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Wednesday, August 7, 2019

MOASICS FROM MOROCCO


The ferry to Tangier is a whole new crazy experience. Obviously, we are no longer in efficient Europe. Our booking is for 5pm.  At 4.30 we are moved to the boarding area & watch our ferry arrive & unload. They start loading, but we are moved to one side and finally at 5.30 we are the last backed on. Once inside we queue for customs, then vehicle import – by the time we are done we are nearly there! At least we will be first off, after all our paperwork has been done. But annoyingly the police eye us, and we get sent to one side. A very officious policeman takes exception to our map on the side of GR2. He wants John to remove it completely. Why? Well it includes the words “Western Sahara, Occupied by Morocco”. Naturally John refuses to take his map off and suggests simply cutting out the offending words. Stand off! An hour later & the attendance of 4 very official people, John cuts out the offending words. But we are not finished yet. Through the x-ray machine & another inspection. By now it is well & truly dark and looking for a spot is going to be so much more difficult. Added to that the massive new Tangier Port is nowhere near Tangier, so we can’t go to our planned campground. I spy a beach coming up, so we find a parking spot (with the official letter “P”) and we crawl in to bed. After midnight …knock, knock, knock. It is illegal to park here – move 200m up the road.  Needless to say, we don’t move. Welcome to Morocco!

I am glad to say things improve after this. In the morning we head north towards Tetouan and from there plan to explore the Mediterranean coast. But first the city – we want to explore & get a Sim card. As we are winding through ever decreasing (in width) streets a motorbike stops. He asks if he can help (obviously we look lost) & we say we are looking for a carpark. He says “follow me” and we do. In the end we park up and he gives us a guided tour of the walled Medina. We discover lots of nooks & crannies, and as his English is excellent, we get lots of info. There is a Palace in town, and as the King may come, there is security everywhere. The stand out in town is the gorgeous old house museum which we would not have found on our own. We even meet the current owner.

Time to start following the coast. It is a lovely drive. Heaps of gorgeous beaches crowded with locals. The Rif mountains run right down to the sea making for a very winding but magic drive. By the end of the day we stop at Playa Torres de Alcala. The sunset is lovely & the locals finally leave. Before we leave in the morning we drive round to the sandy beach for a swim & fill up with water at the local well. Missed the photo op of John filling up beside a lady filling her bottles on her donkey. And so, our coastal drive continues. By midday we detour off the road to visit Al Hoceima – a rather dramatic town perched right on a rocky headland with a rather lovely port & beach. There is another palace here & as the King may decide to pop in, the full retinue of guards are in attendance. We find the port – and John enjoys a plateful of sardines. By evening we find a quiet spot on the cliffs rather than a busy beach with local campers. Ahhh a peaceful night.

Today we finally leave the coast to head south. First through Berkane, then a detour through the Zegzel Gorge stopping to look at the cave (a bit ho-hum), then on past Oujda. We are heading out to the back of beyond to Figuig near the Algerian border. Looks like we won’t make it tonight so we stop at a hotel in Bou’arfa that has camping. They are closed so we simply stay on the street. Finally, we arrive after miles of desert and are rewarded with a very untouristy town. We drive right to the border, explore some old ruins & some still in use ksars before splashing out on fresh orange juice. By now it is getting pretty hot so we exit town. There is shortcut that will save us driving the same route so we head that way (after checking with 2 lots of police if the road is OK) Well I wouldn’t call it a road, more like a goat track, or river bed. We have to follow the track on our GPS as it is so hard to find.  Phew… a rather challenging drive for John, especially finding exits out of step river beds.

 Finally, back on tarseal the desert is being cultivated. Everywhere they are putting in wells & planting olive trees. By early evening we find ourselves a dry river bed to camp in. Tucked behind the trees we shelter from the dust storm. We are near Meski and decide to detour to the swimming pool at La Source Bleue de Meski. Lovely cool swim with lots of Moroccan children. Explore the water canals & get urged to buy carpets. After a much longer than expected stay we head along the totally stunning gorge on the Zigi river. The views are magic. We carry on to Erfoud where we fill up with diesel before heading to the huge dunes. At the Patisserie shop, I meet a guy who owns a hotel near Merzouga. He has a pool and camping there. We detour around Rissani to look at countless ruined ksars – really amazing but boy is it hot. At over 45 we can’t resist a cooling swim, so we hunt down the hotel Auberge La Source. We can park outside & use the pool for free – so naturally we will use their restaurant. A huge dust storm comes in early evening – glad we are inside rather than off on a camel ride as all the tourists are doing. Means we get the pool to ourselves!  After our free breakfast & yet another swim we head out for our obligatory photos of GR2 pretending to drive the dunes, and of course head to the end of the road.  Then head back across more desert land, with vast tracts under cultivation, and on to the town of Tinerhir. A very scenic spot for taking photos & having coffee before we head up the Todra Gorge. But we can’t resist another camping ground with a pool, so the gorge can wait until the morning when the light is right.

