Lessons Learned: Traveling by Motorbike

In the past, I have traveled the world as backpacker. Last year I got my motorbike license and now I am keen on finding out how to get around by motorbike. Currently, I am on my fist “real” travel by motorbike to Morocco. In this post I want to share my experiences.

Getting around

  • Instead of using GPS I am getting from A to B by asking people on the street when in doubt. This works very well outside of big cities.
  • Driving into big cities is one of the most annoying things when traveling by motorbike. Entering or leaving a big city can easily take 45min or more.
  • Historic city centers (aka “Medina”) in Morocco have very narrow streets and are usually closed for traffic. Unfortunately, most accommodations are in the historic centers. If you have to carry your luggage to your room you might need to find a room outside the center.
  • Moreover, as backpacker I refuse to book accommodations in advance. As a biker this can be annoying since finding an accommodation with garage might be difficult. Especially, if you have to get on and off your bike every time you ask somewhere.
  • When I get hungry while traveling I prefer to stop at restaurants where I can watch my motorbike. Sometimes this can take some time. Usually, restaurants at motorways are most convenient.
  • In the beginning I was worried to record videos while driving. Some years ago when I was in Nador people reacted very aggressively when I was taking a photo. However, I cannot report any problems so far.
  • Roundabouts work as follows in Morocco: if you enter the roundabout on the right-most lane you are supposed to take the first exit. If you want to take a different exist take the left lane.
  • Crossing the border from Spain to Morocco is very easy. There are two stops on the Moroccan side: (i) at the first stop you get the entry stamp into your passport, and (ii) at the second stop your vehicle papers get checked. Bring a green insurance card and the papers for your bike. You will receive a small paper that you are supposed to keep until you exit Morocco.
  • There is a lot of smog in big cities. Especially the region between Rabat and Casablanca is not fun to drive even if you just pass through.
  • In general, motorways and secondary roads are in good and very good condition.
  • Moreover, I find driving in Morocco pretty safe in comparison to other countries. Of course, there are also some idiots.
  • If you park your motorbike on uneven ground watch out that you don’t have to get back on it up-hill. You might get back on your bike but it still is leaning to the side on the stand. It can be hard to push it up-right if you are too short (or your motorbike to tall).

My conclusion

  • Probably, I will get a holder for my mobile phone for navigation purposes in big cities. I don’t really like to 😉
  • Moreover, I will try to avoid entering big cities at all. It is probably much more relaxing to find a place to stay outside the center and just take a Taxi in case if I want to do something in the center. In the end I am not much interested in big cities.

Additional hints

  • If you run out of gasoline, you might be able to buy some from locals. However, watch out since it might be mixed with water.
  • Buy the gasoline with the highest quality (highest octane number)

In Ceuta, I walked to a Spaniard who travels every year once or twice to the desert. He recommended me following things to bring and do:

  • two component adhesive (metal)
  • spare enforced tire tube (front and rear)
  • spare levers (left/right) in case you fall and damage one
  • he recommended the GPS app “OruxMaps GP” (Android)
  • spare air filter

Moreover, he said it makes no sense for motorbikes to remove pressure from the tire when you want to drive on sand. This only makes sense for 4×4 cars. He washes the air filter with water and soap. It dries during night. After your journey you remove all plastic parts and the tank from your motorbike and clean it thoroughly.

Ceuta – A Spanish Outpost in Africa

Beside Melilla, Ceuta is the second Spanish exclave in Morocco. It has 85,000 inhabitants and a size of about 18km^2. The region was conquered by the Portuguese in the 15th century and became part of Spain in 1580. Ceuta can be reached from the Spanish mainland by ferry from Algeciras. The ferries run every 40min and the journey takes about 45min. There is also an affordable helicopter shuttle service between Ceuta, Algeciras, Melilla, and Malaga.

Ceuta is an autonomous city. It is part of Spain and the EU but not of the NATO. Moreover, it has own tax laws. For example, gasoline is about 30% cheaper than in Spain (about 1€ per liter). The inhabitants of Ceuta are 50% Christians and 50% Muslims. The historic city center is located on a peninsula that is separated from the mainland by a channel and fortifications.

This map shows the

The Spanish Perejil (Parsley) Island is a small rock and located some kilometers West of Ceuta. In 2002 Moroccan soldiers landed on the rock. They pretended to observe the drug trafficking. The Spanish navy sent ships and soldiers to bring the Moroccan soldiers back to their land.

View from Ceuta towards Tarifa and Cape Trafalgar.

Ceuta has two parks where you locals go running or cycling. It is absolutely worth to explore those areas! The first park Parque de San Amaro outside of the San Amaro fortress. There is a road surrounding the peninsula which offers beautiful views.

The second park is called Campo de Tiro de la Cuarta Bandera. The most famous viewpoint is “Isabel II”. Locals come here to enjoy the sunset over Ceuta and enjoy a beer.

View from viewpoint “Isabel II” towards Tétouan in Morocco. One can see the border and also border crossing.
Cementry at Av. Dr. Abdelkarim. The grave stones reflect the light in the morning.
I highly recommend to enjoy the view over the historic city center from Park de San Amaro.

I recorded a video about Ceuta (in German). Enjoy!

