4 men, 4 motorbikes, 1 mission:
14 days to drive to the Sahara Desert and return back to the UK alive.
Did they make it? See below for a short web diary and look out for the film of the journey: "Four Horsemen Ride off into the Apocalypse" - coming out soon.
Hi, my name is Andy and this is a short recount of my trip to Morocco on a motorbike in 2005
It started as a dream, Andy, Karl, Hal and Lee all loved motorbikes and they wanted to ride to the desert. Well thats what some of them thought. The first day started well, a quick drive down to Plymouth, catching a ferry to Santander in Spain. "Yeah, we are on the way", the cheers rang out among the four of them through their walkie talkie head sets. 50 miles down the road Hal's motorbike started to play up. (By the way, Andy had a Yamaha XTZ 660 Tenere, Lee had a Suzuki 650 Freebird and Hal and Karl both had 650 Honda Dominators.)
So ... Hal's Domi started to play up. After a few hours of messing and squirting WD40 all over the electrics, it started again, yeah, and off we all zoomed, off in the now pouring rain, only managing another 50 miles before nightfall. We found a bungalow in a bird sanctuary, and had our first taste of Spanish Tapas, yummy.
Day 2 started well! Karl noticed an oil leak on his Domi, so we took it really easy down to Salamanca, where it conked out alltogether, poor Karl. We spent the next 5 hours trying to fix it. We were having no luck so far with the Domi's! It would not be fixed but we managed to find a Honda garage and left it with them while we went to find a campsite for the night. That was our first (and only!) boozy night together. We eventually got to sleep at 4am, dreaming and hoping that Karls bike would have new life breathed into it, a million options bantered the air, but we all felt the desert dream slipping, and it wasnt yet day 3!
Day 3 held with it more bad news. The garage said that it was not possible to fix the bike! Karl spent an agonising few hours pushing the bike by hand to the campsite. We were warriors and we intended to fix the bike ourselves.
To cut a long story short, 2-days later and we still could not fix the bike. Time was running out so we decided to head for Tangiers without Karl's bike (poor Karl), and to pick it up on the way back. Was this a bad move?!
Day 5, in the evening, Karl got the train to Algeciras and the rest drove there on bikes. The bike journey was a mammoth 450 mile ride through the night, not having slept all day. It was exhilirating, it was scary, it was dangerous, it was cold and it was hot. We stopped twice for some sleep, once on the concrete by the side of the road only to be moved on by a Spanish patrol car, and secondly for 3 hours in a roadside picnic area, where we woke up to a farmer and his cows!
This journey was making me halucinate with fatigue. Shadows and lights jumped across my vision as we drove south to our destination. The next days light and heat brought with it new dangers ... the coastal wind. This was trecherous. A strong gale trying to blow you into the sea. Aching limbs steered the now exhausted bikes to the ports station, and we met Karl off the train.
Day 5 had turned in to Day 6, and from the station we all headed straight to the ferry, Karl in a Taxi, the rest of us on the bikes, still having had no real rest. We agreed to board the next available ferry to Tangiers
Karl missed the ferry, so the 3 of us ended up in Tangiers without him at 10 o clock at night! We were all nervous from lack of sleep, and the fact that we had all already been hustled out of quite a few pounds by the Moroccan border guards. Karl sent us a cryptic phone message of a hotel name in Tangiers. None of us yet had vehicle insurance to drive in Morocco, but we still drove around Tangiers looking for this hotel. Eventually we met up with Karl and found a hotel of our own to stay in. Everyone was feeling fragile and fraught. A good nights sleep is what we needed and we would all be fine, or so we thought.
Day 7, the morning went fast, Andy got his Moroccan bike insurance and Karl tried to hire a motorbike. It all then seemed to blow up as everything went wrong. Lee and Hal were not happy with the type of insurance available. Karl could not find a bike or car to hire (that he could afford), and none of us wanted to be in Tangiers. Then the curse of Tangiers hit us. Hal and I argued, we split up as a group. Hal went back to Spain. Karl and Lee followed. Andy was left on his own in Morocco. 3 down, 1 to go.
