Author: seabassevans

A long ride home – fundraiser / Video on youtube

Originally, maybe a little selfishly, I hadn’t planned on doing this ride for charity. I realise now, that perhaps I could have raised a little money, and made a little difference. So maybe I’ll try and turn a few of these blog hits into cash for a good cause?

Duncan completing his ride in London last time!

Duncan completing his ride in London last time!

My friend Duncan Horn is raising money for The Depression Alliance by riding from Nice to London. His target is £5000, although he is hoping to raise as much awareness for the cause along the way, as he is money!

I think he’s raised just over £1000 so far, so it’d be great if you could check out the link, and maybe help him along, its a great cause, that is also pretty close to my heart.

https://www.justgiving.com/alongridehome14

www.depressionalliance.org

I have also edited some of the footage from the Morocco leg of my tour, and you can view it over at  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kQjFhpN6p7A

Merzouga – Melilla (Throwing Espagna in the works!)

Day 10

Erg-Chebbi

Erg-Chebbi

Merzouga is a small town pitched just on the edge of Erg Chebbi, a small range of sand dunes that creeps into Morocco. It is stereotypical Sahara. I decided that after around 1000 km I’d take a break for a day here.

Dunes at sunset.

Dunes at sunset.

The dunes are perfectly golden most of the day, and change colour as the sun rises and sets through a range of browns and oranges. I walked alone in the dunes for a few hours, only seeing two other people on my way. Walking in the sand can be extremely hard, and made me think of the war time movies of people stranded in and/or travelling across the Sahara. I was only out for a couple of hours and managed to neck 2ltrs of water!

I decided to trek up one of the biggest dunes, which meant around it too, I had tried going straight up but the sand just falls away as you climb. I found a ‘snowboard’ on my way up. It was an old longboard with the wheels removed I think, and lugged it all the way to the top thinking it would make a good GoPro video riding down. The result was rubbish! The thing wouldn’t slide, the more I leant forward the more the nose would stick in, if I tried to lift the nose out of the sand the board would stop! I am so glad no one was watching, because I looked pretty pathetic. (Although I do have the whole thing on film…)

Tanning...

Tanning…

Instead I decided just to sprint down the dunes and have a lie down. I took the opportunity to have a little sunbathe away from the Muslim eyes that may not appreciate the view of an half naked hunk body in plain sight. My tan lines needed a little evening out as I’ve been wearing my longer cycling bib which extends below the knee, meaning I have a great tan from below my knee to above my sock line, about 7 inches! and one hell of a farmer tan-line on each bicep! The dunes were silent, apart from the odd gust that filled my ears with sand, and I lay there watching dust tornadoes form and dissipate over the valley as the land heated up in the midday sun.

I was the talk of the campsite amongst the elderly German, Dutch and French camper-van residents. The one German lady who spoke english really enjoyed talking to me and was apparently a keen cyclist. Her main questions were 1) Doesn’t your bum hurt? 2) what do you put on your bum? and 3) Can you take a look at the bum on my cycling shorts? Is the wear and tear normal?

No-Boarding!

No-Boarding!

I headed to bed pretty early after some dinner and a kick about with the grocers sons in town. The next few days would be tough, trying to up my mileage and cross over the Haute Atlas again!

Day 11 – 170km

I was up for sunrise, and stupidly, used all of my GoPro battery getting a time lapse of the sunrise over the sand dunes. After saying bye to the German bum lady, I started pushing my bike through the sand to get to the ‘road’. I started my ride through a hard packed field, as it was a lot smoother less bumpy than the rocky road.

The first 50km would be back up the same road that I came down. I wasn’t to keen on this, the feeling that I had already ridden this road didn’t seem right. But getting a taxi for 50k would have been cheating in my book. In the end I stopped for a coffee at the same donkey beat/head kick place I had been at 2 days before. By lunch I had covered 100k, and due to the lack of places to eat, I had a crisp sandwich and waved goodbye to the last of my peanut butter supply. An hour later I passed a restaurant and decided to stop for a proper meal. A mini bus tour of 16 people had just turned up, and I sat with them to eat. It was nice after a week or so to chat in English, just about airlines, travel, food and other nonsense. Talking in broken french day after day can get exhausting, so I managed to relax for an hour.

On the road again...

On the road again…

I jumped back on the bike, stupidly forgetting to use the toilet!, and headed to Errachidia. My original plan was to stop here for the night, but I felt good and it was only about 4pm. So went around the town using the ‘bypass’, which was a very bumpy road taking me on a tour of industrial zones, a prison, army barracks and some less desirable residences.

