6th story: Tangier to Guilmim (26.11.04 - 31.12.04)

After a few days of getting used to everything we started out again on 26.11.
Our first destination was the most northwestern point of Africa: Cap Spartel. There was not much to see, though, only a lighthouse and a grotto. But getting there was impressive, because we passed through a rather rich neighbourhood with lots of villas and also one of the many King's palaces. After a 15km rather steep climb we were rewarded with a fabulous decend down to the Atlantic ocean. On our way we even encountered our first camels!
We followed the coast towards Rabat passing through Asilah, Larache and Kenitra. We mainly used either mainroads with a good shoulder or secondary roads without much traffic. These secondary roads had quite a few holes or were even covered with sand so that we were forced to push our bikes a few times. Some of these villages we passed by were really, really poor. We have never encountered such a poverty along the rest of our tour in Marocco again.
Every squaremeter of fertile land is being used for farming, most of the time produce being sold right at the side of the road.

Having arrived in the capital Rabat we discovered that the replacement tires from the Schwalbe tire company would take longer than anticipated. We took our time to discover Rabat: We were impressed by the 44m high Hassan Tower, a minaret dating back to the year 1195. The once attached mosque was distroyed during an earthquake in 1755, the same earthquake which distroyed Lisboa/Portugal. There are also some old roman ruins called "Chellah. A peaceful and quiet spot where one could forget all the hassle and noise around. The highlight was a colony of storchs, though. They seemed to like it here so much that they decided to stay instead of flying all the way to South Africa. We also enjoyed visiting the "Kasbah", the old fortification. Another highlight was our visit to the yearly charity bazaar of the diplomatique circle. This was quite an event: goods and food from all over the world! After five days in Rabat with lots of rain we had enough and used the first sunny day to cycle to Casablanca in order to continue waiting for the tires.

On our first night in Casablanca we met Steffen in the youth hostel. This was his last day after a nine month bicycle tour. We were quite happy to finally meet a long distance cyclist and kept on talking untill late at night while he was getting his stuff ready since he wanted to return back to Germany by bus the next day. We were lucky to be able to buy Steffen's front bicylelamp since Hendrik had stopped working quite some time ago. It just feels safer to use lights in Morocco – even during the day!

Casablanca feels more like a europeen town and nothing really reminds you of the film with Humphrey Bogart. There is also not much to see and we covered the touristic hightlights rather fast. The Hassan II Mosque is supposed to be the third highest religious building, but we didn't really like it so much (one could have used the 600 mio dollars for better things as well). But we really liked the Cathedrale du Sacre Cour, a cathedral with has been neglegted since quite some time and is a museum now. There was an interesting exhibition of local artists when we visited.

After another five days waiting we took the train to get back to Rabat to finally get our tires. We were so happy when they told us thet the parcel had indeed arrived. The customs inspector was checking it while we were asking ourselves how they had managed to squeeze four tires into such a small package. We finally discovered that they were about to give us the wrong parcel! Ups, we were nervous, what if they had already given someone else our tires? Once again an officer went to check and luckily came back with the right one. There was no duty to pay, just a small handling charge of 2,5 Dirham (about 10 cents).

We left the coast in order to get to Marrakech. This time we were forced to take the main road and really learned the rather adventurous way of moroccan driving: It's totally crazy, they overtake if it's possible or not. We were glad to arrive in Marrakech after three and a half days on the road without an accident. The highlight of Marrakech is the " Djemaa el-Fna" place. Every evening it is the meeting point for musicians, jugglers, storytellers and snakecharmers. You can also find lot's of food stalls around. Unfortunately it is really touristic, everyone just wants money, it's annoying. One good thing was the buffet at our hotel, the first time we were able to enjoy excellent vegetarian-moroccan food.
Leaving Marrakech we had to cross the High Atlas. It was a gentle climb up to a height of 800m followed by two steep passes, the first went up to 1200m, the second up to 1300m. It was quite a decend, but only to go up to nearly 1200m again. The scenery was awesome: snowcovered peaks with palmtrees in front.
The traffic was murderous, since there there are only three major roads to get from the north to the south of Morocco. They all have to cross over the mountains. Another cyclist had told us that one rod had already snow so that driving was difficult. That was probably one of the reasons while there was so much traffic on our road. Most of the time we had to camp out somewhere because there were simply no villages. We were lucky to actually be able to buy bread and water somewhere along the way. Unfortunately this camping among acadias led to three flat tires in three days plus a whole in our Therma-Rest mattress. These little thorns are meaner than everything else we have come across s far. Talking of flat tires, it's not bad at all: 10 during 7250km!!!!

In Agadir we visited the moroccan mother-in-law of Hendrik's fomer colleaque and our neighbour in Hamburg. Since we had qlreqdy met the year before in Hamburg it was a warm welcome. We were served delicious vegetarian-moroccan food and we were well cared for. During endless talks with the family we gained new imprssions and won a lot of insights. During their last visit our neighbours had taken some medicaments for Hendrik as well as our Lonely Planet for West Africa and our map which we took on board now. The new medicaments should cover the next five months.

Our christmas destination was Sidi Ifni, a former Spanish enclave at the Atlantic. On our way to Sidi Ifni we met Klaus and Michaela from Germany, who were on a vacational trip by bike as well. Klaus and Franziska had met in 2003 during the Eurobike Show in Friedrichshafen. What a coincidence! We lost track of them the first night but luckily met the next morning at a roadside teahouse. We cycled together the rest of the stretch to Tiznit and spent a very nice evening together.

On Christmas Eve we just made to Mirleft, a tiny vilage before Sidi Ifni. While it was raining outside we prepard our christmas dinner: pasta with tomato sauce.
We finally reached Sidi Ifni the following day. We saw a lot of locusts on our way, luckily they were already dead, but even the smell was dreadful. Looking back it was a good decision not to have cycled this stretch the day before, because the rain had flooded the road quite a bit. Before getting into Sidi Ifni we even had to cycle through a river which was flowing over the street right now.
We checked into the Hotel "Suerte Loca", a friendly family run hotel cum restaurant. Finally some real good food! The hotel was booked out and there were people from all over the world. We made friends with two French couples and played "Uno" until late at night. A few times there was even Live Music. Besides that there was not much to do in Sidi Ifni. It seems that time stands still ever since the Spanish left. Luckily the weather got better, after the rain came a quite heavy storm and finally sunshine!

We had a hard time leaving because this place was so wonderful and friendly, but the sahara was calling. We started on 30.12 in good spirit and really refreshed. On 31.12. we reached Guilmim which calls itself "gateway to the sahara". We spent New Year's Eve already in the sahara, camping out at 4C and a starlit sky. We even had some visitors: some jerboas!

Happy New Year!