Ouarzazate: a decision made - Have this woman washed and brought to my tent - CycleBlaze

Ouarzazate: a decision made

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I FELL last night and I've hurt my foot. And my foot hurts me.

We stayed at a rather grander hotel than usual, one with a pool and rooms spread around two sides. We got there early after a wonderful ride that included being offered mint tea for the pleasure of being offered mint tea. This is a hospitable country and the Muslim ethic of hospitality for travellers is strong.

Well, we were about to eat in the hotel when, rubbing my eye, I dislodged its contact lens. Few people care to see others prodding and exploring their eyes in public and so I walked back along a corridor to an exterior door to the pool and to our room. It was on leaving the exterior door that I spotted the first step down to ground level but not the second. I caught its edge with my foot and collapsed.

My foot hurt immediately. I thought I had twisted my ankle in the way that you do as a kid. I expected it to hurt terribly for the rest of the evening but then that it would pass. But there was something different.

I limped to the room, sat on the floor of the shower and sprayed my foot with cold water. As it hit my skin, I noticed that the sensitivity wasn't in the ankle but further down, towards the outside. And that was where I concentrated the spray.

The manager of the hotel wasn't there. The place was being run by two teenage boys, both more concerned with cooking. Steph asked if they had a bandage, something to strap my foot. She took their embarrassment, the grin on their face, as a lack of caring. And to an extent she was right. They were kids, bright enough for what they were doing but not for dynamic thought. She launched into them about their lack of caring, about the danger of leaving steps unlit, then returned despairing to the restaurant.

As it happened, two French couples were there. We'd nodded to each other as we arrived. They were staying in camping-cars on the dusty patch next door that described itself as a camp site. That is how camp sites appear to be here and I wouldn't recommend them.

The visiting Samaritans found me some ice and a bandage. My foot hurt and concentrated my mind but it wasn't painful. Last night, to my surprise, it didn't keep me awake.

This morning, even more to my surprise, I found I could walk, if gingerly, in cycling shoes. They supported my foot and had stable soles. I didn't know what I had done and I didn't think it was serious. The hotel manager, when he arrived yesterday evening, offered to drive me to Ouarzazate for an X-ray. I had declined.

Today, after a hesitant test, I discovered I could ride. The French couples were crossing the car park from their campers to the hotel as we left. They called in concern and encouragement and we parted in a flurry of waves, sympathy and thanks.

The Michelin-recommended trois étoiles where we ate omelette sandwiches. The owner seemed resentful we had stopped his chopping up reeds. He didn't cook, he said. "But your sign says we can eat," we said, disappointed. "And indeed you can - I will send for my wife." She arrived in a flurry of aprons and chickens, cooked an omelette and hurried back.
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This is what he was chopping. They're made into ceilings or light walls.
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The countryside opened and grew more stable. The road rose slightly at times but, rather more, it descended gently. There was one climb, and in snarling traffic, after our coffee stop but that was it. The traffic thinned once we reached truly open countryside. It no longer bunched. We were heading south to go north and we were passed by countless French camper-cars doing the same thing. Some were doubtless going the whole way to the western tip of Africa, to Senegal, the old model colony.

You can tell where a Frenchman comes from by the number on the back of his vehicle. For us, a "47" shows a neighbour. A white camper - they're all white - was disgorging Frenchmen in a garage forecourt. The numbers were on the back.

"Allez, les Agenais!" I shouted, Agen being the département's principle town. They looked round, surprised but too slow to respond. Five minutes later they passed us with enthusiastic toots and much waving through the windows.

Funny, the things you do when you're abroad: at home I wouldn't even have spoken to them!

Open and dusty and not without charm: but not for days on end, we hope.
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This was a two-road ride: one to the coffee stop, then the second to Ouarzazate, where I could have had an X-ray. That was as hard as the navigation got. And it will be like that for another couple of days. We have left the mountains and we are in dusty, open, rolling countryside with distant ridge villages and not a lot else. It has a charm, an innocence, a purity. If it was flat, it would be horrible. But it isn't and it's better for it. But I think a couple of days will be enough.

Distant ridge villages but nothing beside the road. The Atlas mountains are already slipping to the horizon.
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If, that is, we ride them. We are coming to a decision, I think. But before we had to take it, we entered the eccentric and vainglorious surroundings of Ouarzazate - pronounced Wuzza-zaht.

The plan, I think, is to turn it into a gem of the desert. The town limits sign is far, far out and the road that stretches on beyond it is lined on both sides by elegant, curving lampposts. There are pavements beside the road and occasional new buildings beyond them. But more significant is the flattened land with the stumps of new roads leading into them and then stopping. It is also going to be turned into a new city and one, so far as we could see by first signs, designed to attract tourists.

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We asked what was happening. A slim, polite, tired-looking man in his 40s said: "They are expanding the city."

We are asked why.

"I don't know," he said, in a tone that said: "I don't know why they're bothering because it was nice as it was."

We stopped in the centre of town, a couple of kilometres from the tiny airport that has two flights a day and closes down between them. It hurt terribly when we walked to a restaurant and an e-mail café. I wore sandals and every unevenness in the road turned my foot with a painful stab. I felt too stunned to wait with Steph as she e-mailed. I hobbled back to the room, my right foot dreadfully swollen.

We have taken our decision.

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