2017 The Sahara

2 days in the sun

So having moved camp to Marbella, what followed was two days of sunning on the beach and drinking in the bar. It was great. Ian decided to stay to help me drink. Then we hatched a plan to drive across the Sierra Navada and make camp somewhere before going our seperate ways again, me heading for the ferry. Ian with three weeks to kill before heading to Valencia for the last Moto GP of the season.Our little convoy set off and I was happy to follow in my own little world of not paying much attention. I had noticed that Dubless needed air in a tyre and as the spare was burried under the bike I didn’t want a puncture. I had also noticed a rather annoying wheel wobble so when we filled with fuel and air I took a good long look at the tyres. The front left tyre was ok but the wheel rim was badly dented. They are steel rims so no chance it had cracked. I recall hitting a huge rock in the road in Morocco and I had stopped to check but seen nothing. My thinking now was that it had lasted this long it should make the rest of the day until I can borrow a hammer and beat it back into shape.

The road through the Sierra Navada was absolutely incredible. A myriad of twists and turns each revealing another spectacular view. My camera was burried somewhere in the car so I didn’t get many pictures. The road was perfect for a bike and I don’t just mean the XR400, it was road bike heaven. We saw several and I seethed with envy. It was a good few hours of driving before we had negotiated what was effectively to circumnavigate the base of a mountain.

Then the road became less tortured and we approached El Ejida. Nope, I hadn’t heard of it either. Well I didn’t think I had but as we got closer I started to see more and more white fabric roofed green houses. It started to come back to me I had seen a program about this area. It’s where most of the fruit and veg grown in Spain comes from, especially tomatoes, accounting for 90% of the tom’s sold in UK supermarkets. As we got closer the expanse of the operation became clear. More and more white topped greenhouses. Its not easy to photograph them because its like a sea of white for endless miles. Its so big you can see it from space. The white roofs reflect the intense heat allowing just enough through to grow things, the effect of reflecting all that heat is a bonus for glider pilots and paragliders who revel in the free updrafts to gain height.

1. This corner of Spain as seen from space.

2. The blue dot is me in aisle 3 of the biggest Tesco ever

3. Library photo of El Ejido

If you think Casa’ was bad

I read somewhere its hip to refer to Casablanca as Casa’. Anyway if you think driving there was bad try leaving the country. I was in no rush as my ferry didnt leave until 3pm so I took a leisurely drive towards Cueta, arriving at the queue for customs and exit papers around 12.30. It’s now 4pm and I am still trying to get to the passport control. I’ve missed the ferry which will cost me for sure and my fixer took the money and disappeared, In fairness I only had £2 so I’m not surprised. According to him the Police want £10 to stamp the paperwork anyway. I’ve seen two fights in the queue and a third is brewing as I type. An armed Police officer was given a bit of a kicking by a motorist who well and truly won the argument despite being very in the wrong. It’s mayhem. The third fight has been disbanded before punches were thrown, not by the Police but by the locals. Meantime I have progressed to passport control,where my papers have been stamped to let me out. However that just lets you join the queue to get into Spain. So I sit here not 3 meters from the booth waiting to move into no man’s land and onto Spanish territory about 200 meters away.

I am still here waiting having not moved for thirty minutes, there are no facilities or any form of shelter from the sun. Apparently the Spanish are in despute and will only open one entry gate to Spain. Back home there would be all manner of complaints to HM border control but here just an acceptance that we will wait until the solitary border guard can process us. As I typed that last sentence twenty of us were let in. Just enough to get through Spanish passport control but not enough to clear customs or get to the ferry terminal.

In due course I was let through and made my way to the ferry port. The FRS gate is closed and unoccupied. I could well be spending the night here… I’ve not eaten since my porridge this morning and despite officially being in Spain I can’t get internet access to find out if there is a ferry crossing today. There is the obligatory old lady begging and I really don’t have any money but she was kind enough to help me with where to park the car. I was hungry so I drove into town following the well signposted McD’s. It had a drive through only because there is nowhere to park there. The girl at the counter was most confussed when the car pulled up and she could see no driver. I picked up a meal for me and a (girls) happy meal for the poor beggar lady. On getting back to the car park my beggar lady had a friend. Sorry thats just tough. I called her over and handed her the box. Very gratefully she accepted it asking “Is it halal?” Yes, it must be, anyway just how hungry are you? She shuffled off and I ate mine whilst being pestered by the other. In the end they shared and I gave them half my coke. They were quite contented sitting there on the lane deviders. I wonder who got the toy? At that very moment the lady from the ferry ticket booth turned up. She was brilliant and got me on the next ferry at 9pm. She didn’t charge me because it wasn’t my fault and I had brought the beggars some food which she thought was very kind. Also I suspect she knew there were only 3 vehicles on the late ferry. 

