20 May 2010

Another rim for Susan!

Oh, we thought we were so lucky back then in the city of Agdz!!!
The Campagnolo rim that we had found there as an emergency exchange for the broken Mavic rim lasted for just about 1200 kilometers. I did already have the notion back then that one side of the Campagnolo was a tad "tired" (or "fatigue" as they say in many African countries)...

So while riding, Susan suddenly complains about some re-occuring noise and there we go: the side of the rim broke and the pressure from the tyre deforms it to the outside so it touches the brake pad with every rotation. We are smack in the middle of the desert between two cities. Back to Boujdour it is about 60 kilometers against the wind (riding against the wind is unthinkable - we just heard of a couple of around-the-world-cyclists who gave up coming from the south) and forward to Dakhla it's about another 250 kilometers. Our water situation is still ok but we will soon run low. Obviously - there isn't much to chose from. Vehicles are rare here but in an emergency case we should be able to get help - at times you have to wait for an hour for the next truck or pickup to pass. So we decide to unhook Susan's rear brake and keep going until the rim snaps. Who knows, in the end we might make it all the way to Dakhla...
After 70 more kilometers the cut in the rim has extended further but now it's time to sleep anyway. So we call it a day. We set up the tent on the road side and cook up a pot of fresh green bean soup.
The next morning we manage another 70 kilometers and by total coincidence reach the first house that day when the rim gives in. No more. Its 118 kilometers until Dakhla where we might be able to find a replacement. If not, then we have to travel all the way to Casablanca - a two day bus ride one way!

Near the house, we meet a couple of young guys who work on a construction site behind the house. They promise to take care of our bikes while we hitch a ride to Dakhla to try our luck on the local 26 inch 36 hole rim market. A truck driver stops with his 31500 litre sulfuric acid in tow and takes us along.
Smiling, Susan and I cruise along at three times our normal travelling speed while the kilometer markers fly by . The landscape to the left is endless desert that streches until Somalia. To the right, about 20 meters from the road, the land falls abruptly over sandy cliffs 50 meters down onto a wide sandy beach. The ocean itself is dark ultramarine blue with beautiful waves that break perfectly for surfing. We have heard that somewhere around here there are a couple of secret surfing spots, unknown to most riders - or - simply too far off the beaten track.
50 kilometers before reaching Dakhla we suddenly hear a loud "BOOOOM" coming from the trailer and now it's not only us but also the truck driver himself has been blessed with a broken wheel.
Alright then, time for truck repair lessons.

After about half an hour and a litre of combined sweat we are on the road again... and make it to Dakhla just in time to find a place to sleep.
The next morning I visit Hassan's local motorbike and cycle shop. In his back room he finds a used rim that he is willing to sell - some older model called MACH1 210. It has 36 holes and no cracks. Great! I start working on the spokes. Hassan and his crew of mechanics are a nice bunch of guys. After lots of laughing, sweet Moroccan tea, some fresh pastry and 4 hours of time the new wheel is ready to roll from here to Senegal. Insh' allah!

Camels ahead - Western Sahara

Wind, sand and camels.
The big national road N1 takes us along the Atlantic coast into Western Sahara. The wind is incredibly strong - not just strong - but strong enough to push one into the ditch when absentminded for a little while in the saddle. Fortunately indeed, it hits us as a hind wind now. With speeds up to 30km per hour we whizz through the desert!

Every couple of kilometers there is a sign asking to pay attention to camels crossing the road. At first I expect them to be as useless as I remember the warnings from my first bicycle trip through Finland back in 1994: bright yellow moose signs everywhere but not a single moose to be found!
Not so here in the desert - there are camels all over the place. Most of them free range, just strolling about in small herds, eating the thorny bushes on the roadside. No herdsmen to be seen. Every once in a while we stumble upon an unlucky one; either welcoming us with a biting stench of decomposing flesh or in its final stage...
Time to smirk about the name of my bicycle water bottle - it's a "CAMELBAK"

The Western Sahara Region (kind of annexed by Morocco, supervised by the United Nations) begins right after the town of Tarfaya, famed for the writer St.Exupery who was stationned here as a pilot for the French army. It is said that the Tarfaya and its environment inspired him while writing the story of the little prince... The town is a friendly little fishing village with little to offer except peace and quiet. And fresh fish - battered and with a side of French Fries.

We keep on going south - happy go lucky with the constant hind wind. The coast line is very empty and beautiful. Kind of ideal for a beach holiday if one has a square kilometer of shade and a big fridge in the luggage. We keep waking up early in the mornings to make use of the colder times (BTW in the night we are wearing fleece jackets) and then try to take a rest in some shade during the hottest hours of the day. The thermometer doesn't goes beyond 40 Centigrade but the sunlight is very strong. In the late afternoon we resume cycling until an hour before sunset. We usually pitch up the tent wherever we find a nice spot. We never felt threatened or had any bad experience with wild camping here in Morocco. Very very pleasant.

