Morocco – diary 2009-11-02 to 2009-11-14

2009-10-02

Tarifa was wonderful. Kirk and I bronzed up beautifully and were very relaxed – ready to take on the next part of our adventure. We packed up early for the reason that when we woke up there were ominous clouds lurking above and we didn’t want to have to pack up camp in the rain. All was done and dusted and we said our goodbyes to our Tarifa neighbours, Jan, Dot, Will, Tash and Ollie, who we had really enjoyed spending the afternoons and evenings with sharing a beer and listening to their travelling tales. Away we went to get our ferry from Algeciras to Cueta just across the Straits of Gibraltar. Upon arrival, we were told that the ferry had been delayed by an hour and that we had just missed the earlier ferry by 10 minutes. We had no option but to explore the city of Algecieras and find a café to have some much needed breakfast. We decided to sample the traditional Spanish breakfast of a hot crusty baguette with fresh tomato and olive oil. It was delicious and so easy to prepare. All they do is wizz the tomatoes in a food processor and serve it with some good quality olive oil on the side.
We made our way to the ferry terminal and were loaded on. The crossing was a speedy 45 minutes and we arrived on the African continent via Cueta – a Spanish enclave. Already it was evident that we were in Africa. The roads were in disrepair, everything seemed dusty and unkempt and the people were dressed in more conservative gear. We were about to cross our first African border and already everything seemed chaotic. People were everywhere; cars were queing up and honking their horns – a typically African thing to do as we have now learnt! The border crossing was pretty painless and took all of 30 minutes. We were officially in Africa!

We navigated our way towards Tangier to buy the infamous ‘green card’ that we needed for our car – 3rd party car insurance for Morocco only. Tangier was a real driving experience. Roundabouts will never be the same again. Drivers stop mid circle and other cars join the roundabout! It was hysterical getting to grips with the new chaotic driving regime. We headed out of the city as it was getting late and we needed to make camp. It was not as easy as we thought. Tangier is a maze of little streets and alleyways that come alive at night. The souks (markets) operate until all hours and there seemed to be a real hustle and bustle. We drove though the posh part of town amongst mansions that are occupied by Tangier celebrities and found our campsite in a small village called Cap Spartel. It was comfortable and a good resting place for the night albeit the cold showers!

2009-11-03

We were on our way again and headed through the small Atlantic coast villages. Our first stop was Assilah – a gorgeous whitewashed, blue door resort town that had a somewhat Grecian feel to it. The old town was nowhere near as busy as Tangier. The laughter of school children filled the air rather than the hustle and bustle of vendors trying to sell their wares.
We headed further south and arrived at the idyllic fishing village of Moulay Bousselham. We had our first official Moroccan lunch at one of the local cafés. I ordered the fish and Kirk the lamb brochette. It was excellent value for money – something that we could get very used to. It was interesting to watch the local people and how they go about their everyday life chores but still find time to socialise with friends and have a chat. Lunch was followed by a bird watching boat cruise with a very efficient guide. It was tranquil on the water and the spotting of our first pink flamingo in flight added some excitement to the afternoon. The sunset across the Atlantic was spectacular – a perfect ending to a perfect day.

2009-11-04

Mauritanian Visas were the call for the day so a trip to Rabat was in order. We found our way and were told that they would be available for collection at 3pm the following day. We offered them more money for the same day but would hear nothing of it. We decided to make the most of the afternoon and drove to Meknes – one of the four imperial cities (Marrakesh, Fez and Rabat being the other 3). It again resembled a very traditional Moroccan city with the Medina wall and the Palace Royal dominating the scenery. We drove 33km north of Meknes to visit the Roman ruins of Volubilis. The city is the best preserved archaeological site in Morocco and was declared a Unesco Heritage site in 1997. It had the most amazing preserved mosaics and beautifully restored arches. It felt like we had stepped back into Roman times and were roaming the very same avenues that Hercules and Hylas once sauntered along. We headed back into Meknes in search of a supermarket and campsite. We successfully found a supermarket stocked with imported goods and quite expensive in comparison to the medinas and souks. Kirk managed to buy some beers at a heft 9.50 dihrims per beer. The campsite that we were looking for had been closed down in March because it had not paid its rates and taxes for many many years so we headed back towards Volubilis as we had passed a campsite along the way.

