Friday, 28 March 2014

LEG 8: PORTUGAL AND GALICIA: 1900 KM

We came out of Morocco very excited about the wonders we have seen in that beautiful country; however, we were also tired, full of mud and dust from the Sahara and the Atlas and rattled out of our brains (some of the country roads in Morocco are in bad shape).  When we arrived at the ferry terminal in Tangier the police checked our bags for drugs, probably because we looked so strange.
The ferry crossing was rough, half of the people on the ship were vomiting all over the place (myself included).  The swell was so huge I thought the boat will crack at any minute.  I was happy to touch Spain again, however briefly.  The afternoon towards Portugal was warm and peaceful and we rode into Portimao with the sun setting in the west and we felt again the European levante, although not as bad as before.
Portugal was a sweet and short passing, the country is tiny, with beautiful villages in the South, even though remote and sparsely populated, with an amazing coastline to Lisbon.  We camped for 4 days in Portimao, resting and washing everything after Morocco and then we intended on riding to Lisbon and camping there but we had a mishap with my "trusted" Garmin Zumo, which by this time I was ready to drown in the Atlantic.  We entered the coordinates for the camp outside Setubal and it almost guided us somewhere out at sea.  This was not the first time for this to happen: in Tarragona we entered the Yamaha Dealer's address and it took us out at sea and it showed us a red line in the ocean for about a kilometer.  In Bilbao, it took us on a piece of highway that was cut off above the city, with no warning.  It does not see One way streets in the city, and sometimes it just loses the whole road altogether leaving me clean out in the bush.  So it is a love/hate relationship, but I think I will break it off soon.
Therefore, when we saw that we are stranded in the middle of nowhere (literally; see the photo below), we decided to keep going.  We entered Lisbon around 5:30 in the evening and again the lady in the GPS (I have many names for her, but they are not very nice) decided to take us out to sea again and of course we got lost.  I got angry so I headed North on the highway towards Porto, passing Lisbon fast.  Porto was high on my list and I wanted to experience it a little bit more than anything else in Portugal.  I was right on: Porto has a medieval feel to it and we loved walking its streets around the center and all the way down to the river. 
We were lucky (we thought) to find a place to sleep right in the city center, as we could walk to everything, but it turned out that the street we were on was full of pubs and that night some drunks kicked my bike on the right side, breaking my right panier box and my headlight bulbs.  I found her laying on one side in the morning and I felt like crying.  We did almost 17.000 km with her through many wild places and nothing happened and we come to the civilized world to go through this.  It was a rough start of our Galician trip!
I patched her (I had to unlock the panier box, unscrew the foot support, bend back the support, fix the box and replace the bulbs), in the end it was not a trip-threatening event, so we loaded her up and off we went; Galicia's wind was blowing in our faces and I could hardly wait to see it.
Galicia (for those that hear of it only now) is a province in North West Spain, that feels more like Ireland than Spain.  One of the favorite places for Ernest Hemingway and a magical place for thousands of pilgrims and tourists that come to its heart every year: Santiago de Compostela.  Santiago (St. James, the brother of John the Zebedee, the sons of Thunder from the Bible), apparently preached here in the first century and is buried in the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela.  To get there, for hundreds of years, pilgrims needed to walk the so called Camino de Santiago (St. James' Way) with the climax in the town itself.  Even today, some 200.000 pilgrims of all types come here.  To qualify as a pilgrim (and get a certificate and 3 days of free food) you need to walk at least 200 km on the Camino de Santiago or cycle for at least 300 km.  We entered Santiago by motorbike, of course, and it was interesting to see how many people actually do this thing.  We love Galicia, from many points of view: the natural rias (fjord-like inlets) with their fantastic Eucalyptus forests and beautiful villages, the people, who are very friendly and the history of this place.  We tried to portray what we have seen in our photos, but no matter how hard we try, it is quite impossible to reenact what our eyes have seen.  My most favorite moment was when we reached Cape Finisterre by bike! Believed to be the feared End of the World (hence the Finis Terre in latin), Romans came here after major wars to pay tribute to their gods and thank them for being alive.  Whatever the reason was, I can tell you that when we reached the Cape, we stopped breathing!  It does feel like the end of the planet, but the beauty is spectacular and to see my bike all the way from Cape Town (Cape of Good Hope) coming to Cape Finisterre was a very happy moment for me.
Galicia will remain a highlight for our expedition around the world!  The weather may be capricious but the people and the sights more than make up for it.  If you ever have a chance to see it, you will not regret it.

This concludes our experience in Southern Europe: for the past 3 months we rode our bike from Bosphorus to Gibraltar and up the Atlantic Coast to the Basque Country, more than 7000 km of unparalleled scenery, people, customs and experiences.  We now enter a new chapter: Western and Northern Europe.
Photos below.

