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"Fast Bikes", January 1, 2013

Tea Pot One

It took almost three years to plan but less than six weeks to end. In truth, it was only about five days that finished it for me, but they felt like five months...

BRUCE SMART

BRUCE SMART

Sitting at the docks in Algeciras in Southern Spain, I was surrounded by Moroccans heading home for a public holiday. The air was thick with tooting horns, cars everywhere, arms and hands being gestured frantically in the air. I just watched, wandering what I was letting myself in for.

Fast forward a few hours and I was at the first border post at Tangiers. Well turned out border police were doing their best to explain the paperwork to me in their best English. Crowds had gathered around the bike, strangers coming up to shake my hand and slap me on the back. Everyone was so nice!

If you’ve never been to Morocco on a bike, I thoroughly recommend it. Although everyone looks like a panto villain, on the whole they were incredibly kind and polite. Head South and East to the Atlas Mountains, and although the road surface isn’t pristine, it’s still a bikers heaven, get your arse there.

Heading South to Western Sahara there’s really only one main Tarmac road that scythes through oceans of sand, whisking you to new levels of remoteness. Camping in the desert, in complete solitude, is an incredible experience, worth the effort of riding there in itself. But make no mistake, this place can kill you very quickly if you’re not prepared.

By the time I arrived at the border with Mauritania, my rear wheel had taken a hell of a bang on a sand covered pothole, denting the rim and causing the tyre to go flat each night. But that was the least of my worries. Everyone warns you of the dangers in Mauritania, mines, bandits, corruption, fundamentalists. But it can’t be that bad, can it?

I’d planned on taking a few days to get in, get through, and get out. That was the plan. As it was it took me five and ended my round the world dream. It’s hard to put into words the horror, fear and frustration of that time. Even writing about it on the TeapotOne.com blog still doesn’t seem to do it justice.

Straight out the box, Mauritania introduced herself with a baptism of fire. Fleeced for paperwork for this and that we then found ourselves at a fork in the desert track. Taking a guess we took the right one, which turned out to be the wrong one, and found ourselves in the middle of a live minefield. Bollocks...

Forced to pay locals to guide us out, it was onto the next post within the Mauritanian border frontier. There are no signs, no instructions, no officials. Just a gauntlet of shouting blokes, all desperate to part you from your money. Some simply try to take it from you. After three hours in the baking heat, and having been scammed out of a few hundred euros, we found ourselves released into the wilds of the country as the sun began to set. I say ‘we’ as I’d now teamed up with Robert, a retired mechanic who was riding his Ural combination from Scotland to Cape Town.

We found refuge in the town of Nouadhibou for the first night. I’m not afraid to say I was terrified as we rode through this place. Large 4x4’s would tear up behind us, then slow and follow for a short while. Overtaking slowly, their fully hijabed occupants would stare at us menacingly, occasionally actually trying to nudge us off the road. With visions of doing a Terry Waite, I could have kissed the bloke who owned the ‘campsite’ we found in the town!

The next day we set off early, having to pay way over the odds for fuel, bread and water, and even having a rifle pulled on me before 9am – it was just like being back at work in London! By mid afternoon we were in the heart of the Sahara, the temperature above 40-degrees and with water stocks now dangerously low, I was suffering badly. Delhi-Belly had appeared the day before so I couldn’t hydrate quickly enough. More than once I found myself fighting to stay awake, blurred vision, big headaches and visions of loved ones running through my mind.

So far the roads hadn’t been too bad, their surface fairly consistent, just painfully straight for miles at a time. But as I crested a summit in the road, like a roller coaster it vanished from beneath me. Soaring through the air I hit the ground hard, bottoming out the rear and breaking the rear sub-frame like a twig. Having to sit on the tank for the next two hours in incredible heat, I was shattered by the time we arrived in Nouakchott that evening.

It took three days to get some form of repair done that would allow us to limp on South to the border with Senegal at Rosso. The road became horrendous the further South we ventured, huge expanses of Tarmac vanishing into potholes, craters, and the underlying desert. Mines were an ever-present threat off the road, inhibiting any other options.

After being set up and fleeced once again by the police, we found ourselves at Rosso, one of the most infamous border crossings in Africa. To sum up, we spent almost five hours in the baking heat, robbed by armed police, scammed out of every penny, frightened beyond anything I’ve ever experienced. By the end of this day I’d made my mind up that Africa was not for me. A few days later we were in Dakar, still being relieved of our money at incredible rates, and I was exploring alternatives such as shipping to Turkey or Delhi. Alas, it just wasn’t viable any more, so I decided to return to home to the arms of my loved ones. By then it wasn’t a hard decision.

I won’t be going away again for months on end, but hope to continue travels in several shorter chunks in the future. But one thing has been made clear through my travels so far, and that is this. 20 minutes across the channel lies a bikers paradise within anyone’s reach. No matter what you ride, no matter what your experience, Europe contains every type of road you could possibly want to tackle. In fact, you don’t even need to part these shores as the UK contains some of the best biking roads available anywhere. Just get on your bikes and get our there, ride however you like, just ride!

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