2009-11-05

The medina of Fez el-Bali is the city’s biggest drawcard and it too is a World Heritage site. Before we could submerge ourselves back into the next Imperial city we needed to return to Rabat to collect our passports from the Mauritanian embassy. We took the scenic drive from Meknes and arrived 2 hours before collection time so thought it a good idea to check out Rabat’s beaches. King Mohammed VI was particularly fond of surfing and was the founding member of one of the surf clubs along the coastline. The surf was enormous. As we drove along we were flagged down by fisherman eager to sell their catch of the day. We found a quiet parking lot that overlooked a bay and made lunch. As we looked around at other parked cars we realised that we had stumbled upon lover’s lane where university students would drive to, park and make out for their lunch break! We tried to be as discreet as possible, ate our lunch and returned to the embassy. Our passports were ready and we were on our way to Fez.
We arrived quite late that afternoon, settled into the campsite and prepared our senses for the following day to come.

2009-11-06

We decided to get public transport into Fez town centre as we were not too sure about how secure the parking may be around the Medina. We walked to the road and waited for the no.17 bus. We waited for quite some time and still no no.17. A local, who had been exercising in the surrounding woodland, kindly stopped and offered us a lift which we gladly accepted. He dropped us 10 minutes from the Ville Nouvelle and we made our way to the Dar-el-Makhzen (Royal Palace). The entrance to this grand property is a stunning example of modern restoration and was quite beautiful to admire. The property is not open to the public and we could not even get a glimpse of the palace as the walls towered more than 15 feet. We eventually made our way into the Medina. The thing with these Medinas is that you cannot see the entrance to them when you are walking amongst the houses and shops surrounding them; you also cannot see them from above as they are amongst the ancient residential areas. None the less, we eventually entered the Median and anticipated the thrill of discovery. We entered at the fresh produce section where vendors displayed their daily harvest. Potatoes, tomatoes, carrots, oranges, apples, figs, dates…you name it, it was there. We then walked into the butchery section where butchers hang the heads of their meat speciality. In one case, the head of a camel! The touts were constantly offering to guide us through the Median and offer us some history. We declined the numerous offers and continued our discovery. We really wanted to see the tanneries – one of the most famous sights in the Fez Medina. En-route we stumbled upon a carpet seller who welcomed us into the shop that he managed. We made it clear from the outset that we did not want to buy anything because we had no space as we were driving from England to South Africa. This was an instant hit. He loved the fact that we were South African and that he was going to the Football World Cup in 2010. He told us to make ourselves at home and to admire the medina from his viewing terrace. The terrace was lovely. We sat on a carpet and enjoyed our first taste of traditional mint tea also known as Berber Whisky. As I said before, the median is completely hidden below the rooftops and there was no evidence of such activities from where we were. It was however interesting to see how old meets new in Fez and that most traditional mud house has a satellite dish secured to its roof. We enjoyed the serenity of the view and got ourselves oriented for our trek to the tanneries. It is hard to miss the tanneries. Firstly the smell is so awful that you are offered a sprig of mint to hold to you nose as you view it and secondly there are touts at every corner offering their services to guide you in the right direction. It was quite a site. The traditional method of dying the leather almost certainly fails every health and safety prerequisite that would be instilled in any developed country. The leather is dirt cheap and some of the handbags, belts, saddle bags are beautifully made. I could have shopped for Africa but storage space will always be a problem. We had a lunch break in a square that we stumbled upon and leisurely watched the children playing. They have no toys or gadgets like most westernised children have, instead they amused themselves by jumping on walls, doing handstands and tricks. It was really lovely to watch.

The Fez Medina was a good introduction to Median shopping and prepared us well for the future because these are the places that we would be doing all of our grocery shopping in for the remainder of our time in Morocco.

