On the road in Morocco / En route en maroc

Biking across Morocco during three months in 1990.



After riding more than 2000 km across Europe, I crossed the Mediterranean Sea on a Transmediterranea ferry on March 25, 1990, from Almeria, Spain, to Melilla, Spain. Arriving in Africa a bit like Marlowe, I stepped ashore soaking up the intensity of this hot continent. Clearly Melilla is not the Congo. Still, this Spanish garrison is one of the last colonies on the continent. This city is a relic from another era. You're still in Spain, yet you're in Africa. It has a weird mix of European attitudes and African hustle. Crossing into Morocco across one of the two only borders between Europe and Africa is a bit like sneaking into Africa through the back door.

I climbed on my bike, and rode across Melilla to the Moroccan border. For the first time ever, the Moroccan border guards gave me no hard time at all. Still, it had gotten dark by the time I passed the border and I had to ride my bike very carefully along the road. There was no place to camp after the border, and so I had to ride the 10 km into Nador, the first town in Morocco proper.

I made it into Nador safely, when, riding on the deserted main street I hit a big, nasty pothole. The impact broke the aluminum frame for the front-wheel bags. RATTATTATTATTATTA the bags were rapping against the spokes of the front wheel and I came to a screeching halt. I leaned the bike against a semi-truck, under a street light, and started unpacking. I used a couple of sand herrings from the tent and some wire to jury-rig the front-wheel assembly.

After I was done, I sat on the side of the road, trying to decide what to do, how to find a hotel. A lone taxi approached and stopped in fornt of me. The weird German from the boat and his buddy were in the cab. The driver spoke hardly any English, and the Germans spoke no French. They were looking for a hotel, too - without any luck. They invited me to to join them, so I could help negotiate with the driver. I unloaded my bike, and we stuffed all my baggage and my bike into the trunk of the old Mercedes 200 Diesel.


The only hotel with any vacancies we could find was a four-star luxury hotel, where a room cost roughly the equivalent of the entire money I had lived off since I left Germany! My companions did not even hesitate, and so we shared a room and had room service bring us a bottle of whisky as a night-cap. What a strange turn my first day in Africa had taken.

The next morning we had breakfast, then I helped them settle the bill, packed my bike, and off I was on to a beautiful lake on the Mouluya river.







After a short day's ride I arrived in the small village where the road crosses the Mouluya on the dam that turns the river into a tree-lined meandering reservoir among the parched, rolling hills. I set up camp in a quiet corner near the lake. In the evening a couple of guys showed up to check out the stranger. We had some tea and some cigarettes. They recommended a nice quiet spot on the lake, just a 30 Min walk from the village. "Just drive down the hill after village, take that dirtroad to the right, keep going up the hill, bear right, turn left, down the hill and you're there. It's easy." So he said. The next day, in the afternoon, I packed my stuff and took off for that marvel of a campsite on the lake. I found the dirt road, and folowed it for a while. It got pretty steep and difficult for my heavily loaded bike. Finally after toiling up a hill for an eternity, the dirt road ended in a deep gully, and on the other side there was no hint of a dirt road, no hint of the lake, just more barren hills, behind which the sun was setting.

I stood there staring at the gully, when I heard faint voices. I looked up and saw two boys approaching. They were shepards and had probably watched me for quite a while from their perch on top of the hill, where I could now see the faint flicker of their campfire. They seemed both amused and bewildered but offered to take me to their home. We carried my bike across the gully and continued pushing the bike along a rocky hillside for about 15 Minutes. It was getting dark and hard to see where to steer the bike. When we got to the forlorn little farm, one of them whistled and announced the surprise dinner company.

I was led into the main room of the house, decked out with piles of sheepskin and thick carpets. The patriarch of the family soon came, accompanied by his oldest son, who spoke pretty good French. We sat down on the carpet around the table and soon a girl brought us steaming hot tea. Quietly the son tended to the tea, adding some sugar, pouring the scalding hot tea from the ornate teapot in a skillfully wide arch into a glass, pouring it back into the pot, several times over. Then he poured a swig into a small drinking glass, slurped the tea carefully and deliberately, and proceeded to pour a glass for everyone.

We sat around for a while chatting and slurping the hot, aromatic tea, and I tried to explain where I was from and what I was doing. This was a situation that became quite familiar to me in the following months. These people were barely scraping a living out of these barren hills by keeping sheep and farming. The oldest son had completed several years in the school in the nearest village. He and his father had been to Nador once in a while. They had no clue what the hell I was talking about. But that was OK - they extended their hospitality without the slightest hesitation and fed me dinner. After dinner I got out my last pack of Camels and offered a round of smokes.

The next morning, the boys showed me the way to another path and explained that in one direction it would lead me back to the main road, and in the other I could already see the lake. I thanked them and climbed down the hill to the lake, hoping I'd find a suitable campsite.

I found a nice spot, shady and flat, right next to the water. This seemed like a nice feature until during a rainstorm the lake began creeping up toward my tent. That made for a rather restless night, until the water stopped rising just inches away from my tent.

I stayed at the lake for several days, went back into the village for supplies a couple of times, and had several visits from the farm and from the village. When I left, I continued along the Moulouya river, via Taourirt, toward Guercif. The landscape was barren and the wind was warm, dry and dusty - a first taste of the hot breath of the Sahara.