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Sunday, December 5, 2010

The long road to wellville

In the last post I was sick in an empty rundown apartment in the middle of nowhere. Now it's the morning. I feel a bit better but not enough to cycle. At least the fever is gone. The next town is 20 km away. Not too far except that there's a big hill and I have dead weights for legs. We head out and on the way we meet two cyclists. One from Switzerland and one from Germany. Nice guys. They give us some help by giving me some tisane and a powerbar. They also ask if they can carry anything up the hill for me. We later meet back up with them at the one and only hotel in Ait Baha. The hotel is a bit expensive but we have no choice.

The town is non touristic. Or, put another way, we are the only tourists there. At the hotel reception, there are wee cubby holes with all the room keys. The one for our room is the only key missing. Outside, it's all men. Michèle is having a hard time with the condition of women here. So, it doesn't help that, at an internet place, packed with kids playing Grand Theft Auto, there is one kid running around with his avatar, beating up women. We try to make the best of it while I try to get better.
Michèle comments: In Ait Baha, feelings of homesickness were hitting me hard. Benoit was browsing through some pages on mental well-being in the Healthy Travel (Lonely Planet). This was right after I ran out of the internet place, not being able to take it anymore. "Here, read this," he said, showing me the section entitled Culture Shock and Travel Fatigue. It read, "Travel fatigue is bound to affect you after you've been on the road for many months. It's a combination of culture shock, homesickness and generally feeling fed up with the hassles and inconveniences of being on the road."
Yep, that about sums it up. Under the description of the stages and symptoms of culture shock, I was right there in stage two: "hostility as the novelty starts to wear off and the differences start to irritate: you feel critical of your host country, stereotyping local people; you may feel weepy, defensive, homesick, lonely and isolated, and perhaps you are worried about your physical health." The worldbiking.info site also hit the nail on the head in its description of touring fatigue:
You’re exhausted. You’ve been climbing hills, fighting headwinds and bravely forging on through pounding rain, scorching sun and blinding sandstorms. Maybe it’s only been a week, perhaps you’ve been on the road for months. But you’ve had it. Sliding on to the saddle to face another day on the ‘road to adventure’ sounds about as enticing as spending your next holiday crammed into a windowless cubicle hunched over a computer screen. You’ve come down with a case of Touring Fatigue. It happens to the most adventurous of us. We find ourselves fed up with gazing out over pretty Andean vistas. Pedaling into a jaw-droppingly beautiful sunset in the Sahara leaves us cold.

Three days later we pedal out of town, thinking I'm feeling better. It takes about 20 minutes of cycling to figure out that I'm not. I'll push on anyways. The ride takes us through some incredible scenery right out of a spaghetti western. The road sits at the top of the mountains rather than in the valley below. So, you get a constant nice view of the surroundings.

We pass several herds of goats. They are able to climb small trees to get to the sweet fruits above. Not sure what's in these fruits but goats are definitely intolerant to it. I counted one fart every 3 seconds. First I thought it was Michèle but it turns out she thought it was me.

We've been steadily climbing all day and we finally get some down hill. We coast all the way down to Ida Ougnidif where there's supposed to be a hotel. There is. It's perched on top of a hill, in an old village, and it's really expensive. Basically, the village is the hotel. No one lives there except hotel guests and staff.

Someone tells us there is a guest house not far down the road. We've done 60 km, I'm sick and I need to park my ass. No pun intended. We end up finding the guest house. It offers sleeping arrangements in a tea lounge. The place is quite groovy with mandarin trees where you can pick the fruit right off the branch.

When it's time for bed it is brought to our attention that there will be another person sleeping in the tea room. He snores, we didn't sleep.

The next day is much of the same. I feel that my energy levels are at 30%. It's only about 40 km to Tafraoute but there are three mountain passes. We'll have to take our time and do a lot of pushing up those hills. The landscape is getting more arid and you can really feel the open desert approaching.

The last hill conquered, we can finally enjoy the view and have some fun with the downhill. At the bottom of the hill, we get to Tafraoute. A town popular for its mountain biking and other various tourist attractions. Lots of Joe Cool backpackers on the Lonely Planet trail, French snowbirds in their caravans and us.

