Posted by: Barry | March 21, 2009

Day 17 – The Gambia And The End

Dakar, Senegal to Banjul, The Gambia
250 miles / 400 km
Wx: Clear skies, HOT.

Well it is an exciting and sad day. Exciting because we are so close to the final destination of this amazing trip of over 4500 km across 6 countries. It is also very sad to think that this is the last day we are all going to wake up and jump on the bikes and ride together. Tomorrow we turn in the bikes and the group will start to break up. The riding across these vast landscapes has almost become a zen like experience and I will be very sad to see it come to an end.

We are up early as we have a lot of miles to cover today along with a border crossing (into The Gambia) and a ferry crossing of the Gambia river.  As we walk out to the bikes and start loading them up, Niall our Scottish mechanic is making the rounds, lubing the chains and giving the bikes a pre-ride going over. It turns out that a couple of the bikes, including mine, have flat tyres. So we set about changing those while we scarf down some breakfast from the truck.

Sunrise Leaving Lac Rose

Sunrise Leaving Lac Rose

With the bikes finally fixed and loaded we leave Lac Rose with the sun rising over our shoulders. We weave our way out of Dakar through the crazy, crazy morning traffic complete with the entire cast of characters; cars, trucks, bicycles, carts, donkeys, scooters and just about anything else you can think of. We finally make our way out of the city in one piece and fuel up before heading south on the main road toward the Gambian border. Turns out there is a big accident and traffic on the road is backed up for ages. This is when it is nice to be on an off-road motorcycle.

We get past the huge line up of stationary traffic and finally hit the open road south. We twist the throttle and accelerate away, happy to have the roads to ourselves once again. We continue on through some rolling hills passing a number of small villages along the way. Say what you will about Senegal but it sure has one thing going for it, lots of stunningly beautiful women. The funny thing is though, even way out here in the middle of nowhere they still know they are beautiful. The look at you with this practised look of disdain as if to say ‘I may live in a grass hut with a dirt floor, but I am still out of your league.’ Hilarious.

As we approach one of the larger towns along the route there are some dirty great potholes in the road and I mean everywhere, all over the road. The traffic in both directions is weaving in every direction to avoid falling into them. As a result a couple of us almost get wiped out by the unexpected jinking of vehicles in every direction.

As we are passing through the town of Kaolock, BANG! My clutch cable snaps. I nurse the bike to the side of the road and signal to the others that I have a problem. Okay, the bad news is my clutch cable is broken and I can’t go anywhere until its fixed. However, as fate would have it, the moment it chose to break was when we were passing through a town, a stroke of good luck. A stoke of better luck is the fact that I have broken down about 20 meters from a scooter repair shop and they have a spare clutch cable right there. I kid you not, what are the odds? The guy from the shop even comes out to help us fit it to the bike.

I call the support vehicle to let them know what has happened. They say they are about three quartes of an hour away. As I am doing that Matt and Diesel Dave (the more mechanically inclined amongst us) along with the guy from the scooter shop have a go at fixing it themselves. After about 20 mins of fiddling they seem to have it sorted and I can ride again. We decide to ride to the nearest café and have a cool drink out of the burning sun while we wait for the support vehicle to catch up.

When the 4×4 finally arrives Niall has a look and says he couldn’t have done a better job himself. Great success! We are all off again racing toward the Gambian border and the last border crossing of the trip.

We finally arrive at the border to The Gambia. As we all group together Werner, our guide, goes in with all the paperwork to sort things out. As he does this we are set upon by a crowd of beggar children (as we usually are when we stop anywhere) wanting this or that. Unfortunately, at the border we are a stationary target and can not just ride away. We make the most of it by getting the children to all scream ‘Donkey’ in their best Shrek/Scottish accent as a homage to our Scottish mechanic.

Girl At The Gambian Border

Girl At The Gambian Border

The paperwork sorted, we are cleared across the border and into The Gambia. Once in the Gambia everyone starts to get a little road fever, wanting to hurry up and get to our final destination, a campsite in Banjul. We still have to get across the Gambia river and the only way to do that is by ferry and of course the ferry runs on ‘Africa time’. This means you are never quite sure when it will run or how many people are waiting to get on. So we all race towards to ferry crossing, wired with anticipation of finally getting to our destination after weeks of riding.

When we do finally get to the ferry there is a huge line up of people waiting. Since our motorcycles are only small, we try our luck by riding to the front of the line and asking/pleading/bribing to see if we can get on in front of the huge line of cars and trucks. Sure enough it works, and we are on the very next ferry. The support vehicle however is not so lucky, it is stuck somewhere back down the end of the line.

The ferry starts to chug off across the river, beautiful scenery in every direction and it starts to set in that we are now very, very near the end. When we hit the other side of the river it is only about a twenty minute ride to the campground and the end of the trip.

When we do eventually hit the other side of the river and file off the ferry there is a giddy sense of anticipation and we all start riding a little crazy because we are so hyped up. Wheelies, racing, sprinting, and weaving around traffic. We are all very excited! A little surprisingly we all make it to the campground without anyone coming off. There are congratulations all around.

We have just finished and amazing trip of over 4500 kms through, Spain, Morocco, Western Sahara, Mauritania, Senegal, and The Gambia. We have been through Mountains, Coastline, Minefields and the Sahara desert, camping rough on the side of the trail and staying in fancy hotels. The journey has been extraordinary and you couldn’t ask for a better and funner group of guys. It is sad to see the journey end, and even sadder that Niall and Jack aren’t here at this moment, still stuck in the 4×4 on the other side of the river until who knows when.

