We rode off the ferry at Tangier thinking to ourselves, “Wow! Africa… things are going to get tough now.” Hahaha idiots. We quickly realised that we were not in Black Africa but instead a country-sized holiday park. Not only is tourism the second largest source of foreign exchange in Morocco (the phosphate industry is the largest), the government is continuing to invest heavily in tourism development. They launched their Vision 2020 in 2010, an ambitious strategy which planned to double the annual number of international arrivals to 20 million by 2020 and increase tourism to 20% of GDP. This TOURISM FOCUS is recognised by the entire population… EVERY SINGLE Moroccan we met knew at least three words of English without fail: “Welcome to Morocco!”
We got our Maroc SIMs in Tangier and then headed direct to Chefchaouen in the Rif Mountains, which sits not far inland from the Mediterranean. This town is iconic for two primary reasons: 1) it’s beautiful blue-shaded architecture… place has even been declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO; and 2) it’s thriving world’s best hash industry. This small region is the world’s top supplier of hashish (along with Afghanistan) and supplies nearly all of Europe.
Many stoner backpackers make what they feel to be a pilgrimage to Chefchaouen, the birthplace of the world’s best. They get to hike up to a village in the hills and see how kief is drawn from cannabis and then processed into hashish. Kief is the THC crystals once they’ve been separated from the marijuana buds… a kilo of cannabis makes about 10g of hash. It’s all very spiritual for the stoner backpacker. If you’re unfortunate enough to be within conversational shot of these guys they’ll impart their sense of accomplishment… explain how cheap they can get hash and how you can only get it at a much higher price, which I think is what makes them special. On a serious note, don’t go on a hill village jaunt without a trusted contact… people easily end up trapped in an intimidating (not life threatening) situation where a big bill is expected to be paid for the day’s excursion.
You don’t need to spend long in the Rif Mountains to realise that there is a strong argument for cannabis legalisation in Morocco. The major opposition party called for it again in 2015. The government’s proposal to replace cannabis farming with goat raising is clearly a lie. In 2013 the Interior Ministry estimated that 90,000 households / 760,000 Moroccans depend on kief production (population of Morocco was 33 million in 2013)… and ~30% of those serving time in Moroccan jails are drug traffickers and cannabis farmers. Ultimately the topic is too sensitive for the government to address easily and they’d like to keep the status quo, which is where criminal black market distributors take the lion share. It’s important to recognise that kief has been farmed for centuries and is part of the region’s culture. Kief is ideally grown >1,200m and we heard comment that a farmer will generally fail if he tries to grow something else up there. The farmer’s attitude is: kief doesn’t kill you but hunger does.
Lets not forget that this region has so much more to offer than just hashish experiences. The most rapid growth the Moroccan tourism industry has seen is in the areas of adventure / activity type tourism in the Rif Mountains, Atlas Mountains and Sahara Desert. Pistes and hiking trails have been developed all over the show to access whatever tickles your fancy.
We intended to squeeze in a few nights in Fez but we were sooooo busy in Chefchaouen we extended our stay… and then rode direct to Rabat. The big plan for Rabat was to investigate 8 – 9 visas that would see us all the way to Cameroon… a plan that would save a heap of ginning around. Plan was a fail, as is the trend with most of our best plans eva! You have to be a resident of Morocco to apply for most of the visas… but we could still bowl over Mauritania – Mali – Burkina Faso – Benin.
As for Rabat itself… well, it’s the administrative capital and you need to consider the place in those terms. Canberra, for example… what do you think of Canberra? A “nice” place with some kind-of-interesting stuff going on… but generally bloody boring. Rabat is no different. We liked the cemetery the most.
Morocco regained its independence from the French protectorate in 1956 as the Kingdom of Morocco. The succession of kings was:
- King Mohammed V 1957 – 1961
- King Hassan II 1961 – 1999;
- King Mohammed VI (son of King Hassan II) 1999 – present
The impression we got was that the King is loved and respected in general. King Mohammed VI brought about social and economic liberalization, which was opposed by Islamist conservatives and angered fundamentalists. A perfect example is the revision of the Mudawana (family code in Moroccon law) in 2004, which addressed gender inequality and women’s rights… not a straight forward task within an Islamic legal framework. It is very entertaining to sit down for an espresso on a main street in Marrakesh and watch old Muslim men shake their heads and frown as women cruise by in short skirts and tight clothing… it’s just plain funny. I don’t claim to know what Morocco was like 20 years ago but I reckon today is as good as a new world by comparison.
