Morocco – diary 2009-11-19 to 2009-11-29

We forgot to upload this before we did the Mauritania diary. We haven’t gone back o Morocco!

2009-11-19 to 2009-11-22

Kirk and I arrived in Marrakech as very weary travellers but were soon invigorated by the prospects of our new campsite. We had stumbled upon an oasis in Marrakech and all for as little as Dh70 a night (7 Euro). It had a beautiful swimming pool, sun loungers, a swanky bar/restaurant and free wifi. We were in our elements and just what we needed after the hike up Toubkal. We were planning on staying a good few days. We had admin to sort out and we were also awaiting the arrival of Mike, Julie, Alistar and Catherine as they were flying in on the 22nd.

We were not really interested in visiting the Marrakech sites just yet but more interested in catching up on laundry, visiting the local Toyota dealer and catching some rays on the sun loungers. Kirk set off to Toyota and booked his car in for an oil change. It was just too cheap an offer to refuse. They charged DH550 (€55) to change the oil and that included new oil. Kirk had done some shopping around and the oil alone cost DH520 (€52) so it was a real bargain. Better still; when it came to paying they would not accept credit cards even after they had said they did accept credit cards the previous day. Kirk being Kirk didn’t give in and managed to get away with only paying DH400 (€40) for the lot!

I on the other hand had had a much more relaxing afternoon on the loungers reading a print out from the Votespore guys who did an Africa Overland trip from Casablanca to Cape Town.

The next morning was Medina day. We had read so much about the infamous Marrakech medina and Djemaa-El-Fna that we were now refuelled and ready to take on the haggling salesmen. We caught a taxi into the town centre with our new friend, Henning, a lovely and interesting German guy who had had some car trouble in Agadir and was awaiting repairs. We were dropped off right outside the Djemaa-El-Fna and Henning went off to collect his part and go to the Mercedes repair shop to sort his vehicle out. The mosque is a spectacular sight in Marrakech. Its minaret towers above al the other buildings and acted as a good landmark and navigation needle when lost in the medina. Once we had taken a few photos of the mosque we headed to the medina. In order to get to the medina you walk through the Djemaa-El-Fna which is a completely different setting during the day than at night. I was clutching onto Kirk’s arm because the cobras and adders were too close for comfort. I cannot stand the sight of snakes on a piece of paper let alone in the flesh so you can imagine my horror when I saw the snake charmers placing the snakes around an unaware tourist’s neck when they walked by. I would have freaked if they had come within 10 meters of me so we stuck to the perimeter of the square and carefully navigated our way to one of the many range juice stalls where we enjoyed a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice.

We then submerged ourselves into the medina. The Marrakesh Medina is geared more towards tourists than the Fez Medina. It was far more colourful and felt as though we were shopping in a large flea market. The atmosphere was still delightful the salesmen tried their hardest to get our attention to show us their wares. Again, I could have shopped for Africa. My wish list for Moroccan shopping has increased ten fold and I highly recommend a shopping trip to Marrakesh. We browsed around and stumbled upon a culinary treat of slow roasted lamb. We hadn’t had breakfast so were feeling rather peckish and decided to sample one of these snacks. We paid for the lamb in weight and bought a round of bread. They cut the bread open and stuffed it with the lamb. It was delicious and did not last very long. We continued to roam around the medina until we got a text from Henning. We had planned to meet up with him once he had sorted his admin out. We navigated our way to a café where he was sitting and enjoyed a couple of beverages whilst we people watched and chilled out before the afternoon session. We went walkabout again and found our way to the artisan section where you see the craftsmen hard at work preparing their wares for sale. It is quite spectacular to see the tailors hard at work and how quickly their nimble hands work. Henning had been to a silver salesman 2 days previously and had struck a bargain so we were eager to try our luck. After copious amounts of mint tea, serious amounts of haggling and Kirk being called a Berber man on many occasions (renowned for their haggling abilities) the salesman eventually gave in and shook on the deal. We did not leave disappointed! I managed to scoop a classic red granite stoned pendant set in silver with a necklace for a mere DH190 (€19)! This whole haggling process took us just under 2 hours so by that stage we were all starving. We mad our way back to the café that we had been to earlier and sat on the terrace that overlooked the Djemaa-El-Fna. It had come alive with food stands and table and chairs. The smells filling the night air were fantastic. They food vendors had plenty to offer in the means of harira soup, calamari, lamb, brochette…the list is endless. The Marrakech medina did certainly not disappoint and I will most certainly be going back there at some stage in my life.

2009-11-22 to 2009-11-25

The time had come to leave lovely Marrakech and head towards the coast again. Julie, Mike, Alistar and Catherine had arrived safely and we had planned to meet them on the road to Agidir. We set off in convoy after lunchtime and drove the 200km towards Agidir. En-route we had the opportunity to witness some of the worst driving possible. There were a few close calls where taxis would attempt to overtake a series of 6 cars and not consider the oncoming traffic. Only when they saw the oncoming lorry did they attempt to push their way into the right hand lane and cause everyone a lot of stress and worry! Luckily we arrived safely in Taghazout and made ourselves comfortable in the apartment. We went out for dinner and again were impressed by the Moroccan cuisine. The Calamari tagine was superb as well as the beef and date tagine.