Beers and celebration all around as we relax at the campground. Most of us are staying on for a few more days but a couple of people are leaving first thing tomorrow. Still on a high we decide we will head into the touristy part of town for a little last night madness, made even more mad by the fact that it is also Rick’s birthday today. Unfortunately, all our clothes are on the 4×4 which is stranded on the other side of the river until who knows when, so it looks like a night out in our stinky riding gear. Even better. Look out Banjul here we come!

A dream fulfilled, I guess I can cross that one off the bucket list.

We made it

We made it

L to R: Big Al, ‘Two Dogs’ Mihir, Me, Matt, Rick-ipedia, Diesel Dave, Pencil Pete

Posted by: Barry | March 20, 2009

Day 16 – Dakar At Last

St. Louis to Dakar, Senegal
250 miles / 400 km
Wx: Clear skies, warm.

The sun rises on Day 16 and I am excited and sad at the same time. I’m excited because today we finally ride into the mythical Dakar, the place of motorcycle legend. Although we still have another day of riding tomorrow to get to The Gambia, Dakar has always been the emotional destination and reason for the trip. I am excited that after months of planning and weeks of riding that this afternoon I will finally be there.  I am also sad because I know this fantastic trip will soon be over.

We all meet up for a quick breakfast and a briefing on the days ride. We are all going to start together and do one last small bit of piste riding before making it to the tarmac then we will break up into smaller groups and make our own way to Dakar. Our destination it the famous Lac Rose, the tradtional finishing point of the Dakar rally. Awesome.

Leaving Zebrabar

Leaving Zebrabar

We pack up the bikes and bid a farewell to the idyllic Zebrabar camp and head off down the piste. Everyone is gee’d up for the days ride after the rest day yesterday. We are off!

We head off down the piste, which is over far too soon and we are back on the tarmac heading south towards Dakar.  The landscape is gently rolling hills as we move away from the coast as the main road moves a little more inland. We pass few some small towns on the way and traffic is generally light until we get a bit closer to Dakar.

Getting close now

Approaching Dakar

As the road turns back towards the coast and approaches Dakar traffic starts to get a bit more frantic. We come over a large hill and we can see the road stretching down towards the coast with the city of Dakar in the distance. A couple of the lads get a bit of finish line fever and take off weaving through the crazy African highway traffic.

As we reach the edge of the city we are once again greeted by the traffic mayhem that Africa does so well, although by now we have lost our fear of it. I am not sure if that is a good thing or a bad thing. At any rate we launch straight into what appears to be peak hour traffic, but who the hell knows. We weave in and out of the crazy traffic, all the while trying to read our GPS to be sure we don’t miss the turn off to the hotel and Lac Rose. We take a turn and follow a side street for a while before we decide it isn’t the right way (turns out it was, but who knew?).

Back to the main drag, a little further on, then another turn off and through some back streets. Problem there is loose soft sand all over the streets. Now the technique in soft sand is to gun the throttle, keep the momentum up and kind of let the bike go where is wants to keep it moving. This works great in the open country side, not so great in tight crowded back alley streets, because it seems where my bike ‘wants to go’ is straight into the back end of a donkey cart or the nearest truck.

We all have a few close calls, but avoid killing ourselves, the locals and any of the wayward donkeys in the area. We finally make it to our hotel, Hotel Palal on the shores of Lac Rose. Lac Rose (Rose Lake) is really weird, the water is pink (hence the name) and the lake is full of salt and minerals which make you so buoyant that it is almost impossible to force your body under the surface of the water.

We all make it and congratulate each other with a few well earned beers by the lake, before adjourning to the pool to spend the rest of the afternoon lazing in the sun before our last supper in Senegal. Dakar at last!

Posted by: Barry | March 19, 2009

Day 15 – Rest Day in Saint-Louis

Rest Day – St. Louis, Senegal

Today is a rest day, so no riding. I was hoping for a nice leisurely sleep in this morning, but I am awaked by the sounds of snoring coming from a couple of the lads who stayed up drinking last night. Oh well, nothing the iPod can’t solve. Earphones in and back to sleep, for a little while anyway.

I am still up early and I wander over to breakfast. Pete and Dave are just finishing and are making plans to head into town to do some looking around. Saint-Louis used to be the old capital of the French West African colonies back in the day.  It looks like an interesting place to have a wander around so I decide to join them. I quickly scoff down some breakfast and drop of some laundry to be done before the three of us jump in a taxi and head into town.

The place is alive with a buzz and aside from getting hassled by street vendors every few minutes it is a cool place to walk around. There is a lot of the old French colonial architecture still left, however it has seen better days. We wander around having a look at this and that before stopping for lunch in a local café.

Saint Louis, Senegal

Saint Louis, Senegal

Saint Louis, Senegal

Saint Louis, Senegal

Saint Louis, Senegal

The Streets Of Saint-Louis

After lunch we head on back to camp and join the rest of the boys for a lazy afternoon of lounging around. The Zebrabar camp is quite a peaceful and idyllic spot, a great place to rest and chill out. We meet a fellow biker staying there. During conversation he tells us that he has quit his job back in the UK, sold his house, brought a motorcycle and is taking three years off to ride around the world. We are all very jealous and I would love to join him. If only I hated my job.

All Action At Zebrabar

After I head off to an early sleep, ready and anxious to hit the road to Dakar tomorrow!
Sunset over Zebrabar
Sunset Over Zebrabar

Posted by: Barry | March 18, 2009

Day 14 – On To Senegal

Nouakchott,  Mauritania to St. Louis, Senegal
210 miles / 335 km
Wx: Clear skies, mild.

