Morocco On £20 Bikes

 

After we got back from 15 months galavanting around the world and had spent a long overdue Christmas with our long suffering families, we tried to get jobs out in the ski fields of Europe for the rest of the winter. After a month of applying to pretty much every ski company out there, we still hadn't got any bites, no doubt due to the shocking snow levels in the Alps that season. We realised that we were hemorrhaging over £100 a week on average doing sweet F.A. We had been offered work by our tour company leading tours for the summer around Europe, but that wasn't for a couple of months and the thought of doing shitty temp jobs in the catering industry (my usual flexible income) sent shivers down our spines. We needed another plan, our only option was to go and buy a few bottles of the cheapest wine we could get our hands on and have a brainstorming session. We knew we could live and travel cheaper somewhere else for a month, but where and how were we going to get around?

 

A few bottles later and we had a plan and flights booked. We were going to fly to Morocco for a month with a tent and buy bicycles. We figured that there would be plenty of places to wild camp, food would be cheap out there and most of all, it would be hot and sunny! Hell, it was better than the thought of actually working or spending that much time in the UK in winter.

 

A few days before our flight to Fez, I checked to see how much a 2 hour train to the airport would be: £120! We had paid £86 in total for both of our return flights to Morocco, just another reason why we try and spend as little time in the UK as possible, everything is just so damn expensive.

One of the cops standing over the guy who started a fight and lost it just as quickly.

 

Our flight into Fez was one of the most entertaining flights I've ever been on even though Ryan Air hasn't got an entertainment system. It started with some of the worst turbulence I have ever experienced with the plane seemingly dropping a few hundred feet each time whilst rolling all over the place. Understandably this brought about a fair amount of screaming and praying from the crowd and even drove someone to lighting a cigarette, filling the cabin with the smell of smoke which only added to the hysteria on board. Once we made it to smoother air, tensions were still high and three separate fights kicked off in the rows in front of us. We were in row 8. The final fight kicked off as we landed and resulted in the cops coming on board to escort them off the plane. The guy that started it is actually lying on the floor at the cop's feet after the bald guy laid him out with one punch.

The only bike 'shop' in Fez. As you can see we didn't have the biggest selection.

 

The first thing the next morning we caught a bus from our campsite into Fez where we were dropped off at the top of the hill in the Medina. As we descended down through the narrow streets of the souk we asked a few people if where we could find a bike shop, worryingly pretty much everyone came up short on an answer but we were told the old souk was probably going to be our best bet, wherever that was.

 

A few hours and several kilometers walk later, we found a guy that had a handful of battered looking bikes for sale but he want £30 for each of them. After pointing out that the gears didn't work on any of them and the fact that only 2 of them actually had brakes (one had a front brake, the other had a back brake) he said he would take £40 for two of them but wouldn't budge from there, no doubt because he knew there was no where else to get bikes. Incidentally, pretty much every other town we cycled through in Morocco had bike shops everywhere. Just not in Fez, typical.

 

Enjoying the view of Fez with our new bikes.

 

With our new steeds between our loins we set off on the ride back to our campsite. By the time we reached our first climb we already had a pretty good idea about how shit the bikes really were. The hill compounded those ideas, they were really shit! Not that it really mattered, we hadn't set a goal of cycling 2000km around Morocco or anything like that. We were here to literally travel at our own pace and save money and these two bikes were the tools that were going to allow us to do it.

 

That evening we sat down and worked out what our first leg was going to be; southwest. Ish. 

 

Just because Google says it's a decent road, doesn't mean it is..

 

Nice little rest stop. We would probably have camped here for the night if it wasn't 10 km from where we started. 

 

A view from one of our wild camps when we were north of the Atlas Mountains.

 

In our heads we had thought we'd be covering at least 60 kms a day, the reality was far from it though. The lack of gears combined with the seemingly relentless hills ment it actually took us the best part of 5 days to cycle 80km. I say cycle, it seemed to have turned more into pushing, and as with any bike trip, the downhill rewards never seem to justify the ups!

 

Originally we had planned to cycle across the Atlas Mountains into the northern Sahara but upon arriving in the town of Azrou and seeing the mountains in the distance, we decided £3 for a bus across them would be a wise investment. It was. The bus took 6 hours to make the journey over several high mountain passes, that would probably have translated to 6 months on our bikes.

