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Into Africa…..

By Jon Newey (retired Architect, Blood Bike rider, Adventure traveller) with Tigger (Triumph Tiger 800 XRX)

Huelva is a pleasant town. They make a big deal out of their relationship with Christopher Columbus His name is actually Colon: I’m not sure why we call him Columbus. Apparently this is the port from where he set sail to explore the world in 1492.

I’m sharing my temporary home here with Marcie, a student from America who is studying in Paris but is on a placement in Spain. She’s impressively multilingual and when not jabbering into her phone in multiple languages she’s on her way out to party. Oh what it is to be young. I, on the other hand, stay in. I cook my own dinner and read a book on the flat’s balcony. The main reason I’m here in Huelva is for a bit of routine admin for myself (laundry, blog, emails, R&R etc) and some maintenance on Tigger – there’s a Triumph garage half a mile away. I’ve pre-booked some new tyres and they’re being fitted tomorrow.

Next morning is an early start because the Triumph garage opens at eight. Garmin takes me round in circles on Helva’s one-way streets but before long we’re at Moto Blanco and Tigger is being wheeled into the service bay. Any online motorcycle forum tends to be dominated by a discussion about tyres, so I’ll give you the details. The tyres I’ve chosen for Tigger on this occasion are Bridgestone Adventurecross AX41’s. These are proper ‘knobbly’ tyres, capable of dealing with gravel tracks and sandy pistes. Their capabilities will be way beyond my own skill-level on such roads. More likely than not I’ll use them mostly on tarmac, but I’m keen to learn new tricks and this creates an opportunity for me to do that. It will take a couple of hours to fit them, they say, so come back this afternoon.

With a bit of effort I find my way back to the flat. I saw everything that Huelva had to offer yesterday, so my morning is spent relaxing on the sofa on the balcony. At mid-day I make my way back to Moto Blanco. Tigger is waiting for me outside looking

even more purposeful than ever. I’ve heard it said that the 3-cylinder Triumph Tiger is like half of a 6-cylinder Landrover, and I can really see than analogy now… Keys handed back, I hop on and set off for a wee spin out into the nearby countryside. Immediately I’m aware of a big difference. Using knobbly tyres on tarmac roads takes some getting used to. There’s a whirring noise  - I expected that – and a slight vagueness in the corners. Road-focussed tyres are definitely better on tarmac but the payback will come when I’m riding on gravel tracks in Morocco.

Back at the flat I chill for the evening. There’s free Netflix and I watch Jumanji – never seen it before. I also book my ferry ticket across the Strait of Gibraltar and I scope out some accommodation in Ceuta on the other side.

Saturday morning arrives. I shift all my gear down the three flights of stairs, pack everything onto Tigger and we set off. We’re heading for Algeciras, Spain’s southernmost ferry port. As I ride along I can see a sandy gravel track running parallel to the tarmac road. I’ve very tempted to try it but there are bollards showing that it is intended for bicycles not motorcycles so I resist. I play with Garmin’s settings and turn the ‘adventurous routes’ function up to maximum as an experiment. I’m instantly directed onto a small track which runs for 200m before there’s a barrier and a ‘no motorcycles’ sign. I guess I’ll just have to curb my enthusiasm for another day or two…

There’s a fast road from Huelva as far as Seville. I ride into ‘centro ciudad’ for a photo-op in front of Seville’s famous bull ring and then press on. Beyond Seville a twisty road rises up into the Andalucia hills passing farms, fields and tractors. I stop for lunch near the top – coffee and tapas. For the next few miles we ride through wind farms and past fields covered with solar panels.  The weather has changed. The sky has darkened and I see spots of rain on my visor so I pull over and put on my waterproof layers. As we descend into Algeciras the rain comes down harder. Well, now I know how these tyres feel in the wet as well as in the dry….. The cooler temperatures are welcome after a week of sweltering heat.

