December 09, 2016
Told in the collective first person, jointly from Stu and Janell Clarke's perspective.
Narrated Audio Blog
The Pack Track entered Africa with great excitement and trepidation. There is so much to see in Africa, such different cultures to explore. But it is a challenging continent (roads, climate, poverty) and a volatile continent (conflict). We had rested enough in Europe and felt ready for the next adventure, not to mention warmer climates!
We took the Trasmediterranea ferry from Algeciras to Tangier Med. This is the slow, run-down looking ferry and coincidently the cheapest option at €77 for 2 people and 2 motorbikes. We'd checked the prices online which indicated a cost for dogs but decided not to book online after our recent ferry debacle in England resulting in a missed ferry, additional 600km+, hotel expenses and more riding in the cold, wet, England rain. So, when we turned up to the ferry terminal in Algeciras we were happily surprised the dogs were allowed on for free and when we were on the ferry, motorbikes tied down in the parking area, the girls were allowed to sit inside the passenger area. They were angels, as usual, and sat quietly as we got our passports stamped on board.
Our first tracks in Morocco were a little overwhelming. We were swamped by people asking for money and offering services in a language we didn't understand followed by very broken English. Our comfortable stay in the UK had us complacent and out of practice but it didn't take us long to get back in the swing of travelling.
Once the excitement of the new continent settled, it was time to explore. We spent a few days in Tangier, consulted iOverlander and found a series of campsites recommended by other travellers that would take us through much of Morocco, both inland and along the coast. A favourite of ours was Meknes because it seemed to be less of a tourist site so we could just blend in a bit with everyone else.
A must visit is the Medina in Asilah. Every city we visited in Morocco had a Medina which is a densely packed region of markets and homes with narrow passageways. The Medina is Asilah originated as a fortified town but its whitewash walls, blue trimmings and local wall art are a photographers heaven.
It was early December when we arrived in Morocco so two big events were head of us that required a little more planing than usual; Christmas and New Years. Being in an Islamic country we knew both would not be celebrated so we did our best to keep them special for us.
A white Christmas in Africa! Sound a little crazy well it was. Stu booked 10 nights in a hostel in the mountain town of Imlil, Morocco. We certainly had a white Christmas, we were surrounded by snow, snow which made getting our motorbikes parked at the hostel a challenge. The hostel was nice, we got a traditional breakfast every day and new guests eager to embark on hikes through the mountains. It was not so much a great place for a Christmas holiday. There was no heating, no usable internet and no kitchen. We made the most of our time in Imlil but cut the booking short to 5 nights so we could find somewhere a bit more exciting for New Years.
It was a New Years to remember. Sunny days and views of the snow capped mountains, our hotel in Marakesh was perfect for New Years. It was only us and another couple from Scotland but the hotel owner went all out with a 3 course traditional meal, wine and some local musicians performing for us between meals.
With the silly season done and dusted it was back to riding. We spent a couple of nights in Rabat, the capital of Morocco, then about a week in Casablanca. Here we met Greg and Viki of Wheels of Morocco. They operate motorcycle tours from fully inclusive with a guide right through to hire a bike and off you go. A really family with a beautiful German Shephard called Lobo who definitely got our girls excited. We shared some delicious meals with Greg and Viki both home cooked and at the local fish markets. They helped us out a lot having a parcel delivered to their address and chasing it up at the post office. If you want to hire motorbikes in Morocco or hop on a guided tour check out their website Wheels of Morocco.
We crossed the Sahara from Morocco to Mauritania in January. Unlike countless adventure rider predecessors, it was an easy ride for us along an excellent sealed road that runs parallel to the coast through the disputed zone of Western Sahara.
We camped in coastal towns all along the coast. The days were sunny and warm and the evenings were cool and perfect for camping. These coastal towns were small, only a few shops and restaurants were but geared for tourists so on the pricy side. We decided to make all our meals because we set up in each town for a couple of nights and had the time an inspiration. Generally it was scrambled eggs for breakfast, fruit for lunch and then a tuna Couscous concoction for dinner. Supplies in the mini supermarkets were basic, theres no Trader Joes, Coles or Aldi's.
Before we knew it the Sahara was gone. We didn't die of thirst or heat exhaustion, we didn't sink in sand dunes and it was really very pleasant. It would have been fun to deviate from the road and head in to the isolation for a few days, stocked up with supplies, but we'd spent 5 weeks in Morocco waiting for a parcel (new GPS) to arrive - which never did - and we had a lot of countries ahead of us before the wet season. It's the reality of travelling that things don't go to plan and there are too many places to see.
We pretty much didn't deviate from the main highway and towns in this section except to wild camp over night in Mauritania. We never intended to wild camp, in fact we tried very much to avoid it, but a long and tedious border crossing in to Mauritania had us riding at sunset, a long way from anywhere. Just before twilight diminished we pulled off the road and on to a compacted sand and dirt, solid and easy to ride on. We rode a couple of hundred meters to a point behind a communication tower where we were not visible to drivers and thought nobody would find us. Setting up our tent took no time and then we were on to dinner. It was really exciting cooking porridge (our emergency food) under billions of stars. We'd never seen so many stars. But we had 2 visitors this night. The first, a tiny mouse who must have smelt our porridge and came to investigate. The second, a man flashing a light on our tent at midnight calling out in a language we didn't understand (French). The first visitor was entertaining and welcome, the second was terrifying. Of course we thought we were going to be robbed and murdered. The girls were silent to the calls of the man outside, possibly hoping, like us, that if we didn't make a noise they'd go away and forget we were there. This didn't happen so the 3 ladies grabbed our SPOT (emergency tracker) and kicked Stu out of the tent to scare off this stranger or fight to the death. It seems all very dramatic and at the time our hearts were beating a million miles an hour, about to explode out of our chests. But nothing bad happened to us, in fact the strange man was a local guy tasked with the security of the communication tower. The next morning we all got a good look at each other, plenty of smiles were exchanged and we gave him some money for leaving us be and not causing a fuss. Tired and hungry, we were on the road in record time, happy to be headed for sure to our campsite in the capital, Nouakchott.
It was Australia Day, 26 January 2017, and we spent it camping beside the Ocean in Nouakchott. It was beautiful, relaxing but alcohol free as Mauritanian is a strict Islamic country and alcohol is forbidden. The bar at our campsite had some icy cold non-alcoholic beer, coupled with a vegetarian pizza and hot chips, we watched the sunset and talked about our friends and family back home, wondering how they had been celebrating.
We bumped in to a group of Italian riders as we were pulling in to a campsite in Nouakchott. We were exhausted after a long day of riding and wild camping in the dessert the previous night but their energy and excitement rubbed off on us. They had decided to ship their motorbikes to Mauritania so they could focus on heading in to the desert for some serious adventure riding. Their motorbikes hadn't arrived yet but they were certainly getting excited. We got in contact with them later in the year and they had a great trip.
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