Exploring the Mines of Rio Tinto, Spain

During my tow-month stay in Seville I did a scouting tour with my motorbike to the Rio Tinto river. The river is known for its reddish color which is caused by microorganisms that process sulfur and iron ore. The microorganisms produce sulfuric acid which makes the river very acid and “normal” life impossible. The spring of the Rio Tinto river is located in a mining area. Since 3000 BC different cultures like the Tartessos, the Romans, or the British have exploited the area and left their traces. The goal of my trip was to get an overview of the region and to have fun with my camera and motorbike.

Overview of the area around Nerva and the Rio Tinto river. The open-pit mine Cerro Colorado is still in operation. The towns Nerva and Minas de Riotinto are literally located in the middle of the mining area. The historic open-pit mines Atalaya and Peña de Hierro are no longer in operation. Peña de Hierro can be visited. The train station is where you can take a train along the Rio Tinto river towards the coast (Huelva).
The colors along the Rio Tinto river are amazing. If you have a car or a motorbike you can explore the region around the village Berrocal where the river passes. There you can find some awesome photos. Along the river you also find old train stations and ruins of former mines. Berrocal is about 30min south of Nerva on the way towards Huelva.
As of today, the open-cast mine of Cerro Colorado is operated by the Atalaya Mining corporation and produces copper and silver. The pit is about 230m deep and located just outside Nerva. This photo has been taken during blue hour at an official viewpoint.
There are several lakes that have different colors. Unfortunately, several are not reachable since they belong to the Atalaya Mining corporation. The two lakes depicted above are separated by a dam. The left lake is called Embalse del Agua and the right one Embalse de Gossán. This location is easily accessible.
In the region between Nerva and Seville it is common to see burned woodland. Most of the fires are man made. In 2004 a mayor fire burned 26,500 hectares. The photo above shows a victim of an artificial fire in 2018. The tree caught the sunlight very beautiful and the plantations in the background build a nice contrast.
The region along the Rio Tinto river is a paradise for people who like to explore lost places. Man left traces from around 5000 years of minding. The ruins above are located close to the train station between Nerva and Minas de Riotinto. I guess it shows a former train station where trains got loaded.
Exploring the entire area is very rewarding.

I also published a video about the trip on Youtube (in German):

Overflight of La Guajira Peninsula

 

 

What an awesome start to my expedition to La Guajira! Our plane from Madrid to Bogota arrived at the South American shore right at the La Guajira peninsula where I will spent the next two months. I was so excited to see the area that I am already planning to explore for over one year now from above that I was just about to jump off the plane.

You can clearly see the structures of Puerto Cerrejon at the bottom of the foto. The black surface at the spit is a coal deposit. Puerto Cerrejon is the port where the coal of Colombia’s largest coal mine El Cerrejon is loaded on ships and exported world wide. The port is located at the bay Bahia Portete.

On the opposite side of the bay there is a white plane. This is Salar Kemrri – a natural salt pan. Further up in the image you see two more bays that are called Bahia Honda (the larger one) and Bahia Hondita (the smaller irregularly shaped one).

The left-most point in the foto is actually the most northern tip of South America, called Punta Gallinas.

One more visible detail are  the coulds coming from the caribbean sea getting blocked by the mountains of Serrania Macuira. The mountains drain water into the arid land and create a local oasis in the middle of the dessert with unique flora and fauna.

Before I can finally explore the Guajira peninsula on the ground there is still a lot to do. So, let’s get started!

 

Goodbye Andalusia

Time flies very fast. After two months in Andalusia it is time to say “Goodbye”. Here is a short summary of things I did during my stay.

For new year’s eve I hiked up the hill behind the La Chanca district of Almeria. My idea was to take a nice panorama with all the fireworks above the city. When the people in the street where counting down the last seconds of 2017 I was ready to shoot. “3, 2, 1, …” but nothing happened. I thought “Well, perhaps the Spaniards are slow starters.“. Unfortunately, I was not aware that fireworks is not famous in Spain. I had to blend the photos of about 30min together in order to get something that was similar to what I was aiming for.

One awesome thing about southern Spain is the short distance to northern Africa. You can literally take a ferry for a weekend trip to Africa. Ferries leaving from Almeria usually take 6-8 hours to destinations in Morocco or Algeria. I did a weekend trip to the UNESCO world heritage site in Fez/Morocco. The medieval city center is definitely worth visiting. Especially if you are interested in people. On the way to Fez I also drove up into the Atlas mountains. Unfortunately, I did not have more time. Morocco is a rewarding destination: easy to travel, cheap, and exotic.

There are many more locations to explore around Almeria like the nearby Sierra Nevada or the Tabernas dessert. One weekend I drove to the Lighthouse of Cabo de Gata. To the bottom of the lighthouse is a famous photography spot where you can photograph the rocks of the Las Sirenas reef. Instead of taking a shot of the grand vista I wanted to shoot a close-up off the most famous rock so that details of the texture become visible.

I was lucky that morning: the waves hitting the rocks caused spray that caught the first rays of the morning sun and created nice light spots. I decided to go for a long exposure to create a moody and quiet image. I am pretty happy with the result.

It was an awesome time in Almeria. Let’s see when I will come back to spend some more time in this region. Let’s continue!