TRAVEL TIPS FOR MOROCCO

FAVORITE CITIES:

Here are my favorite cities from my trip, in order:  Essaouira, Taroudant, Marrakech

  • Essaouira is definitely the Seattle of Morocco. Way more laid back, lots more art and music. Pretty romantic little city on the coast. Lots of white houses/buildings with royal blue shutters. Absolutely beautiful scenery, wonderful restaurants, and a huge marketplace within the medina. It was especially nice that the medina was limited to bicycles and foot traffic only.
  • Taroudant was pretty enchanting. A former military stronghold, the whole city sits within the walls of these tall ramparts. It’s very authentic, but more laid back than Marrakech.
  • Marrakech is the home of the famous Jemaa el Fna market. It is HIGH energy all day long–markets and merchants, snake charmers, monkeys, storytellers, etc. The freshly squeezed orange juice is amazing–you can usually ask to receive it in a plastic cup, but do make sure to ask for it. That way you don’t have to wait there while you drink it . . . also, it’s hard to tell how well those glasses might be washed (and in what kind of water), so stick to the plastic cups. In Marrakech, everyone is in your face; there is always someone pawing at you, selling you something, wanting to be your guide, begging, or even trying to pick your pocket.I’m glad I spent some time there, because it definitely has it’s charm. But you can do it in a day. If I was to do it again, I’d spend more time in Essaouira.

Notes: Agadir was kind of boring. Very Western/European, lots of money. It was pretty, but not special in any real way that I experienced.

DO’s & DON’T’s:

  • Have the hotel/riad arrange the taxi for you. When you book your hotel, riad (“bed and breakfast”), or hostel, make arrangements with the manager to get you a taxi from the train station or airport, and get walking directions. I failed to do this, and ended up just about getting scammed pretty good by a local crook (and his pal that joined us later) pretending to be a guide. Some of the taxi drivers will also try to scam you.

  • Plan on bartering. It’s expected. Start at about 1/3 of what you’re willing to pay (1/4, if you really feel like getting dirty). If the shopkeeper won’t come down as much as you’d like, just say thanks and walk away–9 times out of 10, he’ll chase after you with a more realistic offer. You won’t have to barter in restaurants, or when buying things like bottled water, post cards, orange juice, gas, etc. Other than those, it was rare to see a fixed price on anything.
  • Choose a guide only on your terms. If you choose to use a guide, make sure he’s licensed. Decide on a price before you start walking with them. They’ll say, “No, is fine,” and “As you like,” but if you don’t nail them down before following them around, they will likely try to gouge you when you get where you’re going. Also, if you’re carrying luggage, be prepared to have guys literally walk up to you and take it out of your hand without your permission; they want to take you to your hotel and they certainly want to be paid for it.
  • No personal boundaries. The snake and monkey guys have no qualms about putting an animal on your shoulders without your permission. If you walk over to see them, be prepared to have an animal placed on you without warning. Also, on several occasions I started walking into a restaurant and had some local actually put his hands on my chest to stop me from going in, telling me, “No this restaurant is rubbish!” and direct you to a different restaurant. I had to practice some restraint when having strange men stop me mid-stride by pushing on my chest.
  • Keep tip money handy. If you take pictures of the types of spectacles I’ve described, these guys will demand payment. Even some of the shopkeepers wanted a tip if you took a picture of their wares. Either get a good telephoto lense, or have some tip money handy. Maybe both.
  • More tips on tipping. Along the lines of tip money, make sure you have some small bills. When I was accosted by the Snake Charmers, all I had were larger bills; when they started asking for money, they saw me (rookie mistake, I know) looking through my billfold and all I had were larger denominations. They started clamoring for those very denominations and insisting that such was the price for seeing the cobras. My advice is to keep tip money in small denominations, and keep it in a secure, separate pocket from the larger bills.
  • Be “pick-pocket-minded.” Most of the crime in Morocco is theft/pick-pocketing. Be judicious about where you keep your money and other valuables. Be especially aware of backpack pockets and zippers, since you’ll have people bumping into you constantly. You can usually secure those zippers with things like safety pins, plastic zip ties, etc. Or, if your backpack has the option, watch this: http://youtu.be/5-hhVQOTkEk

DAY EIGHT(THE END): See ya, suckas!

