Morocco on a Motorcycle - Lessons Learned
File under Travel
Author: Mike Werner
Location: Normandy, France
I hope to publish some photos next week when the Wanadoo's server is finally up, but in the mean time, for those of you planning to make a motorcycle trip to Morocco (or thinking about it), here are some tips & lessons learned.
First of all, a question often asked, Morocco is quite a safe country. Yes there is crime, but that you'll find in any country in the world. But the crime is not specifically targeted towards tourists. You'll get petty theft such as pickpockets, or stuff stolen of your motorcycles if you do not pay attention. But then, would you leave your motorcycle fully packed out in a street in your own city ?? Probably not, so don't do it here either.
Morocco - The Country
As a country, Morocco is big, has loads of interesting cities and roads, diverse scenery, very nice and friendly people, good food and quite important; cheap !
The climate can vary. In the mountains, during winter, you may end up with snow and ice, while in the south, you can swim (30°C).
The scenery can change within 50 kilometers, so you have a wide variety to chose from.
The main roads are quite rideable, i.e., there's a reasonable good tarmac and roads can even have 2x2 lanes (there's even an "auto-route").
But when travelling on a well surfaced road, don't be surprised to suddenly, and without warning, see the road end in gravel or sand !! It's just one of those interesting surprises....
There's an autoroute/motorway/toll-road from Casablanca to Marrakesh and Tanger. It's 2 by 2 lanes, but in contrast with Europe, you'll find people crossing the lanes on foot, hitchhiking, cattle/sheep grassing in between the lanes and when a car or truck breaks down, it stays where it stopped, so caution.
The Roads - Danger
A couple of "watch-outs".
First, if you see some wet spots on the road, you can safely assume that it's not water !! Most likely, it'll be diesel or oil spills. This is particularly the case in the mountains ! You'll see many cars and trucks crashed alongside the road....
The reason for this is the 2nd danger: trucks ride around at reckless speeds !! They are badly maintained, leak oil and diesel, and often have bad brakes.
You'll see trucks passing cars on the opposing lane, and even if there's incoming traffic, they will not move out of the way.
Riding is hectic. If you're used to riding in cities & traffic like Paris, then you'll do fine. If you're used to traffic being more or less polite, and respecting the rules of the road, then you may be in for a shock.
Pedestrians in any of the cities or towns will cross the street anywhere, and at any moment. You'll be dodging pedestrians while trying to avoid fast driving cars. I found that in big cities, it was wiser to stay to the left of the lanes, so that way you needed only to concentrate on the traffic to your right. If you ended up on the right lane, there would be a lot of cars and buses stopping, forcing you to change lanes.
The cops are tourist friendly, and motorcycle cops will even wave or nod at you. Some have gone out of their way to help us find an hotel, or help us otherwise.
At times you'll encounter motorcycle cops passing you on the opposing lane, moving their left hand up and down. That's a signal that you should move over to the side of the road, since there a convoy coming that most probably will be driving on YOUR side of the road.
However, there's never a cop to signal that the danger is over....
Yes, there is a lot of pollution !! Every city can be seen from far away due to the immense haze it has surrounding it. Cars and trucks are not exactly inspected for technical issues, so you see a lot of smog. Casablanca is the worse.
Every night when showering, the water turned black from the pollution that settled on our faces and bodies.... If you've got asma, think again....
Food & Water
Food is dirt cheap. We ate lunch usually at roadside cafe/restaurants with the locals (mostly truckers). Meat is cut in front of you, and you eat Tangines. Once we even had to go and buy meat at the local butcher, and the restaurant prepared the food on a BBQ.
Hygiene in these establishments are reasonable, maybe not as you'd find at home, but still, you will not die. And the food is often very good, and very, very cheap. Expect about 10 Euros....
Even though Morocco has made progress in water treatment, don't drink the water ! Use bottled water, and make sure they open the bottle in front of you.
There are many hotels, ranging from hostels to 5 star deluxe hotels. The average 2-3 star hotel (comfortable, airco, TV, shower) will set you back about 30 Euros (low season prices, high season 50-60). Hostels will cost about 3 Euros per night. You can camp almost anywhere, but would not suggest alongside the road. Go a bit more inland.
Hotels are safe, and they will go out of their way to accommodate your motorcycle (I'll write up another article about the hotels that DON'T... just my revenge). We've had our motorcycles parked in a conference room in a hotel, employee courtyard, employee room, walkways, courtyards, etc. Only once did our motorcycles sleep without any security ! Kudos to Moroccan hotels for their customer sensitivity !!
There are many cities from where you can cross to Morocco. In France there's a ferry from Sete, and in Spain there's Almeria, Algecira, Gibraltar and Tarrifa (there are more, but they are the big ones). Algecira is the biggest, and has a ferry crossing almost every hour.
There are many companies that cross. If you take the Algecira to Tanger crossing, you have ferries that cross in 3 hours and you have one that does it in 70 minutes.
If you get seasick, I recommend you take the FRS ferry from Tanger to Tarrifa, that'll take 35 minutes.
