Cueta and into Morocco...


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Africa » Morocco » Taza-Al Hoceima-Taounate
April 9th 2009
Published: April 27th 2009
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Cueta BeachCueta BeachCueta Beach

Just before the rain came and I got done for peeing in the drain (no toilets available and didn't want to pee on the beach like all the other folk!!

Crossing the Border, entering Morocco and onward....



Well, didn't start off to well, we waited for the rush from the ferry arrival to dissipate at the border by parking on the beach front under the impressive walls and sea moat of an old fort, out came the Coleman stove and on went the water for a tea to pass the time, I went in search of one of the most elusive things in the “developed” world today, a public toilet, with the usual result of no luck, so being in the middle of town and not knowing what we may find at the border, as it started drizzling with rain I figured there was a perfectly placed road drain in between two large wheelie bins (big square industrial ones) with the Land Rover in front as an extra shield, busted....those Guardia Civilia (Police type chaps) have damn good eyes, on the really busy road that hadn't stopped with traffic, not only did he spot me from about 60 km/h, but managed to come along at the only point in our stop when there was no other traffic so he could reverse up and scold me in Spanish.....to be fair, I
Cueta from aboveCueta from aboveCueta from above

A view down from above in the hills, heading for our "touch the sea" experience!!
probably should have gone on the beach or something but the drain seemed like the best place as the drizzle would wash it away.....but why oh why do we not get public toilets anywhere any more!!
Suitably chastised we headed off for the border...the Spanish side was easy as we were told it would be, remarkably civilised and orderly, we didn't even have to get out of the car, the guy came to us to check the passport and papers, then we hit the Moroccan side, which to be fair wasn't as bad as many I have experienced, save for how smooth the operators are there....confession, I got caught out, we had everything sorted except the paper for the car, when Mohamed came to the window, official badge and all, we said no thanks it was OK, so the chit chat started and while we were doing the passports, it continued, very pleasant and no problem, then we got caught, whether it is deliberate or not, there is not Customs point sign I could see for taking the paperwork to for the car, I looked around and before you know it, in leapt Mohamed, quickly guiding us to the nearby
Boats on the beachBoats on the beachBoats on the beach

the traditional blue fishing boats hauled up on almost all the beaches we visited...lots of guys sitting round repairing the nets, cages and boats.
window (with definitely no sign above it...only when you were looking through the window could you see the “Enregisterment de Vehicles” sign) he spoke to the man in Arabic and forms were produced, we have been helped so now a fee is required, but it got better, because Mohamed now said he has a call to make so sit with his friend and he will help translate the form (only provided in French and Arabic!) I could have worked it out, but we were now being helped and it did go very smoothly in 5 minutes we had all the necessary stamps and bits of paper, so the negotiation came, I figure for the 10 minutes service, 5 Euro between them would be fine (a figure mentioned in a book as reasonable) but no, because Mohamed had to make a call (never remembered seeing him on a phone) there were 2 involved, so 5 Euro each became the price for “you tourists from Europe with money” it was to become a bit of a theme and was definitely worse than any other country I have travelled too, the overall feeling of being fleeced, there were definitely times when we felt
My most Northern point in Africa!My most Northern point in Africa!My most Northern point in Africa!

So finally done it, I have stood on the southern most tip and just about the northern most point....only taken 9 years of travelling and living in Africa to touch the northern part and finally got my Bro to Africa!!!
not, but many more occasions when what seemed like genuine hospitality and help came with a high price tag, but it was a lesson learned and I was not yet up to “Africa speed”
We drove through the scrum of humanity trying to get through the actual final gate and a policeman took our papers for inspection and wandered off for a chat before returning and saying we could go, at last we were across.... in Morocco!
As we drove through the crush of people outside, we entered what can only be described as a the biggest used lot of Mercedes cars and vans we had ever seen, dozens of 240D saloon cars and 307D panel vans were loading and unloading a mass of humanity and goods, this was to become a regular site as the Mercedes 123 series saloons and this type of van are the most used form of transport in Northern Morocco (in the south they still use the old “ship of the desert” Peugeot 504 estate cars) in towns even the Toyota minibuses often had Mercedes wheel trims and badges painted on them!! Old Mercedes don't seem to die, they just retire to Morocco!
We started
Bro on the beachBro on the beachBro on the beach

