Yes, you’ve guessed correctly, it’s another anecdote involving food. I’m gathering quite a collection of these, but for now, I’ll just share the latest fruit fiasco.
I spent a couple of days cycling from Tiznit to Guelmim recently – Two small towns in southern Morocco, which have little to entice tourists who aren’t on a journey south towards Mauritania. Now I could have taken the direct main road but that didn’t look like much fun. Instead I took the ‘scenic’ route over the hills to the coast and then back over the hills to Guelmim. The first day to the coast was a pleasant ride and my evening spent watching sunset while eating freshly caught fish made it worth the extra few kilometres.
The next day however, my legs were feeling tired and they did not appreciate the long winding road on the continuous incline. I’d had breakfast early and stopped for bread and cheese triangles part way up the first steep section. This particularly uninspiring meal was the only food I had left. I’d eaten all my biscuits when I’d woken in the middle of the night with a rumbling, empty stomach and massive sugar cravings which I was unable to ignore. I was now regretting having eaten the remaining half packet… if only I’d just left one or two!
The road gently wound it’s way between the hills, ever onwards, ever upwards. The terrain was invariably rocky with an abundance of small cactus plants, which have been characteristic throughout Morocco. Occasional smallholdings dotted the landscape, whose main source of income appeared to be from the cactus plant. Around each smallholding, certain sections of the cactus-covered landscape would be fenced off. This I presume were their crops, but the fenced in sections were no more abundant with cactus plants than those outside. The fence it seemed was just a means of saying ‘these are mine’.
Previously while in the Middle Atlas mountains, I had been given some carefully washed and peeled fruit from the same cactus plant – not my fruit of choice given a typical Moroccan market stall, but juicy and sweet nonetheless. When struggling uphill, with no food left in my panniers, but an abundance of this cactus fruit in every direction, within easy grabbing distance of the road, they suddenly became very appealing. Up to the point where all my thoughts were concentrated on which particular fruit looked the juiciest – should I pick a ripe-looking red one, a green one or some gradation of yellow. In the end, I was so desperately in need of sugars that I didn’t really care too much about the colour, so long as it was edible.
So I pulled up my bike and launched my leatherman at the closest fruit, paying scant attention to the fact that this was actually a cactus plant. Cactus plants, as you may well know, are often covered in prickly, thorny or spiky surfaces. I too knew this, and could indeed see said thorns quite clearly, but some uncontrollable urge to get the juicy fruit inside me was just too great.
So with a few pricks to the fingers, I soon had the fruit, a yellow-turning-red one, in my hands and was rapidly attempting to peel it. What I was unaware of until I took my first mouthful, was that the skin of the fruit was covered in hundreds of little sharp hairs, which inserted themselves into everything that they touched. So I’d barely enjoyed one refreshing mouthful before I was distracted by more urgent matters – namely, vainly attempting to remove, one-by-one, the hundreds of tiny needles which were protruding from my fingers and lips.
The lush fruit fell from my hands and rolled along the dust-strewn sideway as I attempted to remove a few needles from my tongue (they made eating a rather non-enjoyable experience). So that was the end of that then.
Now back to those needles… those sticky little prickles seemed to be replicating. Of course they weren’t, I was just carefully removing them from my fingers, only to wipe them onto my shorts and top where they stuck steadfastly. Worst of all, they wouldn’t just smoothly retract like they’d so easily gone in, they’d break off just above the surface of my skin – intractable little barbs.
In the end I gave up. I went back to cycling. My legs didn’t seem to hurt so much after this. The dull aching of muscles was overpowered by acute pin-pricks as my fingers wrapped round the handlebars and the prickly needles in my shorts rubbed against my thighs.
It’s taken two days and the same number of showers to finally remove all evidence of my fight with this little fruit and be able to type on a keyboard without my fingertips feeling the after-effects.
That’s the last time I’ll be tempted by fruit from the Saharan garden.
Right, I’m off to buy more biscuits…
Oh, a brief update until I get chance to write more: I’m currently at Tan Tan Plage (also known as El Ouatia) having spent the last two days with company from Lars, the lost cyclist from Sweden. Tomorrow we’re making our way to Tarfaya and should be in Laayoune on the edge of the disputed Western Sahara in three days.
Feeling like the whole Moroccan police force is looking out for me so there’s plenty of help at hand in the unlikely event it should be needed.