I was approaching the entrance to the Gorge Du Ziz, and the map was showing a +12% incline soon. After one pretty tough up hill, I’d thought that I’d riden it, then another harder one came, which I also thought must have been it, until I reached the top, knackered and in plain view of a  third, much steeper and longer hill… THIS one was the one the map was talking about and it arrived at exactly 150km into the day. I regretted not stopping in Errachidia. I had no food and it was getting late again. I ate two little bags of sugar I had on me and started climbing! About 10 mins into the climb a cyclist flew by in the opposite direction, only to turn around and catch me up. Ismael, a policeman from Errachidia, was training for a triathlon and although he had already been up, down and back over the col, he rode with me to the top. I think I may have given up without the help of him pulling me up. We kept each other going, whenever I stated to catch him up, he would press on faster and it became a bit of a race!

Ismael et Moi.

Ismael et Moi.

We parted at the top, and Ismael rode back to Errahidia. I stuck my helmut back on, and flew down the 4km into the gorge.

Hungry, I bought some dates from roadside sellers. The man decided not to sell the good looking well packaged ones at his stall to me and instead went to the other side of the road and bagged some much worse looking ones. The other guys wouldn’t stop laughing, obviously at the fact that the was managing to sell the knock offs to an idiot tourist. I was sure I was getting ripped off and when he asked for 10dh, I gave him 5 and rode off. I haven’t really haggled at all during this trip, everything is so cheap, so haggling over 50p normally seems a bit off, when it means a lot more to them than it does to me.

The road was so smooth, and the gorge so beautiful, that I quickly forgot del boy and his dates. The Ziz gorge was looking pretty awesome as the sun set, painting it a brighter red as it got lower and lower.

I found a campsite in the middle of the gorge and after 170km I was ready to eat and sleep!

Day 12 – 166.5km

‘Climbing K2 or floating the Grand Canyon in an inner tube; there are some things one would rather have done than do.’ – Edward Abbey

fixing spokes...

fixing spokes…

I didn’t have the best start, exactly 37 metres into my ride I noticed I had a broken spoke on my rear wheel. I wasn’t sure if it had just happened or it was from the day before. It was on the gear side, meaning I’d have to take off the cassette. I had the tool, but no chain whip to hold it. I was told, by Keith at Bikes and Hikes, and by the Youtube video I’d watched that a piece of chain would do… I didn’t have that either. With brute force and a tea towel I got it off, but in replacing the spoke, noticed that all of the remaining spokes I had were the wrong size. I decided to replace it with an ill fitting one anyway, and if any more went I would swap some off the front wheel. Just the night before I had been reading Alastair Humphreys’ book about cycling around the world, the part I read involved him arriving in Patagonia, only to break spokes and realise he too had the wrong size, resulting in him re-building the entire wheel!

Eventually I got underway, and started to cross back over the high Atlas mountains. The ascent isn’t as hard as the Tizi n Tichka col, but the descent is magnificent, and lasts for about 10k. I’d crossed the mountains at exactly the right time. I looked east and there was a lot of fresh snow on the mountains, and it was heading my way. The temperature got cooler and the winds increased. I was pushing on, just beating the weather for the next few hours, although I did get rained on a few times, I’m sure I mannaged to stay ahead of the worst of it.

Tizi n Talghaumt 1907m

Tizi n Talghaumt 1907m

This is where I’ve decided to take the more direct route to Melilla (the N15). I was making better progress than I’d expected, and could have stayed in Morocco for longer, but there were spokes waiting for me in Spain, so I’d take the more direct route.

This road was awful! roadworks for a full 60k, and strong head winds. As I turned off I noticed a large tornado whipping up the sand. As I rode down the road it got closer and closer, eventually blocking the way. I had no idea how strong it would be, so waited for it to pass. I was sure it wouldn’t carry away 130kg of Seb, bike and bags, but it may take a couple of layers of skin and paint off during the sand blasting!

Twister.

Twister.

...

The road wasn’t getting better as it passed through many small towns, the residents of which rarely see any tourists. The kids would always block the road and gesture for money or food, I wasn’t stopping, breaking through their road blocks, but still being close enough for them to slap me or attempt to steal something off the bike! I tried not to let it get to me, after all, its exactly what my brother or myself would have done at that age, if a lycra clad man on a shiny donkey laden with bags that were no doubt packed full of food and money had the cheek to ride through our village!

