Thursday, October 31, 2019

Snapshots Marocaine ♡

From The Pillion

Moroccan Sahara
Morocco is a fascinating country, combining its Berber, Jewish and Arab cultural heritage with Spanish and French influences. There are three different languages - Arabic, French and Berber - and three different alphabets - Arabic, Roman and Berber.

Two (of three) alphabets
When you encounter people and ask them where they are from, the answer might be 'I’m a Berber from the Rif' or 'I’m half-Arab half-French'. The most interesting reply came from Allal, who organised our trip to the Sahara. 'I’m from the desert' is all he said. And he is. A nomad turned entrepreneur.

Most of Morocco’s wealth is controlled by an affluent class and the rest of the population get by. And there’s the Royal family soaking up money. The population seem to regard them a bit like Marmite.

I swear I saw my 25-year-old Merc drive by the other day, working as a taxi in its retirement. There don’t seem to be many catalytic converters and you can smell it.

You are just as likely to see a donkey and cart steered by an old Berber as a group of youngsters huddled round a smartphone. If you travel through the more remote parts, carry toilet paper and soap, as they are not necessarily standard supply.

We rode through a town called Ifrane, dubbed the Switzerland of Morocco. It sits in the Middle Atlas, it’s clean and tidy, has red-tiled roofs, a ski lift and slope - and it’s expensive!

(Very) prickly pear
I fancied a prickly pear, like Baloo from the Jungle Book. So I bought some unpeeled ones in the market (following the usual stay-healthy travel advice) and spent the next half an hour dislodging very fine but very present cactus hair from my fingers! The fruit is a real thirst-quencher, somewhere between a melon and a cucumber.

This is a patriarchal, Muslim country. Men sit in the omnipresent street cafés, chairs facing the road, unless there’s footie on the telly, when the chairs face the screen. They sit and drink their favourite tipple, thé à la menthe (aka 'whiskey Berbère') and discuss all sorts, always an eye on the passers-by. Greetings and smiles are exchanged frequently. The women stay in the background. I was pleased to note that the two chief pharmacists we consulted were both female.

Fresh mint tea! Think of what this conjures up.

Our first encounter with this national beverage proved to be a concoction so strong it nearly blew our heads off. It also contained enough sugar to propel you into hyperglycaemic shock! Not a single mint leaf stewing about. Now, I’m no expert in la langue Française, but I can manage 'thé à la menthe', I thought. Must be my German accent!

What we’ve discovered since is this: the drink is much more than just a pot of tea. It’s the equivalent of “put the kettle on” and a welcoming gesture. To decline it is considered impolite.

My version
The tea itself is made with Chinese gunpowder green tea, brewed to put any builder’s tea to shame and then some fresh spearmint is added. Plus an obscene amount of sugar. And voilà - you have your thé à la menthe. Just not as we know it.

The serving of it is another matter. I’m sure they send toddlers to tea-pouring classes and by the time they are five years old they can pour a glass with the spout hovering some three feet above.

We have also discovered two other popular beverages - a milky coffee called ‘noss noss’ in Arabic and thé Luiza (lemon Verbena). The latter claims health benefits ranging from stimulating your digestive tract (not really an issue for travellers!) to having a positive effect on the nerves, joint pain, asthma and anything else that is troubling you.

We bought 10kg of the stuff which I now carry on my head! (Ha ha, only joking!)

The muezzin’s calls to prayer (five a day 🙂) has become a familiar soundscape to our days.

Travelling through the mountains we came upon little shacks in the middle of nowhere serving a hot beverage with the ubiquitous sugar that kept us going for a while. Someone in the next shack would rustle up a 'Berber omelette' and some strong coffee. We haven’t seen too many of those on our more recent rides.

Over the next few days we’ll be travelling through more barren desertscape which has its own charm. We’ll be stocked up with water, nuts, chocolate and a solar charger. 😊 Oh yes, and there are a few restaurants scattered along the route. Must be the fear of the unfamiliar and projections of worst case scenario!

There is a lot of litter, small bits, everywhere, even along the scenic mountain roads. 😞

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

In El Ouatia (8463)

End of Morocco
We're in another seaside town. The beach is charismatic, powerful Atlantic breakers fill the air with both sound and spray. The local lads ride them on a hodge-podge mixture of surfboards.

