It's the grinning kids with their hands out, high-fiving us as we rumble through, kicking up dust and dirt. We saw them again and again, in remote village after medieval-like town, kilometre after kilometre.
And it's the hairpins. Some so tight it felt like I was turning back on myself, wresting the big BMW F800GS enduro bike up and down and through the corners. The river crossings, the mountain passes with gravel and rocks strewn across every bend, laying in wait like marbles to send me skidding over the edge, down 2,300 metres to my doom. No guardrails anywhere, of course. Terrifying.
Related contentMeandering through Morocco
When I close my eyes, I can see the snake charmer in the largest traditional market - the souk - in Morocco. Yes, in Marrakech. By Moroccan standards, Marrakech is a booming, bustling city. I say Moroccan standards because Morocco is a developing country. It is, then, a mixture of new and old, of a massive outdoor market and modern luxury hotels, of excellent restaurants and narrow, 16th century alleyways.
Some say Marrakech is the most beautiful town in Morocco. It certainly has one of the busiest squares - the Djemaa el Fna - in Africa and in fact the world. As one of our motorcycle guides put it, the square "boils with smells." We spent hours there on our last night, inhaling the atmosphere, watching the cobras dance, laughing at the comic performers and clowns, listening to the music, the drums, flutes and even guitars.
We ate our last night-time meal at a temporary food stall in the Djemaa el Fna. As a local guide put it, we experienced the "medieval lifestyle." But in the 21st century. Really. To pay for our food, we drew money out of a bank machine just off the Djemaa el Fna. Later, we walked the narrow alleyways with shopkeepers on either side hawking their wares - rugs, shoes, hats, clothes of all sorts, wooden boxes and small daggers.
That was the Friday. On the Monday before, we had other matters to focus the mind. I and a troupe of 12 other Inglourious Bastards were facing a 1,000-kilometre, four-day trek through Morocco. The name seemed apt enough, given that the actor Brad Pitt had been scheduled to ride with us, then cancelled at the last moment.
Our bikes would be a line of BMW GS dual-purpose bikes: four 1200s, the rest 800s, with a pair of 650s thrown in - one for our smallest rider, the other a back-up bike that spent the trip strapped to the bed of a four-by-four pickup driven by Axel. Axel was the doctor imported from Munich to apply the stitches and balm - or perform surgery, if required.
The plan was to circle a remote and mostly high-altitude chunk of the Kingdom of Morocco. About a quarter of the kilometres on unpaved stretches, though the off-roading would consume far more hours and much greater energy. That's the nature of the beast; enduro riding is hard work.
BMW makes its GS bikes just for this stage. The big 1200 is a handful when the going gets really rocky or sandy or steep, so I chose the R800GS instead. Bit smaller, but at 80-plus horsepower it has plenty of jam to get you up and over and through goat paths or worse.
This particular trip had been in the works for seven months. It was the brainstorm of Hendrik von Kunheim, the former president of BMW Canada who now runs BMW AG's Motorrad motorcycle division now. He's a business type, certainly, but an even more passionate motorcycle rider. And competitive.
"I wanted to show these guides, to pass them" he laughed, describing his own trip over the handlebars during a tough, rocky, narrow run up the Tizi-n'Tazazert oass (2,200 m) on day three. Our guides, expert instructors at BMW's Motorrad Enduropark in Hechlingen, Germany, near Munich, were Christian One (with the pony tail), Christian Two (bald) and Manfred (the boss) and they were brilliant. At least compared to me, as inexperienced an enduro rider as a group like this has ever seen.