Beautiful coastline of Southern Portugal

 On the (very green) ferry to Setubal

 Supposedly, this was our camping, according to GPS; nothing in site here, except a deserted beach and a sand path.
 Few shots of Lisbon; we are sorry we couldn't stay but I was bound for Porto. Next time.


 Selfie on the road
 Above and below: Porto, my favorite (even though we did not give others a chance)
 The Municipality of Porto
 There was so much color around, I decided to show the ancient streets of Porto in black and white.



Galicia: the sleepy and beautiful towns of Bueu and Pontevedra




 Pazo de Santa Cruz, Bueu


 Our fantastic friend at the place we stayed in Galicia; His name was Jupiter (fitting, as he is huge), but pronounced Hupiter.  We understood Cupido and eventually we called him Hoopy :)




The beautiful Santiago de Compostela
 Praza de Obradoiro



 The cathedral of Santiago


Carmen's new friend: she discovered quickly that he does not move so much or talk as much as me.



On the road to Cape Finisterre

 My GPS (this time right on the spot), showing the end of the world.





 My bike, after 18000 km from Cape Town, at Cabo Fisterra (as the Galicians call it)



A Coruna

 The famous Tower of Hercules in A Coruna, built by the Phoenicians about 3000 years ago and rebuilt by the Romans in the 1st Century.
 It is the oldest functioning Lighthouse on the planet.
 Rosa de Ventes (the Wind Rose); Carmen is trying to read the words on it


Saturday, 22 March 2014

CHECK OUT THIS AMAZING CONFERENCE



How Motorcycling Affected My Life
“Tourists don’t know where they’ve been, travelers don’t know where they’re going.” Paul Theroux

I was 27 year old, living in Montana, US, when I had my first experience with a motorbike.  It was a Suzuki Intruder, 1985, in perfect shape, given to me by a cowboy friend who was keeping it in his barn.  It wasn’t used for many years and it wouldn’t start. 
I called Al, a Harley Davidson biker whom I knew, and together we fiddled with the bike for weeks, without success.  The benefit of this exercise was that I got excited in the prospect of having my own bike, one that would actually take me places.
I was a world traveler long before I was a biker, so the call of distant and unknown places was in my heart already.  When I discovered motorbikes and the exhilarating feeling they give you, the freedom they pump into your veins, it was the perfect crowning of my travel dreams.  I started shyly, going few kilometres at a time, until I got my “sea legs”.  Then, as soon as I felt comfortable enough, I jumped straight into the craziest trips:
Congo to Namibia on a 125cc Chinese Shineray (2400 km)
Cape Town – Zanzibar – Cape Town on a Yamaha 1100 V-Star cruiser (14.000 km)
Vietnam, from the Mekong Delta to Sapa Mountains, on a 125cc Cubtom Chinese bike (2400 km)
Round South Africa on my Super Tenere, 1200 cc (6500 km), Botswana several times, Namibia, Zambia, etc.
Present RTW Expedition for Zambia Orphans, from Africa to Africa, 75.000 km, on our Yamaha Super Tenere.
If you find yourself somewhere in Southern Africa, write to us and we will show you a side of Africa that tourists don’t see (by motorbike of course).
How has motorcycling affected my life? It deepened my love for this world and its people and as I ride through its villages, cities, fields or mountains, I become closer to them.  I cannot do that in a car, strapped in a belt, stuffed in a box, looking through a screen.  My bike takes me places I cannot touch by car and sitting on the saddle, I feel like the Bedouins of Sahara or the Apaches in the West, with nostrils flaring wide when they saw a new horizon.  I not only see this world, I smell it, I touch it and even though I am rained on, beaten by the wind, hit by dust, burned by the sun, I feel exhilaratingly happy and in the end, this is what is all about!
 

This post is a part of the Blog Tour, which leads up to the Power of the Road Conference, hosted by Liz Jansen. I’m thrilled to be a part of an event that inspires motorcyclists to take action while helping create more opportunities for others in need, focuses on interconnection and common ground and champions non-partisan change. You can be the change you want, by signing up for the Conference here. http://www.poweroftheroad.com


Logo Long 3

Monday, 10 March 2014

LEG 7: MOROCCO, 2200 KM

EYES WIDE OPEN !