As we were staying at a fairly nice Auberge in town I though I might be able to get a decent nights sleep for once. However, thanks to the f’kn rooster that started crowing at 3:30 am that’s not going to happen. Where is a Colonel Sanders when you need him? Well about the time the rooster settles down from his sudden surprise that the sun is coming up yet again today, it is time for, you guessed it, the bloody mosque to start blaring the 5:00 am call to prayer.  At least in a tent in the middle of nowhere it is quiet. Oh well I might as well get up.

The plan for today is to head south out of Nouakchott to the border with Senegal, cross into Senegal and head for the town of St. Louis where we will be having a rest day tomorrow. The only catch is to avoid the border crossing at Rosso which apparently is very seedy and full of corrupt officials who like to hassle well off looking folk until they get their bribe money. Showered, packed and off for some breakfast from the truck. I am sure my fowl induced foul mood will get better once I turn the key and twist the throttle.

We gas up at a nearby petrol station and then wend our way out of town through the absolutely manic morning traffic in Nouakchott. More military checkpoints. It doesn’t take long for the signs of the city to disappear and we are into sandy rolling hills, passing through picturesque little villages along the way. At one point I am following behind a station wagon with four live goats on the roof luggage rack tied in hessian sacks with just their heads sticking out. You gotta love Africa!


Mauritania Village

We have a very pleasant mornings ride through southern Mauritania as the terrain starts to give way from sandy desert to African savannah. We have all been thoroughly warned, numerous times, that we should not go into the border town of Rosso. The guides being sure that trouble will ensue if any of us stray too close to the border crossing. We have all arranged to meet at a petrol station just short of town. We will gas up there and take the sneaky back way out of the Mauritania, down a dirt piste to an alternate border crossing to the west that is not heavily used.

We all stop and gas up at the designated meeting point and take the opportunity to have a little break and get some drinks down our throat. While we are taking our little respite the nearby school lets out for a break. Seeing as 8 motorcycles and riders are a bit of novelty in these parts we are soon surrounded by a mob of children begging for anything and everything. We play with the children for a while, but our guides are getting a bit nervous as it doesn’t take much for a crowd to turn ugly in these parts. So we mount up and head west out of town down the dirt piste.

Kids Gather Around Near Rosso

Kids Gather Around Near Rosso

It is good fun to be back in the dirt after so many miles on the bitumen. We head west until we are well out of town and away from all the people, then stop for lunch where we are sure we won’t draw another crowd.

After lunch we continue down the piste and everyone is having a great old time. Mihir almost has another ‘off’ as he nearly loses control going over a dirt berm on the trail. Matt and I take the opportunity to get some air on a few small jumps. Great fun!

Wern looking for the 4x4 Meerkat style
Wern Looking For The 4×4 Through The Blowing Sand

We eventually come to the end of the trail where it winds through a national park then on to a border crossing station between Mauritania and Senegal. The park guides extort a small ‘entrance fee’ from us as we pass through, finally getting to the border crossing.

Leaving Mauritania (thank God)
Approaching The Mauritania Border Post

The strategy by the officials at these border crossing seems to be to tell us there will be a long wait and try to wear us down until we cough up a bit of bribe dosh to hurry the process up. It is no different here on the Mauritania side and we end up waiting around before finally coming across with bribe money for no less than three different sets of officials and that is just to get OUT of the country. Once through the Mauritania crossing it is on to the Senegal side and more waiting around. More children, in lesser numbers, gather around to play as Wern goes inside to sort out all the paperwork. Finally through, we head south towards St. Louis the former colonial capital of Senegal.

Senegalese Children At The Border

Senegalese Children At The Border

We have been told the police here are very strict with the tourist types. They are not as corrupt but the will get you the every extent the law allows, like not putting on your indicator as you pull to the side of the road for a paperwork check. So forewarned we all proceed towards St. Louis in an orderly fashion sticking below the speed limit, which seems a hideously painful exercise.

As we near some towns and villages the contrast between ‘Black Africa’ in Senegal and the ‘Arab Africa’ is like night and day.  Arab Africa seemed glum and restrained and you rarely ever saw any of the women. Here is Senegal it is like we are in a different world, everyone is dressed in bright colours, there is music everywhere, people are dancing and enjoying themselves, and the women are gorgeous! Go Senegal!

Well sure enough, on the way into town we are pulled over by the police who want to check all our paperwork. We all politely signal as we pull to the side of the road. The cop is friendly, polite and officious as he checks everyone’s documents. Bingo, paydirt! Seems Mihir does not have his international drivers license with him. A nice hefty fine for the officer.

With all the hold ups at the border we are running a bit late and it is starting to get dark as we pull into St. Louis. The streets are mayhem, with people going in every direction. We stop to take in the city skyline as the sun sets. Beautiful.


St. Louis At Sunset

Getting Dark, More Miles To Cover

Getting Dark, More Miles To Cover

Unfortunately, we are not staying in town and we have a few more miles to go to get to Zebrabar, our camp ground for the next couple nights.  Now it is getting very dark and difficult to see. We head out of the city until the tarmac runs out and we are back onto some very badly potholed dirt roads, always fun in the dark. Wern’s strategy seems to be let’s go infuriatingly slow on the smooth tarmac and crazy fast in the dark over the pot-holed dirt tracks. What the?

Well we finally arrive at our campground and dump our stuff in our bungalows and sit down to some dinner and a few beers. I trundle off to bed at a reasonable hour with the fervent hope that there are no roosters in the area. Since we have a rest day tomorrow some of the lads stay up for a bit of madness knowing we don’t have to be up early in the morning.

Ahhhh another fun day on the bikes.

The Lads Having Some Late Night Fun.

Don’t worry if you can’t understand Niall. Nobody can understand Niall.

