Morocco is now on the tour roster with the Conquest of the Moors
Some of our tours move quickly from conceptualisation to design and execution. Our Caesar Tour from London to Rome, for instance, went from being discussed over coffee in June 2015 to planned, scouted and on the website by September of that same year. We went on to run the inaugural Caesar Tour in May of 2016 with a turn around of less than 12 months for a 34-day Epic. It still holds the record for our fastest Epic Tour creation.
The creation of that tour though was aided by the fact I had already been running bike tours in Europe for 15 years. In addition, we had done a family bike trip back in 1988 from Cambridge to Cognac that incorporated much of the route we chose for Caesar as well. In a nutshell, the tour design had been done before we even came up with the idea of creating the tour. All that remained to be done was join the dots.
Joining those dots took rather longer with respect to our new tour that incorporates Morocco and marks our first foray on to the African continent. In this case, the tour idea dates back almost 15 years. Back in 2006, I took part in a charity hitchhike with my sister, Anika, from Brighton (England) to Morocco and it was then that the idea was born.
The hitchhike itself was a wonderful experience to share with my sister and felt like a throwback to a more innocent time. Our parents had hitchhiked around Europe in their younger years but by the time we felt our own wanderlust bubble up, it was no longer considered a ‘normal’ way to travel. The chance to do it together though, and as a charitable endeavor convinced us to give it a go. Over the course of 5 days, 2500km and 12 lifts we crossed the English Channel and travelled down through France and Spain.
As an experience, it is one I’ll never forget and it left me with the lasting impression that it is a very hospitable world out there. There is a lot to be said, within reason, for leaving your comfort zone, just hitting the road and following your instincts. The hospitality that was extended to us on that journey and the great conversations we had along the way were a testament to what happens when you take on a challenge with a smile. Taking on challenges and smiling at those we meet is the bedrock behind the Epic List we now have!
The undoubted highlight of the whole trip was Morocco. Our final lift got us to the enchanting city of Almeria in Andalucia (Spain) where we hiked up to the top of the Alcazbar castle -the second-largest Moorish fortress in Andalucia after Granada’s Alhambra. It was on this day that my interest in the Moorish occupation of the Iberian peninsula began, an occupation that was to last over 700 years from the year 707. In this context finishing the hitchhike in Morocco was an apt way to complete the journey. Until this trip, I had little idea of how great an influence the Moors had wielded over modern-day southern Europe.
Not that our initial arrival into Morocco wielded too many clues having caught a ferry from Almeria to the Spanish enclave of Melilla. In effect, we travelled from Spain, across the Mediterranean to once again arrive Spain! Melilla, alongside Ceuta, form the European Union’s only land borders in Africa and was an inauspicious start to our post hitch hike holiday in ‘Morocco’. It caused a fair amount of confusion when we disembarked that’s for sure 🙂
Once we got out of Melilla though we embarked on what, to this day, remains one of my best ever trips. There is something amazing about travelling with limited expectations about what you’ll see and experience. Back in 2006, the opportunity to tap into online travel review sites was limited and certainly not something I was familiar with doing. As such, I felt like I was travelling ‘blind’ and every new place we visited seemed to blow me away. Bumping into a camel in the tight alleys of the Fes Medina, seeing the ‘Blue City’ of Chefchaeun from afar and seeing goats in Argan trees were just three standout moments. From that point, I was hooked and determined to ride my bike in Morocco and run a tour there.
Riding my bike there was the easy part though and indeed, I did that the next year with a mountain bike trip through the Atlas mountains. Setting up a tour there was a different matter altogether. At that point, the tours I guided were all in Europe and my then employer had little appetite to venture any further south. Since that first trip to Morocco, I’ve been back 11 times and it never ceases to enchant me as a travel destination. Setting up Ride and Seek back in 2011 marked the point when I seriously started planning it in my head as a real possibility.
It was at the end of 2017 that we finally committed to running a tour in Morocco and the first round of scouting was a true family affair. I would like to thank our youngest guide Luka – my son- for his sterling work in helping to put this tour together! Here he is below getting into the spirit of things with his headwear in the knife quarter of the remarkable Fez Medina.
Morroco will be the 30th country that we have cycled in and from a personal perspective, it is the one I am arguably most excited about, particularly as it has taken more than 14 years to make it happen! The inaugural Conquest of the Moors Tour will run in October 2020 and I am delighted to be one of the guides on the Moroccan stage. Through many wonderful hours of ‘scouting’ with the family, and now with the guide team, this tour is one we have waited a long time to realise!