On Christmas Day 2011, I went out on a walkabout to Morocco (first spending the night in Madrid, Spain). This post originally appeared on my old blog in January 2012 when I got back. It was only a few months before I met Allison. This was the trip that inspired me to quit my corporate job to go freelance, and ultimately is the reason I met Allison when I did. ]

I don’t have a lot to report for the rest of the trip. I took the train back to Casablanca, and a plane back to Madrid. I stayed one more night there at the same hotel as before.  I went out wandering around and taking pictures after I got in. But I was ready to go home. Just before going to bed that night, I could feel the sinus infection starting again (the one that started on Day One then mysteriously went away). Fair enough. Apparently I was due for one. Chronic Sinusitis can be pretty brutal, and I was actually really grateful that I’d been spared this episode while in Morocco. This time, the sinus infection would set in fully and I’d have to ride out the worst of it over the next week, but I was just glad it had been put on hold until the very end of the trip. Yet another tiny miracle. After one more night in Madrid, I was off to the airport and heading back to the States. During some of my down-time/travel-time, I created a couple of silly doodles using SketchPad Pro on a tablet device (it’s essentially a high-tech, digital finger painting app):

I landed at Newark/New York International Airport. Through the windows, I could see the distant New York City skyline as I waited in line at Customs/Passport Control. And with one more punch on my passport, I was back. It felt good to be back in the US. I’m normally not super chatty on planes, but the next flight to Chicago went pretty fast. First, the Chinese woman to my right chatted me up about politics, which led to Romney, which led to Mormonism. We had a nice conversation about that, and I was able to answer some of her questions. Later she helped me practice my Chinese. :) Then I ended up in a conversation with a lovely young Brazilian woman on my left, who get’s a little anxious about flying. We chatted and laughed the rest of the way to Chicago (and she nearly has me convinced to go to Brazil on one of my next motorcycle adventures). From Chicago to SLC, I finally slept. This is pretty rare for me on planes, but I was dying at this point. Before I knew it, I was back in the bitter cold of Salt Lake City. Home Sweet Home.

*     *     *

It had been quite an adventure. I had “cheated death yet again,” as my dad is fond of saying at the end of a motorcycle trip. I didn’t break my neck in a motorcycle accident in those chaotic little towns, nor sliding off the cliffs in the High Atlas Mountains. And I managed to keep from getting my head sawed off on the internet. Yes, my trusty neck–and the rest of me–was still intact. Some of the highlights on this trip have now made the ranks of some of the best moments in my lifetime. I was lucky enough to have many of them documented at the time, including:

Obviously there’s so much I can’t share . . . too many little stories of sweet moments and curious observations to go into here. It was incredibly cathartic and empowering. Ideas, ideals, and self-perceptions were tested. I found further healing, strength, and peace. The clarity of being so far from everything I know helped me to organize my thoughts and refine my goals and expectations. Life is so good. I’m already planning my next adventure. :) Thanks so much for letting me share these stories and photos. If you haven’t watched the videos, I’ll post them again below. Part 1:

Part 2:

DAY SEVEN: 6th Gear to Marrakech

On Christmas Day 2011, I went out on a walkabout to Morocco (first spending the night in Madrid, Spain). This post originally appeared on my old blog in January 2012 when I got back. It was only a few months before I met Allison. This was the trip that inspired me to quit my corporate job to go freelance, and ultimately is the reason I met Allison when I did. ]

That morning, I woke up a little earlier than most days. It was going to be a serious day of riding along the Tizi-n-Test Pass through the High Atlas Mountains which stood between me and my destination of Marrakech.

I ate breakfast and packed up the bike, thanking and tipping the friendly guard who watches the parking lot all night. “Bonne Année!” he said. Happy New Year!

It will be. And this is the perfect way to start it.

I didn’t know it at the time, but this ride would prove to be one of the most enjoyable, perilous, rewarding rides I’ve ever been on.

*     *     *

I rode up the straight and narrow highway for a bit, watching for landmarks and other indications that I was on the right path. This route was sort of a back road that Réda had recommended when I picked up the bike and went over my route with him. He had cautioned me a bit, asking questions to gauge my level of experience. Once he was satisfied that I could handle it, he added in his strong French accent:

“Well, nothing is without risk, but . . . is passion,” he shrugged with a smile, knowing he didn’t have to explain himself to me.

