Africa, Carol and the Camel ©


Gary Marbut

Africa, Carol and the Camel

Carol had been looking for adventure, but not quite that much adventure.  We were in the back seat of a military Land Rover, bouncing across the dark north African desert, captives of two well-armed, rogue Moroccan customs agents.  To tell you how we got there, I have to go back a ways.

The Army had a program for those serving in Europe whereby upon the end of a soldier's term of enlistment, the soldier could take a "European discharge" -- get out of the Army in Europe and have up to a year to catch a military-paid flight back to the United States and to the soldier's "home of record".

I was in the Army stationed in Germany then, in 1969.  When I first heard about this program, I decided it was made for me.  I began saving my money, which wasn't all that much given Army pay.  I'd purchased a twelve-string Framus guitar in Germany, and figured I'd haul that guitar around with me and be a real vagabond.

I was discharged from the Army in Wurtzberg, Germany on August 4th, 1969.  Most GIs getting out of the Army would be transferred back stateside and actually get out of the Army two or three months before their final enlistment date anniversary.  Not me.  I'd beat the draft by enlisting on August 4th, 1966, and the Army kept me in for the full three-year enlistment, right up to the last day.

Hitchhiking to Paris, I somehow met up with a German gal my age who was also hitchhiking to Paris.  She was glad to have the security of a male travelling companion while hitchhiking, and I was glad to have feminine company for obvious reasons.  Somehow, our series of rides got us off the beaten paths and the car in which we were riding arrived at a four-way, country intersection in France near the German border where a fender-bender accident had occurred just before we hove into sight.  The cars involved were blocking the intersection.  Nobody was injured, but traffic all directions began to back up while waiting for the Gendarmes (French police) to arrive.

About the time two or three cars of Gendarmes arrived, my hitchhiking companion noticed that cars on the far side of the intersection were turning around and going back the way they'd come, rather than waiting for the intersection to clear.  She suggested those cars leaving were going in the direction we wanted to go.  So, we bid farewell to the halted and frustrated driver, with whom we'd been riding, shouldered our backpacks, hiked across the intersection and caught a ride with a car leaving the area, but going in the direction we wanted to go.

We only got about two miles from the scene when one of the Gendarme cars came roaring up behind us, blue lights flashing (yeah, they used blue lights there and then) and with the high/low siren going do-dee-do-dee.  Our driver pulled over.  It turned out that the German girl and I had committed the most serious crime of leaving the scene of an accident.  Not only had we committed a crime, but we might be needed as witnesses, and were obviously flight risks.  All this came across with much difficulty given the language barrier.  We tried to explain that we hadn't actually seen the accident happen.  That didn't matter.  We were taken into custody and hauled off to the police station.

At the police station, we were separated from our belongings and put in different holding cells while waiting for some official to get around to us.  They certainly didn't want me playing my guitar in the cell, or reading my passport, so they took those, too.

After about two or three hours, some police official finally escorted me to an interrogation room.  After another wait of nearly an hour, yet a different official showed up to conduct the interview - to ascertain whether or not I was really some sort of dangerous criminal.  I thought about singing a bar of Alice's Restaurant, but decided it might not be smart.  Maybe this guy had actually heard Alice's Restaurant.  He didn't look at all like Officer Obie.

I was grilled for another 30 minutes.  Fortunately, this Gendarme spoke passable English, so the language barrier was no longer insurmountable.  This officer wanted LOTS of detail.  He wanted to know where I'd been born, where my parents lived, what schools I'd attended, when I had enlisted in the U.S. Army, where I had been stationed, when I was discharged, where I was going, and much more.  He wanted to know everything I had seen about the accident, and asked in many ways why the German girl and I were trying to flee the scene.  Finally he left, apparently to check up on my story.  I believe he called either Colonel Freitag or Major Riedel at the Wildflecken Training Area where I had recently been stationed, because when he came back he was much more cordial.  He connected the German girl and me with all of our belongings, escorted us to the door of the police station and wished us bon voyage.

The only good news was that the ride in the police car had taken us another 30 or 40 kilometers closer to Paris.

Once in Paris, I knocked around for a week or so before I met a Texan who had been living in Europe for several years.  We met at the American Express office, which was where most transient Americans collected messages and money from home.  I was expecting both and haunted the place.  The Texan advised that the best way for an adventurous young man to see Europe was from the back of a motorcycle.  It just so happened that he also had a motorcycle for sale since he was fixing to return to the U.S.

The motorcycle he had for sale was a 450cc Honda.  He swore that it was somehow an exceptional specimen of the breed, and that it would run the wheels off 650cc BSAs and Triumphs.  I later proved that he was right - it was not just a sales pitch.  This particular Honda would beat those other bikes in both sprints and top end, although I never knew why.  So, I bought a Japanese motorcycle from a Texan in Paris.  I eventually put almost 20,000 miles on that motorcycle between Scandinavia and North Africa.

