I’m a try anything once kind of person. And I’m an all or nothing type. So last year, when I tried biking on a second hand hybrid and cycled The South Downs Way over the May Bank Holiday, I knew I preferred being off road to riding the roads. In July, I bought a new Trek mountain bike.
I named my two wheeler ‘Sally’, from the song ‘Mustang Sally’ and in December 2013, Sally went on her maiden voyage bikepacking and wildcamping in Morocco.
If plan A doesn’t work, there’s always plan B, C, D…
We booked onto an early morning flight from Heathrow to Agadir, an airport with no public transport, just Grand Taxis. We planned to ride east from Taroudant, but first we had to get there.
The night before we left England, we booked into Chambres les Amis. Said, the owner promised to collect us from the airport and came up trumps. He also agreed to keep all our packaging stuff for the bikes including our going home clothes and pencilled us in for our last night in Morocco.
Pitting our bikes against the bicycles of Taroudant
In our room, we unpacked and reassembled the bikes then took them downstairs and onto the street. We circled the bastions of Taroudant where a teenager on a bike caught up with me and videoed a little interview in French. I suppose he’s got it on Youtube now, though I can’t imagine it’s gone viral. We rode through town at rush hour. Through a haze of sawdust we made our way down ‘Carpentry Street’. I was petrified at first. Pedalling between horse driven coaches, cars, donkeys, motorbikes, mopeds, walkers and the bicycles of Taroudant, I quickly learned the rules.
The rules are simple.
- Keep your eyes open
- Give way to anything
These rules work, because bicycles often have no brakes and everyone knows this. Taroudant’s bicycles are a mix of first generation mountain bikes, old single speeds and ancient road bikes. It’s a place where men are happy to ride women’s bikes and women ride bikes in their pyjamas with djellabas over the top.
We stopped at a stand selling freshly fried doughnuts and drank a pot of mint tea and sugar coated hot doughnuts. Three children played a game of marbles near our feet.
That first night, as we scouted for dinner, I gave up vegetarianism. I decided I’d eat anything, except chicken as they are kept in small cages or live inside the chicken shops. But I couldn’t give up eggs. With a simple choice of vegetable tagine, omelette, Moroccan salad and chips, served with the staple round flat bread, I opted for beef brochettes with chips. We ate at Hotel Roudani in the Place Assarag, a mini version of Marrakesh’s Jemaa el Fna. Football was shown on every television screen in the square and played at full blast. A thousand tea drinking men cheered as goals were scored.
Last Minute Christmas Shopping
Despite leaving the UK and the Christmas mania behind, there was no escaping the fun of panic buying. As ethical travellers, we like to shop for local produce. Moroccan nuts and dates are delicious, cheap and excellent quality. On day two, we hit the town with our list.
- Cover for the kindle
- Alcohol for the stove
- Alan key for my hangar
- Dates and nuts
- Bread, boiled eggs, tomatoes and an onion
I took my new Kindle to the Tannery just outside of town. It was a wise location as the stench of urine and whatever else is used in the process caught the back of the throat. Hides of goat, sheep and camel were draped around the site on scaffolding and bamboo poles. A feeling of death hung heavy in the air. A cat scratched at something woolly, near a small puddle and I thought he was brave to set paws in a place where the only other animals were dead ones. I met with a leather worker who drew a template on a piece of cardboard. I sketched a design, selected a soft sand coloured goatskin and we negotiated a deal. I was told it would be ready that same afternoon at 4pm.
We rode out of town across a donkey trail then through the orange groves towards the High Atlas for a hot dusty and dry 15km jaunt. Bushes and trees were blooming, but not with flowers. They were decorated in sun faded pastel pink, blue and green plastic bags. A small mound of disposable nappies had been dumped at the side of a track. Plastic water bottles lay where they’d been dropped. I was shocked at the amount of litter, especially as I knew it would still be there in a hundred years. I was cheered by a couple of local cyclists as I made it up a steep hill.
We ate oranges under the shade of an argan tree. The acid stung my hacked dry lips and I applied lip balm.
Back at the tannery, I collected my gorgeous slim kindle cover and went shopping again.
Buying the food was easy. We pushed our bikes through the souk and tasted many dates and nuts. Dan was a bit enthusiastic and bought half a kilo of each. With a bit of haggling, he also bought a scarf.
But buying alcohol in a Muslim country was not so easy. We’d read that Alcool a brulee (an equivalent of methylated spirits) would be available. If you’re thinking we should have brought our own, it’s forbidden on flights. So, when we asked at the first small shop that stocked a few tins of paint, we expected to find what we were looking for. This was not to be, and the shopkeeper gave us a stern and disgusted look for asking for such an evil thing. I explained (in poor French) that this was not for drinking and then he softened. He pointed to another shop a bit further down the street, which was closed for the night.
Back in our room, Dan replaced his brake pads and almost lost a cleat from his cycling shoes.
We went for a hammam before dinner and I forgot my spare knickers. I decided that going commando was wiser than wearing wet knickers. I ate exactly the same as the previous night – brochettes with chips.