Nobody Expects The Chinese Inquisition!

Recently we met a descendant of the last Chinese emperor. He was camping. How strange it was to meet this ridiculously high born man in such a lowly place. It was an exceptional encounter which we thought would bear retelling, in view of this weeks announcement by the British Government to remove all Huawie products and services from all telecom businesses operating in the UK.

Our new best friend.

We were visiting Morocco, motorcycle touring with no plan, and had come to the lagoon town of Moulay Bousselham. On our first afternoon in the stunning campsite a fellow English man turned up in a tatty pickup truck, and we fell into comfortable conversation. In no time at all we had agreed to share an evening meal and the three of us took a sunset stroll to the little market to see what we could find to eat.

Moulay Bousselham market

Well provisioned, we headed back to the campsite to prepare a feast. Now this guy had it all, a tent on top of his pickup truck, and in the bed of the pickup, under the base of the tent, was stored all his ‘essentials’, accessed by dropping the tailgate. Where we had a simple trangia to cook on, a plate and a fork each and a couple of penknives for food prep, he had the works. Out came a home made, three part bar-b-q, plates and cutlery galore and cooking pans of all descriptions. What his vehicle lacked in style, it more than made up for in substance.

Three part, homemade BBQ

The three of us chatted as we ate a delicious and very simple meal. We agreed that what had caught our eye here on site, was another pick-up truck; pristine, bright, cherry red, with a tent on top, and sporting a blemish free, bright daffodil yellow, sea kayak. This was pure bling. It had Chinese number plates and everything looked brand new. Who on earth owned something like this? What were they doing here?

Camping in Moulay Bousselham, Morocco.

We went to bed that night full to bursting. The next morning our new friend was gone; we had said our goodbyes the night before, as he had planned a dawn getaway. The super-duper pick-up truck was still on site. We admired it before heading out to explore the lagoon. When we wandered back, there was the cherry red pickup truck, parked outside the campsite cafe. We decided it was time to have a drink and strike up yet another conversation. We stepped out of the sunshine and into the cool, dull gloom of the cafe.

This way to the interrogation centre

Sitting at a table, facing the door, was a robust Chinese man. As we entered, I said, in my very best, ‘help the foreigner understand’ simple English, “Hello. You have kayak?” Point at the boat on the pickup truck. “We have kayak. We kayak sea,” Point at myself then, wavy hand gesture. “You kayak sea?” We waited, as, saying nothing, he fixed us with a condescending stare. Then on I blundered, “Where you from? We from England.” He pointedly looked us up and down. I began to feel a bit of a Wally as I stood at his table with his contempt washing over me .

He drew a languorous breath, swished a regal hand and asked, “Would you care to join me? You’d be most welcome. Please, sit down.”

His English was flawless, well pronounced and more complex than my first few sentences to him. And so began a long conversation, or interrogation, lasting several hours.

We had stumbled into a trap which has left us pondering the Chinese State ever since. He told us his name; we forgot it, he said that he is a non teaching professor who is married to a professor, who teaches in a German university; we cannot remember which university and finally, he is a direct descendent of the last Chinese emperor; that much we remember about him. He was a drifter, who could come and go from China as he wished, sponsored by the Chinese government. It soon became clear that, what at first seemed to be a flattering degree of interest in us and our lives, was really a quest to garner the zeitgeist of us and the non-Chinese peoples and how we perceived China, it’s people and it’s politics.

It was interesting to hear how the Chinese people had to be governed by a totalitarian state, as they were happy with this and would find it impossible to cope with a full range of choices, should they ever be afforded the chance. The State oversaw all businesses, so no business was fully private. As all business exists for the good of the nation, it is only to be expected that the nation is involved in all businesses. He had difficulty understanding why we found that preposterous. He felt all peoples would be happier if controlled by a paternalistic state. Of course he was looking for a visceral, honest response, rather than a polite, British understatement. The conversation was wide ranging and frank. He was phenomenally well read and intelligent, able to call up any and all facts, figures, international historical details and dates as well as financial and political information, as needed to illustrate his arguments. Academically, he left us standing, and we have our foot on at least one rung of the clever ladder.

