The Lisboa – Marrakech Tour was an unsupported and private cycling tour in January 2020, which started in Lisboa, Portugal. It lead the riders all along the Atlantic coast and across the Spanish border, before crossing the Strait of Gibraltar to North Africa.
Nils Laengner and Niko Keinath had scheduled 16 days for their entire trip. After having conquered the stresses and strains of their ride to North Africa, they were not so convinced whether they would make it in time. The reason why? The hardest section was still ahead of them.The complete 1800 kilometer ride followed tarmac, gravel, single tracks and hike a bike sections. And tarmac made itself scarce on the relentless uphill downhill sequences from Tangier to Marrakech at the foot of the Atlas Mountains.
First day, just warming up! In wonderful weather we start late in the morning because we still have to do some errands. Hardly set off, the first problems are knocking on the door. Nico's tire pressure is too low. Fortunately We find a nice shop where we can pump it up.Stage 1
Everything is deserted here. On the edge of national road 253 we take our breakfast. It consists of something called Pastei de Nata and an espresso. We only meet two locals in this place. The one serves food and the other one is a pensioner reading a daily newspaper. The place has something unreal. Tourists are expected to flood the spot in summer, but in late January it looks very different. Our journey continues south. We are making good progress. That does not mean that we are very fast. But that was not our intention either. We enjoy the nature and the freedom of cycling. It's a really great gift that we can ride our bikes. Then we have to make a decision: Should we use the busy but paved highway and arrive to the checkpoint by day light? Or should we choose the second option? We went for the somewhat adventurous and more beautiful route. What we could not know was the state of this path. We end up on a dirt road with deep, fine sand. Hasn’t that that been a stupid idea? Our navigation system indicates a detour of 10 kilometers. What It had not told us, is that we would need 2 hours to cover it. But the beauty of the landscape makes up for the effort.
At breakfast we consider to change our schedule. A detour of 250km could take us to the most southwestern point of the European mainland. Though that should be really nice, it would be a real challenge. So we decide to postpone our decision. Depending on how we progress today, we will decode wether to take on this unorthodox plan change. From asphalt through forest trails, single trails to hike a bike sections, we have everything. The further we go south, the nicer and harder it gets.
We are close to the lighthouse at the Cap of Sao Vicente, our stopover for today. It's crazy to see so much tourism after all the miles of seclusion. We take one of these typical but magic tourist photos and ride on. Many cool and friendly surfers greet us and are very curious by our trip. Our hostel comes into sight. It is packed, but the atmosphere is very warm hearted. We could even do yoga the next morning! Against our habit we decide to start early. It would be nice to arrive at next stopover in daylight.
We leave the village shining in the glow of the warm morning sun and wave goodby to the cows watching us with some amazement. The sea to our right and the flowering fields to the left are gliding past. This romantic experience is stopped abruptly. The former meadow is completely flooded. The sea has took back a piece of land here. Unfortunately, without letting us know. We shoulder our bikes and stomp through knee-deep water.
This day we feel like a flat tire! Fatigue starts to kick in. We reach a small town, the last possibility before we want to tackle the long stretch of beach. We pass one monstrous hotel complex after the other. These touristic hotspots always have a strange flow anyway. But this one is simply dead. It looks like a film set. Every now and then we come across a stray dog. Life doesn't seem to exist here during off season. In a deserted square we discover a man painting the street. We ask: “Is there a ...?” Without having completed our question, he looks at us sadly. And then he says: “There is nothing around here. But look ... !” He points a finger into the anonymous distance. That didn’t create hope in us. But hope dies last, so we went on! And believe it or not, we found a small café.
We order an Americano and 500gram of churros with chocolate. Both are oozing with fat. But it is good for us. We take our time and order more coffee. While we are enjoying the pastries, more and more people start coming out of nowhere to join us and also order their food.
We started rolling out with heavy bellies and a still heavy bikes. The beach starts right behind the last building of the little town. About 30 kilometers of a sandy beach lie ahead of us. We’ve been told that there would be an official bike path. But obviously we had been a little too naive. For miles around there was no bike to be seen! So we decreased our tire pressure and tried to ride as close to the water as possible. After a short moment of anger, we started laughing and were just happy about the singularity of the situation. How cool it is to ride alone on the beach. How often do you do that?! Finally we reached the ferry, which has also seen better days and enjoy the fresh breeze during the ferry crossing.
Words and photos: Nils Laengner