Sunday, June 19, 2016

Morocco Bike trip - part 2

June 19 - June 23

While in Meknes, I met a guy on the street who insisted on inviting me to dinner.  I politely took his phone number and he left.  I was staying with my bike traveling host (see previous post).  This guy came back and found the apartment building and insisted we come to his house for dinner.  So we went.  Unfortunately, I forgot my camera.  So I do not have pictures of a great evening.  

But...he and his wife told me I looked like a Turkish actor named Halit Ergenc, who plays Sultan Suleyman in a soap opera.  They took a video of me and about 20 pictures.  

Here are two pictures of him in the show, judge for yourself (recent photo of me later in this post): 

Also while in Meknes, I spotted a satellite campus of Trump University: 

Loaded up and ready to leave Meknes.  Traveling solo, I do not get into a lot of the pictures.  But I had my host in Meknes take this one: 

I. Meknes to Chefchaouen

I had to use a taxi to cover some of this distance due to time and mountains. 

Chefchaouen was one of the cities I was most looking forward to visiting in Morocco.  It is famous for having blue buildings.  Chefchaouen lived up to its billing visually - very beautiful.  However, the people and the atmosphere were very disappointing.  In addition to the blue buildings, Chefchaouen is known for handmade Berber products (rugs, blankets) and marijuana.  Evidently the hills around Chefchaouen are one of the larger marijuana producing regions in the world.  This coupled with the proximity to Europe, gives the town the feel of a Mexican resort town.  

Too many "touts" trying to sell me rugs, restaurants and marijuana.  Within 30 minutes of walking out of my hotel, I had been offered marijuana 5-6 times.  This is in addition to numerous overtures to "just come look in my shop." I could not even sit in the town square for one minute without being bothered.  Also, after 11 days in Morocco, I had my first unsettling moment:

Since the town caters to so many Europeans, there are restaurants open and people eating, despite the Ramadan fast.  Also, as I mentioned, there are locals begging me to enter their restaurant.  I had bought a bottle of water for the next day's bike ride.  I planned to leave early and no shops will be open.  Some local sees me walking with the bottle in my hand and comes across the street yelling at me for having water during Ramadan.   "Are you American?  You think you are bigger and better than everyone?  Don't you know what Ramadan is? Why do you have water?"  He was really pissed off. 

Part of me wanted to ask why his countrymen were trying to sell me weed and food at their restaurants.  But I used my best Arabic to tell him I respect Ramadan and I bought the water for later.  He calmed down a little and said thank you. But the whole thing was a little unnerving.  Not a good feeling being yelled at for being American in a Muslim country.  However, this has been the only such moment in 10 days in Morocco.  

Anyways, onto the scenery of the town: 

Chefchaouen call to prayer, I can't get enough of these calls to prayer:

II. Chefchaouen to Tetaoun 

If you look closely out your windows, you can see Spain!

Not much eventful happened on this portion of the trip.  I left Chefchaouen at 5 a.m. to beat the heat and the traffic.  I was aiming for Tetouan.  But in the back of my mind, I thought maybe I would make it all the way to Ceuta, which is Spanish territory.  The wind and the mountains had other ideas.  I still covered 45 miles.  

The wind was so strong, that even when I was going downhill, I had to pedal!  I tried to take a picture to show the wind, see the trees bending below:

Not much scenery on this stretch ....

From where I came and where I was heading.  There are many of these types of signs indicating where cities are all over Morocco.  Very easy to navigate.  

A little flora....

This was a really cool bridge, I am mad I did not get a better photo.  It was hard to see using my iPad against glare of the sun.  The lake in the background is man-made.  There was a big dam.  

Hotel room in Tetouan had this under glass on the desk.  I assume it is pointing to Mecca indicating which way to face when Muslims pray.

Many restaurants in Morocco tried to be overly fancy, with minimal offerings.  This one gave me a menu and the first 5 things I asked for, they said they did not have.  Ended up with this Tuna salad.  

... and this fancy tea set:

III. Tetouan, Morocco to Ceuta, Spain

As mentioned before, Ceuta is Spanish territory, set on "main land" Morocco.  I was looking forward to this ride as it took me down the coast of the Mediterranean Sea.  My first view of the water:

Am I in Portland?  Marked bike lanes for the last 25-30 miles of my ride.  So nice after a week on the shoulder of Moroccan roads. 

Stopping for a break along the water. 

A close up map of Ceuta. 

This is a stock photo of the Ceuta border crossing.  I wanted to take a picture, but there were "no photo" signs.  It was chaotic - Moroccans who live in the north of Morocco are free to enter and exit Ceuta.  Many do for work and to buy things to resell in Morocco.  The crossing was a mass of humanity.  But being on a bike I just weaved to the front of the line and I was through customs and into Spain in under 5 minutes. 