Having spent most of my carefully-hoarded money on a motorcycle, I figured I'd better adopt a more budget-conscious lifestyle.  Checking out of the pensione' where I'd been staying, I assumed I'd just camp somewhere.  It turns out that there are not a lot of camping spots in Paris.  However, I'd been to the Eiffel Tower and knew that there were large areas of parks surrounding it.  Also, there were wide and winding pathways through these parks.

After the Eiffel Tower had closed for sightseeing, near midnight, and the grounds seemed to be deserted, I rode my new motorcycle down one of these paths until I found a likely place where I could pull it off into some bushes.  I parked the motorcycle on its center stand, crawled into a GI sleeping bag on indefinite loan from the U.S. Army and went to sleep.  About an hour later I was awakened by the sound of people talking.  Peering out from under the bushes where I was concealed, I saw two uniformed guards strolling down the paved path.  With them were DOGS!!  Two huge, ferocious looking German Shepherds (called Alsatians there).  I figured the guards would walk on by, but I also knew that these roving guard dogs would find me.

And they did.  Once they caught my scent, they came right into the bushes.  But, I was totally unprepared for their reaction.  They wanted to be friends!  They expected to be petted!!  I've always liked dogs.  I think they knew that.  So, I petted them and scratched behind their ears and under their collars.  Soon, one of the guards called and they left.

About an hour later I was abruptly awakened again by a cold pistol barrel on my neck.  At least that was my first sleepy impression.  But I was wrong, it was a cold dog nose.  My friends were back.  More petting.  With the rush of adrenaline from the assumed pistol barrel, it took a while to go back to sleep.  Just as I was drifting off to sleep, something stirred my sleepy attention.  I looked up to see this huge shape looming over me.  My motorcycle fell over on top of me.  Dang!

That motorcycle weighed 412 pounds, empty.  I think all of the pegs and protrusions on the whole motorcycle had relocated themselves on my side of the bike for that particular fall.  I'd been stabbed with 37 blunt objects having 412 pounds of force behind them.  Let me tell you, getting out from under a 412-pound motorcycle while inside a GI sleeping bag is no easy trick.  I'd never dreamed of doing any Houdini stunts before.

After considerable struggle I managed to worm my way out from under the Honda.  When I'd been sleeping on the ground, it hadn't seemed particularly soft, but it had proven to be too soft for the stand that was supposed to hold the Honda upright.  Fortunately, I was only bruised by the motorcycle - no permanent damage and no blood drawn.  But between the dogs and the motorcycle, it hadn’t been a very successful campout.

By then it was about 4 AM.  I rolled up my sleeping bag, strapped it on the Honda, and rode quietly out of the park.  Paris is dead at 4 AM, let me tell you.  I just putted around Paris for a couple of hours until the small cafes started to open where I could get coffee and breakfast.  After a couple of cups of coffee, I decided it was time to leave Paris and head south for Spain.

When I checked in at American Express that morning, it was my lucky day.  I found mail and money from home.  It was not a lot of money, but any money seemed like a lot then.  My Dad had been keeping savings bonds I had been buying while in the Army, and had cashed a couple and sent me American Express travelers checks with the proceeds.

While at the Paris branch of American Express, I met a girl from San Francisco, Roxanne, who it turned out was the cousin of a friend, Emily, from Missoula, a girl I'd known in high school.  Roxanne heard I was going to Spain and wanted to go.  I told her that there was one absolute condition.  The Honda had a "buddy bar" on the back, basically a back rest for a passenger to lean against.  But I found that the buddy bar was the only place on the motorcycle where I could attach my 12-string Framus (in a soft case) - on the front side of the buddy bar.  So I told Roxanne she could ride to Barcelona with me if she promised not to lean back against the guitar, which would scratch the guitar finish against the buddy bar, maybe even damage the wood.  She promised.  I may have also had some notion that it's better to have a female passenger on a motorcycle leaning forward, rather than backward.

From Paris we went south through Orleans, Limoges, and Toulouse.  I've always been one for taking the scenic, less-traveled route.  At least on this leg of my journey, that didn't result in any disaster.  Following apparent lines on the map, we took what ended up being a very faintly-marked route over the Pyrenees, a rugged mountain range that divides France from Spain.  As it was still August, it was warm even high in the mountains.  Following the road ever south, it dwindled and dwindled and dwindled.  It became obvious that this was not any sort of major international route.  It was paved, however, all the way over the top of the mountain, although the pavement width narrowed to six and eight feet near the top of the pass.

We met no other motor vehicles going over the top of the Pyrenees, which was fine, because there were plenty of places where we couldn't have passed a car coming our way.  There were people on bicycles, people walking, people on horseback, but most commonly people leading burros loaded with who knows what.  There were lots of corners that, if they'd been posted with speed signs, would have been 10 MPH corners.  It was a fun ride on a motorcycle.  And, it was gorgeous country, especially for a kid who had grown up in the mountains.

