#8 Granada – Meknès

Hi friends!

I am sweating in a cyber café in the center of Meknès. (I did not know where Meknès was 3 months ago, so here’s a link to google maps: Meknès ). It seems I can handle the heat better when I’m on the bike than when I sit down. 

4200km after leaving Damme I have entered Morocco – 7th country already – and at the same time the African continent. Morocco has been great so far. The scenery is lovely, and a lot of people come up to talk to me – or just yell through the car window. Some in Spanish, others in French, or even German (I guess they can tell from 2 miles away I don’t speak Arabic). I can barely count how many times I’ve been invited to stay the night at someone’s house.

I also feel I am transcending into another dimension. I live in a fairy-tale world with beautiful views and friendly people. I have no idea what day it is (actually I just checked – it’s Tuesday), I just live the life I’ve always dreamed of.

For those who just want to see some pictures, here’s a link:

more pics

It’s been an absolute blast since the last time I posted, here are some of the highlights:

  • I cycled in Andalusia – in the Sierra Nevada and along the coast.
  • I visited an old colleague in Estapona.
  • I cleaned my bike in a car wash.
  • I got on a boat to Africa.
  • I camped wild in a field of weed plants.
  • I visited two cities in Northern Morocco.
  • I had a lot of tea.

From Granada, I decided to go to Malaga. An old colleague of mine had invited me to stay for a night at his place in Estapona, but more importantly: I wanted to visit a city where I could buy tires etc. 

I cycled down a road that borders the sierra Nevada, and ends at the sea in Motril. At some point I was literally cycling in the clouds. 20km of downhill later I arrived at the sea.

Sierra Nevada

In Malaga, I visited 6 different garages on a quest for “sylicon spray” to lubricate the belt system I use. I also bought new tubes and hung out in the city.

the Cathedral of Malaga by night.

On the way to Estapona, I met a family who have a collective hobby: fishing. The Gonzalez family make an event of an afternoon of fishing by the sea, although I did get the impression the beer is also a key element of the fun – for the adults of course ;). They were excited to hear where I had come from, and where I was heading.

In Estapona, I was welcomed by Olivier, Geraldine, and their two daughters. Olivier is an ex-collegue of mine, and he was spending his well deserved holidays with his family in Spain. A night in a real bed – or a couch – is always great after nights of wild camping! Thanks Olivier for explaining how the point system in golf works ;).

Olivier – poolside Estapona

After Estapona, there was only one thing on my mind: getting on the boat to Morocco. Because I had booked my tickets in advance I was not in a hurry. I still had time to visit the town square of Algeciras and go to a car wash.

Algeciras

I was excited about taking the boat. Somehow it felt like the “real” beginning of the journey. I stood on the deck of the boat and smiled as it left the port. The bike had been tested in Europe, and now it was time for the real work. The boat took me to Ceuta, which is still part of Spain. 5 miles further South I crossed the border into Morocco. There was a long line of cars at the border (customs + entry), I casually skipped the line by cycling in between two lanes…

There were no other cyclists on the boat. I talked to some people and most of them were visiting family in Morocco. Among them were these two boys:

on to a new chapter!

The next day I visited Tétouan – one of the oldest cities in Morocco, with a Medina that is recognized by UNESCO as world heritage.

Boys keeping an eye on sheep/goats

a cat in front of traditional herbs in a “Berber” pharmacy – Tétouan

The grand mosque – Tétouan

I continued further South, and cycled in the rif mountains. The rif mountains are known for traditional shepherds who live in the hills, also called “Jebala” – who wear colorful hats. The Rif mountains are also known for exporting insane amounts of weed to Europe. I actually really liked cycling here. The scenery is great, and there are little villages along the way with tea houses and friendly people.

I did not smoke any mom, I swear !

mountain trail

Two days after riding off the boat, I climbed a hill towards a town called Chefchouen, also known as “the blue pearl”. In Chefchouen, I met Jamel. After driving off with my bike for 2 minutes, and scaring me to death, he helped me find someone who could fix a hole in one of my bags.

Jamel – one of the most entertaining people I’ve met so far.

Looking for a campsite – just outside of Chefchouen.

