I thought people would come at some point to ask me why I am camping here and I didn’t sleep much. But I wake up without having been visited. On the other hand, the weather that seemed better once out of the Rif still managed to rain on my tent.
My road for the day is to go around the big reservoir of Al Wahda dam. When it was filled, it cut the straight road, and now one has to take the curvy road around.
I thought the road would more or less follow the highest water line around the dam and it would be an easy day. It is exactly the opposite, and starts with a climb into the fog. I don’t see the lake anymore. I actually don’t see anything.
Being now on a road that only locals and animals would use, I thought buying groceries in a village would happen without trying to make tourist tricks. Yet, unless there is a special counting system in the province of Taounate, I am asked 20 times the usual price. That would make 14 € for an emergency plastified stick of mortadella … So I sit at the café, packed in front of a midday screening of Real Madrid, and watch 3 goals of Ronaldo while eating my dates.
About emergency food or carriable food, like sandwiches, cookies, saucissons, cheese, I feel I will have less choice than in Europe. Only bread and Vache-qui-rit “cheese”, alongside with the meat that tastes like … something, and dates. Dates are a good deal, cheap and sweet. Despite all the cows and goats by the road, Vache-qui-rit is unfortunately what one refers to when saying “cheese”. On the other hand, quick and fresh food is really fresh. Kefta is often made and cooked on the spot, from cow leg hanging above the butcher, seasoned, grilled and served within 10 minutes. I guess I will have a lot of it in Morocco.
People seems much nicer around here than in the Rif. Everybody greets me, from shops or trucks or fields. It seems it matches with the change of language, as now I use more French than Spanish. The dam area is very quiet, with very little traffic and mostly grazing areas.
I can witness as well the evolution of the bread price. A round bread, the khobs, is usually 1.20 dh in cities. In little villages, I have found it no less than 2 dh. Even 5 dh (for a bigger one) sometimes.
I also cross the first smiling face on a girl. In these rural areas, none of the women, even little girls, are smiling. They all look down when I pass nearby. On the other hands, the boys often jump around and the men chat a bit. With my cycling speed, I have the time to exchange dozens of:
– Salaam alaykum!
– Alaykum Salaam, how are you?
– Fine thanks, and you?
– Fine, ‘lhamdulillah, where ….
per hour, with everyone watching or working by the road.
Leaving the dam area, the road becomes more flat and nicely paved. The greenery of the area is striking and I am thinking at the desert, rocks and sands, that I will find in a few days.
Still on the road to Fès, now straight, and bordered with trees, it becomes dark soon and I ask to pitch my tent to the locals. The first trial sends me to the next village. Where I am refused, and try a third time, and there the people welcome me to pitch it anywhere behind the shops. The place is called Pont du Sebou, and a boy takes me to the end of the village where Zach speaks English (spoken better than Spanish or French for the first time) and manages a café. A crowd watches South Africa against Morocco, which after several last minute goals ends up being disqualified from the competition.
I am invited by Hamid and have very good and interesting time with Abdelouafi and his family. They welcome me very warmly and generously.
We have breakfast in the morning and discuss my route. I thought about making it easily to Fès, only 50 km away, but I learn that Moulay Yacoub, the thermal town, has actually “normal” public baths and not only the high-end spa treatments. That makes an extra 20 km from Fès and decide to go and stay there.
Hamid tells me that he saw another guy on a bike with panniers and a beard just 30 minutes ago. This description is very basic for touring cyclists, but it could be Simon met around Tetouan a few days ago. The roads are nice and very quiet, green as usual.
I am still greeted and greeting everyone on the road, but some of the men are also adding “your friend is … ” kind of sentences. Indeed, during the ascent (because entering Fès by the north involves getting up to 700 m) I meet Simon again.
It appears on OpenStreetMap that we don’t need to go to Fès first to reach Moulay Yacoub. There is a small road, much thinner than the one we are currently riding, cutting through the hills and saving us 20 km. The road is not on the Michelin map so it must be a dirt track.
The small road leaving the main one looks of good quality and we give it a try, keeping in mind that we could be soon in the mud for kilometers. But it appears to be very nice, overlooking Fès at some point, taking us into the best downhill since we entered the continent. Over the dirty fog that cocoons the second city of Morocco, we can even see 2 different mountain ranges with snow caps, our next challenges.
The roads have been very quiet until now, and only passed a few cafés in the small villages. Arriving to Moulay Yacoub is surprising as after a last climb, we suddenly see at one spot as many people as during the whole day. The town is organized on a hill, with one single road to access it, filled with cars and parking men. Moulay Yacoub is a very touristy town but only local: there are no foreign tourists. The good point is that we don’t have to be run after by teenagers and men offering everything. The less good point is that prices are above the average, and the thermal baths will be noisy. We are also during school holidays and vacations for the birthday of the Prophet. Hotels are busy and expensive.
Priorities first, we order 1 kg of meat and wait to observe the rhythm of the town. The only road is really busy. Restaurants offer grills, tagines, sweets, shops sell everything as usual, but especially soaps, tongs, towels. We manage to bargain a room in a house at a decent price, not medina-price but way below the hotels, to store our bikes and finally get into the local baths. They are open 24/24 and cost only 10 dh.
There is one pool for women, one for men, who keep their underwear in the bath. I am excited to finally soak into hot water. The place is a giant hammam with a giant pool in the middle. The smell is far from being my beloved sulfur smell, as it comes best out of the Japanese onsen. It smells to me more like public toilets than a hot spring. I get used to after some time in the water, burning hot as it must be by the input pipe. The water is brown and changed once a week, with many kids and youngsters jumping in and singing thank-you songs. The Japanese etiquette is completely ruined here.
The thing new to me is the presence of men working as washers/scrubbers. One of them is taking care of me, washing me and scrubbing me with black soap, with an energy that surely make up for all the days I spent sweating and not showering. After that, I get a session of massaging/stretching, where he just takes my limbs in cumbersome positions and hits me. It reminds me of the thaï massages I got while cycling in Thaïland, out of which I was not sure it will help my legs recovering faster, but that I was happy to get out with all my bones.
This is in the end a good experience, and there are shops outside the thermal baths still open at 2 am for fresh fruit juices. I am starting an addiction to avocado juice, tasting like meal liquefied into a juice.
I got another good news during the day, about my debit card that has finally arrived in Rabat. It was just wrongly distributed. Luckily I am near Fès and there is a direct train line from there to Rabat.
The next day is hence a small 20 km ride from Moulay Yacoub to Fès.
Taking it easy in the morning, tea and small food before departure.
The road is quick, weather good, and we enter the big city of Fès.
We are welcomed by Karim, the brother of Zach met 2 days ago in Pont du Sebou. I don’t like cycling in those big cities as the road sides are full of nails and other potential puncture facilitators. But from now on we walk through the Mellah, the old jewish area of Fès, pedestrian, crowded and narrow.
Karim is taking care of us as kindly and nicely as his family 2 days ago. We are given the precious time and opportunities to shower, wash clothes, do repairs, for me to make a day trip to Rabat, and again to eat delicious food, even at the wedding celebration of the neighbors. That’s amazing hospitality before heading to the Atlas, Ifrane and the snow.