Ait Baha: not all God's chillun are angels - Have this woman washed and brought to my tent - CycleBlaze

Ait Baha: not all God's chillun are angels

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THOSE NUTS the women were crushing come from argan trees. I'd never heard of them, which isn't surprising because they grow only here in the semi-desert of Morocco. Or, at any rate, they originated here.

Argan trees look not unlike olives. You wouldn't mistake one for the other but they're the same shape and not such a different colour. The best thing is that - you'll ask me why and I'll tell you I don't know - goats climb up them. I wanted a photo. It's not every day you see a goat looking at you from the top of a tree. But it seems a trick they have learned in only a few areas and I never did see it.

We are offered argan every morning with breakfast. It's spread on bread, like jam or honey. It's not to my taste but it's popular, hard to buy outside Morocco and made mainly by women. Every hour we pass a sign advertising a women's co-operative and asking us to visit. The women offer not just spreads and dips but argan made into cosmetics and into a black soap that looks like dark chocolate.

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I wish I'd been able to look into the production shed yesterday. Even more, I wish we'd understood an appealing kid of 10 who showed us a British 50p coin. He couldn't speak French and we don't speak Berber. All we could do was admire it. And then, too late, we realised he had found or been given it and hoped we'd change it for something he could spend. It was too far to ride back.

Other kids ask all the time for a dirham or, the more ambitious, a euro. A euro is 10 times as much. Those who don't ask for coins beg for a stylo. Even some adults ask. They did that, too, when we were in Cuba but in Cuba there was a shortage. I'd never sensed a lack in Morocco, although pens could be harder to come by in the countryside than cities. Not that we had spares to give.

The worst kids express their disappointment or their mischief by throwing stones. I'm not sure if they are bad shots or deliberately throw wide but it's not a happy experience to see a sizeable stone come bouncing past. It happened halfway up a long climb today, when I was an encouragingly slow target. I turned in the road and began freewheeling down. I don't know what I'd have done had they stood their ground but they scrambled over a stone wall and fled.

Today started with a flat, fast ride on a quiet main road and then a secondary road of more rubble, ruts and pools of mud. It improved after half an hour but the surface remained energy-sapping stones pressed into deteriorating tar. The countryside did little to lift spirits, either. It was flat and open, with stone walls or ragged bushes lining our way. Barley grew in stony soil and many of the intermittent trees had groups sitting in their shade.

I'm intrigued what these people do, or have stopped doing. They are too far from habitation to have wandered there, so they were resting. But from what? There wasn't much that needed doing. Or perhaps they'd done it and we hadn't noticed. They relaxed in their colourful, striped robes and seemed grateful for the diversion of our passing. They waved and shouted Bon courage! Every driver waved encouragement and tooted his horn.

All hens to walk in this direction, please...
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Then the land turned green as we entered a flat valley between the mountains and a line of brown hills. We stopped for tea at a café run by a deaf man in a deep blue robe and populated by seven-year-olds delighted to have foreigners for company.

"Bonjour!," the most precocious said. His face beamed mischief.

"Bonjour," we answered. "Comment t'appelles-tu?"

It was more French than he and his pals had learned. His mates laughed because he'd been shown up. Our new friend laughed, too, delighted to be at the centre of attention. "Bonjour," he kept saying, to make sure he stayed there. He came to examine our bikes. I gestured at the bottles to ask whether he understood them, which I was sure he would - how could he not? - but opened the way for me to tip water on his head. More shrieks of laughter.

We rode off after shaking hands, kids running to push us faster and then, when they couldn't, to hang on to our racks to slow us down. When we accelerated to tug them off, they roared with laughter again and our last sight of them, over our shoulder, was of their grinning and waving goodbye in the increasing distance.

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There was cactus beside the road - not generic to Morocco, we learned - and shepherds with roadside sheep. Steep climbs had the air of rising to the clouds but rarely topped 500m.

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At lunch, a 15-year-old with good French asked Steph how she found Morocco.

"We think it's lovely," she said. "Beautiful. And the people are so friendly."

He looked pleased but surprised. We rewarded him and his pals by donating the remains of a large bottle of Coke. They were reluctant to take it. We couldn't

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understand why. Then it became clear there was a pecking order. A boy no older or larger than the rest took the bottle and made off with it. Nobody seemed surprised or disappointed. There is more to every society than is obvious.

Tonight we are in Ait Baha, a town we have reached with the promise that tomorrow will be one of the most stunning rides of our life. We are tired after the heat, the climb with the stone-throwing children and then the rolling ride along a plateau of green fields and beautiful views. But tomorrow sounds wonderful.

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