 

Although the road was not marked, soon I reached what I knew to be the beginning of the Tizi-n-Test Pass.

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The road narrowed to a single lane, but this was still technically a two-way road. The miles and miles of tight turns and curves were wonderful, carving their way up the mountain side. Higher and higher, back and forth up the mountain. There were very few areas that had any sort of guard rail; most of it was just a narrow, winding road with a mountain on one side and a cliff on the other.

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If you got cocky, there were a number of ways this road would kill you. Oncoming traffic was nearly impossible to detect until the last second because of all the blind curves. There was often sand, rock, and gravel waiting for you around these many corners; sometimes there was even that slick, mossy stream of water running across the road. If you weren’t paying attention, this mountain would let you know it.

My ascent through the High Atlas was made up of amazing vistas and invigorating stretches of intense, focused riding, punctuated by the short breaks to stop, take in the scenery, snap a photo, and breath a little.

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Amazingly, there were people up here. Scattered across this remote mountain pass were tiny roadside shops built along the cliffs. Upon closer inspection, some of these cliffs were clearly inhabited by people. This was truly Indian Territory.

Now, there had been other long stretches of road earlier on my trip that took me through tiny towns where signs were no longer printed in French and everything was strictly Arabic; modern dress was not popular in these towns, where the locals wore those traditional, long robes, and burqas on the women. Riding through these towns, there were enough suspicious glances and unfriendly gazes thrown my way that I opted to keep riding. It was comforting to know I was on a high-performance, on/off road machine that could get me out of there if I detected trouble.

But up here on the mountain, the sense of isolation among these cliff-dwelling native people was poignant. And while I’m sure they were quite friendly, I didn’t really stop to find out. Once or twice on this trip, I was stopped on the side of the road when I encountered some mildly-curious locals. Out here, no modern dress, no signs in French, and very little infrastructure typically meant very limited education in strictly Islamic madrasas, little-to-no French speaking (and certainly no English at all), and an obvious distrust/disdain toward Westerners. It was quite different in the big cities, where merchants and other locals were eager to talk to foreign travelers in French or broken English. They relied heavily on tourism, so they were quite welcoming and helpful (sometimes too helpful) because it meant making a buck dihram.

Out here it was different. They relied on themselves, their land, their flocks of sheep. I felt a bit like a trespasser on more than one occasion.  They didn’t need me there.

Fair enough.

One of those occasions was when I stopped at some shaded ruins on this lonely stretch of mountain road. It must have been a bus stop of sorts. There were several women who appeared to be waiting for something. I approached them and greeted them in Arabic with a smile. They seemed quite uninterested. I held up my camera, pointing it at myself, and asked them (in pantomime) if they would take my picture, extending the camera. The older women in the group shook their heads curtly. At first I thought it was because they didn’t know how to use the camera. I persisted in my pantomime a second time, this time petitioning a younger woman among them who looked to be in her 20’s. When I looked at her and extended the camera with a smile, motioning for her to take a picture of me and the bike, she nervously shook her head and tugged shyly at the scarf covering her head, using it to cover more of her face than had been covered before.

I took my cue and disengaged, smiling and thanking them anyway, “Shukran.”

So I took the picture you see below.

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On the other side of the mountain the colors were amazing.

I picked a remote spot on the side of the road for a quick break. While riding on dusty terrain, it’s good to keep the chain lubed up on the bike, so I stopped to give Bathsheba a little TLC.

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I grabbed a couple of oranges out of my pack that would suffice for lunch.

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The terrain transitioned from colorful, rocky canyons full of trees and shrubs, to the kind of red-rock earth and desert foliage you see in Central/Southern Utah, to this incredibly rocky, craggy, dark-colored stone.  Did I mention it’s rocky? The landscape is rocky.

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This foreign landscape passed by as I hugged the winding curves along a mostly-dry creek bed, which slowly became more and more full until I came upon a beautiful lake or reservoir colored in perfect blues and greens.

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And, like I said, people lived out here.  You’d see little towns nestled away in valleys, or built up in the least likely places.

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The curvy road was magnificent. As the terrain opened up, so did my throttle. With greater visibility and greater reaction time, I was able to go faster. And faster.