The Emperor’s descendant’s rig.

So we now knew who owned the red pickup truck and what he was doing here. The emperor’s descendent was wandering the world to find out how the people of other nations, any other nations, would respond to being ruled by a Chinese Government. How hard might it be to subjugate an entire nation? Would it be worth the trouble? Would we, the non Chinese, submit to totalitarianism and, if not, would we at least be happy to keep buying their goods?

We enjoyed the conversation that evening. It is not that often that we have to work hard to answer deep and searching questions whilst parrying with our inquisitor. He was leaving early the next day and he asked that we meet him before he left as he wanted to exchange details. He hoped that we might get together again in the future. He offered to drive with us across Europe and into China. Sadly, by the time we crawled out of our tent, he was gone.

We were relieved. I think we got off lightly.

Weird as it may seem, this is a true tale. If you’ve an unusual encounters tale to tell, please share it with us; we love hearing from you. Simply use any of the options below. The Wallys xx

The Dar Dalia Hotel, Chefchaouen, Morocco

Enjoy the video tour of this perfect little Moroccan hotel.

Sometimes, despite having a perfectly servicable tent, Wally and I feel the need for a little comfort. With a hot shower to the forefront of our thoughts, we sought a traditional Moroccan house, a riad, that would accept a couple of grungy bikers.

You know the kind of place, it should have an unassuming entrance that opens onto a light, courtyard, with a central fountain, and rooms on three sides. Looking up there should be a first, and possibly a second and a third, floor balcony around the wall of the courtyard, with more rooms. And looking up even higher there should be no roof, the courtyard should be open to the sky. The whole effect must be of cool, blue light, with the sound of tinkling water in the background.

These days the courtyards usually sport a glazed roof to protect against the occasional storms. These properties always have a roof terrace which should be available to us guests.

Here is the little hotel that we stumbled across on a leading trip advising website. £35+ per night is the going rate including a traditional breakfast and lovely hosts, both local people and the French owners. It ticked everything on the list above.

Please feel free to leave a comment for us.

KTM 390 Duke 3,000 mile review.

Like the Snowbirds in the USA we decided to fly south for the winter to avoid the worst of a British winter. As part of the plan we wanted a pair of lightweight motorcycles to allow us to explore our winter habitat.

After much deliberation and head scratching we settled on the 2018 version of KTM,s 390 Duke for our winter sabbatical. We intended to spend a few weeks in Morocco as well as overwintering in Spain. Our final destination was Morzine in France for a week of snowboarding in mid April.

We trailered the two bikes to Spain, towed behind our VW T4 Westfalia camper. Our intention was to use the bikes for local transportation, in and around Denia, on the Costa Blanca, and a camping trip to Morocco. There was also the possibility of a small amount of off-road riding on unpaved trails.

Why the 390 Duke?

We needed bikes light enough to be towed in an un-braked 7.5 tonne trailer.

Bikes with a low seat height.

Decent power delivery.

Trail potential

Other bikes considered:

Honda CRF 250 – too tall.

BMW 310GS – too heavy, lack of power, expensive.

Kawasaki Versys 300 – too tall, expensive.

First impressions of the Duke were favourable, aesthetically, a good looking bike with character.

A short test ride confirmed our pre-conceived ideas of what this bike would be like. Light, eager with a reasonable turn of speed.

Back in the dealership we chose 2 Dukes, one orange with around 600 miles and the other white, pre-registered with delivery mileage. We specified engine guards, and rear rack on both and hand-guards on Jen’s as an extra precaution. The white one was fitted with Oxford bar heaters.