On a windy morning, we left behind the Rock of Gibraltar and we were staring at the continent of Africa once again.  We never dreamed of coming to Morocco.  Our original itinerary already changed many times, as I expected from the beginning. Morocco came about as a forced detour, because our European visas were expiring and we needed to get out of the European Union somewhere and come back for another 90 days stay.  I never like "forced" anything so I wasn't looking forward to Morocco.  I thought: "Let's get it over with, so we can come back and proceed north!".  However, as I sat there on the ferry looking at the coast of Africa, my heart was telling me something else; I was getting excited and I didn't know why.  Maybe because I was coming to Africa once more, or maybe the new frontier ahead was tickling my adventure spirit.  In any case, I was curious to see what would turn out with this detour.
We arrived in Tangier, one hour away from Tarifa and even though it is so close to Europe, the moment you step on the dock from the ferry you are hit by the noises, smells and sights that only Africa can produce.  I was back into familiar waters!
We passed quickly through customs and Immigration (quite a surprise for an African country) and headed straight for the Tangier Medina, the first place to see because that is where the action is in every city.  Small streets, tiny houses and lots of people, children and little shops as well as the food places make up the fabric of any Medina. As Medinas go in Morocco, we realize soon that Tangier is not one of the best, but it made a strong impression on us because it was our first one.  We settle for the only night in Tangier (locals say, forget the North and head for the South and Center) and we had our first Tajine, couscous and a local taste of the spiced drinks.  I loved them from the first taste.  Nothing better than spices in an exotic food.
Early the next morning we jumped on our bike and headed south to Casablanca.  The road is perfect, the sights beautiful and Africa was pulsating in front of me again.  Few hours later we pulled into Ocean Bleu Campsite in Mohammedia East, 30 km north of Casablanca.  Everyone enjoys this side of Casablanca, apparently, as the city itself is nothing like the image it has in the world.  Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman did not even step in the real Casablanca as the whole of the movie was shot in Hollywood and the only true Moroccan in the cast was the door keeper and he was not even credited in the cast list.  Casablanca is actually a broken city, currently being rebuilt by the King of Morocco, who wants to remake the original beauty of this city, as designed by the greatest French architects.  The city is the only one in the world that was entirely designed from the air.
Once settled in Mohammedia, we visited the beautiful Hassan II Mosque, the second largest mosque in the world and the only one that non-muslims can visit.  It is an impressive sight and in my opinion, about the only one of the few things worth visiting in Casablanca.
2 days later we headed East for Marrakech; this was high on our list, especially for the famous Jemaa El Fna, the beautiful Medina, the Atlas mountains, the gardens and palaces.  It is hard to explain in words when photos say so much more.  Below you will understand why.
In Marrakech we stayed at the famous Relais de Marrakech, a beautiful campsite located inside La Palmeraie Conservation and few km outside Marrakech.  The city is beautifully designed, clean and pleasant to the eyes.
While at the Relais, I spotted a small brochure with a place called: Les Cascades D'Ouzoud and I felt compelled to read it.  This little brochure proved to be the beginning of an experience that would almost pop our eyes out as we discovered a Morocco that I never dreamed of, with places that seem unreal and people with more than 3000 years of history behind them.
Ouzoud is a little Berber village in the High Atlas Mountains, where farmers and sheperds made their living for many centuries.  I found their place a paradise, hidden in the mountains and providing them with everything they need for survival; the soil is fertile (I saw the most almond trees I have ever seen before), the water and air pure and the landscapes out of a Swiss story book.  On top of all that, they have the spectacular Ouzoud Falls, fed by the small Ouzoud river that looks quite unimpressive but creates a spectacle when it hits the canyon right below the village.  Again, the photos will, hopefully, say more.  We explored this place, with its amazing villages, canyons, caves, system of water falls and olive groves for 4 days.  We camped at the neat and perfectly located Zebra camping, owned by Paul and Renate from Netherlands.  Their camp is a perfect spot to enjoy the silence and the sights of the Ouzoud Village.
When we left Ouzoud, Renate recommended that we take the road less traveled to Ouarzazate, crossing the High Atlas on a mountain road, 2200 m high.  "You will never regret it" she said, " you will not see more than 5 cars and the landscapes will shock you".  What an understatement that was!  There were no more than 3 cars for 7 hours on that road, a tiny, mountain track through very isolated villages and very high up in the mountains.  Carmen filmed the high passes, so soon you will be able to see this episode on our YouTube channel.  It was challenging riding, soft terrain at times, high passes with snow on the mountain and lots of curves.  But it was the best experience to date as far as biking was concerned.  We arrived in the Valley of the Dades late at night, tired, dusty, but super excited.  In front of us there was the Sahara and my nostrils were flaring like a camel's nose in the desert wind.  Deserts will always stir me to the depths of my soul and Sahara is one I wanted to encounter since I read of her in my childhood.  I slept uneasy that night, knowing that the next day we would leave the high Atlas behind and enter the largest desert on the planet.
The morning was cold and brisk, as only the desert mornings are and the Gorges de Dades were shining brightly in the sun.  The road was winding through spectacular scenery, with rugged rocks on each side and oases in the middle, following ancient riverbeds to the desert.  As soon as we cleared Errachidia we could see the horizons opening up and the winds of Sahara rising in the East.  It was a feeling that cannot be described properly, unless you are a Hemingway or a Bernard Shaw, and I am neither one.  My deep love for Africa and for the desert compelled me to open up the throttle until I felt Carmen's fingers pushing deeper into my side, signalling a slight stress level increase on her part.  "It would look stupid" she said, " if we die within reach of Sahara and not ever see her".  Her logic seemed impressive.
Few hours later, we saw yellow dunes rising on the Eastern horizon and my heart started to pump harder; I was coming to Sahara on my own two wheels, a little like the Berbers on their dromaderies, who are the first and true nomads of our world, self sufficient and free.
Even though Merzouga is a popular destination for Sahara-bound expeditions, we decided to pull into the little Berber village of Hassi Labied.  It is a clump of mud and clay buildings, right next to the Erg Chebbi dunes (which no one, even the Berbers, knows why they are called like that) with lots of children running around and shouting as we entered the village on our bike.
We ended up camping at Oceans de Dunes, a simple campground owned by 5 Berber brothers.  We loved it from the first moment, not only because it is walking distance from the dunes, but also because these people did everything themselves, from building it, to cooking the food, to making expeditions into the desert.  All together, they speak English, French, German, Spanish, Arabic, and a couple of Berber dialects.
Not even 2 days from our arrival, we asked Hussin to get us a couple of Dromaderies and Berber clothing so we can get into the desert and sleep in their "bivouac", a desert dwelling of the nomads.  Below you will see our transformation into Touareg Berbers, as they called us.  To ride into the Sahara on these amazing animals, to sleep under the stars and to eat a slow cooked Tajine, prepared by two Berber men, was more than I expected.  I knew the feeling of the desert from the Kalahari, the Namib, and the North American Deserts, but Sahara blew me away! The peace, the camels, the colors and the miracle of water in the desert, not even 2 meters underground, are just a few of Sahara's attributes.
At the end of our "forced detour", we feel overwhelmed; Morocco turned out to be THE highlight of our trip so far, perhaps because it was a new and unexpected change and perhaps because it is a special place, that offers so much diversity and beauty.  I fell in love with a new desert and a new tribe and I have now new friends in this country.
Update information for all those that are wondering about the stories and determination behind this expedition:
our website:
www. nomadsportsacademy.com
Here you will find the story of our orphans and of our Sports Academy for Orphans.  It is a challenging project that aims to reach over 20.000 orphans and underprivileged children in the area where we live and to build a future for them.
Due to our consistent talk about this project to virtually everyone we meet on the road, the news is spreading and thousands of people, organizations, newspapers, magazines, etc are finding out and stay in touch with us.
Our blog is growing every day with people from the far corners of the world and we thank you, all the readers, for telling others to follow up with our adventures.
Enjoy the photos below, they tell the story much better than we ever could.

