A well deserved break

Those first 2 months were quite intense. I didn’t maintain a terrific average, at 75 km / day, much below my estimation of 100 km / day. An estimation made on my previous trips, very flat compared to what Switzerland, France and Spain brought to me. It seems I picked up every day the hilliest roads on my way. This was not made on purpose, except for the Port d’Envalira, the highest of the Pyrénées. But each day was beautiful, and if I forget the entrance into Valencia, I really enjoyed all my roads. Mountains = scenery = good day. I made a little graph to illustrate it:

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I took a well deserved break in Morocco. Not only to let my legs recover from their permanent sore state of course, but also to recover from the mental fatigue. It is not obvious, while it feels free to be moving with my house in my bike panniers every day, but it is very tiresome to have to constantly/daily think of:
– packing the tent and gear neatly in the morning
– making sure I have enough food and water at any time of the day (water doesn’t last long on hot or hilly days)
– taking the “right” road, and re-evaluating my decision almost at every road crossing, with the impacts in short and longer term.I know what is my direction, but I only have a rough idea of the roads I can take. As I want to take the most scenic and least busy road each time, pieces of information gathered in real-time, I never know in the morning on which roads I am going and where I will sleep
– making sure wet items dry during the day (becomes problematic on successive rainy days)
– finding a suitable and safe sleeping spot every evening, inspecting the surroundings, mounting the tent (easy to imagine, but harder to do with sore legs and diminishing light)
– cooking, or eating cold food if I carry enough (the food not needing cooking takes significantly more volume than rice and pasta)
– making sure I have enough electricity in my batteries (phone, laptop, spare batteries, battery deck), with the dynamo (for batteries under 7.4 V) and bars/restaurants in the evenings (for laptop battery), and that the GPS is always up (to record the trace)
– to a less important extent, making sure I have enough cash and phone credit
– to a less frequent extent, making sure the bike is always running well (weekly chain and general cleaning and oiling, weekly check of screws)
– to an extent reducing with the size of the local population (which is why I feel better away from big towns), making sure that my bike and gear are in sight or secured
– processing the information gathered during the day: pictures and stories. I knew that deciding to maintain a blog means sparing enough time for it, but it is taking more time than I thought. At least 1 hour every evening. Plus more time (requiring to find wifi) to upload the pictures and to publish a blog post. When I am tired and just want to sleep, I know that postponing this 1 hour job will make it a 1.5 hour job the next day (penalty due to limited information freshness), and so on …

And all of this while cycling from “late sunrise” to sunset, which is not the least tiresome activity.

It worked pretty well so far, as I am very satisfied with the roads taken and the experience. I had no puncture in 3500 km (the Schwalbe tyres seem to deserve their reputation, with a total of 6000 km punctureless), no bike-related problem, no injury, nothing lost or stolen, and all pictures taken were uploaded.

From now on, it will be more challenging as I will surely find less/worse infrastructure than in Europe, so I may slow down the quantity of cycling and uploaded pictures.

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During 2 weeks, turned into the tourist mode, I could rest my brain from thinking and visit the main cities of the north of Morocco, from Tangier to Rabat through the beautiful Chefchaouen, Fès and the nice medina, Marrakesh where people have no shame in using the most irrational rip-off tricks, and a bit of the desert where I could learn to spot Orion with Betelgeuse, Bellatrix and Rigel, Taurus with Aldebaran, Sirius, Gemini with Castor and Pollux, Procyon, Ursa Major and Ursa Minor, Aries, Hydra, etc … the sky navigation may be useful in the future.

 

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I also drank tap water little by little. Although it’s not recommended for tourists in Morocco, it is drinkable. So far I didn’t visit the toilets more than once a day, so I’m ready to drink and sweat a lot. With the quantities of food I ate, I think recovered well on the weight that I might have lost during the past two months, and maybe took an advance on what I’ll lose in the Moroccan hills (it’s a promising hilly country for the northern half). I had also a great time at Najib’s place, with delicious food, hammam, teas, etc, near Rabat.

For my first time in Morocco, I have a positive impression. I realized that chouia, bezef and flouze were actually Arabic words, and that my Spanish, which served well all over Spain, works also in the northern tip of Morocco. I also spotted more Mercedes than in any other country. The Mercedes 240 is everywhere, as grand taxi or personal car.

Thanks to Natasha and Paul, I fetched spare hooks for my Vaude panniers, the parts of my gear the most likely to break. That’s the only part of my equipment where I didn’t pick the N°1 brand. For this kind of trip, where trust in years-lasting equipment is essential, most of the travelers seem to have the exact same gear: a CrMo-steel frame, Schwalbe tyres, Magura hydraulic brakes, Ortlieb panniers, a Brooks saddle, a B&M light, and so many Rohloff hubs. There’s competition for each of the parts, but one brand is always clearly above the others, and seemingly the only one to trust.

