If you want to relive the whole adventure from Lisbon to Marrakesh in one go, take a look at the new video.
“I’d buy your wife for 1800 camels” The man was deadly serious and continued to inform the guys in our group this offer was infact an absolute bargain. It’s amazing what you can buy and sell on top of an African mountain.
Our final day began in Ouarzazate. We were embarking on the shortest ride of the whole trip, the last leg to Marrakesh and the ceremonial handing over of the Super Teneres to the Riders for Health Organisation.
One more day to explore this wonderfully rich yet, staggeringly poor country. One final tank of petrol. There was no question in our minds, we’d run on fumes to make the experience last longer. After a few miles, our guide lead us to yet another utterly breathtaking view, as used in the movie Babel with Mr Hollywood himself, Brad Pitt. We could see why it was chosen. It seemed to be a real life illustration of a lost world, of the beginning of civilisation. We stood at the top of the rough ground and surveyed the land beneath, totally speechless. Until the cameras came out . . .
We pressed onwards, slicing through the switchbacks that snaked up the mountainside. The air felt refreshingly cooler the higher we climbed and it was somewhere near the summit, when we stopped for some traditional mint tea, that we encountered the comical guy looking to swap a few hundred camels for a new wife.
250 km later we hit the madness of Marrakesh. A dry river bed on the outskirts exposed the rubbish that must have been hidden in the waters some time ago. Tourists in horse drawn carriages bravely bared their pale skins in the plus 30 degree heat. Silly fools. As for the traffic. Are there any rules? Taxis, bicycles, scooters, pedestrians and lorries all morphed into one messy tangle of movement. And as we rode closer to our final destination, dozens of Swallows dived bombed through the air, squeezing into the tiny holes in the city walls. Our brains were overloaded with information, our senses strained trying to take in the sights, sounds, smells and potential hazards of such a huge city.
Finally, we arrived at our meeting point with mixed emotions. We were elated that we’d all made it bubble side up and with grins as wide as the Sahara Desert itself. But no one could hide the tinge of disappointment in knowing our fabulous trip had come to a end. And then there was the pride in knowing that we had all contributed to saving lives. Lives that needn’t be lost.
Cherno Jallow is the African representative of Riders for Health and as he was ceremoniously handed the keys to five Super Teneres motorcycles, he kept repeated one word. Amazing. Amazing. Amazing. These bikes will be shipped off to the newest program in the charity which was only launched last year. The Zambian health workers had been eagerly waiting for bigger cylinder bikes to transport patient’s blood tests the fifty km stretch from villages to clinics. It’s a journey that can often take up to five months, via inefficient public transport that often destroys the samples. Now, with a specially designed back pack, each rider can carry up to 40 blood tests at once, and provide the patient with a result in days, four at the most. Four days to find out if you’ve got HIV or TB verses five long months. It doesn’t take a brain surgeon to work out that these bikes will save countless lives. Perhaps up to forty in one single journey. We’ve covered 2100 km over the last week. In Zambia, these bikes will do an average of 1000km per month in their mission to make a difference, as they ride quite literally, for life.
It wasn’t a dream, we really did sleep at the foot of a huge sand dune last night.
After grabbing perhaps the best night’s sleep we’ve had in ages (thanks to the desert’s absolute silence and some full on riding) we woke up to mountains of sun kissed sand. Various trails snaked over the crests. The exploring riders in our group had left their footprints next to tiny patterns and slithers from goodness knows what creatures and insects. Surprisingly, it felt as cool as shaded concrete underfoot. And although it was as soft as sugar, Dakar legend Helder Rodrigues still managed to power through it for a photo shoot on a stock Super Tenere.
Ali, our guide drew a map in the sand to show our location. Beyond the camp, the Erg Echibbi dunes stretch across thirty kilometres in width for around nine kilometres into the distance towards Algeria. While Helder was making us wonder how capable the Super Tenere could be with knobblies and a mere mortal at the helm, a bunch of kids appeared from nowhere as if by magic. Flashing their goods-to sell, we chatted, were fleeced of a few euros (they appeared to accept any currency) and we finally boarded our bikes and set off for the 350 km that lay ahead of us.
It was perhaps the most beautiful day yet. More sand dunes disappeared into the distance and endless snow capped mountains continuously pierced the horizon. Villages were lined with brightly coloured scarves for sale and locals weaved through the streets on tatty bicycles. Most of the women were covered from head to toe in black ‘Nekabs’ and a few even carried their babies on their backs, hidden away beneath the folds of the fabric.
As we rode further and further away from the towns, it seemed all the more bizarre to pass a lone walker miles from any recognisable civilisation. The previous day’s stray kamikaze dogs (and lone monkey) hardly seemed worth worrying about when today’s hazards were scabby camels, way to big to argue with.
The scenery appeared to change at every turn. A gorge was lined on one side with a strange rock formation, aptly named Monkey Paw (or Tiger Paw depending on who you ask.) It looked like God had carved great fat fingers into the rock face. Further along, the earth was a deep burnt red, the colour you’d expect to find on Mars. Incredible.
But the image from day five has to this morning’s sand dunes, closely followed by the evening’s Lake Ouarzazate . It’s a stunning stretch of turquoise blue water with a fairytale city perched high on its edge. It’s magical. Just like this trip.
Yesterday’s hard ride was so worth it. This morning we woke up to the most stunning view over Fes. It was literally breathtaking. But nothing prepared us for where we find ourselves tonight. We’re in the middle of the desert. Literally. I kind you not, we’re sitting on rich coloured rugs with huge sand dunes behind us, camels and candlelight and mint tea. It’s Amazing.
This day has been much like every other so far. Very, very special. The 450 km were packed with switchbacks, sweepers and long straights that divided the scenery completely in two. To the right, rich golden brown mountain ranges faded into soft yellows and purples which stretched away over the horizon. To the left, snow capped mountains with white peaks poked the pale blue skies. And yet nothing seemed predictable. We would turn a corner to find rich greenery, bright blue lakes or colourful towns.
Children ran to our bikes when we stopped, hands outstretched, eyes hopeful for pennies and sweets. Where did they come from? How do they live? It’s a world away from our lives in Europe, whether that’s Italy, Germany, Holland, Spain . .. No matter where we’re from, we weren’t prepared for this. This is something else. We don’t wash our clothes in nearby streams as our children play in the dirt. Our grandmothers don’t carry great bundles of grass on their backs to feed our scabby family donkeys. And our men don’t hang out in bars all night. Or maybe some do . . !
The Super Ténérés feel like faithful friends now. We’ve bonded over the last few days and there’s a level of trust and companionship that’s developed. They feel like they’ll carry us anywhere, clean asphalt, rough terrain, even through the soft sand track to these cosy bivouacs.
Right now, we’re being comforted by a gentle evening breeze. A pile of fluorescent logs glow in the bonfire in front of us as a pot of tea heats in the flames. Apparently there’s a five star hotel up the road. But we’ve got a tent each and a million stars above us. It doesn’t get much better than this.