For tonight I have managed to find a good last-minute deal on a single room in a smart hotel directly opposite the ferry port. My room is at the top of a circular tower overlooking the motorcycle park. There are more than 20 motorbikes parked up, all waiting for various different ferry crossings. There are three different ferry operators in the port and they each run the one-hour crossing a dozen times a day, so this is a busy place with people coming and going at all hours. My room is comfortable, the shower is hot, and the ‘all-you-can-eat’ buffet includes ‘all-you-can-drink’ wine, a crazy Spanish idea which must put a serious dent into their profit-margin.

I reflect on the experience of riding my first 300km with the new tyres. The bike doesn’t track round corners in the way that I am used to, feeling a bit squidgy and wanting to stay straight rather than turn. I’ll get used to it. And the knobbly tread pattern increases rolling-resistance which means more fuel consumption. Initial calculations suggest that I can get about 300km per tankful now rather than 400km before. That’s significant and I’ll need to keep a close eye on it in the remoter parts of Morocco.

After a good night in my little garret I wander downstairs for an ‘all-you-can-eat breakfast’ with ‘all-you-can-drink’ coffee. My ferry will leave at 13:30 and the port is only just across the road so I’m in no hurry and I make the most of the food/coffee opportunity presented to me. Latest check-out fro

m the hotel is at noon so at noon I waddle out to the bike, click the panniers on, start up, take a wrong turning and get lost in the hotel’s car park (Globe-trotting Adventurer? Me?)

I arrive at the port with plenty of time to spare. There’s a queue to get my online ticket verified, then another queue to have it checked again, then a long wait at the dockside for the ferry to arrive. Before long the ferry appears, belching copious Deisel fumes*, disgorges its cargo and we drive on up the ramp. The ferry is a big catamaran with aircraft-style seats and no outside decks. An hour later we’re disembarking in Ceuta. Fifteen minutes after that I’m at the door of my Abnb.

The weather today is overcast, about 18 degrees C. Not quite the ‘open-oven-door’ temperatures that I had been warned about. My hosts, Gerardo and Mimi, explain that when the wind is from the east it blows cool, but when it comes from the west it blows hot. At these temperatures all the locals are wearing body warmers and puffer jackets. I’m in T-shirt and shorts. They must think I’m mad.

My Abnb for tonight is a whole 5-bed annex in the basement of a house in a classy, gated, secure neighbourhood. I walk the 5km back into town to find some dinner (chicken tagine), take a quick look round Ceuta town, and by the time I get back to base it is nearly bed time. There’s just time for a beer on the terrace with my hosts while the sun goes down. They are both teachers. Gerardo is Moroccan and he brings out some maps to show me where all the interesting roads are in Morocco. Mimi is a mathematician but also a painter so she is interested in my sketch books. The conversation gives my school-boy French a thorough work-out.

Next morning I have a day off in Ceuta. I take Tigger for a ride around the coast and over the only mountain road. I’m excited. I’m in Africa!! OK, it’s still Spain, and therefore still the EU, but it’s Africa none-the-less. The last time I was in Africa was more than 50 years ago. I spent some of my childhood in Johannesburg and remember visiting Swaziland, Rhodesia (as it was then), Malawi, Kenya and Egypt. We left South Africa for England in 1972. This is the first time since then that I‘ve been back on African soil.

Ceuta Is a curious place. It is tiny, taking me less than an hour to explore all of it on Tigger, and is dominated by military installations, both in the town and in the forests on the mountain. I get the impression that it is a busy military training area. Tigger and I trundle past several shooting ranges in the hills where soldiers are lying prone shooting live rounds at targets in the trees. Maybe not the best place for me to go practicing with my knobbly tyres. Best to just stick to the tarmac here.

Back the Abnb I finish reading the first of the three books that I brought with me. One down, two to go. There’s good wifi available here so I download a new book onto the Kindle app on my phone. It’s a bit of a faff because it wants only to offer me books in Spanish. Eventually I sort it out (it involves using a VPN on my laptop with a UK-based server to give me a virtual UK location to get access to books in English on Kindle on my phone…..Just so that I have a book to read). The Kindle app is useful but I prefer paper books. They never run out of battery.

