Skip to Main Contents

55mph - This is Africa ! Chapter 03

Rowland Kirishima and Keisuke Kawanishi's grand touring on a Yamaha Ténéré 700 from Europe to Morocco.


Coming to the end of continuing on our 2200km Journey....

On Yamaha's latest adventure model, the Ténéré 700 - Rowland Kirishima and Keisuke Kawanishi, two riders in their 50s - set out on their grand tour from Europe to Africa. What would await them as they crossed over to the African continent?

To the blue city, Chefchaouen...

On the second day in Morocco, Rowly (Rowland Kirishima) and I headed for the town of Chefchaouen. This is a small town buried deep in the mountains of northern Morocco. The “blue city” has the look of a sort of fantasy land, where the walls of the houses and the steps on the road are painted in various blues. This city has become a sought-after destination in its own right for travelers from all over the world.
Rowly, unable to stop here during the Dakar Rally in 2007 - due to the obvious race time restrictions - made no secret of wanting this to be one of our “must visit” destinations.

Arriving in Chefchaouen, with its unpaved mountain paths, we were greeted by the majestic photogenic cityscape as we had imagined, and we could immediately understand why many tourists make the effort to come all this way. Winding alleys and stairs...
As part of historic prohibition of infidels over a 400-year period, the buildings have drawn influence from a mixture of European and Islamic styles creating a unique and exotic landscape. Although it seems that there are a variety of theories on the reason for the “blue” theme, it is likely that the Jewish immigrants who settled here from Spain, painted the city in blue as they built it due to the color being sacred to them.

Of course, I was deeply moved by the “Blue City,” but there was something else that left an even more lasting impression on me. It was the magnificent scenery we encountered on the way to Chefchaouen, and the scenery on the way to our next destination. Then the city of Fes, and of course - riding the Ténéré 700.
Desolate dirt roads over the mountains... A straight road that seems to head all the way to the horizon... Cows and horses quietly crossing the road... Large pot holes and crumbled road shoulders appear on the road as if they were set like traps for us... This is where the Ténéré comes into its own with its flexible engine characteristics, and well-honed, supple suspension. Ever reliable....

The beauty of the Ténéré lies in its realization of a simple construction. Bucking the trends of current models, there are no electronic controlling gadgets such as riding modes or traction control. What it does have is ABS. The Ténéré is based on the premise of being able to “let you ride on any type of road and get you back home.” You can really feel the manufacturer's insight with the focus they placed on materials used rather than in the aesthetics. This was inspired thinking, given the uses and purpose for this adventure model.

Getting lost in the Fes labyrinth...

We head to our next destination, the city of Fes, Morocco's oldest royal capital with a history of more than 1,000 years. Medina (The old city) has a towering high wall, with winding, narrow alleyways. This is why it is known as the world's number one “labyrinth city.” Wandering around this city, that is between 13-14 centuries old, was like being in some sort of “time slip.”

But.. at the same time, I was just experiencing another type of “time slip” of my own. I knew a little about the city of Fes, because I had once read about it in a travel piece on Morocco in 55 mph. This was in Vol.7 with the Italian rider, Franco Pico pictured on the cover. I remember at the time being in total awe as a young man just starting out on my life of motorcycle riding. “Wow! you can go to these places on a bike!!” Now, decades later, here I am coming to the city of Fes on a bike myself. It seems like a miracle.

After leaving Fes, we headed back to Tangier, the port city, via Rabat, the current capital of Morocco. On the way, the sun began to set as we rode along the highway. Behind us, the west sky was dyed red from the setting sun, and the east sky in front of us was full of stars in its immense dark blue.
It really feels like we are now burning a trail across the African continent.
This feeling was exemplified by watching the red taillights of Rowly’s Ténéré as he led the way.

The next morning, after staying in Tangier, we boarded the ferry and left Morocco. We had such a hard time entering the country but leaving Morocco and heading back into Spain was incredibly easy. It was a really weird feeling - but thinking about it now, I guess this could be just another case of “This is Africa.”

Luis, our brave buddy...