Bro with Lil the Landy, below the other pillar of Hercules (Gibraltar being the one) Djebel Moussa, a the most North westerly point of Africa
north up towards Tangier, having decided we would skip Tangier and head south for the night, but wanting to see the Mediterranean coast and stand on the Northern tip of Africa (maybe not the most northern point, but close!)
We stopped to take some photos overlooking the border and Ceuta before carrying on and finding a rough track leading to the beach, drove onto the beach near a village filled with the traditional blue fishing boats we would see at many points along the beach, with men fixing their nets or just hanging out in the dunes watching two mad Europeans drive onto the beach wander round, congratulate each other on having actually made it, bugger around with a camera and go and touch the water....in a mild sandstorm on a windy day on the beach, but I knew it was Africa, when no busy body in a uniform came screeching into sight to tell us we couldn't do whatever it was we were doing!!
Having done the photograph bit, we drove off and headed south, to Tetouan , along the relatively new and very posh coast road, running through Fnideq, Restinga, Smir and Mdiq, with hundreds of unfinished beach
First wander round TetouanFirst wander round TetouanFirst wander round Tetouan

A wonderful evening of wandering, a first experience of a Moroccan Medina, only spoilt a little by insistent unwanted guides....
resort developments almost obliterating the view of the sea in places, the recession seems to have hit hard here, with, like Spain almost all construction stopped and very little finished. It was to become a noticeable thing, the resorts unfinished and for different reasons many of the peoples houses unfinished, Brother named it within 30 minutes “the country of unfinished houses!”
We entered Tetouan at dusk, driving in on the main drag and following the “Centre Ville” signs, found an ATM at a very plush looking bank with a great sign outside “Wafacash”, what a cool name!! Was to dark for a good picture, but did get one later in the trip... 😊
We wanted a wander around the old part of the city at a days end, without it being full on souk (market) opening time. So having fended off several dodgy attempts by gentlemen on little mopeds telling us they had “very cheap, very safe parking” we found a spot a little out of the way outside a busy restaurant under the street-lights and went for a wander.
Turns out we hit the middle of a mountain festival market, where once a month the folk come in from
Looking back on the Med and MartilLooking back on the Med and MartilLooking back on the Med and Martil

The windy (and windy) coast road towards Oued Laou, a stunning spot for breakfast, but still chilly!!
the hills to sell all sorts of good stuff they have made or grow...so it was busy, it was also a Thursday evening, the sounds and smells were amazing and we found our way into the Medina, almost by accident, Tetouan is not on the normal tourist routes, but was worth the visit for a small scale taste of the Medina without really being able to get lost or get hassled too badly....
We did get hassled, latched onto is more the case, we got a guide by default, he just joined us then kept coming back and commenting before drifting away again, always trying to lead is in a certain direction and getting quite upset if we wandered in a different direction because one or other of us saw something down a small street that caught our eye.
At one point he came back past and almost hissed at us “you don't like Moroccans? You don't follow me because you don't like Moroccans? Why is this?” wasn't really prepared for that and just stopped and loudly explained (in case anyone else within earshot understood English, which he spoke pretty well) that we were not shopping or looking for anything,
Rock shapesRock shapesRock shapes

The road really clung to the hillside in places, with not alot below except the sea, some areas had been scared by development projects stopped in the credit crisis, other areas beautifully untouched.
we were just wandering around looking and therefore didn't need a guide. This must have spooked him somewhat because he did disappear for some minutes, only to return on another street, up ahead slowly ambling so we would catch him up. As we were to learn, this is the normal behaviour of the unlicensed guides, as there are apparently police who will arrest and fine the “faux-guides” which haunt the streets of the Medina, so by drifting in and out of contact with us, he could claim he was not actually guiding us...until the time came when he decided he was bored with us and wanted payment for his services, this turned not quite unpleasant with his demands and we were simply glad to give him the just under 30 dirhams we had between us in coins, just to get rid of him, he was the first, but would not be the last...still another lesson learned, in all it was enjoyable and Brother was “a bit overwhelmed” not surprising for a first experience of Africa!
It was late and time to find somewhere to sleep, so we headed for Martil, the nearest sea point to the City, we spent an
The house in the middle of nowhereThe house in the middle of nowhereThe house in the middle of nowhere

