Another day hanging about in a mobile phone store and I finally got a month’s worth of Internet service on my phone via Meditel. The coverage is apparently not as good as Maroc Telecom, but the store manager was happy to take the time to help me get the Nexus S connected.

Once I had the phone settled I pulled up stakes again and headed out along the coast route. The first day took me up to Cap Spartel and by the Grotto of Hercules, where I stopped for lunch, but decided to skip the paid tour of the caves. I stopped for the night at a “campground” near Asilah — essentially a parking lot by the beach where a couple of guardians living in a tent collect fees and watch the gear. I felt a little like I was setting up my tent on the edge of a dump, but it was otherwise a good location. One of the guardians, Said, offered to show me where to find a restaurant. After a long, winding, walk clear across the town past numerous other restaurants I knew I was being lead to a restaurant of Said’s family or friends, but I followed along gamely. The resulting couscous was fine, but more notable for the process of getting to it than the taste.

Asilah looked like a nice town, but I only spent the one night there. The next days were a short, pleasant ride to Larache, then a long day on narrow, pitted farm roads to Kenitra, and then another short day through Sale and into the big city of Rabat.

My primary goal in coming to Rabat was to get a Mauritanian visa, but I soon discovered that the Mauritanian embassy is currently delaying processing of visas for Americans. Reportedly Europeans can get visas the same day they apply, but for Americans the process may take two or three weeks or more.

As I mentioned in Tangier, the process of picking up and moving to a new place every day while navigating through languages and customs I didn’t understand was beginning to get old, so I decided to park myself in a Rabat hotel for a few days to think about my next step.

Coincidentally this gave me a few days off for Christmas and I was able to attend a fascinating Christmas Eve service at the St. Peter’s Cathedral of Rabat. Not used to Catholic services to begin with, I was fascinated by the combination of chanted scripture readings, a vigorous sermon in French (which I mostly didn’t catch), and numerous interludes of synthesizer and bass heavy choral pieces. The Cathedral was full and appeared to be mostly sub Saharan Africans, followed by a mixture Moroccan, French, and Asian congregants.

After several days of not doing much, I’ve decided that rather than send my passport away and wait for a couple weeks hoping for a visa to cross Mauritania I’m going to fly from southern Morocco to Senegal. I’ll buy a ticket to leave from Agadir in three or four weeks and then ride down the coast of Morocco to get there.

So, no grand Sahara crossing this time. I’m somewhat disappointed, but I’m also looking forward to enjoying the pleasant parts of the trip and avoiding the more bleak sections. Someday I’ll see Mauritania, but it doesn’t look like it will be this trip.