To all of you who sigh with envy, we would like to give you a reality check. This type of lifestyle is not a sustained euphoria that brings you constant joy. Whether it's the weather or the culture shock, we have been hit with dizzying highs and devastating lows. On top of it, we haven't done much travelling yet and only in countries where we can communicate easily. After only 203 days of travelling, there have been times where all I wanted was to be back at my desk, doing some coding and sipping my coffee. Michèle comments: The lows have been devastating. I have never felt my emotions so raw. Every decision, even a simple one like should we stop for a coffee, seems impossibly difficult. The disadvantage we face in a prolonged trip like this one is trying to prepare for the next step (country, language, visas, money, ...) while we are still adjusting to our current surroundings. We kind of knew that it would be difficult, but we hadn't anticipated it being THIS difficult. If you only knew how many times the thought of giving up has crossed our minds. Benoit is right: compared to a lot of cyclists and where they have travelled and what they have done, we haven't done much. We feel like world traveller weenies.
In the last post we had started Operation Get Better which is now in full swing. Tafraoute has lots to offer. A good place for getting well if you're sick. There is a nice bakery where, every morning, we get fresh pastries. This is the perfect time to catch up on writing, internet, and a potential exit plan for Morocco. More on that later. Michèle comments: In the little kitchen on our rooftop apartment, we can prepare our own food. At first, we kept it simple to plain rice, bread and salads. Then, we got more adventurous, even making our own tajine. Our stomachs will adjust. We have a new mantra, inspired by my sister when she travelled in Brazil: "Get used to it, 'cause I'm not going home."
I have to take a minute to criticize. The Moroccan flag is red with a greenish pentagram in the centre. However, having a look around, one would think it comes in various colours and is made of plastic. You can see it floating in the wind at almost every tree you pass. It's disgusting. Morocco has a problem with waste disposal and a bad habit of using plastic bags when shopping. We've even had merchants refuse to put our stuff in our reusable bag. It is really disappointing to get to an oasis, which from far away, looks like something from a fairy tale, but up close, looks like a garbage dump with murky water, old tires and all sorts of other junk the free world has to offer.
Michèle comments: We should have taken more photos of the garbage. The beige and reds of the desert landscape speckled with colour - plastic bags, yogurt cups, diapers, coke bottles. The dead dog in the dumpster. The beach covered with more plastic than pebbles.
Hicham, the guy renting us the apartment, is a really cool guy. He invites us over for dinner during Aïd el-Kebir(Fête de Mouton). During this holiday, a goat or sheep is slaughtered. At Hicham's place, the goat carcass is hanging in the kitchen. We go and sit in the living room and the first thing Hicham does is turn the TV on to a Mexican soap opera dubbed in Arabic. His mother brings in brochettes, tea and sweets. I ask what the brochettes are and Hicham tells me they're liver. I start to worry because I tend to dry heave in the face of offal, but much to my surprise, the brochettes are delicious. Besides, we've been protein deprived since we got here and, as the Flander kids would say: "Iron helps us play." Michèle comments: How did we not know about this holiday? Hicham told us that it is the second most important holiday after Ramadan. That morning, November 17, we went out for our morning walk to the bakery. The town, usually buzzing and bustling with activity, was dead. All the shop doors were locked. No-one in the streets. Maybe we should have gotten the hint recently from seeing so many sheep tied to car roof-racks and listening to their plaintive cries.
Back at our place, the evening ends with some tripe. More protein! It takes us a long time to digest all that meat but I'm convinced it played a big part into our recovery.
Our apartment opens up onto a shared terrasse. Occasionally, vacationers from apartments below come up to hang out. Some of them are rich Moroccans coming up for the weekend. They'll tell you all about their country, where to go and tell you that you are "welcome". Some are tourists who have nothing to say.
Feeling a little bit better, we hit some of the touristy spots around Tafraoute. This includes, of course, the painted rocks. Some European artist decided to hire some locals to paint a bunch of rocks out in the desert. He signed his name, drank some cheap wine and never came back.
We found the site totally uninteresting and we much prefer the original colour of the rocks.
Michèle comments: I thought I was feeling better, but after our short bike ride to check out those rocks, I realized that I was coming down with a cold. Adding insult to injury.
After 8 days of rest, it's time to go. Michèle still has a bit of a cold but we feel pretty good. Today's ride involves a big climb. I could have done without it. Fairly steep with a forgettable view, we are finding the climb difficult.
On the downhill we realized that the climb was well worth the effort. The road winds down into a gorge straight out of a Road Runner cartoon.
We eventually end up at the oasis of Ait Mansour. A real oasis. Surprisingly, it's fairly clean. The scenery is something out of a dream. Lush, date-laden palm trees and other vegetation create a dense forest in the middle of a desert back drop. The contrast hits us like a sunny day in Scotland.
The next day we veer off and say goodbye to the oasis and head back into the dry, arid landscapes. You occasionally see a lone palm tree indicating that water is not far. It's hilly, and despite our illness being over, our strength is not all there. It only takes 20 km to feel exhausted. We push on.
The road is not very touristy. Passing through a town, we get herds of kids asking for pens and money. They're being quite annoying and aggressive. One of them grabs something from one of Michèle's panniers. A bag of peanuts. The kid drops it on the ground and they all run away. Michèle is furious. Me? I'm just about ready to give them a boot in the ass. More on that later.
Michèle comments: Where does this behaviour come from? It is always from the young boys, around age 10 years, I would say, and it is always the same in even the smallest most remote village. Is it part of the curriculum of french class? Repeat after me: "Donnez-moi un stylo, monsieur." "Donnez-moi un dirham, madame." If that is the case, then these kids should all get an A+. I read somewhere that it is a game to them. Thomas, the Swiss German cyclist, told us that there was a similar "game" in his country to ask soldiers for chocolate.
Pissed off, annoyed and in a bad mood, we have to haul our sorry asses up a huge hill. Too steep and too tired, we have to push our bikes all the way up.
On the other side, we pitch the tent for our first night wild camping. We find a spot away from the road. When finally in bed, my ears tune into every sound, trying to identify every single one, and stressing when I can't. That, coupled with high winds shaking the tent, makes me glad to see the sunrise even though I barely slept. So much for wild camping and my adventurous spirit. I wonder if Club Med organizes cycling trips around the world. Michèle comments: Yes, certainly, the cycling itself is the easiest part of this trip. If the route was planned for you, and where you would sleep each night, and your food ready for you, and a guaranteed hot shower ... well, there would be nothing to it. Sore legs maybe, or a sunburn, but oh how insignificant a worry.
To be continued...