Well it was on the edge of the village of Oued Laou, just before the road ended on the beach...
hour trying to find a camp-site, one had been redeveloped as luxury apartments and the other only had one signpost we could find, so having looked everywhere we could think off, we opted for a hostel we spotted next to a café, so we pulled in to check it out and the guy cooking the shish outside spoke in English to ask what we were looking for and then proceeded to give us directions which proved to be spot on. even with the small sign, but at least we had found it! So a quick pitch of tents and a shower before crashing out.
The morning brought the real vista of where we were.... the camp-site was in the middle of town, off a very bad dirt road, surrounded by blocks of flats on 3 sides and infrastructure ready (all the roads, street-lamps and electricity junction boxes but no buildings) undeveloped land on the fourth, it was only 100 meters from the beach, so we had driven past both ends of the road a few times, but not spotted the feint sign in the dark.
After some tea and pack up, we had decided to follow the coast off the
And it could be the Stairway to HeavenAnd it could be the Stairway to HeavenAnd it could be the Stairway to Heaven

A slightly closer shot, note the ever popular Mercedes and the stairway to the sky.....
main roads, so in the chilly morning mist we left Martil and headed where we thought might take us along the coast and managed to find the unsigned road that led towards El Tleza De Oued Laou, it was a stunning morning, chilly in the brisk wind blowing in from the sea as we rose out along the road winding along the coast, climbing at points into the woods before descending to sea level to cross another river flowing out to sea, there were a few developments, all in a state of suspension, the worst having taken half the mountainside away with bulldozers and all the remained was the scar on the land and a huge billboard boasting of the services envisaged at the resort, erosion already highly evident on the cleared earth.
We stopped several times to just enjoy the views, take photos or on a bluff high above the sea do the very English thing of “have some more tea” the coastline is rugged and beautiful, especially so with the clear sea and blue skies of that February day. Arriving into El Tleza de Oued Laou, we found first the resort developments alongside the newly repaved promenade and
Lots of water and hydro-electricityLots of water and hydro-electricityLots of water and hydro-electricity

In the Rif mountains before the cloud came down, between Oued Laou and Chefchaouen, a pipe down the mountain to the hydro scheme, where a very friendly man on a motorbike who offered us allsorts at a "lodge who by yes Scottish man"
billboards advertising apartments for sale at the silent construction sites, this gave way to the old town, where one street was being resurfaced and the other was still pot-holed dust, we originally choose the wrong street to leave town which took us out to the beach and a strange looking house build all on it's own in the middle of an open patch of ground, four stories high, with only the bottom storey in use with a very elegant stairway to “heaven” (well OK the roof) and a Mercedes parked outside.....
not that aesthetically pleasing but someone obviously likes the “box” design!
Retracing our drive back into town, we spotted a phone shop, consisting of a set of very dusty display cabinets with nothing in them and a lone girl in her “hijhab” (head covering) behind a till with no power too it, in a mixture of sign language and French I managed to ask if I could buy a local SIM card for the mobile, this led to working out I needed a photocopy of my passport for ID, then trying to work out the top up system for the number, which in a very smart move has gone
In the Rif....In the Rif....In the Rif....