Sometime somewhere I reach the 20.000km mark... technically I am half around the world already :)

4 May 2010

From Atlas via Anti-Atlas to Western Sahara

It is hard to describe what this great country does to us...
We first cycle from Tangiers south along the Altantic coast and then head inland toward the ancient city of Meknes. We mostly camp wild just wherever we think we should stop for the night; and receive - if any - only pleasant surprises. One night a truck driver stops and comes running over to our tent inquiring if everything is alright, another night the owner of the field of olives trees (Ahmat) in which we pitched up the tent for the night visits us and wants to know if we need bread, milk or water. Later, when a sudden downpour drenches the tent thorroughly, Ahmat shows up again with his son to help us bring the tent and our belongings to his house so we won't have to stay out on our own. We politely decline his offer but wonder how he must have felt later on when the rain turned into a full blown hail storm with hail the size of pop corn (no joke).

From Meknes (very worth a visit) we take public transport to the capital Rabat (with a side trip to Casablanca) to apply for the Mauretanian visa. In earlier times the visa could be obtained directly at the border betzeen Western Sahara and Mauretania. But since a couple of months one needs to pass by the embassy in Rabat. When applying around 0900 hours in the morning one can pick up the visa in the early afternoon of the same day.
With the visa in our pockets we made it back to Meknes and then had a wonderful day riding aith hindwind to Fes. Fes does indeed have a nice casbah, but the city itself is only recommendable for those who love placing themselves in the midst of hordes of caravan campers or enjoy an afternoon full of tout-hassling and being-ripped-off-at-every-corner. The city reeks of what tourism can detroy in a perfectly modest and friendly population.
We just long enough to eat and sleep and leave early the next morning direction Sefrou and the Atlas mountains.

The Atlas treats us with lots of hills, beautiful landscapes, sleepy towns and local food. Susan has discovered a new favorite: greasy bread. It is kind of like filo dough on a cast iron stovetop bathed in butter. Yum.
Another great discovery after a sobering experience in Spain and Portugal (those barbarian tribes have seemingly not yet discovered the secret of fresh milk!) is that Morocco is full to the brim with milk and dairy products. We devour yoghurts and other goodies day in day out. The top product to discover here: avocado milk!

When we don't lay in the shade of some date tree rubbing our dairy filled ballies, we cycle through olive gardens, strawberry fields and orange orchards. The road takes us up up up beyond the tree line all the way to 1907m in the High-Atlas, then back down into the Draa valley and the fringes of the Sahara desert. The temperatures rise every day and soon we decide to get up around 0400 hours very early in the morning so we can be on the road at first daylight to avoid the midday heat. We cycle until around 1100 and then rest in the shade of some roadside trees or - if we hit it lucky - in a small restaurant or truck stop. When the sun starts going down around 1600 we hit the road again and cycle until nightfall.

Against all advise that we had received earlier, the Moroccan traffic is very good to cyclists. It might seem chaotic at first but we soon recognise that most vehile drivers behave with lots of respect and don't force their way. There is a lot of honking but this happens not in order to intimidate (like it would in Germany) but simply to inform about one's presence. Often a couple of quick extra honks are thown in together with a thumbs-up and great smiles. Especially the truck drivers seem to enjoy our presence - thanks be to all of them!
The roads that link bigger cities are often well paved and one needs to go off the beaten track to find a good old counrt road with potholes and a dusty surface. Nevertheless, in the small town of Agdz (towards the Anti-Atlas), Susan's back rim has had it: it breaks. To our misfortune it is friday and many shops close during the prayers. To our greater misfortune the next day is the first of May and a public holiday. The only rim that I can locally find is a very simple Chinese made alloy rim that (my estimation) would last about a week's time. And besides: the spokes in Susan's rear wheel are not long enough to accommodate this rim. While we contemplate over coffee what to do I suddenly spot a fairly nice mountainbike leaning against one of the tables of the nearby restaurant. Am I suffering a heat stroke or is that really a Campagnolo sticker on that rim? I check it out and cannot believe our luck - someone here actually has a real nice rim in hisrear wheel. It's old but it will do the job. Mahammat (the owner of the mountainbike) is located rather quickly once news make it that a foreigner wants to buy his rim. He grins over both ears when we start negotiating the price: approximately 20EUR plus the local Chinese made rim.

Luck in the Unluck (Glueck im Unglueck _ German proverb)! The rim fits with Susan's spokes and Mahammat's spokes are actually sufficiently long for the Chinese model. After about 5 hours of painstakingly sweaty work everything is back together and Susan takes a test ride... hooray!!!

We now cycled several hundreds of kilometers with the new rim and have just reached the Atlantic Ocean again at Tan-Tan. The ocean is wild and beautiful and the absence of European camper vans makes everything even better. Last week we took the bus to Agadir to celebrate Susan's 36th birthday with Pizza and ice cream. Next week we will cross the border to Westarn Sahara and then head down towards Dhakla and then Mauretania. If we are lucky then the current strong wind will be in our back all the way along the coast!

Until later...
(and BTW, that's how our map looks like on a day when we suddenly find a highly loved but totally unexpected dairy product in a small roadside shop :)