04 June 2010

The Big Adventure - Part 6

On the seventh day we rested. A leisurely start to the day with a traditional Moroccan breakfast: bread, cheese, coffee and sweet tea, yoghurt and fruit preceded a bike-fettling session before going in to Ouarzazate town centre for lunch.

One of the features of Bikershome is a fully equipped garage that visitors are welcome to use should anything need attention The bikes had stood up well (mechanically) to the abuse of the first few days, with just a check-over, chain adjustment and oil top-up required. We also took the opportunity to effect some repairs to the damage inflicted by rocks. Pete showed Jason how to tidy up the scratches in his fairing, and with some super-glue his Lexan headlight guard was back in one almost complete piece. He also repaired and re-wired the damaged indicator leaving just one missing piece of lens.

Deciding to take some interest in the outside world, we used Pete’s computer to get on the Internet and learned for the first time about the volcanic ash disruption – sparking ideas about riding all the way back to the UK through Europe as an alternative to flying home from Spain.

Another guest staying there was Tim Cullis, who some might know from the UK GSer forum. Tim is a regular visitor to Morocco, and much of the mapping we were using on our GPS receivers was his work. He was able to regale us with stories from adventures past, as well as suggesting possible routes we could take later in the trip. As proof of the vagaries of the Moroccan road (and piste) network he related how one year a route on a fully laden GS took two hours, whereas the following year the same route on an unladen bike took eight.

When you’re out in the mountains you need to be aware that most people you meet won’t know what the trail conditions ahead are like. After being assured that the piste was open and passable, Tim discovered that it had been washed away down the mountain and instead of being open and passable it now no longer existed.

At lunchtime Pete drove us in to Ouarzazate in his pick-up truck. There are only three passenger seats, so the rest of us climbed in the back in typical African style. We went to café favoured by both Pete and Tim, where the speciality of the house was fruit “milkshakes”, although they were more akin to smoothies as there wasn’t any milk in them. Pick a fruit, any fruit: avocado, mango, strawberry, pineapple… and it arrived beautifully blended with fresh fruit juices in to a not too sweet, refreshing drink. From the menu we ordered a “homburger” each, which was unformed minced meat, chopped olives and tomato salsa with seasoning in a hamburger bun-sized, round loaf of bread. To finish we had a mille-feuille pastry, which varies from the French version in that it doesn’t have crème pâtissière between the layers of pastry, but something more akin to vanilla buttercream – and it’s not as tall either – but a bargain at just 2d each, and the local equivalent of a latté coffee: a nous-nous.

Tim had broken the number plate on his bike and needed to get a replacement for his journey back in to Europe, and with this being Morocco nothing’s impossible. Although what he came back with was so amateurish it was almost comical. Motorbikes don’t have registration numbers out there, and the ones for other vehicles are entirely numerical, which isn’t all that helpful for a British registration which is mostly alphabetic. My guess at the reason for the numerical only plates is that this means there isn’t a conflict between arabic and roman scripts as “the west” uses arabic numbers anyway. The addition of a Moroccan flag sticker, similar in style to the blue Euro flag on European plates, completed it.

Back at Bikershome we enjoyed the sunshine on their rooftop terrace, carried on with the bike fettling and made plans for the following day.

Photo by Mark Littlewood

We decided that a circular ride would be a good idea, meaning that for once we could leave our luggage behind. Tim was our route consultant, and with his help we put together a route.

On the edge of Ouarzazate lies the film set for Kingdom of Heaven, which you can go and wander around the outside of. None of us had seen the film (in fact I’ve not found anyone who has seen it) but it certainly made an interesting diversion.

From there, there wasn’t a track to the next main piste, so the instruction was “go north”. The area around the film set was stony with dune-like mounds. Some parts had a very loose surface, and Mark H discovered that too much throttle could instil a sinking feeling.

I also came unstuck when I took a route slightly lower down one of the dunes. Looking ahead I saw that it curved up on to the same plateau, but what I’d missed was a square-cut channel between me and the plateau and as I rode in to it I fell off. The bike is well protected with engine bars and the luggage rack, but of course I missed both of them and put some scratches in fairing around the seat.

We’d had a slight navigation error which had seen us go east rather than north, but we found the main trail easily enough. It was wide, flat and straight, and perfect for a play.

Photo by Mark Littlewood

Gareth in particular managed a good impression of Terminator on his black 950. The pictures here tell the best story – the well defined track carried on and on across the flat landscape until we came to a series of dried-up riverbeds which we had to ride across:

When we got in to the more hilly terrain we found another film set lurking:

Being at the back of the ride I took the opportunity to take some photos to give a sense of the scale:

One of the more curious sights we encountered was the way the telegraph poles were being held up: by the cable. The rocky and, in places, unstable ground obviously isn’t ideal for keeping the poles up.