Tuesday morning is cool and a little cloudy. My hosts have already gone to work so I eat the breakfast laid out for me, pack up my stuff and let myself out. The border with Morocco is only five minutes away. I join a short queue of cars but after a few minutes so many scooters and bikes have arrived that an extra kiosk is opened just to deal with the two-wheeled traffic. At the first window my passport is stamped and I get a pleasant ‘Welcome to Morocco’ from the customs official. At the second window the stamp in my passport is checked and I hand over Tigger’s V5 registration document. The official hands it back together with a small credit-card sized piece of paper with a QR code on one side and Arabic script on the other. ‘This’, he says, ‘is your Temporary Import Permit. You must not lose it and you must hand it back to customs when you leave the country’. At the third and final window I am asked to open all my baggage for inspection. They check that my cameras are currently turned off (yes) and ask if I have a camera-drone (I don’t). Satisfied with the answers they wave me through. That’s it, after just under an hour I’m in Morocco.

There are still a couple of key things for me to do. First, I have to get third-party insurance for Tigger. There’s an insurance kiosk at the border but it is closed. I have no choice but to ride into the nearest town, Fnideq, which is 3 km away. I need Moroccan currency too, so the first place I stop is the Currency Exchange on the main street. With a fistful of Moroccan Dirhams in my hand I next head to the AXA insurance office a little further along. A nice lady immediately gives me insurance for Tigger for 928 Dirhams (about 90 Euros) for one month. I don’t have firm plans so I guess that will do for now. I have to pay in cash (I had that same issue when I crossed from Bulgaria into Turkey last year) so now I am out of cash again. She also gives me a natty plastic wallet to keep the insurance documents in which has a pocket for the temporary import permit too. Clearly she’s done this many times before. Now Tigger is legal.

I go across the street to an ATM and extract more cash. It’s important. Outside of the major cities Morocco is a cash-in-hand society. I need a sim card for my second phone too, but I don’t see anywhere to do that so that task will have to wait. My second phone will be used to give me access to the internet when there’s no wifi. My main phone will still retain my normal phone number for receiving texts and one-time passcodes. This way I can leave data-roaming switched off on my main phone and use the second phone as a local wifi hotspot. I don’t want an £11,000 ‘roaming’ bill to pay like the Scottish politician who was in the news after a holiday in Morocco last year!

Task-list completed for now, I press on towards tonight’s destination, Chefchaouen. I

have Garmin set to avoid motorways, imagining that this will take me on some nice country lanes and mountain roads. It does, eventually, but only after an hour or so of scruffy back streets in the city of Tetouan. For that part, motorways would certainly have been nicer… The road eventually winds up into the early foothills of the Atlas mountain range. I stop at a viewing point for a mouthful of water. A shiny black BMW GS1250 pulls up beside me. The rider is a Frenchman called Rashied and he’s ridden here from Paris. He’s on a 3-week round trip so he’s doing much bigger daily miles than me and after a brief natter – in Franglais -  about tyres and cameras and camping equipment he shoots off.

A short time later I’m riding into Chefchaouen. I’m heading for the campsite on the

hill above the town. I sign myself in and pitch my tent. The first tier of the site is two perfect rows of monster campervans, all with German, French and Dutch number plates. The next level up is all serious overlanders, cars with roof-top tents, knobbly tyres and competition numbers painted on the doors. There are a few serious off-road motorcyclists too. Clearly I’m playing with the big boys here…  The only other tiny tent belongs to Louisa and Esther, two Dutch girls with bicycles who are on their way home after 12 months of touring Europe and North Africa. This place is doing a great job of feeding my inferiority complex!