It was a very hard day, and I was still making very slow progress, averaging around 10kmph into the wind. This is now north eastern Morocco and people around here seem a lot less friendly. Most of the time I was either ignored or stared at, any waves I do receive are normally instigated by myself and are rarely coupled with a smile. Things start to get to me, the wind, kids, the road and broken bits of bike!  That is until the brow of the next hill, Mark, a cycle tourist from Spain pops into sight, his wide grin looking almost as stupid as mine! He speaks no English, but we exchange information as to what the next few hundred km involves for each other. He tells me to stay at the place he stayed at last night, despite it being 5pm and obviously at least a whole days ride away! As I talk to him I remind myself that I am still on a holiday, things are not  that bad and at the end of the day it is my choice to come here and do this ride. I could always give up and jump on a bus! But that wasn’t going to happen. The hard times make the good times so much sweeter! As Abraham Lincoln said ‘People are only as happy as they choose to be‘, so I decided to be happy.

Mark

Mark

After I pass Mark, I have to endure a couple of dog chases. These are really starting to scare me, as I only just got away from the large Alsatian! I don’t want to have to sort out a leg wound en-route! They must, somehow, sense that I used to be a postman? The dogs seem to be guarding the olive groves that are dotted around these parts. After that, every time I pass an olive grove, I ride slowly by, my gears ready to jump into a sprint. If I hear a bark it sends me into red alert, my eyes scanning the trees for any sign of movement. I remember that I have a rock in my bar bag, I carry it to hammer in my tent pegs, but I’ve just thought of another use for it. I am sure that I am going to have to endure the wrath of dog again!

DCIM100GOPRO

I spend most of that night changing spokes, under torchlight, in the forecourt of a small motel, hoping my wheels will get me to Melilla.

Day 13 – 137.5km

‘When my legs hurt I say “shut up legs! Do what I tell you to do“‘ – Jens Voight

The first cold morning! It is freezing and I’m riding with my hat, gloves and down jacket on! I seem to be up early enough to get some mileage down before the inevitable northerly wind kicks off. The smell of burning plastic fills the air. All around Morocco you can hardly ever look into a field without seeing a plastic bag snagged on a rock or bush and it is the local nomads that occasionally use them to fuel their fires.

Cold!

Cold!

A boy on a BMX tries to keep up with me for a while, he shouts to me and I can tell that his words are neither welcoming or nor words of encouragement. It isn’t worth wasting my energy this early in the ride to break away from him. He keeps gesturing for me to give him clothes and makes a grab for my coat, at that point I do my best to sprint off into the wind.

Vent-Forte!

Vent-Forts!

The wind is back, in force, and I find myself screaming profanities into and at it! The large road signs completely flattened by what must be a pretty consistent flow. I long for the helpful gust of passing lorries, which at worst neutralises the headwind for a few seconds and at best sometimes thrusts me forward. Oncoming traffic is another story, having to dive into their wake as if it is a large breaking wave! Surfacing the other side only to battle on into the current! These gusts are sometimes enough to knock my balance. Ive had a few close calls and near falls. They have normally resulted from reshuffling my balls or bum pad at the same time as traffic flies by unannounced.

I had hoped to get another 160km done today, but I was still spinning away into the wind, very slowly and had only covered an extra 30k in nearly 4 hrs since lunch. There is nowhere to stay, so I ask a local if I can camp behind his tent.

Bark (I’m pretty sure this isn’t spelled correctly, it may even be Barack? I didn’t hear him properly) told me that I would stay in his tent tonight! I’m not 100% sure of his job, but his tent was where he worked. His job title included the word Guard, and involved watching the roads and monitoring a CB radio, which went on through the evening.

Inside the tent.

Inside the tent.

Bark and his tent.

Bark and his tent.

The tent was about 7x7m and had a dirt floor.Bark had one bed and his apprentice, Ali, had the other, both covered in about 10 blankets each. Other than that there was a tiny portable TV, which we crowded around for a while watching athletics, a table and chairs, gas stove and cooking implements.

Bark prepared a tajine, and as he place it on the stove, the whole thing snapped. Food everywhere! ‘Pas problem’ he proclaimed, I laughed but secretly I cried, I was so hungry after another long day on the bike! Whilst cooking, Bark unrolls his prayer mat, faces east and starts to pray. I couldn’t help but hope he was mentioning my ride and the fact that the wind is too strong!

We eventually ate, and passed around my French and Arabic phrasebooks, between the two, we managed to keep the conversation going for a couple of hours until I unroll my mat and sleeping bag onto the floor, both Bark and Ali very impressed by my ‘futuristic’ equipment.

Day 14 – 187km

‘Tenacity – When you’ve got enough balls to start something and your too stupid to quit when you realise you shouldn’t have started in the first damn place!’ – Steve Fugatep

Barks unexpectedly techno alarm blasts at 5.35, and he gets up to put the solar panels back outside and make his first transmission on the radio. I pack my things up and have mint tea, bread and olive oil for breakfast with him. I’m on the bike by 0645 and in Guercif, 30km down the road, by 0800. This is where I had wanted to get to the night before, so I was back to square one in my mind.

Racing the weather.

Racing the weather.