Surf's up!

Our next stop will be Laăyoune, Western Sahara. Morocco, supported by the Arab League, lay claim to the territory and are de facto rulers. The Sahrawi government-in-exile is in Algeria and is supported by that government.

Its population is just 500,000 and its languages are Arabic, Berber and Spanish. As we've travelled south in Morocco we've found that the Iberian language becomes gradually more common than French.

You have, touchingly, responded to our mugs predicament with feeling. So, in order that you won't worry...

Problem solved (for now!)


In response to information received from the excellent West Africa Travellers FB/WA group, and in order to avoid the notorious border crossing between Mauritania and Senegal at Rosso, we may ride to the Diama crossing.

The roads are interesting...

This is what we got the bike for*
Let's hope we don't...
This is a few weeks away yet. We've still to negotiate WS and Mauritania. The anti-malarials will be required soon.

The good news is that, with telephone help from my brilliant doctor in Bethnal Green, I was able to buy new drugs to deal with my rosacea.

The bad news is that they respond very badly to alcohol. I'm currently a teetotal traveller.

*I didn't know at the time of writing, but we were later to meet this rider. He is Jacques, the one-time Hindu monk I met in Grand-Bassam, Côte d'ivoire.

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

The sea! The sea!* (8312)

A left turn
Our journey had been westward for some time. As we came to the end of the Suss Valley, in between the High and Anti Atlas mountains, we took a very marked turn left at a roundabout close to Agadir Airport, and started to track the coast south. It immediately felt different. We were now on the main route from the north; the road more travelled. Its surface was noticably superior to those we'de been used to latterly and the petrol-station cafe we had breakfast in was European quality. It was a marked contrast to where we had been.

The Atlantic (#2)
A couple of hours later we experienced a delightful emotional lift when we saw the sea. Stunning though they may be, mountains can also be claustrophobic.

The Moroccan Atlantic
(*For years I've had a book of quotations that contains these words from the ancient Greek general Xenophon. I've never known their significance.)

Sidi Ifni
We've been staying by the seaside for the last few nights in a beautiful Spanish Sahara-era town house. It has three stories, verandas on two and trees in the courtyard. The town, like the whole of the coastal region, it seems, is significantly more prosperous than the towns in the mountains. Prosperity in Morocco is relative, however.

From the house
From the evening beach
Missing you
Who knows why these things happen when they do, but I have recently felt an upsurge in feelings of separation from those I care for; my (now very grown-up) kids, their partners and offspring and my coterie of close friends from various areas of my life, ex-work colleagues and so on.

Our journey so far is now approximately one third the length of the equator. And roughly one third of a year long. Angelika and I agreed the other day that we're looking forward to going home. (An interesting concept since we don't actually know where home will be.)

It's Angelika's birthday at the end of November. She's hoping she may see her children then. Senegal is the likeliest venue. The problem is that, having had to force the pace of travel previously on the journey and knowing the price that exacts in energy, morale and trip enjoyment, there's a reluctance on both our parts to have to rush to make a specific date. That's difficult, of course, for those at the other end wishing to plan flights, time off work, etc. Solutions are being sought.

Cape To Cape
It's pretty clear now that we won't make the effort to reach Cape Town. We increasingly talk of Nigeria as our turning point.

Since Nerja, and with no place to be on any specific date, we've slowed down considerably. It's been better. We have, with absolutely no regrets, spent much longer in Morocco than we expected. It's been very worthwhile.

As for what remains, I particularly have a hankering to visit Lagos, the island city, and the slave forts on the coast in Benin and Ghana. I'm also hoping we'll get to meet Chloe Grant in Côte d'Ivoire. She is, amongst other things, the curator of the very helpful West Africa Travellers Facebook group. She's been a significant source of information and encouragement on our journey.

And then there was one
I terminally cracked one of our trip mugs. I was washing it, it slipped.

I suppose it's quite something that we brought two intact as far as we did. By motorbike. And Angelika has done a remarkable job carrying them this far in her pannier.

A fatal flaw
I was upset, though. Our early morning tea has been an enjoyable ritual.

The second package is still in customs in Casablanca. And we're heading away from it. I'm buying local from now on.

A new country
We expect to be in Laâyoune, Western Sahara by the weekend.

