|At Marrakech Airport with everything packed, including the bike|
I'm finshed! Back in the Lake District since Sunday night. Very tired in body and mind, I had underestimated how energy-sapping it is to be operating in another language. For the last 3 weeks I've been putting in a massive effort to use French, so now my understanding has improved but I'm still not too great at speaking.
Anyway, I don't need to now! Arriving in Ambleside was a surreal experience. I felt I was looking out from someone else's eyes and I couldn't speak properly. The pizza I got for tea was the most tasty meal I've ever had! All I could do was mumble and get crumbs stuck in my beard.
Since then I've just been sleeping and eating. The hunger is unstoppable, even when my stomach says enough I still crave something to munch. I don't know how I'd have coped if Ellie hadn't let me loose on her food cupboard! However the richest meal in existence last night nearly stumped me... We had Carbonara, Guinness and chocolate pudding. Big belly time! Kirsty and Ian must be thanked also for the stew on Tuesday night and taking charge of the pasta.
As far as the experience of the trip goes, I haven't started to process it all yet. I unpacked and re-built the bike today and had a flash of comprehension, but I don't think it will fully kick in until the tiredness goes. I'm simply glad to be back.
I wrote the above in my first week back in the UK. I've been home a month now and I finally have enough energy to write about the last few weeks of the trip.
Mum, Dad and I traveled on the same ferry but unfortunately had to separate when disembarking. I got searched with the vehicles (Where are your guns?) while they met their tour guide. Off I pedaled to find a room and some food. I was successful but also got slightly ripped off, as I was expecting.
Tomorrow dawned, John the Cyclist set off... and then got lost. Tanger was very confusing but I managed to mangle some French and with the help of a Chemist found my way. The Atlantic coast of Morocco was special; miles of beaches beside the road and overlooking endless sea. I stopped for the night in Larache, watching the fishing vessels sallying forth upon the waves and the young people getting run over. An interesting town but not one I wanted to stay in very long.
Walking the streets looking for some dinner, smoke from charcoal barbeques filling the air and stinging my eyes. I'm an obvious newcomer, drawing looks from locals. What will I eat? How will I ask? There are no menus! Fires on one side, butchers on the other. Order from the butcher, give it to the fire-man to cook? I do it, order a coke. Meatballs and bread! I go to bed replete. How exotic.
The longest ride of the trip occurs - 85 miles to Sidi Kacem. It's flat, agricultural. Just like home but sunnier. The humdrum of everyday life occurs around me, folk riding donkeys while I'm overtaken by Range Rovers and Fendts cultivate the fields.
I aim for Fes the following morning, get hit by rain and The Wind. I approach a pass and am cycling at 45 degrees. My lunch is eaten by the wind behind my back, raging lorries throw fear over me, I grind up up up. The fields are brown. So is everything else. Wet wet wet, cold. Fes is a big city, how do I find a bed? Make an effort in French and I succeed. Comfortable at last, but why am I doing this to myself?
|I'm nowhere near the desert yet!|
Good news! I met Anna in Granada and it just happens that she's coming to Fes. We meet and I'm introduced to Francis, a Canadian also cycling solo in Morocco. We all explore the Medina and I am ecstatic to have company. Francis and I gradually decide to team up and go to the mountains while Anna heads for the coast and Casablanca.
I takes time to get used to cycling with someone else again, but it happens and is good. From a height of 1700m we see snow by the road and spend the night in a camping bungalow with a permanently open window. There's frost in the morning. The Arid Plateau appears before us, and so does The Wind. In our faces, we can only churn through at less than 10mph. I fix a puncture and struggle to catch up with Francis. The Plateau is an endless succession of almost imperceptible rises, just enough to provide a horizon to aim for and to conceal the maddening vastness still to cover.
|Beginning of the Plateau. It just gets worse round the corner.|
We arrive in Zeida, find a room and are escorted to the Hammam. Heaven! The communal bath-house of the town is heated by a wood fire and is so welcome after the struggle earlier. Bucket after bucket of hot water is poured over me and I am clean again.
The Wind wins, and we get a bus over the mountains ahead. While looking for accommodation Francis hears of a natural hot spring, so we visit. Unbelievably hot water! We all sit around the steaming pool in the middle of the room. Occasionally someone hops in and comes straight back out. I use buckets to acclimatise myself but still can barely stand to be completely submerged. It feels like the skin has been flayed from my shins!
|Gorge du Ziz|
The numbers of 4x4s increase. We see more sand. The sky gets more blue. We're in the desert! Sand dunes appear above the haze. We stay in the Auberge la Source on the edge of the Dunes. The sand is orange, there are camels everywhere and the stars are brighter than I remember seeing anywhere else. We hopped on a few camels and moved out into the Dunes for a night in a Berber tent.
|Sunrise over Algeria|
A sunset and a sunrise later we came back to civilisation and planned our route to Marrakech. All it took was a few more days of monotonous wind-in-the-face cycling, a madly long bus journey and we had arrived.
My cycle had finished.
I met Riley at the airport and we did a 3-day tour of the museums and other tourist attractions. The Majorelle Gardens were my highlight, you should see it! Such a calm place and one of the best museums of the city.
So we got on the plane to Gatwick and the greenness of England left me slackjawed. I had found a cheap ticket for the train to the Lakes that happened to allow me into First Class, a lucky boon as the train was completely bunged with people!
|Haircut and shave!|
Thanks for reading all these essays, for all the wee messages along the way and for donating so much via JustGiving.
I've finally got nothing else to say!