02/15/2012 to Skoura


I didn’t take any pictures today.

I leave the Dades Gorge area and Wojtek this morning. He wants to spend a few days relaxing there, I want to move on.

The cycling is fast and flat through mud villages and open desert for the first 50km or so, then the wind shifts and I fight a headwind for the last 35km.

Along the way I see a roadside restaurant and stop for lunch. There is a western couple taking tea, so I, desperate for some genuine english language, strike up a conversation and invite myself to their table.

I think the conversation is going well though the woman hasn’t said anything. She keeps staring at me, but averts her eyes when I look directly at her, as if unwilling to humanize the object of her repulsed fascination. I know I’m dirty and my clothes smell. And maybe I am talking a little too fast, a little too needily, OK.

Eventually my omelet is served. The cook/waiter places the egg and bread down with a flourish, looks at me for approval, then frowns. He leans over and wipes a bugger dangling from my nose. I feel his rough finger getting it all. He wipes it on his pants with a warm paternal smile, gives a small glad to be of service nod, and retreats.

The woman sees this as her opportunity and strikes: “You really are two very different colors. The top half of your head is white and the half below your eyes is red. You look like a dirty striped ball!”

Her boyfriend apprehensively moves his eyes from her to me.

I apologize for being so difficult to look at. I lament that my awful appearance has destined me to cycle this world all alone. I whisper that I am most grateful for their company. There is a pause. He grins. I launch hungrily into the omelette and the conversation. She decides that the human animal at the table is harmless and joins in.

Ummm, can someone please tell me what’s the customary tip for that service?

02/14/2012 The Dades Gorge


Wojtek and I met at a hotel on the 12th at Fatima’s hotel. She’s nice and I understand that diner and breakfast are included for 150DH. She asks me what I want for dinner and I say “crepes.” After I eat, she tries to charge me 50DH for the dinner. She tells me that dinner is not included, only breakfast. I tell her that if that’s the case I just ate breakfast and I refuse to pay. My mistake? I give her the benefit of the doubt. Here’s Fatima and I with her cat.

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Wojtek is from Poland and is riding a Polish made recumbent and pulling a Polish made trailer. His rig has given him lots of breakdowns. It’s a pleasant change to cycle with someone, so I go slower than usual and move at Wojtek’s pace.

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We are riding in the high desert between the two Atlas Mountain ranges. The few towns are mostly mud brick. But the cycling is beautiful, cruising along in the vast empty spaces on flat straight roads. We are gradually climbing, and soon are over a mile high.

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In Tinurad we find a Casbah called “The Petite Nomad” and knock on the iron gate. Soon people pop out from neighboring houses, and someone calls the owner. We are the only guests tonight, and we negotiate the price down from 400Dh each to 100DH each. We are very pleased, such a lovely place with an educated and thoughtful young owner. Here is the inner patio.

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Along the road. Washday.

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On the 13th close to Bourmalne we find another bargain, the “Panorama,” and we are the only guests. This time we get a room and dinner and breakfast for 80dh each.

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Interior of the Panorama Albergue:

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View from the Panorama:

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The reason there are so many hotels here is because of the Dades Gorge. Today I leave Wojtek resting at the hotel and cycle into the Gorge. The Gorge is used for agriculture everywhere it widens out enough to plant crops.

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Crops and trees.

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Agriculture:

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Agriculture:

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Most everything is made of mud brick. Uncared for, it erodes, and there are many eroded buildings.

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Switchbacks on the Gorge.

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Hotels along the Gorge.

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Unusual rock formations:

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Unusual rock formations:

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I ride 35km into the Gorge and turn around and ride back. It is really more of a valley than a gorge. I am a little disappointed because it is not more dramatic. I am tired of looking at mud brick buildings, just like I got tired of looking at grey amd green in Ireland.

Traveling has become more like a job than an adventure. My blog feels flat to me. I am developing that jadedness that I have observed in people that have been traveling a long time. It really has to be amazing to get me excited now.