We awoke to another glorious day in Morocco. The weather has most certainly not disappointed us. The boys went off to do their thing on the surfboards and the girls and Kirk had a slower start to the morning before we set off in Mvubu to find the surfing crew. They did not seem to have found any waves and were heading back to the apartment to surf off the point there. We followed and enjoyed the entertainment as we watched them fling themselves off the rocks into the sea and surf the waves.

That evening Kirk and I had arranged to do a fish braai (BBQ). We had been to the supermarket that afternoon and hung around for the delivery of fresh fish. When it arrived the fishmonger brought out the most gorgeous stump nose that ranged between 2.5 to 5kgs. We were so excited and though we were going to have the most unbelievable feast until they told us the price…Dh190 (€19) a kilogram – a bit out of our budget! This however did not deter the buyer for the royal palace. He wanted 20kgs! We settled for a cheaper similar looking fish but were not let down by freshness or flavour. We visited the spice section and bought an array of traditional spices for the fish dinner as well as a chicken dish we were going to cook the following evening. When we returned the gin and tonics had been flowing so Kirk and I had some catching up to do. We prepared everything that needed to be done and then sat back and let the braai do it all. The food was absolutely delicious and one of the most memorable meals we have had!

The following morning we all woke up feeling rather jaded! Far too many beers and G&Ts. We managed to get our acts together and again made our way to the beach. The waves seemed to be getting smaller and smaller but this did not deter the surfers amongst us. A relaxing day was had by all. Kirk and I prepared another Moroccan dish that evening – chicken tagine and cous cous. It went down very well. Kirk was the only brave one amongst us who tucked into the beers again. The rest of us were wise enough to stick to the soft drinks! Kirk things we were just soft!

The time had come for Kirk and me to say our farewells. We had 1600km to cover in 5 days due to the car insurance expiring and my visa coming to an end. We tackled the long road south and spent our first night in a small village called Sidi Ifni. It was very basic but all we needed to rest our heads for the night. The trip down was spectacular. Coves and cliffs dropped sheer into the turquoise Atlantic Ocean. This is most certainly a surfers’ paradise. As we entered Sidi Ifni there was an eerie sea mist that covered most of the village. This mist is renowned for sometimes spreading 30 kilometres inland.

2009-11-26 to 2009-11-29

After a good rest we headed off early to beat away the relentless kilometres that stood before us. Tan Tan – the gateway to the Western Sahara – was our destination for the day. We were not expecting the roads to be so good and so quiet so we actually managed to get further than that and spent the night 35kms before Laayoune. The campsite was unique as it was set on the southern edge of a salt depression. It had a calcified waterfall with stalactites and a small trickle of water. The landscape was breathtakingly beautiful and there wasn’t a sound to be heard.

Another day of driving awaited us. We planned to drive all the way to Dakhla, one of the last big towns before we headed into Mauritania. The long straight road took us through a vast expanse of dry stony desert. It sometimes veered inland where we passed some huge salt pans and then back to the coastline where we saw the beautiful ocean. Some of the beaches were exquisite with long miles of white sand.

As we got to the Dakhla junction we were stopped again at an official check point. This was one of the many checkpoints we had gone through since entering Western Sahara. We were anticipating some awkwardness from these officials but we did not have a single problem. They were always polite and friendly. I suppose it helps to be organised and have the required fische document when they ask for it. Along the route we were only asked for a cardeau by one official. He got nothing but a smile!

Not one of the guidebooks that we had read prepared us for the beauty that Dakhla had to offer. The approach was simply stunning! The peninsular stretches south which allows for stretches of water and sand to meet. It was paradise! The water was a clear colour of blue and the sand was sun bleached white. Dakhla is also renowned for its wind so there were some entrepreneurs who had set up kit boarding schools and campsites. It really was a welcoming drive and even better to know that we were going to spend a day or two relaxing in this paradise. We stayed at a campsite a little bit closer to the town but the water was still crystal clear and the sand still bleached white. We had planned to have an early night; as we had covered quite a substantial amount of mileage – the most we had ever driven on the trip; only to be woken at 2am by a rowdy group of unruly Spanish humanitarians. They arrived in a convoy of several trucks and 4×4’s and wanted all to know they had arrived. They were honking their horns and shouting at the top of their lungs. Kirk and I were aghast at their inconsideration and selfishness. They did not stop any time soon so Kirk took it upon himself to hush them by shouting out of the tent. He managed to get their attention and they eventually got the hint. We also complained to the campsite ‘guardian’ who was not too impressed with our complaints. I think the copious amounts of alcohol that he had consumed were impeding his judgement!

