I don’t like Christmas. It’s not because my shoes are two sizes too small like the Grinch, it’s not the commercialisation of a religious festival I disagree with, it’s not even the repeats on television and the half-baked Christmas specials of shows which are average at best. I just don’t like it.
I thought this year I would spend my Christmas in Mauritania, a country which is sparsely populated and has a Muslim population. Sadly, it was not to be. Three Spanish aid workers in a convoy of vehicles got kidnapped by terrorists working in connection with Al-Qaeda a few weeks into my trip. A French tourist was executed in Mali around the same time. The Foreign Office advice became dire reading and unfortunately I had to pull the plug on the trip.
I’m had no problem with the risk of being robbed in a poor country, that is a very real threat any westerner faces on a day to day basis when travelling and one that you would even face walking through the UK. However being kidnapped for use as a political pawn is different and I had to make the sensible choice. I made the decision in Rabat, not Agadir like I said I would. I read my guide books and ascertained that due to the current climate it was unlikely I would get a visa to Mauritania on the border and would have to get it in advance from Rabat. I read the FCO report, I did a Google News search and that was it.
‘Stefan,’ I said to the 29 year old German I had been travelling with for the last couple of days, ‘I’m going to go home now.’ It was a bit like the scene when Forest Gump finally stopped running. A quick search of flights revealed that unless I wanted to blow my entire 8 month budget on a flight home I had to get to Marrakesh by the next day. I was on a train again and devastated. Seeing the red mountains pass by, seeing Marrakesh glowing in the distance as the train snaked through the dark, I wished I was on my Qoroz Mountain Won, taking it all in at a much slower pace.
When I first started this trip I wasn’t 100% sure I could make it. After two weeks I knew I could get all the way to South Africa. It was gutting flying home after completing such a small proportion of what I set out to do but I think it was for the best. For anyone who is interested, my next adventure is playing rugby in the Spanish Premier League. I’m taking my bike with me and I am going to tackle some Spanish mountains on my days off. I have the cycling bug now and I don’t think that will ever leave me!
I tried to go for a cycle yesterday. The Cornish roads were icy and my Qoroz bike is still at my sister’s house near Bristol, all wrapped up and ready to fly to Spain with me. I was on my old bike and I cycled a few hundred metres before I decided to go for a run instead. There was something that wasn’t very reassuring about the skinny tires and small frame, the narrow handlebars and the lack of luggage: I’ll wait for my Qoroz back. It almost felt like I was cheating on her after she carried me all the way to Morocco.
It has been fun, and I’d love to try again sometime, but for now Riding out the Recession is over.