Morocco: Kingdom of the West, Here I Come!
‘When one door closes, another opens’, so goes the idiom. Three years in a row, I have excitedly looked forward to cycling Korea and Japan in the spring, only to have Covid ‘uninterruptus’ scratch the idea, again and again. What is one to do? Well, when you are like me, fortunate to have options, you take a look at the TDA calendar and start dreaming about some other new trips. One tour that still has spaces available is Morocco: Kingdom of the West.
I was in Morocco in 2018 with our inaugural West Africa en Vélo tour. The ride started in Casablanca and headed south. The cycling was great, and the rest of the experience was even better. You can get a sense of what I mean from the video above. The, relatively speaking, short time I was there gave me a taste of the country. Call it an appetizer. Boy, did it ever whet my appetite for more and left me wanting to come back someday. Why?
Well, speaking of appetizers, let me start with the food. I loved the Moroccan cuisine, starting with Harira soups, then main dishes such as tagines, couscous lamb with prunes (after all I am of a certain age), refissa – a stewed chicken and lentils fragrantly seasoned with fenugreek, saffron, ras el hanouta – a mixture of many Moroccan spices, or pastilla – a seafood pie similar to pilo. The list goes on and on. When it comes to deserts, kaab el ghzal (gazelle ankles), a pastry stuffed with almond paste and topped with sugar, and its cousin Briouats, filled with almond or peanut paste and fried, then dipped in warm honey flavoured with orange blossom water. To wash it all down, how about a ‘Whisky Moroccan’ – also known as menthe tea or tea with nana. For someone who loves fruits and vegetables like I do, there was plenty to enjoy. If you watch the video closely, there is even some footage of me picking some delicious cactus pears on the road. It is a fruit that is well known for assisting poorly performing digestive systems. And let’s not forget that the previous colonial powers, France and Spain, have left their own culinary footprints with foods such as paellas widely available in the coastal areas.
Marrakesh was a treat. When I was there, I managed to visit the Koutoubia Mosque, with its incredible 12th century minaret, the souk, the Melah – the old Jewish quarter, as well as spending an hour or so in a Hammam getting a traditional massage and bath. The highlight, however, was dinner with several riders on the world famous Jeema El-Fna. Afterwards we wandered amongst the musicians, acrobats and story tellers in the huge square. There are still many great sites like the El Baadi and Bahia Palaces and the Majorelle Garden that I had no time to visit. I now hope to do so as I have decided to join this tour.
If Marrakesh was a treat, Fez, which is on the tour itinerary and is according to Rough Guides, “perhaps the most beautiful of all Arab cities which still maintains a life rooted in medieval kingdom” makes me ache with anticipation. My feet are itching when I think about walking the Medina of Fez. “Fez stimulates all the senses: a barrage of haunting and beautiful sounds, infinite visual details and unfiltered odours”, at least according to Rough Guides. Just think of the tanneries of Fez. I can’t wait for my traditional walkabout on the rest day in the city.
Do you want to hear some other reasons why I am now excited to join this tour? Morocco, geographically speaking, is divided into four zones: the coasts: Mediterranean and Atlantic, the great cities of the plains, the Rif and Atlas Mountains and the desert. And I will have the opportunity now to experience all four areas.
And there is more. The tour’s first rest day is in the blue-washed town of Chefchaouen, enclosed by mountains and, according to Rough Guide, “the most beautiful small town in Morocco”. In 1492, when Spain gave its Jewish citizens the ‘option’ to convert or get out, a certain number of the refugees settled in this distant town and apparently the indigo blue of the Mellah painted walls are a contrast to the traditional green of Islam.
After Fez, the next rest day for a great adventure is in Merzouga and the opportunity to visit Erg Chebbi dunes. To quote a famous, sometimes resident of Tangiers, American novelist Paul Bowles, “Once a man has been under the spell of the vast, luminous, silent country, no other place is quite strong enough for him, no other surrounding can provide the supremely satisfying sensation of existing in the midst of something that is absolute.”
But perhaps the most exciting reason I am so enthusiastic about going on this tour will hopefully happen on the last rest day in Essaouira. Ever since I first saw a kite-surfer on TV, I thought, “Wow, wouldn’t this be cool to try and learn”. That opportunity has never come about but Essaouira is a prime wind and kite surfing destination with several teaching schools. And I hear that you are never too old to try new things. Are you game to join me?
Morocco: Kingdom of the West
Join us on this mystical cycling odyssey through Morocco – The Kingdom of the West. It is a country of mountains and beaches, souks and mosques...