The first thing you feel in a new town is disorientation. You've heard of the cheap places to stay, but don't know where they are. Young men are calling you "my friend" when they should be calling you "my money". I'm sick and tired, both physically and mentally. So, we pick the first hotel we find. A basic room with a shared bathroom and very pricey for what it is. I head straight for bed. The mattress feels like it's been through 20 years of hard fucking. It is so uncomfortable that I ask the guy for a different room. It's not much better. Michèle comments: There was the lumpy mattress. Plus there was a screaming baby in the next room. It felt like a cruel joke. We were both so tired and Benoit feeling ill. We just wanted to rest. The baby screamed and screamed as if it were abandoned, but the parents were right there. Later that evening, the screams stopped. We ventured out into the town to find some dinner. We walked into a restaurant that the hotel manager recommended. The screams hit our ears again. We looked over to see the baby, red-faced from all the wailing, in its mother's lap. We walked out. No sympathy for anyone but ourselves.

The next morning we decide to set in motion Operation Get Better. The idea is to rent a place for as long as it takes to feel 100% again. So, it's hospital time for some serious meds. The place looks like a scene from Jacobs Ladder. Old, dirty and creepy. There are old wooden benches for you to wait. The wait is about one tenth of what you would wait in Montreal. About 45 minutes. We go in to see the doctor. That are no forms to fill out. No information entered in a database. Not even a bill. The consultation is free. Anyway, the doctor is very nice and she gives us a list of meds to get. You don't need a prescription in Morocco. Michèle comments: The hospital waiting room was an event in itself. We sat on the wooden benches, sharing them with a small mob of Berber women. They, swathed in plain black except for the gold sparkly trim and the Berber letter z emblem on the side. On their feet, colourful ornate slippers, some with tufts of feathers. In the streets, they hold their veils across their faces. In that hospital waiting room, the veils were dropped, the women smiling at us and laughing as if we were sharing a joke. One of them in particular was stunningly beautiful, and with gorgeous perfect teeth. I don't know why that was such a surprise. Some Berber men arrived, who started arguing with the doctors passing through the hallway. To our ears it sounded like an argument, loud voices and arms waving, but for all we know, they could have just been exchanging friendly hellos.

After the hospital, we get a stroke of luck and find exactly what we are looking for. It's a small rooftop apartment with a terrasse, a wee kitchen and satellite TV. All the ingredients are there for Operation Get Better.

To be continued...


  1. bon, j'aime mieux la fin du post que le debut ! je vous souhaite bonne chance pour l'operation GB !!!!!


  2. Seb! Merci, oui, l'Operation GB etait un succes.

  3. Hey guys!!! I hope you're feeling better. Your post is so interesting: I have been feeling these exact symptoms of travel fatigue for the past 2-3 years!!....and I'm only in England!! I also have a stomach bug right now!!??? So I'm right with you.
    Can I send you some maple syrup or something like that?

  4. Hello Caroline! Yes we are feeling better. Even the travel fatigue symptoms are disappearing. But the homesickness comes and goes. I laughed about the maple syrup - when I was a teenager in Switzerland, I missed the craziest things from Canada, at that time it was pancakes. Get better yourself!! Rest, fluids, more rest and even more rest.

  5. hey guys.

    sorry you are / were both not feeling to well hope you will be better soon. great to read the updates...


  6. C'est vraiment chouette de vous suivre. En esperant que tu ailles mieux bientot car faire du velo en montagne c'est dur mais le faire malade, c'est horrible ...

  7. Hi Benoit and Michelle,
    I've been reading with fascination your posts. This one really hits home with me too. I was only on the road for three weeks, but the homesickness got to me even in that time. It was particularly apparent on the days following an evening when I hadn't talked to anyone... Strange. I'd spend the day thinking about who to visit on the way home rather than enjoying the scenery. Still, I have no regrets about my trip and will do it again sometime. I suspect travelling with company slows the process though.
    With Operation Get Better, hold on until well after you think you feel 100% better, it'll be worth it in the long run. I should have done that with my knee (which was fine 2 days after I got home!). Best of luck wherever the road next takes you.
    Martin (from Skye)

  8. Hello Martin! How is our jellyfish expert doing? Good to hear that your knee is better now. Yes, you're right, when we are not feeling well, we should fight the urge to move on and just stay put and get better. We made the same mistake in Scotland... twice! On the Isle of North Uist, and where we met you on the Isle of Skye. I think we have learned our lesson. The homesickness though, does it ever really go away? I wonder.

  9. Hi Andre! Glad you are enjoying the updates. We are feeling better now, thanks.

  10. Salut le Toulousain! Qui es-tu? Cedric? Marc? ...? Whoever you are, merci pour ton message!