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Pigeon House (8128)

In Agadir Talba

The eponymous pigeons
Our most recent stopping place was a hamlet ten kilometres east of Taroudant and an hour east of the major coastal city the huddle of buildings is named after; Agadir. It's not shown on our map of Morocco nor does the GPS recognise it. It is dusty, has no paved sidewalks or roads. It has about 20 dwellings and a mosque. Look south and you'll see the Anti Atlas mountains, look north and the High Atlas hunkers.

The house
We were staying in one of the oldest houses here. It's the one-time grandparental home of our landlord, Faysal. We had it to ourselves. The selling point is to live in the traditional Moroccan way. It's definitely rustic, and the experience was instructive.

View from the house corner: The High Atlas
Entrance to our bedroom (lower)
It has a central courtyard with an orange tree offering shade. The bathroom is a semi-al-fresco shower, the toilet is traditional style for these parts. It's all clean and fresh. The rooms we had access to have small or no windows. They're dark but, notwithstanding the considerable heat, cool.

Staying here engenders empathy with the people who lived this way. Faysal's grandparents were notables in this community, his grandfather being the leader of the local mosque. Wherever we walked with their grandson, he was known, acknowledged and greeted respectfully.

The ablutions 
Traditional loo
Faysal is mid-thirties and, prompted by lack of opportunity for young people, is a budding entrepreneur. The Pigeon House is a manifestation of this.

He also works on the family farmland (roughly nine acres), but climate-change rain shortage means there's no olive crop this year. The papaya trees he planted have died. The drought means his well does not now reach the water and he needs to raise funds to deepen it. He needs two meters more at around 1,500 dirham (£140) per meter.

He has a plan, though. He wants to build four holiday bungalows, a cafe/restaurant and a swimming pool on the family land and create a mini holiday complex. He can offer, he tells us, trekking in the Atlas Mountains, visits to the nearby fortified town of Taroudant, local cooking classes and massage sessions. The cost of building he thinks would be £20,000.

Angelika suggested crowd-funding as a method of financing the project. He hadn't heard of the approach but will look into it. He showed us his plans. He's a likeable young man and it's impossible not to hope the plans work out.

Taroudant at dusk
He took us into Taroudant. It's buzzy, energetic and there was a pleasant intimacy to him showing us his stomping ground.

The Atlantic
I'm writing this in Sidi Ifni, a seaside town on the Atlantic coast. We've (more or less) left the hills and, after some while travelling west, sandwiched between Atlas mountains of various appellations, we're finally, definitely heading south.

More of this later!

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Becalmed in the desert

The Sahara

In the wind
We've been tourists for a couple of days, going with our own driver and guide into the Sahara and staying overnight.

I sent a couple of WhatsApp messages to my 'children and their partners' group;
Seriously perception changing - and challenging. I have to admit being very unsettled for a short while as we drove in the 4wd into the dunes. People really actually die here. In the summer (not now), five hours without water and that's it. But these chaps come from here - our guide (27 yrs) lived the first few years of his life in tents in the desert. Fascinating. xx
We looked at the stars. Like milk they were. I don't think I've ever seen them like that. The whole experience is overwhelming - I'll need time to process. This is unlike anywhere I've been. In a tiny way, but more than I could never have hoped, I know what the desert is and what it means to be in it. I'm grateful to have seen it. xx
It made me think of being at sea and in the mountains; impressive and humbling - and dangerous.

Angelika, camel and handler

You may know that El Camello (or the camel) is our nickname for the motorbike. Well, the Pillion got to ride a camel alone.

What Larbi told us
Larbi was our guide into the desert. He's 27 and comes from a Touareg family. He spent the first few years of his life living nomadically, herding goats and camels. His family now live in the last village at the end of the road where the sands begin, M'Hamid. We were honoured to have tea with them in their home. Angelika was given a gown as a gift.

Larbi is a masters educated student. When he was at university, they had to study linguistics by reading the American Noam Chomsky. He couldn't afford the book, but his friend managed to print an illegal copy - but was unable to understand it. Larbi did a deal with him, borrowed the book, read it over a few days and then taught it to him. They both passed their essays.

This means he is more clever than I am. When I read Chomsky as a student, I couldn't understand it either. But I had no Larbi to help.

