Date: Tuesday September 10, 2019 at 4:08pm
The early part of 2019 saw me
head to Morocco to extend my London to Marrakech trail further South cycling
from Casablanca to Essaouira. It would also join up my Casa – Marrakech,
Marrakech to Essaouria ride in a giant triangle. I was joined by my Moroccan friend and
brother Mohammed, a school teacher from Bengre. I first met Mohammed, a
teacher, on the London to Marrakech journey. He was riding my late dad’s old
mountain bike and I was on a Surly ‘Ice Cream Truck’ with some sharing and
swapping on route.
We caught the
bus to Cassa after catching up at Albakech House and assembling my bike as well
as sorting out kit. Finding budget accommodation that allowed our trusty steeds
to reside alongside us proved tricky. We cycled through the old city, now at night
and eventually after a few dead ends found somewhere for £12. Basic but would
fit the budget and bill.
Our plan was
simple, keep the Atlantic Ocean on our right and cycle South until time was
up. The mornings were chilly as it was
January and layers were essential until the warm sunny rays broke through and
warmed our days. The first morning we
cycled to Hassain II Mosque and took the obligatory tourist shots of our bikes
and us on tour. It was cold and I was pretty glad I had Bamboo Clothing layers
and then Paramo over jackets, these have been with me from the Sahara to minus
70 in the Yukon. They are a trusted part of the team.
changed from lagoons and the agriculture of the Atlantic Coast to high cliffs
and rugged features as we headed South. We passed some seriously big industrial
ports with smoke belching, which left us feeling sad at our demands on the
planet. Night time antics were amusing
trying to avoid detection to wild camp. We persuaded a guardian (local night
security) to let us wild camp in a deserted holiday
chalet complex. It was Mohammed’s first night camping and he was rewarded with
light rain. Our route took in many stunning fishing and Atlantic towns
including El Jidad, Sidi Abed and Oualidida.
Safi South is the surfing capital of Morocco with some epic waves and
locations attracting tourists from around the world.
One particular night we struggled with
local farmers and small rural communities being curious as to the travellers in
their midst. We spotted a small road leading into the dunes by the beach and
headed for an odd-looking complex overlooking the Atlantic Surf. The guardian
didn’t want to take responsibility for us but did offer us the rough ground
next to their boundary wall. We had borrowed a plastic sheet from a street food
vendor on the road (promising to return it the next day) and used that as a
tarp over our bivi bags with rocks holding it in place on the wall. Our
best laid plans were disrupted in the night when heavy winds resulted in us
being showered in said rocks. It was a
real Darwin awards moment but luckily no permeant damage done!
was about to take a dramatic turn as we approached the end of our
challenge. We sat at a roadside hostelry
grabbing a vegetable egg dish with fresh peas picked from the adjacent wall
garden. A horse and cart descended the hill and moved off the road as a coach
passed with the customary toot to give room. The cartwheel clipped the edge of
a wadi (ravine) and in horrific slow motion started to tumble. The heavy cart
pulled the horse and passengers into the top of the wadi.
We watched in
shock and horror as the cart, horse and passengers disappeared from view. Time seemed to stand still before we sprang
into action. Locals were running to help as we sprinted from the café roof top
across the road. The two passengers had managed perfect tuck and roll stunt man
like sketches and were unharmed whilst the horse was pinned under the cart 2m
below the road, only saved by the cart being wedged at the top of the wadi.
Back to the
bike at a sprint I grabbed my trusty Leatherman and a strap and went to help.
The lead passenger was whispering to the horse to keep it calm. I passed my
knife to cut loose the harnesses and miraculously he managed to slide the horse
out. He followed a track and brought the horse showing cuts but no breakages
back to the road via a goat track. The
group of bystanders seemed keen to disperse and I was sure if we put our backs
into it, we could haul the heavy duty out up 2m and out of the wadi. Mohammed
translated and five minutes later the cart was back on the road.
As a horse
person I was keen to ensure that the horse was rested for a few days and
offered to pay for its keep. Mohammed translated and the last we saw was the
man walking in front of the cart with the horse on light duties. Our superhero work was not done as we cycled
up and down the rolling hills of the coastline we came across a tortoise
crossing the road. Under-pants on the outside we also saved the little fellow
or dame!! Brownie points fully charged we pedalled on searching for a fire to
dowse or giant boulders to lift!!
One of the great things about
human powered adventures is time to reflect and detox from the rigours of
modern life. This journey was no exception and we were continually blessed with
the kindness of strangers. We were flagged down by a fruit and veg stall owner
called Abdullah for Thé a Menthe
(mint tea) and relaxed on his comfy hay bales. Our night routine of wild
camping was forever tricky if we were passing small towns as we, inevitably,
One such event happened in sleepy
seaside town of Bebouzza which reminded me of a Victorian seaside destination.
We kept a low profile and after much searching found a small greenhouse like
structure and made camp. By the time I was in my sleeping bag and boxers the
guardian appeared and was clearly worried about the white tourist, Moroccan
teacher and general look of vagrancy. We explained our case, badly it seems, as
he returned with the police. They were equally concerned for our safety and
insisted we leave and follow them in police convoy to a ‘safe house’! This was my second police escort (first one
in Holland) and my first safe house.
After our temporary incarceration
and my passport details being taken, we were slightly more cautious the next
night. Fortunately for us the chef, Khalid, at a local beachside café offered to
put us up for the night, he was house sitting a giant villa. Winner! He then
offered to cook us a tagine whilst he was working, things kept getting better.
Arriving in Essauoira was a real
high with the dual bonus of finishing a fantastic journey rich in culture,
history and a little graft but also joining up my previous adventures.
Essauoira to me conjures happy memories of incredible sardines straight of the
boats, ancient city walls with ramparts and secret passages and a hippy like
vibe. We did our little tradition of
dipping our tyres in the water to signal the end of another incredible
trip. One of the incredible ‘penny drop’
moments of the trip was chatting to Mohammed and realising he had covered over
100,000 kms cycling to work and
back as a teacher. Incredible effort.
Hopefully you’ve been inspired to
get on your bike and better still make it a fat bike. Find your local hire centre or demo a
Surly. Happy trails.