Once in Barcelona, I had occasion to check on my guitar.  This &*%$ girl had been leaning against the guitar, and the wood was gouged where it had rested against the buddy bar.  So long Roxanne.  The last I saw of her was at American Express in Barcelona.

One thing in particular impressed me about Barcelona.  Flies.  There were flies everywhere.  The locals seemed to think nothing of 20 or 30 flies crawling over their food while they were eating at a restaurant.  I suppose Barcelona had more charming aspects, but I missed them.

While in Barcelona, I met a blond girl from Boston who was anxious to go for a ride on my motorcycle.  She'd never been on a motorcycle and thought it would be exciting.  It sure was.  It turned out to be a mistake, nearly a disastrous mistake.  This particular girl was about 6'1", and probably weighed 170 pounds.  But, she was pretty and nice, so I thought, what the heck, give her a ride.  We headed out of Barcelona on the major highway going south.  It was a four-lane highway with two lanes southbound, and two northbound.  There was no divider in the center, just paint. The lanes were very narrow, the traffic was very dense with a lot of big trucks, and all the traffic was going 70 miles per hour.

We were in the "fast lane", the left-hand lane, passing a big truck when there was an attention-getting blam - the rear tire on the motorcycle had blown out.  There was a car in front of us, and another truck right behind us.  We were boxed in between these vehicles and the truck on the right.  Oncoming traffic was only about five feet to the left, coming at us at 140 MPH.  I immediately wished I didn't have this 170-pound girl on the back of the bike.  Why not a petite little girl?  In that first few seconds, I almost swore off girls altogether - almost.

The rear end of the bike was all over the road, slithering left and right.  I had to hold the motorcycle at 70 until we could get past the truck on our right, to be able to get into the right, outside lane.  Then it was terrifying crossing in front of that truck with the back end of the bike squirreling all over the road.  On the right of the road was a narrow, four foot gravel shoulder, and then a down-slope into a corn field, with 16-inch diameter trees between the road and the field every 50 yards or so.  The field had been harvested, so at least it was not tall corn.

After crossing in front of the truck, I gingerly nosed the motorcycle at a gradual angle over the bank, still going about 60 MPH, dodged between two trees and sailed out into the field.  I fully expected to not be able to keep the motorcycle upright going down the bank and out into the field, but I was thankful that after not being smeared along the highway, everything else was a bonus.  It was one of those times where everything seems to happen in slow motion - tachyphasia.  I can still picture the trees and the field as the front motorcycle wheel dropped off the edge of the bank.

The motorcycle finally came to a stop, upright, about 200 yards into the field.  I must have dumped a quart of adrenaline into my bloodstream between the time the tire blew and when we came to a stop.  Neither the girl from Boston or I could talk.  We were beyond speech.  We just sat there astraddle the motorcycle, feet on the ground, for what seemed like a long time.

Then we heard other motorcycles approaching.  I looked back along the skid marks in the field to see two, matched 650 Triumphs approaching through the field of stubble.  The riders were two California surfer types with long blond hair and long blond beards.  One was a huge guy, and one was a small guy.  The small guy was Jon (never knew his last name) with whom I later did some rides through the Alps.  After they turned off their Triumphs, Jon drawled, "Wow, dude, you blew your tire."

It turned out that these guys had been about three cars behind us and had seen the whole incident.  It had taken them a while to get out of the thick traffic and get back to where we were.  While I was slowly gathering myself, stuffing my psyche back into my skin, they dismounted the rear wheel.  They took the wheel to a tire shop, or somewhere (they never said), and came back in under an hour with a new tire mounted on the wheel.  Jon refused payment for the tire - just one of those things people, or bikers, do for each other.  After getting the wheel remounted on the Honda, getting it aligned and the chain retightened, they just waved and rode off.

I did run into Jon the next spring in the Alps, where, like I said, we had some rides together.  That included the incident where John dumped his Triumph while passing a truck on a tight mountain corner, slid completely under the truck trailer and bounced off a guard rail above a 500-foot dropoff.  After we picked his bike up, his only comment, looking down into the abyss below, was "Wow!"  This is surfer talk that covers almost any occasion.

So, I took the big blond girl back to the American Express office in downtown Barcelona.  I never saw her again.  I think she'd had enough exciting motorcycle rides to last her a while.

I had visited before a relatively undiscovered a Spanish beach town called Sitges, about 60 kilometers south of Barcelona.  I decided that Sitges would be a good place to light for a while.  It was.  I spent about a month there.  The pace was slow, and the sun was warm.

That's where I began actually earning some money for my travels.  I found that Europeans had absolutely no clue what American folk music was supposed to sound like.  So, I played my twelve-string guitar and sang American folk songs in little bars and restaurants for meals and a bit of change.  I did songs by Peter, Paul and Mary, by the Kingston Trio, Sixteen tons by Tennessee Ernie Ford, some folk music I'd learned in school, and more.

