Climbing the argan tree
The landscape from Essaouira to Agadir was dominated by the Argan tree, which is indigenous to this region and similar to the olive tree. I passed the occasional shepherd by his flock of goats, who seem to find the fruit a plentiful delicacy.
The goats could be seen not only reaching up on hind legs but actually climbing up into the upper branches to reach those nuts too high off the ground. As I stopped to take photos of goats in one tree, I glimpsed out of the corner of my right eye one black goat fall out of the upper reaches of another, only to land on all four feet while simultaneously head-butting the ground before pivoting on immediately and attempting to climb the very same tree again. There’s perseverance for you.
A goat and a grope
I stopped to talk to a couple of shepherds by the roadside, who seemed very enthusiastic about me taking photos of their goats. While the older one ran off to catch a small goat, I showed the younger one how to use my camera, just in time before the small, bleating goat was thrust into my arms. Once we had successfully captured me, the goat and the older shepherd in digital pixels, it was the young shepherd’s turn to be caught on camera. The older shepherd had us lined up and at this point the younger shepherd grasped the opportunity, while I was clutching the goat, to grab my arse. Now I wasn’t having any of that, so with a sharp left elbow to his ribs, he soon let go. He instead went for the ‘we’re pals’ embrace of arm draped over my shoulder…but just as the camera shutter clicked, his hand wandered down to get a feel of my breast. Cheeky bugger. Good try though, but bet he was a little disappointed! It’s not like I’m the most buxom lady (not even a lady some may argue) anyway, but with my new cycling lifestyle the pounds have been shedding and there’s no guessing where they have been shed first (It’s so unfair! Why don’t the pounds ever drop from the hips!).
Show me the money!
I passed several small villages on my ride through the rolling hills. Each time kids would come running to the roadside, invariably shouting for “d’argent”. One boy had obviously been paying attention during his French lessons because he very politely screamed, “donnez-moi d’argent, madame”. I have been surprised that these calls for money haven’t been echoed throughout all of Morocco. Up until this point however, it had been far more common to hear cries for ‘un stylo’, especially in the Middle Atlas.
A slow beginning
I camped the first night in a ruined building and was awake early the following day. On the road in the cool, cloudy morning, which is turning out to be typical along the Atlantic coast, I free-wheeled down the hillside, wrapped up still in my long-sleeved top, into a small town. A number of white plastic chairs arranged neatly on the pavement, all facing out towards the road, alerted me to a cafe open for business, even at this relatively early hour of 8.00am. By the time my not-quite-fully-functioning brain at this early hour registered that this meant coffee, I spotted another cluster of plastic chairs, some of which were already occupied by elderly men quietly pouring tea, just ahead of me. This time I braked quickly and within minutes I too was lazily sitting back, stirring sugar cubes into my milky coffee, watching the small town slowly come to life as shops gradually opened, market stalls were laid out, pavements were swept, workmen emerged from their homes and the white plastic chairs one-by-one were filled with men with little to do that morning.
Stopping for coffee has become a bit of a ritual for me. Almost every town I pass has a long row of cafes, each with their own set of chairs arranged on the pavement. The first shouts coffee, the second tempts me to stop. This unhealthy addiction (in every coffee I stir in two sugars) is verging on an obsession. I rarely pass through a town without stopping now. Fortunately, the further south I’ve gone, the less towns I pass, but from Essaouira to Tiznit it seemed that all I was doing during the day was either cycling or coffee-ing. Now I’ve reached the Western Sahara and the coffee is a make-your-own with nescafe instant sachets, my preference is for coke – probably even more sugar!
Curse of the plastic bag
The road just north of Agadir followed the coastline and I spent the majority of my cycling hours, head turned to the right, looking out to sea.
The Atlantic coast here is a popular fishing region and there was always within sight, a parked car or motorbike and a man with his fishing rod silhouetted against the deep blue sea and sky. One thing more common than the fishermen, was the black plastic bag. These carrier bags clung, slowly fading under the sun’s rays, to the windswept trees and scrub, transforming parts of this otherwise beautiful coast into barren wasteland.
Litter in Morocco is a big problem. There doesn’t appear to be any centrally organised refuse collections and throughout the countryside it is common to see discarded yoghurt pots, plastic bottles and of course the cursed black plastic bag littering the roadsides.
I had a rest day in the popular surfer’s hangout of Taghazout, where I spent the day idly drinking coffee, relaxing with the locals, wandering along the beach while watching boys playing ad-hoc games of football in the sand and the fishermen directing their boats out to sea as the sun began to set. I then continued my journey south in earnest, cycling the 125km from there to Tiznit in one long, tiring day.
A clash of cultures
I followed the main coast road through Agadir – past countless hotels straight out of package holiday brochures, rows of villas and up-market apartments mostly unoccupied now the high season of the school holidays has passed and on through the run-down end of town where the buildings were fading and falling apart and piles of rubbish lay uncollected on the street corners. The only overlap of these vastly differing ways of life, was a little old lady stubbornly kicking her even more stubborn mule, with what looked like all her worldly possessions piled haphazardly on to the cart that the unwilling mule was hauling behind it, slowly making it’s way down the wide avenues between the large white-washed villas glistening in the sun.
Tiznit a lot to do here
It was difficult to leave Tiznit. Not because the town had a lot to offer, but because my legs were tired and I kept finding excuses to delay getting on the bike again. First there was coffee, then I met an Italian backpacker and went for breakfast and a second short walk to the Grand mosque, which wasn’t Grand at all (in fact, was only worth seeing for it’s architectural style more commonly associated with the fabled and fading Malian town of Timbuctoo), then I got chatting to the hotel owners and then it was time for lunch. Once I finally got on the bike, I was first stopped by a local who suggested a nice place to camp on the coast and then another fully-laden cyclist came towards me and said ‘Helen?, Helen Lloyd?’ Er, do I know you? It seems there aren’t many women cyclists on these roads and Lars (I had to ask his name) had emailed me a few months back and remembered. I was leaving (I really was and really did) and he was just arriving though so we left it that we would email to arrange to meet up and cycle some of the way together. The company could be fun.
For the next two days, I detoured back over the hills to the coast for another scenic ride along the Atlantic coast, stopping at Legzira beach for the night.
I was treated to yet another stunning sunset and freshly caught fish for supper, eaten outside under candlelight. I was going to camp but the cafe owner offered me his spare room on the terrace, which I was thankful for later that night, when the sky clouded over again and the misty, salty, damp sea air clung to everything in the open making it quite chilly until I closed the door and wrapped up in one of the blankets he’s laid out for me.
Gateway to the Sahara
The next day’s ride to Guelmim was a tiring slog back over the hills via the Spanish-styled town of Sidi Ifni, but I’ve already told you about that day – the day of the cactus plant. And it was in Guelmim, the ‘gateway to the Sahara’ that I met up with Lars, the Swedish cyclist, and began the journey on towards the Western Sahara.