Back on the mainland I made to the Rio Grande to be reunited with DJ the next morning, however Ian (VW motorhome guy) had contacted me to say he was in Marbella. We had coffee at his new site before I returned to strip the bike and load it in the car. I was pretty concerned that it wouldn’t fit.

First the front wheel, forks, tank and saddle had to come off

Then the rear wheel, suspension, handlebars and exhaust.

 Then all the plastics and electrics.

Finally packing it all in the car.

I was shattered, so I went out for a very bland meal and made the decision to head to Marbella. I was going to book into the campsite Ian was on and have two days on the beach before heading back to Santander. Dubless isn’t the happiest car lugging an extra 200+ kilos but we are in no rush.

Dont go there..

Dont go there. That was the advice regarding Casablanca, Moroccos biggest city. But I had time and they have Ricks Bar, often mis named Sam’s bar. It’s the bar from the 1942 film Casablanca with Humphry Bogard and Ingrid Bergman. Anyway I knew a bit about it and I had a spare day, how difficult could it be to negotiate the city? Three and a half hours difficult! I eventually got to the seafront but no clue as to where Ricks bar may be. I stopped at McDonald’s to use there WiFi but it was broken so I was no better off. It was getting late and I had driven a long way. I drove up and down the seafront, no campsites and no hotels. Back into the city and the two hotels I tried wanted £150+ per night. I decided to drive to nearby Mohammedia to look for a place. I kid you not its like 3 miles and that to, another hour and forty. By now I was tired and right grumpy. I saw an Ibis hotel and just handed over the credit card. I was shattered, I would consider what to do in the morning.

Up bright and early to take full advantage of my included breakfast. I could leave the car and get a train there and back or I could just grin and bare it. The grinning didnt last long. The Morocans love the car horn, I think its because donkeys dont have them and that makes them a status symbol. You sit at red lights, maybe fourth in the queue and as soon as the lights change people start sounding their horns. Where am I supposed to move too, I can see the green light but it takes time for everyone to get moving or we would all travel on each others bumpers. In no time at all, well quite a bit of time actually I was at Ricks Bar, ironically, spitting distance from the McDonald’s with no WiFi. The place looked good, although closed for another two hours and in the middle of quite a run down part of the city. I couldn’t get it in one photograph but there is a massive divide within the city where the modern buildings and commercial centre rubs shoulders with the old run down parts. To cover it up they have built an authentic looking ancient wall, so the workers don’t have to look at the slums.

I took a walk towards the very impressive minuete of the mosque. The King somebody the second mosque was built in the kings memory, such was his overwhelming support that it was decreed to build the second biggest mosque in the world, however popularity doesn’t bring in the Dirham and the mosque had to be built from donations. What they ended up with is none the less very spectacular. The tallest minuete in the world and the thirteenth biggest mosque. 150000 people can be accommodated within its grounds and in keeping with current global instability, there are armed guards on overy corner. I can only assume that Morocco could be a target because of their relaxed attitude to worship. They are very devout muslims but regular prayer has given way to the necessities of modern life, which I would imagine could upset the hard liners of the faith.

Times up so I trot back to Ricks. Now there’s a queue but I’m in front of a coach load of Americans. I’m not quite sure how I would describe my next actions, I’ll let you decide. The woman behind me was clearly very excited and was full of face paced American chat as she told her friends how she couldn’t believe they, were actually at Ricks Bar, where the film was made, actually there where Bergman and Bogard filmed the classic scenes, so excited………… I couldn’t help myself, honest, as I turned and said “it wasn’t actually filmed here, the whole movie was filmed in L.A. this is just a theme bar that replicates the original, it opened in 2004 long after the star’s had died, but I do believe its very nice!” I think it dampened her spirits a little, but she still went in. I was right it was very nice, I didn’t stay long, I’d ruined enough people’s day. (In the film no one said “play it again Sam” either).