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Sexy.

 

In no time, I was back on the final stretch. A straight-away lined by well groomed palm trees and decorative street lights. And from here it was 6th gear to Marrakech.

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[ WARNING:  Professional driver on a closed course.  Please do not attempt.  Life is super dangerous, and may result in serious injury or death. ]

*     *     *

I met Réda back at Palm Road Motorcycles in Marrakech. He and his lovely wife and daughter greeted me with smiles. He asked about the bike and the route with a knowing grin, well aware that both were outstanding.

He arranged a taxi for me, and helped me with my gear. I thanked him and we said goodbye as the taxi arrived.  The driver took me to my hotel, a place in “New Town” Marrakech where I hadn’t ventured before. I got there without any trouble. Checked in, got cleaned up, and went looking for a place to eat. The sun was down, and this newer area of the city was definitely different than the “Old Town” Marrakech that I had known only a few days before. It was a relatively newer development, and the taller buildings made the alleys and walkways that much darker. There weren’t tourists everywhere, or merchants or snake charmers. Instead, groups of men gathered on every other street corner, laughing and smoking and casting glances.

I found a place to eat. It was lovely, and I was hungry.

I was ready to get back to the hotel and relax after a long day of intense riding. As I left the restaurant, I verified the directions back to my hotel. I was pretty well oriented, and I confidently wandered back to my hotel taking a different route. This part of Marrakech was definitely different from my first time around.

About the time I reached the hotel, I noticed that what was most different was ME. There was a calm confidence in my stride as I navigated these foreign streets at night, greeting the locals in their native tongue and making my way through the confusing urban neighborhood. It was me that was different. The fear of the language barrier, or being taken advantage of, scammed, or even mugged was much less of a concern. The disorientation and fear of this new place and new culture had now become cautious wonder. My guard wasn’t down entirely—not any more than it needed to be. But my perception had changed.

I had just navigated my way around the most remote, foreign land I had ever been in.  I did it alone.  I did it without GPS or a smart phone. I can read a map, and I can follow my instincts when I realize I made a wrong turn, and I can get directions from locals, language-barrier or not. I had made a dozen friends, turned away a dozen crooks, and made at least a thousand memories.

Some of you may have seen my Facebook status that night:

“Made it back to Marrakech. It’s still Mos Eisley, but this time I’m feeling less like Luke and more like Han.”

If you don’t know the reference, I’m afraid that explaining it won’t help.

Nothing is without risk, but . . . is passion.

DAY SIX: New Year’s Eve

On Christmas Day 2011, I went out on a walkabout to Morocco (first spending the night in Madrid, Spain). This post originally appeared on my old blog in January 2012 when I got back. It was only a few months before I met Allison. This was the trip that inspired me to quit my corporate job to go freelance, and ultimately is the reason I met Allison when I did. ]

I woke up to another beautiful morning. And although it didn’t change much, today was New Year’s Eve.

Agadir, Morocco

The view from my hotel room in Agadir, Morocco.

The next leg of my ride through Morocco would take me to the city of Taroudant. It was not a long ride and—honestly, I’m a little bummed I didn’t take a detour along the coast that morning (maybe next time). But I didn’t know where I was going, and I wanted to allow time for actually seeing the city in daylight once I got there.

So I said goodbye to the coast, and rode inland. At some point, I missed my turn in a shabbily-marked roundabout and road for 30 or 40 minutes in the wrong direction. And it was lovely.

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Lost.

Everyone should get lost once in a while.

I realized, before too long, that the scenery and road were not in harmony with the route I had planned on the map, so I stopped to get my bearings and stretch before heading back the way I came.

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Sometimes, while on breaks, I would leave my camera on the ground and let it just take random pictures.

Poser.

Poser.

Once I got back in the right direction, it was a relatively short ride to Taroudant. Once I arrived, I was truly enchanted. Centuries ago, Taroudant had some strategic importance as a base from which the Saadians attacked the Portuguese in Agadir. Once fortified by these tall ramparts, nearly the entire city lies within these old walls.

Taroudant, Morocco

Go there.

Go there.

