Monday, March 25, 2013

Broken cleats, broken dreams

Today is a day that “will be great! Lots of downhills!” according to Sayeed, said in that chipper voice that occasionally makes me want to strangle him. Okay, not really, though at times today I do find myself cursing everything else: my bike, the road, the mountains, my crazy and stupid-ass self, etc. But I get ahead of myself.

As usual, we set off by dodging and weaving through a sea of people walking willy-nilly in the road, meandering about on motorbikes, and so on. I comfort myself with the thought that we’ll be going downhill a lot today, apparently, rather than climbing up those blasted mountains, which my acute bronchitis doesn’t appreciate. By the way, I’ve now collected a whole heap of various remedies to try for my illness: half a cut onion put on the bedside table at night, milk and ginger, ginger alone, absinthe. I don’t know if the absinthe is exactly a remedy, but it’s alcohol, so I’ll take it. At one point I’m pouring that shit into my mint tea like no one’s business. Doesn’t help my cough, but who cares?

We then get to the downhills.

Whereupon Miss Tasha discovers that she has a slight problem. Which I had been starting to notice before, but which becomes all the more evident when I need to clip in fast because my bike is going to go careening down a very steep mountain.

This problem is that my cleats are so worn down that they won’t clip in to my shoes anymore. At all.

This means that when I try to clip in before heading down a 23% grade with a hairpin turn at the end, I’m up shit’s creek since I can’t, and I have no control over the pedals.

This is not good.

But, intrepid and stalwart crazy person that I am, I soldier on, one insanely steep mountain at a time, thinking, what the hell is up with Morocco? Was it built on an Indian burial ground, such that the whole damn country slopes downward? Seriously people.

Then I get to one particularly steep and long stretch, with the requisite bumpy road of chip seal, and I pick up enough speed to hit 44 mph and feel my bike go into the classic “death wobble”, where it feels like it’s going to fall apart. And potentially send me hurtling over a steep cliff.

I stop. And wish for some absinthe, or even some cough syrup. Alcohol might be my friend at the moment. It’s also telling that all of the mountains have the “oh shit” sign, as I call it. Or as others in the group have christened it, the “OMFG” or “surprise!” sign. Take your pick, I think they all work.

Luckily, Khaled is toodling along behind me, so when I stop, so does he, and we discuss the history of Morocco, the language and culture, and the possibility of having a goat farm with goats that are guaranteed to climb trees. That part is critical, of course. I then careen down more mountains, and we stop and chat some more. We even stop at one point and take a picture of the two of us, as pictorial evidence should we actually lose our lives on these mountains. Hey, better safe than sorry.

I’m proud of myself for actually cycling down all these mountains rather than revisiting my walk-a-thon from the Great Alpian Trip – until I get to one completely ridiculous stretch that has a crappy steep road, hairpin turn, then an even steeper descent to another hairpin. Umm, no. And did I mention that my cleats are useless? I put my cleatless foot down, and Khaled, ever-cheerful guide that he is, says "okay!" and walks down with me, as we chat away happily knowing that we're avoiding certain death.

But after walking that one, I make it down the rest, somehow, shaving a few years off my life, until we congregate at the lunch spot. When I learn that the remaining day’s ride is full of more of these damn descents, I pack it in, since I know I have an extra pair of cleats and we can replace them for tomorrow’s ride. At least I have company – Biljana and another person join me in the van, as they couldn’t deal with descending with a death grip on the brakes the entire time.

And by being in the van, I have more of an opportunity to look for small children with chipmunks on strings. This is apparently a “thing” in Morocco, or at least according to the guidebook that Stacey and I found in our room at the riad the other night. This book claimed that children would catch ground squirrels (aka chipmunks), put them on string leashes, and sell them to people to take to local restaurants to cook them up. Thus Stacey and I also remain vigilant in our search for these BYOC restaurants.

I kind of think the guidebook was just fucking with us.

That afternoon we’re all “entertained” by David and his rubber chicken, which he oh-so-nicely continues to give to little kids to ooh and aah over….until he takes it away. I weep at the trail of broken-hearted children left behind in Morocco, who’ll always be haunted by illusory dreams of that one day in the past when their rubber chicken dreams came true….

I also try to check in on occasion with my mom, at least when we have internet access. At this point, my missives are consisting of the bare basics, a posting on Facebook that notes “Still alive!” What else is there to say?