Posted by: Barry | March 17, 2009

Day 13 – Sand, Sand And More Sand

Nouadhibou to Nouakchott, Mauritania
200 miles / 320 km
Wx: Clear skies, mild.

Yaaaaawn. Surprisingly the infested slab of foam on the floor of our ‘cell’ wasn’t as comfortable as you might think. It was a cold and uncomfortable sleep interrupted too soon by music blarring from some Mosque nearby. But seriously where else would you want to be?

Today is the no shit serious desert bit. Mauritania is essentially all desert, the big ‘Laurence of Arabia, sweeping sand dunes’ type desert that the word Sahara conjures up. The plan for today is to leave Nouadhibou and head for Nouakchott, the capital of Mauritania. It sounds pretty straight forward but there are a couple of catches.

Firstly, we can’t make the distance on a single tank of gas and nobody is really sure if we will be able to find any reliable petrol between here and there. There is a petrol station halfway between, but as we have found out that is no guarantee there is any petrol

Secondly, this is supposedly the most dangerous part of the trip. There are apparently roaming gangs of bandits in Mauritania which doesn’t sound like too much fun. In fact the 2008 Dakar rally was cancelled altogether due to safety concerns around the Mauritania sections. Screw it, let’s go!

As we head out of town we stop off to see the bay, which is infamous for holding the largest ships graveyard in the world. There are over 100 ships that have been abandoned to rust in this graveyard. In the early morning light and stillness the place appears quite eerie.

The ship graveyard, Nouadhibou

The Ship Graveyard

Then we gas up and head back out of town for our journey south to Nouakchott. As we are leaving town we spot the ore train heading in the opposite direction. Since it is the longest train in the world we all stop to have a look this morning.

Once we get away from the town we are treated to some spectacular sweeping desert landscapes with wavy sand dunes stretching to the horizon in every direction. These views are only broken by the ever increasing number of military checkpoints. What they are checking for out in the middle of nowhere is anybody’s guess.

Sand As Far As The Eye Can See

A little break

A Little Break

However, it seems we have broken the code on how to get through the checkpoints quickly (finally). Since most of the guards only speak broken English, if any at all, when they ask for something like your papers you simply start rambling quickly in English on some completely unrelated topic. They seem to get frustrated quickly and rather than trying to make themselves understood they will wave you straight through. Genius.

As we push south in small groups a couple of us come upon a very dodgy looking petrol station, but having leaned the lesson to never pass up an opportunity we pull in. Some of the others press on ahead to the unconfirmed station halfway along that we have heard rumours about. Matt, Dave, Rick and I decide to give this one a go. You know what they say ‘a bird in the hand is worth two dying of thirst in the middle of the stinking hot desert’.

We ask the fine young men manning the station if the have any unleaded petrol, although all we see are diesel pumps, which Dave has so generously demonstrated are not good for you. ‘Yes’ they exclaim and proceed to pull out a couple of seriously suspect looking plastic jugs which, they assure us, contain unleaded. What the hell it is supposed to be an adventure right? So we barter a price and they remove the rag from the top of the jug and begin siphoning the petrol into our bikes.

Petrol Distribution Mauritania Style

So Very Dodgy

To my genuine surprise our bikes actually start up and we are away. We continue on for another hour or so and sure enough the fabled petrol station of rumour emerges from the shimmering heat of the road. The others are already waiting there. It is a perfect place to have some lunch and take a break for a while.

We finish lunch and are relaxing, in no great hurry to move on. Dave takes the opportunity to get some sand riding lessons from Jack, the driver of the support vehicle. As Dave missed a few days of the off-road riding on his bug out to Marrakech, he is feeling a bit less confident in the soft stuff than the rest of us.

So Jack takes him across the road to a large expanse of sand and the base of a huge dune to give him some of the finer points. They let some air out of his tyres to give him a bit more grip in the loose sand. Unfortunately, neither of them tweak to the fact that he has tubeless tyres and he ends up popping the bead and sending the tyre flat. Well, he may have a flat tyre, but at least it is in the middle of the Sahara desert under the blazing mid-day sun. LOL. The legend of Disaster Dave continues!

After all transgressions are righted we saddle up for the rest of the ride into Nouakchott. More stretches of open desert. It really is a beautiful sight. I pull away and ride by myself for a while just for a little alone time. I come upon a flock of camels and stop to take a picture. But the camels prove to be a bit shy when you approach them head on, so I pull up a bit and let them cross behind me while a take a picture in my rear view mirror. It turns out to be my favorite shot of the trip.

Mind The Camels

Shy Camels

As we approach the capital we are amazed by the amount of rubbish everywhere. Trucks are just driving out of the city and dumping it by the side of the road before heading back into town for another load. Odd.

We eventually find our accommodation for the night, dump our stuff, shower and head out to find something to eat for dinner. We happen upon a café and order some food and are entertained by a local who regales us with tales of Mauritania.

On the walk back we are treated to another surreal sight in the street. A Toyota pickup drives past us, and just as it does a huge head swings out of the back towards us. Startled we turn around to see the back of the pick up receding away and in the bed under a large cargo net is a huge camel along for the ride. Hilarious. I love this trip. Can’t wait for tomorrow.

Posted by: Barry | March 16, 2009

Day 12 – Minefields And Mayhem

Dakhla, Western Sahara to Nouadhibou, Mauritania
200 miles / 320 km
Wx: Clear skies, mild.

Ahhhh, waking up in a bed, with clean sheets, followed by a real no kidding hot shower. How awesome is that after camping and days and days on the road? However, the ride is starting to take a bit of a toll. My right wrist is swollen and I have lost the feeling in the first two fingers on my right hand. Anyway, downstairs for a proper restaurant breakfast and a bit of a briefing on the day ahead.