The following morning we got an apology from the guardian and a free night of camping. The ‘humanitarians’ did not offer an apology to anyone and were on the road by 11am. We were happy to see the back of them and were hoping that they would cross the border at least a day and night before us as we really did not want to encounter them again. The weather again was beautiful. The sun was out, the sky was blue and the beach was awaiting us. We strolled down the white beach and found a quiet cove where we swam and relaxed in the sun. The rest of the day was spent looking at maps, reading up about Mauritania and speaking to other travellers and finding out about their experiences. That evening I cooked a delicious meal of chicken and cous cous. All of the flavours were typical Moroccan spices bought from the supermarket. The last Moroccan supper for the last night in Morocco.

Morocco has been a great introduction to Africa. In some places like Marrakech things work. They have good services, the infrastructure is excellent and the buildings are impressive, however, whenever you move away from the big cities the services seem to die. The refuse becomes a huge problem and the sanitation becomes almost non existent.

It has been a Geographers dream travelling through Morocco. There was evidence of physical, human and environmental geography all around me and I am slowly building on my teaching resources.

2009-11-29

Today we crossed the Tropic of Cancer! We left as early as possible to get a head start at the border. The previous evening we had discussed the border crossing with Thomas, a Swiss guy who is building a house in Senegal and who frequently makes the crossing, and he had said that we may need to spend the night at the border depending on how busy it is. We decided to have an early start as we really didn’t want to have to sleep at the border in no-mans-land. The drive down the last stretch of Western Sahara was dry and barren. We did cross the Tropic of Cancer as I said before which was probably the highlight of the day! We stopped for the mandatory photo and were on our way again. Along the route we passed a couple of signs warning people and motorists of the danger of mines that still lurk in the surrounding terrain. It is a wonder that the free range camels and goats have not set any off. Perhaps they have a sixth sense that allows them to detect these mines and avoid standing on them. We covered the last 300kms from Dakhla to the border in good time. We filled up with diesel at the last petrol station because at DH5.5 (E0.55) a litre it is just too good a deal to resist.

We started border procedures and were pleasantly surprised that the whole process took a mere 45 minutes! We were through into no-mans-land and made sure to stay on the most used track as again there is a danger of mines. We arrived safely and made our way through the formalities. We were beckoned to hand in our passports at the ‘bureau’ and told to wait outside.  Minutes of sweltering heat later Kirk was called into the office and told to close the door, I was to wait outside. After a couple of minutes Kirk emerged with both passports in hand. The ‘officials’ had requested a cardeau and Kirk had acted ignorant. He had a DH20 note in his pocket and offered them that but they were only interested in Euro. They actually wrote €10 on a piece of paper and Kirk politely refused them. He asked them how they would feel, when they go to watch the Football World Cup in South Africa, if they were asked for a cardeau when they got to the airport. This was received with blank stares and Kirk was told to go. So, to date we still have not had to pay any bribes!!!

We were in a new country and it was clearly evident that Mauritania is one of Africa’s poorest countries. It is such a harsh environment with very little water and vegetation. One thing I can say is that the road to Nouadhibou is fantastic – a perfectly tarred strip of road that allowed us to drive at a good speed and cover the 100kms in no time.

We arrived in the fishing town of Nouadhibou and were astounded at the difference between Morocco and Mauritania. Litter is strewn everywhere, there does not seem to be any formalities in town planning, goats run free on the side of the road and eat the rubbish, there are no street signs anywhere. This was Africa at its best! We found a good campsite/auberge called Camping Abba. Kirk managed to negotiate a good price for the 2 of us and we have since discovered that camping in Mauritania is far more expensive than Morocco. We were in no mood to cook and were absolutely starving as we had not stopped for lunch. We walked the streets of Nouadhibou and decided to have inner at a patisserie called Restaurant-Patisserie Pleine Lune. It was delightful. We walked in to see at least 20 locals sitting down to watch the premiereship league football match. We couldn’t see who was playing as the text on the TV screen was in Arabic. The atmosphere was lovely and we made ourselves comfortable and ordered a whole chicken with frites and salad. It was cooked with an African twist and was delicious. We managed to somehow devour the entire chicken as well as have space for a coffee afterwards. Bellies full and happy travellers we headed back to camp where we met MC – the campsite guardian. He could converse in English and we chatted to him about what to do in Nouadhibou – the answer – not an awful lot! He did however tell us about a Spanish group of ‘humanitarians’ that arrived the previous night at 2am in a similar fashion to that described in Dakhla. We could not believe what we were hearing. MC had said that they had woken up all the locals as they were honking their horns and shouting in a gregarious fashion. We were pleased that we had missed them and knew that they would be at least one day ahead of us! We went to bed to the sound of the African drum beat.

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One Response to “Morocco – diary 2009-11-19 to 2009-11-29”

  • Bridget Says:

    Love the detail Dale…You write beautifully! Kirk you go on getting out of the bribes! Proud of you for your negotiating skills….Lots of Love Bee xxx

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