Wednesday, 24 February 2016

Gibraltar and La Linea

Day 12: La Linea - Gibraltar - La Linea
Time: 1:15:26
Distance: 17.7km
Average Speed: 14.1km/h

After going to Ceuta port to find out the ferry times I paid a quick visit to the tiny Ceuta Star Brewery. I had a quick cana of their Pale Ale before packing my bags for the boat. The ferry to Algeciras takes only an hour and once there I took a bus to La Linea where my friend Sean was waiting for me at the station. La Linea is the first town after the border to Gibraltar and while on a map it seems like the same urban area there is a dramatic difference in culture between the 2 towns.

Myself and Sean walked up the Med steps to the summit of the Rock of Gibraltar before heading out for dinner with his girlfriend Maeve. I managed to get a free bike box in one of the La Linea shops which took a bit of stress away ahead of the flight home.

The next morning after breakfast I had my final cycle of the trip up the Rock of Gibraltar. Despite being less than 4km it really is a brutal climb with ridiculously steep gradients. I took it very easy for the rest of the cycle and got a few photos with the monkeys.

A few days relaxing in Gibraltar was a great way to end the trip after the tough climbs and general chaos of Morocco. Morocco is a great cycle tour destination but if you don't like climbing hills it's best done on a motorbike. The best cycling was in the Atlas mountains on the way to Marrakesh including Tizi-N-Test, the climb over Tizi-N-Tichka and descent into Ouarzazate on the route of 1000 Kasbahs and finally the 2 days spent cycling from Fes to Chefchaouen.

Sunday, 21 February 2016


Day 11: Tetouan – Ceuta
Time: 2:10:13
Distance: 44.2km
Average Speed: 20.4km/h

For the 2nd day in a row the sun was shining in Chefchaouen and I would attempt to cycle to Ceuta. Some people in the hostel had heard about a landslide on the road that I had got stuck on yesterday so I decided to ask the bus station if they knew whether or not the road was open. All buses on the route were closed due to flooding and traffic was being diverted to the coast/mountain road. I decided to bus the 100km to Tetouan and carry on from there to Ceuta.

The bus journey was on narrow roads and involved several huge climbs and descents. Only one or 2 areas showed signs of yesterday's storm with some flooded houses and a road that seemed to be missing the left hand side.

Getting onto the Ceuta road from Tetouan was easy and the trip was mostly on straight roads with a cycle lane. The border crossing into Ceuta was quick and easy and I arrived before dark to find somewhere to stay. After about a half hour of roaming the streets I found a place on the main street. It's great to be in "Spain". I really like Morocco but the constant harassing from people running shops and restaurants as well as random con men roaming the streets takes it's toll after 2 weeks. There is a noticeable difference in walking the streets of Ceuta compared to any of the big Moroccan cities.

Saturday, 20 February 2016

"Stuck" in the Blue City

Day 10: Chefchaouen – Somewhere in the mountains
Time: 1:37:02
Distance: 29.4km
Average Speed: 18.2km/h

After the storm of last night I was uncertain as to what the eather would be like today. Weather websites gave different opinions as to what was coming up. I woke at about 7.30 and took a final walk around the Blue City free from people harassing me into buying things or eating in their restaurants. I stopped for a 5 cent doughnut in a small street-side place that only had one thing on the menu.

With the sun shining I was optimistic that I could make it to Ceuta without too much rain. The sky was very dark up ahead so it was a matter of when not if the rain was going to come.

After a steep descent out of Chefchaouen the rest of the day was mostly uphill. I reached what seemed like the highest point of the day and began my descent. It wasn't long before the rain started bucketing down. I veered right into a tea house where a load of lads gave me a big cheer and told me to bring the bike inside. Half the people inside were smoking joints or long hash pipes. I stuck to the mint tea to try to warm up. After about 2 hours there waiting for the rain to pass and eventually giving up and trying to flag down a truck to get me off the hill a local showed up and offered (for a price) to drive to Tetouan which is 30km up the road and in the direction of Ceuta. After about 5 minutes in the car and with conditions worsening the cars coming in the opposite direction were gesturing to us not to continue. We stopped at another cafe and everyone there seemed agreed that the only way was back to Chefchaouen. At this point there was snow on the road. I never signed up for these conditions.

As frustrating as it was to be descending the climb that I had spend ages going up I was freezing at this point and really looking forward to a hot shower. I went straight back to last night's Aline Hostel and they had space for tonight. Tomorrow I'm considering busing it to Tetouan and cycling the final 40km into Ceuta.

Stage 2 to the Blue City

Day 9: Ain Dorij – Chefchaouen
Time: 7:33:32
Distance: 113.5km
Average Speed: 15km/h

I managed to get on the road before 8.30 this morning after coffee and pastries in the bakery up the street from the Roma Cafe where I was staying.