Across the country I have been waved through numerous police road blocks, but I am pulled aside at one just after Guercif. I’m sure I wasn’t speeding, and the policeman is just curious as to where I have been and where I’m going. He doesn’t understand what a Welshman is or where Wales is, and after 5 minutes of trying to explain, I concede, and tell him I’m English. This leaves a bad taste in my mouth! Partly because I didn’t brush my teeth the night before or that morning and partly because at this point I still didn’t know what the Wales v England score had been from the previous day.

If I had done any sort of research for this area, it may well have mentioned the strong northerly winds. Again, I was making very slow progress across large plains. The road was sometimes dead straight for 25km, and would take over two hours to battle across! Hills and mountains, in my opinion, are a cyclists friend. Like a friendship, they have ups and downs, and the hard times are usually followed by very good times! Wind, however, is that annoying ‘friend’ that sticks around all day, making life difficult! He’s easy to forget when he’s not around, but when he shows up again, you realise how you didn’t miss him!

Wind damage?

Wind damage?

Its another hard day, and I start to develop some pains in my legs. But I decide that I will finish in Meililla tonight, no matter what happens or how late it gets. When I stop for lunch, omelette is the only option. The lady sends her child to buy eggs. As he returns I see him drop the bag of eggs. I know you can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs, but it isn’t easy to make an omelette with a bag of broken eggs. Two minutes later a baguette and two fried eggs show up, it’ll do!

There is one final col in Africa, it isn’t that big, but it feels significant. In the end it is! Half way up my chain catches, and one of the links twists about 70 degrees! Although I have the tool, I have no idea how to remove a link. So I decide brute force, mole grips and a leatherman can do the job just as well, and I bend the chain back into shape! this gets me to the top.

I don’t seem to be coasting down the other side as fast as I should? I check the back wheel, the spokes are fine, but the wheel rim has broken. Its actually broken around the base of 4 different spokes and is so out of shape that I have to disconnect the back brake, completing the next 60k with just the front, and even then the tyre is rubbing quite heavily on the rear mud guard. I plough on as I’d already decided that I would get to Melilla today, no matter what, and after all, the wheels still rolled!

Hiding for lunch.

Hiding for lunch.

The last 40k is all urban. Through town centres and industrial zones, and I really enjoyed weaving in and out of the traffic again, forgetting that I have disconnected my back brake as I suddenly reach the first set of red lights!. I refuelled on two packets of crisps and two large chocolate bars and used the energy to sprint the remaining kilometres. I couldn’t stop smiling, and as the Spanish enclave came into sight I started singing the Blondie song ‘Maria’, with the word Melilla substituted for Maria.

I had made it, although there were parts of the last few days where I honestly thought I wouldn’t, at least not this quickly. After 187km I found a little hotel, there were three motor bikers in the lobby, they had passed me 3 days ago, as we both left Merzouga. I joked that they had taken the same amount of time as me! (They would later be on the same ferry as me.)

I sit here writing this the next morning, still in Melilla as they wouldn’t allow me to board the ferry to Motril with a bike, so I am on the later one to Almeria. Two men forcibly ‘helped’ me get tickets and then demanded 30Euros commission after. I gave them some Moroccan Dirhams I had left, after all, I could get refused access to a ferry on my own!

Made it to Melilla.

Made it to Melilla.

I’ve changed my plans about riding to my mum in the mountains, deciding to get a new rear wheel before I get back on the bike, I’ll get a lift up there. So I’ll have a few days off, hopefully I’ll keep my fitness up and not sit back and drink too much wine. I’ll be back on the bike again next weekend after Wales beat Scotland, and I’ve learnt a few basic Spanish phrases!

Morocco was awesome. There are many places that I will defiantly return to, and some that I might not. If any of you haven’t been, you should go, even if you don’t cycle!

Seb

Days 8 and 9 – To Merzouga

Day 8 – 138km

‘A man on foot, horseback or on a bicycle will see more, feel more and enjoy more in one mile than a motorised tourist can in a hundred miles.’ – Edward Abbey

My plan from Kalaat M’Gouna was to make it to Merzouga in 2 days, this was about 290km away, but I also wanted to visit the Gorge du Todgha along the way. So I knew I had to keep my legs spinning!

Shaka Bro!

Shaka Bro!

My mornings seem to be my best time, again, making the 80km to Tinghir by lunch. Passing a group of Italian tourers en-route. Tinghir is the town at the entrance to the gorge, but the road running into and through town had been completely ripped up. It was just mud and gravel, making riding a fully laden touring bike tricky at best. I tried to ask around what the road to the gorge was like, and the general consensus seemed to be pretty bad. I ate lunch and consider my options, after missing out on Ait Ben-Haddou already it would be gutting to miss the gorge as well, but I decided to carry on, after all, I have no doubt that I’ll be back here someday.

