1000 kilometers in Morocco – an encounter

In March 2024 I crossed from Spain to Morocco. A 72-hour road trip took me right through this fascinating country. This is my report.

The passage

It’s Tuesday morning. From the terrace of my accommodation, I can see the sun rising over the Rock of Gibraltar. After two months in Spain, I treat myself to one last café con leche, an orange juice and a tostada in a bar. Then I drive into the port area here in Algeciras. After a quick check of my booking confirmation for the ferry, they let me through and I was the first to take my waiting place. I am much too early: the check-in closes two hours before departure as described in the email. It only opens just under an hour beforehand. So I wait. A slightly dubious-looking guy comes strolling up, waving the small entry forms that we know from most countries. He explains to me that I have to have them filled in by him. I suspect that he made up his job.

Well, I hear him mention “20 euros”, ignore that for now, let him look at my passport and also fill out a second form for my vehicle. Even if this is certainly not the official way, I don’t want to start a discussion here and let things happen. He hands me the forms again, I hand him half of them, which makes him a little angry at first, but then he moves on, satisfied. A short time later, he brings me another orange. A Moroccan who stops behind me in a packed VW bus knows better and simply waves him on. When I offer to bring them a coffee, they remind me that today is the first day of Ramadan: no food and no liquids until sunset means no food for a month from now.

A little delayed we actually board the ferry. After many trucks have driven onto the lower deck, I am allowed to park on the upper deck with different vehicles. The workers tell me that they will take care of strapping my motorbike. Forced to trust, but also somehow truly trusting, I walk up a few steps and take a seat in a comfortable seating area. The crossing takes about an hour – Africa is getting closer and closer. In between, I realize that I have to get my passport stamped here, stand in line and when it’s my turn, the border official unsurprisingly rejects my form with the words: “Did you write that? Who’s supposed to be able to read that!” I have to smile, explain the story and he nods when I show him the second form and say that it’s probably useless. So I fill in everything again, he stamps my passport and gives me an entry number.

I roll ashore from the ferry, an official takes a quick look at my passport before the customs control awaits me at the end of the harbor area. I join one of the countless queues of cars, rally cars, motorcycles, vans and pickups with license plates from all kinds of, many European, countries. Shortly afterwards, a man in uniform calls out to me in a friendly but firm manner, asking what I’m doing, why I’m standing here. I’m puzzled for a moment, then I understand: as a motorcyclist, I don’t have to wait here. Two vehicles move aside so that I can pass through and simply drive forward. Another border official takes my passport and vehicle registration document and disappears into a little house. Before he comes back after twenty minutes and hands me a small, probably important, card with my details, I watch the other officers, most of whom are walking around with broad shoulders and a very stylish look. Always the same procedure: Vehicles are opened, the first layers of luggage, often stowed in a highly sophisticated Tetris-style system, are unloaded, a few boxes are looked into, sometimes one of the dogs sniffs around inside, then the journey goes on. I drive out of the harbor area, get liability insurance at a little house and find myself on Moroccan roads.

On Moroccan roads

40km south of Tangier, I stop at a country road and sit down in a kind of bus shelter, even though there is no sign or anything like that to indicate a bus. The walls are covered in lettering and drawings. Through two round arches I look onto a wide valley, which according to the map should be a reservoir. Even though I can’t see any of that, it’s by no means dry here: I’ve been driving through completely green landscapes for an hour and a half. At times, you could get the impression that you are in the Allgau or in hilly landscapes in of Italy. Well, almost. Many power lines characterise the view, some industrial areas bordering villages, lots of cows, flocks of sheep and shepherds, occasionally crossing the road at a brisk pace. Many roundabouts where people offer vegetables, strawberries, fresh milk. I take in a lot, I feel full of impressions, not just visuals but also the smells of vehicles with engines that have been around for a few years. A lot of farming, life seems simple in a way from my perspective as a traveler. Not simple in the sense of “easy”, but focused on basic needs, on food production, animal husbandry, transportation.