From all the companies, the FRS folks seem the most professional. But do take note, on your way back to Europe, on the FRS ferry, you can not change your money back to European currencies, and you need to pay in Euros for drinks or food (and duty free).
From Algecira to Tanger
In Algecira, there will be a few hawkers/touts trying to get you to park your bike in some isolated spot so that they can sell you tickets. Ignore them all (even if they look "official") and park in front of the ferries sale office (main building). Just go in and buy your tickets.
Once you've got your ticket, you go to the ferry area. Cars will be lined up in different areas. There seems to be no real line up. Eventually, someone from the ferry company will show up and tell you to move your motorcycle to the ferry.
Each ship has a Moroccan customs officer onboard. You MUST line up and have your passport stamped !!
Arriving in Tanger
Once you've arrived in Tanger, while exiting the ferry, your passport is checked by an official (to see if you've had your passport stamped). So have your passport handy. Then you ride to the customs area, and that's where all hell will break loose. There are going to be a few dozen men, all wearing official looking passes trying to get you to go into a specific lane.
These are all touts !! In fact, if they don't have a pass pinned on their coat, then the person is probably an official !! (BTW, read the titles they have given themselves
Although importing your motorcycle has become easy compared to years ago (carnets etc), it's still an administrative hassle. The easiest solution is to give one of the touts 5 Euros per person, give him your passport, motorcycle paper, and wait (there's usually someone walking around serving tea). You can wait for 1 or 2 hours....
Eventually, all paperwork is cleared and your passport will have a police number stamped in it. You then most go with one of the touts and get the final green and white paper (2 pieces). DO NOT LOOSE THESE TWO PIECES OF PAPER !! If you do, you'll be in bureaucratic hell for days on end, and will not be able to leave the country since you police number will state that you entered with a motorcycle !!
Once you've got your precious documents, you're free to go. Some may try to get a few Euros from you at the end. Just tell them to shod off.
Leaving from Tanger
When you ride up to the ferry sales office in the port of Tanger, again, you'll find dozen of touts trying to sell you tickets. Just ignore them, since you will not need them.
Some may try to come up and ask for your passport, looking all official. Ignore them. Only uniformed men and ferry officials are to be listened to. Once you've got your tickets, ride the 100 meters to the police entry point. Go to the first counter, give your passport and green & white paper.
You'll get stamped, and off you go. No need for any touts.
I'd say there's no real need to put on desert tyres if you're not planning to ride the pistes or totally off road, however, having said that, we were happy to have them, since at times the road runs out, and in deep gravel or sand, they did come in handy.
Most gas stations now sell unleaded fuel (95 RON), but caution, there still are a few, specially in places where there are not many cities, that only have leaded fuel. Bring a 5 or 10 liter jerrican. Better safe than sorry.
An interesting circuit to do if this is your first visit is Tanger - Fez - Marrakesh - Ouarzazate - Agadir - Casablanca - Tanger. That'll take you a week or so, without needing to ride for hours and hours every day.
Moroccan's city of pleasure. If you pay attention, you'll find that any sexual pleasure can be bought here.... The beach area is where most of the hotels are and beach restaurants.
The Ramada Hotel is on the beach, and has an underground guarded parking (low season cost about 70 Euros).
The Miami beach restaurant (to the left of the Ramada) is worth a visit (3 avenue des F.A.R. tel 039 32 24 63).
Marrakesh is the "royal" city. You notice the difference immediately. Big and wide boulevards, beautiful parks, and the inner castle walls still stand (inside the famous Medina/Kasbah).
You'll find many hotels here, ranging from Deluxe to 0 star hotels. But everything is commercial and expensive (compared to the rest of Morocco).
The final frontier city before entering the Sahara. It's also the city where there are two film studios (used by Hollywood for many movies). One, the Atlas studios has a 3 star hotel inside. Hotel Oscars is a very nice hotel, but in the winter, if it's really cold, avoid it, since their heating sucks (cost about 35 Euros per night). But the hotel has all sorts of movie decors and paraphernalia.
THE restaurant to eat in is called Le Relais de Saint Exupery (by Jean & Pierre). These former Foreign Legion soldiers opened one of Morocco's best restaurants. Although the food is excellent, the price is moderate. Almost all food is done with saffron !!
When riding around the city, do not be surprised to be stopped by a French registered BMW R1150GS with a big Frenchman riding. His name is Gilles and he lives there. He loves motorcycles. Normally, he'll invite you to stay at his big house (10 bedrooms).
Agadir is the tourist place. The beach is full of hotels and a very long promenade full of restaurants, discos etc. Weather is always warm and pleasant.
We stayed at the Hotel Anezi, a 3 star joint for 33 Euros per night. There's no specific parking, but once your motorcycle is inside the compound it's secure. (Blvd. Mohammed V )
Casa is a major city, full of people and cars. It's very polluted ! It's not worth staying there.
All in all, visiting Morocco is worth your while, even if you do not intend to go off-road. The country side is beautiful, the people pleasant and the costs are low.