He was phased by none of our questions on any topic and we learned much from him. He often prefaced his answers with 'I want to tell you this, Mr. Simon'. I became quite fond of this phrase over our two intense days together. It always prefaced interesting insights.

Larbi, watering wild donkeys

Peoples: The Berbers are the original inhabitants of this area, they are an ethnic group. Their language has four main dialects. They are feisty. The terms 'Bedouin' and 'Touareg' denote ways of life rather than ethnicities. The Bedouin are desert dwellers but not nomadic. They are farmers. The Touareg are nomadic. Historically they were the desert traders, carrying ivory, gold, salt and clothing from the north to - amongst other places - Timbuctou. Latterly, they have been herdsmen of camels and goats (but not sheep which can't survive the in the desert).

The Desert is made up of three components. The first Larbi called 'black rock' (see photo above). It's a hard clay covered in small, dark rocks. Little grows in it. The second is the sand dunes. Nothing grows in it. The third, which we didn't see, is softer ground that will accommodate growth when the rare rains occur.

Alfalfa is harvested for two purposes. It feeds the animals and is also used to make green dye to colour carpets and clothing. It's very common to see (mainly) women carrying huge loads of it along the roadsides.

The Draa Valley

The Draa Valley
 The Draa river is the second longest in Morocco. Its valley is the traditional route of the Touareg caravans from the north. We drove along it on our expedition.

Its population is now a mere 25% of thirty or so years ago. This is because the dam that was built close to where we are currently staying in Ouarzazate has robbed it of its water.

Camels are extraordinary. In the highest summer heat, their humps disappear because the fat in them 'melts' to cover their bodies to protect them from the temperature.

There are no wild camels. A mature adult male costs around €1500. Female camels are not used for carrying loads, they are too valuable as producers of young.

Survival: Those who don't know the desert are at risk in it. Those who do know it, know where there is water. And water is the beginning and end of survival there. When Larbi would go with his brother on a four or five-day trek to, for example, recover camels, they would only carry a litre or so of water because they knew where to find it. Their food would mainly be dates. They took weapons 'because there are no police there'.

The authorities: Larbi has a view on those.

All-in-all he was splendid company. He tells me he may go to live in Turkey next year, like many of his friends since there is no work here for those from outside the elite. I believe he'll do well at whatever he attempts, I certainly hope so.

The reason we had time for the excursion is because we're waiting (longer than we'd hoped) for deliveries from home to replace items lost in 'the incident'.

One has arrived. The other, we learn from the tracking information, won't be here for a further four days. Western Sahara, Mauritania and Senegal beckon. What to do? Decisions must be made.

It won't surprise you to find that our delicate western gastro-intestinal systems have responded to different food, water and attitudes to dietary hygiene (the Pillion's more than the Pilot's). That this seems have become consistent is a small concern. Let's hope it changes as we move along.

Whether it's the food, dehydration (we're at 1200 mtrs and it's occaaionally hot and always dry) or whatever it is (both the aforementioned can be contributors) my historic issue with stomach acid has reoccured. It's not a terrible thing, but it stops me sleeping and being tired is not good.

Just to make a trio, the pills I take to control a facial skin condition (rosacea for the medically-minded) seem to have stopped working. They do that, I know. I need to find a solution or I'll end up spotty-faced and possibly scarred.

However, we did discover that here one can buy, over the counter, drugs only available on prescription at home.

No Man's Land
I've finally fully understood the nature of the 'Red Zone' that exists - as declared by the UK government's travel advice - on the border between Western Sahara and Mauritania.

UK government travel advice
The FB West Africa Travellers group and its associated WhatsApp and the Morocco and Mauritania WhatsApp groups that I belong to are wonderful congregations of people adventuring in these places. They constitute a fabulous community of interested, helpful, knowledgeable folk.

I'm currently in conversation with three Africa Twin (our bike) riders in these parts and might team up with one for the desert ride through Western Sahara. One was able to recommend a mechanic to service the bike in Senegal.

Anyway, what I now know, because it's been explained to me by those who've been there recently, the 'no go' zone between Western Sahara and Mauritania is a 'fifteen minute sprint' on, I think, unsurfaced road, across an unpoliced (although the UN are sometimes there), neutral zone between the two countries. Doesn't sound so bad.

It's a regularly traversed terrain and we'll be there in the next couple of weeks or so.

