Tag Archives: ferry

A warm welcome in Morocco…

After a brief struggle in the post-strike mayhem of the ferry port we were on our way to Nador on a 30 hour journey across the choppy Medittarean. The time passed us by quickly, we napped, we ate, we napped some more and before we knew it we had arrived.

Ferry napping

We found our way to the train station to take the Rabat service before nightfall, only to be approached by the guard who informed us that we would not be able to travel as there was no room for our heavily loaded bikes. The kind guard immidiately offered to show us the way to the bus office at the end of his shift (which happened to be 5 mins away). With some concerned looks from the office staff who realised that weighing our bikes (standard practice for all bus luggage) was not going to be feasible, we were helped to negotiate a price and loaded our bikes on board, eating up about a third of luggage space!

Loading bikes onto bus

Twelve hours and a sugary-tea stop later we arrived in Rabat to see the sunrise.We telephoned Kamal who we would be staying with in Rabat, and proudly announced that we had a GPS and thus would be able to find his house with a simple address. Five minutes later we called him back explaining that the GPS did not show his house, Kamal was calm and simply told us that we should use the ‘Moroccan GPS’. This complex system followed this format…

‘Salam Aleikoum, do you know how to get to 2 Avenue El Fath..?’

(Scratches head in knowing fashion) ‘Ouais, Ouais… turn right and follow the street and ask someone’.

‘Salam Aleikoum, do you know how to get to 2 Avenue El Fath..?’

(Rubs chin in knowing fashion) ‘Ouias, Ouais, straight ahead until the roundabout, head towards the sea and ask someone’.

‘Salam Aleikoum, do you know how to get to 2 Avenue El Fath..?’

(Nods with the look of a man of local wisdom) ‘Ouias, Ouais, left at this corner and in maybe 2 km ask someone’.

The instructions continue until, to our utter suprise and shock we actually arrive at our desired location (this system has now worked for us on countless occasions, even with just the name of a household).

Kamal greeted us with a big smile introducing us to the warmth of Moroccan hospitality with a beautiful lunch and condensed tour of Rabat; his local knowledge and gentle manner made our first day in Morocco perfect. Kamal also introduced us to his close friend and neighbour Driss and his wife Nissrine. True to Moroccan hospitality they immediately offered us their spare bedroom, rather than us sleeping in Kamal’s livingroom. Overwhelmed by their generosity we have begun to feel like part of an extended family here, the regular gatherings of family with large feasts of lamb, fish and tagines have done nothing to distract from this feeling.

Imran and Kamal

Kamal showed us around the city to admire the Chellah (dating back to 1339), taking a leisurly stroll around the artesan market and ending our day sipping sweet Moroccan tea looking out across the sublime Kasbah of the Udayas.

Udayas Viez

With its beautiful garden and amazing terrace overlooking the river and port, it was not surprising that it is known as a hub of creativity. To our geeky delight we spotted a young musician carving wood to a shape suspiciously like that of a gimbri (a Moroccan lute of West African origin). We got chatting and asked if he knew of any Gnawa music in Rabat, he suggested we go along to a soirée and gave us an address. It seems as though the music we have been cycling for may be near by…

Carving a gimbri

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The French know how to strike…

We should be on a ferry but we are not. The power of people has spoken and not in our favour.

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Alas all it not lost, we are assured that the ferry we attempted to catch this evening (but was not running owing to the strikes) will be leaving Séte tomorrow at some unknown point. Unfortunately the ferry runs to Nador and not Tangier, adding another 500 km of unplanned cycling to our route. Thus we have taken the decision to take a train to Rabat from Nador. We made the call based on route planning issues, time and the fact that we will need lots of it in Rabat (where we need to apply and wait for our Mauritanian and Malian visas).

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Aside from the ferry problems we have been enjoying Montpellier, a colourful city with youthful energy. We wandered through the city’s narrow lanes today and hung out in the square as thousands of protestors took to the streets. Some 200 demonstrations took place across France today with around 3 million participants, an impressive and inspiring number. Families, the elderly and students were among the people marching against the pension reform bill which is likely to pass through the Senate soon and would raise the retirement age from 60 to 62. It was great to step back and appreciate the spirit of protest which is so clearly alive here, and perhaps engaged with a wider population than at home.

In between people watching and internet research (route planning) our waiting time has been spent eating, napping and generally relaxing- not too bad to be honest. With a bit of luck tomorrow the short wait will be over and our 42 hour trek from Séte to Rabat will begin.

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500 km in 6 days…

It’s just over one week since we spent our last morning in the UK, frantically tying up all the loose ends, running from bike shops to banks and everywhere in between. It all sort-of came together by lunchtime when friends and family gave us a beautiful send off (involving industrial quantities of tea and bacon sarnies). It was an emotional goodbye but one of excitement as we headed towards Portsmouth Harbour, only a 40 mile cycle from my family’s home.

Sendoff

We cruised happily towards the ferry port averaging a good pace and mapless on a route I have driven many times. As we followed the A3 the road became increasingly busy and the space at the side of the road looked more and more like a hard shoulder. I’ll be honest that this concerned me, a hard shoulder surely meant we were cycling on a motorway? This thought occurred to me about 5 mins before the highway authority and police pulled us over. Smiling sweetly we apologised and pleaded total (and honest) ignorance, which seemed to be enough. They were great and escorted us on a new route, they were also highly amused that we were planning to cycle to Mali, I guess we probably didn’t inspire a whole lot of confidence at that early stage in our journey…

We safely made it to the ferry and relaxed for the very comfortable 10 1/2 hour journey to St Malo. Arriving first thing in the morning we began a fairly heavy day cycling with Pete, a cyclist we met on the ferry. Following the path of the beautifully picturesque Ille Rance Canal (bound for Rennes) Pete helped to support a good pace and put our posterior resistance to shame (Imran and I felt compelled to take regular ‘bum breaks’). Around 100km later as we pumped filthy water from the canal with Pete watching, concerned for the welfare of our guts, we seemed to be warming to our new lifestyle; then of course, 8 hours later we faced a cold morning (after little sleep because of the low temperature), and a heavy dew that had fallen on our tent, panniers, shoes and just about everywhere else.

Misty Dew

Surprisingly it was Imran who stirred to the sound of the alarm and boldly trod where he had never walked before… getting up before me. He then proceeded to encourage me out of bed, simple amazement at this stage was enough to get me up and before I could even feel my toes again we were off on a slightly kinder 60km day of cycling. Reaching Guipry (Brittany) by mid afternoon we decided to call it a day at the sight of a campsite. We faced another cold and pretty sleepless night driving us to the decision to invest in a blanket from the nearest SuperU. Whilst heavy it provided some warmth and the following night was a little toastier, but we still woke up at about 1 am shivering and waiting for the sun to come up. Thus by the time we reached Machecoul it seemed a treat was due and we spent out a very worthwhile 20 euros on a caravan for the night… the luxury was beyond all human conception, despite its 1960s decor (which I like to think was retro-vintage).

An old Mill

In spite of me dragging my heels, we made good progress the next day and cycled another 90 km to reach La Rochelle- bringing our total distance covered to 500 km in 6 days, a proud achievement for both of us. By the time we got to Bordeaux and Polo (a musician friend of Imrans) we were seriously grateful for the hot shower and warm bed so kindly sacrificed by Polo. A few days of rest has been just what we needed, tomorrow we will head towards Toulouse with an aim to reach Sète by Friday when a 36 hour ferry journey will take us across the Mediterranean to Tangier, Morocco, leaving Europe behind us for a year and welcoming a new, warmer leg of our journey, the bridge between the Desert and Europe, our climatic transition.

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