Back in the car and it was time to head out of town. It was a slog but I wanted to head for Mekness, I was now on a deadline for the ferry in two days time. I ended up in a small town called Tighassaline. The reason to stop was that I had proved my own theory wrong. I needed to get some money out of a cash point. They are few and far between in the sticks and often don’t have money in them. My theory was, any town where there are donkeys being ridden will not have a cash point. I was wrong as I found both in close quarters. So having stopped I decided to take a look round this bustling little town. There were stalls outside most of the shops and as I walked past the dentist a man called out “Bonjour France”. I explained I was English and was invited to sit and have coffee with the man who had just two teeth in his whole head. I did enquire if he was the dentist but apparently not. He was though, a well travelled Berber, having lived in Germany, Canada and various other short term residences. Now in his 60’s he was happy to practice his English, which occassionally slipped into German. He spoke of how his family had needed his help when his parents died and he had returned to help out. Quite how he did that by selling cigarettes on the street I dont know. I left him with some money for the coffee and a generous tip. Walking further down the street I found the barber who did my £1 haircut and then my £4 a night hotel. The room was bare apart from a metal chair and a bed. The matress, rock hard and the bedding a single fury blanket. The toilet down the hall had no door, despite being directly at the top of the stairs and was very Moroccan, two foot plates and a hole. Need I be more explicit? It was a stifling hot night and I certainly wasn’t going to get under that blanket, in fact I slept fully clothed and avoided the toilet altogether

More G.O.T

I know nothing of Game of Thrones, other than it’s in its 7th series and a global phenomena. I do know some parts were filmed in Morocco and I was off to visit one location. Azgard is home to the Queen of meereen, mother of dragons, khaleesi of the great grass sea, queen of the andals, the rhoynar and the first men, lady regnant of the seven kingdoms, breaker of chains etc, etc, it’s also known as  Essaouira, probably the best place I’ve been to on a whim. Again it’s a coastal fishing port but more than that it is simply a wondrous town in classic castle fortifications. With a myriad of tunnels, walkways and ramparts. It is undergoing major reconstruction to it’s original state, no doubt a knock on effect of its popularity since G.O.T filming ended and being a UNESCO world heritage site. In fairness they have not gone all out touristy and filled the many tiny stores with tat, but instead they embrace local arts and crafts, or posh tat! I walked the fishing port as they finished trading for the day. I hate the smell of fish but the cackle of traders and tradesmen alike is intoxicating. Fishing boats being repaired amongst the fish they regularly catch. I loved it. I stayed a few hours soaking it all up and wishing I was here in a year or so when the construction machinery had all gone and the place was once again the genuine Essaouira . 

I’d seen no campsites so I opted for a little hotel on the outskirts. I wish I’d stayed in Essaouira as I had been offered a room in the labyrinths  of tunnels and passageways.I knew the next day would be a long haul. I was off to Casablanca against all advice not too.

Let’s talk hair

First let’s talk your hair. Just before leaving I saw adverts for shampoo with ancient argon oil of Morocco. So what’s in it? Well the oil is extracted from the kernel of the nut from the argan tree. It’s a laborious task. The nut, having been plucked from the tree by hand, has a fleshy skin that is stripped off and made into animal feed. The nut cracked open and the kernel extracted. It is then milled and massaged by hand to get the precious oil out. It’s a long winded process. The oil does have great properties apparently, but consider this. For years this site has been common in the region known for producing argan oil

It’s goats in the trees eating the fruit. They digest the fruit and poop out the nut with its precious kernel. That cuts out two thirds of the Labour costs. hmmmm just what are you putting in your hair? In fairness, if it brings some little wealth to the poor then let’s all get some.

Then there is my hair. I had a £1 haircut today. I was looking a little like so many of the goats I had seen so whilst in Tighassaline I popped into one of the many barbers. Big red leather chairs and gowns from the 50’s, clippers attached to the mains and plugs held in with hairgrips. The cut was great, the conversation limited. A quick trim with the cut throat that he dipped in alcohol and set fire too before using, all done for a quid. When was the last time you tipped double the cost of your haircut and were still chuffed at how cheap it was?

A day off.

I was up for breakfast and then spent sometime dealing with the blog. I find blogging helps me retain stuff I would normally forget. 

I said fairwell to Paul the owner and headed for the coast, today’s target Agadir. The poverty continued and then as I hit the coast suddenly the road was wider with proper road signs, a dual carriageway in fact. Then on the outskirts of Agadir a very modern view, like Marbella with high rise hotels and car dealerships. I was surprised and it continued to the beach. So package holiday in fact, I had lunch in an English pub, which bore no resemblance to any English pub except perhaps The Queen Vic on tv. Cheap dark red leather, dark wooden tables, warm beer and cold food. 