I was looking for a hotel called Palais Salam. It came recommended by Réda (the guy who runs the outfit I rented the bike from). I employed a [legit] local guide, named Yusef, to show me the way to the hotel on his scooter. It wasn’t far. I paid Yusef and thanked him for his help, then went inside to check in. While at the front desk, I mentioned Réda and they gave me a discount. Excellent. This was likely the biggest, nicest hotel in the entire city.

As usual, I got checked in, found my room, dumped my bags, and went exploring–first on the motorcycle, and later on foot.

Once I got into town, I bumped into Yusef again. My lucky day (and his). He was eager to show me around, of course–and I was happy to pay him for his time.  I realized that once you’ve been claimed by a legit guide, everyone leaves you alone.

He showed me around the various shops, and took time to tell me about them, often with the help of the shopkeeper.

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I’m sorry to say this little boy got his hand chopped off right after I snapped this picture.

[ Not true. ]

At one of these shops, I learned about the herbs and mints that are sold there–the shopkeeper actually crushing samples of the herbs into my hands so that I could appreciate the fragrance. Then came the lavender–a “natural perfume,” I was told. Then saffron. Then some local Moroccan spice which I could not possibly remember the name of.

My hands had quite an astonishing smell by the time I was done.

I was shown cookies and leather goods, and even the crystallized rock the men rub against their faces to shave. Yes, they rub a sharp, white, crystallized, fun-size fortress of solitude against their faces to shave.  NO WONDER they grow beards.

At one point, I was led to a nicer shop within an actual building. The name of the place was “Trésor Aladdin.”

As soon as I walked through the doors, I could almost hear a voice whisper the warning, "Touch nothing but the lamp . . ."

As soon as I walked through the doors, I could almost hear a voice whisper the warning, “Touch nothing but the lamp . . .”

[ Also not true. ]

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I’d been holding off on buying souvenirs because I had very limited space with my gear on the motorcycle, but here at Trésor Aladdin, I saw something that I thought would be an appropriate little gift to myself. A Berber dagger. So it was here that I had my first real bartering match with a Berber. I may have lied a little. I’m bad at both, so I probably could have gotten him to go lower, but I still think I ended up okay. And I made it out of there with this:

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The scabbard is made from camel bone.

[ This one is true. ]

It is said that camel bone will bring good fortune to those who slit the throat of another man, if you use a dagger sheathed within a camel bone scabbard.

Aaaand I’m making things up again. ]

The wily old Berber wanted to keep me around with several other friends as his assistant went to the market to get me my change from our transaction.  While we waited, he kept offering me that traditional mint tea, and suggesting I look at more of his “one-of-a-kind rugs” and other treasures.  I declined as politely as possible until his assistant returned with my change.  I thanked them, gathered up my cool new dagger, and left with my trusty guide, Yusef.  The building did not collapse in on itself or implode with rivers of hot lava; in fact, there was no lava involved at all.

And that will be my last Aladdin reference.

Not long after, we made our way back to my motorcycle and I said goodbye to Yusef. I rode off through the narrow, winding walkways of the medina, back to my hotel.  I parked my bike, but I didn’t go inside–I had more exploring to do.

I found a nice restaurant near where I was staying.  Dinner was wonderful.

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Beef filet with roasted peppers and some sort of Moroccan super-sauce. Also, rice in a cute shape.

Taroudant, like Essaouira, had become another of my very favorite places that I would visit on this trip.  But although it was New Year’s Eve, I would not be going back out to the medina to stay up and celebrate with the locals. I needed some time to myself. So, after sending my daily check-in email to family, I went back to my room to celebrate New Year’s Eve in my own way.

*     *     *

What a tremendous year 2011 had been. It was filled with so much discovery, freedom, healing, and peace. Old friends. New friends. Art projects, rock concerts, and motorcycle rides. There was lots of training and kicking ass. Treadmills and stair-steppers and dumbbells and punching bags, and plenty of dining with friends and family to cancel it all out . . . but I’m stronger than I’ve ever been, and running further than I’ve ever run since ruining my lungs in Chile 14 years ago. There have been symphonies and choral concerts. Art galleries.  Vehicle repairs, learning to do some of it myself and leaving the serious stuff to the experts. Months of overtime, and deadlines met.  Boundaries drawn, and quietly enforced. Olive branches offered–some even accepted. :)

I’ve been reaping the hard-fought benefits of a healthier, more balanced life. I’m sure that many of you that are reading this fit into it somewhere. Thank you for being a part of it.