Near death misses: too many to count

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Goats in trees!

Sadly, we have to leave our little Moroccan paradise to actually get on our bikes and peddle on. But wait, no we don’t! Yes, we’re spared the prospect of cycling in freezing temps because we have to take the van to our next take-off spot, because there are no good non-trafficky roads that would get us there.

And as we’re driving, this is where we get into goats-in-trees territory. Or as I like to call it, GoatSpitLand. All you folks out there using argan oil on your hair? Though the marketing geniuses in the US refer to it rather obliquely as “Moroccan oil”? Yeah, that’s basically goat spit. No really.

You see, argan trees only grow in two areas of the world, the only the ones in Morocco bear this little fruit. That the goats climb into the trees to munch on, after which they spit out the little hull. That hull is then opened and the nugget inside is ground up into argan oil, used for cosmetics, soap, cooking, etc.


So yes, basically goat spit.

The tragedy of the day is that as I’m walking to get an up close shot of the goats happily climbing their trees, I drop my camera and it goes ptooeey. I am very sad – until I remember my brilliance in recently upgrading from my big bulky phone that was large enough to also make toast – to a smartphone! With picture-taking capabilities! Saved!

We finally get on our bikes to go up more damn mountains, and at some point……we lose Stacey. Our resident mountain goats Khaleed and Sayeed set out to look for her, and it turns out she’s gone off-roading. Literally. Because she and Sharon and Ely made a wrong turn, and Stacey in her competitive fervor had to pass Sharon and Ely, so that when Sharon realized they were going in the wrong direction (the gravel road was a giveaway), Stacey was too far ahead to call out to.

Note to self: there is great wisdom in being slow.

We get to our next town, where whee, it’s time to do some shopping! This is replete with hilarity, of course. The triumvirate of fun:

-       Stacey attempts to speak French with a guy at the market selling spices and Morrocan treats like sesame balls. Him to her: “Your French is really terrible you know.” Oops.

-       Stacey and I at the argan oil co-op, where we’re both buying some face cream. There are 2 types, and we have no idea what’s what.  The lady explains to us:

Argan oil lady: This one is for people before they have wrinkles, to prevent them, this other one is after you already have wrinkles.
Me: Oh, okay, so which one should I use?
AOL, after inspecting my face: Before wrinkles.
Stacey: Which one should I use then?
AOL, also peering at Stacey’s face: Oh, after wrinkles, definitely.

I guess around here they really don’t believe in soft-pedaling the customer, eh?

-       Then there’s the spice purveyor from whom I want to buy saffron and some raisins. He measures it all out, and then uses a little calculator to get the total price. As soon as I see it I know something’s wrong, because the price is lower than what just the saffron will cost. I shake my head at him, he calculates again. Again wrong. I shrug and figure hey, I might as well save some money on this wizened old spice seller, right? Nah. I keep insisting that the price is wrong – and then I finally realize, as he’s punching the numbers in, that he’s only inputting 4 grams of saffron instead of 5. Aha! Apparently this is the first time ever in the history of Morocco that anyone has ever wanted to pay MORE for something, so his astonishment and gratitude is something to behold. I think I got a family of pygmy goats, a son in marriage, and eternal good wishes bestowed on me, but I’m not too clear on that.

The next day is a rest day, or perhaps I should say “rest” day. Because off we go on a cheeky little jaunt to see some famous blue rocks, and said jaunt turns out to be more of a 6 mile trek. Said blue rocks turn out to NOT be the gently hued rocks I was expecting, magically looking a shade of dusky blue by some particularly odd angle of the sun. No, they’re actual blue rocks, painted at some point in the 70s by some wacky Dutchman, that have now become a weird tourist attraction. We arrive at the starting point to see what was a New Years rock concert, still in action. Morockapalooza? Apparently so, as there are trailers and camping equipment and a lot of hippie-looking dancing people. Odd.

On our way back I become the cliché of the person buying rugs in Morocco, as I stop off at the rug emporium with David and Mark. Since I suck at negotiating (sorry Wharton), I’m sure I vastly overpay, but I do wind up with some lovely rugs for me and my mom at a reasonable price, so how can I complain?

That evening we’re told that the next day’s climbs and descents will be epic – or “cheeky” as Sayeed likes to put it. Wait, what? I thought we already did that. Well, shit.