a shame not to take advantage of his culinary skills and all the fruit and vegetables growing naturally all around us.
Having spent a couple of nights staying in the city, we were wide open to exploring every side track or dirt trail which led us in the general direction we were travelling in, we also wanted to make camp, fire and start cooking before the sun was down so we could settle, relax and appreciate everything around us. After a wonderful dinner, sunset and whisky fuelled fun around the fire we all passed out to the sounds of what we thought were dogs at first but soon found out were in fact the Barbary apes and their evening calls. The next morning we woke up to a smouldering fire and within minutes from getting out of our swags we were greeted by two large Barbary Apes, who quickly took command of the camp, making good use of all food scraps and the large male took a moment to try out the Enfield. We had a mutual understanding, he was the boss and would leave when he was done, not a second sooner.
Day 4, it was time to head north, I wish we had more time. There was so much more to see and do. We started north on the A1 but soon realised that we somehow managed to make our way onto a toll road without a ticket and we didn’t want our last day to be sat on a large toll road. After fuelling we found the nearest exit off the road and headed down the motorway verge, through winding paths leading us through miles and miles of fields and growing tunnels. Our route wasn’t exactly planned, but we knew we wanted to head west towards the North Atlantic coast and follow what looked like a road north. This route led us through some of the poorest villages I’d ever seen in Morocco, patched together huts, rotting animal carcasses, rubbish everywhere, but still an overwhelming sense of warmth from everyone we crossed. Street sellers would hand us fruit at traffic lights and every child would stop what they were doing to throw us a smile and a wave.
It was only when we reached our north westerly road that we started to get a little nervous about our onward journey. My fuel light was on, we had very little water or food, night was drawing in and our successful continued passage north was based on my assumption that where the trail met an estuary there would be a bridge to get us across the river to Moulay Bousselham. The road we were on soon turned to a track, then to a trail and smiles and waves turned more to looks of surprise and confusion – ‘what the F are they doing here?’ Every time the bike hit a pot hole we were nearly thrown off and we’d get swamped by another group of kids/teenagers who although innocent started to add more tension to the situation. Eventually we got to the pinnacle of the route we were on, reached the river and realised there was no bridge!
Turning back wasn’t an option, we wouldn’t have enough fuel to make it back to the road, there wasn’t enough light to guide us to a ‘safe place’ and there was no near passage onwards. After about 5 mins of slight panic, we looked around and realised where we were. Surrounded by the most incredible sand dunes, overlooking the ocean in a now tranquil spot with the sun just setting in front of us. This was camp for the night. We collected what wood we could find, set up camp and drank the rest of the whiskey and wine we had, which seemed a lot on an empty, dehydrated stomach and definitely enough to not notice the mauling form around 30,000,000 mosquitoes throughout the night. This had to be one of the most boundless night skies I’ve ever seen animated by shooting star after shooting star. Life could not be better.
The morning met us with new challenges, well not new ones, but ones thanks to whiskey we’d forgotten about… crossing the river! We were on a tight deadline to meet our crossing back over to Spain to then meet our flight back to London, so we quickly packed up our kit, loaded the bike and made our way down to the rivers edge, where there was only one lone fisherman standing in the water, wearing a suit rolled up at the legs and when he saw the bike he smiled at us, almost laughed. I gave what I felt were the best gestures for ‘motorcycle over water’. He understood instantly and pulled an old Nokia out of his pocket and called someone. Almost seconds later we heard the put-put sound of a small boat starting up in the distance. I was dubious. 10 minutes later this put-put boat turned up, not much wider or longer than a canoe with an outboard motor on the back. I laughed and pointed at the Royal Enfield and after lot of thumbs up we were actually loading it onto the craft! We got it just about on, sideways, with the front wheel in the water and everyone sitting on one side of the boat to stop us capsizing. Shit, I hope I don’t lose this bike!
After safely reaching the other side without capsizing or losing the bike we are onwards to Tangier, to cross over for our last leg of this fantastic trip. What seemed like a short few days full of magic and adventure, every hour a new corner turned into new landscapes and discoveries. Discoveries about the road, discoveries about yourself, discoveries about people known and unknown.
Suddenly we’re back at the house in Andalusia, again surrounded by orchards of fresh pomegranates, cactus hedgerows ripe with prickly pears and a seemingly expanded array of stray animals arguably inhabiting the house. All but the young terrier I’d started to fall for. Again we packed up our kit and waited for our taxi back to the airport, we said goodbye to Sam, Ed, Caroline and the team and headed up towards the taxi.
Then as I walked up the lane I felt a very gentle brushing on the backs on my heels. My little dog friend had turned up and was discreetly following me up the track touching the backs of my heels with her paws with each step. I think my next words were something along the lines of ‘OK I’ll adopt the dog!’. I’m still convinced that Ed had used some form of special forces dog mind training on the puppy while I wasn’t paying attention to win me over – mission success!
‘Susan Tonto Cazzola’, the love of my life, a beautiful reminder of a beautiful trip, now lives with me in London.