My first view of Ceuta, Spain. I immediately saw people jogging with their shirt off, drinking beer, etc... Quite a difference from a few feet away in Morocco. 

IV.  Ceuta, Spain to Algeciras, Spain (via ferry)

My ferry to main-land Spain coming in to dock. Some people who traveled Morocco by motorcycle are in the shot. 

Above motorcycle people took a photo of me.  Last day wearing man-capris (pants were required in Morocco).  

The underbirth of the ferry.  Two other people traveling by bicycle also boarded.  They are going Morocco to England.  They were not talkative...maybe they had a long day. One of their bikes is on the left, mine on the right.  

My ferry docked at Algeciras, Spain.  One great part of traveling by bike is that you often encounter the unexpected.  Algeciras was having a huge street festival.  Poster for the festival:

Young kids gathering a few blocks from the festival....probably too cool to go where the adults are. 

First post-Morocco beer. 

Pictures of the festival.  I did not do a good job of capturing the crowds.  They had many tents set up as bars.  People waited in line to get into these tents.  I estimate 30,000 people in the center of town.   Loud music, liquor, etc...

Ceremoniously tossing my map of Morocco...

Funny hotel sign.  Do I really need to ask reception to live?

The next update will be from Northern Spain where I meet up with life partner Julie, sister Marlene and her life partner Brian.  

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Morocco Bike trip - part 1

I will try to let my pictures do the talking.  My style of photography is to use the iPad and not worry about quality.  Looking more for interesting things than award winning photos.  In Morocco I did not take too many pictures for three reasons:

1) I did not want to appear rude.
2) I was conscious that my bike, iPad and camera are worth a lot of money and at times it is not a good idea to draw attention to one's self. 
3) When traveling by bike, I sometimes saw interesting things, but was too lazy to stop the bike and dig out my iPad.  

Saturday June 11: 

Landed in Marrakech, Morocco from Chicago.  My bike made it in one piece.  It was 2 p.m. by the time I got to my Riad (think Bed and Breakfast).  Spent the afternoon buying some food and water, as well as assembling my bike.  

Some photos from the day:

Jumbo vending machines in Madrid airport.  Items to vend include drones and GoPros.  

mini drones:

The courtyard of my "Riad" in Marrakech:

Tempting, but I didn't ride it. 

Riad owner, Dominique, has lots of animals in the courtyard: turtle, cats, birds, etc...

Doors to my room (from inside). 

Rooftop terrace view. Reminds me of a Jason Bourne or James Bond movie where there is a chase scene hopping across rooftops.  

Bike assembly time:

All done!

Sunday June 12 - Saturday June 18. 

Below is a breakdown of the route I took.  I tried to bike the entire thing, but heat and hills disagreed with that idea.  Additionally, it is Ramadan in Morocco, so the people fast during daylight.  As a result, there are no shops/restaurant open.  Depending where you are, it is acceptable for an American to eat or drink water, but it is generally considered disrespectful.  So I hitched some rides along the way.  

I. Marrakech to Tanant 

First day cycling out of Marrakech was very tough.  The weather was around 100-105 Fahrenheit.  It was largely uphill.  I had to swallow my pride and put my bike on the top of a taxi to finish the day.  Luckily, most taxis have roof racks.  

II. Tanant to Ouzoud

Ouzoud is home to some amazing waterfalls. Also home to a $10 hotel room.  

Giant hotel being built over looking water falls.  Hope this place does not turn into Niagara Falls.  

When I got to Ouzoud, I met an amazing guy named Mohamed.  He is a local tour guide.  He showed me around Ouzoud and gave me a lot of history of the place.  He is extremely intelligent, he speaks 5 languages.  He is also in amazing physical condition, I could not keep up with him hiking (and he was wearing flip flops and fasting).   

To date, the best experience I have had in Morocco is being invited to Mohamed's house to "break fast" (Iftar) with his family.  Below is his brother and mother.  

Streets of Ouzoud.

The "lobby" of aforementioned $10 hotel:

The flag is a Berber flag.  The Berber are the people of the Atlas Mountains in Morocco.  

Long distance shot of the water falls.  This is the "dry" season.  I am told there is much more water in the rainy season (obviously).  

Mohamed took me on a hike to a village near Ouzoud.  He explained it to me but I did not quite understand everything.  But from what I understood, the village was settled by sub-Saharan Africans some time ago.  It is a mix of darker skinned Africans from Sub-Saharan Africa.  

The village is below.  Evidently Tom Cruise was here this year to film Mission Impossible.  I can't imagine the largesse of Hollywood descending on this village.  

The village leader/elder/mayor lives in the "White House."

Reflective Mohamed....waiting for me to catch my breath and continue on.  

