Day One – 45km
‘Give a man a fish and feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and feed him for a lifetime. Teach a man to cycle and he will realise that fishing is stupid and boring.’ – Desmond Tutu
off and away
I’ve arrived in Agadir!
After a drive down to Gatwick (thanks Dad!), I say my goodbyes to Jenna, my girlfriend, as she returns to Scotland to worry for a month.
After spending a bit more time than I thought I would building the bike, I was off. Day one was only ever going to be a short one. My plan was to go up the coast about 20k from Agadir to find a campsite, however the airport is about 25k south of Agadir, nevertheless, it was a pleasant ride and nice to be back on the bike! The first thing that hit me were the smells. I love the food here, and cycling through the outskirts of Agadir I was getting whiffs of the tagines and couscous, yet every now and again you pass through clouds with the scent of burned plastic. It doesn’t stop in the towns either, one smell I’m going have to get used to in rural areas is the smell of rotten flesh and roadkill, the cause of which isn’t always apparent, only seeing the goat/dog/cat every so often.
After 45km I stopped at a surf town, Taghazoute, and had a pizza next to a group of boys from Swansea on a surf trip. It was only 1600 but I decided to camp here, finding a little campsite right on the beach where I was told to ask for Hassan. I gave ‘Hassan’ 20 dirhams (£1.50) to stay the night, but later realised it wasn’t Hassan as the real Hassan came to the tent asking me to pay, he let me off when I told him that I had paid somebody.
The campsite was full of families with young children that had been living in their camper vans, travelling for years. Most were English, so I managed to communicate and leave my bike with them while I went for a swim/piss in the sea.
A young lad, about 7, with a dreadlocked mullet from Pembroke called Dylan helped me put my tent up, explaining that I’d have to leave it flat until sunset or the police take it down. For some reason they’re not keen on tents, just camper vans in a lot of places.
I had an early night, for tomorrow it started!
Day Two – 154.5km
‘The best rides are the ones where you bite off much more than you can chew and live through it.’ – Doug Bradbury
My alarm rang 5.30 am, I wanted to be on the road by 0700 and wasn’t yet sure how long it took me to get ready. I casually packed my panniers and the tent, while eating dried bananas and peanut butter, and after a fiddle with my front brakes I was on the road just after 7.
I rode for a couple of hours away from a beautiful sunrise until I reached a small town called Tamri, where i bought 6 bananas, two loafs of bread and 2ltrs of water for just over £1 and had a very strong and sugary coffee in a small but extremely smoky cafe filled with elderly Moroccan men. I sat on the pavement eating my breakfast. As I packed up to head off I thought I saw a small boy giving me the thumbs down, but then realised he was doing the international ‘do you want a drink’ sign as he started shouting ‘tea, tea, tea?’.
I got back on the bike and decided on Tamanar, about 50k up the road, for lunch. It was a slow, long rise out of Tamri, and the roads were lined with goats, camels and their respective herders crouched in the shade.
As the road heads inland there is a decent sized col, rising to nearly 400m in no distance at all, my map tells me >12% but I’m not sure exactly. The views were stunning, looking down at a mixture of scrubland and sand dunes and far out to sea. I was encouraged by the tooting of every passing vehicle. My first little training hill before I reach the Atlas Mountains.
Not the top, but a nice view
The traffic on these roads isn’t too bad, but the little traffic there is consists of coaches (that absolutely fly by!), the ancient Mercedes that serve as taxis and carry anything up to 9 people and lots of european camper vans. The latter slow down, and pass wide. The coaches and taxis… they do normally give plenty of room, unless they themselves are being overtaken when they pass, or if something is coming the other way. Neither of these situations would cause them to wait before passing and slowing down doesn’t seem to be an option. and they squeeze passed at terrifying speed (for me).
It was on the down hill that two children tried blocking the road, shouting ‘argent! argent!’ (money! money! in french) this became quite common, but this time I had enough speed to ensure I would win this game of chicken! I encountered another young boy a bit further on, he didn’t use the word money, so he got my last banana and some bread as I approached Tamanar.
I was starting to get some cramps and was very hungry as I reached Tamanar, so took the first restaurant I saw. Beef tagine, coffee, basket of bread and mint tea! I love the food here, and tanginess are cooked all day, so they are served so fast! I had my first call of nature here, and noticed that there were 6 turkish (stand-up toilets) and 4 ‘western ones’. Firstly, this place would never be busy enough to warrant ten toilets, and secondly who chooses to stand up if the sit down option is there? its something that I never understood, speaking as a lazy westerner anyway.
According to the map I had another climb similar to the one earlier in the day before I reached Essaouira. As I left Tamanar I felt the wind pick up. It was a nightmare! A strong northerly right in my face meant that I had to pedal down hill to get any sort of pace. And with the panniers acting like parachutes, I didn’t really hit more than 14kph on the flat. I would reach Essaouira later than expected!
Along this stretch there are countless argan oil collectives turning the kernels from the Argan tree into oil. Men and woman then line the road, seemingly in the middle of nowhere with no sign of how they got there, and sell it to passers by. There is roughly one little shack every kilometre. These guys didn’t seem to think that I was struggling enough, fully laden, uphill into the wind, and thought that i could do with a couple of litres of argan oil in glass bottles on the bike! ‘Non merci! mon panniers complet!’ I would shout in pidgin French.
As I reached the top of one of the smaller inclines I saw two dogs take off towards me, I’ve never seen dogs run with anger like this. I managed to pedal as fast as I could along the flat, one of them right on my heels. It was adrenaline that got me to the decline ahead, which meant I just pulled away from the bugger. I was ready to fight, and went over in my head of the best way to kick a dog in the face with cycling shoes was!
I’ve never been scared of dogs, but when I saw another a little further on, it sounds cruel, but I was ready to fight! Even crueler is how happy I felt when it got up and limped towards me, giving up after three paces.
I reached the next col, up to around 700m this time. When I drove this road last December, I had chronic food poisoning, and don’t remember any of it, if I had I don’t think I would have planned a 100 mile ride on my first proper day of riding along it! overambitious! Still, this again, was a really nice ride. On the downhill I met another cycle-tourist, Ian, who had been on his bike on and off for 19 years. He tells me that the wind is like this all the way up to Tangier, but luckily its on his back! A further 1km down, and I meet my second tourists. Dan, a Canadian, and Justine, French, on a tandem. They’ve come down from France. All of them have just come from Essaouira. Its now 1700, and when I tell Dan I plan on completing the remaining 40 odd km by 1900, his face isn’t filled with confidence.
Dan and Justine
After a quick coffee break I plough on, the sun quickly setting beside me. I had to pull over and fix some lights, something I didn’t do when building my bike to save time! The last hour was in the dark, not enjoyable as the traffic picked up the closer I got to town and the road for the final 10k is littered with potholes! But I made it, around 2015.
I had managed to get a riad booked for the night, courtesy of a phone call home. I had no idea of how to find the place, but after 25 mins of meandering through the old narrow streets with the help of a local lad who also had no idea where it was, I found it.
Knackered, I changed, went around the corner for another tagine, had a cold shower, and hit the hay.
My family love Essaouira, and although I have been here before, I was ill and missed it. So I’ve decided to take my first rest day a long time before schedule and enjoy it. Back on the bike on the 28th.
Time for a hammam,