I am no longer in Europe, but at the northern tip of the huge African continent. It brings back memories of other countries in the global south where I was lucky enough to live and travel. How much cliché do I have in my head and how much do I simply perceive? I try to concentrate on the latter. It’s all exciting, I love the feeling of not yet knowing where I’ll sleep tonight. I also don’t yet feel the need to get a SIM card and connect to the world. In a village, I picked up a few small pastry bags filled with vegetables and spices from a stall before, which I now enjoy.

(Small photos like these can be enlarged by clicking on them).

After rolling for another hour or so, I see a small container on the side of the road with a large sign advertising coffee. Naturally I stop, the large espresso machine is off, but the two young men switch it on for me as a matter of course. Their (presumable) father hands me a plastic chair and table and they invite me to stay. It takes a good half hour to build up enough pressure. I’m in no hurry and just watch what happens around me. In between, I look at my map and think about which reasonably large town might be a good place to spend the night.

I arrive in Ksar-el-Kebir shortly before sunset. I stop briefly at the entrance to the town, put my camera in the bag in front of me and find a “Hotel Centrale” on the map. Sounds good, I say to myself. I drive along a large road past the train station and many stores, then take a slight turn and suddenly find myself surrounded by lots of people. Just before the end of the day during Ramadan, half the city seems to be out and about doing the last bit of shopping before eating after the sun goes down. I wind my way through small streets towards my hotel: when I pull up in front of the door, I receive a friendly welcome, as if I had already been expected. One of the employees, Muhammed, speaks Spanish, shows me to my room, I unload, then we jump on my motorbike and he leads me to a spot for the night: there is a parking lot on a corner behind small walls. The parking attendant, behind whom I notice a simple overnight camp in the reception building, assigns me a covered space and asks me with a nice look for a small tip in addition to the parking fee of about one euro.

The muezzin calls

Back at the hotel, I ask when the restaurants open in the evening during Ramadan. It will take a while, the other of the two staff members tells me, and knocks on my room door a short time later while I am sorting my luggage: I open and he holds a tray with a plate of small pastries, mini pizzas, a handful of dates and a pot of harira, a typical Moroccan soup with chickpeas, lentils, various spices and herbs and small vermicelli noodles. You can imagine how happy I feel in this moment.

Afterwards, Muhammed invites me to go for a drink with him: we take a seat in a café across the street. He tells me about Ramadan, that he still has a few minutes until the next prayer, shows me a calendar on his cell phone for the next 29 days with the times for sunrise and sunset, for prayers and when to eat. I ask him if I can accompany him to the mosque for prayer, expecting this answer: no, he tells me, that’s not possible. You have to wash yourself beforehand, with the right intention and think of God. It seems like you have to learn that first in a way, I gather. But, he says, he goes to another mosque for this next prayer and I can accompany him because it will be so packed that lots of people will be outside on the sidewalk. “Islam is often misunderstood in Europe”, he says.

And shortly afterwards I also realize: how much we are shaped by what we see in news and pop culture and how we expose ourselves to the unknown. I can feel ever so cosmopolitan, but when the “Allahu akbar” calls of the muezzins from various mosques echo through the streets, I have a slightly strange feeling. Or let’s say I sit up and take notice, which is hardly surprising when perceiving something unfamiliar. But there is a bit more to it than that. I haven’t traveled to countries with a majority Muslim population for a long time – actually very rarely – and I’m pleased that I am where I am.

I let my thoughts wander, just as everyone then moves towards the mosque. “Everyone”, I think, “that’s not quite correct”. Firstly, it’s not everyone, the street activity goes on, and secondly, it’s only males who go to the mosque. I stand on the other side of the road and watch the prayer for half an hour, the crescent moon in the sky above the mosque. Then I drink another mint tea, outside in front of a full, smoky bar. Soccer is on. I go to bed early. What a first day in Morocco.

No coffee in the morning and many kilometers

I wake up early the next morning, pack up most of my things and then head out the door. Curiosity and the desire for a caffeinated beverage drive me onto rather deserted streets, some people offer goods, the busiest place is a bakery. In fact, no café or anything similar is open. Back at the hotel, I eat the last dates from the previous evening and then set off.