Ever since I've got into the province of Ouezzane the road quality has improved significantly. The roads here are as good as anything I've seen in Europe which is making life a lot easier.

I expected a day of climbing and that's just what I got with over 2000m. Today was probably the best day as regards cycling. There were a lot of long climbs with gentle gradients and the same went for the descents. The final kick into Chefchaouen was probably the steepest of the day but the town is a stunning site when the sun is shining.

I had planned to walk around the town for the evening but the rain had other ideas. Eventually, when the rain got a little lighter I managed to see a bit.

A few minutes after I arrived at the hostel 2 Argentinian girls who were in my hostel in Fes showed up. Then 3 Germans from the same hostel and later 3 Austrians that I had met on the bus to Meknes. Although I barely know these people it was nice to see familiar faces and Germans gave a round of applause when they saw that I had arrived before them. Most people in the hostel spent the evening wrapped up in blankets on the hostel roof. Some English lads brought some much appreciated Captain Morgan from the airport.

Friday, 19 February 2016

Stage 1 to the Blue City

Day 8: Fes – Ain Dorij
Time: 5:19:45
Distance: 95.5km
Average Speed: 17.9km/h

After a serious lack of sleep on the bus to Meknes I collapsed at about 10PM last night. I slept very easily and didn't hear any of the other people in the hostel dorm enter the room when they were going to their bunks. The hostel breakfast was solid and I topped up with some more food from the bakery up the street. I was on the road a little later than normal today which I was ok with since yesterday was tough.

Escaping the clutches of Fes took about 30 or 40 minutes and more than a few wrong turns. It's always the way with the bigger cities. Eventually I was on the R501 and the climbing began. I made very few kilometres for the first few hours because of the climbing but eventually the road flattened out. The North of Morocco is a lot colder than the South and the land is also a lot greener. Today I was passed through a lot of farmland. The first major town on the map came after about 60km but Karia Ba Mohamed is a charmless place and since it was only 4pm I decided to keep on going.

About 50km from Ouezzane I saw a sign for a Gite (guesthouse) up the road. This was the first sign that I'd seen for any accommodation all day so I made that my target. On the way I stopped in a bakery in Ain Dorij to check if the Gite existed. The owner spoke a bit of English and said that there were rooms in the Roma Cafe up the street. Staying here would save me 10km today and another 10km tomorrow since the Gite was off the main road that I was taking.

The room is cold, there's no shower (just a warm water tap) and all toilets in the building are squatters but the place served up one of the best dinners that I've had in Morocco. I had barbecued turkey and kofta with mint tea before and after. Fiorentina and Spurs were playing on the TV. Every night there's football on TV in Morocco. In the cafe I chatted with one of the few Moroccans on the trip who spoke great English but didn't want to sell me anything. Looking at the amount of metres climbed last week on Strava I came to the following realisation:

Kilometres Climbed in the week: 8,637m
Mount Everest: 8,848m

Back on the Road

Day 7: Meknes – Fes
Time: 5:29:44
Distance: 106.8km
Average Speed: 19.4km/h

The only time options for the bus from Marrakech to Meknes were 11PM, 1AM and 12 Midday. I decided on the 11PM option so that I could get on the road early once the journey was complete. It wasn't possible to prebook tickets so I bought my ticket at 9PM and spent from 9-11PM waiting outside the bus station since they don't allow bikes inside. The bus arrived in Meknes at 7.30AM and I made my way into the centre of town to get some breakfast and change into bike gear. Meknes was freezing at this time of the day and I didn't hang around for too long.

My first stop of the day was the Roman ruins of Volubilis. Locals stepped up to offer a guided tour but I was in a rush to get to Fes so I wasn't interested. I got in and out in less than a half an hour then went for lunch of beef tagine in Moulay Idress. The town itself is built into a hillside and the main street is a very steep climb. People either side of the street shouted encouragement (I think) as I made my way through. The rest of the day I encountered a lot of forks in the road where I had to decide which way was to Fes. Generally there wasn't a sign and my internet wasn't working so I'd wait a few minutes until a car arrived to check the way to Fes. I arrived at the hostel (Funky Fes) at around 5.30PM and luckily they had space since I didn't have a reservation.

The Medina of Fes has a more relaxed (less harassing) vibe than Marrakech. On the other hand since there are a lot more streets in old town Fes you get a lot more people offering to be "tour guides". There are several signs for one of the main landmarks in the town, the "Blue Gate" which I should have navigated back to instead of paying a dodgy guide to lead me to the hostel when I got a bit lost.

I had dinner in the hostel when I got back from getting lost in the Medina. There was a good crowd in the common room and Sam who I roomed with in Marrakech had travelled up on the train a few hours before. Most of the people that I met in the hostel seem to be on their way to Chefchaouen where I'll be on Friday hopefully.