BMW R1200GSA vs Moto Guzzi Stelvio NTX

Thursday, 28 February 2013

Ouarzazate. The Sahara comes to us.

Saturday 23/2/13

I woke this morning at three am to a howling gale, with things bashing and crashing outside.I eventually got a couple of hours sleep at six am. I woke up really tired, and it was still blowing outside. It's no fun riding when the weather is like this, then I looked outside.

Dust storm Ouarzazate style.

It was like this for most of the day.

I checked the web and the result told me were spending another day here. gave the forecast of "Very windy" with winds from the WNW at 44 kp/h, gusting to 66 kp/h. Blah!

We had breakfast on the roof again, but this time inside a little dining room. We met a young French guy who is finishing his final geology project before qualifying as a geologist, and a Norwegian gent who was travelling with his daughter. Between the five of us we had a good conversation over a nice, relaxed breakfast.

We decided to go for a little ride around town and see if there was anything we hadn't discovered yet. When we got down stairs the bike was covered in fine red Sahara dust. In these conditions it becomes very obvious why the people here wear Sand People outfits (Djellaba) and Tuareg head wear. When this wind picks up, and there's sand everywhere, you need some protection from it.

Great digs, and a prime parking spot.
Azoul Hotel is a little gem.

Our ride was a real struggle in the wind, even with the protection of the buildings on the side of the road. I hate to think what it would have been like out on the open road at speed, or up in the mountains.

Ouarzazate is quite small, but interesting.

We raided the supermarket on the way back to the hotel and stocked up on some delicacies for dinner in our room later on.

We want to make an early start tomorrow, but we're not too sure which way we'll go. The fastest way to Tangier is back up through Marrakesh and Casablanca, but I'm not keen on backtracking, I'd rather see somewhere new. Although the pass was really good, so I wouldn't mind that part too much. We might head north through Beni Mellal, about three hours away. We'll see how we feel in the morning. The forecast looks good with winds around four kph, gusting to eight.

One thing I know is we have to get out of the main cities again - little towns and villages are so much better.
We're still in Marrakesh. 

Wednesday 20/2/13

The weather report for Marrakesh today is cold, and windy, while tomorrow looks perfect with mid twenties temperatures and little wind. These make perfect conditions for tackling the Tizi N' Tichka Pass. We'll cool our heels in Marrakesh for another night, at least it's not raining today.

We made another big dent in the breakfast buffet again today, then I did a quick run around to get some photos of the hotel in sun light.

This one of the five pools I found. There may be more.

Nice, peaceful garden areas everywhere.

Then it was time for a brisk walk around town. Marrakesh is much like most cities, but I did find a few thing that made me chuckle.

There was no chance of getting lost.
There were sign everywhere.

Moroccan safety. If a manhole cover is missing  put a couple of sticks over the hole, and a couple of rocks around it.
It works! I didn't fall in.

The thing that really confounded me was the enormous number of Motobecane mopeds running around the streets. These things were in Perth many years ago, in fact a friend of mine, Andrew, once rode one across Australia when he was young and silly. They didn't survive very well in Australian conditions. That's the polite way of saying they fell to bits. Here, the things are everywhere. They are ridden solo, two up, two up with a child in between, or solo carrying something huge on the back. I saw one guy ride past with a large jack hammer sitting on the back seat. It wasn't tied on, it was just sitting there. How do they not fall apart here? I just don't get it.

Mighty Motobecane moped.

The other thing I've noticed is that none of the scooters here are licensed, helmets aren't compulsory, and road rules obviously don't apply to two wheeled vehicles. (That's if they apply to any vehicles at all. I still haven't been able to work that one out.) There are literally thousands of mopeds and scooters everywhere. Riding through all this madness, we've only seen one woman being picked up off the road after a crash, and she looked fine. Everyone just works together instead of against each other and it all works.

Back in the hotel again we prepared for an early start in the morning. The weather forecast still looks good, so tomorrow should see us back on the road and riding in the High Atlas Mountains on some mind numbing roads.

Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Ouarzazate to Sahara, or not? 

Friday 22/2/13

I was woken by the call to prayer at 6.45 am so I got up and watched the sun rise.

The military families billets across the road
from Hotel Azour.

The mountains behind our hotel.

Eight am. Peak hour traffic in Ouarzazate.

It was a very peaceful time of the day.

Suzanne and I had a very relaxed breakfast sitting on the roof of the hotel in the sunshine, then went for our morning walk.

