Motorhome News from Morocco 1 15th January 2012 Continuing our travels through Portugal and Spain en route to Morocco by motorhome, with friends, Kit and Morag from Norfolk, UK, and Brian and Kathryn from Adelaide, Australia. The Road to Marrakech
There is rubbish everywhere. The flotsam and jetsam of modern-day life. Moulay Bousselham, a pretty little seaside town with pleasant walks and an enticing beach has seen some investment in recent times - but it is alarmingly untidy. Our first impression of Morocco has been that very little is properly finished. Perhaps after all, before it's even finished it is in decay, fazed by the dry heat or more probably poor workmanship or inferior materials. In any case, when, or if, a job is all-but finished, the pile of rubbish remains; on the pavement, in the road, yesterday's plasic bottles, left-over lunch packets, plastic wrappers float on the morning breeze and builder's rubble is tipped haphazardly on any bit of wasteland. Unfinished buildings stand forlorn, lacking the finance to complete or willing buyers it seems, concrete pillars without windows or doors like standing Meccano skeletons. Rubbish abounds like the streets of London a few centuries ago, but
today's rubbish is predominately plastic; it doesn't deteriorate in weeks or months like paper or rotting cabbage. Today's rubbish will still be littering the streets and rivers of Morocco in a hundred years. But we have not been here for more than a couple of days so let's not be too hasty.
None of our books showed any campsites around Rabat, but it was our intention to visit the town, leaving the motorhomes at an attended car park on what was once a campsite across the river in Sale. But sadly, Brian' s sat-nav map of Morocco took us across the river by a newly opened bridge and we became totally lost. Eventually we gave up and drove through without stopping, passing by the nut-brown walls of the ramparts amidst the roar of manic traffic, secure in the knowledge that unattended parked motorhomes are always at risk in large cities. Life is too short. You can't see it all.
El-Jadida ('The New One'), further south where we eventually ended up, was settled and fortified by the Portuguese in the early 16th century. The Old Town's ramparts still command a wonderful overview of the town and harbour. Our early
morning visit to town the following day afforded us a quiet stroll through the shady streets, stallholders quietly sweeping the dusty pavements beside flat-roofed buildings with lime-washed walls, sapphire window shutters hanging off hinges, crumbling houses left to decay, weed-strewn passages, yesterday's washing still on the line, ladies in kaftans carrying their baskets, men busy doing whatever it is men do here; a fascinating town of many emotions, distinctly uncared for but somehow graced with a certain charm. A friendly guide with a neat moustache and a gleaming smile led us through the cavernous vaulted Cistern, once the Portuguese armoury, converted in 1541 to provide fresh water for the town in the event of a siege - a master stroke of imagination, drained now to charm the visitors with light from the well-hole above reflecting in the remaining pool. This is a delightful town, so full of promise, though somewhat short on pride - or possibly money, for its upkeep. Our chosen campsite in El-Jadida was also poor, smelly and lacking investment. The town's streets were bursting with traffic: bikes, mopeds, honking cars, trucks, lorries and people; people everywhere, all over the road, oblivious to any danger from passing traffic.
South of El-Jadida the coastal marshes and lagoons lead inland to narrow strip farms harvesting tomatoes, carrots, turnips and cauliflower. Beside the road, laden donkeys, overloaded trucks straining up hills in first gear and people walking, riding their donkeys, leading their cows, herding their sheep and going goodness knows where. Wherever we travel we are greeted by friendly people, a gentlemanly smile, kids smiling and waving as we drive past, ladies in delightful coloured embroidered kaftans offering a smile, a nod of recognition or a hand raised in greeting. The jellaba with its pointed hood is still in evidence here, worn mostly by older men now, but a high percentage of men have adopted western-style dress along this stretch of Morocco's Atlantic coast. Cafes clearly remain the domain of men only with very few exceptions, and on the streets of busy towns groups of men gather in noisy groups - and not a woman in sight.
Donkeys, seen in all rural areas, are a major means of transport, almost always ridden by men, side-saddle, both feet to the left kicking gently, or a short stick used to encourage the poor beast to change gear. Donkeys and mules hug
the roadside, leading an assortment of carts with all manner of goods and passengers or laden with a basket each side (a chouari, a double donkey basket made from palm fibre) overflowing with carrots, olives, or bales of straw on the way to market or the cooperative. In the distant fields they were ploughing with two donkeys, and even one donkey and one bullock if it's all that's to hand!. There are tractors; we have seen them in use on the larger fields, but heavy agricultural machinery has yet to make its mark. One man and two cows, two men and one cow or twenty sheep, or often ladies and young children herd their charges in the fields and beside the roads.
