1/30/2012 into Midelt


“Miles from nowhere,

think I’ll take my time,

to reach there.”

Cat Stevens.

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The morning is so cold I need to wear everything. My water bottles become slushys.

Yet people are living traditional lives throughout these mountains.

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I climb to 7400 feet, sucking in all the thin air I can, loving the ascent, the views, the wildness, the stark beauty; this is what I cycle for, this is what life was meant for.

And then, there is the descent.

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I coast for miles, pedaling backwards in a futile attempt to stop shivering.

I end up on a mile high desert plateau. Large geologies arise and vanish as my small wheels spin.

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The road intrudes on timeless mud brick villages.

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Homes arise from the earth and crumble back into it.

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He looks cool in my sunglasses, but I doubt he has bathed in months.

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Miles from nowhere,

think I’ll take my time…

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to reach there.

Midelt, a more modern city.
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City kids.

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What a great, great ride today. How good life can be.

01/29/2012. Turnaround


Today is going to be a push day. It is 90 km up the Greater Atlas mountains to get to the next town with a hotel, Midelt. However, I get 17km out and start cussing, realizing that I had left my passport at the hotel. Josed had taken it when I checked in, but not returned it, I had forgotten to ask.

By the time I ride back to the hotel, it is 11:00. With much inner debate, I decide to stay put. It’s just too late and too far and I don’t want to be on the road at dusk and be tired.

I decide to plan where I want to go after Morocco. I don’t have any plans yet, except that I want to be out of western europe. That involves a plane flight. I look at Google Maps for hours, wondering “where do I want to go?” Then I think “Why not fly home for awhile?”

For traveling has become routine. Being stationary will be fresh. How unfamiliar to wake up in the same bed! How freeing to have getting fed and getting shelter become background instead of foreground! How comforting to spend time with someone I trust and have a history with! How luxurious to have a choice of clothes!

Wow, what a wonderful experience that will be! How did I ever not see it fully?

So I book a plane fare from Casablanca to Florida on March 5th, about 35 days from now. I will have traveled for 5 months.

Is the trip over? No, I’m just living richly. I’m going to plan the next leg of the journey from home, and continue when Traveling becomes more compelling than Stationaryism.

There must be geothermal activity up here because this creek had algae mats and was steamish.

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Testing the creek for frozenness. Probably the wrong way to do it.

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The frosted trees are unearthly.

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Tomorrow I start again for Midelt.

01/28/2012 Into the Snow


The morning dawns clear. The forcast has changed, no snow predicted. So my plans change, albeit reluctantly. I am so comfortable with the heat on and I know where to eat.

It is quite cold, just a few degrees above freezing. I am thankful for my socks, it’s too cold for just the sandals. Just a few miles out of town I run into a traffic jam. I scoot past the long line of cars and busses and find a wrecked car, cops, ambulance. I sneak around the mess and find out why it wrecked, ice on the road. Griboulli doesn’t like ice on the road, and I must proceed very cautiously. I fall in with a long line of vehicles moving at a very reasonable bicycle speed and cruise along, just one of the gang. We pass another car slammed into the side, and a truck upside down off an embankment.

The fourth wreck.

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Things warm up, the road ice melts, and the scenery is magnificent.

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I make a wrong turn and go to Switzerland.

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There are cedar forests.

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Resting after a climb. We got up to 6,400 feet today.

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But then it leveled out. I am in a high plateau in the middle of the Atlas mountains.

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Lots of Moroccans were out playing in the snow. He looks good in my sunglasses.

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Pretty pretty snow.

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The clouds cast beautiful shadows on the snow.

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Farm truck at the ready.

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Descending a little with the Greater Atlas mountains in the background.

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Lovely and curious sights.

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Lots of sheep with little to nibble. There are scattered earthen houses that are half buried.

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I end up in Timahdite. It is a working town with two hotels. The first one wants 200DH, and it is a dump. The water doesn’t even run and the beds aren’t made. I offer 80DH and am turned down, he is firm. I ride to the other hotel, 2KM out of town. There I find Joeld and his wife and a cozy bunk for 100dh in their home. I am sitting by the wood stove in their dining room well fed on wife’s cooking and very content. They are close, watching Bollywood soaps and cracking sunflower seeds.

It will get well below freezing tonight.

01/27/2012 Reflections


I leave Fes and start cycling up the Atlas mountains. I get soaked and shivering cold and decide to stop after 45km at 4500 feet. I stay at the cheapest hotel in town which has no heat, and my breath is frosting all night. My wet clothes do not dry out, and I do not relish the idea of putting on wet clothes and cycling into the 35 degree rain. There’s the risk of hypothermia up here, the lows are below freezing, the highs are in the low 40’s.

