Day 9: Bou Rbia to Tissint
Monday April 15, 2013, 128 km (79 miles) – Total so far: 833 km (518 miles)
We all arose just after sunset. The silence of the desert had been pierced later that night by the sound of one of the brothers’ snoring. I don’t know if it was the silence of everything else that accentuated it or if it really was that loud but I’ve never heard anything like it! The other brothers and the mechanic’s sons were even slagging him off in the morning about it!
Still though, I had a great night’s sleep outside. Unfortunately one of the first things I noticed when I got up was the puncture on the front wheel of my bike. With the help of the older son we made quick work of removing the notoriously tricky Schwalbe Marathon tyre and replacing the tube.
Before I left I was given breakfast and tea by the family and the mother (who I barely saw due to her sticking to the main part of the house) gave me a huge bag of bread for the road. I refilled my water bottles here as well and I was finally good to go. I thanked the sons for their help with the bike. I then headed for the mechanic to pay for the cost of the axle. I thought I was going to come back by the house so I never got a chance to thank the family properly which is a regret as they really did help me out of a tight spot and welcomed me in as one of their own.
I dropped over to the mechanic and gave him the money for the axle. He wouldn’t accept anything else for the dinner that evening or the breakfast that morning. I thanked him again for his hospitality and we parted ways as he started work for the day.
The piste was in a completely different direction from where I thought and so I headed out of the mechanic’s yard and straight onto the piste again. The sun was nice and low so today wouldn’t start as frustrating as yesterday when I was starting the piste at the hottest time of the day. I knew I would have to be very cautious today. My new axle was still a freewheel axle so was very prone to snapping under stress. I would have to be incredibly careful of my line choice over the next 40km of piste if I wanted to make it back to tarmac with the axle intact. Luckily for me the surface from just outside the village was fantastic. The ground was made up of hard packed earth which was smooth and meant the bike glided along for me. I had a feeling this wouldn’t last too long but it was a nice surprise.
Towards the end of this hard packed section a truck with a water tank passed me. This truck was the only way that the Berbers living outside the village could get water without trekking all the way back in. There were only a handful of these Berber settlements outside the village and then I was back into the wilderness. Soon, the nice hard packed surface had ended and the piste had narrowed into a single lane track winding its way into the distance. The track dipped in and out of steep gullies which were lined with rocks. The going was very slow through this section as I had to be careful to avoid any harsh bumps to the bike.
While I was working my way through this section I saw a motorbike appearing in the distance. This was the first vehicle I had seen since the water tanker. The bike pulled up beside me and I was surprised to see an elderly Italian woman behind the helmet. She had biked all the way from Italy through Europe and down to Morocco all by herself. I imagine there are very few women her age that would take on a task like that, biking on various pistes through Morocco in the April heat but she didn’t have a bother with it and seemed to be having a great time.
I continued on along the piste after a nice break. The Italian woman had told me that the piste improved further on however it ended up actually getting worse for a while. The motorbikes people were travelling on out here glided over the rough surfaces but unfortunately on a bicycle with no usable suspension your body has to soak up every single bump in the surface!
After some hard work the track widened out again and I was able to pick up the pace a bit more. Along this section three more vehicles passed me. Two of them were going in the same direction as me so if I hadn’t been able to get the wheel fixed I could possibly have asked for a lift from one of them. With only two passing all day, I would have needed some really good luck that one of them was a good Samaritan!
The temperature was really starting to get up again as I made my way along this wider section. I continued on trying to get off the piste before the hottest part of the day. Soon enough I started seeing animals by the side of the road so that meant at least there were some settlements near by. A few kilometres later I passed the entrance to a farm and only a short while later I finally saw the start of the tarmac. After worrying all morning about my axle snapping again and becoming properly stranded I was finally able to breathe a sigh of relief. If I had crossed this section on a mountain bike or even on a touring bike with a freehub rear wheel, it would have been no problem at all apart from the heat and the flies (I’ve really got to stop complaining about them but I can’t help it, they are unimaginably annoying!) With the bike I had it was tough work but I had finally made it to the last section of tarmac and I was able to fly downhill all the way towards the Foum Zguid junction.
Before reaching the junction I came across a newly constructed hotel sitting by itself in the middle of nowhere. I was absolutely starving so wandered around the back to the restaurant that was luckily open. I was able to relax on the patio outside overlooking a brand new swimming pool. I was a world away from where I had been the night before. I usually try and avoid these fancy places as I prefer a more authentic experience of the countries I visit but there’s no way I was passing by this place after a tough two days in the saddle. After an expensive and spicy tagine here I got back on the bike and made my way down to the palmeraie surrounding Foum Zguid. I had a quick look through Foum Zguid to see if I could pick up a spare axle before getting back on the road but the majority of shops were closed.
I had a nice long desert stretch ahead of me to cross before I reached the base of the Anti Atlas mountains at Tata. So with this in mind I stocked up on plenty of food and water. I found one guy who was selling frozen 2 litre bottles of water. This made cycling in this heat much more bearable as I was able to drink the water as it melted meaning I had a constant supply of ice cold water. I don’t know why more people don’t sell water like this out here, it was genius.
I was delighted to find I had a huge tailwind behind me for this section so I set off about covering some good mileage. I had originally planned to camp 10-20 kilometres outside Tissint but I was making such good time on the road that I was able to make Tissint well before sunset. I had expected a slightly larger town but I set about looking for some accommodation anyway. I managed to turn up only two places. The first was upstairs above a cafe and was pretty bad. The bed sheets hadn’t been changed in years, the floor was covered in dust and there were crumbs on the beds. This room cost 50DH so I said I’d have another look around town. I found one more place but this was even worse. There were no beds, just some dusty mats on the concrete floor, this was 30DH for the night. I ended up retreating to the first hotel.
I dragged my bike upstairs and into the room and set about getting a shower. The guy running the hotel had warned me about it so I probably should have been more tentative but I went straight in and turned it on. Water that can only be described as boiling immediately flew down from the shower head onto my sunburnt arms. The heat was unreal, the water seemed like it was piped straight from the depths of hell! What followed was a minute of me struggling with the different taps trying to turn down the heat. I finally managed it but my arms were in agony. Boiling water and sunburn are not a good combination it seems.
After a pretty agonising shower I set off to the only internet cafe in Tissint to catch up on the world. It had been a while since I had been on the internet so it was good to catch up. While there I got talking to a couple of the local teenagers who were all incredibly friendly. They forced me to the front of the queue despite me trying to join the back.
After a short time browsing and catching up with friends/family I headed back to bed. As it turned out, unfortunately for me, the beds had a bad flea problem. I had no other options except to sleep here so all I could do was spray insect repellent all over myself and the bed I was sleeping on. I was a walking fire hazard by the time I had finished! Luckily this kept them at bay but it wasn’t the greatest night sleep I’ve had. By right I really should have camped a couple of kilometres before Tissint but I stupidly decided a hotel would be more comfortable, in this case I was definitely wrong and I had to suffer a pretty bad night’s sleep at this place because of it. As is clear from that night’s sleep, cycle touring in this part of the world isn’t always the most glamorous!