Three hours of pounding the streets of El-Jadida left us short of Safi, our target for the morning and we stopped for a late lunch lunch at the seaside resort of Oualidia. The local campsite was listed in our book as in poor condition, but the site was gone and in its place a huge modern car park, set aside specifically for motorhomes. Parking for the day was 10Dh and overnight a further 15Dh (total, roughly Euro
2.50). We actually did a deal; 3 motorhomes for 60Dh! As I've said before, it takes a while but eventually it sinks in; motorhomers are money for the local economy. We've yet to catch on to that in the UK.
Parked side-by-side and fully fed, we ventured on to the beach, a wide strand of golden sand beyond the few well-heeled houses fronting the sparkling ocean, and we fell in love with the town's ambience. It's no wonder the French motorhomers rush from the ferry to get here. Most of the other motorhomes were indeed French registered. A choice of good restaurants with a selection of tagines from 40Dh - 60Dh (€ 4-6) sealed our fate and we stayed the night alongside fifty other motorhomers and ate out that evening. Sadly, the lamb tagine, whilst tasty in parts, would earn but a Michelin three star rubber award.
Within minutes of mooring up at Oulidia we were approached by hawkers on mopeds selling crabs, oranges and fish, "I'll cook it for you", one said. Another man on a scooter was offering tagine, "My wife will cook it for you at home," he told us. He noticed Kit and Morag's
bikes on the back of their motormome. They had been carrying their trusty, rusty, bikes around and had yet to use them. The tagine seller asked if they wanted to sell them and on the spur of the moment, Kit nodded his head and a deal was done; two bikes rather worse for wear, sold for 500Dh, loaded on the back of the buyer's moped with a couple of bungee straps and off they went - with a promise to be back within the hour with a freshly baked cake as a gift from his wife! As we sampled a pre-dinner Chablis in Bertie, our motorhome, an hour later, the bike man returned; a hot ring-shaped cake the size of a dinner plate in his hand! I'm waiting for someone to make me an offer for Janice, but I'm not quite sure how I would get twelve camels and fifteen cakes all the way back to England in the motorhome. Whilst writing of cake it might be appropriate to mention bread. A French stick or a thin round loaf costs one or two Dirham here, €0.10 - 0.20c, and a decent cake, perhaps the same. Surely nobody here should starve.
Driving along this coastal stretch of Morocco can be stressful to say the least. Cars and mopeds can overtake anywhere, cut in anywhere; on blind bends, on roundabouts, or solid lines. Main-streets in some remote towns can be six lanes wide, but with cars and trucks parked two or three deep, open-fronted shops piled high with tyres, deep-purple olives and brown argen in heaps at the roadside, trucks and mule carts drifting in and out between reversing motorists, hooting lorries, donkeys and hand-carts heading in all directions, mopeds and bikes weaving between fruit and veg stalls, gas bottles galore, between the mopeds darting at full throttle hither-and-thither, creeping cautiously round the crowded bread stall stretching half-way across the road can be a harrowing experience.
Continuing south we came to Essaouira, very much a Moroccan town and again influenced by Portuguese in the 15th century, its large busy port crammed with local fishing boats and a thriving fish market on the quay besieged by screeching gulls. Its wide sandy beaches bathed by Atlantic trade winds attract holidaymakers, surfers and artists in the wake of 1970's hiippies, and the labyrinth of narrow streets in the bustling medina throng with fascinating
shops and stalls. Before leaving town we availed ourselves of the fresh-fish lunch; select your choice, caught today and cooked to order: sea bass, langoustine, sole and crevettes served with side-salad, bread, olives and bottled water (no alcohol) for 80Dh per person. You just have to do it.
The road inland from Essaoira to Marrakech is dualled now, making the three-hour diversion inland very worthwhile. It crosses great swathes of open fields stretching to the horizon, sand-coloured, barren though much of it tilled right now, an occasional shadow of green cultivation and small plantations of olives and argan. To our right the ever-growing outline of the snow-capped Atlas Mountains to the south of Marrakech and salmon-pink shoe-box appartment buildings lining the suburbs of the town. Marrakech's location has significantly challenged our route planning, mainly because the road out to the south crosses the high Atlas Mountains. The winding road over the top looks to be hard work for a motorhome and subject to snow and ice in winter conditions - and it's winter right now. Whilst this year may be an exception, we are not convinced we can sensibly expect to access the Anti Atlas over the top and
high on our wish list, and have consequently planned to nip in-and-out of Marrakech and return to the coast after a couple of days via the motorway, to Agadir and beyond, to the coast off Tiznit.
