Morocco is one of the best countries to go touring in, at least from our experiences. The people are friendly and hospitable, the cuisine is incredible, the produce is fresh and organic, the roads are generally safe and the prices are affordable. We wish we could have stayed longer. Although we only saw a small section of the country, we spent 9 days and met tons of locals, ate a lot of great food and became familiar with the beautiful towns of Tetouan and Chefchaouen.
The ferry from Tarifa, Spain to Tangier, Morocco takes 35 minutes and is a giant catamaran that flies across the frothing ocean with uncanny ease and a sickening rocking motion. The vessel holds 175 cars, 800 passengers and moves at 48 mph.
As both the Spanish and Moroccan coastlines are quite mountainous, both sides can be seen during the entire journey. Below deck in the dark cavern of the vessel’s underbelly, a friendly ferry worker lashed our bicycle to the side of the ferry, ratcheting the cord with severe tightness. Some how the conversation got immediately philosophical. “Yes, everywhere there are good people!” he says. “If you go everywhere with a smile you will encounter good people, but if you go everywhere with anger you will meet only anger!”
As we board the ferry we meet some other bike tourists, a french couple of about our age that have been traveling for about the same amount of time. They just finished western Europe and are no heading south for the winter. Their blog is Two tortoises’ Escapade
. Like us, they have a rough 4 year plan for circling the globe but they are on recumbents.
Our first encounter: over 1,000 dates, one of our favorite foods!
And our second encounter: A suspicious camel!
Since we don’t have enough time to travel far in Morocco we decide to get off the beaten track immediately and so we take a small road on the map heading into the mountains.
It turned out to be more of a steep path but we at least find a quiet spot to camp overlooking the bay of Tangier.
We hang up our laundry on some trees and cook some veggies. In the morning it is a hard climb up to a small village. We bicycle by some sort of small shed in the middle of the street. A hose is running and people seem to be arriving with large empty plastic containers and leaving with them full of water. An old man is looking at us and I motion by holding an imaginary cup to my mouth to ask if it is drinking water. He nods and grabs the hose and partially fills a plastic container for us to use.
As nomads we spend our days moving but we also spend our time searching for four basic necessities. These are (in order of importance) water, food, gasoline and electricity. Best case scenario at the end of every day we have 8 full water bottles, fresh fruits and vegetables, at least half a liter of gasoline, and a fully charged phone and computer.
- Water - So far everywhere we have traveled we drank the tap water and nothing has gone wrong. We fill up mostly from bathroom sinks and sometimes public water sources but occasionally a kitchen or bar will fill them for us.
- Food - We like to buy fresh fruit and vegetables every day but intermittently we stock up on oil, vinegar, hot sauce, spices, grains or beans, dates or honey, garlic and ginger.
- Gasoline - Gas is available everywhere and our 750ml container costs around a dollar to fill up in most places. This usually equates to about 6-8 hours of burner time. We use it primarily to cook our food but on cold nights we will leave it on longer for warmth.
- Electricity - Most restaurants and cafés have an outlet somewhere. Usually ordering some drinks is enough to let us recharge. In the states, there are often outlets outside grocery stores but in Europe and Africa this is not the case. Our phone contains offline maps of the world and allows us to navigate. We also use Skype and IMessage to contact our family when we find wifi. The computer’s primary purpose is to send out blog posts but lately it also functions as entertainment as well will watch a movie or some Simpson’s episodes while preparing dinner.
- Finding internet is another thing we tend to find ourselves doing as nomads but lately we are making an effort to curb this desire as we find that “plugging in” takes a lot out of our immersion into a particular locality.
But moving on we find ourselves going down a treacherous “road” coming out of the village. Below a Volkswagen bus is slowly rocking it’s way over the dusty stones up to meet us. The driving pulls the e-break when we meet him and shuts off the engine. He wearing a robe and a small Muslim hat and his wife wearing hijab, is in the passenger seat with a small child. “My friend” he said “I think you are on the wrong road. This is not good for bicycle.” He was right but we weren’t going back. After confirming that this would take us to a paved road within a few miles we continued on.