We found the tourist bureau and checked out the points to enter the Sahara. It turned out that when we read it was about ten minutes away, it wasn't actually accurate. Well, maybe, if you took a plane there.

The closest dunes in the Sahara were three hundred kilometres away. That's a six hundred kilometre trip to see, and possibly ride in, some sand dunes. We discussed it and decided that we'll never be this close again, so we might as well go for it. Then I checked the map, and the entry point is only about fifty kilometres from the Algerian border. After checking the Australian Government Smart Traveller website I decided we'd give it a miss. If I was here by myself, I'd take the risk, but not with Suzanne.

We just wandered around town for the rest of the day checking out the locals and the stores. Then back at the hotel we enjoyed the sun set.

Little did we know what a sun set like this in Ouarzazate means, and we went to bed blissfully unaware of what tomorrow would bring.
Marrakesh to Ouarzazate, via the Tizi N' Tichka Pass. What a ride.

Thursday 21/2/13

We made the most of our breakfast selection again today before loading up and heading out on the road.

We had spent some time consulting Google Maps and writing down directions to find our way out of town and onto the correct road to Ouarzazate. (It's pronounced Wa Za Zat.)

We won't get lost today...

...Oh yes we will.

After riding around town for a while and covering a few of the roads twice we finally found what we thought was the right road and headed off. I wasn't totally comfortable because we were heading slightly off the direction I thought we should have been going. We did see a few interesting things though...

Abstract art, Moroccan style.

A pot or two.

I suppose we could ship a small container home.
There were lots of shops to buy all sorts of things from.

School's out.

After forty minutes of riding, these things started to look a little on the large size. Apparently there is a pass through there somewhere.

We reached a village and consulted the map. 

Dour Ouriki provided a reference on our map,
and confirmed we were on the wrong road.

Sure enough, we were on another road that sort of paralleled the road we wanted to be on. Looking at the map I couldn't see a road connecting the two, so it looked like a forty minute ride back into town to start all over again. A closer look revealed a little back road connecting Dour Ouriki to Abidar, on the road we wanted. That'll do. That's the beauty of the BM, it will cope with any sort of road. Off we went.

The river flowing through Dour Ouriki,

The road was OK, actually a lot better than I expected. There were a few nice bits and the terrain was interesting. We came up behind a ute carrying some Donkeys, with a guy sitting on one of them. He then changed position and lay across their backs. I motioned that we'd swap our bike for the donkeys and he laughed. Oh well, it was worth a try. 

Four donkeys and a person in the back of a ute.
Try this at home.

The simple life.

Suzanne and I often see things like the photo above and discuss life. A donkey for transport, a cow or goat for milk, a few chickens for eggs, grow your veges. It can't be all bad. Everyone seems to be stress free and happy. Do you remember the TV series "The Good Life?

No, it's not Jimi Hendrix.
This guy was carrying a pile of sticks.

The foothills of The High Atlas.

Cactus, shepherds, and sheep.
They're everywhere here.

We pulled a right at the next village, Abidar, and before we knew it we were on nice winding roads. Here we go.

It needs a little bit of a fix up,
but I reckon I could get it cheap.

There are lots of donkeys,
including two on a BMW.

Now the real fun starts.

We reached the snow gate, and were relived to find it open. When there is snow covering the pass they don't let vehicles through.

Then it was into the pass proper. The road was steep, with bend after bend after bend and a lot of hairpins. As usual, most of the road didn't have any safety barriers or railings. They were only on the "dangerous" bits.

Suzanne threw her usual quote at me again here. Don't look down, so of course I did. This is what I saw.

All through the pass there were men selling "crystals" like Amethyst, Quartz, Mica, and a few others. Suzanne and I stopped to look at one stall and were a little dubious of their validity. The colours of the crystals were very intense. We didn't buy any, but gave the guys few dirham for letting us take photos.

These guys were on the roadside for miles and miles through the pass.

What do you think? Real...

...or not?

Back on the road again, and through the pass.

We're about half way to the top. If you look in the bottom right of this photo you can see part of the road to get up here. Check out those mountains!

And the road just keeps going like this...

...and this.

Then it got serious. Suzanne wouldn't look down and was just pointing the camera at the side of the road and taking photos, and sometimes over her shoulder.

Yes, it was quite high.

Going up.

We were just down there.

I will point out that both of us were pretty uncomfortable with these types of roads early in the trip. I'm pretty much OK with them now, but I did have a few "moments" today. Suzanne has also improved and is a real trooper. I don't think I could sit on the back of a bike on these roads.