Reading other traveller's blogs and numerous travel books we have learned that we might be approached by children looking for handouts. So far, we have only seen children waving and smiling at us from the roadside but on our journey east from Essaouira across the semi-desert plains towards Marrakech we pulled off the road in a tiny village for our afternoon tea break to find ourselves the centre of attraction for a couple of local lads. With good intentions we offered each a cheap ball-point pen and within seconds, half the children within a hundred miles appeared in expectation. Big mistake. Huge! Marrakech
Before leaving home we were told that Morocco is like Marmite - you either love it or hate it. I'm quite sure that could be said for Marrakech, We try to travel with open minds, anticipating the best and worst and for sure, Marrakech can provide the whole scale, from A to Z. We don't venture
into major cities in the motorhome and by earlier arrangement the campsite minibus took us the the 12km into town and dropped us off by the Koutoubia Mosque, a short walk from the Medina.
The Medina, or Old Town, in Marrakech is entered through ornate gates in the twelve-mile long ramparts that date back to the 12th Century; defensive walls some 6 feet thick and up to 30 feet high in places. Inside those walls the city rings with vibrant sounds, nose-tingling aromas and enthralling sights; the many Mosques and Palaces, The Saadian Tombs, the remains of the Palais el-Badi, the Palmeries and gardens, the Place Jemaa el-Fna the central market square and UNESCO World Heritage Site where we lunched and watched the acrobats, the snake-charmers, the monkey-handlers - and the Moroccan water carriers ringing their bells. We wandered aimlessly, seemingly for hours, along mile after mile of cavernous souks; basketry, woodturning, clothing, leather goods, fine silver jewelery, ornate lighting, carpets and bric-a-brac, on noisy, dusty streets and narrow alleys, flickering shafts of sunlight in the covered markets, swirling scooters, fuming mopeds, pot-holed paths, dodging donkey carts and jostling crowds, fending off touts, persistant but sociable, the obnoxious smells
and horrors of the tanneries and were finally lured into the carpet-seller's shady showroom. Marrakech is doubtless both magical and absolutely manic at the height of the tourist season, but don't miss it - revel in the experience and absorb the culture if you have not yet been. But our story of Marrakech is best told in pictures. We'll share some with you.
After leaving Marrakech we turned southeast on the motorway towards Agadir, a great feat of engineering carving a route across the flat plains, arid and rock-strewn, ochre and terracotta soil sprinkled like peppercorn with argan trees up through the western fringes of the High Atlas Mountains. That night we finally stopped on the coast again, at the coastal resort of Aglou Plage beyond Tiznit, the home of renowned silver-jewelery craftsmen. Aglou Plage wooed us sufficiently for us to stay for two nights. The campsite facilities were modern and immaculately clean, the town spic and span from its delightfully patterned paved streets to the endless promenade and wide sandy beach awaiting the coming of celebrity status. But it is waiting. Waiting for someone to buy a hundred unfinished appartments, the new shop developments displayed on
Palais el Badi
hoardings portraying the dream of Nice or Cannes and hoardes of holidaymakers to take long walks on the spectacular sandy beach. There are troglodite dwellings carved into the cliffs just to the north of town, now mostly fishermen's huts where they empty their catch of undersized fish - those the EU would toss back to sea.
As we mentioned a while back, it's a long way. It's 830 miles from the Moroccan port at Tangier Med to Tiznet where we finally turned inland and from home by our devious route through France, Spain and Portugal, 3,147 miles according to Janice, our planner, navigator and tour guide supreme. That's as far south as we're going on this trip.
Time then to turn east into the Anti Atlas Mountains, climbing gently at first, palm trees spread along the valleys and rocky-dry wadis, arid roadside verges draped with prickly-pear cactus, up and over the tortuous Col du Kerdous, 1,100m, towards Tafraout, a small settlement of pink, flat-roofed buildings edged in white, nestling in a bowl at the foot of the pink-granite moutains. It's mid-January and the dry mild weather has brought some of the almond trees into flower early; clouds of
pink and white blossom gracing the hillsides to the east of the col.
We're coping with the winter temperatures OK, 18-25C most days, and have adjusted quite well to the extra couple of hours of daylight each day, but we both managed to pick up nasty colds from somewhere so we reckon it must be winter. Which reminds me; the call for prayer can just be heard from our campsite and we have recently learned that special prayers have been directed to bring much needed rain to Morocco. Tomorrow we are planning a 4X4 safari into the Gorges-d'Ait-Mansour, so hang on to your seat!
Janice and David
The grey haired nomads
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