Morocco Flag

Berber Cultural Flag

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Modern Morocco is a mixture of cultures. The ancient Berber culture developed throughout most of north and west Africa over thousands of years. During the middle ages, the Berbers were dominated by Arabs from the middle east. The narrowness of the Gibraltar Strait provided plenty of opportunity for trade and cultural blending from Europe. The ethnic Berbers are still very proud of their more-ancient heritage on this land. They have their own language and written alphabet apart from the dominant Arabic political culture.

Our Club, Moto Guzzi Classics, is centered in the Veneto region of northeastern Italy. One of our founding Club members, GianLorenzo Bono, had a family connection in Marbella on the Mediterranean coast of Spain. It was he who had developed the idea and then the plan to cross the Strait of Gibraltar and tour Morocco in North Africa. Alas, as fate dictated, Bono died suddenly earlier this year. As a Club, we decided to continue with the plan and complete the African adventure which Bono had envisioned. I was honored by his family with an invitation to utilize Bono's own, favorite Moto Guzzi Falcone so a part of his spirit would complete the tour. This is the precious Falcone of Bono in front of our Marbella hotel. Notice how clean, shiny, pristine it is. Won't last long like this.

The motorbikes were crated and trucked from Italy to Marbella, Spain. We all flew in met directly there. Our first few days of organizing, shake-down, and touring were there in coastal Spain. Regina and I flew from California. Mike Peavey flew from Boston. Roberto and Iris Rossi drove a T3 Guzzi down from Switzerland. The remaining Club members flew in from Italy. Our mechanic had never been on an airplane so it was quite a serious challenge for him.

Regina and I had arrived a few days early to relax and reset our brain clocks to European time. We were thus able to do some walking tours and enjoy the historic and resort areas around Marbella. I found this interesting mashup between an old Vespa upright and a modern Segway power train parked in a small shop in Old Town Marbella. Quite an interesting and artistic production.

Once our Club was all together we visited the promenade on the beach at Marbella. Just in time for the local police to escort a tour of about 75 vintage cars along the pedestrian stip. They stopped for lunch just adjacent to us so we had plenty of time to inspect all the old beauties. A standout was a Pierce Arrow with this wonderful hood ornament.

Off to Africa. An easy 100km to the port at Algeciras to meet our ferry. Easy to get there. Not so easy to get onto the ferry. We had a morning lecture about how to navigate the swing arm barricades at the port driveways. One rider wasn't paying attention at the meeting and ended up driving through and snapping off the barrier arm. Ooops. Lets get out of here quickly. Getting on the ferry requires that you have a personal ticket so you stand in line to buy one. But, your moto also needs a ticket. The same guy is selling the vehicle tickets but he won't do both at once. After you buy the personal ticket you go to the back of the line to come through again to buy your moto ticket. Now queue up to ride onto the ferry. But wait, someone has to inspect that you actually have a passport which will allow you to go to Africa. Fine. We're all on board. But wait! Now we have to visit another inspector who verifies that you actually have travel documents to get you into Morocco where the ferry lands. Once ashore, we immediately head to a cash exchange and line up to buy Moroccan Dirham cash. Immediately next door we have to line up to buy roadway liability insurance as our European policies are no longer valid. Finally, no more lines and we are on the road.

Mike Peavey of Boston and me at a rural roadside National Park overlook.

Just a few days into the tour, the Bono Falcone still looking pretty good but getting a little dirty.

Our team of riders at the sand dunes destination.

The Moroccans have taken the task of loading trucks and elevated it to an art form. If there is any way to fit another piece of cargo, they will manage to load and secure it. Secure being a somewhat variable term! Here is a daily delivery of feed hay for the tourism camels.

We had to follow this slow truck for quite some time. Took bravery to pass him. Most did it on a straighaway. I'm a chicken. I waited for my opportunity on a right leaning cambered curve.