Italians

Italians

A guy in a Real Madrid hat asked me where I was from, ‘Pay de Galles’ I told him, ‘agh, Wales, Gareth Bale!’ he replied. When I was in Morocco 5 years ago it was always Giggs they shouted. It made me think, I was glad that Bale had made that huge transfer to RM, as with Giggs getting closer to retirement there would be no point of reference for the travelling Welsh people to explain where they are from.

As I headed out of town I saw the gorge road… it didn’t look that bad, so I took it. As with Jmaa el Fnaa, being this close to something and not visiting would be wrong. This OK looking road lasted for about 500m, and after that it was hell! The first few km was over the steepest hill I’ve encountered! I could barely spin the wheels in my easiest gear. The road was also crumbling from both sides, leaving a span of tarmac 1.5m either side of the white lines, and I was not going to compete with the tourist coaches for this! The terrible road condition had obviously been noted by the powers that be, as the next 10k was filled with heavy road works, meaning that any good parts of road that were left were now covered in sand and gravel. I was convinced that something would break on the bike today as I shuddered down towards the river. Every minute and kilometre of this ride I regretted turning off the main road… until I arrived at the gorge.

Le Gorge

Le Gorge

Although it was filled with tourists (bus loads of Japanese, Americans and Brits and camper vans full of Dutch and French) it was absolutely magnificent! Completely claustrophobic 160m high walls and sometimes as narrow as 10-15m across. I spent about an hour there, wandering around talking to locals and tourists, and watching a couple of climbers embark on a pretty tricky route. Half of the time I was in awe of the gorge, the other half I spent thinking how in no way did I want to cycle that road back out!

I saw a guy, Brahim, Leaning on a pickup truck, I decided that this would be the man to take me and the bike back to Tinghir and the main road. Ive been fighting a cold since I landed in Agadir, and by this time my voice had almost completely gone, but I managed to communicate my point and we agreed on a price. It was only after this that he told me the pick up wasn’t his and we’d have to squeeze the bike into his van with his carpentry tools. I want to complete my whole route on the bike, and I don’t consider this cheating, as the Gorge du Todgha had been a detour and Brahim was only taking me back to the same point I turned off the main road! (I had to keep telling myself this.)

Brahims van

Brahims van

Like every Berber I’ver met on this trip, Brahim was extremely hospitable. He told me that I should call it a day and have dinner with his family and stay at their house, or at the very least come and visit and have tea with them. I apologised and decline, as I really wanted to get another 40km under my belt to make Merzouga a possibility for the next day.
Brahim dropped me back at the roundabout, and I raced off down the road. About 6km later I started hearing sounds from the bike… I hadn’t reconnected the front brake and the lock had dislodged itself from the rear pannier and was rubbing against the back wheel, almost getting trapped in the spokes.
The sun was setting fast, but I was riding even faster! my lengthening shadow guiding me due east. I wanted to get the 40km in by nightfall and had realised that a I would probably have to wild camp. With that in mind I bought two loaves of bread that would act as dinner and kept on going. After 30km I started looking for somewhere suitable to camp, some trees, a bush or wall to hide behind or at least a patch of ground that was roughly tent sized that wasn’t covered in sharp rocks! nothing, so I kept going, accidentally reaching the next town, Tinejdad, and finding a small, cheap gite for the night. It was nice, but I had geared myself up for a night in the desert.IMG_0741
Day 9 – 152km
A bicycle ride is a flight from sadness.’ – James E. Starrs
After Tinejdad the best route down to Merzouga involved taking a b road for 85km. This can be risky in Morocco, as a b road can mean no road, just ploughed dirt! I had a look on google earth, and seemed to be able to see some white lines, so risked it. It paid off, the road was completely tarmaced, and apart from the odd convoy of tourist 4×4’s and lone moped men, it was almost completely empty for the 4hrs I was on it. At one point a small child crossed the road, there wasn’t a town in any direction for 20km, but he just kept on going into the desert?

Roadside resting

Roadside resting

The last town on this road, Jorf, came as a bit of a surprise. It was heaving, people everywhere, it was good fun weaving in and out of the hustle and bustle. People carrying goats, killing chickens and shouting at each other. It’s sometimes hard to tell if they’re arguing or just having a friendly shout.
School was finishing and a peloton of easily over 200 kids on bikes passed me on the other side of the road. As I passed the school I caught up with a group of boys, probably about 16yrs old, and challenged them to a race. They ended up riding with me for the next 10km, and spoke very good english. One told me he wished he could do what I was doing, so I invited him along, but he had no passport.