Friday, October 18, 2019

Out of my comfort zone and other matters ♡

From The Pillion
You know how you have internal conversations about imagined situations/scenarios? Well, I had one such for problems we might encounter whilst on the bike. I would say, assertively but calmly, 'Simon, just pull over as soon as possible, we have a small problem'. In the event, what came out of my mouth was 'Oh shit, the drybag’s gone!' No hint of calmness there. Still, we stopped quickly.

Medina hubbub
A trip to the supermarket in Fez, some 15 minutes from our hostel, caused me to ponder whether I should cover my shoulders and whether I might be hustled, a Western woman walking on her own. I needn’t have worried, everybody was friendly and polite. The hustlers leave you in peace once ignored.

However, negotiating the traffic was a different matter. The route to the supermarket involved crossing a large roundabout. I stood and observed for five minutes, heart increasingly in my mouth. Zebra crossings seem to function as adornments only.

The locals put out a hand (referred to as ‘The Hand of God’ by my well-travelled daughter Bianca, much used in India) and just step into the road. Sometimes the cars stop, sometimes they swerve round, sometimes the pedestrians stop. Horns beep. Seems to work somehow, not for me, though. I didn’t have the confidence or death-wish to just step in front of a car and hope it’ll stop. So I found a different route that involved just crossing three lanes of traffic.

Whilst meandering in the Médina in Fez, giving over to the assault on all our senses, we decided to take a break in one of the little cafés. A bit of people-watching and a game of backgammon.

Beware the doubling dice!
The Pilot gesticulated wildly (probably because the Pillion had, unwisely, accepted yet another cube, basing her backgammon strategy on timely doubles to win) and sent his drink flying all over the table. Just as I was winning!!

Paper towels appeared, the waiter busied himself with cleaning up and we moved to another table.

The spilt drink had melted the sugar cube on my saucer. I picked up my cup to finish my coffee, the saucer stuck to the glass but then lost its sugary grip and - yes, you can guess - came crashing down. The waiter appeared again, a slighty exasperated look on his face this time. We left a generous tip and made for the exit. We must have been tired. Some dyspraxia 'dis-coordination' too, on both sides.

All have recovered, including the backgammon set.

Riding through the Atlas Mountains offered spectacular scenery. A cross between Grand Canyon and Mars. Think ‘Planet of the Apes’ and ‘Mad Max’.

Apocalypse now
As we came down into the valley, south of the High Atlas, we could have been travelling in Arizona, à la No Country for Old Men.

El Camello (The Camel, our trusty steed) was in his element, practically purring (or whatever the camel equivalent is) all the way through the mountains.

The people here smile easily and we get cheery waves from shepherds and shepherdesses, school children and all the people sitting by the roadside.

I had a little emotional wobble the other day. Out of my comfort zone and recovering from a mild stomach upset, I felt homesick and intensely missed my kids. All part of travelling, I suppose.

My sense of adventure and curiosity to experience new places outweigh my anxieties.

So, feel the fear and travel anyway! 😊😊

Atlas lessons (7809)

Riding the High Atlas
Midelt to Goulmima yesterday was the most memorable ride of my biking life.

I kept wondering how I could describe the landscape and its effect on me without descending into hyperbole and cliché. I still don't know.

Valley after valley of red and orange rock walls, a huge variety of formations, always faced with ancient-looking sweeps of ridges and peaks, it went on and on. I thought that, from a riding and looking experience, this might be the highlight of the trip. (With apologies to the fjords.)

Desert dawn in Midelt

Photo stop

Tea stop

 Valley view
Even as I post these photographs I know they don't capture the vast magnificence of it.

As we moved south we could sense in the colour, heat and air that the High Atlas mark the boundary of the desert. When we reached Errachidia - the garrison town which, but for a failed Airbnb booking would have been our stopover - our route turned sharply from southward to the west. We were now running along the valley on the Sahara side of the mountain range and the nature of the road changed. Undulating and almost completely straight for long sections, we were no longer in the hills but on the edge of the sands.

Our place of rest is Goulmima, an oasis. As we crested the rise that announced it, we saw green spreading before us for the first time that day.

