[ 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.