The bus journey home was interesting. We waited and waited and waited for the No.17 bus which eventually came. The locals had a good chuckle amongst themselves when they saw these 2 very touristy looking people constantly peering out the window afraid that we would miss our stop. The busses have no stop bells on them so we learnt very quickly that if you want the bust to stop you need to push your way to the front and instruct the driver to stop. We managed to do this just in time and felt satisfied that we had truly experienced Fez.

2009-11-07

Sefrou was our first real Medina shopping experience. We left Fez early and needed to stock up on groceries and meat. Armed with a pocketful of money and my Waitrose shopping bag, Kirk and I went looking for the best bargains. We bought tomatoes, onions, potatoes, pumpkin, carrots, olives, bananas, apples, bread, lamb, turkey and veal for about 130 Dirham. Cheap as chips! We were very chuffed that we could get so much for so little.
We were eager to get in some more walking before we do Jebel Toubkal so we decided to make our way into the Atlas Mountains and walk up Jebel Ayachi (3737m). In order to do this we needed to drive to a small town called Tattiouine where we would be able to find a path. The drive was spectacular. We climbed to above 2000 meters and enjoyed the views of the Middle Atlas and the High Atlas Mountains. This was Morocco – rural and an unspoilt landscape with traditional Berber houses appearing out of the mountain. We drove to Midelt, the main town before Tattiouine and followed signs to a campsite just outside the town. It seemed good but was still a fair distance from the staring point of the climb. We decided to drive to Tattiounine to see if there was any accommodation closer by. As we drove into the village we were given a warm welcome by the local children. They are always willing to help ‘lost looking’ tourists. There was an older gentleman along the road who walked towards the car and introduced himself as Sharif. Sharif didn’t speak much English, in fact none at all. We managed to ask him (in broken French) if there was any place for us to camp and he kindly offered his back yard. His kindness did not stop there. We were invited into his home for the mandatory mint tea and this was then extended to dinner. There we were, 2 complete strangers to his family, yet they were willing to welcome us into their home and eat out off the same plate as them. We were joined by 2 ladies from Midelt who also had a very limited knowledge of English. We were all made to feel so welcome and ate a hearty meal of chicken noodle soup followed by Chicken and potatoes done in a lemon sauce. It was delicious! We ere offered a bed in the house but kindly declined as we had warm sleeping bags in our roof top tent.

2009-11-09

The wind really does blow in Tattiouine and we felt it all night long. None the less, we had a good nights rest and woke up to another glorious day. We were welcomed into the home once again and offered a hearty meal of warm bread – baked in the wood clay oven outside, honey, cheese, apricot jam and the obligatory mint tea with lots and lots of sugar. The honey is collected in Tattiouine itself and sold through a co-operative along with other jams made from the fruit grown in the local orchard. I was really impressed with the Berbers sustainability and self sufficiency. They are the epitome of subsistence farming and it was a real privilege to experience their way of life. They do not have the services that a developed country has yet they are still able to provide all the necessities to live a comfortable life.
After breakfast the 5 of us headed up towards the peak of Jebel Ayachi. Sharif set the pace and took us through the village, across the dam wall and into the river valley. The valley was completely dry, apart from the main trunk, which allowed us to explore the gorges and caves made by the erosive waters of the non-perennial river. The walk was lovely and very leisurely – not quite what we were expecting. We realised after and hour or two that we were not heading to the top but rather to the foothills where we enjoyed an hour tea break at a lonesome house perched on the hills. The Berbers love tea and it has to be sweet. They put up to 10 teaspoons of sugar into one pot of mint tea. We then started our descent and were home in time for lunch. Again we were treated to a lovely chicken and cauliflower dish made with saffron and other spices. After lunch Sharif announced that it was siesta time and wanted to know if Kirk was going to join him whilst I went to ‘visit’ with the ladies. I agreed to this and Kirk attempted to get a snooze in but Sarif’s snoring didn’t allow for any sleep at all. I on the other hand had a lovely afternoon. We went to visit a friend in the village. When we got there she prepared some food – bread, dumplings, jam, cheese, nuts and mint tea. After a hearty meal at lunchtime the last thing I felt like doing was eating more but rather than offend, I gave in to the demands to ‘tich tich’ (eat eat) and enjoyed homemade apricot jam and another made from fruit I have never tasted before. I tried to ask what fruit it was but due to the language barrier I couldn’t get an answer. It was a really lovely afternoon shared with Hsna (Sharif’s wife), Michelle, Yamna and Aiysha.
Kirk and I had offered to provide ingredients for dinner that night so when we got back from visiting it was time to prepare the lamb for brochettes. Ghadija (the oldest daughter) and I cut up the lamb, sliced some tomatoes and onions and placed them on a braai grill. Whilst we were doing this, Kirk had pulled out the video camera and was videoing the boys in the lounge area as they were all aspiring singers. We said our goodnights after an entertaining evening, good food and a really wonderful day.