We are not planning on doing a lot of kilometres today, because today we will be crossing the border between Moroccan controlled Western Sahara and Mauritania, which supposedly takes a reeeeeally long time. During the fighting for Western Sahara, Morocco used to occupy only the northern two thirds with Mauritania controlling the southern third. However, fighting between the factions ensued and Mauritania was eventually forced to withdraw. Consequently, we have been warned to stick carefully to the planned tracks as this part of Western Sahara is still littered with live minefields.  Woohoo!

We all kit up and head back out of Dakhla, our destination is the border with Mauritania then onto the town of Nouadhibou. We go back through all the police checkpoints we came through yesterday, aaaaagain. We gas up on the outskirts and then head south. It is some stark desert riding through these parts. Long straight roads just surrounded by sand and the odd sign or two warning you about the landmines.

Western Sahara

The Long Road

Boom!

Mind Your Step

We ride all morning for hours through the featureless desert terrain with only the odd military checkpoint. At one point, just to break up the tedium Rick and I venture off the tarmac in to the ‘minefield’ to play a little tag in the loose sand hoping that is all there is.

We all meet up about 20-30 kilometers before the border station so that we can all proceed through together as a group. It makes things much easier. So, we have been told to expect it to take up to 5 hours to get across the border and that is with a fixer on the other side helping us into Mauritania.

Well 5 hours turns out to be pretty accurate. There are three processing points on the Moroccan side alone. We stop at the first one, hand in our paperwork then break out lunch from the truck and eat some sandwiches while we are waiting. I think half the time it is a waiting game. The guards want to make you wait in hope that you will get the shits and just give them a bribe to get things moving along.  We decide to wait them out, this time anyway.

We finally move past the first point to the second, wait, wait, wait. It is at least a little bit interesting to see and meet all the other people trying to get through the border and listen to where they have been and where they are going. On to the third processing point, wait, wait, wait. We are finally done about three and half hours later and that is just to get out Western Sahara/Morocco. We are not even into Mauritania yet. Oh no. that fun is still yet to come.

As we leave the last military boom gate departing Western Saraha / Morocco we move into what is called ‘No Man’s Land’. No Man’s Land is a stretch of sandy desert between the borders of Western Sahara and Mauritania and it is chock full of live landmines (you see they don’t like each other much).

As we move into No Man’s Land our guides are adamant that we stick to the planned path so that nobody accidentally blows up. Since there are hulks of abandoned cars in every direction this seems like a pretty good idea. The only problem is that the path has lots of patches of fairly deep soft sand. A couple guys have some problems especially Dave, whose bigger, heavier bike bogs down and is prone to going over, which he does.

We stop to help Dave get his bike out of the soft sand and then crawl our way over to Mauritania where we meet our ‘fixer’ who is there to grease the wheels at the border and take us into town. Only two processing points on this side so it take about an hour or so and a bribe or two to get through.

After all the fun at the borders it is getting to be late afternoon and we are keen to get onto Nouadhibou before it gets dark. We follow the fixer’s car towards town, passing an absolutely enormous train pulling car after car of iron ore stretching towards the horizon. We later find out (from everyone) that it is the longest train in the world.

We finally approach town and enter one end of what is the main drag. As we pull into the main drag, with the aim of getting across town, everyone’s eyes go as big as saucers. Oh my God, it is just complete and utter mayhem on this road. The road is two lanes either direction separated by a small median strip. But holy shit there is just everything going in every direction; people, bicycles, goats, dogs, sheep, donkeys, scooters, cars, carts. All going at max speed in every direction. It looks like one of Dante’s circles of hell. Traffic hell maybe.

Everyone’s head is on a swivel trying to pick their way through the traffic while not getting blindsided by something coming in another direction. After exchanging glances and ‘holy shit’s with a few other riders I look up ahead to see Mihir almost get wiped out by a goat sprinting across the road.

No sooner, do I take my eyes off of that when I see a black Mercedes coming the wrong way down our side of the road, right at us. The driver has this totally nonchalant ‘yeah, so’ look on his face. As I am weaving around him I look over to avoid something else that I catch out of the corner of my eye. As I look up I am momentarily stunned by the surrealness of it. There in front of me is a donkey with a satellite dish on its back. What the? It takes me a second to process what I am looking at before I shake my head and I’m back to the task at hand of avoiding anything and everything.

Nouadhibou traffic madness
A Calmer Stretch Of Nouadhibou Street

We finally, wend our way to our accommodation, which resembles a prison block more than anything else. A walled in courtyard with cells/rooms along two of the walls. We unpack and file into our cells and set up to cook dinner off the truck. Magic Rick vanishes into town to find beer in a country where it is totally illegal. So he does the clever boy, in a Chinese restaurant, in the middle of the Sahara desert in a very strictly Muslim country. Go figure.
Our cells in Nouadhibou

Cell Block N

We sit up shooting the shit with another traveler and each other until the cold and the infernal sound of wailing from the minarets drives us into our ‘beds’ for the night. Interesting day, dying to see what happens tomorrow.

Shooting The Shit

Posted by: Barry | March 15, 2009

Day 11 – Speeding Towards Dakhla. Literally

Laayoune Desert Camp to Dakhla, Western Sahara
380 miles / 610 km
Wx: Clear skies, mild.

It is going to be a monster mileage day today so we are up early this morning. The population centres are getting further apart as we get into the desert, which means longer stretches between places to stop. And what did we learn yesterday, everyone, repeat after me “never pass up a fuel stop.”

