I didn't get around to writing up my last two big trips in Morocco, so here goes for the Jan/Feb 2015 trip covering four weeks and 7,800 km.
As always I did lots of planning in the months leading up to the trip, saving information about interesting places that I could potentially visit, looking at possible off-tarmac routes with Google Earth, and then finally putting together a master plan—which of course I didn't really follow.
I wanted to spend more time in Oriental Morocco (far east near the Algerian border), to explore more of the Rekkam Plateau. I was interested in the Oujda to Bouarfa railway line built in the 1930s and early 1940s by the French. The northern section was completed before World War II, but the southern section was developed by the Vicky French government using what can only be termed slave labour. The Sultan of Morocco protected the Moroccan Jews from the French in WWII but about 4,000 Jews who had fled to France from Germany and Eastern Europe ended up as slave labourers, together with some of the 300,000 Spanish republicans who left Spain after Franco's Nationalists won the civil war.
Given the time of year I would then concentrate on the (hopefully) warmer south. I planned to spend more time developing my sand riding skills—or lack thereof—in the Merzouga - Zagora - Mhamid - Foum Zguid cross-country traverses, revisit 'The Mummy' film set, visit more French Foreign legion forts, find additional fossil sites (orthoceras, trilobite, dinosaur) and so on. I also had a vague hankering to revisit the northern part of Western Sahara.
So how did I get on?
Why Morocco in the winter?
I get quite low in the winter months. November and December aren't so bad as it's just the beginning of winter and there's Christmas to look forward to, but January and February are dire and spring seems so far away. So I try to get away somewhere where there's loads of sunshine to blast into my brain. India is brilliant, but Morocco is a lot nearer, and we now have a cave house in the Spanish mountains in the Altiplano de Granada so access is easy.
Saying goodbye to the family, I flew British Airways from London City to Granada, took the airport bus into Granada then a rural bus to Castril where a friend collected me and took me to our cave. When I left the cave in November I had kept the windows open to keep it aired (there’s security shutters and iron bars on the windows) but despite it being 6ºC in late afternoon the cave was 13ºC thanks to the warmth of the rocks all around.
The KTM 690 was wrapped up all cosy in the 'Hobbit' cave with the telescope and cases of cava for company.
In its wisdom the British government decided to stop giving winter fuel allowances to expats living in Spain, but not everyone is experiencing mild winters—our cave in the Altiplano de Granada is at 960m above sea level and many nights have been below zero, even to the extent that the swimming pool froze over.
Getting the bike prepped
I liberated the KTM 690 Enduro R from its chains, dusted it off and started to get things ready. The bike needed a service so that occupied a couple of days riding the 230km over to Cartageña, checking into a hotel, putting the bike into the dealer first thing the next morning, then riding back home. The labour element of servicing costs are really low in Spain and with the weakness of the euro it's a great place to buy a bike.
I've had some real problems in the past mending punctures on my XT660Z Ténéré which has very deep tubeless-style rims. The 690 R has easier rims, but nevertheless I've recently become quite apprehensive about riding solo off-tarmac in remote areas. So I ordered some Michelin Desert tyres and Bib mousses shipped over from the UK. Looking just like a blown up inner tube mousses are made from butyl honeycomb foam with nitrogen-filled cells.
Mousses are known to be difficult to fit, so I had also ordered a Rabaconda mousse changing machine from Finland, a wonderful device which packs away into a carrying case.
Peter Buitelaar of Bikershome fame (who has a cave 40 minutes to the east of us) came over with wife Zineb and daughter Selma to help my friend and I with the fitting. The Rabaconda is optimistically called the '3-minute mousse changer'. It might have helped had Peter and I had read the instructions or watched the explanatory video beforehand, but men don't do that sort of thing and the quickest we managed was 30 minutes.
This is how a real expert does it in just 44 seconds!
When fitted the mousses are the equivalent of running a tubed tyre at slightly low pressure. The real advantage is that they can't puncture, so there's no need for me to carry four tyre levers, two spare inner tubes, an electric tyre inflator, bead buddy, valve puller and bike stand. Michelin says not to exceed 130 kph (80 mph) but I rarely exceed 100 kph anyway as I'm focused on saving my tyre tread for the tracks.
My lightweight bike stand from Endurostar in the States.
Morocco can be cold at altitude so I fitted a controller to the bike for my Gerbing electrically heated under-jacket, and also some handlebar muffs to prevent my hands from freezing in the wind chill. Finally, a KTM 'touring windscreen' which is better than nothing, but really needs to be twice the height that it is.
Apart from these changes the bike is fairly standard. I have a Wings exhaust, not because I like the louder noise, but because the standard KTM exhaust runs so hot my Enduristan roll bag is in danger of melting. I have a small Enduristan tank bag and Metal Mule aluminium panniers. I've been using the Metal Mule pannier system for many years on various bikes and they take a lot of punishment.
Some people prefer soft luggage but when travelling solo I need to ensure my important stuff is safe when I leave the bike and explore places on foot. All the gear is totally waterproof in case of accidents during river crossings, a lesson learnt the hard way (haha).