So, with a long hot shower, a little music, and then a lot of silence, I reflected on these memories and sentiments, quietly celebrating the victories and mourning the losses that had led me to this quiet hotel room in North Africa.  I savored this unique moment, with the crisp night air seeping through the window as I rested on my bed lost in thought, meditation, and prayer.

I have so much to be thankful for. I’ve been feeling so much strength in so many aspects of my life, and so much gratitude for knowing the source of that strength. I’m so grateful. To God, primarily, for His hand in my life . . . for miracles big and small, for the healing power of Christ’s Atonement, for not only the necessities of life, but so many luxuries. For not abandoning a soul so rebellious and proud as mine. For talents and skills and opportunities to share them, for an amazing network of family and friends, and so much love.

As I lie there, I was overwhelmed with gratitude to God, friends, and family, and–for maybe the first time–to myself . . . for taking care of me.

There was no countdown . . . I didn’t even look at the clock.  Lying flat on my back, I just pulled up the covers and whispered to the ceiling.

“Happy New Year.”

DAY FIVE: Kindred Spirits

On Christmas Day 2011, I went out on a walkabout to Morocco (first spending the night in Madrid, Spain). This post originally appeared on my old blog in January 2012 when I got back. It was only a few months before I met Allison. This was the trip that inspired me to quit my corporate job to go freelance, and ultimately is the reason I met Allison when I did. ]

I was excited to get back on the road the next morning, but I wanted to see a bit more of Essaouira once more before leaving, so I headed into town and drove around for a bit. I needed to stop at an ATM, anyway.

It really was a beautiful city, and a beautiful day. I took my time. I was eager to see the road leading south to Agadir, which takes you inland a bit before winding back to the coast, but it was a short ride, so I was okay getting a late start. Here’s that map again, in case it helps:

I headed back to my hotel, briefly, so I could use the WI-FI again (and say goodbye to my girlfriend that works there).  Then I got geared up, and off I went.

After riding for a bit, I was truly in the middle of nowhere. It was rocky and hilly, but somehow green(ish) things managed to grow in much of it.

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ITMOFNW, Morocco

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Alone.

It was some great riding. Swooping back and forth along the ridges and shallow canyons leading back to the coast, the terrain began to get greener again, and before too long I caught a glimpse of the Atlantic for the second time.

I rode quickly along the sexy curves leading back to the rocky coast. I was thoroughly enjoying myself. And then it happened . . .

I saw friends approaching in my rear view mirror. Motorcycles. Kindred spirits. As they began to overtake me, I moved to the right side of the lane and motioned with my left hand for them to pass. The three of them waved as they road by. They were on similar motorcycles to the one I was on (other BMW GS models). And they were going fast.

I couldn’t help but join them.

Only a few minutes riding with these guys and I could tell they were serious. They were driving really fast, but expertly. I followed their lines as we carved through the curves. We were now right at the ocean. Being winter, the afternoon sun was already waning in the sky, blasting me with the most perfect sunlight as waves crashed against the rocky shore. Faster and faster. Passing cars and timing the oncoming traffic. More curves. More speed. More sunlight.

And there it was.  Another perfect moment . . . this one, in 6th gear.

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I laughed and cursed exclamations of joy inside my helmet.

Who were these guys? These kindred spirits? Each time we leaned into the curves and rolled on the throttle, I thought to myself, “Damn these guys can drive!”

Along the coast we went, until we came to a wonderful scenic overlook just off the road. They pulled off and I followed—I had to introduce myself. We stopped and jumped off the bikes. Helmets came off, each revealing the same grin I couldn’t wipe off my face. I walked over to say hello.

Italians. I should have known.

They wanted to snap some pictures with me, and of course I did the same.

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The Italians.

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What an amazing stretch of road.

Meanwhile, I had made two more new friends.  Two young boys were intrigued with the motorcycles and came running as soon as we pulled off the road (as you can see in that last picture). They hovered and watched with little-boy awe at the foreigners and their big motorcycles. I smiled and waved to the boys.

The braver of the two (who I would soon come to know as Ismael) greeted me in Arabic, “As-salamu alaikum,” (Peace be with you).