Morocco is not yet up to modern standards on domestic water quality. We were advised to always have bottled water available for drinking and brushing teeth. The only use of domestic water was for bathing and cooking. Perhaps the main contamination risk comes from eating fruits or vegetables which have been rinsed with domestic water. Don't eat the unpeeled grapes. OK to eat the desert melon because you are only consuming the internal portion. One of our riders did succumb to a serious intestinal attack. Stopped and collapsed on the side of the road before it got bad enough for him to faint away. We had to break off from the tour and take him to a local clinic. The doctor stuck him in bed for a few hours with an IV drip for re-hydration and provided a few corrective drugs. $75 cost. Fit as a fiddle the next day. The unfortunate downfall was that I became hyper-sensitive about my own innards. The least amount of intestinal tweak or noise got me thinking if I would be the next victim.

An old rural town adjacent to a lower community garden oasis. With no utilities of any sort. The government eventually built a very nearby replacement town at the other end of the oasis and moved everyone over leaving the older town abandoned. Wow, what an improvement. Even some satellite TV antennae in there. Morocco is a kingdom by rule. The population is very happy with and very proud of their King Mohammed VI. He has promoted many reforms and modernizations.

We found this character hitchhiking along a back road. Had a little fun with him before sending him on his way. Not sure he appreciated the short ride.

Over the length of the tour we confronted perhaps six or seven areas where flash flood streams were crossing the roadway in a substantial way. Sometimes with quite a bit of force that would push us off at an angle and risk running off the now invisible side of the road. This particular crossing was about 15" deep. Enough to drown my motor and force me to dismount and push to the far side. Alas, my waterproof boots are only 12" high so I had an internal flood for the remainder of the day. Took about 15 minutes to get re-started. So much for the gentle care to Bono's pristine motorbike.

Here we have a rather typical view of a rural roadway running through town. Note that there is a substantial dirt area to each side of the pavement. This is for use by the numerous service donkeys, pedestrians, 3-wheel trucks, etc. Note also that constant truck traffic tends to break away the edges of the asphalt pavement leaving a narrow center with a stripe in it. Oncoming trucks tend to take the entire center of the road leaving you no option but to head off into the dirt. Each of these towns will have a small school. Lots of children line the streets before or after school. As you ride through, they jump to the middle of the road in order to get a 'high five' as you pass. Easy if you are traveling alone and you surprise them. Not so easy in a line of ten when they can see down the line and predict more opportunities. Quite scary. I sure don't want to run over some child in a foreign country!

We finally met a water crossing which had completely taken away the road. We were stuck until a local wandered by and advised us about a rough, desert bypass of about five miles which would take us around the washout. How nice to have a guide who speaks Arabic!

Intrepid bicycle tourists!

The picturesque hairpins at the head of the Dades Gorge. We had to drive up and down this section several times in order to stage a nice video of our motos on tour.

These poor little donkeys are the predominant local cargo transport. Loading one of these poor fellows is only surpassed by the way they load real trucks. Not very many rural people own motorized transport. Motorcycle based 3-wheel trucks are very common.

This motif symbol belongs to the ancient Berber culture (more recently superceded by the Arab culture). This symbol is a representation of liberty for the Berbers and is very commonly on display in rural areas.

Classic Berber dress (except for the tennis shoes). These dudes got really angry if you snapped a photo without paying up first. Hard for them to control an audience of 15 people.

The main form of cooking utensil, the tajine. These clay pots produce daily meals of sauteed vegetables, olives, and scrambled eggs. The Berber omelet.

Tea is very sweet and heavily minted. Obligatory to pour it from a very high altitude and show off your aiming skills. They are actually pretty good at it and I never saw a splash or spill.

Yes, there are plenty of palm trees in Morocco. But these few were unique. Perfectly straight and tall. We finally realized they were fake trees housing cell phone antennae. Quite a good cosmetic job of camouflage.

Morocco presented some contrast in modernization. I ordered a soft drink from a local cafe and it came with this removable 'pop top'. We haven't seen these in perhaps forty years! Outlawed because they became such a roadside litter nuisance like cigarette butts. My adult sons have never seen such a thing. Someone in north Africa is still stamping out these can tops from old machinery.