This is the Framus 12-string I hauled around Europe.

It was a stunning experience to meet vacationing there a young, tall, skinny Englishman named John Deeth.  John was a professional concert pianist from England.  He wandered in to a small café where I was playing, maybe drawn by live music with lyrics he could understand because they were in English.  There was an old, beat-up, upright piano in the place.  He asked if I minded if he played.  I didn't mind at all.  So he played the piano.  He was really, really good.  I mean, really good.  What amazed me was the tremendous breadth of his repertoire and ability.  Although he was a classical pianist by training (he told me), he could play any kind of music at all.  What I liked best was the way he played ragtime music.  He must have known a million songs.

The final surprise was when John asked if he could try my guitar.  I agreed.  From what I could tell, he was every bit as good on the guitar as on the piano - much, much better than I.  It was a great treat to hear him play.  We palled around for a couple of weeks, often hooking up in a small bar or café just after dinnertime, and doing music until the wee hours.  He always let me take whatever money was offered by customers.  I got the impression he had plenty of money.  I've always wondered what became of John, and if he was able to make a successful career out of music.  He was a really fine musician.

When looking for a seamstress to mend some wind-tattered clothes, I met a charming older lady, also from England.  She did several minor tailoring jobs for me.  At my request, she split the outside seam of my blue jeans from the bottom almost to the knee, and sewed in a triangular panel of bright red sailcloth.  This design worked well with the Montana cowboy boots I was wearing.  The English lady seemed to enjoy company.  She would invite me over for coffee in the afternoons.  When she made coffee, she would heat whole milk to near boiling, pour it into cups, and add instant coffee.  After three years in the Army, it was nice to sit in an actual home and talk with somebody who didn't use the sort of language common in the military.

It was in Sitges that I met Carol Turner.  Carol was absolutely drop-dead gorgeous.  Probably because I was young and dumb, it took me a while to figure this out.  I just thought of her as a nice girl I would run into now and then in Sitges.  Later, I began to notice that everywhere Carol went, men were stepping on their tongues, and they would lose any ability to conduct a coherent conversation.

Carol was from Edmonton, Canada, and seemed almost like a neighbor, coming from so near to Montana, clear on the other side of the globe.  She had dropped out of a convent when she decided that convent life was not for her.  She was out to See The World.  Carol was not at all wild.  She was actually kind of quiet and demur.  I could tell that although she was determined to experience the part of life that happened outside a convent, she was having to push herself somewhat.  Before I figured out that Carol's most sensational attribute was her physical beauty, I would have said that her chief quality was nice.  Even after I figured out the rest, she was still nice.  Carol charmed everyone.

Because Carol had jet black hair, a dark complexion, and big, dark, flashing eyes, many Spaniards took her for Spanish.  In Morocco, many there thought she was native too.

When Carol heard that I intended going to Morocco (in northern Africa), she insisted on going along.  My response, absolutely not!  The girl from San Francisco damaging my guitar was fresh in my mind, as was the near disaster with the big girl from Boston with the blowout.  I told Carol that she just wasn't up to the rigors of the spartan type of trip I had in mind.

Usually I would run into Carol nearly every day, somewhere in Sitges - it was a small place then.  She would quietly plead with me to take her along to Africa.  I explained to her that I would be spending long, hard days on the motorcycle, sleeping in squalid (cheap) places, eating sporadically, leading an "adventurous" life.  The more I told her about the hazards, the more she wanted to go.  It was for exactly this sort of experience that she'd come to Europe after dropping out of the convent, not to be hanging out in some soft beach resort.

Yeah, right.  I finally gave in and agreed to take Carol to Africa with me.  I have to say that Carol did very well.  She never complained, and she never leaned against my guitar!  She was a fine travelling companion.

I'd been having problems with the Honda.  The battery had finally died.  I couldn't replace it in Spain.  Because Bultaco motorcycles are made in Spain, at that time Spain did not allow the import of any foreign motorcycles or parts at all.  So, not only couldn't I use the electric start, but sometimes it took a lot of kicking on the kick starter to get the Honda to run at all.  Once running, it ran great, but I'd sometimes spend an arduous 10 minutes or more kicking the kick-starter it to get it running.

I needed to figure out a way to carry our rucksacks, as well as my guitar.  I finally figured out that if I lashed the packstraps of our rucksacks together, I could sling them over the back of the seat like saddlebags.  That worked fine once I sorted out how to keep bits of the rucksacks out of the wheel spokes and off the heat of the muffler.

On the day that Carol and I headed south from Sitges, I intended to put in a long day riding down the east coast of Spain.  It was a gorgeous ride, with the stunning blue of the Mediterranean Sea on our left, and the coastal mountains on our right.  There were occasional haciendas and small towns along the route to capture our attention.  People who have toured on a motorcycle will understand how very much more you actually see from a motorcycle than you do riding in a car.  You smell the countryside too, which adds a significant dimension to the experience.  Carol had been smart enough to tie her long black hair up in a scarf so it wouldn't get wind-snarled.  I would check on her now and then to make sure she was doing okay. 

