What started as a sore throat and annoying cough is now a deeply uncomfortable racking and tight chest. It started as I left Marrakech but I just got on with the cycling, hoping it would ease. Strange, because I’ve put in a few long days this last week and cycling wise felt reasonable, if a little weak at times. So the decision to rest up here in Safi was an easy one and I once again booked into a cheap hotel, just outside the medina.
On leaving Marrakech I had gone to the train station and the guard outside, after asking my destination told me to return in an hour to collect my ticket to Rabat. I duly returned only to find another less friendly guard, who told me in no uncertain terms (and pretty good English) that I couldn’t take my bike on the train. I assured him the internet said I could, but he would not budge and so I cycled off to find the bus station.
“Two days” said the man behind the desk. For me or the bike I asked? “your luggage” came the reply. No way was I leaving my bike and luggage, so I made my departure and decided to cycle to Rabat instead. The road out of Marrakech was simply quite awful (and probably explains the cough) as I choked on fumes. I really was not looking forward to this ride, but once outside the city limits I was struck with an idea! – I stood alongside a sign for Casablanca, pointing at it with my thumb while holding up a couple of Dirham notes. It wasn’t long before a pickup with three Moroccans pulled up and asked where I was going. “Casablanca or Rabat” I replied. The oldest man said in broken English they were only going as far as the next village, a distance of 30 km but that I would find it much easier to get a lift to Casablanca or Rabat from there. Eagerly I loaded the bike (with help) into the back of the truck and jumped in next to it, beaming from ear to ear which made my hosts break out laughing.
When we arrived in the village, a tout quickly came over and in perfect English offered to ‘help me’. The old man (who I learned was called Naser) very quickly sent him packing and advised me to ride 1 km to the edge of the village where I would soon pick up a lift. One of the other travelers in the vehicle began to ask for payment and Naser became incensed and very angry – they would not take payment for helping me. He advised me that 100 dh would be a very good payment for anyone taking me to Rabat and that on no account was I to offer (or pay) more. After shaking hands and hugging I was sent on my way, once again being reminded that their are many good local people I’ve met on this journey.
I stood for a good while without anyone stopping, then decided to start cycling. I felt awful though and quite weak, so after 40 or so kilometers pulled over and started trying for a lift again. The next local who pulled over said he was going all the way to Rabat (where his family lived) and when I asked the cost he ignored the question, so I mistakenly thought I had upset him. It was a long journey and there wasn’t much chat, I didn’t speak French and he didn’t speak English, although he was pleasant enough when we exchanged sign language. When we reached Rabat he asked for a fee and I offered him the 100 dh. He beckoned for 300. I explained as best I could that he was traveling here anyway (so had not gone out of his way at all) pointing out even a train only cost half that and he continued to demand further payment. I told him I had no more money and he asked for my phone, at which point I realised I needed to get away. When it became clear he was not getting anything more from me he angrily allowed me to unload my bike and we parted without any further pleasantries, a stark contrast to my first lift.
It would be easy to let these kind of events give me a negative feeling towards Morocco, but then the good side and kindness of strangers interferes and I’m left hoping I meet more of the people who want nothing more than to share my travels with me, maybe sweet tea or a meal. And I don’t just take. I sat down at a cafe and an old man in dirty robes asked if he could have my chicken bones. I had not long started my meal and beckoned for him to sit down, which he did nervously. I shared my meal, delighting in his chomping on the chicken with his teeth-less gums and not upset by his table manners, (more than I can say for the waiter) as he spit out the bones to the cats waiting patiently underneath our table. At the end of the meal he signaled he was full, then very unexpectedly stood up, took my hand and kissed it. Even I understood his words (not in English) as he said “bless you”. Moments like this will remain with me forever.
After collecting my Visa I could not wait to get out of Rabat, quite simply not my kind of city. I made good time riding down to the coast, trying to get well away from the city before finding a place to wild camp. About 9 km outside Bouznika I met a local cyclist who lived in Rabat and another friend was made. Said was a doctor, but now spends all his time cycling. We paced each other until we reached Bouznika, at which point Said offered to buy me a tea from his ‘local’ stop – of course I accepted! As it transpired ‘tea’ turned into a meal of local caught sardines, fresh grilled and eaten heartily by us both.
What an amazing man. He was number 1 judo champion in Morocco for many years and now trains other cyclists. We exchanged cards and his daughter has contacted me through facebook so that we can keep in touch – I’m also offered accommodation with his family anytime I decide to return to Morocco. A chance meeting, the kindness of strangers.
By the time I’d finished eating it was getting dark and so I quickly started looking for a place to camp. Luck was on my side as I found an old outhouse building with an earth floor, meaning I could put up the tent and stay dry as no dew would form. Quite a day to remember and I slept well that evening.
Next morning Casablanca came and went. I had toyed with the idea of stopping, but my urgency to get further south and not run out of time made it an easy decision. Safi was just over 240 km away and I figured with two good days cycling I could get there OK if the wind was kind. Riding down the coast was pretty nice with the Atlantic Ocean on my right shoulder. I should have gotten some pictures, but know well that the best bits of this coastline are yet to come, so thought I’d wait a while.
So here I am in Safi. I arrived yesterday and will leave in the morning, destination Essaouira and then Agadir, hoping my chest eases up a little. I’ve been a little lazy regarding the photographs lately, but I put this down to not feeling 100% and I’ll soon return to normal – whatever that is! Here’s a couple from a wander to Carrefour to get in some shopping…