Tag Archives: hospitality

Our path to Essaouira, wind, rain and hills…

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!)

Bike in El Jadida

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.

Photo 160

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.

Photo 198

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.

Munch with M'hammed and friends

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.

Oualidia tajine

Safi evening

Advertisements

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

Time to leave France…

To summarise a few things and update you…

Days since we left: 15

Kilometers cycled: 1024 (636 miles)

Average daily distance cycled: 80 km

Baguettes consumed: 29

Whole cheeses consumed: 17

Canned meals eaten: 10

Bike falls (owing to clip-ins): Imran 6/ Mikaela 1

Well, leaving Bordeaux was never going to be easy, but it was a departure made easier by one of Polo’s lovely housemates Arnaud who generously suggested we stay with his parents on the next leg of our journey. Somehow the incentive of a bed and shower led us to cycle 120 km across hilly terrain reaching the warmth of French hospitality in a village called Lavardac by nightfall. Feeding us with a fantastic feast and insisting we try a local digéstif, we settled down to sleep with absolute contentment. The next day, in spite of the bum-suffering, we continued to cycle through the Lot-et-Garonne and past the Landes, known as ‘France’s lungs’ as it’s composed entirely of sand and pine trees.

Nérac

We were relieved however to reach Toulouse and the beginning of the Canal du Midi, a beautiful stretch of water listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and running for 240 km from Toulouse to Séte .

Mikaela in Nérac

Canal CrossingsThe original purpose of the Canal du Midi was to provide a shortcut between the Atlantic and the Mediterranean, avoiding a long sea voyage, a hostile Spain and Barbary pirates. The canal has a rich history including the story of the thousands of labourers it took to build it, of these many were women who came from the Pyrenees specifically for this work. These peasant women were mainly of Roman descent and their knowledge of water systems was apparently vital to the construction of the canal, which in its era was a feat of engineering never seen before.

We followed the path of the Canal du Midi for just under 200 km, passing Europe’s largest medieval fortress in Carcassonne. Our time by the canal had its advantages given that it was of course very flat, but the ground was broken, uneven and seriously bumpy. We were slowed down by the difficult terrain and tired of camping in the cold we decided to take a slightly different route and made our way to Montpellier to stay with friends. Once again we have been shown huge generosity and when we catch our ferry this evening we’ll be sad to have only stayed one night. But the new leg of our journey begins soon, crossing continents from Europe to Africa on the 36 hour ferry from Séte to Tangier putting us another step closer to Mali.

Naptime in Montpellier