It was with some relief that I sat on Royal Air Maroc flight AT201 with a cup of tea in my hands and the completion of another continent in my legs.  I had finally made it across the last big stretch of my journey and now was just weeks away from home.  The final section of America was not the most inspiring in terms of cycling; busy, noisy roads up the generally forgettable, built-up east coast to New York; but it was made up for by the joy of riding through Manhattan itself.  I rode with a big smile on my face as I bustled through the lines of SUV's and yellow cabs, doing my best not to be distracted by the buildings stretching above into the skies, instead trying to keep my eyes out for opening doors and turning traffic.  I also had the chance to spend an evening in two of the most iconic jazz bars in the world: Blues Alley in Washington DC to see Kevin Eubanks and Blue Note Jazz Club in New York where Clint Eastwood's son, Kyle was playing.  America had been a little bit of a long slog in the end, not helped by the colder weather, but had provided plenty of highlights along the way.  I was ready to head into warmer climes and to get across the Atlantic, closer to home.

I arrived in Casablanca early on Easter Sunday after just one hour of sleep and with a bike to reassemble outside the terminal building.  The air was warm and everything was quiet.  I was expecting the place to be busy with passengers rushing around and traders going about their daily business, so was relieved to be able to just get on with it quietly.  The serenity didn't last long as I made my way into the city, adapting to the driving style of the locals.  Lanes didn't seem to be fixed at all and instead you just had to ride on the waves of traffic as it shifted from side to side across the road as someone decided to turn a little to the left or right for no apparent reason.  I arrived at the hotel I had booked and after a quick chat with my folks to let them know I'd successfully arrived I fell fast asleep.

Just a day in Casablanca was enough to see it and its only real attraction (apart from Rick's Cafe of course), The Hassan II Mosque.  I was told that this was the third largest in the world but Wikipedia has just overruled by declaring it merely the seventh.  Still, it seemed pretty impressive.  Casablanca is a pretty dirty, industrial city and whilst it was good to start to get a feel for Morocco and go into a supermarket to get an idea of prices so I don't just get ripped off by everyone, I was glad to start making my way to Fes.  After passing through Rabat, I headed inland and met a German cyclist heading the other way.  Cedrik had just ridden a day and a half from Fes but was in no rush to get anywhere so decided to turn around and join me for the next few days.  He had a very different style of touring with no real plan or final destination.  I'm not sure I could ever have faced deliberately turning round and going back on myself just for no real reason other than the company of a scruffy Englishman.  Still, a guide to the city who wouldn't end the day asking for lots of money shouldn't be sniffed at!  It was great to have some company and we continued on out of Fes and then into the hills in the pouring rain.  Something else where we differed as Cedrik couldn't see the point in riding in such conditions when it's no longer fun, whereas I'm much more in the head down and get the miles in camp.  He was also feeling a little under the weather so I didn't blame him when the next day he decided to do something unthinkable and take a bus up to Tangier rather than cycle there.  As I followed the miles of diversions and ended up pushing my bike along the railway line to avoid some flooding, I couldn't help but think that he was maybe onto something.  Still, I pressed on towards the end of my long day and found a hotel for the evening where I learnt that Moroccans take a slightly relaxed approach to maintenance.

The next morning I got up and packed all my bits back onto my bike and wheeled it to the door.  I turned the key to unlock it but nothing happened.  The lock had felt a little loose last night but had successfully sealed me into the room for the night.  Now however, it continued to seal me in.  Thankfully I had been unfortunate in being unable to find a very basic, cheap hotel to stay at.  I had ended the long day in a very touristy little town and the only hotel had rooms with balconies and sea views.  Whilst it left me with a slightly lighter wallet, this did leave me with an alternative exit however there was a large drop down from the balcony.  With my cycle helmet on (always safety first) I tentatively hauled myself up onto the roof of the building and across to the other side where I was able to drop down and get help from the guy at reception.  He didn't seem too bothered by it, like it happened all the time, and so gave me the key to the room next door so I could get my bike out through the linked balconies.  I just feel sorry for the old lady who gets locked in next time and doesn't have a cycle helmet to keep her safe as she clambers over the roof.

I rode on up to Tangier where I had arranged to meet up again with Cedrik.  As I entered the city I met a group of teenagers at a set of red lights.  Like I had experienced with many Moroccans, they had big smiles on their faces and wanted to say hello with a couple of them going for the old high five.  However, soon there were five or six of them around my bike and suddenly I could feel it being pulled from side to side as they tried to relieve me of my bags.  Before the lights turned green (sorry Mr Police Officer) I tried to ride through them with my hands busily trying to push them away and trying to hold onto the items on my bike they were trying to pull off.  From what I'd seen and heard, such obvious, public attempts at theft are rare in Morocco and thankfully they stayed that way as I managed to break clear retaining all my possessions, not really sure how.  Feeling slightly shaken by the experience, it was good to be back in Cedrik's company in the safety of our little hotel room.

After saying farewell to Cedrik, I rode over the hills to Ceuta, glancing often across the Strait of Gibraltar to mainland Europe where shortly a brief ferry ride would take me.  I felt very pleased with myself that in a super organised moment I had checked the time in Cueta which is a Spanish enclave located north coast of Africa, the place I'd be getting the ferry from.  Turns out I would have missed it by two hours had I been less on the ball.  As I disembarked the ferry and pedalled away from Algeciras, the familiar feeling of riding in European surroundings was brilliant.  I had a few familiar coins in my pocket, in just a few days I will be meeting my Mum in Barcelona and in just over a couple of weeks I will be back at home ready to embrace a 'normal life' again.  

Racing through Spain

As I perched on a bench enjoying my reaquaintance with baguettes, brie and ham, a couple of Dutch cyclists appeared heading in my direction.  After the quick obligatory introductory chat (where do you come from, where are you headed etc) we set forth together towards Alicante.  One of the cyclists continued on at his own pace while together with the other, we sped on ahead.  The wind was on our backs and we were descending slightly most of the afternoon making the riding pretty fast.  My companion decided to play a game with himself (I joined in the spirit but was not anything like as committed to it) called 'do not touch the brakes or slow down at all through very busy roundabouts'.  As we whizzed through numerous junctions he weaved like a ghost through the oncoming, turning traffic and I panted behind as I tried to catch up between each one, slightly amazed by the lack of an accident.  Who was this slightly crazy, slightly deaf Dutchman I'd been ready to scrape off the radiator grill of a passing car?  Turns out I had been riding all afternoon with former F1 driver Huub Rothengatter!