Not a single car passed us on the paved road and after five miles or so we found out why. The road was completely washed out. We take some gear off the bike and with some good teamwork and some heavy breathing we manage to get our bike through the crater and up the other side.
The landscape has a lot of hills and is pretty but seems a little desolate and sparsely populated. I am feeling a little unmotivated and suggest camping but Rasham wants to keep going a little bit and we actually find a small establishment with an espresso machine in a disparate grouping of buildings that appear to offer nothing else. It’s the first establishment we have found since leaving Tangier compared to the constant stream or cafés in Spain and Portugal and it’s very welcome although I feel a little soft as I realize how glad I am to be served coffee. It’s only been 24 hours!
We ask about food but he shakes his head. It was about that time that a huge tajine, about two feet in diameter, heaping with food was brought in and set on a nearby table. Apparently a bunch of workmen were about to be fed a meal cooked in a nearby home. The owner then asked if we wanted some and when we nodded he piled a plate so high that it spilled onto the table as he set it in front of us. It was couscous, laden with huge chunks of tender vegetables and lamb. The scale of the culinary feat was such that whole zucchini and carrots were mixed in. Everything was so soft and soaked with flavor (even the meat) that it could be cut gently with a spoon and shoveled easily into the mouth, and swallowed with the greatest ease as it barely required chewing. The whole thing was seasoned so well that to our surprise we easily finished this incredible feast. When we left, we weren’t charged a dirham for the meal.
This seemed like the right kind of motivation we needed to cycle forward, as if God had seen we were tired and said “Here is a sumptuous feast. Here is lamb and here are vegetables and couscous, and have it all for free, so you may ride forward with encouragement and vigor!” In any case Morocco suddenly seemed a lot friendlier.
That night we camp off the road between two fields in a dry creek bed amongst some reeds. We make dinner, watch some Simpsons and soon fall asleep or begin to snooze in the darkness. We have been sleeping for several hours when suddenly a voice wakes me. “Amigo! Amigo!” It is a loud whisper. I loud whisper back in Spanish “Si Hola!” He repeats “Amigo” several more times and whispers something else. I figure I needed to get out of the tent so I get up, put on my pants, and come outside. The man is standing about ten feet away in the darkness and I can’t make out his face but I approach anyway. He holds out his hand and I shake it and he pulls me in for a European kiss on both cheeks. He seems nice enough. After confirming that there are only two of us he tells me in Spanish that he wants us to come back to his house. I tell him in the best Spanish I can muster that now we are sleeping and in the morning we can come to his house. He again repeats what he had said earlier and after trying to say no several different times without any success I tell him I will have to talk with my wife. Rasham has been completely asleep and in a state of semi-consciousness makes no indication that she is ready to pack up and leave. I return ten feet back to him and again say no but he only begins to elaborate all in Spanish on how we are going to meet his mother and father and sister and eat food and sleep on a bed and on how cold it is out here. After several more trips to the tent I try in all possible forms to tell him we aren’t coming but it only leads to greater explanations of what he has to offer us. In the end, to my disbelieve, we pack up our gear at ten at night and walk 2 kilometers to his house in the dark.
Just before leaving, we have the bicycle almost completely packed when the man notices the garbage bag we have hanging from the back of the bicycle (Every evening we fill a small plastic bag with any garbage generated from our meal and in the morning we dump it at the first trash can we find). With a confused look on his face he indicates that we should throw it on the ground. We try to explain several times that we were going to take it to a trash can but eventually just as before his persistence prevails and once we had given it to him, seeing our discomfort in the matter he places it gingerly next to a bush as if we are concerned about the safety of the garbage itself.
Back at his home which was a small three room dwelling, empty of any furniture except for a long bench and a bed we slowly met his family and friends as they came in intermittently, giggling with embarrassment and surprise at the peculiar strangers that had been brought in from the ditch across the road. We are served tea, bread and two fried eggs.