 

As we came over the final pass we got our first glimpse of the northern Sahara stretching off into the distance. The landscape was totally different from the other side of the Atlas Mountains. The north was green, hilly and covered with trees and looked very much apart of Europe. The south was flat, red and desolate and looked like what you would expect north Africa to look like.

 

From grassy hills and forests to sand and stone, it's amazing what a difference a 6 hour bus ride can make. The lack of hills was a good thing.

 

The down side is nothing ever seems to get closer, no matter how much we cycled.

 

Always make sure you have a ton of water before you leave a settlement because it could be a while until you find some more.

 

We quickly found that there was no shade south of the Atlas Mountains, just the harsh Saharan sun. This was the first time in 2 days we could enjoy some olives out of the sun.

 

A small oasis in the desert.

 

One of the best investments we bought with us was a big puncture repair kit. It was an almost daily chore on the trip to patch up one of the bikes. One day I cycled past a particularly brutal plant that had shed it's savage spiky seeds leaving me with not one, but 8 punctures on one tire. Fortunately there always seems to be a tire repair place nearby that will either repair or replace your inner tube if you're having one of those days.

51 days to Timbuktu eh? Maybe next time.

 

I got pretty good at repairing punctures seeing as it was an almost daily ritual!

 

Sorry Carly, our £2 bike pump just broke. Looks like you're walking the 6km to the next town.

 

I cycled over a load of thorns and managed to get 6 punctures in one go. Fortunately there is always someone willing to help and point you in the direction of a hidden repair shop. From left to right: Mohammed, Mohammed, Mohammed, Mo, Mohammed

 

After a few days cycling it became very apparent that I had made a school boy error in my packing, I forgot to pack any sunblock. Carly's granddad was coloured South African and she inherited his skin's sun tolerance and she just gets darker and darker the longer she's in the sun, practically changing race everyday. Me on the other hand, well it seems I have the ginger gene and I tend to burn. On this trip this was especially so on the tops of my hands and on my left leg due to the fact we were cycling west and the sun was on our left all day. Time to bust out the sock gloves and the leg warmers.

Honestly, who forgets to bring sunblock to the Sahara???! Tit.

Yep, that hurt as much as you'd think, especially when trying to sleep!

 

Damn that's a strong look. Leg warmers and a duct tape nose protector. Did the job and it was free!

 

One of the best things about Morocco is the Muslim hospitality. In all my years of travelling, never have I experienced such generosity from complete strangers. Several times a day we would be flagged down by a local who would invite us in to break bread and to drink berber whiskey (mint tea) with them and their family. At one stage we were invited in and fed so often, that we only spent £3 in 3 days!

 

On the flip side of that though, it did make our days go very slowly sometimes not even making it 2km between feedings. It even got to the point when we couldn't stop even for a second if we were anywhere near a house because someone would come running out!

 

 

 

Whilst we were repairing a puncture a guy invited us to his house for an omelette and some tea, he then left us to relax in his garden as he got on with his day.

 

Mohammed

 

Of course our favourite part of the trip was the wild camping and being able to camp anywhere we wanted, in complete solitude with no light pollution. I think we saw more shooting stars each night than most people would see in a year, on top of that we had the clearest views of the milky way that I have ever seen. I wish I had had a camera with me that could catch it on film. Guess I'll just have to go back.

 

Carly got a flat one afternoon so we figured we'd call it quits and look for a camp. We chose well.

 

Ran out of daylight cycling through what turns out to be the longest village in Morocco so when we saw this old kasbah, we figured we'd pitch here. 

 

So much better than watching TV in a hotel room!

 

The perfect wild camp; no roads, no people, no buildings and no light pollution.

 

After 18 days of cycling, we had stopped to grab a bite to eat when a young lad came up and asked us if he could buy our bikes. Strangely, we had actually been chatting the previous few days about trading up the bikes for a bus ticket to the coast and the trekking through what is known as Paradise Valley. His opening offer was about £15 but after about 10 minutes of haggling we had managed to negotiate a free nights stay at his friends riad and a big chunk of Moroccan hashish in exchange for both bikes. A fair trade.

 

Please rain, please rain, please rain, please rain. It didn't.

 

We had a massive tailwind one afternoon so I busted out my poncho and tied it up with some rope and made a sail. It worked so well it even pulled me up that hill!

 

Still going on the other side of the hill.

 

A view like this means only one thing; DOWNHILL!

 

With the bikes passed on to their new owner, all that was left for us to do was to find ourselves an overnight bus to the coast and give our aching asses so much deserved rest.

 

Next stop; Agadir

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