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 :)

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