We really do mean to leave early, but water on tap is just too convenient. Three loads of washing, clean sheets & towels and naturally another swim. By 11am we head in to the gorge. The rock walls tower above us…all glowing golden. We continue 25km up the gorge to the town of Tamtattouchte, where we turn around & head back down so that we can drive on to the Dades Gorge. Totally different, but also incredibly photogenic. Much wider with lots of those ruined Kasbahs that I love. At the end of the gorge there is a series of incredibly tight hairpins to the top where there is a hotel & carpark. We stop here for the night thinking there will be no traffic – but how wrong we are. We find out in the morning that the weekly market is on at M’semrir. (Why all the trucks were driving through the night to get there) We stop to explore. Sorry no photos as they really hate been photographed. But it is a crazy place. I particularly like the butcher’s shops (open air of course) with the skinned goats hanging up, still with their heads on. Or just platters of heads! Ugh. I’m going vegetarian again!

Time to carry on driving through the High Atlas. The seal ends and we are on a one lane track that crosses some gorgeous mountain passes. We only have to get past 3 oncoming vehicles, fortunately, in about 5 hours driving Finally we start winding back down through countless small villages. They are harvesting their wheat, so we stop to watch the sheafs being put through a tractor drawn machine. The chafe is blown out the back in to huge bags while the wheat drops in to sacks. Very efficient. We find tarseal again at Agoudal.  There are now more roads to choose from, but we turn and head to Imilchil, which is where we see signs to Lac du Tislit. We decide to head there. A track leads to this incredibly aqua blue alpine lake. What a find. But the track we are on has lots of overhanging trees. The chain saw comes out, but unless we decimate them, we will not get through, so in the end we reverse out (well John does while I hopelessly try to run behind him telling him where to go as the track is very narrow!). Finally, we find a gorgeous spot on the other side of the lake. Perfect for the night.

A lovely couple from Casablanca that we met & had a cup of tea with told us about another lake a few kms on, so we head there to take a look. Another even bigger alpine lake. There is only one vehicle there. An old Mercedes van stuck in the sand on the edge. Why they went so close I don’t know, but they were very glad to see us. Easily towed out – our good deed done for the day. Perhaps that makes up for chopping all those branches yesterday!  We continue on up and down mountains. There are countless Berber villages. They bring their sheep up to the pastures here in the summer (rather like the Kazaks do in their yurts – although these tents are much scruffier than yurts). We are finally heading down the mountains to more main road, past a huge dammed lake and the city of Khenifra. We have another back route planned heading north towards Fes. Here we stumble across Lac Aguelmam Zigza – perfect for the night with lots of locals camping here too. Again, we meet more people. A very exuberant Berber couple come and chat (they have very limited English) & take us out for tagine at a Berber tent. Somewhere we would never stop on our own. Quite an experience.

The next morning, we head on to the Sources de l’Oum Rbia, and it is not so much the water springs & waterfall that are so amazing, but how many huts can be nestled beside the river. There are dozens – each is the living quarter/restaurant for the locals. They are all competing for the tourist dollar. We escape unfed as it is so early in the day. Our next destination is the cedar forests to find ourselves some barbary apes. We spy some even before we reach the official area and park with other tourists. I spend a happy hour snapping photos of apes in various poses. But finally, it is on to the big smoke – Fes. We head to a campspot/carpark near the French Embassy. It is really only a guarded carpark but will do, giving us a chance for dinner out. Bright and early we drive in to the medina walls to park right beside the tanneries – and that is our first very smelly visit. Phew – never to be repeated by me again. Very stinky & scary as we leap from pit to pit! Lots of interesting info like how long the skins soak for in ammonia, what they do with the dead wool and how they make the stinky dyes etc. Then on to the obligatory leather shop where John buys a new wallet (the moths had eaten the old one) On to explore part of the maze of souks/shops. Naturally we are dragged in to weaving shops, perfume shops & carpet shops. Enough is enough …we finally find our way back to GR2 and get out of there. A quick stop at a supermarket before heading north.  We find a spot beside a huge lake at Barrage Al Wahda for the night – a relatively quiet spot, with great views.

