Beaming to each other as we pedalled over the River Senegal Imran’s words cut through the heat of our afternoon of cycling.
‘We’ve done it. We have bloody well cycled to Mali.’
The route to the border had been dusty and tough but as we crossed the fresh river air welcomed us to Mali.
The customs officials were interested in little more than a brief ‘hello’. In fact as soon as they absorbed the phrase ‘we’re on bicycles…’ we were dismissed as they returned to the daily grind of dealing with the hundreds of trucks waiting to bring supplies to landlocked Mali.
The days leading up to the border crossing brought peaceful encounters with other travelers, nomadic goat herders on their meandering path, wandering men who had walked some 500 km bare foot and hundreds of teenage boys on the first bicycle pilgrimage we’ve seen.
Previously spoilt by frequent villages this most recent leg of our journey has been far quieter, thus more of a challenge in terms of water, food and sleeping. But with a little bit of planning and a change of fuel in our previously failing expedition cooker we embraced a bit of solitude. Our culinary experiments have revolved around a variety of rice dishes; beef stock rice, fish rice, powdered milk rice pudding and this inspiring list is only in its youth…
But rice only fills the cyclists belly for a short time and Mikaela was starting to experience recurring dreams of multiple food groups. Thankfully as we cycled into Kayes, a city about 100 km of the border, we spotted in the distance, a beautiful, though be it lonely, carrot stall…
So tonight, before we make a quick exit from the rumoured-to-be ‘hottest city in Mali’, we will create stew a la carrots, our first meat and rice free meal for quite some time!Tomorrow it’s back on the road. But with only around 600 km left to go the question that’s on both our minds is, where to cycle after Mali..?
To leave you with something small to ponder, take a look at our recently purchased Chinese-imported playing cards and see if you can spot the problem…
Posted in Cycling
Tagged border, camping, crossing, cycling, dust, fish, frontier, mali, msr, official, rice, senegal, tent
Cycling away from Tan-Tan we pedalled towards the enormous hill that almost growled in our general direction. But somehow we were in high spirits, our time with Mustapha and his family had been a perfect start to our desert journey.
We had decided to cycle as far as possible and to set up camp just before sundown. But by lunchtime we were making great progress and having covered a solid 60 kilometers we spent the afternoon heading towards Akhfennir, according to signposts only 40 km away.
However, some 40 km later we were met with a rather bleak looking checkpoint.
‘How far to Akhfennir?’, we questioned with smiling faces.
‘Another 20-25 km’.
The smiles slipped from our faces. The thing is the idea of
wildcamping never really bothered us, but when you have been cycling along blissfully imagining the cold wash and hot fried fish at end of your day, suddenly the thought of a bread/cheese triangle supper seems less desirable.
We gave each other a glance. Did we really want to cycle another 20 km? Well, whens food is at stake the answer is always yes!
The fried fish was worth every sweaty moment, freshly caught and served steaming hot we took no time in demolishing a rather over sized salty monster.
We ate with Boujemaa, a friendly local park ranger who welcomed us to the town and offered us a place to sleep.
‘This is the best fried fish you will find here’, we we in full agreement with our generous host who had already insisted on buying us drinks and naturally pouring us a strong glass of sugary tea.
Fully fed we crashed soon after dinner, legs and bums aching after a long day in the sun. We were invited to join Boujemaa for some breakfast and set up so beautifully for our day of cycling we hit the road, with a small audience of supporters cheering us from the roadside.
Posted in Cycling
Tagged aching, akhfennir, breakfast, checkpoints, cheese triangle, desert, fish, fried, sun, tea, wildcamping
Latest summary stats look like this…
Kilometers cycled- 1278 (794 miles)
Tajines gobbled- 6
Moroccan roundbreads consumed- 23
Shouts of ‘good luck’ from strangers- 43 (inclu one ‘don’t give up’, at the most perfect time of need!)
Our path from Rabat has brought us to face more Moroccan hospitality. Arriving in Mohameddia (about 60 km from Rabat) we stayed in the home of Houda, a dynamic young city worker who offered us cold beers, a cosy bed and philosophical debate. Leaving the comforts of Houdas house was tough and was made harder by the heavy downpours and strong winds that darkened our moods and the sky on route to Casa Blanca.
Wet and splattered with road muck we looked bedraggled pedalling against the grey. We also failed to react to the warning of a large group of pedestrians who waved madly at us and pointed. As we pedalled past, gorping in their direction we disappeared into a pond that had formed on the road. Even we managed a bit of a grin as our shoes filled up with a couple of pints of water.
We’re beginning to feel like full-fledged Moroccan cyclists with superman-style vision for spotting potholes and crazy overtaking. But it has only taken a little adjustment to warm to the highway code here and we are beginning to really enjoy the rules of the road. Drivers give us space, sometimes its not as much space as we’d like but they are pretty generous with the road and seem to take obvious extra care when they see we are tourers. We have become used to faces leaning from windows and yelling to us ‘good luck’ or ‘safe trip’, the friendly cheers seem to come at the best of times, mid-way up a hill etc.
Yesterday we stopped in the small coastal village of Meddouza with the hope of finding lunch. As we leaned our bikes against each other and looked around us in disappointment at the lack of eateries we heard a friendly voice shouting ‘Need anything?’. Wondering over to the smiling man we ask if he knew of somewhere to eat, he offered us another big smile and said simple ‘Here of course, I’ve just made lunch!’. The invitation could not have come at a better time; delicious fish cakes made from freshly caught sardines seasoned with cumin, garlic and coriander complimented beautifully with a vegetable tajine. Naturally served with the quintisensual homemade roundbreads, doughey and warm.
M’hammed entertained us beautifully with stories of his four wives and countless children and grandchildren, we were even lucky enough to hear a song after lunch. In appreciation for his generosity we asked what we could offer him, ‘a song’ he replied. We played him and tune, said our goodbyes and got back onto the road, well fed and happy.
That road led us to Safi, the main fishing port of Morocco’s sardine industry and a waypoint between El Jadida and Essaouira. The city is bustling with the life of the port and the food reflects the citys close relationship with the ocean, the smokey air is thick with the smell of mouth watering fish tajines and brochettes slowly cooked over hot charcoals. Given this and the sweet taste of the 10 pence Sfenj (freshly fried doughnut style fritters they make on the streets here), it’s hardly surprising that we have taken a day off cycling to enjoy the city. Tomorrow we will make our way towards Essaouira (also known as the ‘windy city’ here), but so far this coastal path has hit us with strong winds that cripple our progress, so it is likely we will wildcamp before we reach an auberge. Time to attach the guy ropes we think.
Posted in Cycling
Tagged brochette, casa blanca, couchsurfing, essaouria, fish, hospitality, lunch, morocco, oualidia, rain, safi, sfenj, song, tajine, wind, windy city