Around the world with The Bear – Part 20
The King of Every Kingdom
Around the world on a very small motorcycle
With J. Peter “The Bear” Thoeming
Last time The Bear travelled from Lisbon into Meknes, arriving in Morroco. And there are worse ways of spending a winter than lazing about the beach in Morocco – except that hot showers are so rare!
Meknes has a most attractive campsite, with lush grass, gum trees, flower beds and stands of banana plants, all surrounded by the walls of the old sultan’s palace.
The German girl with the 400/4 whom we’d met in France was here; she had teamed up with a chap on an XS750 which was currently a 500 twin. One cylinder stubbornly refused to fire. The army kept us awake that night with band and choir practice until the early hours. They were pretty good, though.
The Meknes medina, or old town, isn’t particularly exciting, but there’s a good, versatile bazaar and most of the fruit and vegetables had marked prices. After a while that comes as a relief, trust me. We indulged in a glass of the delicious mint tea that was to become our standard beverage in Morocco, and luckily didn’t catch anything unpleasant from the grubby hole-in-the-wall tea house.
Just after our return to camp it snowed. The guards were delighted and told us that this was their first snow for 15 years. A lot of good that was to us, camped out in it! We’d had enough of the cold, and headed for the coast and then south.
Rabat was a very European and not particularly interesting sort of city, and at Casablanca we struck the only bit of motorway in the country. Everyone really liked it – you could see that by the traffic, which consisted of everything from pedestrians through buggies to loaded camels, ambling every which way. There was very little motorised traffic, which was just as well as it would probably have disturbed the people living under the bridges. We didn’t stop in at Rick’s for a drink.
After a night in a nasty campsite at Mohammedia, which seemed to be inhabited solely by rapacious cats – one slept in my helmet and one chewed its way into most of our dried soups – we pushed on to Essaouira. As we were rolling south through the rather dull countryside, I plotted a way in which I could attend my own wake.
I would organize it when I got back to Australia… amazing what idle minds will turn to. The campground was pleasant and run by a bloke who looked like an ASIO (Australian Security and Intelligence Organization) spook in his shades and jungle jacket.
Farther south it became noticeably drier, and the goats had to climb trees to get at edible bits of greenery. We stopped to photograph some of them and became embroiled in an elaborate arrangement as to how much to pay which of the herd boys who clustered around for the right to take photos of the goats. ‘Whose goats are those?’ – ‘Yes, yes!’ – ‘No, whose goats are those?’—’Yes, one dirham, yes!’
There is an abrupt rocky drop to sea level along this road that reminded me of Eucla on the Nullarbor Plain. We stopped to chat with a group of surfies, who reported some tent slashing and stealing in their impromptu beach camp, but who were much more interested in how the swell was farther north. Disappointing, we told them. Flat.
We stayed at the tourist campsite in Agadir, mostly because it had hot showers, and spent Christmas Day sitting around the pool, drinking beer and wondering what the poor people were doing. Agadir is a tourist resort like any other, with the same hotels and conducted tours, and didn’t hold much for us. Except those hot showers.
We went south to the edge of the desert at Tiznit and then out along the dirt road ‘piste’ to Sidi Moussa. Along this stretch there was a bridge with a prominent ‘detour’ sign pointing down into the sandy river bed. Being good law-abiding citizens, we toiled through the deep sand with the bikes only to see a loaded truck go past on the bridge. Such is life.
Sidi Moussa turned out to be a grimy, derelict place with one campsite covered in rocks and another deep in sand, all inhabited by dubious-looking Europeans drawing on funny cigarettes.
As the war had closed all the roads, we could go no farther south, so it was unanimously decided to go back and spend some time in Essaouira. On the way, we were pulled over by police, who just wanted to have a look at the bikes.
One of them allowed that he wouldn’t mind an XS 1100 himself, but his BMW was so simple to repair that it was more sensible in Morocco. His friend looked familiar, and I soon realised that he could have been a rather slimmer Idi Amin. Lo! How the mighty are fallen….
Rolling into the Essaouira campsite, we were just behind another Australian couple, Michel and Cathy Mol, aboard a BMW R100S. They camped with us and we all employed ourselves lazing about in the sun. They joined us for the New Year’s Eve fire on the beach, too, and Cathy absorbed a little too much of the local rough red wine.
Being a gentleman, I won’t go into details, but Michel had his hands full for a while. We had had to ride all the way down to Agadir to buy the wine, so it was a bit of a waste really….
Time passed quickly, as it often does when you’re doing nothing, and we spent a lot of time just wandering around the harbour and fortifications of the town, which had once been a Portuguese trading post and had the cannons to prove it. The gates to the medina were still defended by bulky bronze mortars, now serving as never-emptied rubbish bins.
Freshly grilled sardines, straight from the boats, were an attraction on the wharf. One group of campers was permanently stoned, and it took them four hours to collect their meagre belongings when they left. They then wandered vaguely off in different directions. I guess they got a lift, because we didn’t see them again.
The campsite, ‘defended’ by seven dogs augmented by four pups, became a home from home to us. One evening, a little fat-tyred 125 Suzuki fun bike rolled in. The occupants eyed the XS 1100, R100S and GS 750 outfit parked near our tents and the female pillion, whose motorcycle clothing was a ragged-looking fur coat, asked diffidently, ‘Do any of you know anything about motorbikes?’ We allowed that we might, just a little, and asked what was wrong.
It turned out that the tiny bike would only rev out to twenty-two hundred, and then died. My first suspicion was the sparkplug, because I’d had similar problems with my XL. But it wasn’t that, as we found out when we unbolted the carburettor float bowl.
This was filled with what looked like fat white worms. The rider then remembered that he’d had a petrol leak from the lip of the bowl, and put sealing compound on it and bolted it back in place. He must have used a whole tube, because the stuff had squeezed out and set in the bowl, forming the worms and stopping the float from moving. The bike had been like this for a thousand miles, they told us.
I hope they made it home to Switzerland.
Annie got an abscess on a tooth and had to go to the local dentist. Although she claimed afterwards that he had been quite good, her heartrending screams under treatment suggested differently. The chap was so concerned about hurting her that he waived most of his fee. There’s a tip there…
The Yamaha’s battery ran flat, too. Mind you, we had been tapping it for our fluorescent camping light for a couple of weeks without running the engine – not entirely recommended. I was grateful for the accessory kickstarter, because push starting didn’t work and this way we could run some improvised jump leads from the BMW while I kicked – the leads wouldn’t carry enough current by themselves to use the electric starter. They nearly melted as it was.
The fine weather broke towards the middle of January and we moved on to Marrakesh and more blue skies. The Mols came with us, and it felt like a bike club run with the three machines. Camp was made in the larger and cheaper of the two rocky Marrakesh sites and although hygiene left something to be desired, it was a relaxed sort of place and we settled in well.
Marrakesh was like something out of the Thousand and One Nights. The old main square, the Djeema el Fna, was filled with conjurers, fire-eaters, snake charmers, dentists, acrobats, musicians and traders at all hours of the day.
The intricate passageways of the souks, the markets, held fascinating workshops and good bargains – if you haggled carefully. We left the bikes outside in the care of the human parking meters, attendants with large brass plaques which they wore proudly and ostentatiously. You had to bargain with them, too, over the parking fees, but they were conscientious.
It might have been winter, but the mountains with their wonderful roads called us. So off we went…