Around noon, I encounter a petrol station with an adjoining hotel and restaurant with open doors: I actually get something to drink. Afterwards, I continue past people who stand or walk beside the road, past herding sheep, vehicles ranging from cars to fully packed trucks, horse-drawn carts and many rickshaws as soon as I get closer to towns and villages. Then again wide, green landscapes, at some point I glide over a kind of high plateau: nothing but the same old fence, pastures and cattle for miles.

I drive up an incline, through a small village where, as always, the minaret of the mosque stands out visually. Suddenly a desert opens up in front of me. At first the ground is still ochre-colored with scattered bushes and argan trees, then the sand turns red. A flock of sheep is driven across the road by its shepherd. Large rinses bear witness to heavy rainfall. I can actually see clouds in the distance and shortly afterwards it starts to drizzle lightly.

Arriving in the next village – ideally I’d stay here for the night to avoid getting any wetter – I realize that this isn’t it yet. So I roll on for another moment, through nothingness, vastness, with steady but faint drops. When I arrive in Fkih Ben Salah shortly afterwards, I quickly find a hotel. As I unload, the sky suddenly opens up on the horizon and deep orange evening light floods the streets for a moment. The hotel employee answers my question about a parking space by pointing to the gas station across the street. I ask there and can leave my vehicle overnight in one of the covered garages.

I still don’t quite understand the timing: when exactly do the restaurants open? Howsoever, after a bit of wandering, I find what I’m looking for on a corner in a small family-run restaurant where the waiter speaks perfect Italian, having lived in northern Italy for several years. He runs the restaurant with his mother and wife, their young daughter struts between the tables, waving and grinning at the guests. This evening too, I fall into bed quite early, positively exhausted and full of impressions.

Into Marrakech

In the morning – fog pervades the streets, the sun shining brightly through it – I set off again on my “I can’t believe I can’t find a coffee anywhere” walk. Of course I can’t find any and somehow I’m pleased about that. Instead, I grab a lukewarm coke from one of the colorful stores at the end of town. The owner lets me take a photo of him.

I drive a few kilometers, turn right onto a road into an olive grove, take a short break and have a drink. As so often on tours, I am grateful for the feeling of not knowing how far and where it will take me today. I’m not yet aware that it’s going to be a very long day. All I know is that I’m heading towards Marrakech and, of course, my goal of meeting my brother on the coast in the south keeps me going. It’s nice to have such a goal in mind, but no time pressure, like a small mission that I want to and can fulfill as I feel like. And it is a pleasure to photograph in this country. Even from the hip while driving – I couldn’t stop for every motif and as quickly as the high-contrast landscape often changes. Of course, I still stop regularly. Like in this moment: I take a photo of a kilometer marker and feel the happiness of the distance.

Bright blue skies today, including the first glimpses of glowing asphalt in the distance. Spontaneously, I decide not to follow the navigation app, which wants to guide me around the big city, but to drive straight into it. Wide streets, hustle and bustle, at a traffic circle I turn off in the direction of the Medina. Why not! At walking speed I maneuver my heavy vehicle through a narrow alleyway, with stores and market stalls on either side, a few hundred meters into the old town. When I see a parking lot, a couple of guys from an orange juice stand wave to me. I park and only take my bag with my camera and a few essentials; I leave the rest of my panniers attached to the bike. There is a parking attendant, it’ll be fine. That’s one thing about motorcycle tours: the thick protective clothing is not necessarily suitable for extended city walks and you can’t carry your luggage around with you all the time.

After a delicious juice, I follow the tip of the three boys and sit down in a small restaurant where, at least on the outside, only tourists are sitting – here in Marrakech you find of course meals and drinks at any time of day, even during Ramadan. Clouds of smoke drift in my direction. The chef prepares one shawarma after the next freshly on the charcoal grill with passion and calm. I do not resist.

Afterwards, I take a few steps back to a hairdresser I had noticed earlier. When my hair gets longer, my helmet starts to pinch. So now I do something about it. I get my hair cut by a barber with an eye for detail. When I want to pay, he says: “Give me what feels right.” Wow, I have a feeling, but I don’t want to offer too little or too much. So I ask him for a rough guide: “30 dirhams (approx. €3)”, he says. I could have trusted my gut feeling.