Traveling is certainly work, riding a bicycle more so. There are so many little struggles. I just returned from paying for tonight, and the hotel owner tried to charge me extra for the tea he served with dinner last night. “Tea is never included” he says. “Then you should have told me and not just served it” I reply. I refuse to pay, and he eventually gives in. No fluids with dinner tonight. Hardly a day goes by without a struggle like this.

It was not possible for me to foresee that traveling thus would feel routine.

I have read a dozen books now on this adventure and just finished David Copperfield. What a great heartwarming story. I was eager today to get back to the hotel so I could finish the book! My patterns are seeking a new balance.

2/10/2012 The Sahara Sands


Though the Sahara desert is enormous, the dunes cover only about 40sq kilometers. You can see them in the distance as I am approaching them.

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Here is my guide, Idriss.

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Approaching Merzouga with Camels.

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Merzouga from the Oasis. The Oasis is essentially a large community gardening plot. It has a channel of water flowing through the middle of it that comes from the dunes. You divert the water for your crops as needed.

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There are lots of date palms with annual crops planted amongst, good permaculture.

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There are a handful of 4 star hotels catering to the upscale tourists. Here is the restaurant of one.

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My ride. Ain’t she cute.

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My guide. He is 21, a genuine Berber Nomad, herded goats till he was 12 then went to work in the tourism industry when the border with Algeria was closed. They used to leave a chunk open for the Nomads to pass, but it was abused by drug runners, so they closed the whole thing.

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From the saddle it looks like you are riding an ostrich.

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The dunes are incredibly beautiful.

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Dune beauty. The Black mountains way in the background mark the border with Algeria.

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Beautiful Dunes.

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Beautiful Dunes.

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Sitting on a tall sharp ridge. It is freezing cold and the wind is buffeting me. For a sense of scale, those brown rectangles to my left are the tents of the camps.

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I am camped in a tent made of blankets. Next door are the Berbers.

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Some of their homes look like children’s play houses.

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My home away from home away from home. When I ask my guide where the bathroom is, he gestures towards the desert.

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My guide cooked dinner for me too!

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Tourist camp.

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Camels waiting.

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They make great faces. They’ll stop in their tracks and growl and grumble if they think they can’t make it up a hill.

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So who’s the desert nomad?

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Dune Beauty. The wind is always creating little sand zephyrs. They move like spirits over the dunes.

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The sand shoes of the camel.

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Merzouga.

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Idriss showed me his kasbah. This is a walled city where a group of people live together. What struck me most was the school. This is it. The young 14? year old girl is the teacher. The darling girl on the far right with the purple hands was so eager to learn.

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02/02/2102 Back in the saddle to Erfoud.


This morning I decided today was the day and left Er Rachidia for Erfoud. I stopped at my favorite resterant to say goodbye, but they were closed. It felt so great to be out on the road again.

The desert began to drop and follow a river, and date growing plantations and populations lined the road.

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It’s all mud brick, donkeys and scooters. But, little piles of sand, not quite dunes, are appearing.

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I run into this policeman who is cycling 20Km home from his 2 week work shift, and cycle with hin to Erfoud.

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On the road again.

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02/05/2012 Tip Toeing in a faith based country.


Tip Toeing in a faith based country.

One of the most striking things to a westerner about being in Morocco is the predominant role that religion plays, from the call to prayer, to the clothing, to the praying, to the religious TV shows on the big screens in restaurants. Muslim faith is everywhere you turn. For example, I just returned from lunch and watching a handsome young singer perform in a beautifully polished music video. This is common, but what was different this time was that his words were footnoted in english. Here’s what he was saying:

Oh my Mohammed,
I lay down all personal attributes to you
and do as you wish,
I love you more than anything,
I would sacrifice my mother and father to you,
Oh my Mohammed.