Fifty ways to lose your luggage
After the incident of the dislodged dry bag, I demonstrated that one doesn't always learn from experience. I secured our temporary replacement bag with our cargo straps noting that one ran close to the exhaust outlet. Too close, it turned out. Luckily Angelika spotted it before it gave way. Hmm... Anyway, we still have the bag and its contents. Just!

Almost exhausted 

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Morocco news summary (7688)

I've had both too much to write about and a spell of unreliable internet connection. To catch up, this post is a condensed report.

This city is not 'Morocco'. But it is very much Fez. It's edgy, intense, feral and it unsettled me. That one is warned by well-meaning advisors to avoid this place and take care in that one adds to the tension.

Medina street
From our Medina restaurant
But it's a fascinating place. All those lives, all that striving, all that humanity.

Above Fes
Leigh Trowbridge
Friends make a difference and Leigh is a case in point. He's a particular philosophical reference point for me and is proving a valuable foil in helping make sense of things at this time. He's deeply knowledgeable and I can rely on him to illuminate me when I'm lacking in understanding. But his generosity and talent were aslo highlighted a few days ago.

The manager of our super hostel in Fez asked me to help compose a plaque she wanted to have made highlighting the special attributes of her place. I knew the end result wouldn't be nearly as effective if it weren't properly designed and having been put on the spot by his 'generous on his behalf friend in Fez' Leigh beautifully brought it into being for her.

Lovely chap. Here it is.

An act of generosity

South through the mountains
Middle Atlas landscapes have an alien quality to them. It's exciting seeing something so different from what you're used to. My theory is that it's because they were formed by different geological forces from those that were at work in Europe. But I may be wrong.

Our mountain route

An incident
The dry bag anchor broke. It shouldn't have. It originally looked like this:

Dry-bag in situ
There was some collateral damage.

Angeika's ex-sleeping bag
But we're ok and we might not have been.

And we'll be in receipt of replacements in a week or so thanks to Angelika's daughter, Bianca and Annette at Rugged Roads, two elements of our UK back-up team. Thanks both!

Kasba Asmaa - our hotel

We're in a Berber town on the plateau between the Middle and High Atlas mountains at 1500 mtrs. It's referred to merely as a transit town in the guide books; a stopping place between north and south. I feel as though it's my first real engagement with ordinary Morocco. The people here don't care that you're a traveller and I'm relaxed enough now about this country to forget that I'm a foreigner and just enjoy it. It's lovely.

We've heard that Africa proper begins south of the High Atlas. We'll be there tomorrow.


Friday, October 11, 2019

Moroccan mornings (7560)

The ride from Chefchaouen
There are few motorways for us here. Riding on single-carriage roads is less demanding than motorway biking. Even if the journey time is the same, it takes less out of you. And when we left the blue city for Fés in the early-morning mountain cool, our journey had the added bonus of being mostly in the Rif mountains. Mountains and motorbikes; made for each other.

To school
Because of the hour (we set off at 7.30), we saw the countryside waking up. Crisply turned-out schoolchildren emerged along the dusty country roadside from you couldn't tell where. I noticed older siblings solicitously walking their younger brothers or sisters along. We attracted their attention. The girls usually seemed detached about our presence, the boys were more animated, often mimicking the twisting of a motorcycle throttle. None were short of a warm smile. Moroccans smile easily.

Morning ride to Fés
We saw many herdsfolk - of both genders. There seems to be a culture of what I came to think of as 'road-margin grazing'. Small herds of goats, sheep and sometimes cattle, always skinny, are pestered into position by their handlers, not in the fields and not in the roads, but in the two or three yard space between them. I can only imagine that their owners have no other land on which to graze them. It must be a thin existence.

We passed olive groves, cabbage fields and many fruit groves - of what types I couldn't tell. Usually they looked locally-owned. I've no idea how I'd know. Perhaps the impression comes from a certain rustic character. There are other fields, too, much bigger and 'protected' by high, barbed-wire fences. They look more corporate and I wondered where those profits are enjoyed.

An opened door
On arrival there is always the question of where the bike will stay. Security is a preoccupation. I had one stolen in Bethnal Green from outside my flat. Once bitten, etc. (And we'd had dire warnings about the 'big city' from the night watchman at the Rif Hotel when setting off.)

Please come in...
When Khaoula, the Fés Hostel International manager opened this door, she saw the bike and immediately waved it into the courtyard. She was more confident that the wide adventure-bike style handlebars would fit through than I, but she'd seen it done before.

