On Travelling & The Morocco: Kingdom Of The West Bicycle Tour

 

Travelling – it leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller.” – Ibn Battuta

It’s done. The 34 day, 2,635 km long Morocco: Kingdom of the West Bicycle Tour has made a complete circle and arrived back at its starting point in Casablanca. It was a tour with a lot of highs – as in climbing, and an even number of downs – as in descents, a tour full of laughter and surprises, a tour with as much couscous and tagine as your heart desired, always ending with sweet delights and Moroccan whiskey – as in Nana tea, – a tour that humbled us all – as we cycled through the devastation caused by the epicentre of the area hit by an earthquake eight months ago. Some of us reunited with riders from previous TDA tours and spent a joyous time with old friends and acquaintances. And we all made new friends. In short, it was great fun had by all. Now it was time to go back home.

I and a handful of staff still had a job to do, delivering two of our company’s vehicles back to their home base in Slovakia. On the way to Port of Tangier, I was hoping to make a brief visit to pay respect in the Medina – the old walled city of Tangier to a man, or should I say a legend, who was born and buried in the city. Unfortunately, as the maxim goes, ‘man plans and God laughs’, we had some vehicle problems (what else is new) and our departure from Casablanca was delayed by a few hours, which meant that the visit to the Medina was no longer an option.

Local man with camel

You’ve probably never heard of Abū Abd Allāh Muḥammad ibn Abd Allāh Al-Lawātī whose mausoleum I wanted to visit, though you most likely have heard the name he was widely known by, Ibn Battuta or, in translation, the ‘son of a duckling’. There is even – according to Wikipedia – a large themed mall named after him in Dubai. Many believe that he may have been the greatest explorer of all time, or at least the greatest traveller of all time. In 14th century, before there were airplanes and steamboats, not to mention nuclear submarines, it is said that he travelled around 120,000 km. His journey began when he was born in 1304 in Tangiers and ended when he died in 1369 in Marrakesh.

The truth is that our tour cycled to Tangier three days after we left Casablanca. Unfortunately we didn’t have a rest day there (hopefully the next iteration of Kingdom of the West tour will have one) and so, with the headwinds and my old legs, by the time I made it to our campsite on the outskirts of Tangier, it was too late to visit the burial site of Ibn Battuta.

As a very young man Ibn Battuta decided to make a visit to Mecca, starting by himself on a donkey. Even now we saw a lot of donkeys as we cycled through the country, and some of us will tell you that we heard even more of them as we tried to sleep in our tents. Eventually, with several divergences, he did make it to Mecca but then he continued to travel as far as India, China, down the East and West coasts of Africa, the Iberian Peninsula, Central Asia, and more. He returned home after 30 years of travelling.

Even though he was an educated scholar, Ibn Battuta didn’t take any notes while he travelled and only later, after coming home, like Marco Polo, another well-known traveller, did he dictate his adventures into a book – A Gift to Those Who Contemplate the Wonders of Cities and the Marvels of Travelling – or more commonly known as – The Rihla. And like Marco Polo’s stories, some scholars nowadays doubt veracity of certain of his tales. Nevertheless, whether old age, vanity or just the plain desire of a storyteller to embellish his tales, there is no doubt that ‘son of the duckling,’or Ibn Battuta, had a life full of adventures.

I have come across Ibn Battuta’s name many times, having travelled quite a bit myself, but I have not read The Rihla, though I have promised myself that one day I will. I did want to visit his purported mausoleum and just stand there as one soulmate to another. Perhaps some wonderful revelation would pop up in my mind…or perhaps not.

Still, I like to think that each and every participant on the Morocco: Kingdom of The West Bicycle Tour would agree with this quote from a man of Berber descent who called himself Shams al-Din Abu’Abdallah Muhammad ibn’Abdallah ibn Muhammad ibn Ibrahim ibn Muhammad ibn Yusuf Lawati al-Tanji ibn Battuta. “Travelling – it offers you a hundred roads to adventure and gives your heart wings.” Yes, for a few weeks our hearts had wings and we were soaring.

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