Interviewed here, Nylon Studios co-founder/sound designer Simon Lister speaks about photographing and filming during his recent 8-day tour through the Moroccan desert on a motorbike. Originally from New Zealand, Simon has been in the audio industry for more than 20 years and worked on major campaigns with some of the world’s most renowned ad agencies and television directors. 

Read below for a detailed account of Simon’s trip.

INTERVIEWER: Welcome back! Is the experience of riding on a motorbike in Morocco unlike any other?

SIMON LISTER: If you want to ride on rocks, harsh arid land, dried up riverbeds and mountains, I guess Morocco would be the place to go. And that’s what I found. Morocco is definitely a hard, barren place and the country is all made upon rock. I arrived by plane into the town of Ouarzazate at 2:30 AM and met my guide who was going to take me on my off-road motorbike tour. I wanted to travel by myself on this trip since I wanted to be able to stop wherever and whenever I wanted and take photos without holding up a group.

I: What was it like arriving into Ouarzazate and starting your tour?

SL: The experience of getting out of Casablanca and into Ouarzazate was something out of a circus. Since I was arriving in a strange place in the early hours of the morning, I kept my guard up a little. After traveling for over 22 hours to get to this desert town, I was eager to get my head onto a pillow and get some shuteye. My guide informed me that a tour group of girls were recently in a bad accident; they had been hurled out of a car with no safety belts on and were now waiting for a plane to arrive to take them back to Holland. One of the girls was too beaten up and had to stay in hospital with six broken ribs and a punctured lung, while the other two girls at the house suffered from other severe injuries. Welcome to Morocco! It certainly was a wake up call in how dangerous this region is and my impending 8-day trip off-road on a dirt bike certainly made me rethink my safety.

    I got to sleep at 3:30 AM and was awake again at 6 AM. I had breakfast with the girls and we then carried them on stretchers to the ambulance to take them to the airport to be flown out. I think their travel insurance company was eager to get them home and quickly out of Morocco (they told me about their interesting experience at a Moroccan hospital…apparently the x-ray machine missed their broken bones! One of them was walking around with a broken back, I wondered if the machine was even turned on!). By 10 AM we were off.
    We first rode to the foothills of the High Atlas Mountains, where we crossed over flat desert terrain and rode on rocky roads in the mountains. Occasionally we would go off the track and head up and over the hills. We rode through a lot of wet riverbeds, where we could cool down from the streams. The terrain is epic in Morocco. At some stages you feel like you are riding in the Grand Canyon. The lack of people and cars meant we could open the throttle a lot and experience what it’s like to do Dakar style racing!

I: Was it difficult to film while riding on the motorbike?

SL: I was riding a Yamaha TTR600 and my guide was riding a KTM 950 Super Enduro. I had the option of getting a KTM 630, but since I was filming on the bike, I chose the Yamaha because it vibrated less. I was using a GoPro HD camera mounted to my chest. It’s a great camera and it’s full HD.

I: What were the riding conditions like on your tour?   

SL: We spent a couple of days traveling to the dunes on the edge of the Sahara desert. To get there, we rode for 8 hours in 47 degrees C. I drank gallons of water every day from a camel pack on my back, and I’d still be thirsty. We rode over sand dunes in the evening, as it was a bit cooler to ride in. It was different riding in the sand. We would ride over the dunes at about 40 km's p/hr to keep the momentum going so we wouldn't get bogged down. You have to slow down at the top of each dune since you can’t see how steep the other side is. I found this out fast one time when I cart wheeled down one slope after I went over too fast. Another time, I was climbing a dune and realized almost at the top that I was riding over Erg Chebbi, the highest sand dune in Morocco with a height of 300 meters. This dune was way too steep to go over, so I freaked out and rode off to the side. The video footage of this is hilarious—all you can hear is me freaking out! I might have to put it up on youtube for a laugh.

    After a couple of days, the desert became way too hot. At one point my guide stopped and laid under his bike to stay out of the sun, and told me that this was one of the hottest and hardest days he's ever been in. And this is coming from a guy who has been Technical Support Engineer for the Dakar race through Morocco!

I: What did you love most about your trip?

SL: I loved the ride through the mountains with the terrain changing constantly. Some tracks were harder than others; we would venture up rivers with no tracks at all and we would see the odd Moroccan Berber riding his horse or donkey somewhere in no-mans land. I certainly saw a lot on this trip—the way people live, the way animals are treated and the harshness of the land. The way religion and culture shape their way of living is certainly different from where I’m from in Australia.

I: Were there any challenges you had to face during your journey?

SL: The last day of riding was the hardest day of the week. We weaved our way around mountain after mountain. One track in particular was very rocky and physically demanding of the body. We eventually came to a beautiful, picturesque village in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by lush green fields. I was told it has been used for film shoots in the past, and I could see why. We headed on the track around the back of the mountain and came across a slip that had taken the road out. A huge boulder had also dropped right in the middle of what was once the track. We might have been able to get the bikes around, but the support vehicle had no hope of making it through, so we had to go back again over that darn rocky track. My arms were feeling it that day! So we headed back the way we came, doing two hours of backtracking. At one point I lost my guide (he goes ahead a bit!) and I began to get worried since I had to catch a flight in the morning at 5:30 AM. I knew we were nowhere near home. Finally after 30 minutes of riding in whatever direction looked right at the time, I came across Peter resting under an olive tree. These trees are hundreds of years old and there are thousands of them all perfectly spaced throughout the Atlas Mountains.

    By evening, the sun was fading and rain set in as we rode over the mountains. There came a time when I could not see in front of me, and the light on the front of the bike gave me only a few feet of light. I couldn't go on and Peter was too far ahead for me to stick close by to see where to go. I had to wait for the support vehicle to catch up and then it could guide me down the mountain with its high beam lights.

I: Can you tell us about the end of your trip and how you felt leaving Morocco?

SL: We finished our trip into Ouarzazate at about 10 PM that night. We had dinner in the town, then unloaded and washed the dirt off my gear before collapsing at about 1 AM. The flight out left at 5:30 AM, so was up again at 4 to sort out damp washing and motorcycle gear. Goodbye Morocco!

    This ride was one of the most epic experiences of my life. Knowing the danger but forgetting the consequences, we just held on and rode forward down the winding tracks and paths leading into the unknown. Each year I go and each year I come back, the experience of traveling over these grandiose landscapes is still absolutely fulfilling and satisfying. What a great world we live in. Ride on…

To view more of Simon Lister's photography click here.
To learn more about Nylon Studios visit www.nylonstudios.com