After about four hours on the road, I looked back and noticed tears running down Carol's cheeks.  From her expression, it was obvious these were not the tears of joy sometimes associated with riding a motorcycle on fresh roads along the seashore on a fine day.  I pulled the Honda off the road, parked, and I asked Carol what was wrong.  She said "Nothing."  It took a near-inquisition to pry out of Carol that she was in considerable pain from that part of her anatomy that was in contact with the motorcycle seat.  In Montana we'd say she was "saddle-sore".  So, we took a break, and then began doing half-hour rides with more breaks.

The wind started blowing off the Mediterranean.  It had been a nice breeze earlier in the day, but became a strong, steady wind, coming from our left.  I had to lean the motorcycle further and further to the left to keep from being blown over.  Finally, the wind was blowing so hard that I was leaning the Honda almost 45 degrees to the left, and the wind was beginning to blow the motorcycle across the road to the right - the tires were actually skittering across the pavement from left to right because of the force of the wind.  We came to a huge rock, larger than a house, on the right side of the road, with a turnout of sorts that went behind the rock.  I pulled the motorcycle into the wind shadow of the rock and parked.  We spent a couple of hours behind that rock waiting for the wind to abate.  I'm sure Carol's tush appreciated the intermission from riding.  Although the wind was fierce, it was steady and the air was warm and smelled great coming off the Mediterranean.

It was about two days later that we crossed the Straights of Gibraltar on a ferry, going from Europe to Africa.  That was the first time I really noticed the reaction of men to Carol.  At both Spanish and Moroccan customs, customs officers would flock around and stare at Carol with stunned looks on their faces - all but the one guy who was excited about my motorcycle.  That made me take another look at Carol.  I'd only thought of her as a nice, pleasant and gracious friend.  I'm not always that slow.  I was just looking for a different kind of adventure.  But I can learn if I'm beat over the head with something enough times.

That night we stayed in Ceuta (say-ue'-ta), an old but small city on the northern tip of Morocco.  We stayed at a nice hotel at the top of the highest hill in this hilly city.  The place actually had plumbing in the rooms, including baths.  We splurged on that hotel because we were both ready for a bath - really ready.

Our destination was the ancient city of Tangiers (also "Tanger"), to explore the famous Kasbah there.  In the morning, I told Carol that I would go downstairs and get the motorcycle running, a sometimes arduous, 20-minute project, and go to a gas station to fill the gas tank.  While I was doing that, Carol would attend to packing and other things.  She would bring our rucksacks and my guitar down to the front of the hotel to strap our gear on the then-running motorcycle.

I kicked the kick-starter, and kicked it, and kicked it, and kicked it.  I wore myself to a frazzle.  Only somebody who has had to repeatedly kick a large motorcycle knows how exhausting that can be.  After twenty minutes of kicking and sweat (so much for the bath), I finally decided I'd coast the bike down the hill, slip it into gear, and drop the clutch to turn the engine.  Every direction was downhill from that hotel but the most convenient and straight-down street was south, so I took that one.  When the motorcycle got to about 20 MPH, I dropped the clutch.  The engine turned nicely, but didn't start.  So, I coasted some more, up to 25 MPH, and tried again.  The engine turned nicely again, but still didn't start.  I tried it again.  Still no luck.

By this time I was getting into a less scenic part of Ceuta.  But I really had no choice.  I tried it again, and again.  The streets had turned to dirt and the buildings to hovels.  In my last sputtering attempt, I ended up at the dead end of a dirt street only about 10 feet wide.  There was a batch of brown urchin children standing around, trying to decide what to make of this new entertainment in their lives.  They seemed to range in age from about five to about 12 years old.  There must have been 30 of them.  Many of them had no clothes all.  None had any shoes or sandals.  The ones who had any covering at all were only partially clothed in the most ragged clothing -- shorts and a tee shirt.

At this point, there was absolutely nothing left to do but push the Honda back up the hill.  Have you ever pushed a 412-pound motorcycle uphill?  It is a struggle!!  And, this was not a gentle hill!  It was probably a 9% grade.

I turned the motorcycle around, and began struggling up the hill.  After I got it rolling it was easier to push.  Then it got easier yet.  I was amazed.  The motorcycle was rolling uphill by itself.  I looked around, and every one of these little brown kids who could get a hand somewhere on the motorcycle was pushing.  Some of the kids were pushing the other kids who were pushing the motorcycle.  It was absolutely the most amazing thing!  It was a marvel.

This hoard of small but committed motorcycle pushers and I went about five hundred yards up the hill.  The kids were all chattering and urging each other on in language totally incomprehensible to me.  After one intense burst of chattering, one of the kids ran ahead and motioned that I should turn right at the next street.  Sure.  You think I was going to fall for that old trick?