Although Morocco is a constitutional monarchy with an elected parliament, in reality the King executes power over everything. He just so happens to be Morocco’s leading businessman and banker with his Royal Family possessing one of the largest fortunes in the world. It would be fair to say that The Royal Family have their fingers in every Moroccan pie worth having a finger in… including banking and investment groups, insurance, mining, energy, telecommunications, real-estate, agricultural groups, food-processing… even alcoholic beverage manufacture and distribution. Point is: everything. Corruption at the highest levels in Morocco has been revealed and public discussion of Royal involvement in business is a major topic… and as you can imagine, quite sensitive.
I think it needs some perspective. Somehow the USA aligning government policy with the interests of corporate sponsors is OK… even though the consequences are dire on a global scale. And lets not forget the rest of Africa… leaders throughout blatantly siphon country fortunes AND do a shit job at running their respective shows. The difference in Morocco is that the King appears to be running a pretty good show… AND the country is SAFE. The style of corruption in Morocco is one where major projects need to be aligned with companies linked to the Royal Palace… if they’re not they’ll be paralyzed until they are. Not only does this improve the profitability of The Royal Family, it also gives the King complete control over the country’s economic interests. I’m not condoning the corruption… I’m just saying that leadership in Africa is inherently rubbish and that: (corrupt + good job) is MUCH BETTER than (corrupt + shit job). Is that politically correct?
Meh. This is the major cruise port for Morocco and is regarded as having the best developed market for tourists in Morocco… it’s definitely where all the money is at. Maybe it was special once-upon-a-time but it’s been developed in such a way to make it tacky and uninspiring. Big cruise ship customers no doubt love the place.
Marrakech is a popular tourist destination for a taste of Morocco’s history and culture. More importantly, it was the launch point for a two week adventure with Dad. Poor Dad had also been loaded up with 34kg of stuff, which included: four new wheels, a pair of windscreens and miscellaneous spares. The plan was a lap around the Atlas with a touch of desert. Dad hired a Husky from <www.loc2roues.com> and we were SET!
The owner of <www.loc2roues.com>, Noureddine, is a passionate adventure motorbiker + super nice guy and was instantly interested in our endeavour. He generously offered use of his workshop and mechanic, which was a BIG HELP. For anyone interested in a Moroccan motorbikin jaunt then Noureddine is your #1 guy!
This is where it is at. Beautiful. Peaceful. Friendly people. Unfortunately my route research was inadequate… satellite imagery only gives away so much. Dad’s big thing was, “I fucking hate the cold… just don’t take me into the cold.” Late into the first day we ended up on a slippery pass that had only just been cleared from a big snow dump the previous week… bit unexpected for that time of year. We both did some mud sampling… and Dad was cold.
Second day we ended up on a piste riddled with loose rocks… with some steep descents and lots of no-return drop-offs. Dad had a tumble on a descent in the loose rock and ended up under his bike.
“Which side went under?” I asked.
“Both,” Laws replied.
“Shit! Was he riding side-saddle?”
The effort Dad was putting in was awesome. To go from office-bound and nearly no riding in a year… to some pretty tough and diverse adventure riding in the Atlas… well, credit where credit is due. Unfortunately a couple of days later I took Dad down a track that was still seeing a lot of snow melt… sphincter cpm (closes per minute) was uncomfortably high on the descents so we called the turn-around, which is where Dad ended up under his bike… but this time catching and twisting his foot + ankle. Laws lifted the bike and Dad took his moment. We were concerned about both the injury and the fact we were a long way from help.
Nobody enjoys experiencing these moments and funnily enough, nothing defines one’s character quite like their moment handling ability, which is precisely why armchair generals lack character. Armchair generals don’t do anything out of their comfort zone and therefore don’t have moments let alone FAIL. As Dad limped back to his iron horse and crawled over the thing something dawned on me. You see, Laws and I aren’t particularly good at anything… jacks of many things maybe… but masters of nothing. We haven’t got anything you could point to and say, “Yep, that’s a real strength you got there and therefore you should pursue such and such.”
