Spain and Morocco

June 22, 2022 to July 22, 2022

Jim Kern and I had already started planning our 2022 adventure near the end of our 2021 adventure in Portugal. This should not imply that it was well planned however. Too much planning creates inflexibility.

Having been through so many adventures and faced daunting challenges together, we know we will get through it all. In fact part of the adventure is figuring out how to proceed in the face of obstacles.

Jim arrived in Barcelona Airport from California on June 22, I arrived the same day from France. We would have about two weeks to make it to Morocco and back to Barcelona to meet up with Cynthia. Jim had reserved a camper car for his journey with Cynthia. Jim and I would be travelling by bicycle and public transportation (trains, boats).

Jim did not seem to be suffering from jetlag, so we immediately went to the storage locker in town to set up the bikes. I reassembled my rig as usual. Jim slapped a panier on one side of his bike and called it ready to ride.

Now Jim is no stranger to high end cycling equipment. He has owned and ridden some of the best. He is also able to make-do like noone I know. If you remember from a previous post, we bought the bottom of the line bike from Decathlon for him to ride (<$300 USD). The plan was to ride together on an unknown coarse from Spain to Morocco and back, then sell the bike for whatever we could get.

It only took Jim a spin around the block on his new bike to feel comfortable about the whole idea. So the next morning we headed south along the beach, without any real plan.

That night along the beach something special was in the works, a celebration of sorts. We had stumbled into the Feast of Sant Joan, a Summer Solstice celebration which was a pretty big deal in the Barcelona area. People had set up tents on the beach and partied all night long. We were turned away from two restaurants for not having a reservation.

We eventually found a good place to eat. After dinner we watched the fireworks that seemed to come from every direction. They continued on late into the night.

The next morning we set about planning the trip to Morocco. The idea was to take a train to a port city in the south then catch a ferry crossing to Morocco. The tricky part is finding a train that would allow us to take our bikes onboard without packaging them first, then finding a ferry on short notice that had vacancy. I learned that ferry travel for this crossing is usually booked weeks in advance.

After struggling with a few different ticket apps on our phones, we decided to catch a local train back to Barcelona and get the ticket office at the train station to help us out. This was a good choice and also somewhat amusing.

After standing in line, we were sent to stand in another line. Jim stayed to watch the bikes. I went to the second line. There I found a guy with the right tools for a somewhat complicated task: Plan a route by train to Almeria, Spain where we could take our bikes onboard the train without packaging them.

After a few eye-rolls, the guy got to work. Minutes went by. He called for help from his colleagues. Visibly exasperated, he finally said it was not possible. The closest he could get us is Murcia, Spain which was more than a two hundred kilometers from our goal, and would require us to change trains multiple times.

I told him to sell me the tickets. We can easily bicycle the remaining distance.

He replied, “No, you’ll die”. which made me laugh. We must appear to him as a couple of old men, in way over our heads.

He reluctantly printed out the tickets. For the remainder of the trip, Jim or I would occasionally verbalize that we were not dead yet.

Path to Morocco: Train (blue), Bicycle (red), Ferry (Yellow)

Our first train out of Barcelona was delayed due to mechanical problems. The train they used instead was much smaller and jammed with passengers. There was no way to get two bikes onboard, we tried.

Everything that followed was a best guess approximation of the tickets we were given in Barcelona. Surprisingly though, it worked well enough. We ended the day at sun down in Cartegena, Spain which was hosting a jazz festival. The hotels were all booked full due to the festival. After checking around we eventually found a place to stay.

It took us three days to make it to the ferry port in Almeria, Spain. We did not in fact die along the way, though the roads were rough gravel in places with plenty of climbing. It was pretty easy to find restaurants and hotels between the long stretches of wilderness.

Along the way we saw a desalination plant. We also found a derelict construction project of a hotel on a grand scale. This fascinated Jim. Judging by the plants growing up in the site, he estimated that the project had stopped a few years ago, even though the construction cranes were still mounted in place. He was still scratching his head on this one until he asked some folks in town.

Turns out the town permitted the project, but the state stepped in and disallowed it because it was within a wildlife preserve. The result is a half built hotel project permanently stalled. Everybody was suing everybody, a sad state of affairs.

We arrived in Almeria on June 28.