So I turned right.  About 100 yards down this street, in a neighborhood a little better than the one the kids had come from, was a streetside garage - the large garage doors were flush with the street.  A person can recognize a working garage anywhere - oil stains on the ground, a couple of cars in various states of repair, and this one even had a small, hand-crank gas pump.

The proprietor came outside when he heard all the noise the kids were making.  I can still see him standing there in the open garage door of this wood-frame building with peeling paint, oil-splotched blue shirt and pants, a rag hanging out of his pocket, hands on hips.  This was a guy I could relate to -- a real mechanic.

By that time I had picked up a smattering of Spanish, which the garage man also spoke just a little.  With that but mostly with pantomime, I showed him what the problem was.  I turned the key on and hit the starter button, to demonstrate no result.  I kicked the Honda once to show it wouldn't start.  Then I lifted up the hinged seat, pointed at the battery and made the universal motion of cutting my throat.

As a sometimes solution to the Honda no-start problem, I'd taken to carrying two six-foot pieces of insulated 12-guage wire I'd scrounged somewhere along the line.  I used these as motorcycle-grade jumper cables.  I kept them rolled up in a space under the seat.  I pulled them out, uncoiled the roll, put one end of the pair on the terminals of my battery, and held the other end out to the garage man.  He understood immediately (hey he was a mechanic, you know, even if in a foreign country).

The garage man signaled that I should wait.  Thirty seconds later he was back with a 12-volt automobile battery.  He checked the positive and negative of the wires on my end, and held the other end of the wires to the terminals of the car battery sitting on the ground.  I touched the electric start button on the motorcycle.  The engine went Vroom - started immediately.  All the 30 little brown kids cheered, and jumped in the air.  Darned if it wasn't a special moment.

I made the universal gesture of money to the mechanic, rubbing thumb and forefinger together, as an offer to pay.  He shook his head no and waved me away.  I coiled up my jumper wires, replaced them under the seat, lowered the seat back into riding position, and got on the Honda.  I smiled and waved to all those kids, who all waved back vigorously.  I can still picture that rag-tag batch of kids standing by the garage with big grins on their faces.  At least I'd provided them with some entertainment.

It had been an hour since I'd left Carol in the hotel room.  If she hadn't been such a trusting soul, and if she hadn't been in possession of my rucksack and treasured guitar, I'm sure she would have thought I'd abandoned her.  When I motored up to the hotel, she was sitting on our rucksacks out in front of the hotel, waiting patiently.  I only told her that I'd had trouble starting the Honda.  We loaded up and left Ceuta, headed west for Tangiers.

My map showed two routes to get from Ceuta to Tangiers.  The primary route went south into the desert of North Africa to Tetouan, and from there turned west, crossing this wide, North-African peninsula to Tangiers.  However, the map showed another route that went immediately west from Ceuta, over the northern terminus of the Atlas Mountains, and across the northern tip of Morocco to Tangiers, a route that ran parallel to the Straits of Gibraltar, that east-west waterway between Europe and Africa.

So, once again, I decided to take the "scenic route."  It was indeed scenic.  From the crest of the Atlas Mountains, a person could see Spain to the north, the Mediterranean on the west, the Atlantic Ocean to the east, and off into the deserts of Africa to the south.  However, like the scenic route over the Pyrenees, the "road" deteriorated.  At the crest of the Atlas Mountains, it was no more than a wide gravel path.  At this far north tip of Africa, the Atlas Mountains are just rock.  Sometimes for a variety there are smaller rocks, but nothing grows there.  At its worst, this gravel path was perhaps five feet wide.  Probably 100 generations or more of people, camels and burros had traveled over this route, but not many busses.

Over the Atlases the road fell down into the desert.  This desert was almost entirely sand.  I don't remember anything at all growing there.  The "road" finally improved to a one-lane asphalt track going straight as an arrow across the desert.  The width was no problem, because there was no traffic at all - zero, and the lack of traffic turned out later to be a problem all by itself.

About five miles beyond the foot of the Atlas Mountains we passed a lone camel-driver going our way, leading one camel which carried two large wicker-type baskets.  He was surprised to see us, and stood nearly dumbfounded beside the road while we zipped by.  We'd gone several more miles when the Honda sputtered and died.  Only then did I realize -- in the trial of getting the motorcycle started that morning, I'd forgotten to get gas!!!

Carol and I were stuck in the vast reaches of the desert of North Africa, with no water and no gas for the motorcycle.  Dang!

Our great hope at that point was that somebody would come along.  We waited, and waited, and waited.  It - was - hot!  At last, somebody did come along, the camel driver we'd passed miles back, going our way.  I pointed into the empty gas tank.  I'm not sure if he understood our need for gas, but I'm certain he realized we weren't parked in the middle of the desert for our health.  Fortunately, he was also one of those many men who were absolutely ga-ga over Carol.

