Hi from purgatory I (Morocco, part 1)

I thought Iīd be joking in my previous email by referring to Morocco, which I was then yet to visit, as a level of purgatory.  Well, having been there and survived 3 horrible incidents - at least one of which was a literal brush with death - I can safely say, all humor aside, that Morocco must be the most Allah-forsaken piece of turf on the planet.  Good biking for those who live to tell about itņ good cultural scenery for those who survive the associated nuisances (of the human kind), but kilo for kilo the most wretched tourist culture on earth.  The people whom I, as a tourist, met were truly inhabitants of purgatory.  If any place warrants the nutron bomb -- the one that takes out the population but leaves all the buildings alone -- it is Morocco.  More about this later.

In trying to understand something I like to classify its components.  So many ills have befallen me on this trip, I can sort them into 3 categories: those by people (e.g., the bike theft), those by things (the computer erasing my data), and those by fate (like the health emergency, an apparent false alarm).  Blurry lines, of course, separate these classes, but it allieves my misery somewhat to know that order can exist even in adversity.

The evil thing of this trip is my new bike, the subject of this email.  I mean evil literally.  At times these past 3 weeks I have thought seeking out a priest to douse the new Cannondale with holy water to rid it of its demonic possession.  This cycle was the least undesirable -- translate that as least mountain bikish -- cycle in the best cycle shop in Madrid.  Spain does not sell touring road bikes, like my stolen Trek, and when you replace mountain bike handle bars with the drop down variety, the Cannondale more or less looks and feels like a touring road bike.  Itīs heavier than my former bike but takes the bumps better.  It can adjust to various tire sizes -- I opted for the smallest, 1 inch.  The problems I have had deal less with the bike than with its components, several of which have been defective.  Iīve heard it said: never take a new bike on a tour; wear it in; see what goes wrong.  So Iīve always worn in my bikes; nothingīs ever gone wrong.  Not this time.  Given the horrible weather in Madrid, my antipathy to staying in a city where I had just been ripped off, and my anxiety to start cycling, I did just that and of course paid the price.  Almost immediately one component after another broke.  Only now can I piece together all the parts of the story (and the parts of the bike).  First to go apparently was something called a Shimano ceramic sealed bush pully, one of two little gear wheels that turn on the derailleur -- thatīs the gadget that allows you to move from gear wheel to gear wheel.  This part decided it didnīt want to go in reverse, which meant that the chain got stuck every time I wanted the chain to go backwards.  I knew there was a problem; it took a mechanic in Rebat, Morocco to tell me the nature of the problem.  The chain was always getting stuck.  At one point I had only 3 working gears.  The bike is supposed to have 27 (3x9) combinations, of which, Iīd guess, one should be able to use 13.  I adjusted the gears myself and managed to get 6 combinations (thatīs a 100% improvement for those who like to look on things optimistically).  Thatīs when I noticed a bubble in the tire.  Tires are not supposed to develop bubbles because the bubble is really the tube, with 6 bar or 90 psi pressure, trying to escape through the weak part of the tire, a tire which at that point had less than 100 kms of wear.  The tube eventually blew, but that was not the first tire-tube problem I had had.  Within the first 30 kms -- on a cold, rainy, windy day, in an attempt to go to Sevilla from Cordoba, where I had taken the train to escape from Madridīs cold and rain (all this is in Spain); I had initially planned to bike for a few days in Andalucia, southern Spain, towards Morocco -- I had a flat.  Now flats are normal but quite rare with brand new tires.  This flat was of a particular type: a pinch, which happens when the tire slams a rock and the tube is pinched.  This should not happen with mountain bikes, especially given in this incident that I was on pavement, going only 15 kph.  It happened because the factory-issued tube was the wrong size for the tire.  Then, another day, as I was pumping up the tire -- it loses a bit of pressure each day -- BOOM.  The valve stem (of poorly forged material I guess) broke in half.  If this is not demonic possession, what is?  Of course, the specific size tires and tubes I needed were not for sale in Morocco.  By the first day in that country I had used up my spare parts.  No possibility of ever finding a ceramic sealed bush pully.  The Rabat mechanic who spotted the problem created his own solution.  He dissassembled it (i.e. unsealed it), removed the part that refused to go in reverse, and inserted as a substitute a part from the chain of a motorcycle, after a lot of grinding and banging to get a proper fit.  From then on, the chain could go in reverse.  Cost of repair (1 hour, US $2).  Still, after these repairs, the gears did not shift very smoothly.

Fortunately, a few days later I met John, a touring cyclist from Australia, who spent 5 hours one Saturday night and adjusted the gears about as well as anyone can.  He noticed another flaw: the derraileur was not properly alligned and he had to use brute force and a screwdriver to make things right.  He couldnīd do anything with the faulty fingertip controls.  I get four clicks for three gears.  Another factory flaw that flowed past quality control at Shimano, Cannondale and the Madrid shop.  This Cannondale of mine belongs in a Stephen King novel -- as evil as Christina the car or Cujo the dog.

The other types of of misfortunes I have encountered so far, those of people and those of fate, Iīll write about next.  They cover the three horrible incidents.  The worse is yet to be told.

Jerez de la Frontere, Andalucia,


26 March 2001