Morocco Crossing

After several attempts, I gave up booking a ferry online. Time was running short. Jim decided to go old school and just call one of the ferry companies (Baleinaria). It worked.

He found there were open seats on the ship leaving that night. We grabbed a quick shower in the harbor and we boarded with a minimum of procedure.

It turns out that on this ferry the Moroccan immigration procedure is set up on board, instead of in the port. While sailing toward Morocco, there were forms to fill out and a crowded line to stand in. It took many hours to process everyone of about 100 passengers standing in the line, a perfect superspreader event. I thought surely there must be a more efficient way.

On board, Jim and I found semi comfortable chairs to sleep in. We arrived just before sunrise in Nador, Morocco.

There we were, first time tourists fresh off the boat. I expected to get rushed by the locals hawking their wares. This did not happen. The street scene there was surprisingly quiet.

Jim and I rolled our bikes off the boat and through immigration. We sat down in a nearby sidewalk cafe. While Jim ordered us some breakfast, I got some local currency from a nearby ATM.

I made sure the cafe had wi-fi. When I show up in a foreign country, I get local currency, get connected to the internet, lay in a route for the hotel, hostal, or campground then get a new SIM card, if needed.

In spite of having a good procedure. Things started falling apart for me. My Dutch cell service was not working here. My plan was to buy a SIM Card along the way to the hotel. The hotel was much further from the port than I originally estimated. It was way out in the rural region where I would not be able to buy a SIM card. I also discovered my self test for Covid-19 was positive.

The good news was that the hotel owner spoke German. At least I could hack together a few sentences.

Positive Result is not a good thing

This explains the chest cold symptoms I started feeling in Spain. At the time I had thought it was just dust from the dirt roads.

The important thing is to not panic. I was well vaccinated and in good health. The thing to avoid was getting Jim infected, so we got serious about wearing masks indoors. We got separate rooms. We self tested frequently.

The good thing is that Jim never tested positive. I started testing negative again in about 10 days. In my quarantine, I was able to do a fair amount of biking, nothing too strenuous. This was good for keeping my spirits up.

Return to Spain

We took a ferry all the way back to Barcelona from Nador. It was a long passage (28 hours) but we reserved a berth (room). It had a shower. There was a good restaurant on board with a live belly dancer. We did not suffer.

The important lesson is, book the ferry in advance.

We arrived back in Barcelona with plenty of time for Jim to pick up the camper van and meet Cynthia at the airport.

We worked well as a threesome. I traveled with my bicycle and so could split out for a day or two. Most of the time we stayed together, sleeping in campgrounds, me in my tent, Jim and Cynthia in the van.

Touring Spain as a threesome

Cynthia is a welcome addition to the group. She adds needed diversity to the agenda. She took us on a guided culinary tour of Barcelona which included high end tapas and iberian ham. It ended with a Flamenco performance.

Barcelona

In Barcelona there is much to see. Jim and Cynthia and I explored without any repeated locations for Jim and I. This was Cynthia’s first visit to Barcelona./

Andorra

Andorra is a tiny country in the Pyrenes mountains, hidden along the boarder between France and Spain. I was surprised to find it to be such an upscale, high class place. This is a country which has no airports, no railroad stations. The entire country is smaller in area than Mexico City. It has no industry other than tourism.

Jim, Cynthia and I stayed in a campground near town on the first night. The next day we explored the higher terrain. Eventually we found a ski resort. The place was still open in July, but not for skiing. We rode the gondola and then a chair lift which brought us up to a giant sundial on the French border.

We learned that it was possible to overnight in the parking lot for free. This was a very nice place to stay, and much cooler than the heatwave we were in in Barcelona. I pitched my tent. Jim and Cynthia stayed in the camper van. We had good interactions with the folks staying there.

Next stop Chile

Jim and Cynthia returned to California. I moved on to explore South America. I hope to form a team with Rosibell and her dog Lukas.

Rosi and I have been talking quite a bit about this. The plan is to buy a camper van in Chile. Rosibell will drive the camper van and provide support along with her adventurous toy poodle Lukas.

In order to do this she will need to get a driver’s licence. She already has some driving experience. We will also need to set up a camper van so that we can sleep in it and do some cooking.

We have time. It is late July which is mid winter in Chile. I hope that by Spring we will be ready to go.

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