A view of Tanger Port and riding through the narrow streets of Medina



Our camp at the Oceans de Dunes, Mohammedia East, near Casablanca
The powerful Atlantic, much more temperamental than the Med Sea

Carmen staring at the magnificent Hassan II Mosque during our visit in Casablanca.  It is something not to be missed.






Jemaa El Fna, the famous market and food place in Marrakech Medina


The Old Medina in Marrakech; the smells of spices make you want to constantly try new foods





The Bahia Palace in Marrakech


The Marrakech Theatre

View of Ouzoud Valley in the High Atlas Mountains
Our place at Zebra Camp, Ouzoud Falls

Ouzoud Souk (Market), every Tuesday


Carmen during our exploration of the Grottes of Ouzoud Valley
Ouzoud Falls Canyon








Leaving Ouzoud Falls towards the mountain passes of High Atlas









 Entering the Gorges de Dades towards Sahara
 Our Riad (hotel) in the Gorges de Dades
 Above: The gates to Sahara Desert; below: amazing oases surrounded by nothing but rock and sand
 The gate of Errachidia town, the last large town before Sahara
 Our first sight of the Erg Chebbi Dunes
 Aerial view of our camp in the Hassi Lebied village.  You can see our bike and tent.  Photo taken with GoPro and DJI Phantom
 The magnificent Sahara and their new Touareg Berbers :)



 The bivouac (nomadic tent) where we spent the night after our camel trek





 pulling water in the Sahara from a well dug by hand, only 2 meters deep (I wish I could have done that with my wells in the Kalahari)
Above: our amazing chicken Tajine, cooked by our Berber guides in the middle of the desert.

 Other caravans of camels taking people into the dunes

 Carmen, my new Berber wife

 I cannot contain my happiness of being in the desert





























































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