Having wrestled two heavily laden big bikes (additionally encumbered by an ill considered carpet purchase) round Morocco some years ago we had always had a hankering to return on our ‘proper’ trail bikes to truly explore the network of unmade roads and tracks that weave through the country connecting remote settlements and incredible landscapes. Over the last 30 odd years we’ve explored much of England and Wales on day rides but the prospect of going on a true trail riding journey appealed hugely; something different.
However, the prospect of two 24 hour ferry crossings and two trips across Spain doing 60 mph on a plank-like seat was enough to deter us until this year when a chance encounter led us to another option. What if the trail bikes were to be transported by road to southern Spain whereupon we could fly in to collect them? It needed to be cheap, effective, simple and secure. If achievable it would save us at least 6 days of annual leave, money and importantly our sanity. Together with two wannabe trail riders Al and Colin (never done it in their lives) we stumbled upon Rob Jones of Fly and Ride. A man who counts his passions in life as motorcycles and trucks it isn’t surprising that he moves bikes for a living. What’s more, he moves them safely, reasonably and takes them to Malaga, just 70 odd miles from the popular and easy gateway to Morocco at Algerciras.
So, transport all booked we had to think about which bikes to take. Sticking to lifelong principles of dull sensibility and an ability for trail riding that doesn’t extend beyond a desire to survive the day I chose my CRF 250 Honda. Perfecto. Hubby John followed suit with a his CRF – the 1000 Africa Twin. Rather than his Beta Alp 4.0 . Really? The wisdom of his choice pales against the choices of our trail riding newbies, Al took a Honda CB500X (admittedly with knobbly tyres) and Colin chose the bike he usually commutes up the M5 every day on, an NC 700 Honda complete with a soft top box, smooth looking tyres but admittedly, a very large bash plate. Experienced campaigners eat your heart out. I don’t think the BMW Explorer boys on the ferry could believe the selection but really it’s a question of use what you’ve got.
The next challenge of course was where to go. There are of course many experts out there and forums on the topic but we went with the advice of Messieur Michelin’s map that showed almost none of the roads we used, a variety of sat navs (which bravely attempted to show us roads albeit with about 500 metre accuracy) and the most excellent words of Chris Scott and his 2013 book Morocco Overland. The 2017 edition coming out the day after we left for Spain. Hey ho.
Our route took us south to the Middle and High Atlas though you would do just as well heading further south for the sands of the Sahara. With nearly all minor roads remaining unsealed it isn’t difficult to ‘warm up’ to the challenge of some of the more ambitious routes and you can bank on fuel, thick strong coffee and the ubiquitous tagine being available in pretty much every settlement. Pick carefully and you can spend all day on the dirt. If you can’t see the fuel, just ask the locals for ‘essence’; they don’t run their mopeds and Dockers on donkey poo and are always interested and keen to help.
If the impression given by Morocco is one of sunshine and sand it falls a long way short of the actual diversity of weather and varied terrain. October is a great month to visit with the hottest places slipping below 30 degrees and the cooler ones seeing us reaching for the thermals and waterproofs. We enjoyed the cedar forests and volcanic landscape of leafy Ifrane with its countless tracks thoughtfully marked out by coloured paint. Morocco being full of surprises, we learnt that this is a ski resort in the winter and boasts vast numbers of macaques plentiful enough to provide regular sightings as we rode through the area. Amazingly the road bikes, especially Colin’s commuter, coped really well with the sandy and rocky terrain and all of the bikes coped well with the challenge of running all day at temperatures in the low 30s.
One of our tick boxes was to ride the famous Cirque de Jaffar, although the descent to the valley floor is now largely smoothed the valley floor remains a rocky jumble to navigate with the ascent out difficult to find. We ended up riding through the ‘Jaws of Jaffar’, an extraordinarily narrow gorge, before making a steep climb out to the spectacular landscape above. It might not be quite on the Grand Canyon scale but we reckoned it came close and what’s more, we had it to ourselves.
The following day saw us heading for the High Atlas and the village of Imilchil. The day started at 0800 with a search for breakfast which proved largely fruitless save for the discovery of a few packets of fondant fancies in a garage which we ate and set off anyway. Sunny and warm to start with, the clouds gathered as we ascended and by the middle of the day we were pleased to be on target to reach Imilchil by nightfall. Flash floods are a feature of the area and we nervously progressed through growing amounts of debris washed down from the surrounding hills to find that the road had been washed away leaving a massive drop down to the river below. No signs, no tape, just a massive drop.
Circumnavigation skills exceeded any others and we embarked on a diversion of immense proportions in failing light. With little time to stop we rode on to find extraordinary floods across washed out roads, rocky river beds concealed by rapidly moving water and queues of hapless travellers staring at the bubbling torrent. While river crossings hold relatively little fear for ‘real’ trail bikes, we did wonder exactly where the air box breather was for the two road going Hondas. A mishap here and you are er stuffed (to use a technical term), no RAC or Air Ambulance here.
Quite amazingly nothing missed a beat (thank you Mr Honda) and we hauled into Imilchil in time to see the sun setting over the horizon. Spurred on by adrenaline, petrol (still no food) and a desire to once more be warm and dry we descended from the mountains in the dark, dodging sheep, goats, donkeys, trucks without lights, slithery mud (well done Colin on those tyres) and precipitous drops which we couldn’t see (trail riding ostrich style) to find what appeared to be a recognisable hotel around 11pm. Sadly the restaurant was shut but the nightclub was open where, surrounded by a few businessmen, considerably more hookers and a horrendous noise that was allegedly music we gratefully sank several bottles of the local beer. A rare find in Morocco and pricey. However good effective value when all you’ve eaten all day after 16 hours of riding is a couple of fondant fancies. Roll on breakfast.
A mixture of tarmac and gravely tracks took us back to Tangier and the ferry to Spain. All in all a grand trip, it exceeded expectations for sights, adventures and fun but above all else it truly underlined the amazing qualities of modern motorcycles and how you don’t need a trail bike to trail ride, just a dose of fellowship.
Respect to Al and Colin and thanks to Rob Jones of Fly and Ride for making it possible.
We would recommend it to anyone.
Sally and John Pritchard