The next day I had a flat tire after 5km. I had to replace the tube on the side of the road, and it didn’t take long before two Tunisian girls stopped and asked if they could help. I was flattered by their kindness and offered to make them coffee & biscuits (I carry a little gas fire with me). They turned out to be well traveled, and told me a lot about the part of Morocco that lies ahead for me.

Roadside Café


After Karima and Cynda drove off another guest arrived: Mohamed. He also wondered if I could use some help… I just made some more coffee. Mohamed describes himself as a farmer and business man. His family has been growing olives and figs for generations, but now he’s trying to start a hotel business using air BnB (with the help of his son). The last guest was Jérôme, a French guy from Montpelier who comes back to this region every year.

After everyone had left, I fixed the flat tire, and cycled towards Ouazzane. It was over 40° by then, so I stopped in every village to get tea.

 

The next day I finally arrived in Ouazzane, and I bumped into Younès – a local celebrity who owns one of the tea houses. Younès seems to know everyone, and he is well aware of everything that’s going on. Younes took me to the souk, and showed me the oldest guarded parking for donkeys :).

Younès, local celebrity

Eid shopping – Ouezanne

Grand mosque – Ouezanne

After sleeping at Younès his place, I cycled to Meknès the next day. The roads were completely abandoned because of Eid, so I cycled in the middle of the road all day long. For two hours I did not see a living soul – except for one man on a donkey.

I am now hanging out in Meknès and I’m staying with the family of a friend – who’s joining me tomorrow. For the first time since Switzerland, I am taking a couple days off.

Ismailia Palace – Meknès

Grand mosque – Meknès

 

 

#7 Zurich – Granada

Dear friends,

I have reached Granada! I am sitting in a dodgy hotel, writing as fast as possible until they throw me out – because I am not staying here. There seems to be only one internet cafe in this city, and they are on annual leave… so I begged the guy at the reception if I could use this PC for an hour or so. The browser is in Spanish and I have no spelling correction at all (nevermind the typos).

if you are like me and just want to see pics, just click here:

more pics

What an adventure it has been so far! It has been little over a month, and I must say: I love my new life. Despite the heat, fatigue of the daily rides, nights in the tent, and a bit of loneliness, I am loving every single moment. I have also embraced being alone. I just talk to strangers – in bars, gas stations, on the street, and tell them about what I’m doing and ask what they are up to. Being alone forces me to meet strangers,and that is what I want. I even have an opening line “He venido en bicicleta desde Bélgica“. I usually get stuck within 10 seconds after that line, but who cares?

For those who cannot be bothered to read the rest of this post, here’s what happened:

  • I met Petra and Marianne from WoMena in Geneva – and received a t-shirt!!
  • I cycled along the Rhone river in France to the mediterranean sea.
  • I met 3 fellow German cyclists (at different places).
  • I cycled some more in Spain and met with old and new friends.
  • It was very hot all the time!

from Zurich onwards I cycled towards Geneva in three days. The first two days I cycled mainly along lakes and green fields, and also biked along the Aare river. 

Zug Lake

Aare river

Sunflower – Sunset

sunblock 50!! Because I sweat a lot, I need to put on sunblock 3 times a day.

On the third day I had some fun in the Jura mountains. I stopped in a small village and hung out with some locals. This kid came up to me only to tell me that his bike is better than mine. “you have got some nerve young man“. His mom gave me some chocolate cake though, so we quickly ended our fight. It is difficult to argue with someone wearing an awesome T-shirt like that…

young man in Russille

chocolate cake

some mountain madness in the Jura Mountains

After 20km downhill I arrived in Geneva, where I was welcomed by Petra (communication advisor of WoMena) and Marianne (executive director of WoMena). They gave me food (the Jura had drained my legs) and more importantly this awesome T-shirt. With this sybolic handover, I am now officially cycling for WoMena! Also check WoMena

Petra and Marianne: I wanted to make this picture look like a transfer in football…

lake Geneva

The next day I woke up with sore legs (because of the 1600m of elevation difference I climbed the previous day – Marianne´s guest bed was great), so I gently cycled to the South and into France.

For 3 days I followed the Rhone river towards Avignon, and had a lot of fun along the way. I talked with locals in bars, and I met a fisherman. I talked to him about different fishing techniques while watching the sun set above the river. I told him about eal fishing along the canal were I grew up, as he told stories about huge fish he caught in the Mediterranean Sea. I cycled along the Rhone river for about 400km, and discovered how different the river looks in different places.

fisherman in Virignin

my bike is a real diva, always attracting attention! Saint-Genix-sur-Guiers.