The rest of my team

The rest of my team

I stopped for lunch in Afoud, and saw another two cycle tourists pass. The cafe owner asked about my security, If I had any problems at any time? I told him that sometimes its easy to travel alone as a large male. Only the brave would try to mug me and the astronomically horny would attempt to rape me. He told me the only problem I would have here is being hassled by one or more of the many english speaking guides. Soon enough they were at my table, unable to understand why I would want to continue on to Merzouga by bicycle rather than a 4×4.
While sitting eating I also saw a donkey get beaten and a boy with learning difficulties get kicked in the head, that, couple with the ever present ‘guides’ urged me to get back on the bike and out of this town prematurely.
The next 60km saw the road lined with palm trees, weaving in and out of oasis’ before breaking out into the sandy desert, with the dunes at Merzouga in sight, the biggest being about 350m high. It takes me a while to finish the ride, the heat and headwind working against me. I eventually reach town, and am waved down by Ali, who goes on to try to sell me a camel trek in the dunes. I have no interest in anything he says, but stand there for 15 minutes letting my legs rest before I head into town to find a place to camp.
Le Sahara

Le Sahara

IMG_0756
I find a campsite right next to the dunes, meaning I have to find numerous large rocks to hold my tent up as the pegs won’t hold in the sand.
Im sitting here with a coffee, covered with flies on Thursday writing this, as I’ve decided to have another day off before heading north to catch a ferry to Spain.
I’ve washed my clothes and will spend the afternoon trekking in the dunes before giving the bike a once over. Its about 800km to Melilla, where I’ll catch the ferry, and throw Espagna into the works.
seb

Days 5, 6 (Tizi n Tichka) and 7

Day 5 – 119km
‘Cyclists see considerably more of this beautiful world than any other class of citizens. A good bicycle, well applied, will cure most ills this flesh is heir to.’ – Dr K.K. Doty
I covered the 70 odd km from Chichoua to Marrakech in the morning a lot faster than expected, it was too good to be true, as I followed my nose to the best place for lunch I heard the familiar sound of a broken spoke. Rear wheel, but the easy to fix side. My bike maintenance experience consisted of watching a couple of youtube videos the day I left, but I managed to change the spoke, and true the wheel up ‘pretty well’.
I jumped back on the bike, after a brief chat with a elderly couple from Oxford in their ‘MotorMansion’, and rode into Marrakech proper. I managed to get lost pretty soon, but a guy called Mohammed rode with me for a while, getting me in the right direction before going his own way. As soon as he and I parted, I managed to get lost again. This time I knew I was near Jmaa el-fnaa, the main square, and thought that it would be silly to be this close and not visit. After a sugar-packed ‘natural’ jus d’orange I rode on, asking every policeman directions until I was safely out of the city on the correct road.
hello!

hello!

I wanted to get as close to the Tizi n Tichka pass as possible, without actually starting to climb today. I decided on a town called Ait-Ourir. My bike felt slow and hard to ride, a couple of times I got off to check things, brakes? another spoke? bottom bracket? Then I realised the problem… not enough food water and rest! Tired!
Got a little room in a very noisy hotel, but got to bed early. I was pretty nervous about the pass in the morning, over 2200m of climbing and a decent length ride.
Day 6 – 120.5km
‘It is by riding a bicycle that you learn the contours of a country best, since you have to sweat up the hills and coast down them. Thus you remember them as they actually are, while in a motor car only a high hill impresses you, and you have no such accurate remembrance of the country you have driven through as you gain by riding a bike.’ – Ernest Hemmingway
Tizi n Tichka pass – 2260m
I got up too early for breakfast, so bread and peanut butter in the room. I was running low on cash so tried to pay by card. Mr night porter told me the card machine was broken, I could see it was fine and suspected he just didn’t know how to work it, so took it off him and managed to do it myself.
I was riding by 7am and had another breakfast just up the road, 2 coffees and 6 dairy lees on bread. My plan was to keep pileing in the calories, my legs should be used to the riding so as long as I keep them fuelled i’ll be up and down fine?!
 The first 50k to Taddert went fine, after this it was only 25k to the top, but that was over 1km straight up from here, so I stopped for lunch. I got speaking to a local Berber called Hassan. While we talked he managed to knock over the restaurants entire days supply of soup! Im not sure what he turned and said to me, but by his shrug I think it was Berber for ‘Shit Happens!’ In the end I went and bought a couple of souvenirs from his shop., I asked if my bike would be safe at the restaurant, he said he would personally cut of the hands of anyone who took anything, fair enough.
Hassan and Ali

Hassan and Ali

I felt good after lunch, really enjoyed the climb and was making good progress. The scenery completely changes every few km, oasis, red rocks, brown desert-like, more greenery, snow.
The road is lined with Berbers selling fossils and rocks from the mountains, none of them hassled me, for a change, just shouting words of encouragement.
Its all one road!