Chefchaouen is Morocco’s poster-child. It is the ‘blue town’ where every building is inexplicably painted bright blue. Its maze-like alleys and narrow streets are very charming, and yes, everything is painted electric blue. At first I can’t find my way to the medina but a young lad offers to help me in return for a few Dirhams. Before long I’ve got my bearings and can wander at will. I sit to do a painting and - as sometimes happens -  a small crowd forms. A woman asks me for my Instagram details and takes my photo. I’m pretty sure there are better things to take photos of around here but who am I to argue. In return I offer to draw her, but I’m only joking. I don’t do portraits. A tagine in the main medina costs me buttons and after a couple of hours of exploring I climb the steep path back up to the campsite and retire to bed.

I had thought of spending two nights here but the next morning I decide to move on. I’ve seen all I want to in Chefchaouen already. I’ve booked a room in a small ‘riad’ in the old town centre of Fes for the next two nights. I pack up the tent and ship out. Fes isn’t far away, around 100km, but I have a sizeable detour planned. Just north of Fes is the archaeological site of Volubilis, a Roman city from the height of the Roman empire in Africa. Garmin struggles a bit with getting me out of Chefchaouen (No, Garmin, that’s a flight of stairs….No, Garmin, that’s a goat track…) but eventually we’re bundling along on some wide twisty mountain roads. We whizz past farms and villages where the main mode of transport is the donkey. I even see one man ploughing a field using two donkeys in a harness. The roads are ok but they tend to have big bits missing with little or no prior warning. Local drivers know what they’re dealing with and seem to be weaving drunkenly all over the road until I realise what they’re doing and resolve to follow their lead. When in Rome….

Volubilis is amazing. They’ve only excavated a small part of it so far but it’s easy to see what a spectacular city it was in its hey-day. The houses have mosaic floors, courtyards with fountains and rich carvings. Apparently one of the key attractions is a carving of a large phallus in a building called the House of the Dogs. Sadly it (together with the related photo op) eludes me. I stop to sketch the remains of the Basilica, and with the afternoon temperature rising I walk back to Tigger and press on.

A couple of technical issues become apparent as I ride. First, the sat-nav keeps cutting out and restarting as I go along. It might mean there’s a loose wire somewhere. Later in the day it seems to have resolved itself though. Odd. Then there’s the question of fuel consumption. It seems to have gone back to normal now, with 450km available from a single tankful. I’m not sure if this is because the knobbly tyres have ‘bedded in’ a bit or whether I’ve had a tail wind all day. Thirdly, Tigger seems to be leaning more than normal when on his side-stand whenever I stop. Not sure why. I have a spare side-stand with me in case I break one (it’s aluminium so can’t easily be welded like a steel one could, hence the spare). It’s something else for me to keep an eye on.

An hour later we arrive at Fes. This one is complicated. My room is in a ‘riad’ deep in the old town's medina where Tigger can’t go. Fortunately there’s a garage just near one of the city gates, Bab Zait, and the owner of the riad sends someone to meet me there. Tigger is directed into the garage. It costs me 60 Dirhams for two days of dusty, dingy but secure parking (about £5) which doesn’t seem bad. The problem now is that I have to carry all my stuff a quarter of a mile through the rabbit-warren and up four flights of narrow stairs to my roof-top room. One of the parking attendants offers to help and obviously expects something in return. The phrase ‘Do you have a little something for me’ is never far away from any conversation in these parts.

The room is cheap but it suits me just fine. There’s a roof terrace, there are other backpackers, I have a private shower room, and the riad is a few short steps from the souk, the kasbah, the Bab Boujloud and the centre of the medina. I take a wander through the souk and choose a place to eat. Tagine again, but I don’t mid that. It is full of almonds and spices and I can sit and watch the world go by in a scene that has hardly changed since the middle ages. This will do me fine for a couple of days. The big question is, where should I go from here?

Tigger miles in 2023 = 8,024

Tigger miles in 2024 so far = 2,338


*Incidentally, in case you’re interested, I made my whole expedition ‘carbon neutral’ again this year by paying for carbon credits through The carbon credits included an offset for the carbon created by the various ferries I plan to use. Carbon offsetting isn't a silver bullet to cure climate change, but it helps.....

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