He had the camel kneel, whereupon he pulled a hemp rope out of one of the baskets, a rope about 20 feet long.  He tied one end of the rope to the harness on the camel that held the baskets, and motioned that I should tie the other end to the motorcycle.  Obvious Watson, a tow job.  Having absolutely zero other options at that point, I did as he directed.  Then he motioned that Carol was to get up on the kneeling camel.  With a bit of trepidation she did.  Then the camel driver led off, with the camel carrying Carol and towing my motorcycle.  All I had to do was walk along beside the Honda and keep it balanced on two wheels.

One of the mental snapshots of those times I'll never forget was when we started out, Carol looking back at me from the high back of that camel, with an impish smile on her face that said, "Now, THIS is adventure!"  Little did she know what "adventure" was in store for us.

We were a captive but willing part of this small caravan for probably two hours.  The scenery, at least for me, was not all that spectacular - sand, and the east end of a west-bound camel.  The view may have been better for Carol.

I stumbled across this picture on the Internet several years ago.  It looks very much like Carol and the camel of this story, but the setting is wrong.  Oh well.

What seemed like a lot later, we heard a faint engine sound in the distance, coming from the direction of Tangiers.  That noise evolved into two teenage Moroccan boys riding a small motorcycle.  I remember clearly that it was a 125cc, but I don't remember the make.  They were plenty surprised when they got close and saw what sort of strange caravan they'd discovered.

This time, the tables were turned.  They hardly noticed Carol, but were absolutely beside themselves over my motorcycle.  They'd never seen a motorcycle that large.  They thought they had the spiffiest motorcycle in North Africa, and maybe they did.  At least theirs ran.

These boys had all sorts of excited conversation with the camel driver.  Through mostly gestures and universal pantomime they wanted to know all sorts of stuff about my Honda, but especially how many cc of displacement it had, and how fast it would go.  They were especially impressed when I was able to make them understand that the speedometer was calibrated in miles per hour, not kilometers per hour.  So instead of topping out at 120 MPH, it actually topped at almost 200 KPH.  Sometimes communication by gestures is difficult.  During this whole episode, Carol watched from high atop the camel with gentle amusement.

Finally, these kids asked me, with gestures, to do something I didn't understand at all.  I had a motorcycle helmet with a snap-on face shield -- a bubble shaped like 1/3 of a sphere.  They demonstrated that I should unsnap the bubble from my helmet and give it to them.  With some misgivings I did as they asked.  They opened the fill spout on the tank of their motorcycle, leaned the motorcycle over sideways, poured gas from their tank into the bubble, and handed the bubble back to me with gestures that I should pour the gas into my tank.  They did this several times.  Dang!  In the middle of the desert of North Africa.

Several transfers later they had given me all the gas they could spare.  After discussion between the boys and the camel driver, the driver had the camel kneel again so Carol could get off.  I am sure the driver was hoping it would work out that he could keep Carol.

Surprise!  When I kicked the motorcycle, it started right away.  Maybe the battery was still able to hold just a bit of spark.  The boys were excited to hear the Honda run.  The driver of the other motorcycle wanted to twist the throttle, which I allowed.  Then they motioned that we should be on our way quickly to Tangiers.  With gestures, we said our thanks to the camel driver and the boys and headed west again.  The boys on the 125 tried to keep up with us for a ways, but my Honda would actually peg the speedometer needle beyond 120 MPH.  The boys didn't stay in the mirror long.  They said go.  We went.

The face shield on that helmet smelled like gas for a long time.  But every time I smelled that gas smell, I thought kind thoughts about those two boys in the middle of the desert of North Africa.

You might guess that we gassed up at the first gas station we could find when we got into Tangiers.

I clearly remember our lodgings of that night.  What I remember most is the wildlife associated with the lodgings.  Our lodgings were near the edge of the Kasbah, the ancient and famous merchant area and ghetto of Tangiers.  In the morning, both Carol and I were covered with bites from whatever bugs were making their home in the beds there.  The good news was that, whatever they were, they stayed when we left.

Carol and I spent a couple of days exploring the incredible warren that is the Kasbah.  Many of the "streets" are only passable on foot, or by donkeys carrying loads of merchandise for sale.  These streets are, in many cases no more than four or five feet wide.  They are a labyrinth.  The buildings on each side seemed to be made of mud, and were two, or up to four stories tall.  Because the streets were so narrow and the buildings so tall, the streets were almost always in shadow.  What amounted to little cafes and bars had doors opening off of these streets into rooms that might seat no more than four customers at a time - two tables and four chairs.  At seemingly random spots within the Kasbah were open squares where the merchants displayed their wares.  The variety of merchandise for sale was amazing.