Apparently our host, Abdesalame Halhoule had heard about us from one of his friends who was tending a flock of goats and had seen us setting up camp. Eventually we are given the only bed and we quickly fall asleep, tired from the long and unexpected, yet amazing evening!
The next day he shows us around his home.
His grandfathers home is in dilapidated condition and now houses a small calf.
Noticing our peculiar attraction to the animals he shows us the other ones.
Breakfast is some sort of oily, flat bread (possibly lavash) which we dip in some kind of apple syrup. It is fresh and delicious.
That day we make it to a city called Tetouan (pronounced tāˈtwän). This used to be the capital back when Spain ruled Morocco a few hundred years ago.
We shopped around for food and then sat down for a coffee to figure out the next step.
Just then a man showed up and invited us to stay at his home a few miles down the road.
But the dinner he had planned was a little more elaborate than the one we had the night before. While he cooked, Abdul Hamid shared with us his dream of marrying a Western woman and moving out of Morocco. He was the ninth son of a wealthy merchant and hadn’t worked in 14 years.
Abdul seems to be very attracted to anything Western and even has an interesting shrine of Western paraphernalia. Despite this, in recent years he has become especially devout in his practice as a muslim. He shared with us several hand written Islamic texts one of which was 700 years old (both we weren’t allowed to touch) which he used to pray with.
In the morning after Abdul showered and prayed for ten minutes in a white robe in the living room we walked to the beach and he took Rasham for a surprise camel ride.
On the way back we stop in a restaurant to check out a particularly stunning display of fish.
Our next destination is in the Atlas Mountains, a small mountain town called Chefchaouen (pronounced Shafshāwan). On the way up we encountered several groups of locals cycling.
That evening we camp off the side of the road at around 1,700 feet and just as the sun sets, a beautiful moonrise appears across the valley over a fog crested ridge.
The next day we get to Chefchaouen
It is market day, and there are a variety of people wandering the streets. Here are some pictures of the local attire.
Pointy hoods and shoes are commonplace for the men here in Northeastern Morocco.
But most young men are dressed in Western clothes.
We love buying food here. A kilo (2.2 lbs) of pomegranates is 4 dirhams (50 cents). Bunch of cilantro, parsley or mint 1 dirham (12 cents). A kilo of tangerines 6 dirhams (62 cents). A kilo of medjool dates 25 dirhams ($4.00). Everything seems to be fresh and organic. We find a caterpillar on our greens! = A good thing! (If the bugs know not to eat it I don’t want to eat it either)
This town is apparently well known for its striking blue alleyways.
Inspired lately by Ayurvedic cooking we buy a half pound of fresh butter to turn into ghee that evening.
And in the dark we bike up to a clandestine spot overlooking the city. In the morning, we are visited by some friendly animals.
They seem to want to eat anything that gets close to them but they were only able to get down some mandarin peels and some leftover cilantro. Contrary to popular belief, goats don’t like dates.
Around noon it begins to rain and we decide to check into a hostel to avoid getting wet. It costs 140 dirhams ($17.00) for our own room. Here we rest while the rain comes down outside. It is the third day it has rained on us since we arrived in Europe 40 days ago, not bad for wintertime.
On our way out of the hostel we met an Argentinian guy heading to South Africa. We were very excited to meet him as we are planning to do the same journey next year. You can follow him on Facebook at Ruta Libra Africa
. We will be watching closely as not many people head down the west coast of Africa on bikes!
Our way out of Chefchaouen to the coast took us down a steep canyon.
Just like every small town in America has at least one small church, every town in Morocco has a small Mosque.
That evening we camped overlooking the Mediterranean. A local offered to take us in but we had already set up the tent and so were able to persuade him to let us camp.
The next evening it began to pour around dusk. Luckily their was a campground less than a mile from us. It cost us 70 dirhams ($9.00)
From there we rode five kilometers short of Tangier Med, a huge recently constructed port from which our ferry to Barcelona was scheduled to leave the next day. As the sun set, the views of the straight of Gibraltar were spectacular.
And the next morning we rode down to the port, ready for our ferry to Barcelona!