Its all one road!

Made it to the top of the col by around 1430, better than I expected. The last few km reminded me a lot of Welsh hilltops, i.e. the road over to Hirwain if you know it.
 There were no tourists there (until a bus load of Japanese tourists showed up as I left). It was really windy, and I got invited into an empty room for tea with two elderly men, one of which identified himself as the local Berber chief (either that or he was the chef?), he was pretty useful as he shooed away the others when they came and tried to sell me things.
At the top!

At the top!

The way down was incredible, flying straight down for about 40km, Hi-5ing kids as I passed.
I found a little place to stay, a man called Brahim took me in and gave me tea. We talked for a while. Although I manage to sustain these conversations, my French really is worse than you’d expect. Its a wonder that I manage to reserve a room let alone sustain a conversation. Example – I told him that my sister and I went to Tafroute last December like this – (translation) My it isn’t brother go with me from Tafroute december! but it works!
Day 7 – 131km
To awaken quite alone in a strange town is one of the pleasantest sensations in the world.‘ – Freya Stark
I was woken up in the middle of the night by rustling… I’d strewn my things all over the room, and a mouse had gotten into a bag of bread and cheese. I went to pick it up, and it started sprinting inside the bag, I shit myself! I jumped up onto the bed like the old lady from Tom and Jerry! After I stopped laughing at myself, I untied the bag and the little bugger scurried off.Screen Shot 2014-03-03 at 18.43.13
 After breakfast I got away early, the roads were in incredible condition, and I was making excellent time. I decided against visiting Ait Ben-Haddou, a world heritage site, and where Gladiator was filmed. The roads going up there were a bit dodgy and i didn’t want to risk breaking anything on the bike. My bike repair philosophy is ‘you don’t really know how to fix it, so try not to break it!’
In Ouazazate I met another bike tourer, Michel. He was spending a month around this area on a mountain bike, and demanded I change my route to go to Seville and stay with his family. I think he must know the welsh flag from lamb packaging, because when I flashed it too him he replied ‘New Zealand?’
Michel

Michel

Most of the day was spent riding through desert, and although I am still over 1000m, it was hot! After lunch a saw a thermometer read 34 in the shade, and there wasn’t much shade on the road! I upped my reserve water and by the end of the day I had drunk over 10 litres! I over compensated a bit, and needed to stop for a piss every 10k (although I didn’t get off the bike, sorry dad, I’ll rinse your panniers, I promise!)
Over this side of the Tizi n Tichka, we’re in Berber territory, and they enjoy telling me how they are not Arab! It makes it a bit easier to explain who the Welsh are, as I compare the Berber/Arab split to the Welsh/English, we are both the oppressed mountain people with excellent moustaches!
Camels

Camels

One of the main differences I’ve noticed is that the woman are out, working and friendly. The Arab woman tended to ignore me, even turning 180 to keep their backs to me as I passed? The Berber lasses always wave and say hello. You see them working a lot more too, even if it is the same work as the donkeys seem to do on the other side of the mountains!
Im going to keep heading east from here (I’m in a little gite in Kalaat M’gouna) until I get to Merzouga, and maybe I’ll treat my self to a day off before I head north and catch a ferry to Spain.
Seb

Essaouira – Chichaoua…106 windy km

Day 3
‘The world is a book, and those who do not travel, read only one page.’ – St Augustine
I ended up having a day off in Essaouira, which was definitely worth it! An awesome old walled medina, which at least does its job of keeping the invading sea at bay. I took a walk up to the walls and tower (where I’ve been told Game of Thrones is filmed?) and the sea was smashing over the 30 odd foot walls, and this was a pretty normal day.
Essaouira's Old Walls

Essaouira’s Old Walls

Seagulls fighting over the fish cleaners scraps.

Seagulls fighting over the fish cleaners scraps.

Tagine for lunch, and then just happened to stroll by a little hammam, and got ushered in. The guy that ‘massaged’ me didn’t speak a word of English or French. He was an old fat guy, who gestured to lie down in the sauna, I waited for about 15 mins before he came back and scrubbed the hell out of my with what felt like a brillo pad, and then basically beat me up! At one point I was face down, he was pulling my arms straight back and stamping on my back! It was pretty nuts, but at least I got my back cracked! It was definitely worth it, if only to save weight on the bike by removing a ton of skin. I spent about an hour in there, which is about 45 minutes longer than my previous best in a sauna, and was desperate for a drink.  I don’t mean to keep talking about the food, and will stop soon, but for dinner I had a pastilla, which I can only describe as a lasagne with the pasta substituted for fillo pastry, and the sauce was made of mince pie filling and chicken, all covered in icing sugar, cinnamon and toffee sauce!!??
Pastilla