By the middle of the second day exploring the Kasbah, both Carol and I were suffering from the heat.  Although it was September then, it must have been well over 100 degrees.  Something one quickly learns about touring on a motorcycle is that no matter how hot it is, if you can ride, you can cool down.  Of course, it's the air movement and evaporation of sweat that does the cooling.  Carol suggested we go for a ride, any direction.

I thought, what the heck, the gas tank of the Honda was now brim full.  Why not.

Again, the motorcycle started readily.  We headed south out of Tangiers on a road that would have eventually taken us to Marrakech.  We cooled off.  The motorcycle was running fine.  We should have known that it was too good to be true.

We were about 30 swift minutes south of Tangiers when a Land Rover came into the rear view mirror.  When it got close, flashing blue lights came on, and the high/low siren began to speak its do-dee-do-dee, do-dee-do-dee.  Being a stranger in a strange land and not wanting to challenge local authorities, I pulled to the side of the road and stopped (I'd once outrun the La Guardia in Spain, with them on their loaded-down, police-equipped 250cc Bultacos, but there were a lot of road choices there, and only a straight shot through the desert to Marrakech here).

Two guys in uniforms with badges, guns and lots of shiny black leather got out of the Land Rover.  They asked a bunch of questions we couldn't understand.  Once again I thought about singing a bar of Alice's Restaurant, but again figured it wouldn't be a good plan.  Meanwhile, I could see these guys had eyes for Carol.  Up the road about 100 yards, on the right, there was a tumble of large boulders with some low brush around them.  The passenger, who appeared to be the senior of the two, indicated that Carol should stay with them and that I was to park the Honda out of sight behind the boulders.

There just wasn't much choice.  When I balked, the driver slapped his holster.  He might as well have said in perfect English, "Don't make me get my gun out."  So, I parked the Honda in the brush behind the boulders in a spot as inconspicuous as I could find.  The two officers had us get into the back of the Land Rover.  We went driving off across the desert of North Africa.

We took a side road off of a side road.  Carol and I were both mostly convinced that they were going to take us to some remote spot to shoot me, and to reward Carol with another "adventure."  At the end of the side road, was a hamlet of one and two-story buildings made out of what in the southwest U.S. would be called adobe - basically bricks made from mud.  They took us into one of the larger buildings, which turned out to be some sort of primitive cantina.  We quickly drew a crowd of strange looking people from the hamlet.  The two officers had an authoritative conversation with a guy who appeared to be the proprietor of the place, whereupon the proprietor produced a bottle and some glasses.

Everybody drank.  I believe it was a mixture of paint remover and kerosene.  It certainly had a bite.  Everybody got happy, except maybe the proprietor who was watching his merchandise disappear.  Even Carol and I grew a little happier.

Carol, of course, was the center of attention.  Fortunately, Carol had something about her, a regal aura of sorts, that said, "Don't touch."  Although the men were very taken by her, they were also very respectful.  By being her natural self, Carol played just the right part.  She was serene, and smiled gently at everyone.  I just tried to stay out of the way, although the driver kept asking me to toast with him.

After an hour or so, it was time to leave, so our "escorts" said.  We were again loaded into the Land Rover.  When we got back to the asphalt, we turned again towards Marrakech.  Some distance down that road, we came to a larger village.  The two officers set up some sort of roadblock there, with the Land Rover angled half across the road and the blue lights flashing.  They stopped cars going both directions and searched them.  They were confiscating "contraband," which was any bottled products containing alcohol.

By then, it was getting dark.  The two incidents with these guys, the cantina and the roadblock, pretty much set the pattern for the rest of that day and night.  Things got pretty fuzzy.  We'd visit some small hamlet somewhere and find the local cantina.  We'd go inside and party.  The officers would show off Carol, and we'd all drink.  When we would run out of drinks, the officers would set up another roadblock and search cars until they'd confiscated enough booze for another party.

Somewhere along the line, there was a local who spoke broken English.  From him I learned that our "escorts" were some sort of senior customs officials.  With all the booze they brought to this series of parties, they sure had a lot of friends.  But Carol was really the showpiece.

Throughout it all, Carol and I were still wondering how it would all end.  The reality was much better than our fears.  After nearly 20 hours of nonstop partying, these two guys took us back to the clump of rocks behind which my Honda was parked.  They checked to make sure the bike was still there, then let us get out.  This, I thought, was the most tense moment.  But, once I started the Honda they just waved and drove away.  Back in Tangiers, Carol and I slept the rest of the day.  I don't know if Carol had ever had a hangover before.  It sure was another new "adventure" for her.

Carol and I made it north out of Africa without other remarkable incidents.  She wanted to stay in Spain to learn the language, and I wanted to go to Italy and then on to Switzerland.  So, we parted ways.  I never thought of Carol as a "girlfriend," but as a sweet friend and an eager partner in exploration.  I will always remember that view of Carol, as I was walking the balanced and towed motorcycle, looking back and down from the camel, with an impish grin and the light of adventure in her eyes.

- 30 -
© 2008, Gary Marbut