Meanwhile, at Ourzazate, the Moroccans have just constructed and opened the worlds largest solar powered electrical plant. 580 megawatts for $9 billion. An immense placement of half a million computer-controlled mirrors which focus sunlight onto a salt crystal supply thus producing molten salt. The molten salt is then used to boil water into steam to power turbines and generate electricity. The use of the intermediate molten salt allows them to store the energy of the sun for a period of a few hours and thus produce electricity well into the night after the sun has set. Oddly for the desert, this system consumes a lot of water because the mirrors have to be cleaned frequently to maintain efficiency.

Click here for an interesting YouTube about the full solar site development.

My first selfie. I never use my phone to take self images. Too cliche'. However, here in the capital city of Rabat I found a unique way to be stuck in traffic and use my camera and a nearby commercial building.

We had one bike which went home in a broken condition. The Guzzi Falcone is a fairly simple machine. We carry enough spare parts to accomplish almost any overnight repair. We very seldom have one completelyl out of service. This moto blew a head gasket. It happens occasionally. We did three on the California tour in 2014. Shouldn't be much more than an hour task to replace. Unfortunately, someone had used red LocTite to secure the retaining screws of the timing gear cover. Repair project came to a screeching halt. This one won't come apart without some serious shop manipulation involving torches, drills, etc. Sadly, sent home on the trailer of shame.

A brief dune stroll after a long, hot day on the motorbikes and then a dip in the absolutely freezing hotel pool. Evaporation is a cooling process and the pool here evaporates VERY quickly causing a substantial chill.

Alcohol is hard to find in Morocco. The larger, corporate hotels will have a bar, but usually a very short variety of what to imbibe. We came prepared.

I must opine that for myself this was not the most satisfying of our Club's annual tours. The border logistics were very convoluted and time consuming. Fortunately we hired a professional guide service to make all of our arrangements and shepherd us through the daunting details. I can't imagine doing this without an experienced person along. The roads were not as compatible as many of our other tours. Due to some recent rains, many of the rural and mountainous roads were impacted by mudslides and washouts. While it might have been more fun with a modern, dual-purpose moto these conditions were very harsh on our vintage road tourers. The Club members are very proud of their machines and keep them in very fine display condition. It was difficult to see them coated with mud day after day. Some of the more exotic places to visit could only be reached by using long, straight, boring roads. The vistas of open space and mountains were exciting to most of the club members but for me they were very reminiscent of Nevada and Utah which I visit on an annual basis. Beautiful but not unique. Clearly the motorcycling was not the best part of the tour. However, Morocco is a VERY exotic place to visit. The culture is quite diverse and unique. While there are modernized cities and populations, much of the rural area is still very 'third world'. It will be the cultural memories which remain with us long into the future.

You will note several references above to Regina. She is a competent Guzzi rider in her own right but has not yet evolved to the idiosyncrasies of vintage motos. Most of the controls are very different. The handling and braking are not confidence inspiring. We were unable to source a modern bike to transport for her use. She was also turned off a bit by stories of horrific roadways and chaotic local drivers. She agreed to ride along in the van with several other spouses. In the end she likely had a better tour. The van driver was an ethnic Berber who spoke all of the necessary languages. He was VERY enthusiastic and outgoing and spent all of his drive time explaining culture, history, politics, etc. As a passenger she was also able to take far more photographs than I and she was able to scan the countryside and enjoy the vistas. For me, riding in a group of vintage machines (and especially because I was riding a particularly important borrowed machine) I was not quite so free to enjoy the scenery. If you take your eyes off the road for just a second, the rider in front of you will surely do something unexpected so as to scare the heck out of you when you return to looking forward.

When we flew home to the San Francisco region, we took the metro to our home town. There we summoned an UBER share ride to take us to our home. Our driver asked if we were coming TO a vacation or home FROM a vacation. We explained we were returning home from several weeks in Morocco. He jammed the brakes and pulled over. He himself was a Berber from Casablanca. His father had come from Ouarzazate. He was so excited and couldn't wait to get home and tell his wife he had transported Moroccan visitors! What a way to end our adventure. Small world. Good luck to him.

Patrick Hayes

Fremont CA