Sure, some of that is the usual sell out to sell records. But what if he is so blinded by faith as to be able to murder his parents? And what if he really is willing to become a wet noodle with regard to his own intelligence if his mosque requests it. Man, that’s faith!

And though presented as a very high and honorable quality, it is as vulgar and foreign to me as some American rap music that degrades women. But it’s much much deeper.

I wonder how many of the good kind warm Moroccan people that I have met, if extorted by their religion which tells them to love a 5th century person enough to sacrifice their own families for, (yes the meaning is kill, not renounce), would turn against me if their religious leaders were to decide that all infidels in the country must me stoned?

The Koran teaches that it is wrong to love any thing more than God- represented by Mohammed. That God is completely beyond the ability to conceive of or think about. And that therefore a good Muslim has complete, total and unquestioning faith, surrender, and submission to “God’s” will. And like Christianity, it is strongly emphasized that there is only one God, Allah.

How crippling to intelligence and advancement. The easily manipulated destructive power of a people deeply steeped in faith is easily felt, and makes me tip toe a bit. Indeed, if it can happen in America, where Christians, despite their advantages in education and world perspective, are misled by faith to do any number of absurdities, it can happen here.

My views about religion are shifting. In America I felt the best attitude to take towards religion was tolerance. In Italy on the Camino de Santiago I loved religion as an endearing cultural artifact. But now I see religion, to the degree that people defer their own sensible judgements to “God’s”, as a great threat to peace and human advancement. More than ever I feel that it is not possible to understand humanity without understanding religion. I wish it wasn’t so.

Ok, off my soapbox.

Beyond that I am 90% recovered. I’ll have one more day of stationaryism before resuming my explorations.

Really, what do you think?

02/02/2012 Cycling sick


I wake up and can’t stand it in my hotel room. It is so dingy, the water doesn’t run, the ensuite toilet looks like it has been clogged forever, and the public squat toilets are a mess. I take my painkiller and antidiaheral and ride on. I have arrhythmia as well, which means that if I exert myself I will pass out. I can manage it, I have come close enough times to know what to do, just get off the bike pronto and sit down.

I can’t eat anything, my stomach is in knots. I am nauseous. But I do have a tailwind and the road is level. So I make progress.

Mud brick villages are everywhere. This one is especially handsome.

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Shy villages frightened by the mountains.

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Shy village. My arrhythmia has passed.

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You would think it is empty, but it is not. There are many people living out here. In fact, it’s hard to be alone. People are always on the side of the road. I must pass 50 sheepherders, dark brown kids and men with their heads boldly wrapped in colorful dirty turbans. They carry next to nothing, not even a book to red. But they are most likely illiterate. Children can attend school for free, but they must arrange for their own transportation and books, something way out of reach for these villagers.

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I am sick and need to rest often. My legs, which usually feel like steel, have become vanilla pudding. There is nothing there. They burn with fatigue after a quarter mile.

Entering the Dades Gorge- to the left-

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In the Dades Gorge.

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But now there are climbs and I am cycling into the wind. I rest 5 times on one 1200 foot climb. I have one wish, and it seems so easy to me to grant. I want two 99 cent bean burritos from Taco Bell. Or maybe I should have three? Could I eat three? Should I have some Sprite with it? Maybe I’ll start with two and see how I feel….. I am lying on the ground beside the road resting. A taxi honks. Thumbs up, yes, I’m OK, just resting. He was going the wrong way anyway.

I get up and ride on, frustrated that such a simple thing as two bean burritos should be so hard.

Leaving the Dades gorge the Ziz river begins to support Date palm trees.

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I think maybe some dates might be good so I stop and buy half a kilo. $2.50 for a pound and a half. It helps to get them at the source. See them being dried on the ground behind my right arm? I am obviously thinking about bean burritoes.

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Half a dozen dates perk me up. But they are not two luscious hot bean Taco Bell burritos wrapped in a soft white tortilla.

