Morocco , We reach the desert sands

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Africa » Morocco
March 18th 2020
Published: March 19th 2020
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I start this blog not from the beginning but at the end. Why? Many of you will be wondering where we are and how the devastating coronavirus is impacting our travel plans. We firstly wish all friends and family good health in these worrying times. The ramifications we will be dealing with for a long time, in not only health but financial impacts for many who are less fortunate than we‘re in the UK!

To that end were now under lockdown in a campsite near Marrakech. This was our intended destination after we believed we would have safely waved off Laura and Martin for their ferry. We learned last Friday that sailings had been cancelled to Spain, but as we intended to be here for another 6 weeks of our planned 3 month tour it wasn’t too much of a problem. The information from the port is that it is closed for two weeks at present or that could be upgraded to 2 months. So we are here safely in a campsite, no other Motorhomes are allowed in, which will probably become the norm for the rest of Morocco I feel in the not too distant future. Marrakech has fallen silent with restaurants closing at 6pm to curtail groups meeting, flights are all but cancelled except for repatriation flights. The good news is Graeme returned from a visit to the local shops with some 5kg of pasta, rice and of course cous-cous so we will not be running out soon, just got to be a bit imaginative with my menu planning!?!?!

The sun is shining, at present and I am writing this blog poolside so can be thankful, so now back to the beginning.

Back in Tafaroute, and this really is becoming one of my favourite spots, we head back to the out of town Aire and find our spot for 3 days. The walks are easy for Poppy and we have an appointment with a shoe seller. Tafaroute is known as the shoe capital, nearly all shoes sold in Morocco are made here, there are of course several traders but we make a stop and purchase a pair of the typical morrocan slippers. Red for women which I take but Graeme seems a little underwhelmed with his choice of yellow, we all have a laugh when the trader says that they change to a tan colour in the Moroccan sun but in England would probably go black! he takes the tan colour. It is like many engagements with the locals, fascinating, we learn about how different styles are for married women, indeed if you are single a pom-pom advertises that fact, also that shoes have always been a part of the marriage dowry!

We make one more shoe purchase and head to the Argon Oil shop. Argon trees are another staple of the landscape, the nuts are collected and then cracked to reveal the nut which is roasted then stone ground to reveal its oil, it’s smell is lovely but in this drying climate a good skin moisturiser, there is evidence at Tafaroute that they let the goats digest them first and it makes it easier to crack the nuts. We leave this beautiful, welcoming town and head to Taroudant and our meet up with Laura and Martin who we will be travelling with us for 3 weeks. We cycle in on Sunday as it is Souk day, this is a large one with the same array of stalls and this includes livestock. You have to sort of get your head around this, the daily life of stock or should I say meat is a pretty good one, no indoor barns, free range walking miles with their herders and I keep this in mind when you see them tied up in the souks. With vegetables a plenty we make our purchases, spices and some dates which we are still today talking about!! They were the sweetest tasting and also the cheapest we have had on our journey to date, no pun intended, and at 8 Dirham or 64p a kilo the cheapest.

A couple of days allow some time for some trip planning and with that sorted we head off to Mhamid and the closest you can get to the Algerian border and for us importantly the BIG dunes. It takes us a few days to travel through some varied landscapes, we start to loose vegetation but you still see the herders moving their stock through and we ponder on what the goats and sheep can be eating. Along with this comes the most amazing green oasis's which are surrounded by towns or small settlements where the locals have ingeniously built water channels which feed the hand crafted fields sheltering under the palm trees. Here you can find peas, broad beans and the other vegetables we are buying from the markets, the variety in what is winter in Morroco is limiting but it’s definitely tasty. Our campsite at an Auberge is Devine, we have a pool, refreshing it may be! And access right onto some smaller dunes, we all get a bit excited as we run up and down the virgin sand. A day of rest and we head out in a 4x4 to the biggest Erg (sand) Chigaga it is the largest and still untouched of the major ergs in Morocco. I am pleased to say that there is a well used route, clearly not tarmac, which takes you the some 56km to the large dunes. On arrival we are shown to a tent where we are welcomed with tea and nuts, and then we take to the dunes. By now it is mid afternoon and hot in fact it turns out to be too hot for Poppy's pads so I make a quick return with her and foray later on my own. It is really the only way to appreciate these beautiful dunes, with sand only covering some 15% of the total area of the Sahara, I take some time out to appreciate the enormity of what we have achieved since leaving home in Sept.

Our continuing tour takes us high into the Dades and Todra Gorges the vistas ever changing as we climb high into the High Atlas At Dades we take a foray with the campsite owners son, he is fit we set of on a walk, climb and scramble into the gorge at a good rate, luckily we set off at 9am so will be back before the sun really starts to heat up. We talk about life in Morocco, wages, family, Berber culture but I am intrigued to hear that businesses are presently collecting their rubbish and jointly will return it to the streets in April in protest for the fact that aside theses people paying taxes, the bin lorry does not go far enough up the valley to make collections. Good on them and I sincerely hope they are successful.

The gorges offer amazing vistas but are also part of the tour route out of Marrakech so it is time to move on and we have another Erg to visit, the campsites enroute we collectively pick, most we get onto but some we don't. They vary in size, what facilities they have or don't!! The welcome is always there and if food is available, the inevitable cous-cous or tagine we'll take it. A couple stand out a night with a group of Italians who had virtually no English but with arm gestures and Google Translate, helped with some homebrew grappa, we all had the most enjoyable night. Another saw us listening to traditional music only of course to be asked to take part, we all do our best, had a lot of laughs and we'll remember that night for some time.

We have another set of dunes to visit Erg Chebbi and I am convinced we will be disappointed with this one due to its easy accessibility, again from tours coming out of Marrakech. The same care is not taken with the dunes and quad bikes, 4x4's roar across at speed, ruining the tranquillity of the area and there are the scars across the landscape, I hope before too late some action will be taken on these businesses. For us there is only one way to enjoy this place and that is to climb the High dunes some 160m in height to see the sunrise. We give ourselves an hour to climb, the moon lights our way it is beautiful, the stillness, tranquillity is something which will stay with me. The boys push onto the highest peak, we girls take a short detour but the achievement is immense and we all return to camp buoyed by the experience.

Our time left is taken heading back towards Marrakech along wide open plains, through and up and over hill passes. Our last high one is the Tizi n Tichka and what a road it is, amazing views as always but road works at every corner, mad morrocan drivers overtaking on bends, the norm here and dust everywhere. You daren't open your windows otherwise we just add to the Saharan sand and dusted we are already carrying. The vistas keep coming but the top is disappointing, when you do stop the inevitable fossil sellers appear thus time talking in German to us, we are all relieved when we finally pull in to thecampsite at Marrakech and put the handbrake on.

Our only other significant update is that Harvey has hd to have some more repairs, it appears the tracking was out, maybe after the wheel bearing replacement, so we head to a tyre seller and then tracking mechanic, who when he finds the nuts are stuck solid takes us to another industrial area, where after conversations, of which Graeme picks up little we move, where, and how many mechanics does it take to loosen a bolt!! With an Acetylene torch we hold our breath as Graeme watches the nut turn bright red, "fini monsiour, fini monsiour"!! Needless to say all is well and we have two new tyres and straight tracking, it’s just the steering wheel is a little of centre ?!?!?!

It just goes to prove travelling isn’t just about the sights you see it is the experiences which drives us to grow as individuals and our place in this world, as a human race we all have the same needs but it is what we do with these experiences that matters to us and Morocco is teaching us a lot and will continue to do so.

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