I had the chance to go back with the others, but I felt now I was here, I might as well experience a bit of Morocco on the bike. There was not time to get as far as the desert now, but there were other places I could see. So I spent the next 3 days on my own driving through the Rif Mountains. Lonely roads with nothing but scorpions and mountain views for company. Roads off the beaten track were fantastic, the scenery breathtaking, the people friendly and hospitable. The main roads were treacherous, especially at night. I made the mistake of driving 50 miles in the night, almost crashing 3 times. Donkeys, people, trucks, buses with no lights and tarmac to gravel roads all contribute to unsteady and nearly fatal driving.
The desert beckoned but I was not up to doing it on my own, I was starting to feel lonely and I wanted to meet back up with the other 3 who had gone back to Spain. In addition the law stated that I had to take the bike out of Morocco with me when I left, there was no room for crashing and write-offs!! So my route took me on a figure of eight through the Rif Mountains, a place that is also called marijuana country. Starting at Tangiers I worked myself along the north coast, turning south along a small mountainous road, ending near Tetouan, I then took the road down to Chechouen. From Chechouen I made little excursions up in to the mountains, before continuing on my figure of eight, driving north east up a rough track road to Oued Laou. I then took the winding coastal road north, crossing through Tetouan again and back to Tangiers. It was a pretty simple route and a good first taste of Moroccan driving. I will certainly know what to take and how to prepare next time (the green line on the map shows my route through the Rif Mountains).
Day 10 took me back to Tangiers and then Spain and 9 hour lonely 450 mile drive from Algeciras to Salamanca where I hoped to meet up with the others. During this drive, which at some points I was absolutely frozen due to driving at night through the mountains, I counted up the wildlife I had seen to date on this trip. This included 5 dolphins, 1 flying fish, 1 scorpion, 1 snake, 17 storks and all the usual cows, goats, sheep and swallows etc. I reached Salamanca at 5am, frozen solid. I fell asleep in the hotel.
Where has everyone gone? Or, where the f*ck are all the other three! There was one solitary tent in the camp site, where I was expecting three! Hal had stayed to wait for me, the others had packed up and gone home a week early. Tangiers really had hit them bad! Karl had got fed up travelling without a bike on his own in the trains (poor Karl!), and so had decided to abandon his bike in Spain and flew back to England. Lee did not want to be there without his brother and so had driven up through Spain to get an early ferry, only to miss the crossing by 2 minutes! Lee wanted to get back so badly that he then drove up through France and caught a crossing from Cherbourg. I was shocked to say the least at all this. Still, we all have our reasons. And their reason for our trip had long since been lost when Karl's bike had broke down terminally. I had offered Karl the option of riding pillion with me, but not suprisingly he had chosen not to. He wanted to drive his bike, like we all did! That was understandable.
Hal and I decided to do a little touring of Spain, a place we have both spent time in before, but a country that was dismissed on our planning to the Sahara as a place that we just had to get through. Spain is a fantastic place of contrasts, great driving country. We chose a mixture of fast autoroutes, tight cornered mountain roads and slow, almost backward country lanes. The farming was not exactly 16th century, but there was certainly an oldy-worldy feel to it all. One place that stood out from all the others was a little farm track sanctuary that ran along a river near the village of Valderas (60km south of Leon). This wonderful, magical place captivated us for hours. This was the first extended driving without helmets on, but if we had fallen off the ground was so soft and bouncy from the snow-like dandelion fluff that we would have bounced anyway. This time together really allowed Hal and I to repair previous arguments and create a much better understanding of each other.