After a quick breakfast from the truck we all saddle up and head out of camp just as the sun is rising over the desert horizon ahead. What a great way to start the day. The plan is to ride the 40 or so kilometres into the town of Laayone, fuel up and head further south into Western Sahara eventually pitching a wilderness camp somewhere just north of the town of Dakhla.

Matt leaving at sunrise

Matt Leaving Camp At Sunrise

Me Riding Up Ahead As We Leave Camp

After joining the road again, we ride off south towards Laayoune. I am keeping a keen eye on the odometer as my low fuel warning light comes on about halfway to town. We eventually make it to a petrol station on the outskirts and everyone breathes a little sigh of relief as this petrol station is bucking the current trend by actually having petrol to sell. Everyone fills up with ‘Sans Plomb’ (even Dave) and we are on our way.

As we ride south we are treated to more stunning views along the costal cliffs. This is only spoiled by the more and more frequent stops for military and police checkpoints sometimes within view of each other. I kid you not. “Papers”, “passport” and for some reason an obsession with everyone’s occupation. Which is a little hard to get across in pigeon French when you have a geologist, a printer and a pilot in the group.

The long road

The Long Road

We continue on for the morning stopping every now and then to get off the tarmac and play in the pristine expanses of sand by the side of the road.

Playing In The Sand

We finally make it to Boujdour, which is the only real town on the way to Dakhla. More checkpoints. We gas up and stop for lunch amongst what look to be some decent cafes along the side of the main drag through town. Rick and I search through a few, looking for the thing that looks the least likely to make us violently ill in a few hours. Diarrhoea and motorcycles don’t mix. We settle on some chicken that looks like it has seen some serious grill time.

After lunch we suit up and head south out of town. There are some interesting things to look at along the road out of town. A military base hidden behind a big wall, interesting, wonder what’s in there. Some giant concrete triangle thingos along the beach, interesting, I wonder what they are for. A police man at the side of the road with a radar gun waving his arms at us, interesting, I wonder what he is doing. Bugger!

Yep, Dave and I got done for speeding by the Moroccan police. We are on a rally to Dakar and we got a speeding ticket. A speeding ticket! Now that just doesn’t seem fair now does it. Anyway we pay our ‘fine’ to the nice man and we are on our way.

We spend the rest of the day riding through the wide open expanses of desert, sometimes riding along the cliffs, sometimes venturing away from the coast to be completely surrounded by sand in every direction.

The Sea Cliffs

The Coastal Cliffs

Some of us eventually end up at the rendezvous point for the day. A petrol station (with no petrol) about 20 km outside of Dakhla. The plan for the afternoon was to meet up here then we would find a spot to pitch our tents and wilderness camp for the night. As Werner our guide has assured us we don’t want to go into Dakhla as it is ‘a real shithole’.

Well we figure we are about an hour ahead of the others so we need to find some way to amuse ourselves until the others arrive. Someone floats the idea of making a makeshift race track around the mountains of rubbish that have been dumped by the side of the road. As fun as the Rubbish GP sounds, we instead decide to kill some time by going into Dakhla to have a look around.

Approaching Dakhla

After about 3 military checkpoints we finally draw close to the town itself. We come over a hill and are greeted by a beautiful scene of beachy coastline, complete with people camping, frolicking and even kite surfing. Shithole? Really? We continue on through some coastal fog until we come to the town. It looks nice, clean, modern. This place rocks compared to where we have been staying for the past few days.

As we approach the town centre we see a sign for the Sahara Regency – Dakhla, a four star hotel. You can see the light bulbs come on simultaneously above all four of our heads. Let’s go check that out!

We arrive at the hotel and it looks really nice. Thoughts of comfort overwhelm us all. Clean sheets, hot showers, dinner that doesn’t come off the back of a truck. That’s it we are staying here tonight.

Dakhla, Western Sahara

Shithole? Really?

We go inside and see by the amount of room keys hanging on the wall behind reception that the place is almost empty. We negotiate a killer deal that includes dinner and breakfast. Awesome. We call the others to inform them of our impromptu mutiny and that we won’t be coming back to camp in rubbish, but they are welcome to join us in the hotel. They don’t put up much of a fight.

We head to the rooftop bar to down some beer and wait for their arrival. Ahhhhh civilisation again. It does have its perks. That is day 11 finished in style.

The Boys Giving Diesel Dave Shit For Getting Done For Speeding

Rooftop BarFinishing The Day In Style

Posted by: Barry | March 14, 2009

Day 10 – The Sahara Beckons

Guilmim (Fort Bou Jerif), Morocco to Laayoune, Western Sahara
350 miles / 560 km
Wx: Clear skies, mild.

Well we managed a ‘four to a tent’ night in our Bedouin tents last night with a minimum of snoring from anyone. It doesn’t sound like much, but it is a major accomplishment with this crowd. I crawl outside. The sun is just coming up over a hill to the east and lighting up the bikes. Another beautiful day for riding.

Sunrise At Fort Bou Jerif

Today we are leaving Morocco proper and crossing into Western Sahara.  Western Sahara used to be a Spanish colony back in the day. However, the Spanish pulled out and abandoned the place in 1975. When that happened it was on for young and old and all the neighbouring countries (Morocco, Mauritania and Algeria) rushed in for a land grab and years of fighting ensued.

Ever since a UN sponsored cease fire in 1991 Morocco has controlled most of the territory. However, tension and suspicion still run high in the area and the place in still littered with left over landmines. The trip is about to get a bit more interesting. Giddyup!

We head out of Fort Bou Jerif and back to Guilmim to fill up on petrol before heading south towards Tan Tan. Tan Tan is famous for the statues of the kissing camels that mark the (more or less official) gateway to the Sahara desert. 