2009-11-09

The time had come for us to leave the Zaanoum family of Tattiouine. We were not allowed to leave before breakfast which went down well although we were both feeling overfed and sugared out! We were very grateful to the Zaanoum family for their tremendous generosity and will never forget them.
Continuing our journey south we drove towards the Moroccan Sahara Desert where we passed some exquisite sights. The drive took us though the Ziz Valley and the Barrage Hassan Adakhil (Turquoise Water). The villages along this route thrive from their dates sales. The Date Palm tree branches strain under the weight of the numerous dates that grow on these tropical looking plants and the air has a sweet aroma around the area where the dates are picked and spread on the ground to dry out. We eventually reached the first of the famous dunes of Morocco. Erg Chebbi is an astounding mound of reddish desert sand surrounded by hard blackened rock. We followed the piste and stopped for the evening at a campsite called Ponte Sahara. When we arrived at the campsite we were not alone; 2 German couples had arrived before us and immediately we struck up a rapport with them swapped route history and experiences. An early night was essential as both Kirk and I had not had much sleep the night before in Tattouine as the wind had blown worse than the previous night. I too was experiencing sugar withdrawal and was feeling worse for wear.

2009-11-10

Our first night in the desert was a good one. We had both slept very well and were ready to embrace the dry harshness that the awaited us. We had breakfast with Hauj, Gabbi, Manfred and Dorris and agreed to drive with them along the piste to Zagora, the gateway to the bigger better Erg Chigaga. We drove for most of the day in and amongst some dunes but mostly along the gravel piste. We stopped briefly for lunch at the top of a dune and admired the stark nothingness that surrounded us. We continued to drive along the piste in the direction of Zagora and at 4pm decided to stop and make camp. We found a secluded spot in the middle of the desert amongst some dunes for the evening. There was nothing but nature surrounding us. The stars were spectacular that evening with many satellites and shooting stars above us. It was a good introduction to bush camping for Kirk and me as we had the security of 2 other couples who had loads of experience in desert driving and camping.

2009-11-11

We had a late start to the day as we had a hearty breakfast of scrambled egg and toast. The boys needed to do some routine maintenance (re greasing, cleaning air filters etc.) and the girls dusted the cars and washed the dishes – little changes even in the bush; women still do the domesticated things! The drive went well although both Kirk and I were aware of a squeaking sound coming from Mvubu’s front right wheel. As we neared Zagora we were approached, on more than one occasion, by numerous mechanics that were on the look out for independent travellers such as ourselves and offered their business card in case we needed a mechanic once in Zagora. A very expensive method of marketing. They must spend quite a lot on fuel. We made our way to a campsite in Zagora and decided that it was time to give the cars a wash. Manfred and Doris’s vehicle was giving them some trouble so they needed a mechanic to have a look at the bearings on the front wheels. Kirk also wanted someone to have a look at Mvubu’s squeaking sound that had got progressively worse. What was meant to be a short time at the mechanic turned into a long, tedious evening. Manfred and Doris’s vehicle got new bearings and Mvubu had his CV joint inspected, re lubricated and re greased. We couldn’t diagnose any problem with Mvubu apart from some grit or paint residue that was in amongst the lubrication fluid. As we were about to leave we noticed that Mvubu had a puncture in his left back wheel. It was discovered that the tyre was not punctured but rather that the steel rim had a leak in it. We left the rim with Mohammed, the mechanic, and asked them to repair it with some silicon as that is where the leak seemed to be. Luckily for us we had pre-ordered our dinner and made it back to the campsite just before 8pm. We were starving and very grateful that we didn’t have to cook. The cous cous was delicious, so fragrant and full of spices. Kirk’s lamb tagine was also good and all washed down with some Moroccan red wine.