It’s raining today, snow is predicted for tomorrow, then there’s a 7 day stretch of sun, enough time to make it to the Sahara. I decide to be patient, and move into a luxury ($26 a night) hotel with heat to sit out the rain and snow. Ahh, very pleasant.

This gives me a chance to reflect on what wisdom I have learned or solidified on this adventure, and at the risk of wearing out my readers patience have endeavored to write it out, for my benefit primarily, but also hoping that there might be some tidings that my readers have not yet considered and might value.

(I’ve been reading Dickens, can you tell?)

Here goes:

The constant application of drive makes one brittle. Acceptance, yielding. conforming and spontaneity are equally powerful. Bend and you won’t break.

Know when to yield and know when to hold fast. See interruptions and changes as alive alternate choices and take a moment and reconsider. Keep your Yes and keep your No.

The truth is never simple. The real truth about people, life, love, happiness, is loaded with contradictions. The more contradictions you can embrace and hold, the closer you will be to truth. Accept contradictions, they bring understanding.

Too much speed and you rip the fabric of relationships and create distance and ill-will. Take a moment till the human-you connects with the human-them. From there move on with your agenda. Connect with others first.

There is a right speed to do things. Too fast and you rip and destroy, live shallowly and miss the moment. Too slowly and you lack courage and resolve, goals and drive. Live at the richest pace.

Cultivate inner wealth. You can’t lose it, it can’t be stolen, and it’s completely portable! Symptoms include flexibility, tolerance, an open heart, enthusiasm, presence, an optimistic attitude, a sense of humor, spontaneity, and curiosity. Cultivate inner wealth.

Before leaving Fes I met Qi (pronounced Chi) and Eve, and enjoyed several great conversations with them. I want to be as good natured and worldly as Qi when I grow up. He’s my hero.

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Just looked out the window and it’s snowing! Snow is, like, building up on things! Wow, so beautiful, such a soft falling. So glad I stayed put!

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01/25/2012


I take a farewell walk in the medina. I get lost and find my way out! But deep inside the medina an eighteen year old boy touts me up and won’t go away, telling me I should come to his house for a “Berber massage.” I firmly and politely decline but he grabs my arm and says “Cmon, don’t be panaroid.” (paranoid).

It’s time to get aggressive. I whip my camera out of my pocket and hold it right in his face and pretend to take his picture. He panics, throws his hands in front of his face and sprints away saying “I don’t like pictures.” “Hmmph”, I say to myself, “talk about paranoid!”

Well now, the Tout Problem is solved and I do a happy little victory dance! I notice shopkeepers grinning broadly at the whole scene. I wave shyly and they wave enthusiastically back. Shawn 1, tout 0.

Tonight at dinner I chose a tiny stall and am eating a tiny chicken dinner and feeding tiny scraps to the tiny cats when in walks- a tiny chicken! She walks right up to my table and pecks around it, so I give her some bread, which she eats then struts out. I’ve never seen a chicken beg! The restaurant owner, standing guard over his kettle of chicken, never notices her. Talk about living on the edge…

I leave tomorrow with sadness. The medina is like a book you can’t put down, a long movie that you have to tear yourself away from, your favorite soap opera; familiar and dramatic. But the Atlas mountains and the Sahara desert are tugging on my shoestrings and it’s time to go. Sad partings are to be thankful for!

Lionheart, the brave little chicken.

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Residential street. It keeps getting narrower. About a dozen houses face this street.

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A dentist advertising his trade.

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This is a traditional door within a door. The large door is for men, the smaller for women and children. Women and children knock with the lower knocker, which makes a different sound than the upper, and so the inhabitants know to send a woman or child to open the door. Vise/Versa. This door is at least one hundred years old.

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This corner of the medina caters to the wedding industry. The chairs are rented and the bride carried.

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This is a door to a caravansary. They were ancient hotels for camel caravans plying the silk route. Usually they were a day’s ride apart, but in Morocco there are several, this one catering to the upscale camel driver.

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Donkeys carrying in goods.

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A quiet moment.

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Donkey eavesdropping.

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Mint merchant.

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The tannery. Here animal skins including camel are first bleached in that set of vats to the upper left which contain pigeon shit and lime, then died various colors. You get a sprig of mint to hold to your nose but it isn’t bad in winter.

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The tannery.

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The tannery.

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The tannery.