The last 50km before the mediterranean sea I cycled in a natural park called “les Etang palavasiens”. It is a lagoon-like complex with canals and lakes, and only gravel roads. The wildlife is very impressive with a wide variety of birds (some parts reminded me of “het Zwin”).

Étang de l’or – étangs palavasiens

At last the mediterranean sea! Less than a week after leaving Switserland I arrived at the seaside 50km West of Montpelier.

Along the coast, I met Jens, a man from Munich who was on his way to meet his girlfriend in Barcelona. We cycled a few hours along the beach. When I cycled next to him I thought he was 30 something years old, but he turned out to be 48! Clearly cycling keeps you young!

The next day I ran into another German cyclist: Nils from Karlruhe. We decided to team up and cycle together to Girona. Nils turned out to be a great cyclist. He carried very little luggage, and could easily keep up 30km/h. I just followed him as we did almost 200km a day for three days in a row.

Besides being great at cycling, he also has style ;): Check out those retro sunglasses – matched perfectly with his retro bike. The hipsters in Karlsruhe should declare him king!

Parc naturel regional narbonnaise mediterannee.

After dropping of Nils at Girona to catch a train back to Carlsruhe, I continued towards Barcelona. I started to go more off road as well.

I made a short stop in Barcelona and then cycled as fast as I could to Valencia to meet Sandra Sanoguera and Marcos Del Molino Talavera – Friends of mine who have family ties to Spain:

I cycled along the ‘via Augusta’. An ancient Roman road named after emperor Augusta that conected Cádiz in the southern tip of current Spain, to the Coll de Panissars (and further to Rome, as all roads used to lead there). In the picture below, I am posing in front of one of the ancient relics along the Via Augusta. The deceased – who rest inside – are guarded by devine protectors on both sides.

90km before arriving in Valencia, I met up with Marcos in the train station of Castellón de la Plana. Marcos and I cycled along beautiful beaches and along fields of orange trees.

we stumbled on this beach near Castellón de la Plana. It still has the traditional beach houses that have become rare along the Spanish coast.

At night, Sandra and Marcos gave me a guided tour of the city. More importantly, my legs finally got some rest.

Since Valencia I’ve been doing a lot of off road. I cycled away from the coast and into the hills to avoid traffic and tourists, and to enjoy the untouched nature Spain has to offer. I don’t have any time pressure at this point, so I just have fun, and cycle on dirt and sandroads as much as I can. The views have been so amazing that I don’t even care about the drops of sweat and sunblock dripping into my eyes in the 35° heat.

I have a love-hate relationship with dogs. Some dogs like to chase me (3 times in Spain already), but some dogs are friendly. This one, who was resting in the shadow of the “provincia de Almeria” sign, smelled cookies in one of my bags.

Xiquena Castle – province of Murcia – was founded during Muslim rule over the area, certainly before the 13th century, but maybe even as early as the 10th century. It was part of a large and hostile frontier area between the Kingdom of Castile and the Emirate of Granada.

hills as far as the eye can see.

I cycled towards Valez Rubio – a small mountain village between Murcia and Almeria – where I stayed with the Bañon family (friends of my family). I had the best home made gaspacho (made by Rachel) and hung out with the family for a day.

Mr and Mrs Banon.

Rachel preparing the best gaspacho in the world! (she has a special machine to do so).

Back to business: after two days in a normal bed I loaded up the bike for some more fun in Parque Natural Sierra de María-Los Vélez.

Rachel´s husband, Juan, guided me for the first 30km. Juan is 56, is a member of the local cycling club, and he has a resting heart rate of 36 (…). This picture shows how he left me breathless on the flanks of a hill called “Maimon”.

Juan smiling after he beat me uphill. Also notice a mountain called “the tooth” in the background

As I am making my way further South, the landscape is becoming very dry.

Andalousia – Embalse de Negratín – a reservoir used to store water for agrigulture.

“Torre de Guajar” an old watchtower in a valley bordering the Sierra Nevada.

I have now reached Granada, with over 3200km in the books (I did not take pictures yet).