At the top of the hill we joined the main road leading back down, which was in the process of the being resurfaced. They’d sprayed it with water to keep the dust down, but this left a very slippery yet sticky clay-like surface that kept us entertained until we got to the bit that hadn’t been watered. We also had to stay alert to the random appearance of heavy plant repairing and re-shaping the rock-face.

We stopped for a late lunch at a touristy place which had a row of tables under an open-sided Hessian tent. The tables and chairs were very low, and those that sat with their backs to the Hessian discovered it was really quite scratchy as it blew against them. I’m not sure whether we ordered or whether it just arrived, but lunch was a vegetable tagine (mostly carrot) followed by cinnamon orange slices and tea.

Photo by Mark Littlewood

Most of the other customers had already moved on, and we were the only ones left. One of the locals came over to talk to us because he wanted to improve his English. He also owned (or a relative owned, I’m not sure) a shop across the road, and on seeing Mark L’s watch he wanted to swap a carpet for it. Needless to say Mark declined – not least because we’d no way of getting a carpet home again.

Where places have a car park, you’re expected to pay a few Dirham to use it. Being the stingy people we are, we’d parked on the other side of the road for free. Although an out of control sounding articulated lorry thundering down the hill caused some concern – if it had hit the bikes they’d have gone over the edge of the cliff. I’m sure it sounded worse than it actually was – when they’re empty they rattle a lot, and on the gravelly road the wheels will be prone to locking up anyway.

It wasn’t far to the main road which would take us back to Ouarzazate, along a two-lane road with only one lane’s worth of tarmac. Not that there was much traffic, and on the Adventure taking to the gravel verges wasn’t really a problem. What was becoming a problem was Gareth’s bike.

It had become more and more rattley as the day had gone on, and the oil light had been flickering at idle. On the ride back to Bikershome it came on properly, and the rattle was really sounding unpleasant. What was it? There was plenty of oil on the dipstick – oil pump? Camchain tensioner?

Back at base we got on the Internet to harness the power of the combined knowledge of various forums – although being a Saturday night would most of them be in the pub? Or just back from the pub?

The first few replies gave a consistent diagnosis: water pump. It’s a known weakness, and we had brought seal kit with us so it was just as case of getting in there to confirm it, and then repair it. So that was another day at Bikershome.

Next morning we set to work. First job was to confirm the diagnosis by checking the condition of the oil filter. Using some old tyres as a cushion we laid the bike on its side and pulled out the filter – eureka! It was crinkled, which is a sure sign of water in the oil and a good indication that the oil pump seals have had it. We set to work undressing the bike and removing the clutch cover to get at the oil pump. The inside of the clutch cover had the classic ‘mayonnaise’ blend of oil and coolant.

In the midst of this excitement, Pete had been called away to help rescue a couple of bikes: a FJR and a Bandit. The Bandit was quite severely damaged after being run off the road by a taxi, and somersaulting in to a concrete drainage channel. The owner, also called Pete, had gotten away relatively lightly with just a dislocated elbow – and a big repair bill.

Mark H decided to set off to explore some waterfalls that he thought weren’t too far away. After he’d gone, we got the map out and found that they were about a four hour ride away… No, he didn’t get to them.

To help get the new bearings in to the water-pump casing the instructions suggest putting the casing in the oven for a few minutes. The resulting smoke was eye-watering, and didn’t go down all that well with our hosts, but it worked and by tea time Gareth’s bike was back together. We didn’t have a new oil filter with us, but fortunately Pete has a KTM Super Enduro which has the same engine, and he had a spare filter. Job done.

For dinner that night Pete and Zineb took us in to Ouarzazate to eat because Zineb had got something in her eye earlier in the day (we don’t think it was related to the engine casing in the oven though).

While we were out Pete got a call from a group of Polish riders on Honda Africa Twins who’d arrived and were needing assistance. They’d been out in the desert, two of their bikes had broken down, and they’d been charged 500€ each to get the bikes rescued. Ouch! They stayed the night at Bikershome, most of them sleeping on the sofa-benches because by now all the beds were full. Their plan, incidentally, was to get a trailer made so they could use their support vehicle to tow the bikes back to the border, get them back in to Spain and let their breakdown insurance deal with them.

And so, after fours nights in the Bikershome, we set out for the desert.

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