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The tannery.

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Hides being delivered.

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Overlooking part of the medina.

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1/23/2012/ Fes


FES

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I am thrilled to be here. After making it through the “my hotel is better and cheaper than your hotel” touts I went to my planned hotel, the Cascade, which is right inside the Blue Gate. It is noisy here, but it is Moroccan medina noise. A ten year old boy spots me riding in and offers to guide me to my hotel. He is cute and I say “sure.” He skips along in front of me for 500 feet and points out my hotel to me!

I look for a tip but only have a 20DH bill. (a very large tip) When he sees my open wallet and a 100DH bill, he insists his fee is 100DH! (My hotel costs 80DH) I nearly split my side laughing at his audacity. He takes the 20 and skips off, only to reappear a few minutes later to gawk at me and the bike.

When you know what to expect you really can enjoy this place. Only one tout makes me mad, my bad. After I repeatedly insist he leave me alone he tells me I need to “open my heart.” I tell him he needs to be considerate, but I am angry. Score, Tout 1, Shawn 0.. I took it personally and not as a game, and am engaged and so he continues. I realize my mistake and totally ignore him. He soon leaves.

I really like it here. There is so much life, bustle, food, community. There are so many instances of kindness and trust and goodwill that I could write pages. I only offer the bad examples to help others learn from my mistakes.

The Blue Gate

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The Blue Gate

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View from the terrace of my hotel.

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View from the terrace of my hotel.

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The big plaza.

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The big plaza.

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Ummm, a hearse?

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You must always be aware that the other shoe may fall.

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01/22/2012 Volubilis, a Roman city in Morocco.


I have my route laid out over the Atlas mountains thanks to a french archeologist I had breakfast with this morning and a bus tour guide I met during lunch. This may seem late in the game to some but I could make a case that there is efficiency in muddling along like this.

I have the uncomfortable feeling of being rich here. The bus driver told me that only the top 5% of wage earners earn close to a modest european income of 1200E a month. I sit at the best restaurant I can find in Meknes, my dinner comes to 50DH, $6.00 I am aware that people are watching me eat as they pass outside. My waiter is good and I tip 20DH, or about $2.50. It is a hugh tip to him and he is grinning from ear to ear and thanking me all the way out the door. I am acutely aware of how much more I have than those around me. But right now I want my money to buy me insulation from the noise and grit and hussle of the street.

Volubilis was the end of the Roman road, the farthest flung city, because having conquered what became France and Spain, the Romans could never hold the Atlas mountain ranges to the south. The soil is very fertile, the city exported olives and wheat and lions to Rome. These are the remains of 2nd and 3rd century AD buildings.

Volubilis

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1/21/2012


Today was 105 Km of fun. I must have hand slapped 50 kids and greeted hundreds of people- from a shouted “Hello’ to a kid in a field, to a more dignified Bonjour and a nod to the distinguished gentlemen type. There are so many people I was busy all day!

I start the day by acting like a native. I need breakfast and walk into a busy cafe. I see that people are eating bread and olives and see plates of these on the counter. I grab them and go sit down. Soon a waiter unasked brings me a shot glass of coffee and a larger glass of hot milk. (I am the only one with milk.) Then he brings me a plastic soda pop bottle that has been filled with olive oil. The oil is so pulpy it looks almost like pea soup. The bread sops up the olive oil nicely and I am eventually full. They charge me 10 DH (about $1.25) for two loaves of bread, the olives, and the coffee. See, I’m getting it!

Most people are very friendly in rural areas. But the minute I get to a touristed place, the vibe changes dramatically. I pity those people who travel by bus from tourist town to tourist town. What a different impression they must get of Morocco than I.

Hand slapping is so much fun. I see the kids running from the fields. They line up by the road to gawk. I stick out my right hand as I get closer, and they get it and stick out theirs. SLAP! A good hard smack is exciting. I follow it with an exaggerated thumbs up as I ride away. The kids laugh and run through the fields with excitement. It is especially transforming when they have moped up to beg.

My tail only twitched a couple of times, once when a young man gave me the finger, once when a group of teenagers playing football yelled things and shook their fists at me which I took to mean “Infidel go home.” And this:

Picture a farmer working with a wooden plow and two donkeys behind a mud walled house with a straw thatched roof. A group of raggedy prepubescent kids are hanging out in front of the house on scraggily donkeys glaring at me. The scene could be medieval. I cheerfully yell “Bonjour” and the kids begin laughing nastily at me.