Pastilla

Day 4
‘A journey is best measured in friends, rather than miles.’ Tim Cahill
I left Essaouira around 8am, and started making my way up the hills inland. The wind was already blowing and straight into my face, I hoped as the land warmed up it may spin and be behind me in the early afternoon, no such luck, it held strong all day, and really slowed my pace down again. The wind has got me thinking about my route already, because I plan to be in front of a Sky TV in southern Spain for the Wales v England match on the 15th! (Oh dear, that match is on the 9th. the editor)

Above Essaouira

Above Essaouira

KEBABS

KEBABS

(Food again) For lunch I jumped behind a wall in some farm land, relaxed for 45 mins, and ate two kebabs I’d accidentally bought last night (after the pastilla incident I wanted a snack and tried to order three small kebab skewers… what came was three fully made beef wraps).

After struggling into the wind for a further 3hours I stopped at a roadside cafe for some mint tea, the car park was full as the Gendarmes had stationed themselves just outside with a speed camera and were pulling cars over, maybe in cahoots with the cafe owner to increase business?
I got speaking with the cafe owner, in very broken French as it was his second language and I’m just plain shit at it. He told me his friend from Toulouse lived next door in a nice house and that I should go and have a look.  Gilbert looked like a retired santa, and was working on the roof with a Moroccan labourer when we visited, he asked the cafe owner (whose name I’d already forgotten) if I was Dutch, ‘Gallois’ I told him, and he frowned and shouted a few words, the last of which was ‘rugby’ and then he started laughing. (Wales thrashed France last week, and delighted in telling Gilbert that I was there!). He climbed down from the roof and ordered his helper to get me the beer that I didn’t really want but would still drink out of politeness! The beer was lovely, but I was well aware that I was relaxing in the sun, drinking, talking about rugby, when I should be making my final 20km towards Chichoua before sunset. Gilbert insisted that I stay there for the night (by this time we were watching a geology programme about a volcanic part of Ethiopia on French TV), I told him that with the wind the way it was, staying there would leave too long a ride tomorrow. There was nowhere within reach to stay, but Gilbert had told me I’d be fine wild camping, as long as I got off the road a few hundred meters.
Moi, Gilbert et Mr Propriétaire d'Cafe

Moi, Gilbert et Mr Propriétaire d’Cafe

My plan was to get to Chichoua, eat, and then ride on through and find somewhere to wild camp. After yet another tagine at a roadside cafe, I stuffed the remaining bread into my bar bag, and started my search for ‘accommodation’. At the roundabout at the end of town, just on the off chance that Gilbert was wrong, I asked the policeman if he knew of anywhere… ‘2km down the Agadir road, theres a motel’, BOOM, and for £7 a night, its pretty swanky! Plus, the wifi means I can write this unexpected post!
Good night,
Seb

Agadir – Essaouira

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

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.

bike building

bike building

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.

DCIM100GOPRO

DCIM100GOPRO

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?’.

Sunrise

morning

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

Not the top, but a nice view

resting

resting

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

Dan and Justine

Ian

Ian

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,
Seb
sunset

sunset

Morocc ‘n’ Roll – Flight booked!

On Tuesday 24th Feb I’m heading down to Gatwick, arriving blurry eyed in Agadir on the morning of the 25th. Cycling through Morocco, Spain and ending up in Southern France.

Ive got a bit left to do (learning some basic bike maintenance, making jerky and looking at places to stay/build up the courage for the inevitable wild camping), but the date is set. Im looking to get back to work in early april, so want to get back in the saddle as early as possible.

The old girl back in France in 2011.

The old girl back in France in 2011.

From Agadir I will begin, under-trained and overtired, up towards Essaouira, east towards Marrackech, before tackling the Tiz ‘n’ Tichka pass over towards Ouarzazate. That should mean 2 or 3 warm up days before I hit the mountains, depending on my mileage. Im looking to do around 150km a day throughout the tour, but that may be a bit ambitious for days 1-4!

My basic plan for the next week is to head east, taking in Ait benhaddou, the Todgha gorge and the sand dunes at Merzouga in the east before turning north.

Thanks google images - Merzouga

Thanks google images – Merzouga

If anyone out there has done any touring in Morocco or Spain before, any advice or tips would be greatly appreciated. Also, if anyone knows of friends/family in Morocco, south/east Spain who are willing to host me along the way, don’t hesitate to get in touch!

Seabass

The kasnah we stayed in near Tafroute in Dec, hoping to find similar accommodation along the way.

The kasbah we stayed in near Tafroute in Dec, hoping to find similar accommodation along the way.