The stench is eye-watering.
Draped from the rafters are plucked upside-down chicken carcasses next to cages containing live birds. To my right on a bench is a rotting pork hoof, and further to the end of the hall on the left is a severed cows head staring at me in an awkward gaze.
The man guiding me and my companion leads us past the assorted animal parts and into a room not unlike what travelers would have come to from the Silk Road. Candlelit cashmere and necklaces and trinkets hang from the walls, directing my eyes to a table, where a mysterious man in a headscarf with half his face covered presides over the largest mound of saffron I have ever seen.
Saffron, for those who like to cook, is one of the world’s most valued commodities—not just spices. Used for dishes like risotto and the wonderful Spanish paella, a gram of saffron from Trader Joes can set you back about $25. And yet here I was, standing in front of what must have been at least 10 pounds of the crimson red gold strands. Photos are strictly prohibited.
Welcome to Ouarzazate, Morocco.
After some traditional haggling, I walk out of the spice den with 25 grams of saffron for the equivalent of $60. I would have happily emptied my entire wallet and quadrupled by stash had I known I’d be able to get it past airport security on the way home.
I find myself in Morocco thanks to Bridgestone and the launch of their new A41 and T31 tire. An odd place to launch a tire whose main advantage over its predecessor was increased wet-weather performance, I grant you, but I’m not going to let this one slide. Morocco is a place I’ve longed to visit since I started traveling, and to describe it as mysterious simply doesn’t do it justice.
Africa is the last frontier, the only place on earth where giants like elephants and giraffes and rhinoceros roam free like they did a thousand years ago.
Those are mainly in the southern half of the continent—Morocco is different. The northwestern most point of Africa, it feels more like the barren middle east than the vast green plains of the south. Some seriously troubled regions surround Morocco, like Mauritania and Mali, but you’d never know it. The Moroccan people are relaxed, confident and peaceful, and the motorcycle riding is like strapping your bike to a rocket and landing on mars.
The earth is scorched red from thousands of years of sun exposure, and rocks surrounding the roads are almost the same color as the saffron I just bought.
“It can get rather hot here,” the police officer who I chatted with between photos stops politely informs me. “During summer, it gets to about 55°C (131°F), and the road is much hotter than that. The road melts and breaks away, but our biggest problem is the traffic lights. The shade covers on top of each light melts and folds over the light lens, so then we just have a traffic light pole with no lights. This is a problem.”
The matter-of-fact way the police officer tells me this is a touch unnerving, but also refreshing. There are no airs or graces here, no egos and very little technology. Most of the people I encounter don’t have cell phones, let alone a smartphone, and a theme begins to emerge as I ride through town after town—people talking to each other instead of staring at phones.
It’s like time traveling. Beautiful, serene, time traveling.
Later that day, we ride to a restaurant where dishes from a tagine cost about as much as a cheeseburger and we’re surrounded by worship castles carved into rock. We eat and feel like kings. We’re not fooling ourselves—we are the tourists and we have what they want—but everyone is cordial and polite in a broken English dialogue that is best explained with thumbs up and smiles and handshakes.
Morocco is indeed worlds apart from my home in Southern California. It’s a place that makes you stop and think about what’s important in life and how lucky you are to experience what’s in front of your eyes. But if Morocco is not for you, there’s always, well, absolutely anywhere else.
The best thing about a motorcycle holiday is you already have the number one thing you need for it sitting in your garage. I’m addicted to motorcycle travel, having ridden across Australia, through Asia, all over the great USA, through Europe and now I’ve touched the surface of a place I know I’ll revisit in Africa and Morocco.
Simplicity is always a great cleanser, and a motorcycle holiday is one of the best ways to remove the rubbish from your existence. You can hire bikes easily pretty much anywhere in Europe or right here at home. All you need is a bit of time and a sense of adventure.
As the great British writer, John Mason Good once wrote, “Happiness consists in activity. It is a running stream, not a stagnant pond.”
Put a plan together, get on your bike and go riding. You’ll be glad you did.CN