I see what looks like an abandoned mud brick village right by the road and decide to rest and explore.

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What was this used for?

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Tall walls close together to keep out the sun. What I wouldn’t give for a bean burrito right now.

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Interior

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Up on the roof. See the hole in the shadow?

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Homemade hardware. These builders did so well with their indigenous materials.

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Ascension.

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Descension

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I only explore one end of the building. As I leave, I notice this is at the other end and definitely occupied.

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Does it look like there might be a Taco Bell here?

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The first little Oasis that I spot.

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Where the Valley Girls live. Our lives are so different materially.

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I do make it to Er Rachida, totally unwell and beyond empty. My chosen hotel has no availability. I discard two cheap drab hotels. No, No, No, No. A friendly kid takes me here, and I am happy. Oh my God, I have hot water, a shower, and a heater. The bed looks clean so I decide to sleep in it not on it, the first one in a long time.

I have not seen any westerners since Fes. But there is a German couple staying in this hotel. How odd they look. I realize I look the same.

Er Rachidia is a new city, with many wonderful modern buildings. But the sidewalks are deteriorated, the old Mercedes belch fumes, the Muslim dress and the little stalls everywhere keep it distinctly Moroccan.

I ask the hotel owner “Say, is there a Mexican food restaurant”? The blank stare says it all. “Ok, how about a hamburger place?” He shakes his head “No.” “Ok, a Pizza?” He thinks and after a moment draws me a map. Just walk up the main street and it is behind the Super Marche.

Wow, a Super Marche? Here? The French chain? I pull all my reserve energy out. I walk and walk, finally meeting an unemployed mathematician who looks at my map, and indicates I have walken way past it. How could I miss it? He kindly leads me back to the Super Marche, and it turns out to be a small typical market center. Ok.

After much enquiry we find a dubious Pizza place. I offer my companion food, something to drink, some money for helping me, and he declines it all. He says he doesn’t want anything. I burst into tears and hug him.

It’s a pizza with a cracker thin crust and no cheese. I eat it joyfully and keep it down.

02/02/2013 I am feeling better, and I am happy with my room. All that sickness has collapsed into a strong cold, with the fever and coughing, etc. Thats OK, I can handle that here. I will stay here until I am well again.

Someone eat a bean burrito for me please. My eyes tear up at this request.

2/01/2012 Ready or Not


I have been sick for two days. It is an accumulative and conjuntive failure. The riding in the cold air gave me a sore throat, and because it was so cold I drank 4 cups of Morrocan Whiskey (Tea) in 2 days, and then I more ravenoulsy then sensibly ate at a dubious cafe, where the chicken was kept warm by a flourescent bulb.

So I ended up with a caffeine withdrawal headache, a sore throat, the runs, and a hot/cold fever thing. I did not have the energy to get out of bed, and when I did, I got back in bed for warmth as the room was unheated. (most rooms are unheated) I thought about going to the hospital. I felt so alone. To have had someone to help me make decisions, to have ran out and gotten things to eat, to have looked after me…

I am reluctant to take pills, so put off invading my mini pharmacy for a day. Mistake. I began taking codeine pain pills, antidiareal medicine and an antinflamitory. Low and behold, I felt well enough to chance riding today.

I had eaten only 5 tangerines in the last two days, so my oomph was on vacation. But I made it 74 Km to Rich, including a steep 1400 ft climb.

The photographer was replaced with the survivalist today, sorry. The terrain was high desert, chocolate colored, mud brick homes, sheep herding, a skinny winding road with chunks missing, and dashing grey creeks.

Rich is overwhelmingly foreign. There is nothing here for the western tourist, it is as Allah made it for Morrocans. It is dirty, crowded, noisy, colorful, and as alien to me as it is natural to it’s inhabitants.

Ooh, I found this great Mexican resterant and had…. Just kidding.

My attitude is compromised by my not feeling well. I’m sure I’ll be loving it again tomorrow!

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.