In the atlas

I take another look at my map and realize that I have to drive through mountains anyway to get to my destination on the coast. Then I say to myself: why drive halfway through the mountains when I can drive right through them? So from Marrakech I head straight south, directly into the Atlas. Somehow this name has something attractive for me, one of those terms that arouse longing, a thirst for adventure, go there! As is so often the case before mountains, I ride across a plain towards them, then a few first hills and a last small town. I fill up once more, then drive into a gorge along gentle mountain roads. A glance around at unfamiliar elevations tells me that I have no idea where I am. Wonderful!

At one point, the first mountain range opens up, the river Rheraya to my left, a few stalls on the right at the side of the road, me in between. After a moment, I realize that I want to stop and turn around. Some men are playing cards at a table, one is sitting by the river with his two dromedaries, others are walking around.

“Welcome to the land of the Berbers,” someone says to me. I talk to him a little. He asks where I’m from, about my motorcycle, where I’m going. Many buildings are still destroyed by the earthquake, but the roads are probably still good, he explains to me when I tell him about my route. I don’t know it at this moment: she is now leading me through the mountains for hours into the dark. Red earth, many boulders, still hanging on the slope or lying next to the road. Past a reservoir, further up, I pass countless villages, see many tents, aid installations that are providing some relief here after the earthquake last September. A part of me says out loud: “Why don’t you stop, talk to people, take photos? You should, you could document and tell this and that here.” But another part pushes me on, says: “This is all good right now, let go.” I follow this part.

The road has not been asphalted for a long time, and in places I can only negotiate the potholes at walking speed. At some point, after more than 20km of gravel road, I return to asphalt. When the moon is the brightest source of light apart from my headlights and I’ve just driven up some absurd hairpin bends, I stop, switch off the engine and marvel. I feel alone, but by no means lonely. I’m in the middle of nowhere, somewhere in the endless expanse of a mountain range, 2000 meters above sea level. I feel the size of the world and how small I am. It’s all a bit crazy. What if the car gives up or something? But the thought can’t worry me. Even if… I have enough water, snacks and a sleeping bag with me. Of course, everything goes well and I then drive about 10 kilometers down a mountain road with a view of the dark plain south of the Atlas.

I check into the first hotel I find and drag my clothes up to the third floor, where my room is on the roof terrace. Then I take a shower, drink another mint tea, eat an omelette and go to sleep.


The sun’s rays wake me up on my pillow. I don’t even attempt a coffee walk here, but hop straight onto my two wheels. Driving west on a national highway, I soon see nothing but plantations. The scent of blossoming citrus trees fills my nose. It goes on like this for kilometers. Smells are one of the most exciting things on the road anyway, and on a motorcycle you are constantly surrounded by the landscape. Not isolated in a four-wheeled box, but exposed to all influences: heat, humidity, odors, smoke, dust and noise. In the town of Taroudant, I ask for breakfast at a hotel and am told that a restaurant is open. I have a coffee there and talk to an Englishman for a while. Jerry, who has been retired for a year, has also been riding around on his two-wheeler for months. He has been here for a few weeks, a family has offered him a place to stay with them and so he is now exploring the area from his temporary home.

40km from the coast, I have 100 grams of pistachios and a can of coke for lunch on a highway to the sound of passing cars, a rattling fridge and a roaring pressure washer. Shortly afterwards I drive past the city of Agadir, can already see the Atlantic Ocean, once again gridlocked traffic and heavy clouds of dust mixing with my sweat. Above me, a futuristic-looking cable car. Then I turn off at a traffic circle behind a police checkpoint, the kind you see at almost every entrance to semi-large towns here – and usually just get waved through. A few more bends before I feel a sense of arrival when I meet my brother after three full days and 1000 kilometers. In Morocco by the sea. With goats grazing next to us.

P.S. Via this link you can retrace the route.

© Tilman Vogler Fotografie 2024

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