As we were due to leave the UK within 2 weeks of purchase, the white one needed to have 600 miles put on it in order that the 1stservice could be done before departure. This job fell to me, as Jen had had an operation on her thumb and was forbidden to ride for 6 weeks.

It wasn’t much fun riding the Duke sympathetically, the fancy colour display is set up to glow red as you approach the rev limit, which is prescribed by the factory, during the running in period. This is adjusted during the fist service and can be tailored by the rider thereafter. Whilst on the subject of the display, though thoroughly modern, it is a little disappointing. Much of the information is difficult to read if you have normal eyesight and not that of a teenager (Jen did not agree and found the display ok to read). It has a fuel-gauge with a clear warning when the tank is getting low. The gear indicator is a plus but the difference between 5th and 6th not easy to see. Although I had no problems with reflections, Jen found that the display was unreadable at times, especially with the sun behind her. The display has night and day display modes which it automatically switches between depending on light levels. The bike has bluetooth pairing for compatible devices.

After 600 miles of cold wet weather riding, the bike was ready for it’s service. During that time I had discovered that the seat was comfortable over fairly long rides, 250 miles one day. The heated grips were great. Wet weather handling was perfectly acceptable and the vibrations, though evident, were not overly intrusive and didn’t blur the mirrors at any rpm. The mirrors did have a habit of loosening off from time to time; quite annoying. The side stand is a little too long and unless on flat ground the bike, when parked, felt unstable at times. The rear hugger is completely useless, the rucksack I was using, not to mention my backside, were soaked in road grime within a few miles of starting out.

Initial impressions were that the bike was going to suit our purpose in most departments. Plenty of power given the small power unit with just about enough space to carry camping gear. Comfortable, especially given that we were not expecting to be riding in wet conditions thus making the hugger less of an issue. We doubted that we would be doing much off-roading though due to the unsuitability of the tyres and, probably, the suspension.

At this point the bikes were loaded into the trailer and we headed for sunny Spain.

On arrival in Spain we decanted the bikes and discovered, on the floor of the trailer, a 3 inch, 6mm bolt. It soon became clear that it didn’t belong to the trailer. To our horror we discovered the bolt was the top bolt from the rear suspension unit on Jen’s bike. It had vibrated out on the journey between Spain and the UK! Read more here.

We spent several months acclimatising to the new bikes ahead of our planned trip to Morocco. The seat remained comfortable and the riding position was ok, no aches or pains after several hours in the saddle. The brakes were adequate but provoking the rear ABS was quite easy and noticeable. I later found out that the ABS, when really pressed, was literally a life saver! I almost rearranged the back end of a classic Merc convertible, a ‘sorry mate I didn’t see you’ moment; he didn’t apologise.

The roads in the mountains around Denia are superb, long sweepers, tight S bendy climbs and descents, and so little traffic. The area is used by many international cycle teams for training so some caution was needed. These roads could have been especially designed for the bike. The rear of the Duke seemed a bit loose and I experienced the back end sliding out on many occasions. This may be due in part to the Spanish roads, often dusty and seemingly polished with constant changes in surface and holding the damp where the road was shaded. The standard Metzelers seemed to respond badly to transitional changes in the road surface, giving a little shift sideways as power was demanded. We had a tyre-wall failure after a particularly big pothole hit in Morocco and a nail puncture in the other bike.

During or trip to Algeciras and subsequently in Morocco we had to deal with some heavy winds. We both felt the bikes felt unstable in a cross wind but gusts were up-to 40k and the bikes are very light. Fuel consumption was pretty much what you might expect, refilling after 200k would take about 10 litres, less if we had been taking it easy. Fuel warnings were good leaving a useful range after the first yellow warning on the display.

In conclusion I rather liked my Duke and I think Jen did too. It’s a fun bike when pushed, that works as mini tourer too. Comfortable and light with useable power and great value for money.

