Thursday, 2 October 2014
The next day I was a bit tender, I should know better than to mix beer and wine to start with, but hindsight is, as we all know, a luxury. We were getting into the habit of getting up at 8am by now, not really a problem if you go to bed decently early too. It also makes sense to set off fairly early while it's still not as hot outside. Because we arrived in the dark we couldn't see much of what the Rekkam grounds were like other than where there were a few lights. In the morning there were many more things to look at and Locky took some pictures.
The entrance gate:
The new restaurant being built:
A builder who was very happy that Locky wanted to take a picture of him. He was mixing the mud and straw that they build with, it looks like really hard work:
There were a lot of these nomad tents, presumably people could stay there if they wanted to:
Moroccan electrickery installations at their finest, this was a common sight:
A picture with the Frenchie and the rat, I'm not sure he understood what that was all about:
We had breakfast and a shower, packed up and the Frenchie took us to the only place that sold petrol in town:
We were assured the fuel was debris free, the people who run the place drive to Erfoud, fill up from the pumps into clean containers and then sell it here. They decant into 5 litre plastic bottles and then fill up the bikes with that. The whole place smelled of petrol and diesel and we were simply parked in a dirt road out front. Moroccans aren't big on health and safety, they didn't seem to be bothered by the fumes themselves and couldn't be bothered with the thought of what would happen if there was a flame/spark too close.
After fuelling we set off for route ME2 in the Morocco Overland book. The Frenchie told us that there was a river that might be high about 4 km into that piste and offered to go to the river with us to make sure it's passable. He drove in his 4x4 and we followed, when we got to the river he drove into the middle and stopped. The water was about 3/4 high up on his tyres and the river was about 15-20m wide. He drove across and got out to watch us cross. I set off, got up on the pegs, kept the revs up and steady and went straight through where he went through. On the other side there was a bit of a hill to get up so up I went to find the Frenchie fairly startled telling me I should go slower through rivers. I'm not sure he understands that bikes need momentum and that we can't crawl through a river like he can in a 4x4. Locky followed, crossing without any problems and the Frenchie appeared impressed with our performances. We were a bit soaked, but the day was getting nice and warm and the cool water was quite nice, it would dry off soon anyway. The Frenchie jumped back in his 4x4 and set off along the piste, we followed and after a short while we came to a split in the road. He stopped here, told us which road to take and we said our goodbyes before setting off into the middle of nowhere. This is when I realised that neither of us had a video camera on for the river crossing. The crossing was such a grin inducing adrenalin rush that we didn't even think about it or thought to stop either side to take a picture of the river. It was the widest and deepest river we'd had ever crossed on any bike and we both got through perfectly to boot!
ME2 was about 100km of proper off road riding. There wasn't much of a road, more a track with stones and lots of sand and in some places the road deviated or disappeared from what we had on the satnav. Normally the deviations were to get around massive chasms carved by water. We had to find our way around these or, if you could see, go down into them and then ascend the other side. In other cases there were river cuttings to cross and the crossing that the road ran to was inaccessible so we had to find another place to cross. We had to ride anywhere to find our way in the general direction of the road, sometimes picking our way through stony fields. There was a lot of sand and it quickly became apparent that we had to "learn" to ride in sand or suffer all day long picking up bikes. Luckily for me I've had some basic sand driving training in 4x4s before and the experience of that and lots of instructional videos I watched before the trip about riding bikes in sand meant I could get it right quickly. Locky's bike was heavier than mine and he's not used to riding in sand, he was going too slow and the bike would sink in easily. This is a mistake easily made when you're not used to sand, one I would've made if I didn't have any past experience of it. It wasn't long before we had a few topples and had to pick up the heavy bikes. Today I was the first one to go, I went down a rather steep sandy hill, turned a bit too sharp, dug the bike in and got ejected to the right. I had a good little roll down the incline, no harm done. The bike was tough to pick up lying in this position. Locky decided to take another route down to where we wanted to get so he doesn't suffer the same fate as I did. In my semi hangover state, having to pick up bikes in the heat was soon taking its toll.
On one occasion Locky got stuck in some sand and dug himself in deep in a matter of seconds. He stepped off the bike and it was standing upright, I had to get a photo:
This was a real struggle to get out, we opted to lie the bike down on it's side to get the back wheel out of the sand. We then filled the hole with some sand and picked the bike up again. Then Locky started it, put it in gear and, with him on the one side and me on the other side we managed to walk it out to firmer sand where he could get on and ride it. This struggle really knackered me and I kind of lost my patience a bit. I set off in a lecture of how he should ride sand and how we're not going to get anywhere if he keeps falling and we have to keep picking up bikes. I felt a bit guilty for going off like that, but the guilt was short lived and replaced by being impressed. Locky hardly said anything about the episode, took it all on board, was soon riding sand like he's had lots of practice before and was certainly enjoying it more.
Since it was hard going and, from yesterday, we knew how long it could take off road we weren't taking much time to stop for pictures. We had the helmet cams running and we'd get pics and footage from them (not knowing then that my camera angle was wrong.) We did stop at a well, as far out in the middle of nowhere as we've ever been and take a few snaps though.