And the cloud came rolling in....this was the last view of the day, the cloud came in and vis was sometimes down to 10 meters, especially above the snow line!
away from the scratch card system, with the associated packaging waste, to the simple SMS transfer, you show the top-up person the money, they send you the credit to your phone number, when you receive the confirmation text with the amount, you pay....takes seconds and is perfect for small amounts and also good for the environment, removing the need to have cards that end up everywhere on the floor (like in Malawi)
Successfully connected (or so we thought, determined later it would not send international text messages to most mobile networks!) we moved on, past a very politely inquisitive police roadblock, heading inland now towards Chechaouen and the Rif mountain route towards Ketama and Al Hoceima. Crossing the bridge over the Oued Laou, with a remarkable amount of water in it, we passed up the valley following the river until we came out near Derdara and then turned east along the N2, we decided to skip Chechaouen, because we wanted to get into the mountains, not really a mistake, but after 30kms or so we entered the clouds and didn't really see anything on a very slow drive to Ketama, with the exception of the numerous cars that turned around
Cold n foggy topCold n foggy topCold n foggy top

We gave up and drove through the big puddle to stop the dealers from following (note car in background) who had hassled us all the way in the fog, including leaning out of the window and overtaking in the pea soup to attract our attention....it worked we had hot soup out the back to warm the very cold parts!!!
to follow us or overtook us to have guys leaning out of windows trying to sell packets of what the Rif is famous for, hash, almost everyone alongside the road it seemed was a salesman, all gesturing towards us if we wanted some “smoke”.
To me this is a universally sad fact of how tourism has affected an area, that anyone with a white skin or obviously foreign can only be in the area for one thing...to buy and smoke, the lunacy of being overtaken in heavy fog by a Dacia Logan (by Renault!) to have a guy leaning half body out of the rear window while the driver is trying to make us slow down (the Land Rover is quite imposing with a none too subtle front bumper) and even having his head nearly taken off by an oncoming van didn't deter them, I think they only gave up because we didn't stop and we left their “patch” because they were replaced in short order by a Mercedes overtaking us and using the brakes and swerving across the road to try and get us to slow, all the time with the passengers arm waving out the window holding a
Out of the fog!! Yay!Out of the fog!! Yay!Out of the fog!! Yay!

Almost at Fes, we got out of the fog and found the olive groves....but oh to be able to take a photo and see again :)
big bag of hash. Don't get me wrong I understand the need for these guys to make a living, but that it has become so overt for something technically illegal in Morocco, says something for the morals of many “alternate travellers who pass through....
It got colder and colder as we headed deeper into the mountains, through Bab Taza, Cherafat and Bab Berred, an amazing spectacle of driving round the bend in the road to be confronted by the drop off and on the other edge of the valley, only 30-40 meters away was the back wall of the main street of town across the bridge where the road ran back to, the river gushed past at the top under the bridge but as we slowly carried on it became evident that all the waste from the main street ended up in that stream valley, the piles of plastic bags and dark stains down the supporting walls from what, as we got closer, we worked out to be the washing up facilities for the half dozen cafes and also what appeared to be a toilet, dangling over the stream...not exactly good for anyone further downstream!
Again as we trundled through
SubsidenceSubsidenceSubsidence

Great to see a quality African road....it isn't only in the South!!
town, which was filled with pick-up trucks in turn filled with sheep, almost every male we saw was gesticulating if we wanted to purchase, so we headed on and found a spot in the mist where we thought we could cook up some lunch in peace, (see the photo) as it didn't take long for a car to be parked in the background with a man wanting to supply and 2 guys on bicycles both offering their wares....so we cooked up, ate and carried on, hoping to make it out of the clouds and mist at some point!
We did see some stunning vistas for seconds through where gaps in the clouds and valleys converged on the winding route, we passed through Ketama, by far the dirtiest town we had been through so far, possibly it was the fog that took away all sense of anything but litter strewn everywhere, plastic bags and rubbish filled every space, save where it had been swept from the road in the wind of passing vehicles.
It had taken us nearly 6 hours to do around 200kms, mainly because of the low clouds, so we decided we should just push on and get out of the oppressive weather, South we went eventually coming out of the clouds somewhere along route 509 before joining the N8 heading for Fes. At last we started to get views again, we were back in Olive country, nowhere near on the scale of Andalusia, but olive groves no the less, the main road was pretty good, with the exception of what seemed a common problem on the roads, subsidence (see the picture)
We arrived into Fes before dark, to be almost immediately latched onto by a “motorcycle guide” who took some amazing risks to try and communicate with us and stop us. Be warned the folk sometimes don't understand “non”!!


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