Kissing Camels

The Kissing Camels

We have some more mountains foothills to cross and are treated to more twisty roads and spectacular scenery. Morocco is an absolutely beautiful place and I reckon I could drive around for weeks and weeks and not get tired of the landscape.

As we descend out of the hills to the north of Tan Tan you could see the beginning of the real Sahara. Desert stretching away to the horizon complete with strong winds and blowing sand. We make our way through the horizontally blowing sand, riding with our bikes on an angle, leaning into the wind. Finally we are greeted with the sight of the famous kissing camels as we approach Tan Tan.

You just have to stop and get some cheesy tourist photos with the camels now don’t you? Come on everybody is doing it.

 The kissing camels of Tan Tan

 

As we enter Tan Tan we encounter our first military check point. “Papers, Passport”. Things are getting a bit more uptight now that we are getting closer to Western Sahara. We gas up in town, this is the last major centre before our campsite and from here on out fuel becomes a bit more of a consideration as the towns get further and further apart.

We proceed out of Tan Tan along the coast for our last few miles in Morocco. All along this part of the coast the desert pushes right up to the edge of 300 foot cliffs that drop down to the Atlantic. As we ride along the top of the cliffs the views are magic, absolutely magic. Every so often along the cliffs there is a small gathering of huts where the locals will fish off the tops of the cliffs. Amazing.

 
We come across more military checkpoints and finally cross out of Morocco and into Moroccan controlled Western Sahara. We pass through a little town that has a dodgy looking café and a petrol station, but it is a bit before lunch time, we still have half a tank of gas and the map shows another town between here and our stop for the night. So, we decide not to stop and we press on.

Okay that turns out to be a mistake. You see maps of this area prove to be a bit unreliable. Almost as unreliable as the petrol stations in these parts. This is the real Sahara now boys and girls, on your toes.

The Real Sahara Now

As we continue on, the “town” on the map turns out to be just a wide spot in the road. And the petrol station turns out be less of a ‘petrol station’ and more of a plain old ‘station’ as it doesn’t have any petrol… or food… or water… or anything really.

We do a little quick math to see how far we can get on the fuel we have remaining. We could go back to the last station, but then that would put hours, plural, onto the day. We could go forward to the campsite and hope we pass something along the way. We could go past the campsite into the next town, Laayoune, get some petrol and turn around and come back. However, we may not actually make it to Laayoune on the petrol we have, and if there is none there then we are really screwed. Oh yeah and my clutch is starting to get pretty loose and feel pretty dodgy.

So we decide to go to the campsite and hope that there is enough fuel left in the tank in the morning to get us to Laayoune. We get to the turn off to the campsite and are a bit confused and suspicious. There is a sign pointing to our right but no real road and nothing as far as the eye can see in any direction. Really? Down here? After exchanging a few glances we shrug and trundle off across the desert in the direction the sign points.

After about 15 minutes of tentative riding through nothing with a capital NO we come over a rise and find the ‘camp’. It is a few building and semi-permanent tents in the middle of frikkin nowhere. I mean WTF? Why would you put anything here of all places?  You would have closer neighbours if you lived on the moon.  But hey, we are hungry, tired and almost out of petrol so it’s, “My what a lovely place you have here”

Really Just Nothing And Nowhere

Long day

Matt Cops Some Zs While We Wait For Everyone Else To Catch Up
 

We beg some food as we haven’t had any lunch, but all the owner has is bread and sardines. Oh yeah, and beer, score. Yummy.  The rest of the troupe shows up about 45 minutes later. We unload the truck and set about cooking dinner. Huuuungry. After a feed and a little small talk, we all wander off to our tents, worn out from the day. I fall asleep to the sound of wind howling outside my tent. How awesome is this trip!?!?

Posted by: Barry | March 13, 2009

Day 9 – Heading West. I Wanna Be A Cowboy Baby.

Marrakech  to Guilmim (Fort Bou Jerif), Morocco
390 miles / 624 km
Wx: Clear skies, cool.

Day 9 and I am anxious to get back on the bike after yesterdays rest day. The plan is to head west towards the Atlantic coast then turn south towards the southern border of Morocco. Today is our last full day in Morocco as tomorrow we cross into Western Sahara.

Since there are a lot of miles to cover today it is going to be a 7:15 am start. I am up early, once again trying to defy the laws of physics by stuffing 100L of stuff into and 80L bag. This takes some time due to the fact that everything seems to have exploded all over the room.

After a quick breakfast off the back of the truck we load up the bikes and get ready to ride. I set off with ‘Pencil Pete’ and ‘Big Al’ for the morning as we roar out of camp, eager to get back on the road. After, what by now is the seemingly obligatory wrong turn, we quickly find the right road to follow and we head out of Marrakech. We all need to gas up before hitting the open road so we decide to head for the outskirts of the city and do it there before we get too far away from civilization.

After riding for about 20 minutes we pull into a petrol station and fill up, grab some snacks for the road and get ready to go. Click, click, click, click, click. Shit. Pete’s battery is dead and his bike won’t start. We borrow what passes for jumper cables in these parts (big long wires with no clips on the ends) and try to jump the bike, try to push start the bike, but it is no use, we can’t get it started again.

We manage to send a text through to the support vehicle to let them know where we are and that we need help. They respond, letting us know that they are just leaving camp now so it will be at least a half an hour before they get there. Bugger.  I go up to roadside and sit and watch for the 4×4.

I have been sitting, dejected, on the side of the road for about 10 minutes when Dave, Rick and Matt ride by and keep on going. Jealous, I am tempted to go with them, but you never leave your wingman, everyone knows this, so I continue to wait with Pete for the support vehicle.

