Marooned in Morocco: Covid-19 stalls motorcycle trip

Paul and Tracey Brown, from Farm Cove, were on a motorcycle trip through Europe and are now in lock-down in Morocco.

In March 2019 Farm Cove couple Paul and Tracey Brown left New Zealand for a two-year adventure riding a motorcycle around Europe.

Twelve months down the track and the couple, formerly of New Plymouth, have found themselves stuck in Morocco.

In their mid-50s, they told the Times they have no option but to wait it out. However even if they could find a way to return to New Zealand, they’re not sure that they would as they believe lock-down isn’t being taken seriously here.

“We’re not keen on going back to Spain once the borders do open (by ferry),” Paul said.

“Then there’s the question of what we would do with our motorbike if we did leave so at this stage we will just stay here although legally we can only stay for three months and watch developments with the hope that we can get up to Croatia and into eastern Europe.

“Realistically we are looking to be locked in Morocco for the next three months with the borders to Spain with their high virus numbers not likely to open in the meantime but we are very comfortable and safe here in Morocco.”

Paul said the supermarkets have plenty of food. And apart from a couple of instances of locals crossing the road to avoid the ‘infected foreigners’ or shouting Corona at them, they feel “very safe”.

“We honestly believe that we could be locked in far worse places (Morocco is a lovely country and the people, in the main, are so friendly and helpful and given the quick and full lock-down imposed by the government, we feel completely safe here,” he said.

“The limited healthcare in what is essentially a Third World country is of concern if something did go wrong but even if we could have left Morocco prior to the borders closing we still would have stayed.

Their options for egress have been severely limited in Europe especially where Covid-19 has been particularly lethal as in Spain, France and Italy. And there was the matter of what to do with their motorbike.

“The hugely increased risk of contracting the virus if we had flown home and our belief still that NZ – both the government and people in general – is still not serious or going far enough to lock-down and prevent the spread to the virus (made our decision easier to make),” Paul said.

“By way of comparison, Morocco has a population of around 36 million, closed its borders on March 15, went into lockdown on March 19, and has 617 confirmed cases and 36 deaths (as at publication on Friday afternoon, April 3  this has changed – 676 cases and 40 deaths).”

“New Zealand has a population of 5m, 708 cases and one death (at publication time today it was 797 with one death) with a lock-down that’s not really a lock-down with this ‘bubble’ mentality and teddy hunts still being actively encouraged.”

New Zealand should have looked to other territories for a better model to combat Covid-19.

“Our daughter and her husband live in Singapore in what we see as the poster child as to how to control the spread of the virus and protect the economy,” Paul said.

“So while our travels have taken a dramatic change and we really don’t know where, how or if we can continue our travels in Europe from here, we just take each day at a time, treat this as just one of life’s experiences and all part of our travels.”

Travelling the world this past year has meant infrequent news updates.

After buying their motorcycle in Germany, their nomadic travels took them around Germany, Poland, Slovakia, Austria, Italy, France, Andorra, Spain – arriving in Portugal in February.

“Travelling meant we caught up with world news rather spasmodically and whilst we were aware of the coronavirus, our intermittent news updates meant we believed it was mainly centered in China but also a bit of an over-reaction in many countries,” he said.

“Our original loose plan was to ride to Croatia from Portugal then down to Greece and into eastern Europe (Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania etc) but we decided instead to head over to Morocco arriving by ferry on March 1.

“Being in Morocco, our news updates became even more limited and we arrived back from the Sahara Desert to find Morocco’s borders (including all airports and sea ferry ports) closed.

“Interestingly, one thing we did do before we left New Zealand was to register with NZ Safe Travel (a government site) and we received an automated email quoting (NZ Foreign Minister) Winston Peter’s as recommending all New Zealanders should return home.

“Unfortunately not much help to us given Morroco’s borders had already closed.”

Days later when out for a walk they noticed all the shops, cafes, restaurants and the like closing and managed to find out that the Moroccan government had ordered the closure of all non-essential businesses with an impending complete lock-down in the coming days likely.

“We decided to leave the city we were in and look to hunker down in a smaller place to minimise our risk. Luckily we were able to find a lovely apartment in the city of Essauoira (population 78k) on the Atlantic coast about two hours from Casablanca where we are still situated under complete lock-down,” said Paul.

“Our apartment is in a complex which has a deck overlooking the pool and, apart from only being allowed out to visit the supermarket or pharmacy (only one person per household has a police permit to be on the streets), we are essentially house-bound for at least a month which is actively policed by the army and police – at this time until the April 20.

“Our days consist of catching up with the news each morning, an exercise programme then a mix of Netflix, YouTube, podcasts and NZ radio via the web which has been a real saviour in a non-English speaking country.”