I mean, I’m 50 something, have an education and a fairly large world view and am doing something cool. If I’m to be judged I’d like more qualified people! Then the absurdity of everything hits me, and I begin laughing, harder and harder. I’ll never forget that scene.

The countryside is gently rolling here now that I am through the Riff mountain range.

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Next, the Atlas mountains! (not to scale)

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In my new spirit of fun I dive into a ranch when I see these guys harvesting olives. Yes, they’re standing on an olive mound.

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Shawn and the olive harvesters!

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The olive groves have carpets of flowers.

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I am tired. I pull into the first place I see to spend the night. It is a private family home that rents out rooms. I can see the ruins from my patio.

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01/20/2012 100 days of cycling


January 20, 2012. My GPS doesn’t have a map to look at, so I look at the date all day. January 20, 2012. I’ve been cycling for 100 days today. It feels like I should say something more here, but I can’t wrap it up neatly.

January 20, 2012. I am someplace different. I can tell because I am viewed differently. The kids and I wave energetically and shout Salam, Hello, Hola and Bon Jour at each other as I pedal past. Every third car beeps and waves. I wave to every hombre that I pass, and if I forget, they wave at me. Even the women respond to Bon Jour.

January 20, 2012. People are herding goats, plowing with horse drawn equipment, chickens run in the muck, dogs don’t bark, tethered donkeys nip the grass with their tote baskets on, the air is a mix of woodsmoke, barnyard, and diesal, and everywhere is the garb of Muslimhood.

January 20, 2012. The road is bestanded with home enterprise. Clay pots, groves of olives in 5 gallon jugs, tangerines, woven clothing, oilve oil. I catch glimpses into courtyards of olives being mushed. A boy tries to get me to stop at his familys tiny plastic and branch stand by offering mint tea that he is sipping. His little sister sits beside him happily swinging her legs. So many children herding goats, do they go to school?

January 20, 2012. 100 days of traveling. Last look at Chefchaouen.

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En route to Ouezzane.

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January 20, 2012. It’s me.

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Ouezzane is not a tourist magnet.

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You know I like donkeys.

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My $9.63 hotel room. It is not ensuite, but I don’t care. It seems to be run by two Muslim women and is spotlessly clean and everything works. There is even a rooftop terrace to send this journal into cyberspace from.

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January 20, 2012. 100 days… Oh My God, has it been that long already?

01/19/2012 in Chefchaouen


Chefchaouen is one of the prettiest small towns I’ve ever had the pleasure of spending time in. I sit in a small square and gaze at the sunlight splattered blue walls, listen to the murmurs of Arabic as pointed hooded men pass and well bundled older women pass and younger women pass their heels clopping on the cobblestones. An old woman passes carrying two bundles of live chickens contained in plastic bags and a braid of onions. The wind whisks down off the mountain, and all the merchandise in the square comes to life. Two skinny young men in black leather jackets and droopy jeans balance platters of aromatic baked goods past me. I spot a cat watching me from a shadowy hangout. He twitches his tail in annoyance over being discovered. “Hello friend” I hear, and without thinking I glance over. “So you are American!” he exclaims, “I have a wife in Chicago.” I compliment him on his astuteness, twitch my tail in annoyance and move on.

Arrhythmia slows me down today. I had three mint teas yesterday, and they are loaded with sugar. Boy were they good though. Today I take my mint tea “sans sucre”.

I now have a 3G USB stick for my laptop so I can upload my posts without wifi. It costs $17 for one month, a good deal. I go to Marco Telecom, and get a data card for my iPhone as well, another $17 for a month. Now I can check email, but most importantly, look at google maps on the fly. Two frustrations abated.

I wander the market, buying a handful of figs here, a cup of peanuts there, two cookies, a pastry, a half cup of dates, four oranges, a glass of orange juice, a package of crackers, three bananas. I’m practicing.

Dinner is a satisfying flavorful chicken vegetable cous/cous at the same place I ate last night. The black and white cat spots me and hops on my lap. The 4 year old owners son spots the cat and hops up on the bench besides me. I show him how to pet cat ears. He speaks Arabic rapidly and expressively and I agree in English. He pauses quizzically knowing something is different but builds up speed again and soon we are chatting comfortably about who knows what. He is adorably bundled in a fluffy nylon jacket and topped with a colorful beanie.

I feel comfortable here now.

Layers of color and light.

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Chefchaouen from across the river.

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The many cats go about their business.

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Mom’s pride and joy.

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Sugar cones.

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New shoes.

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Everything feels a little off kilter.

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The main square where I enjoy dinners.

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