In Morocco we were carrying camping gear plus clothing. We travel fairly light and the additional weight did not upset the handling. Apart from the tyre failure, the bikes stood up well to the indifferent Moroccan roads. An occasional spanner check did not reveal any loose fittings. The bikes attracted a lot of admiring interest in Morocco, especially with the kids.


Light weight

Low seat height

Good power delivery

Adequate range

Nimble handling



Standard tyres not great

Display hard to read

Side stand too upright

Tank lock a bit stiff

Some plastics a little too plasticky

Mirrors tend to loosen

Not ideal offroaders

Reviewed by The Wandering Wallys

Wally Dancer

When backpacking, ‘like what we were’, there is very little space for anything but the bare necessities. Wally washed a small amount of smalls and got to grips with drying them in the smallest amount of time. In his defence, he is saving the world, one handkerchief at a time.

The result is this flawless interpretation of that ancient art, Morris Dancing; unfortunately.

Moulay Bousselham will never be the same after this.

The Communal Baker of Fes

As we wound our way through the dark and forbidding passages of the ancient Medina in Fes, our guide repeatedly pushed us poor goggle-eyed westerners through doors. Almost invariably, once inside, we would be transported into an alternative world, wonderfully light and colourful and brimming with human joy and energy.

This doorway was different.

It was low and, as far as I recall, there was no door to open. I had to stoop to pass through the arch and step down into the smokey and blackened cave of a room. My eyes could not make out very much in the enveloping darkness. Our guide chatted to a dismembered voice that emanated from a raging fire set part way up a wall.

As my eyes adjusted, I was able to discern a wiry man crouched low on his haunches, on a grey, dust carpeted floor. He was wielding a very long handled peel, in front of a simple, gaping, wood fired oven. He deftly removed several flat round loaves of bread from the furnace, and placed them in a small number of baskets and trays that were on the floor behind him. Then he turned his attention back to the oven and began to move the embers about, making sure the base of the fire was clear of debris and ready to receive the next batch of bread. Our guide babbled on, explaining exactly what we were seeing. He need not have bothered. I knew what this was and I was transfixed. If I had ever bothered to write a bucket list, I now realised that this moment would have been right at the top.

Eventually I managed to tear my gaze away from the flames and take in the rest of the tiny room. Deep shelves lined a couple of the walls and a mess of wood, much of it broken furniture and twiggy bits, was piled, floor to ceiling, against another wall. The shelves had a number of trays, boxes and baskets on them; bread awaiting baking, or collection. The wood, I was told, is purchased by the baker and not, as I had assumed, donated by the community members in part exchange for this service. This man runs a business.

A very blurred (!) picture of the bread oven: even the camera had trouble adjusting to the darkness.

The bake house works like this; local residents bring their home made, shaped, proving, but un-risen loaves, that have been carefully covered in spotless cloths. The job of the baker is not only to bake the bread, but also to make sure that every batch in his charge is allowed to rise to the perfect point for baking. Once baked, at this precise moment, he must make sure that everyone receives their own loaves when they call to collect them. He must never muddle up his customers’ breads.

If you know me, you know I have a bit of a bread fetish. I eat it, I make it, I love it. It is such a simple thing that can keep your gut biome so healthy and, when fresh and warm can bring a group of strangers into friendship, as they rip off lumps, dunk them into a simple unctuous sauce and eat. There is nothing like it, that costs so little and yet offers so much. Knowing this about me, you can imagine my gushing, girly, response to the realisation that I was in a communal bake house. I still come over a bit wobbly at the very, heavenly, thought of that moment.

As a sideline, this hard grafter also bakes daily trays of nuts to sell in the Medina and he will bake almost any food for a fee. People here do not have ovens, preferring to cook on simple burners using bottled gas. The communal Baker comes from an ancient tradition that still, to this day, suits everyone.

I have to admit that I nearly did my Captain Oates impression that afternoon, “I’m just going outside and may be some time.” Only Wally and our guide could go outside and leave me for some time. I was such a happy bunny.