Some of the bends were made very interesting as long buses and trucks coming in the other direction negotiated them. I actually stopped a couple of times and let them through. I thought it was better than being pushed off the edge of a cliff on a hair pin bend.

As far as I'm concerned, big trucks have right of way.

We reached the snow line and there wasn't much snow around at all. 

Even I wouldn't call that

I'm pretty happy we didn't come through yesterday though. Just as we rode over the top of the pass Suzanne announced that the camera battery was dead. Oh well, we got lots of photos (about 450) going up anyway.

The road down was just a blast. A flowing chain of left - right second and third gear bends, and so much fun. I had a ball. Turn left, throttle, brake, turn right, throttle, brake, repeat, repeat until your arms hurt. FANTASTIC!

We weren't far away from Ouarazazete and we saw a small village. I took this opportunity to say to Suzanne "It's a lot smaller than I expected"  making her think it was Ouarzazate. She wasn't thrilled to think that this little village was our destination. Sometimes I'm just a tiny bit mean. : )

Then I got a taste of my own medicine. We arrived at what I though really was Ouarzazate, and it was very small, with only one hotel. Oh oh! I decided to ride on a bit further and found the real Ouarzazate a couple of miles down the road. The small area we rode through was set up to support the film studio that is there.

we rolled into town and promptly found a cafe, without WiFi. We had a drink anyway, then I went for a little walk and found a small hotel about fifty metres down the road.

Hotel Azoul is owned by Muhamid Ali (No, not that one.) Ali is a really nice guy. He got his offsider, Abdul, to show me two rooms so I could choose the one I preferred. When I saw the suite, the choice was easy. It's a really nice little hotel and has that special "feel" that makes you feel very comfortable while you are there. Our room has a small lounge area , and most importantly, probably the best, hottest shower we've had the pleasure of enjoying anywhere. That's a rare commodity in Morocco as far as our experiences go. Our room was only about fifty Aussie dollars, and our bike is living right outside the front door.

After chatting and having some tea we discovered that Ali is the owner of the hotel and he has spent three years renovating the old apartment building that it was. He's done a great job.

An added bonus was that breakfast is served on the roof and is a very nice way to start the day. Check it out at

We did our usual wander around town and found the markets. The tourist markets that is. We really like the sand people outfits. We call them that because they look like the Sand People out of Star Wars. We had a look at a few and the price dropped from $70AUD to $50AUD for two without us saying anything. We'll see...

For dinner we visited a restaurant that was recommended by Ali at the hotel. It was very nice, but expensive. Extremely expensive by Moroccan standards. It was a very nice restaurant though.

Tomorrow we'll have a look at tackling the Sahara and maybe get some sand in our eyes.

Sunday, 24 February 2013

We're in Marrakesh and it's pouring down rain. 

Tuesday 19/2/13

Our decision about spending another night in Marrakesh had been made for us this morning. It was pouring with rain when we got up and our planned route today would take us through the Tizi N' Tichka Pass (Literal translation "It's difficult") in the High Atlas Mountains. The pass is 2,260 metres above sea level, is sometimes closed between November and March due to snow, and is littered with switchbacks and sheer cliffs. I don't mind riding in the rain, or even the snow, but I thought that this pass would be better tackled in the dry. So we'll stay another day.

We finally made it to Africa and to the warmth, and we get more rain that we did in the UK. What's going on?

Down to breakfast we went. We walked into a very large breakfast area that offered pretty much anything and everything you could want. We weren't in a hurry so we paced ourselves and grazed for some time. We sampled the omelettes, Croissants, fresh fruit juices, mint tea, coffee, assorted meats and cheeses, and some fruit. For a breakfast that was included in the price of the room it was amazing.

I think we ate enough calories to get us through the whole day just at breakfast. And the coffee was good too.

As I said yesterday, this hotel is huge, so I took the opportunity to take a look around then spent a few hours working on the blog and listening to the rain pouring down outside. It was real rain too, not just little showers.

A rare break in today's rain.

Me, hard at work blogging. Check out the size of the gigantic open area I'm sitting in. The bar is just behind me, and a large, flat screen TV showing movies and football is in front of me.

There were large, framed, local pieces hanging around the hotel. I thought that they were woven, but they are actually painted on Hessian.

Close up of the artwork.

It really is an incredible place...

...and it just goes on and on.

I hope the weather clears tomorrow so we can get to Ouarzazate. Riding is better than sitting in a hotel. Ouarzazete is known as "The gateway to the Sahara" so a little sand riding may be involved somewhere down the line when we get there.