Time had passed us by faster than we had realised, it was the 2nd November and as we opened our eyes to the same grotty walls of our hostel room we contemplated another day of waiting and searching for a lift through Mauritania before our visas expired. Our bikes sat unloved in the garage while we pined for them as we began our daily round of asking truck drivers if they were Nouakchott bound. Lunchtime came and went and our spirits were sinking, we had been informed that owing to a major lamb festival (and national holiday) that was nearing no sane minded truck driver was going to get himself stranded from his family in Mauritania. Finding it difficult to argue with the ‘not wanting to miss the party’ logic we began to consider other options. But luck was on our side…
We spotted the beautifully painted trucks of Lise and Tony from a distance, we had met them in El Aaiun (Western Sahara). What we couldn’t communicate via the blog was that our French friends had organised to be smuggled into a nearby camp of Sahrawis (‘refugee’ camps in Western Sahara are tightly controlled by the Moroccan military).
Tony and Lise were in trouble, whilst their time at the camp had been immensely constructive, the material they had filmed had hit the French and Spanish press along with their names. The police, gendarmarie (special police) and military had now been following them since they left the camp, so they were even more pressed than us to reach Mauritania. By the time we met with them we were at the border and it only took our acquaintance to ignite problems with the police. Though we had finished all the border formalities and had our passports returned the police confiscated them and began to question us on our relationship with the French.
A 14 year-old boy had been murdered in the camp, shot dead by the Moroccan forces. The achievement of our friends and the risk they had accepted in circulating evidence was huge. When you see such injustice, it leaves a bitter taste in your mouth, so we knew we had to do whatever we could to help our friends. So as their vans were meticulously searched, we made out to be happy-go-lucky tourists who simply adored the jokes of the police.
After what felt like an eternity of waiting in the sun we were reluctantly given our passports and together we crossed into the stretch of no-mans-land, which was ironically quite a relief. We passed the sand piste and its famous land mined surroundings without a problem and made our way through the bureaucracy of the Mauritanian side. But a few hours later, it was all over and as the heat of the desert cooled to welcome us the evening closed in while we pitched our tent in Nouadhibou.
Now after some sweaty driving time in the breath taking scenery of the Mauritanian desert we have taken a day off the road in Nouakchott the capital city. Here we are enjoying the hospitality of the Association de Development et de Promotion des Droits de l’Hommes (Association of Development and Promotion of Human Rights) who today took us to a human rights conference of all the countries of the Maghreb region. There is so much we would like to write about the conference today but we are so frustratingly limited by time!
Our stay here is too short, our visa has already expired and we must now leave whilst we can pass the border ‘in transit’ to avoid hitting enormous overstay taxes. There is so much more we could and eventually will get around to writing but for now we have a musical meeting in the city before we leave tomorrow for the border of Senegal at Rosso where we will cross the river Senegal and end our cycle break at long last!
Posted in Uncategorized
Tagged border, bureaucracy, camp, desert, gendarmerie, idp, mauritania, military, morocco, no-mans-land, nouadhibou, nouakchott, police, refugee, sahrawis, western sahara
Yesterday Mikaela celebrated her 22nd birthday. Having been reminded of the importance of birthdays in Mikaela’s family home, I knew that my well-being depended upon her day being special.
So I thought I’d begin with an English breakfast in bed. This was no easy task, and the menu choice was of course dictated by a lack of pork! The final result of my market shopping skills was fried tomatoes, eggy bread, scrambled eggs, avocado smoothie and the pièce de resistance Heinz baked beans. Not a strictly traditional menu but Mik was content to break from the normal routine of a cheese triangle smothered roundbread.
I hear you asking “where on earth did you find Heinz baked beans in Western Sahara?”. They were in fact purchased in a tiny shop in the even smaller town of Olonzac in the south of France, which had a small section for English holidaymakers. The tin then survived several thousand kilometers undetected by Mikaela in one of our panniers.
On the morning of her birthday, I snuck out early to seek a kind café owner who would let me use his kitchen (a stealth operation for those who know Mik’s light sleeping and early morning wakening). Using the fresh supplies from the market, I clumsily stuck the meal together, turning down a few potential buyers of her breakfast. I then cautiously loaded it onto the plate I had also bought in the market and woke Mikaela to the smell of beans and toast.
Sometimes the things that at home are pretty normal become much greater tasks and sweeter surprises in this case! Equally the hairbrush and nail varnish that Mik unwrapped with the excitement of a five-year old were appreciated so much more. The little, simple things that can make us smile.
So now, with a birthday behind us we are ready to leave Dakhla. As we try to make sense of my knee grumbles, we are approaching the deadline of our single-entry visa to Mauritania on the 4th of November. So it seems we’ll have to load our bikes onto another truck at least until the border where we will negotiate the generous no-man’s-land by bicycle.
The next part of the journey brings new risks that we have not had to consider before. The route we must take through Mauritania has seen a rise in kidnappings of Europeans and after seeking the advice of everyone from the FCO to security experts on the region we have taken the difficult decision not to cycle. This is really a simple case of risk outweighing benefit and whilst disappointing the timing is actually pretty good for my knee injury. Besides, we can’t deny the child within that relishes every moment of truck fun, sat high up above all the other cars honking at donkeys and camels, every cloud has a silver lining…
Posted in Food
Tagged baked beans, birthday, breakfast, cycle, dajla, dakhla, mauritania, morocco, truck, trucking, visa, western sahara
Our bodies have been wonderful to us, they really have. We on the other hand have not been so wonderful to them.
Things were going well, kilometers were being covered and our daily mini-yoga ritual appeared to be working. But the last few days we have pushed ourselves too hard and we are both feeling it. Covering up to 120 km per day has tested us and although we have no major injuries Imran is experiencing some knee grumbles.
So as we always agreed we would we are airing on the overly-cautious side and resting. We made this decision 50 km from Laayoune (El Aaiún) when we flagged down the first truck that passed us.
To our delight Ahmad pulled over and hopped out of his truck asking what the problem was.
Imran limply hopped at him and pointed at his knee, this was enough.
‘My truck is full, there is no space for your bicycles’.
Our faces dropped and we smiled to him accepting rejection, we had thought hitching might be tough.
‘But my friend Rachid is just a little behind and he has an empty truck’.
Sure enough Rachid hauled up, jumped out of the truck and rushed over. Bouncing over to us he shook our hands with a grin. In a moment he had seized the guitar and the scarf that cushioned it. Rachid began dancing and strumming the guitar, throwing the scarf around his head he imitated a woman and continued the performance.
Ahmad looked on and with a familiar sigh and announced Rachid as crazy.
We trucked along happily entertained by Rachid and his countless impressions of stubborn camels, until around 10 km before the city checkpoint where the military would not be happy to find the truck drivers helping us out. We threw ourselves out of the cab with little grace and about as much dignity as Rachids camel impression.
Thanking them for the ride we cycled towards the checkpoint into the biggest city of Moroccan occupied Western Sahara.
The checkpoint was busy with soldiers and though friendly we immediately felt a sense of the kind of city we were visiting. One of a controlling military presence.
We cycled away from the officials and towards the slightly clinical looking newly built city. For now we are resting but we might have to hitch a ride, knee dependant. Fingers crossed…
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