I would find out later that the other three guys were about to have some drama of their own anyway. They continued up the road for another couple hundred meters before stopping for petrol themselves at a different filling station. As it turns out Dave ended up accidentally putting Diesel in the tank of his (own) bike, all the time wondering why the locals were shouting and waving their hands. Thus the legend of ‘Diesel Dave’ was born.

The Legend Of Diesel Dave is Born

Well the support vehicle eventually showed up and they had a spare battery on the truck which they whipped out and activated. But, we had to wait around for another 20 or so minutes for the new battery to build up a charge. So by now we have probably wasted about an hour and a half and only gone about 30 kms. Great. Only 590 more to go today.

Back on the road again the we head west then south-west towards the town of Agadir. During the mornings ride we are descending out of the Atlas mountains once again and are treated to more spectacular views and the twisting and turning roads we have grown to love so much.

As we descend out of the foothills and into the coastal plains near Agadir it becomes noticeably warmer. In fact, it is the first time for the whole trip is has actually been warm. It is a nice change, now it is starting to feel like Africa. We stop in Agadir for lunch and some petrol before heading south through Tiznit and on to Guilmim.

There are long stretches of straight road through here and all the aches and pains that seemed to disappear during yesterdays rest day come creeping back. Although we have all now started to find different, more comfortable riding positions for the long stretches in the saddle. I don’t mind the long stretches so much, it gives your mind a chance to wander and it becomes almost like meditation. No worries, nothing to think about, just living in the moment. The road, the bike and you.

We finally arrive in the town of Guilmim. Our destination for the night is actually about 40 Kms out of town at a campsite with Bedouin tents near the old French outpost of Fort Bou Jerif. We finally make it to the campsite and park our selves at the campsite restaurant. Rick already has the beers waiting, bless his heart.

After A Long Days Ride

After A Long Day Of Riding

 Bedouin tents

Bedouin Tents


Fort Bou Jerif

Fort Bou Jerif

 


Posted by: Barry | March 12, 2009

Day 8 – Marrakech

Rest Day

Today is a scheduled rest day in Marrakech to rest tired bodies and service battered bikes

My ‘rest’ day begins about 5:00 am with a God awful racket. Bashing, stumbling, voices and general buffoonery. At first I think some donkeys have gotten loose in the compound. After I fight back the fog of sleep I realise I was close, not donkeys but, jack-asses. It is just Rick and Matt stumbling around in their tent (next to mine) having only just now returned from their big night out in Marrakech. I am very glad I came home when I did. Roll over, back to sleep.

I finally get up about 7:30 am and revel in a hot shower before heading to the little campsite restaurant for the ever popular ‘petite dejeuner’. At breakfast I meet Pete and we decide to grab a taxi and head into town to check out the Medina and the markets.

After arriving at the main square where we had dinner last night we find things in a much more subdued state. We grab a fresh squeezed orange juice from one of the street vendors and make a plan. We need to figure out how a couple of knuckle heads like us are going to get around the narrow closed in alleyways of the market place without getting horribley lost. Pete has a guide book which makes us feel better, but I am pretty sure we are going to get lost anyway.

The markets or ‘souks’ are situated in the old section of town called the Medina. They are a series of twisting and turning narrow alleyways that criss-cross back over themselves. The tops of the alleyways are covered to keep the heat out which makes keeping your bearings all that much more difficult. Different sections specialise in different products; rugs, spices, clothes, jewellery, and there is always a lively atmosphere of bargaining going on.

Marrakech
The Souks

Marrakech

Rug Souks

Spice market, Marrakech

Spice Markets

We wander through the souks taking in the scene and trying to come up with some inspired gift ideas for our friends. It makes it a bit tougher when you are on a motorcycle and can’t carry much. We eventually stop in a little café for some of the obligatory mint tea Morocco is well known for, yum.  The café has two absolutely gorgeous waitresses working there, a welcome change since up until now the only women we have seen have been in the full Muslim garb.

Some obligatory mint tea

Mint Tea

Next to the café is an old barber shop that looks like it has been there since the early Mesozoic era, as does the barber. So on a whim I decide I am going to give him a bit of business and get him to shave my head with a straight razor (don’t ask me why, I think the tea was spiked). After a bit of pigeon French and a bit of sign language I think he understands what I am after. After he does my head he gets to work on my 7 day growth. Quite nerve-racking having a straight razor scraped across your jugular by someone you don’t know and who doesn’t speak the same language. At any rate I walk out of the shop with a bit less drag than when I walked in. That has got to worth a couple extra Km/hr back on the road.

razor

Going For The Low Drag Look

We walk around the souks a bit more looking at this and that and I buy a pair of Ray Ban knock offs, since I was dumb enough to forget my sunglasses back in Spain. Then we decide to walk into the new part of the city and see what this less touristy, more ‘real’ part of the city is like.

Wow, what a difference! All the locals are decked out in the stylish western clothes, there are western shops and there is something very different that I can’t put my finger on at first. I eventually figure it out, it is the fact that nobody is hassling me every 10 feet to buy something. I get the impression that this is where most of the locals hang out and that the Medina is just a bit ‘put on’ for the benefit of the tourists.

We eventually head back to camp. I do a bit of laundry since just about everything I have is filthy by now. It is a pleasant sunny afternoon and I decide to take a dip in the pool. Arrrrrrrrrrrrrgh! It turns out to be so cold that it is nearly life threatening and I am out quickly while I still some of the feeling in my limbs.

We have some dinner while Rick and Matt regale us with tales of atrocities from the night before. A pleasant day of rest, but I am already itching to get back on the bike and twist the throttle wide open.

Older Posts »

Categories

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.