Eventually it was time to go home, unbeknown to us, we had one last adventure to deal with; our first dealings with the Spanish Police. Our driving had been impeccable. On our last day we forgot one thing, to drive with our lights on in the middle of the day. Hal and I were stopped by the police, an uncompromising pair of coppers that found it their duty to give us an on-the-spot fine, with no warning. The fine was 63 Euros each (126 Euros between us). We did not have enough Euros on us and the rozzers would not take a cheque. They said that if we did not pay that they would impound our motorbikes there and then and that we would have to walk home. All we had done was to forget to put our lights on in the day, a little warning would have been sufficient, but no, they escorted us to the nearest bank (5 miles away), and forced us to withdraw enough Euros to pay the fines. One police officer dealt with me and the other with Hal. They both put the 63 Euros we gave them in to their top pockets.
Hal took secret photos of both these coppers, they will be shown in the film.
Hal and I were a little shaken up by this encounter with the law, it also made us late for the ferry home. We had to ride at breakneck speed to catch the ferry in time, and just in time we were, although I had my first crash on the way. Only a little crash, but enough for me to curse those coppers even more.
We made it to the ferry and eventually back home An adventure to the desert had become an adventure of different proportions.
We all got back in one piece, with no major accidents, that was the main thing. We also learnt many things. Planning: there was not enough planning for this trip. As a group we did not meet up and properly plan and cater for contingencies. The trip was treated like a holiday camping trip to the South of France. We needed to have been more thoughtful of the mileage involved. 2 weeks to the desert and back was not enough time to allow. We needed to spend more time talking and listening to each other as a group at the end of each day. We needed to take time to chill and rest before making major decisions like splitting up, returning to Spain early and returning home early. We made some wrong decisions: 1) Staying overnight in Tangiers, 2) Driving through the night without sleep, 3) Splitting up, 4) Driving without insurance in Tangiers, 5) Not having all the bikes in tip-top condition before travelling, 6) Not giving ourselves time to restore and reflect.
Now I know that I have said 'poor Karl' a few times, but I really did feel for him with his bike breaking down. It was the one thing we all dreaded, our bikes dying. We cannot legislate against this happening, just prepare as best we can and try to have a little knowledge in case of basic repair. My heart went out to you Karl, no bike ... damn!
There is already the talk of the next trip. How, where and when is to be decided upon. It will certainly be exciting, and better planned. It will be for a longer time, and it may even include some of our families in four-wheel drive back-up vehicles. Are we thinking of a round-the-world trip?!
All the above photographs were taken on my mobile phone (except the map), they are copyright, as is this story by me. Please do not copy them. You may link to this page if you wish. More photos will be available soon once they have been developed
Photographs in order:
- 1) Karl fixing his bike
- 2) Karl asleep in Tangiers
- 3) Tower and monk in Morocco
- 4) Street in Morocco
To order a copy of the video (£7.99 plus P&P each) or just to make a comment please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
Both Karl ('2 weeks to go and the omens are good') and Hal ('Live Web Log') have written up accounts of this trip, as soon as they are available on the internet we will give links to them here. Nuff respect goes to Hal, Karl and Lee for attempting this trip with me. We will make it next time. Lata dudes! Peace.
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This story and all the pictures are (c) copyright May 2005. They may not be reproduced or copied without our written permission
For more photos of the trip see here
Andy's bike loaded up (Photo by Andy)
All 4 bikes on the road (Photo by Hal)
Lets fix Karls bike (Photo by Andy)
Andy riding his bike (Photo by Hal)
Andy & Hal's bikes (Photo by Andy)
Sunset on the ferry (Photo by Andy)
Hotel in Tangiers (Photo by Andy)
The Rif Mountains (Photo by Andy)
My trip through the Rif Mountains
House in Morocco (Photo by Andy)
Market in Morocco (Photo by Andy)
Hal Ponders (Photo by Andy)
Chechouen in Morocco (Photo by Andy)
Street of Chechouen (Photo by Andy)
Traffic in Morocco (Photo by Andy)
Building in Spain (Photo by Andy)
This story and all the pictures are (c) copyright May 2005. They may not be reproduced or copied without our written permission