“Wa alaikum assalaam,” (And upon you be peace) I replied, exhausting exactly one third of my knowledge of Arabic.

He grinned at my response and asked excitedly, “Marocain?”

I smiled and shook my head no. “Américain.”

He laughed and seemed a little shocked and shy to be speaking with an American. Whatever his predisposition, he seemed to approve. I asked if he spoke French. No. Spanish? No. Just Arabic. Somehow, we exchanged names. His friend seemed more shy and didn’t participate in the exchange.

Ismael motioned that he wanted to see my gloves. I encouraged him (using that pseudo-sign-language) to try them on. He was thrilled.

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Ismael.

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Perfect fit.

My new Italian friends were ready to get back on the road, but I was taking my time (as I do). They could see I was sticking around for a bit, and waved goodbye as they got back onto the asphalt and disappeared.

Ismael really wanted to climb onto the bike. I finally relented (but the camera was put away at this point). Of course, before saying goodbye, he asked me, “Un dihram?”

I laughed, and dug in my pocket for some coins for him and his buddy.  They thanked me and said goodbye, running back to the rocky beach.

I jumped back on the bike and headed down the highway a bit, but there was a little dirt road leading down to the shore that I had to take.  I took some time watching the surfers and listening to the ocean.  I loved it here.  And I know I’m prone to hyperbole now and then, but believe me.  This was one of the best days ever.

Ever.

Ever.

Back on the road, I didn’t get far before I came upon a tremendous traffic jam, just outside a small town. Now, in Morocco, it is not only okay but encouraged that motorcycles and scooters sneak their way around traffic by any means necessary. So I crept cautiously past the sea of parked cars.  Then I realized this was some sort of police checkpoint or road block.

As I got closer, I saw my Italian friends being waved around the roadblock by the local police. They saw me, pointed to the Italians, and I nodded. They motioned me through as well, indicating that I should go down off the right side of the road.

The road was built on an embankment of sorts. So I rode down off the road and into the ditch, and it was then that I realized what was happening. At least 100 police lined the right side of the road (to my left), all wearing full riot gear.  Batons, shields, etc.

Oh my.

Across from them by about 50 yards or so (to my right), we had a ton of what appeared to be construction workers, clearly on strike and–from the looks of things–about to riot.

And I was between them.

“If you guys could just hold your [expletive] horses a minute until I get past that would be fantastic,” I muttered inside my helmet.

At one point, we were forced back up the embankment and onto the shoulder of the road. The baggage on our big GS bikes was literally inches from banging into the police riot shields on our left, but only inches to the right of our wheels the shoulder dropped sharply into a ditch. It was some of the most carefully executed, balanced driving I’ve ever had to perform.

My Italian friends and I made it out without any further excitement. Back on the road, we drove slowly and cautiously as we passed through the next small town and saw a convoy of probably a dozen more police vehicles speeding past us in the opposite direction, lights and sirens blazing. The manpower, speed, and screaming sirens of so many speeding vehicles suggested that things must have gotten serious just after we passed the blockade.

Yet another bullet dodged.

And just then, in a moment of clarity, the three Italians and I seemed to merge our consciousness into one collective hive-mind . . . every cop in Morocco is behind us.

I grinned as we all rolled on the throttle in unison, got back to our cruising speed of Mach 2, and raced the final 30 minutes to Agadir as if they were closing the doors in 29.

*     *     *

There’s a lot of money in Agadir. Enormous, modern hotels lined the streets. Nice, expensive cars were everywhere. It took no time to realize why the locals in other cities said, “Agadir? Meh. Agadir is not Morocco.”

It was a nice place, but far from anything like I’d seen elsewhere on my journey. The beach was nice, the restaurants were nice. I wandered around a bit, but–between you and me–it was boring. The locals were right. It was just some beach resort town. Nothing wrong with it–don’t get me wrong. Just nothing special about the place that I could see.

The one interesting thing I saw was this hill, lit up with some sort of Arabic writing.

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In the photo above, I know the top word means “Allah.” I like to think the next two words are, “was here.”

My hotel room was pretty nice. The beds made me laugh.

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I determined that one was for having sex in, the other for sleeping in.