2009-11-12

Before we could get going Kirk and I needed to get the admin out of the way. We needed to collect the wheel from the mechanic and everyone needed to restock on some groceries before we headed out into the desert. We went to the local souk and managed to get everything we needed. Again we were completely blown away by the cost of the food. It was for nothing. Fully stocked we headed for Erg Chigaga – a large series of dunes stretching for 45kms with the biggest erg being 300 meters high. The drive into the desert was exciting. It was a completely different environment to that of Erg Chebbi. Rather than the dunes being surrounded by black hardened gravel, it was more desert like with lighter coloured sand dunes and lighter gravel surrounding them. We made camp amongst some dunes at 4pm and got straight to cooking. Kirk had promised a chicken potjie for dinner and needed to get right on the job with me chopping veggies whilst he prepared the fire. The result was very tasty indeed. Our fellow travellers enjoyed the taste of South Africa and afterwards we shared some travel stories around a fire. A good camping experience indeed.

2009-11-13

The good thing about being in the desert is that it doesn’t rain that much. A bad thing is that the dust gets everywhere and I mean everywhere. It is something that we have become very accustomed to and have found a way to reduce the amount of dust hat comes into the vehicle when driving in the dusty conditions. We set off into the dunes after another great breakfast of eggs and bacon and coffee. Our undertaking was o find he great Erg Chigaga. We drove and drove and drove in search of the great erg. En route we stopped on numerous occasions to search the horizon for some sort of indication as to whether we were heading in the right direction. Whilst stopped, Gabbi would get out of the car and walk around the area looking at the stones. She has a very good eye for spotting old remnants from the Stone Age or even early settlers. She found an old piece of pottery that had patterned engravings on them as well as a flint rock used to start fires. She gave me some useful tips about what to look for when travelling through the rest of Africa as there is so much to look out for.
We navigated our way to the main erg and made camp for the evening. Gabbi and Hauj made some delicious Spaghetti Bolognese for dinner which everyone ate with enjoyment as we had not stopped for lunch.


12 Responses to “Morocco – diary 2009-11-02 to 2009-11-14”

  • Tarryn Says:

    Wow guys, I feel like I’m watching a documentary when reading your blog. So descriptive and interesting.

  • Dave Says:

    Awesome guys, sounds like you’re having an amazing time!!

  • Adrian Says:

    Great posts – keep em coming!

  • Craig Alderson Says:

    Really enjoyed reading the stories. The Morocco family stay especially sounded amazing. Very envious

  • Niel Coetzer Says:

    See you had your first taste of African mechanics!

  • Strat Says:

    Brilliant post guys. Glad you are having a fab time!

  • Lesa Passet Says:

    Absolutely loving reading all about your adventures. Missing you both so much! Keep the updates coming – more photos please!!
    Keep safe and lots of love
    Stu + Lesa

  • Phillipa Says:

    I love hearing all the different things you eat! the hospitality you have received is wonderful and I am green with envy. lucky lucky sods!

  • Julie Says:

    I just love reading your beautifully written posts. I can just picture you on this amazing adventure and all the wonderful and different people you are going to meet. What a exciting experience. keep up the good work on the posts. xx

  • hannah Says:

    Lovely to see you guys are having a fantastic time and sound really chilled and happy, enjoy xx

  • Mom and Dad A Says:

    Your stay in Marakesh sounds amazing. i felt the same as you aboit the snakes only thing is you were brave enough to walk through them. Keep the diary flowing and the pics as well. Miss your weekly calls but can survivie with the blog. Love you both – take care.

  • Mom and Dad A Says:

    Your stay in Marakesh sounds amazing. I felt the same as you about the snakes only thing is you were brave enough to walk through them. Keep the diary flowing and the pics as well. Miss your weekly calls but can survive with the blog. Love you both – take care.