Traverse 06 - Page 80

Touareg Rallye was in full swing. I missed my own motorbike but buses, trains and taxis are another way to en- joy cultural differences and I always incorporate public transport into any trip. In Morocco large old Mercedes cars are used as taxis. You don’t get one all to yourself, though. They op- erate on the ‘it goes when it’s full’ sys- tem, ‘full’ meaning four at the back and three in the front. Quite a squash; if a door was to burst open, everyone would pop out like corks from cham- pagne bottles. I body-surfed at Sidi Ifni on the At- lantic coast and rescued a little boy who had gone out too far into the bay. He’d lost a fin; was screaming, not laughing, not waving, but drowning. In this slightly surreal town, al- though discreetly dressed, I was ap- proached by a respectable-looking Moroccan gentleman as I was cross- ing the road. In perfect English, he stopped me and asked, “Would you be interested in having a relationship with me this afternoon?” He was so polite in his request that I couldn’t help but reply in the same manner and heard myself declining with an amused smile as if he had invited me for afternoon tea at the Ritz. I couldn’t possibly have taken offence! Another invitation occurred when a devout nineteen year-old student of Islam totally swamped in black in- cluding gloves, invited me to stay with her and her mother at a tiny village one night when I found there was no hotel. I had remained on the bus from Sidi Ifni, wondering where it would end up. Its final destination was the driver’s home! I was, once more, humbled by the hospitality offered to me, a complete stranger. All three of us slept together in a tiny room and a cold wash in an outside trough in the morning preceded a breakfast of fermented goat milk, local bread and herb tea. You can learn so much from travelling on buses and trains. Not only did I have a six-hour conversation about international politics with a Mo- roccan gentleman on a night bus, but on the crowded train from Marrakech back to my bike I learned what large elderly Moroccan women wear under their outer wrappings. The compartment was stifling and as we were all women, we helped one lady who was clearly suffering from the heat. I held a shawl up to the win- dow for privacy whilst she unpeeled jackets, several woollies and vests with help from the other women. I was en- vious when I saw her fluffy fake-fur leggings which would be lovely un- der leathers in cold weather. Her hair was hidden by a skull-cap which in turn was covered by the end of the big shawl which went all round her body. As we neared Fez, rooftop satellite dishes were all turned in the same di- rection, just like praying Muslims fac- ing Mecca. I made my way back to Nzala Beni Ammar. Reunited with the bike, I felt I’d seen and done enough for this time and was looking forward to French cuisine instead of the tapas of Spain and couscous of Morocco. Morocco was a great surprise. I didn’t feel I was in Africa but it is cer- tainly exotic with two coasts; the At- las Mountains; rivers and gorges; the green, lush hilly north and of course, the dramatic desert to the east and south. But as with most other places, it is the people who make a place memo- rable rather than the scenery. I had thought of catching the ferry back to Spain and riding over the Pyr- enees to France but a German fellow biker told me there was an overnight ferry to Sete in the South of France. The weather had improved and, giv- ing my thick jumpers to the hammam lady who’d tried to scrub off my skin, I rode as fast as possible to catch the once a week boat. Falling and slith- ering through mud and riding along flooded stretches of road with deep hidden potholes which tried to catch me out, I made it to Tangier in time. TRAVERSE 80 The Enfield and I looked a dishevelled pair as we waited to board the boat. French Land Rovers joined the queue. They were also covered in mud, but had additional sand from frolicking on the pistes and dunes. Their owners wandered over to ad- mire the bike which is a passport to any number of social invitations. This was no exception and during the three-day voyage, I made friends and was invited to stay with a couple on their luxury hotel barge on arrival in France. Three weeks later, having helped them pamper a group of earnest Amer- ican personal chefs on their unbeliev- ably expensive holiday floating along the Canal du Midi, I left (with new bike insurance) to explore France. For a while, I had been that person who sets out the deckchairs, plumps up the cushions, prepares the vegeta- bles and does the cleaning and wash- ing up. I did it for fun and relished the cordon bleu food, the best local wines and a generous tip! Another unplanned delight brought about be- cause of my Enfield. I am a victim (or slave) of whim and circumstance upon which I rely to make decisions. Something usually happens to form a basis for a plan. So when my other daughter said she was flying to Lyon for a short meeting in a week or so, it gave me somewhere to aim for from my location in the histor- ic city of Carcassonne. The vines were greening up in warm sunshine. I ruled a line to Lyon on my map. The journey started on a beautiful road with light traffic. I wondered why the few motorcyclists I saw stuck out their legs as they passed me. I waved or nodded UK style but often received this greeting in response. I soon got used to it and did the same. The wobbly steering became worse and riding up the beautiful and dra- matic Gorges du Tarn was even more interesting due to slow speeds and multitudinous twists and turns. It was like trying to steer jelly. I saw villages