Friday 4th ~ The real adventure begins
Eyes wide open and taking it all in. I’m like the rubbernecked chicken strapped to the front of the Bike – head going in all directions trying to soak up every detail. Morocco catches me a little off guard. I’ve this romantic notion I suppose, of Omar Sharif males and masked female dusky beauties all flowing around in robes with a whiff of patcholui as they pass. Lush and comfortable Bedouin tents aplenty, goats awandering, camels a spitting and a background of hubble-bubble pipes for a soundtrack.
As we descended through Spain I looked to the roadside and wondered what the farmers grew and how the hell they grew it. (I think it’s the little Donegal blood I have in me – seeping out). The land looked so dry,hilly, rocky and downright challenging. But here, although only a little further south I have no clue. I really am now officially out of my comfort zone, and we’ve only just begun.
How do people live here? What constitutes ‘The Average Man?’ How does that mans daily life go?
Moroccans seem to cling to the country. Heading inland, the roads cling to the hill sides. The villages to the hills and the houses dug into to the land itself. Oh, and the entire country seems to be unfinished, half built, a Work In Progress. I swear if it were not for cement the place wouldn’t exist. Maybe they would all be in tents like my naive idyll notion.
I mean no offence by this – it’s just an observation, by a clueless tourist. But it is stark. The country is obviously poor by ‘our standards’. Inverted commas there as I confirmed throughout the trip my suspicions that our ‘standards’ aren’t necessarily higher – just different and shaped to fit ‘our’ world and let’s be honest, our blinkered desire for convenience. Honour, honesty and community spirit is far more alive in any part of Africa than in any of our ‘civilised’ western cities. Priorities are different, for a start. Incomes are far lower, that’s obvious.
But I digress.
Back to the land. This road get high traffic and hard use, and it looks like last winter was harsh. Subsidence is everywhere. In some places the road surface is ruined, in others it just isn’t there – gaping holes and lane width suddenly narrows on bends where the road has simply slipped off the edge of a cliff. They’ve a great way of informing the traveller of these little inconveniences – by placing small rocks at the edge of these, you soon know to look out for them, for they mark at the least a big pothole or at most a drop into a wheel swallowing chasm. Your observation gets good and your reactions quick too.
The quality of the buildings is suprisingly low considering the conditions they have to endure. Rough bricks (of mud or concrete? concrete seems unlikely/too pricey) and badly laid mortar. A plumb line and a spirit level seem unheard of judging by the erratic off square wandering of walls, window frames and such As for the unfinished state of much of the buildings one explanation is this; like many cultures, they build when they’ve the money and stop when they have not. The intention being to complete at a later date. Thus much was started in the recent boom and stopped since the bite of the recession.
Still it all looks strange. The only way to tell if a finished building is used is often by its colour. Bright cheerful colours hit you in the eyes as you enter a village. The contrast with the red/brown soil is so cheering it just makes you smile to see it. We could learn from that alone. Imagine how much Ireland would improve on a grey day if that greeted you on your travels!
The old and derelict buildings fall apart almost with dignity, losing their colour and slowly slipping back into their surroundings becoming the colour of the soil and so just disappearing unless you look real close. It’s impossible to tell the age of buildings here as constant repair and change masks any clues. It could be five years old it could be five hundred, who’s to know? One thing that’s just like Ireland, if you want to know the age and status of a town or village just look at the place of worship. Is the Mosque big or small, freshly painted or in need of a new coat? The faith may be different, but people and their pride remains the same.
There is just something so surreal about seeing a shepherd doing a job that’s remained unchanged for millenia, dressed as if he just walked out of a passage from the Bible, pausing in his task to watch our little gang of Bikers trundle down the road and then he’s distracted. He hoists his robe to reveal a pair of Nike© track suit bottoms and gets out his mobile to take a call….
There’s a lot of sheep in Morocco. The shepherds could be old, young, male or female. It’s certainly an equal opportunity job. I wondered about school and whether the kids should’ve have been in one. I now assume that like further south – education is a privilege that costs a fair amount per term, plus exam fees that escalate as the pupil gets older and the exams of more worth in the workplace. Farming skills seem of high value, judging by the stepped fields, carefully worked to get the utmost out of the side of a hill.
Anyway, by now we’ve settled into a reasonable pace for Honda C90s and put some distance between us, the ferry and Europe. No turning back now, though that very idea was considered much later in the trip! The rest of the road to the campsite at Chefchaouen was pleasant enough, the locals ever curious. some waved and smiled as we passed, some glowered at us – I have no idea why. When we stopped or slowed I’d give my chicken Earl a squeeze to make him honk – that always broke the ice and got smiles and eased our way.
Some pics below to give you an idea of the terrain. The best bits for me was rounding a bend or cresting a hill and seeing more and more hills, twists, turns and the curiousity rising wondering where does it go next?!