The sun was beating down relentlessly so I donned by favourite floppy sun hat:
Trying to recover a bit in the only spot of shade I could find:
There was water in the well, we dropped a few stones in and counted how long they took to hit the water. We estimated it was about 30m deep:
We were getting too hot sitting around so we had to get moving again. The day was getting on, the going wasn't getting much easier, the sand riding was tiring and my semi hangover wasn't helping at all. It was all starting to take it's toll now and it was my turn to start falling a few times. I managed to fall in a few awkward places that made getting the bike up again difficult, but Locky didn't say anything about my falling (making me feel slightly more guilty about the previous lecture again.)
The roads now changed a bit, they were more hard packed, but with a lot of stones, less sand though. We were nearing the end of the piste, but we still had some distance to go. We saw a rally racing truck speeding along roads we were heading towards, it was insane how fast he was going. The road we were following seemed to start going in the wrong direction for too long. We needed to turn about 120 degrees clockwise from where it was taking us, but we couldn't remember seeing a road going that way. As luck would have it, the rally truck turned that way and was racing along the road we needed to go to. We just picked the straightest route across open land to get there and followed it. We soon ended up driving right past the rally truck's camp, it looks like they were out there to do some testing. A few hundred meters further and we hit the tarred road we needed to get to. I was shattered and we stopped at the first place we could find some shade for a rest. More has to be said on that, shade isn't easy to find when you're out riding. There really are no trees or high rocks or anything that can give you shade. You can go for tens of miles without seeing a tree that's got enough up top to give shade. Even finding a tree to pee against is a bit of a luxury, usually you just have to settle for a bush.
Our claim to fame, this picture made it into the V-Strom.co.uk 2015 calendar for the month of September (the month we set off on our adventure to Morocco.) It was taken by Locky, as most of our pictures were, he's a handy one to have along!
After a good rest we followed the tarred road to Erfoud and on the way we were joined by our racing rally truck again. We were on the tarred road going about 80km/h. The rally truck was racing along the side of the road in the desert, off road and overtaking us! Because our road was straight and his road was twisty and with obstacles it meant we stayed next to him for some time. I tried to keep my head turned towards the racing truck while keeping my eyes forward on the road to get some footage of it. Unfortunately, because of the bad camera angle, one can only catch glimpses of the truck on the video, the rest of the time you just see the dust cloud it kicked up.
In Erfoud there were a lot of rally vehicles: cars, trucks, 4x4 buggies, quads, bikes and everything you might expect to see in a desert rally. Locky bought some tobacco and we talked to a local travel agent who came over to speak to us. He told us that the next day there would be a desert rally that starts there. While watching the AdventureSpec DVD he made of a trip to Morocco we got a recommendation for a hotel next to Erg Chebbi. I think the word "erg" translates to "sea" and Erg Chebbi is like a sea of dunes. The highest dunes get up to 150m high and one of my aims of the trip was to take the Strom to the top of the highest dune here. That crazy idea was snuffed out after today's riding in the sand. I had come to realise how difficult it is to ride a heavy bike in sand and have much more respect for Dakar and other desert rally/enduro riders now. It is much easier in a 4 wheeled vehicle (often with the luxury of aircon.) If I ever go back on a smaller bike I will still give it a go then.
The hotel we were going to was called Yasmina and I had coordinates for it so we set off on a desert track. In the start the road was big and easy to follow even though it was very corrugated in some places. It soon split off into multiple little tracks and it was difficult to figure out what goes where because they don't go in straight lines. I decided that we'll just ride wherever we wanted to and keep as close to the satnav route as we could. This meant we were riding over mostly flat hard packed desert with some loose sand. We could see ahead well and I was going fast, up to 60 miles per hour in some places. We were standing up to give our suspension an easier time. There were little steps in the sand every now and then, they were about 4-8 inches high and, luckily, most of them were steps down for us. We could fly along at speed and jump off the steps, I felt like a rally racer and had to be careful not to get careless, falling off here will still hurt a lot not to mention that the bike can be severely damaged if it hit a step wrong. We spent about a half an hour riding around in the desert like that and it was great fun after a tough slow day. Eventually we came to bigger roads and found the road up to Hotel Yasmina. The hotel was next to the dunes and that was about all it had going for it. It was overpriced, the food wasn't good, the rooms were full of sand (at least not on the beds) and the general disrepair was evident. It was another example of the stance Moroccans (probably not all of them) take to general maintenance of buildings and other things. I had kind of insisted that we sleep there as opposed to anywhere else in the area and, for the 3rd time today, I, uncharacteristically, felt guilty because it wasn't all that you'd think it would be from the pictures and trip adviser reports. I think a lot of other people rate it on the view they can get of the dunes (location) rather than the standard of the hotel compared to others. It was one of the worst places we stayed at, it didn't even have hot water, something I really needed after today.
A view of the outside eating area, overlooking the dunes:
Nomad style tents nearby, it looked like it was a tent hotel:
Some of the bigger dunes, but not the biggest in the whole of Erg Chebbi:
The central courtyard of the hotel, you can just see the bikes to the left:
As we were absolutely knackered we went to bed fairly early and we slept like dead men. Tomorrow we'd go through some gorges.