Another big day on the bikes: it’s easy to roll long distances when the wind is on your back and the roads are flat, as they have been for the last few days along the coast. About a third of the distance we covered today was just getting out of Casablanca, an expansive and rather dirty city at the edges, although we did enjoy seeing the huge Hassan II mosque before we left. After over an hour of pedalling we made it to the suburb town of Mohamedia, where we sipped a couple coffees and relaxed in the relatively fresh air. Traffic soon dispersed outside Mohamedia, mostly going towards the motorway, and we had a quiet ride along the coast, going past another of the Moroccan king’s palaces in the afternoon. We knew we were coming up to his palace well in advance because the road was suddenly lined with flags, a sure sign of a royal residence. The gates to the palace (maybe his summer home by the sea?) gave us a peek into a garden filled with palm trees and blooming flowers. The lawn could have easily been a five-star highly manicured golf course. We were tempted to ask the guards if this was the local campsite – so many nice places to pitch our tent! – but thought better of it as they sternly looked at us and held tightly on to their guns. Our home for the night turned out to be a rogue campsite just outside Rabat, not much more than an unmown field and a bit of cement for camper vans to park on. Had we looked at the toilets before setting up we might not have stayed. They haven’t been cleaned in some time and stink more than an outhouse on a hot summer day (despite their reputation among many westerners, the vast majority of squat toilets we have used have been very clean and not at all smelly). Having said all that, the two men minding the “campground” seemed happy to take whatever price we were prepared to offer, so it was a little security for barely a dent in the budget. Wild camping places haven’t been coming our way lately – we seem to be ending our days near cities in populated areas – and other campgrounds we’ve stopped at have been asking quite high prices compared to what we were used to in southern Morocco, nearly the same cost as a basic and clean hotel room.
You Are Viewing Morocco
We’ve been planning for weeks to avoid Casablanca (a city we found dirty and unattractive in the past, remembering it only for large slums between the centre and the airport) but we now realise that time is short if we want to meet a friend in Portugal and the coastal road through Casablanca is the shortest way there.
Today, we did just what we said we weren’t going to do and cruised right into the centre of the city. It actually wasn’t as bad as we’d expected. The coastal road led onto a nicely paved twinned highway, with a wide shoulder, which took us right by the medina where we found a hotel instantly. Easy peasy. Until we reached the old city area we could have imagined we were in any European capital, with swish car dealerships and fancy home decorating stores lining the road. The route to Casablanca was fairly unremarkable in terms of scenery, more agriculture and lots of villages, but no stunning sea views like we’ve enjoyed in recent days.
Our one adventure of the day was trying to find a well so we could have a little shower. We asked some children on a donkey, loaded down with water, where the well was (“fin l’bir”) and they pointed us towards some fields, so off we went down the track. Several people kept on pointing us in the same direction but we never saw the well and eventually no one seemed to know what we were talking about. Finally we asked two men coming from a home and they ran back into the house, coming back with a silver teapot full of water and a glass. Moroccan hospitality at its finest. It’s just too bad our language skills didn’t extend to explaining that we didn’t want anything to drink, we just wanted to clean up a bit. The water was quite salty and we struggled to drink it, but felt obliged to try as the men had gone to some trouble to get it for us.
Considering we both didn’t feel at our peak, the distance covered was encouraging. Most of the field workers hadn’t gotten up by the time we started our journey so we had a quieter run than the day before. Again following the coast road north we saw more wonderful waves crashing. But about halfway to El-Jadida, near Port de Jorf-Lasfar, more chemical and industrial complexes appeared and we tried to speed up and move by them. The fumes really burn our throat and eyes. After resting a few times we reached El-Jadida, a large city. The campground was a bit hard to find since we didn’t see the normal signage. Perhaps it exists on the more major roads, but we needed to ask the local police for directions every few intersections.
Just after lunch we put our tent up: a little extra time to rest and have a couple once-over inspections on the bikes. By the time we get back to Europe there’s a good layer of dust and sand that will need to come off and perhaps we will replace the chains.
There’s no worse place than a bicycle to be when you’re sick, but that’s exactly where we were today – a day which started well but ended with Friedel doing a dive out of the tent, sick to her stomach. As we set out from Safi the sky was a clear blue and the wind wason our backs. We pedalled on a road which was so close to the edge of the cliffs, with waves crashing meters below our feet, that sometimes we thought we might cycle right into the ocean.
By lunchtime we’d covered our usual distance for the whole day, reaching the resort town of Oualidia, but soon afterwards the mood changed. We both got headaches and Friedel felt nauseous. We took regular breaks and searched for a wild camping spot, but the whole area was covered in agricultural fields in a density we haven’t seen elsewhere in Morocco. With the exception of the few kilometers leading out of Safi, fields of wheat and carrots, and greenhouses of tomatoes covered the land, right up to the ocean’s edge. Forced to carry on, we struggled to cope with the persistent demands of local children and shouts of “oooooooh, monsieur” from men sitting alongside the road, mostly looking for cigarettes. After two months in Morocco we are normally quite good at responding to the kids in a playful way and waving hello to everyone and their donkey, but feeling ill it was more than we could handle on this particular day.
Finally we found a campsite (actually more of a hotel with a back lawn) and negotiated a price to pitch our tent for the night. Not long afterwards Friedel threw up and Andrew collapsed with a pounding headache. Not the best day on our bikes, but we consolled ourselves with the thought that tomorrow could only be better.
Well, the sun is shining and it’s a perfect day for cycling but we are staying put because Andrew is not feeling well. We have actually been very lucky so far on this trip, with only a couple days where we didn’t want to be on the bikes, and each time we were with friends or in a hotel, much better than feeling sick in a tent! So, instead of tales from the road we have pictures of Friedel’s hands, which were covered in henna by a friend in Safi. We got to know Naima in Zagora when she worked with Brahim on his desert treks. She taught Friedel much about Moroccan cooking (including how to make this Tagine Kefta) and we had a lot of good times in the kitchen in Zagora. Since then, Naima had a stroke and now lives in Safi with her family. Although she is now blind and partially paralysed, she is still the same cheerful spirit we love and it was wonderful to visit with her and to meet her family.