We are planning to head back to the coast – so lots of country driving up and down hills – heaps of villages, donkeys & people. Life in the country here is still pretty basic. Eventually we reach the seaside town of Moulay Bousselham. The surf beach looks amazing – and it is covered with beach umbrellas, plastic chairs and local tourists. After all it is vacation time here. We stop for a seafood lunch before heading in to the camping ground here. Great spot beside the inlet. We hire a boat with a lovely Spanish couple so that we can swim on the sandy beach opposite and in the evening we chat to a Swiss couple who arrive in their camper.

Bit of a slow start today we as chat & then fill with water. Finally, off and back through the nearby town. It was busy enough yesterday, but today markets are in full swing and the road is totally snarled. Not helped by donkeys, motorbikes, tuk-tuks, cars and trucks overtaking, then finding they can’t go anywhere- nearly an hour of total chaos! We continue along back roads, stopping for lunch at the beach. It is such a pretty spot (especially if you overlook the litter strewn across the beach – which is a given here) that we decide to stay. There are only a few people around – it should be perfect for the night too! Looking good for a quiet night when at dusk the army arrive – we cannot camp here. Bother! Down the road we head & pull off beside the road. Unfortunately, some military drive past at midnight and see us. We have to move – guess where they take us. Back to our beach beside their checkpoint. Crazy.

Speed bumps, scruffy villages, and acres of greenhouses, most full of bananas, hardly makes fun driving, so we head to the toll road. Today we are heading to the twin cities of Rabat & Sale. Somehow, we missed them last time. Navigation aids make driving in these cities so much easier – I think last time I was a bit cowardly and didn’t want to navigate through some of these mazes. Anyway, our first stop is Chellah. It contains Roman ruins that have had a Muslim city built over it. Rather expensive and totally unexciting. On to the Portuguese Fort & then the souks. As it is Friday not much is open. We continue following the very developed coastline. Beach resorts, gardens, huge waterfront swimming pools, crowds of people, restaurants. It doesn’t feel like the same country we were in a few days ago in the mountains. There is even another massive waterfront Palace. We google it and find that there are 10 Palaces! Maybe a tad excessive. We can’t find any camping in Casablanca so we stop at a Camping L’Ocean Bleue at Mohammedia. We fancy an uninterrupted night.

Today we head to the huge city of Casablanca. The plan is to park at the Hassan 2 Mosque, explore it and then taxi to the Nouvelle Medina/Quartier Habous. The Mosque is incredibly impressive & we join an expensive tour to gawp at the interior. The cost of building it was phenomenal in this country with so many people living without running water! Then on a crazy taxi ride to the souks – most of it full of Chinese crap, but fun non the less. Then an even crazier taxi back – I think he ran every red light and preferred driving on the wrong side of the road!

Now time for the real business here. We need to check out secure parking near the airport. Not a very fruitful afternoon – lots of parking, in fact masses of it – but not secure. The only place is long term parking at the airport. Full of indecision we head to the coast for the night. Despite beach goers everywhere and strings of apartments, we have a quiet night on the beach front. In the morning we decide to head directly to Marrakesh to check out parking there. We have a few leads to follow up. In the evening we end up at Le Relais Campground just north of the city. By far the best campground we have been at in Morocco with a lovely swimming pool.  And good news. We can store GR2 here and get our paperwork sorted. Just need to book an extra flight. But a Dutch couple here have a contact who stored successfully in Casablanca airport. Decision made; we will return there in a few days. But first we can relax and enjoy the pool, do all our washing etc etc.

We can’t laze away our last few days. When in Marrakesh we must visit it, so we head in early before the heat of the day. Stupidly, I argue with the GPS and somehow get us inside the medina walls – but how the heck do we get out. It was one way in and both exits we find are small archways in the wall! A taxi stops to help us and takes us back to the same archway. We squeeze through with mere inches to spare. Our roof tyre scratches the edge of the arch and plaster rains down. Definitely not the best start to the day (Sorry no photos as I was busy being totally useless!)  We explore the Palace & souks, but really there is one major problem. There are simply too many tourists. Marrakesh has well & truly been discovered!
Our full final day sees us packing & sorting ready for an early start tomorrow. We will drive back to Casablanca Airport, put GR2 in to long term parking and fly home. Watch out for our next lots of travels later in the year. West Africa!!!

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