III.  Ouzoud to Bin El Ouidaine (blue route)

My original plan had me leaving from Tanant and visiting Ouzoud, Bin El Oudaine and another place all in one day.  Due to the hills, heat and beauty of the places and I took 3 days to make my way through.  

Bin El Ouidaine is a lake up in the mountains.  It is one of the prettiest places I have ever been.  There is not a lot to do.  There are only two hotels and no town to speak of.  Due to Ramadan, I was the only guest in my hotel.  A little creepy and a little amazing.  

Notice no development on the lake. 

This swim felt great after days in the heat biking.  

Some Moroccans came with jet skis.  They drive their cars right up to the lake.  I wonder where the hell you buy a jet ski in the middle of Morocco???

Lunch.  Due to Ramadan I usually had to buy something for lunch the night before and eat it in secret the next day.  Hazelnut Nutella is not good, I thought I bought regular Nutella.  

Hallway of hotel at Bin El Ouidaine.  

Stuff I decided to throw out to save weight and room.  Despite trying to pack "light," I have taken too much stuff.  Khaki shorts, Evanston High School t-shirt (from student teaching assignment), towel, notebook, paper maps.  What was I thinking? I don't really need any of it.  

Some sort of tourism certificate at front desk....proudly displayed from 2013-2014.  

IV.  Bin El Ouidaine to Azrou

This was originally intended to be a 4 day bike ride.  But due to my slow start and my desire to spend more time in interesting places (as opposed to desolate roads), I biked and taxied (mostly) this in one day. 

How to climb a mountain on a bike:

Not sure what this means...

Loner donkey in middle of nowhere...

$20 hotel room in Azrou.  Very clean.  Shared shower in hall.  No other guests.  I enjoyed my night with the towel swans.  

Backside of some houses in Azrou.

The "Rock of Azrou." I know it is called that, but no one can give me the back story. 

Street signs in Azrou.  Everywhere I have been there is a lot of signage in English and Arabic indicating which directions the cities are.  There are no street signs with street names or numbers, but these arrow signs make it pretty easy to navigate the country.  I am heading to Meknes tomorrow....

Video of call to prayer in Azrou. This emanates from the mosque in each town. (I can't embed a video on my iPad, will embed later.  In meantime, here is link:) 

Woman weaving...

Being a large white tourist in Morocco, some interesting things happen.  Namely, if I stand still for 5 minutes, someone will come and talk to me and offer me something.  I have been given food, coffee, tea, water and an orange.  Almost every day one or more people have invited me in to have "Iftar" (night time Ramadan meal) with their family.  

Anyways, while walking around Azrou, a Lebanese guy named Haytham stopped to talk to me.  He is an engineer/architect (sorry Haytham I forgot which one) working in the area. Within 5 minutes he offered to have me stay at his apartment.  I had already gotten a hotel (with towel swans), so I declined.  But I did take his offer to show me around the area by car.  

He took me to the nearby city of Ifran where he lives and works.  It is known as the Swiss city of Morocco.  It does not "look like" Morocco.  They have large cedar trees...

In the cedar forest, you can meet and feed monkeys.  This is not like an organized American petting zoo.  This is just walk into the forest and throw some peanuts and all these monkeys come running.  

Haytham on the right and a local "guide."

Haytham and I simultaneously feeding....

Looking at Azrou from Ifran.  Very green!

Very Swiss...

Haytham's apartment.  Notice I am wearing a sweatshirt, much cooler up in the Swiss village than my first few days outside of Marrakech.  

Carved lion in Ifran.  Haytham told me that Ifran used to be a prison (along time ago).  Allegedly, the lion was carved by prisoners.  

Ifran gets snow in the winter and has some ski hills!  Who knew there was skiing in Morocco!!  You can see one ahead.  

V. Azrou to Ifran to Meknes:

My plan was to bike from Azrou to Meknes.  Haytham told me the bike ride from Ifran was more beautiful and much easier (downhill).  Continuing his amazing kindness, he dropped me at my hotel after our driving tour and offered to pick me up in the morning.  He would drive me up hill to Ifran and drop me off at the high point, so I could cruise 40 miles downhill to Meknes.  

Selfie with Haytham as he drops me off.  

Lone scorpion on rode to Meknes...

This sign was in a small town called El Hajeeb (I think).  I kept seeing these large storks (I think) perched above houses and towers.  Also, the sign is interesting...not sure what language the characters are in (not Arabic).  (update - discovered this is the Berber language)

Stopping for a secret lunch.  Sebta is the Spanish colony I am aiming for in a week.  Here the sign indicates 316 km to get there.  This is what the highway road markers look like...low concrete structures on the side of the road.  

Coke and McDonalds everywhere...

I had a French host, Anne, lined up in Meknes.  She is part of a community that hosts people traveling by bike.  Some views of Meknes from the top of her apartment building.  It is a bigger city than I thought, about 1 million people.