What dawned on me was that Laws and I have been endowed with a hereditary gift, which is a strong sense of perseverance… strong to the point of warped. This is OUR strength. Would have been great if it was coupled with a better sense of self preservation… but a strength nonetheless. A job interview could go something like:
“So Dylan, what would you say your main strength is?”
“Well Sir, I can take a pummeling like you wouldn’t believe. Physical, mental, emotional… I’m pretty handy at taking all forms of abuse.”
Dad didn’t bitch and moan… did make comment on Laws’s dismount + lift bike speed… but ultimately just got on with it. We also got to see where we get our, “This is pretty fucked but I’ll do it anyway…” grins from. We backtracked and got ourselves round to the scenic Todgha Gorges… a good place to get comfy. Dad was keen to push to Merzouga the next day but we were all too familiar with this injury… two days of RICE (Rest Ice Compression Elevation) then reassess is the best thing you can do. Dad found out back in Australia that he had undisplaced fractures and high grade ligament sprain. I was feeling pretty guilty but even post MRI back in Oz, Dad still said he wouldn’t trade it for the memories… and was glad my research was shit otherwise he would have missed out on the EPIC sections.
We kept the riding tame for the remainder of the loop… but the scenery remained awesome and most importantly Dad was still loving it! We finished up back in Marrakesh, got a nice triple room in a hotel where cold beer was served… and then we drank cold beer. The next day we also drank cold beer.
FISH! You come here and EAT FISH because it is excellent. Essaouira itself is somewhat of an Atlantic Coast resort city overpriced for the European tourism market… airport even has a direct link to Europe nowadays. Fortunately our mate Candiece decided to attach time with us on the front-end of her 3 month Europe jaunt… and found out about Diabat a few km to the south of Essaouira. Perfect! We stayed here and caught up on our blog, which was six months behind. Candiece had managed to get her luggage down to a 9 kg carry-on backpack for her travels! I was so impressed I asked her if that meant we could load her up with 11 kg? Thank you Diece x
WESTERN SAHARA / SAHARA MAROCAIN
First of all, when you’re traveling through Western Sahara it’s Sahara Marocain… this is very important. Western Sahara may be a disputed territory in the eyes of the rest of the world but Morocco’s rule is crystal clear on the ground. Spain relinquished control in 1975 and Morocco secured control of most of the territory in 1979.
The Polisario Front is a Sahrawi rebel liberation movement who proclaim the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) as an exiled government in Tindouf, Algeria. The Polisario Front control the eastern parts of Western Sahara clearly demarcated by the Moroccan Wall, which is a fuckoff sand wall constructed 1982 – 87. The Polisario side has zero natural resources, no cities and shitloads of landmines coincidentally focused in front of the giant 2,700km long sand berm. Algeria’s interest is pretty simple: there is a massive shale oil and gas basin in their far west that cannot be economically transferred to the Mediterranean like the rest of their oil and gas. However, the basin would be worth a fortune if they could transfer it to the Atlantic via Western Sahara. This is one of the primary sources of very poor relations between Morocco and Algeria.
There have been human-rights abuses from both sides, including the displacement of tens of thousands of Sahrawi civilians from the territory and the expulsion of tens of thousands of Moroccan civilians from Algeria. As of 2006 no other UN member state recognizes Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara… and the UN has designated the Western Sahara as a non-self-governing territory. This has serious ramifications in international law, particularly with respect to the exploitation of resources off the coast.
I respect the fact that the legitimacy of Morocco’s claim is in question from an international law perspective… but geewizz the world is a better place with Morocco running the show. Imagine an Algeria aligned Polisario Front in charge?!… ALARMING. And going back to the former point… world leaders collaborate and legitimize whatever they want anyway. The USA legitimized their daylight robbery of Libya with an impressive propaganda campaign and mercenaries dubbed as freedom fighters… Libya went from wealthy & secure TO pillaged & chaotic… with the western population believing the place was FREED from oppression. The place was ROBBED people!
No European government want to be perceived as non-supportive of a UN decree… but I reckon they’re all RELIEVED to have Morocco running the show on their doorstep, especially now that the region is in the aftermath of the USA’s crap on Libya. Morocco have TIGHT CONTROL in Western Sahara with a substantial security presence by both police and military… the region is STABLE.