The southerly winds were making it difficult to gain any relative headway, and grinding out the kilometres in granny gear against whipping air, wasn’t helping create a love of tour cycling for our kids either.
So we cut inland towards the large town of Ksar el Kebir. There, we reckoned, we’d be able to avoid the raw coastal breezes whilst still making our way in a south (albeit, easterly) direction.
The one thing about Morocco we are quickly discovering is the vast distance between campsites -up to 160 kilometres; and with so many people around, all the time and everywhere, our chances of discreetly free camping looked slim.
Even when you feel like you’re sufficiently clear of the last town -in the middle of nowhere – shepherds appear, driving their flocks of sheep.
After our day’s ride inland from the coast we happened upon a dusty path that lead towards a small settlement of concrete houses where kids played football on bare earth, the sound of their laughter drawing us closer.
Morocco credits itself as having two official languages: Arabic and French, but you don’t have to go far out of the city to discover that French is really just heard in the metropolis. In the countryside it’s practically non-existent, so much so, that when we proclaimed: nous cherchons une site de camping, sil vous plait (we seek a camping site, please) all we received in return were blank smiling faces. So we tried the back up option: a picture of our tent, drawn in the dusty earth.
Again, more blank stares..
Just as we were about to abandon hope of finding a place to pitch our tent, a young man came forward beckoning us with a wave and leading us over to his courtyard; complete with family cow, sheep, chickens, and shelter to rest our bikes upon.
What’s more he spoke a little French and when we enquired about pitching our tent he simply shook his head, preferring instead to usher us through to a white room with an orange divan-like settee around the walls, and a small transportable table in the middle.
Our host quickly disappeared, but before long returned back this time with his family whereby we began the process of embracing and kissing each other – It was as if we were old friends rather than dusty strangers that the cat had just dragged in and dumped on the rug.
Soon sweet Moroccan mint tea was carried into the room and afterwards a delicious one pot meal (Tajine au Poullet) consisting of potatoes, peas, carrots, and chicken; all soaked in strong spices, on a bed of couscous, and eaten with buttery naan-like bread. The kids loved it, not just because of the flavour but because it was all eaten by hand – so much for manners! but, when in Morocco eat like the locals, we figured.
During the evening, as the temperature dropped, we were given robes, blankets, and slippers to wear, before our host family left us to settle down on the mattresses they’d brought in earlier. It was a humbling moment and when we tried to offer money in the morning they just shook their heads, before hugging us goodbye.
As a parting gift, the boys pulled out a flag of New Zealand from the back of our bike which felt a little lame after all they’d done, but they seemed genuinely grateful, and with that we waved goodbye to what was an amazingly authentic Moroccan experience.