I only used one. :)

In the elevator on the way to my room, I met a mildy-drunk Irishman (not doing much to avoid stereotypes). There was a bar in this hotel, and he was just leaving to go up to his room. He had rapid-fire jokes and quips all the way up to the 5th floor and down the hallway. We laughed and cursed and shared a few brief stories, then said goodnight.

Another incredible day.

DAY FOUR: Introducing Bathsheba

On Christmas Day 2011, I went out on a walkabout to Morocco (first spending the night in Madrid, Spain). This post originally appeared on my old blog in January 2012 when I got back. It was only a few months before I met Allison. This was the trip that inspired me to quit my corporate job to go freelance, and ultimately is the reason I met Allison when I did. ]

Today was the day that I would meet Bathsheba. My fling for the next 4 days. It was a fast and intense romance, and she wanted to try stuff I wasn’t so sure about. But I’m glad I did. :)

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Bathsheba. A BMW F800-GS. Basically it’s a speedy sport-bike engine on a beefy off-road/touring frame.

 

Today I’d be leaving Marrakech for the city of Essaouira on the Atlantic coast; a city that would become one of my favorite places that I visited on this trip. [ You’ll see the first leg of this journey in Part 1 of those ‘Morocco on a Motorbike’ videos. ]

There was not a lot to see on the way out there. It was mostly pretty flat and dry for hours until just before reaching the coast, where we got into a little bit of that windy, hilly business. The hills got greener and steeper, then suddenly I came to the crest of the hill and I could see Essaouira and the Atlantic Ocean before me.

I pulled off to a scenic overlook, immediately, where I took a much-needed moment to myself.

A charming, older couple walked by and offered (using pseudo-sign-language, in which I am fluent) to take my picture.

A charming, older couple walked by and offered (using pseudo-sign-language, in which I am fluent) to take my picture.

I could try to describe what I felt, seeing the Moroccan coastline for the first time, but words would fall short. My heart just beamed and ached with feelings that aren’t really meant for ya’ll anyway. I can say it was one of those perfect moments. I’ve had a few others, in my life. My first solo-flight in a single-engine airplane with a scarlet sunset over Utah Lake. A first honest-to-goodness, forehead pressed against forehead “I love you.” Others that are more private.

And this one.

*     *     *

I made my way to the city and checked into a big, modern hotel on the outskirts.  Behind the counter at reception was a lovely, shy woman who giggled as she tried to speak to me in English and I tried to speak to her in pretend-French. I totally had a vacation crush. But I think she just liked my sexy motorcycle gear.

I'm a dork.

I’m a dork.

I dumped my bags and jumped back on the bike to go explore the city.

[ Man I took a ton more photos than what I’m posting here.  I just can’t post all of them or we’ll be here all day. Check out more from this trip in our Facebook album, here. ]

Many of these photos were taken from my motorcycle. I seriously just had my camera in my bag over my shoulder and I rode from spot to spot, snapping a few pictures, and just cruising along as the sun slowly set over the silvery Atlantic.

In Essaouira it was illegal to drive any motor vehicle inside the medina (city center), so they had a lot of paid parking around.  So I parked and went in on foot.

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Essaouira is very much the Seattle of Morocco. It was a lot more artsy and laid back. Quite a contrast to Marrakech, which—as a city—has a very aggressive personality. In Marrakech there was always someone pawing at you, touching you, trying to stop you in your tracks, selling something, promoting a restaurant, begging, even trying to pick your pocket . . . crowds and cars and scooters and constant, buzzing energy. But Essaouira was very different.

Here I was only approached three times; twice to buy marijuana and once to buy a knit cap. I was tempted only by the cap. :)

There were still millions of shops and merchants, but it was so laid back and calm, with a nearly constant, comfortable, sea breeze. I saw a lot of couples here. I can see how it was a more romantic place to visit in Morocco. It was definitely my favorite place that I visited, and I wasn’t even getting it on. :)

At dinner, I was treated to a personal show by an exceptionally talented street-magician named Saladin. Well dressed, with very good English, he dazzled people from table to table with truly astounding, right up in your face, you-touching-the-magic kinda magic. I laughed out loud several times, and tipped him well.

I had brief conversations with a handful of locals here and there. It was a very friendly place. And once again, it was bed time.

Such a good day.