Happiness is...
This (the hostel, not the city!) is a very relaxing place to be, which is good because I have a cold and have been spending much time horizontal. I'm reading Don Quixote (which is appropriate for so many reasons) and Sun-Tzu's The Art of War (which isn't, but which is very interesting).

Today we'll visit the Medina, the world's largest urban traffic-free zone. Tomorrow we go to stay with a Fés family for three days to experience the lifestyle. That should be fascinating.

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Thinking, thinking (7429)

Maria, Geoffrey and Curtis
My old chum, Stephen O'Connor would, when he was particularly perplexed by some attitude or behaviour of mine, ask 'What's it like being you, Simon?'

Well, the above named young people (forgive me, you three, if I've got your names wrong or misspelled them), found out a little more of this than you'd bargain for when we met up a mountain above Chefchaouen yesterday. Truth is I got a little emotional.

From where we met
For the record, they're great people, the kind you'd hope to meet by accident on a hillside in Morocco when you're a bit lost. M&J are an item and work 'from home' while travelling. If you see what I mean. They (Spanish and American, respectively) live in Malaga. Curtis (American) lives in California and works with start up companies in California.

We discussed work/life balance, how much money is enough, what travelling is for, depression and motorcycling. Meeting them made my walk in the hills (Angelika was chillin') special. They were open-minded, interested, interesting and I wish them well.

What's a blog for?
Curtis has done 'long travelling' and completely got my wonderings about what the point of it is. The four of us also mused on what a blog is for and what it properly should aim to do.

In life generally, we present our idealised selves. No one really wants an honest answer to an enquiry as to our well-being. Perhaps no one really wants to read a long-distance motorcycling blog that admits that a lengthy ride in heat leaves you tired, wrung-out, irritable and totally out of sympathy with hoteliers, travelling partners and the world in general.

But, then, whence honesty, realism, the ring of truth? Perhaps there's a balance. Let's see if we can find it.

Acting on their advice, I found an interesting way down the hill.

To the village!
What's a trip for?
Perhaps you know I've been wondering. Of course, the question is the same whether you ask it of a long trip (or short one, actually) or of life in general. And, I suppose, that's part of what makes the journey interesting.

In my pre-trip life in education I was asked by a group of students what the meaning of life is. 'Life has no meaning but what you choose to give it' I heard myself say, sagely. By that token it's for me to decide what meaning the trip has. Hmm. There's both a power and a responsibility there. But I can stop looking elsewhere for an answer.

I'll let you know.

Chefchaouen miscellany
This place has a reputation for hedonism. The partying (I think mostly hashish-fuelled although alcohol is freely, if illegally, available) seems to go on all night. The last couple of nights has seen groups of young Arabic folk driving up and down outside our hotel in the very early hours, beeping horns and generally making a racket.

After the partying youngsters, the imams begin their religious chanting at 5.30am.

But I really like it here. I'm more relaxed than at any time since we set off. And the noises off don't bother me at all.

The blue streets that the town is famous for have no roots in tradition. It's the result of recent tourism branding.

I saw a convoy of big powerful motorbikes leave the town as we arrived. They struck me as arrogant, their presence a statement of power. I hoped before we left we would not give this impression on our travels. I deliberately avoided some of the bike accessories that make the machine look military. Of course my reading of them might have been projection.

Angelika and I are getting better at claiming time alone. It's for the best.

I've stopped reading the news for the time being. I'm happier for it. Maybe it's a cop-out. If it is, it is.

I'm looking forward to moving on. We've booked a hostel in Fes for two day's time.

Mustapha's insights
Our guide explains
Our hotelier found us a guide. His name is Mustapha and he gave us a fascinating two hours. He told us why there is Viking blood in Morocco (the Berbers fought these invaders off the country's northern coast); that Chefchaouen was originally built as a garrison; that Jews and Arabs have coexisted peacefully here for centuries; that the town wasn't always blue (but that the new colour is easier on the eye than the original white in the early morning sunshine).

I was reminded as we walked that many times on this trip I have had deep-lying patronising attitudes corrected by talking to others who know things I don't know, have perspectives I can't ever have and who understand the world I come from better than I do theirs.

Perhaps that's the meaning of the trip.