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Road biking across the Moroccan landscape

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“Roadbiking in Morocco”, “Road Biking in Morocco”, “Riding a Roadbike in Morocco”. These were some of my most common Google searches before moving to Fes, Morocco, this last summer.


BY RUNE FRIIS


Jbel Zalagh. It looks frightening from whatever angle you choose to look at it. Standing in the Old Medina of Fes, it feels like Jbel Zalagh is watching your every move. It doesn’t look like a regular mountain, actually it is shaped more like a lion, and one would think that this could have been the Great Sphinx of Morocco, if the ancient Moroccans could have been bothered to carve it.

Roadbiking in Morocco”, “Road Biking in Morocco”, “Riding a Roadbike in Morocco”. These were some of my most common Google searches before moving to Fes, Morocco, this last summer. Being an enthusiastic cyclist back home made me wanting to bring my bike with me to Morocco. I find biking as one of the most exciting and fun types of exercise, as long as the sun is out, the wind is in the back and you can ride in short sleeves. Unfortunately, I am from Denmark. A country of rain and headwind, except a few months a year. Hence, I thought that Morocco would be a great opportunity for me to use my bike more, get in better shape and also experience some of Morocco’s great nature. Now, the thing is that I was moving to Fes. From what I found out, living in more “Westernized” cities of Morocco, this wouldn’t have been a problem. But being as traditional and conservative as Fes, not many of the “Fassis” are ever out on a bike, and you really can’t blame them. The risk of traffic accidents here in Fes is higher than the Alpe d’Huez, and riding a bike without being an experienced and alert rider is close to going on a suicide mission. Luckily, I am born and raised in a country that tries to brand itself as the number one bike country in the world. I have been riding a bike almost everyday of my life, but nothing compares to riding a bike here in Fes. The great thing about the traffic in Fes is, that once you get through it, a whole new world of beautiful nature lies beneath your front wheel.

 

Moroccan landscape. Photo: Rune Friis/The Turban Times.

Moroccan landscape. Photo: Rune Friis/The Turban Times.

I remember the first time going out on my bike here. I usually ride with my friend, who is a national team triathlete, and this means that my focus usually is not to lose his wheel. This got me over Jbel Zalagh the first time, and now I feel like I am able eat mountains like Jbel Zalagh for breakfast.

The Old Medina of Fes is strategically placed behind mountains, so that one could always see if someone was approaching from afar. Once you get over and away from these mountains, you see landscapes one would only imagine existed. To the north of Fes, and over Jbel Zalagh there are mountains making you think, you just landed on the moon. To get to these mountains you have to go through a part of the land with a river. The river means that farming was possible even in summertime, when everything else was dried out. Looking over the fields it almost looks like the lowlands and rice fields of a country like Vietnam. When you get all the way out to the moonlike mountains with beautiful sand waves on the sides, you are alone. You can bike around for an hour without meeting one single Moroccan.

 

Photo: Rune Friis/The Turban Times.

Photo: Rune Friis/The Turban Times.

To the northwest, you find more life. Riding out this way means that you will find a lot of beautiful olive fields, and a lot of small villages. And out here you can experience riding behind a flock of sheep, herded by a 7-year-old girl who clearly can’t manage to get her 60+ sheep out of the road so the bikes can pass.

To the south of Fes, you find the cities of Sefrou and Ifran. Our longest ride here in Morocco so far has been to the Switzerland of Morocco (I didn’t make that up, they actually call it that), Ifran. One of the few places in Africa where you can ski in winter. The climb to Ifran was actually not that bad. Placed on the summit of a mountain 2000 meters above sea level, but with a long steady climb of around 50 or 60 kilometres before reaching the top. Going to and back from Ifran was the longest ride I have ever ridden. Going from Fes through Sefrou before reaching Ifran and riding back through Immouzer was a good 170 kilometres, give or take a few. The best thing about the long ride to Ifran was the smell of fresh air just before reaching the top. Fes is a city with a lot of cars, and garbage along the streets meaning that the smell here isn’t always the best. Mixing these smells with a summer temperature of almost 40 degrees Celsius, meant that the relieve of the fresh air in Ifran was breath-taking, pardon the pun.

 

Moroccan landscape. Photo: Rune Friis/The Turban Times.

Moroccan landscape. Photo: Rune Friis/The Turban Times.

One thing you need to worry a bit about when biking around Morocco are the wild dogs. Being as adventurous and living on the edge-type-of-guy like I am, meant that I didn’t get the rabies vaccine before moving here #YOLO. This also means that whenever I hear a dog on the country side, I gear down and start to pedal. I think I reached 5 near-to-death experiences last week, when a dog was chasing us. Biking around with a bit more body fat than my triathlete friend, means that I look as the better meal for the dogs. I don’t know whether to laugh or cry after the encounters with the dogs, but for sure looking down and seeing a bloodthirsty hound 20 centimetres from your calf is never a great experience, although exciting.

Our fanbase here in Morocco is growing, and sometimes it feels like the excitement of the week when we go through the villages on our bikes. I often wonder what the rural Moroccans are doing just sitting or standing by the road. Are they waiting for someone, or are they just enjoying a life without worries and electricity? Anyway, the young people of these villages are cheering for us, some are throwing rocks, but I am sure they mean this must be some kind of positive greeting. A cultural thing we don’t know about. Our fans in the villages are running by our side, and usually it is great, but after 3 hours uphill in the heat, it is not always easy to smile back to them. One time, when I was really exhausted and just wanted to throw my bike of the mountainside, one of the kids called me Lance Armstrong, making me think whether or not I would be able to find the Eufimiano Fuentes of Morocco back in Fes.

 

Photo: Rune Friis/The Turban Times.

Photo: Rune Friis/The Turban Times.

After spending almost three months in this country, I can recommend it to anyone who loves roadbiking. The hills are challenging, the roads are fair, and the weather is almost always perfect for a bike ride. Getting up in the morning and going for a 2 hour ride up and down Jbel Zalagh, makes you more fresh than the strongest espresso in the world. You have to take care in traffic, and be aware of dogs and suicidal sheep, who are faster than you think, and suddenly can jump out of the trees and into the road in front of you. There a not many places here you can rent a bike, and bringing a bike bag with one of the lowcost airlines going to Morocco, can make the trip not so low in cost. It is definitely worth it, and even though I am not usually amazed by nature, I have been stunned by what I have seen here.

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Rune Friis is both a cultural and business oriented blogger. Doing business with the MENA region on a daily basis and business trips to the region as often as possible gives him a great possibility to hear different opinions and angles from around the region. With an educational background in Arabic Negotiation and Business he has a great knowledge of politics, culture and business dynamics in the MENA. Rune lived in Fes, Morocco for one year, and even though his mindset is not Moroccan yet, he is still craving the traditional, Moroccan Couscous on Fridays.

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