Leaving Fez was as easy physically as it was mentally. I went out the city gate, turned left and cycled straight for over 200km to arrive to Rabat (on the N6). It was long, straight and pretty boring to be honest, though reasonably flat, well surfaced and safe. It did get a little hairy at some points with the traffic overtaking – I say overtaking, they are just driving on the road as normal, I’m the one cycling in the gutter (or the space at the side), cycling on the left side of the white line would be suicidal.
All the regular sights of Morocco still continue…dry, barren land, garbage at the side of the road (though fairly common in Europe too) and sick animals tied up in the boiling sun. Saying that, the road seems to be through some of the wealthier areas of Morocco with larger houses, cleaner streets and less visible poverty. I even saw a public bin for the first time.
The following day I surprisingly had my jumper on in the morning as the temperature dropped as I approached the coast. I also had my first supermarket experience in Morocco: a Carrefour (French supermarket) at the edge of the town Khemisset. Supermarkets are quite the rarity in Morocco so I thought I would go in for a look. Despite it being huge, it was deserted inside but well stocked. I think it’s worth going into a supermarket in Morocco just to find out the real prices of things; that way you won’t get ripped off in the usual small shops and markets. It was pretty cheap.
I arrived to Rabat a couple of hours later and was pretty surprised to find a modern tram and cycle network around the city. Am I in Rotterdam? Well, more of a post-apocalyptic Netherlands than anything. There was even an SUV parked in the cycle lane for that genuine European feel.
Rabat is quite small and easy to navigate, and the streets in the evening smelt of lovely fried fish. I’ll miss easily winding through the traffic with the other cyclists around the outside of the medina, dodging the swerving taxis, scooters and those people that just walk across the road really slowly, without looking and somehow don’t get hit. It was nice seeing the sun set on the Atlantic Ocean, and I was joined by many who wait for it to disappear so they can break their fast (fasting in Rabat is a doddle compared to Fez, it’s 10 degrees cooler).
So I also went to get some dinner. After cycling over 100km I was pretty hungry. I found a restaurant and walked in and was guided up the stairs. I was the only white person there, but that’s not so unusual. What was unusual was that everyone was eating eggs, croissants, crepes and orange juice – typical breakfast food – at 7.30pm. Though this is normal here during Ramadan. I sat down and something was muttered in French to me by the waiter. I said “we” not really knowing what I was agreeing to, and then the piles of breakfast food came my way (I pretended I hadn’t eaten all day…I did look hungry). Before I could even finish my mountain of breakfast food, I was brought soup, BBQ beef and chicken, rice and boiled veg. I had so much food in front of me and it was all getting cold at the same time. So I ate the beef and chicken and then had my breakfast for dessert. It was the weirdest meal I’ve had.
The next day I managed to get a host through Couchsurfing in a little town south of the city, which was a great experience. I met my first non-Muslim Moroccan, which may or may not be a rare thing, but was rather shocking to me. Everyone who has renounced Islam risks at least severe social consequences. We sat in his dark room with the blinds closed during the day so he could smoke (with them open he risks being caught breaking fast: a heavy 6 months in jail – which is like 10 years in a European jail). He told me that only 10 people in his life new he wasn’t Muslim. Talking to him I realised the pressure and suppression of the people in Morocco that wasn’t immediately apparent to me: the people here are not free. They are not free to choose if they want to believe in Islam or not, they are forced from a very young age to read the Koran and are taught everything about it in school. And leaving to another religion or atheism carries severe ramifications. Though he did remind me that disliking the king or the Moroccan occupation of the disputed Western Sahara territory is far worse (albeit all are unthinkable). Indeed, it’s illegal to own a map here showing a border between Western Sahara and Morocco.
My last days in Morocco saw me cycling up the coast from Rabat to Larache (note to cyclists: don’t take the coastal road, it’s dangerous and dreary) and Tangier in the north where I caught the ferry back to Spain. Though I was still a little sick from whatever happened in Fez, so movement was slow. I was sick three times during the night near Larache, despite not eating anything the previously due to lack of appetite. I feel that Ramadan is partly responsible for my poor diet as it’s hard to find real, good food during the day instead of wafer bars and stale bread. I became extremely dehydrated as I couldn’t keep any water down and became trapped in my tent in a forest for a while. I had no energy at all. At 7am a farmer and his kid came by asking what I was doing and politely asked me to move on…so I had to pack up. These hours were extremely difficult. I was breathing so fast, panting even, and hardly moving. I felt like I was dying as I pushed my bicycle across the field. I found shelter under a tree for a few hours while I sweated out and tried to keep some water down. Eventually I made it to a hotel by rolling very slowly along on my bicycle. I stayed there for a day to recover watching terrible TV (50% of the channels were religious, the other 50% sales) and had another breakfast for dinner.
On my final day I cycled 90km fuelled only by a quarter of a plain, stale piece of baguette. I have no idea how my body managed it, especially in the heat, but I did it. Tangier seemed like an interesting place…sort of a midway point between Morocco and Europe, with tall glass buildings, a KFC and McDonald’s. I wonder if the wealth of this city is brought by the close connections to Europe and the tourism from across the water.
I took the FRS ferry across for 40 Euros with the bike. It leaves every 2 hours and you don’t need to book. It was less than an hour to get across, but not a smooth crossing at all. Luckily I didn’t have much to puke up.
I’ll miss Morocco. 37 days, good friends, good people, very cheap, always sunny. But on the contrary, laced with problems from harassment, poor woman’s rights, poverty, garbage and awful treatment of animals. In spite of everything I’m glad I came and I’ve learnt a lot. But I was relieved to be back on Spanish soil and drinking a beer for the first time in a month!