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After a few days in Rabat we left the bicycles behind and boarded the 1:30pm train to Marrakesh, marvelling at how simple it is to catch a train without two fully loaded touring bicycles.
Our taxi dropped us off at Djema El Fna Square, and with the help of several shopkeepers and our trusty iPhone we made it to Riad Layla Rouge without too many problems, no mean feat in Marrakesh which, similar to Fes, is a myriad of criss-crossing alleyways and dead-end streets. And of course Layla Rouge doesn’t have a sign.
Perhaps a little bit marred by our dusty few days along the coast, we opted to give ourselves a break and take a bus from Al Hoceima to Fes, boarding the sketchy vehicle at 6:15pm for an on time 6:30pm departure. It perhaps took an hour to realize that this vehicle had some serious mechanical issues, its life force seemed to ebb suddenly away without warning, leaving us all sitting stationary in the silent darkness of the mountains. Thankfully we eventually did arrive in Fes and rode around the cool quiet midnight streets to our hotel in the Ville Nouveau.
For the first day of our coastal cycle, we had planned an easy day of 29km to the town of Stehat. We headed inland for a kilometre or so against the flow of people, goats and donkeys arriving in Oued Laou for market day – veering left through fields and across the fertile river delta, then once again back to the coast. The road for the most part was patchy asphalt with gravel in some areas and no shoulder to speak of — we had to take care to avoid the maniacs that so often inhabit these roads.
We weren’t more than 5km into our ride when we came upon the first major road works of the day, where the construction of a large concrete bridge was under way. There were a number of huge trucks, a crane, at least one steam roller and an earth mover or two, Nic asked someone in passing how much of the road was under construction, not considering the impact the answer to this question would have, “300km.” was his unhesitating response – “300km? He must mean 30km, right?”. Blissfully ignorant we struggled on, up a slippery muddy slope that clogged our mudguards and spattered our legs. The truck drivers moving endless piles of yet more mud were encouraging and mildly baffled that two, seemingly sane people were riding into major road works ON BICYCLES(!).
I had made this seventy kilometre journey before, 11 years ago in a blue Mercedes taxi with Kirsty and Amelia, I remember the road being hills, dust and gravel…
We last left off in gorgeous San Sebastian, after a hedonistic few days we were back in the saddle and back to reality — arriving in Bilbao two days later (and we thought the hills surrounding San Sebastian were steep! ha!). Of course we visited the Gugenheim and enjoyed seeing Puppy in full bloom along with some other curiosities…after about as much modern Art as we could stomach we left Bilbao and continued along the coastline.
The northern coast of Spain is a spectacular place to cycle if you have a strong will and stronger legs. The views from the cliffs and coastal mountains are amazing — but you have to get there under your own steam. All of the up and down did take a bit of a toll on our collective mojo as did the long overdue financial status report. eeek!
We planned an emergency exit from Europe.