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Cycling To Morocco

1st of December 2010

A brief account of a short bicycle tour to the Berber city of Fes by Patrick Field, sometime resident of Queen Street, Chipperfield

(8/10/10) M.V. Normandy docks at Ouistreham before dawn and – after a sweaty night sleeping on the floor – I turn west, lean my bike by an imposing D-Day memorial and leaving my clothes, passport, cash on a sandbank run naked into the shallows to bathe. On a trip like this you have to trust yourself, trust others and the World. Normandy sand stays in my shoes until I swim in the Loire two nights later.
(14/10/10) There’s no sign for Spain until you’re 1500 metres from the frontera. Is this because I’m on the old coast road rather than the autovia, Francocentrism or sensitivity to Basque nationalism?
My morning coffee in France was often taken in an empty bar. In Irun I nip into the first local, a small room, nearly full of big men with bellies and moustaches, smoking, shouting and drinking spirits in generous measures.
Thirty-five miles uphill to the first continental pass, 847 metres. Near the top the new road runs in a tunnel, closed to bikes, so I climb further and alone winding gently through intricate forest hairpins.
At the Hotel Yoldi – mentioned by Hemingway in “The Sun Also Rises” – I park my bike. It’s a pretentious recumbent. Hand-made near Norwich by Mike Burrows, with a comfortable seat and a riding position that doesn’t stress your neck, wrists or perineum. I’m certainly not in condition, not tough enough, to ride three weeks of consecutive 150 km days on a classic bike.
The high plains of Castille are cold in the mornings and hot in the afternoons under skies of blank Velásquez blue. I saw the towers of Madrid from the hills. In Peurtollano, a mining town strung along a valley like South Wales, well dressed people in early middle-age have rickets. Not long ago this was a poor country.
(20/10/10) Into Andalucia over four mountain passes through a lonely parc naturel. I see a Iberian lynx. The evenings are warm in pastel-painted towns busy with animated citizens like an operetta’s opening scene. Two days of rolling hills with nothing but olives. The largest building in every town is the olive oil refinery.
(24/10/10) Landing in Africa it’s a short ride to the border of the Spanish enclave of Ceuta and entry into Morocco proper. You’re leaving lands where people expect cars and fridges, for those where street markets feature second-hand shoes and old clothes. In the country some families must walk to collect their water.
Three more days – through the Rif mountains, across a fertile plain where the only tourists go speeding by in buses and towns are strung along the highway like sets for a wild-west movie – to reach the mysterious, ancient capital Fes. Definitely a different place but, because I’ve measured every dry millimetre with the power of my will, somehow I still feel at home. Patrick Field

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