Leaving Morocco, again, I couldn't help but feel that one of the main reasons the trip between Europe and Africa was proceeding with hardly any hiccups was in no small part because of Luis being there. Luis, as one of the staff at Yamaha Motor Europe in Lisbon, had provided us with the Ténéré 700's. He had also accompanied us as a tour guide on our journey. Luis is a big bearded Portuguese man, but he has a friendly smile and a gentle personality. He easily straddled the 1200cc - Super Ténéré - and was a reliable navigator not only in Portugal and Spain, where he rides on a regular basis, but also in Morocco, where he too was traveling for the first time.

Actually, there was something that happened on this part of the journey. On the second day in Morocco, we left the inn early in the morning, and on the way to Chefchaouen, we came across a gate on a narrow mountain road, where several rather large men were standing. They were there apparently, demanding that we “pay if you want to pass though here.” I couldn't understand their language, but I still knew it was a pretty tense situation.
But then Luis stepped in again and began to negotiate with the men. After what seemed to be like well over a 10-15-minute discussion with the occasional threatening tone thrown in here and there, they finally relented, opened up the gates, and showed with their body language, something like “Get out of here!” Of course, I was relieved, but I also felt that I had just got firsthand experience of a situation that you actually don’t know what could happen. - This is Africa. This is where I really found a great respect for Luis and his ability to stand up for us.

From Spain to Portugal. Our journey was about to reach its finale. On our way to Portugal's Evora, where we were scheduled to stay, Luis led us off the highway and down a normal public road. For the next few hours, the winding road with fun ups and downs continued for what seemed like an eternity. For keen riders like ourselves, this was "heaven” to us.

An encounter with the world's best Iberian ham...

After constant riding from morning till into the early afternoon, Luis took us to a restaurant in a small town called Aracena. The city, which has cold and dry winds all year round with little difference in temperature, is known as a great producer of Iberian pig ham. And the “Jose Vicente” was a well-known restaurant that was once described as the most “delicious Iberian pork restaurant in the world” in the Japanese manga comic book “OISHINBO: Japanese Cuisine.”

From the appetizer to the main course, owner Jose had us smacking our lips as he served each delicious Iberico pork-based dish. Sweet fat that literally melted in our mouths only reinforced the fact that this was the “best in the world”... And it wasn't expensive!

After a glorious meal, we crossed the Spanish border and on to Portugal. The day ended with us resting up in the historical city of Evora, where the entire old township has been registered as a World Heritage Site. Then, with the new dawn, we had finally arrived at our last day. We headed back to Lisbon, the starting point of our journey.

The Journey is over……

The distance from Evora to Lisbon is about 130km. The rain, which had started from the morning, repeatedly got stronger and weaker until stopping just before noon. The sun was now shining as we continued on our way, and the bright sky was covered by a rainbow as if to celebrate the end of our epic journey.

We moved on into Lisbon city crossing over the “Ponte 25 de Abril” (25 de Abril Bridge), an iron suspension bridge above the Tagus River. Finally, after six days Grand Touring for Rowly and me, it was over. When I parked my bike in the garage back at Yamaha Motor Europe, the trip meter had just rolled over to 2200km.

Rowly, Luis and me... We thanked and complemented each other for successfully completing the journey. And, of course, a special thanks to the Ténéré 700, my buddy, who ran well on the highway, the winding and dirt roads, all the way with the greatest of ease.
The motorcycle - always taking us to “new places.” And now, as a couple of riders in our 50s, we found that inspiration once more on this trip. And it is my hope that this travel journal will lead each and every one who reads it onto a new journey of their own. Just like we did from once reading 55mph and embracing a dream that eventually turned into a reality.

Rowland Kirishima

Born in 1968. Graduated from New York University College of Art - Department of Photography - and became a photographer. He is active mainly in magazines and advertising photography. Currently, he is a technical advisor for CyberHuman Productions. Rowland developed an interest with motorcycles during his school days and participates in races in both on & off-road competition. He also competed in the Dakar Rally in 2007.

Keisuke Kawanishi

Born in 1967. Graduated from Waseda University and become an editor at the NAVI magazine after working for an advertising agency. He started motorcycle magazines "MOTO NAVI" and "NAVI CARS” working as the senior editor.
He currently works as a freelance motor journalist, editor and producer.



Special Thanks

Back to