topics: Mount Tidighin, Rif Mountains, water, women in society; jump to dispatch

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Rider Notes: October 2, 1997

Breakfast: As usual, we grabbed what we could on the way out of town and added it to the fruit we had left over from the market in Chefchaouen. Pastries and plain bread accompanied a staggered munch-fest of bananas, apples, and dried figs. And we always drink lots and lots of water.

Lunch: Our roadside lunch also took place over time. Eating too much is impossible when you're burning so much energy climbing mountain ridges. After finding a shady spot, we usually pull over and gobble whatever is left in our panniers.

Dinner: Our friend from the hotel, Mohamed (see our Person of the Day), took us to a small restaurant outside the market area for a full meal of bread, tagine, salads, fries, and drinks. This was the first time that fruit and squash were present together in the tagine — an excellent vegetarian option!

Food of the Day: Mars Bars

Mars Bars (not a paid endorsement), though remarkably unhealthy and bad for your teeth, are now a mainstay for our group. They are high in calories, oh so sweet, and EASY to find and cheap! Also, we like them because they're familiar and remind us of home — a nice bit of reassurance during a difficult day.

Person of the Day: Bayloul Mohamed Hamido click to view a photograph

Bayloul Mohamed Hamido was the friendly young man who met us at our hotel and offered to help us sign in and find our way around this dark town. His fluent French and fair English, not to mention native Moroccan Arabic and northern Berber, made it much easier for us to get through the evening without a hitch. He studies Physics at a university in Fez, and otherwise lives and works at the Hotel Saida in Ketama, where his family still resides. He hopes eventually to use his degree to find work in the U.S. or Canada. He was open and friendly and full of information about Ketama and the surrounding region. click to view a photograph

Place of the Day: Mount Tidighin

The tallest mountain, deep, deep in the Rif, is called Mount Tidighin. The Rif Mountains parallel the coast of northern Morocco (we're glad that we're not the only ones), and many of the principle northern cities are in high mountain valleys. Mount Tidighin has an elevation of 2438 meters (7999 feet) — that's thin air! At 1558 meters (5112 feet), Ketama usually offers excellent views of the mountain. The low cloud cover we faced obscured all possible views from us, even after having cycled up from a few hundred meters above sea level to more than half the mountain's elevation!

Group Dispatch, October 2 — Ketama: the Village without Women or Water

picture of Corinne

It didn't take long for us to realize that our clean clothes had not dried in the cool but humid climate of Chefchaouen, the Moroccan city that apparently gets more rain than any other. So we set off with half-damp clothes. There was no tarrying since we knew that the day would entail a minimum of two serious mountain passes, one at 1200 meters (3997 feet), and the next at 1600 meters (5249 feet). Yikes! Local folks laughed and cheered as we pedaled along. They probably all thought we were insane for even attempting to cross the Rif Mountains on bikes.

By noon — roughly 45 km (28 mi) into the day — it was more than apparent that we would not remain as a group of five for the whole day's journey. Corinne, still working hard to develop her biker's muscles, was unable to maintain the pace necessary to make it to Ketama by sundown, and andrEa was a little sore from having fallen off her bike (due to gravel and road construction — high altitudes are rough on your brain and body). So the guys forged ahead, while andrEa and Corinne slowly tackled the remaining 15-km (9-mi) climb up to the 1200-meter (3997-foot) pass. Before the second pass, in the small town of Bab Berred, they found a taxi for the final, grueling 40 km (25 mi) to Ketama. After negotiating a price, they were off.

For Anthony, Ethan, and Padraic, the views were amazing as they climbed up and up and up the mountains into and actually ABOVE the clouds. Once they were in the clouds they could only see about 50 meters (54 yds) in front of them. The clouds were that thick! And while they climbed, the temperature dropped. They actually rounded one switchback only to find it 20 degrees (fahrenheit) colder . . . and raining. From the taxi, the ladies envied the guys' chance to enjoy everything more slowly — except for the rain, cold, and vertical nature of the road.

The gals' early arrival in Ketama turned out to be the local social event of the season: a huge crowd of ONLY men — again — gathered to watch them unload their gear in front of the main hotel, which had earlier been established as a reliable meeting point. When andrEa asked where all the women were, the locals assured her that they were in their homes making clothing, " . . . where they belong — unless accompanied by their husbands, brothers, or fathers of course." Hmmm.

Ketama, smack in the middle of the Rif Mountains, is rich in history and culture. For centuries the mostly Berber inhabitants of this last natural cedar forest in Morocco have worked with wood, leather, wool, and a variety of hardy agricultural crops. It is a rough, mountainous region that also served as the stronghold for the northern Berbers who, in the early 20th century, battled the Spanish who were set on maintaining a colonial presence. Today, for a variety of reasons, it is one of the poorest and most neglected parts of Morocco. Among other things, its proximity to Europe has also meant that the trafficking of certain legal and illegal products through it is a major source of income for some people. The Rif Mountains are notorious as a region in which some illicit agricultural products are cultivated and sold.

By the time the guys arrived (exhausted, at about 6 p.m.), the gals had learned that the entire town was without water — hot or cold — because the weekly market, held today, had brought all the surrounding male villagers into the area. This meant we would not be able to wash ourselves or our clothes. This was hard to hear. Then, as darkness descended and the many streetlamps didn't light up, we were told that Ketama has never had electricity! The many shops and stalls casting long shadows into the street use candlelight and generators instead. Apparently, in March (1998) electricity will arrive and the recently-built streetlamps will finally be used. (We were assured the water will be back on by then, too). We were told that the arrival of electricity is energetically opposed by many locals, who are concerned that the lit streets will create an "outside element" that will change the community in a way some people are not prepared to face. We welcomed the darkness; all we wanted to do was to sleep.

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