 

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I also applied for the Mauritanian visa. It is the next country on my trip. It has to be requested in Rabat, before doing the 2000 km ride towards the border in the south. With the delicate situation in the neighboring countries turning into a disaster just recently, I am not sure what I will decide at the bottom of Morocco, but I have 2 more months to think about it and to observe the conditions.

I was aware that I have to get up early to queue at the embassy of Mauritania so as to increase my chances of applying for the visa. The internet has plenty of information about what to do, or actually about what could happen. About what to submit, about the queuing system, about how the visa validity dates are given randomly, etc. After missing the Friday (January 11th is a national holiday in Morocco), I set my alarm clock at 6 am on Sunday evening. But after reading a bit more on the internet, people writing about sleeping in front of the gate and tricky numbering systems, I advance it to 5:30.

I can’t sleep anyway, and get up on time and prepared. Thanks to Najib’s details on how to move quickly, I take 2 shared taxis, 1 other taxi, and am by the embassy gate at 6:30 am. There are already about 40 people queuing on the pavement. There is nothing but a small door and a sign in Arabic on the wall. There is no numbering system to tell who arrived first, and the line doesn’t look like a line for everyone.

The day slightly comes to warm us up and the door opens at 8 am. There is only one small room with one tiny window inside, where people drop their documents and money. The people queuing argue with the people not queuing,  no one really know what’s going on and why the line has always more people ahead. It seems the only way to get the application form is from a man across the street, selling photocopies for 10 dh (and helping to fill it for non French/Arabic speakers for another 10 dh). At least, it’s how most people do.

So here we are queuing  watching people arguing and helping others to bypass the line, wondering how much we would want to pay to pass earlier. I know that the embassy will close the gate at some point of the morning, and all the people still outside will be ignored, and probably have to come back tomorrow, even earlier.

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The Mauritanian visa application procedure

 

Around 10 am it finally comes to my turn to enter the tiny room, with the relief that I made it. The door could have shut anytime and even in front of me. At that moment, the gate keeper decides to shut the door right after me, orders me to quickly drop my passport, documents and money through the tiny window, and leave immediately by another door. No time for me to ask if all is in order or for them to tell me when do I get my passport back.

I learn later that they never re-opened the door, so everyone who arrived after me in the queue have just lost their morning. And we apparently have to come back in the afternoon, the same day at 3 pm.

In the meantime, I went shopping for some of my missing items. The medinas of the Moroccan towns are great, a heaven for shopping without cars and with zillions of items for cheap. But actually, they all sell the same crap, sadly mostly from China, and it’s super hard to find something of quality or original (anywhere in town). I got relatively good connectors and cables for cheap, but had to go with a fake Michelin map for Morocco (a copy from the 2010 edition, I hope not too many changes occurred since then), and I doubt there is any outdoor shop in here selling original or trustable items. Except carpets, but they’re not flying so it’s not really what I need.

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The Fromagerie des Alpes of Rabat (only dry cookies in there)

 

At 3 am, I am there, back at the Mauritanian embassy for fetching the visa. The same people of the morning are present too. As in the morning, no one knows what’s happening. The door opens and they call in the people who applied on the 9th, five days ago. It lasts for a while. Some wonder if we too, the 14th-crew, will have to come back another day. Finally we can line up and enter with our receipt. It goes much faster and smoother than in the morning.

I receive my passport and the visa inside. Unfortunately the dates are not what I asked for. I am given a 30-day visa, but the start of the validity is 20 days earlier than my request. I had specifically requested them late, at the end of the validity of my stay in Morocco, so I can fully visit the country and take it easy to rest when I want. So now, they already have eaten my buffer time. I balance between the happiness of having gotten this visa in a day, avoiding the traps and potential consequences of the action in Mali, and the pressure that those wrong dates puts on me to reach the southern border of Morocco. Of the European travelers I chatted with, no one made any reference to safety, but only about the improved road quality.

I ended this shopping day with mixed feelings, maybe slightly positive if I consider a good buy the air gun I got for 30 dh with plenty of plastic bullets, as a defense system against dogs raised to bite me. Still, it will be tricky to pick and use while cycling.

The only things missing now are my renewed debit card (I had renewed my credit cards before departure, but forgot that the debt card has also an expiry date). I have also to fix a minor hole in my tent and on one pannier. If I find time, I can also look on making a video of France and Spain, as I have GBs of takes.

Finally, I updated my tentative route for Morocco on the route plan page.

 

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