Anyway it turns out this once poor fishing-trading port and heavily fortified hill was much like the rest of Morocco until 1960 When a 15 second earthquake reduced the place to rubble. No small earthquake that one, taking with it the lives of 15000 people. Anyway that explains why most of the city looks like a holiday resort and less developed parts resemble a 1960’s council estate. My campsite was right in the middle of the 1960’s. Shabby chic we will call it, or just shite. The place must have been a mini Butlins at one time, but those days had passed. The pool has been empty a long time, with tiles falling into it’s dusty depths. It’s ok there’s no barrier round it. The buildings, toilets and shower blocks all decayed and the paint peeling from the walls. 50 year old bunting hangs like prayer flags in the Himalayas, all torn with the ravages of time, but at £4 a night I’m staying. The owner, as lifeless as his once thriving resort is just waiting for the developers to get this far along the beach, and they are coming, but I feel it’s a case of them getting here before his own deteriating condition brings his hopes to an end. Anyway, on the bright side I just made him £8 richer, now jog on and buy some toothpaste.
I walked the length of the beach, passing the many resteraunts and fast food outlets. Obviously I couldn’t pass them all, there was a copy Starbucks, Mcdonalds and ice cream sellers, what’s a man to do? Oh and Pizza Hut which is where I sit now some 24hours later, with my work discount card firmly in my grip! The beach is lovely, with golden sand, I could have taken my photos here and had a real holiday. The sunset very nice. I walked back along the block paved, intracately patterned walkway. Itself disappearing under a sea of chewing gum. One thing I like being obliterated by another I despise. I mean if you’re going to chew gum, be a little responsible, it comes in a wrapper people. Sorry but it annoys me. 

Sunday and it’s time to explore the Souk. Housed in the inner city enclave, itself one of the few ancient parts to have survived the quake, it is one huge market place. The usual thriving hustle and bustle amongst 900 stalls. It’s a blast of colour and smells, not all good. It was busy with locals but no holiday makers I could see. I’m sure they go there because the traders are great at spotting them. I loved the vibrant atmosphere and good natured banter between sellers and this non buyer. 

After that it was time to tackle the fort on the hill which would have happened if it weren’t so far away and blocked by Pizza Hut. It can wait until tomorrow. 

I did however pass the royal palace where the guy who looks like David Walliams, on their money, lives. Apparently he’s the king.

And apparently he is very popular, doing great stuff to move Morocco onwards, so why does the palace have an outer fence like normal with armed guards on the inside and outside every 30m? Added to that there is an inner wall that you cannot see past. 

I think I got away with it

So from my short lived desert drive I had no choice but to head back to Zagora. A short while into the journey I saw a hitch hiker. He looked European, I stopped and picked him up. He was a German lad about 20years old, having taken a year out of college he was off to see the world and after just 6 weeks had done France, Spain, Portugal and now Morocco. He was impressed to be in a right hand drive car in a left hand drive country. He was really interested in my story and I in his. He asked “People give cars names in England, does your car have a name?” “Oh yes Dubless Ba……” I stopped, thinking it best not to mention the war! “Oh Douglas, isn’t it usual to be a girls name?” Great now he thinks I’m gay. “It’s a German car” I said trying to save the conversation. Anyway my companion for the journey was headed to South America next, hoping to get a working passage on a ship to Brazil and then hike to Chilli and Peru. I dropped him in Zagora and we wished each other a safe onwards journey.

For my part I was headed across the desert highway. A ferociously straight road cutting a path between mountains and desert. It was getting hot, like 37 degrees hot. Dubless was coping well, but it was reported to be reaching 41 before the day was out. I had nothing to do but drive for endless miles trying to contemplate the enormity of this country and its geographic marvels. The monochrome mountains with defined lines from the earths pressure forcing them skyward and then the natural erosion that shapes them over millions of years. Man it was hot, with no shade to rest the car in I kept going until hunger got the better of me. I stopped in a tiny town with a cafe, parking, as directed in the shade of the only tree, in the middle of a roundabout. The waiter, chef, owner, builder, washer up’er asked what I would like. There was no menu and he recommended the only dish of cous cous. Ok that’s the one for me. In due course a huge plate of cous cous topped with many soggy non descript vegetables arrived. It was now a race between me and the flies to eat. Like a game of reverse ‘Whakamole’, I had to jab the fork anywhere there wasn’t a fly and hope there hadn’t been one there before. Cous cous, as a meal is very filling and washing it down with water makes you quite bloated, quite quickly. I thanked my man and paid him the £3 he wanted. That’s with a tip! He was also the car park attendant and showed me back onto the trafficless road. I had more time to think as I drove and I wondered what the youth of poorer Morocco wanted from life? They all have mobiles and some internet access. Do they long for a better life in the western world or are they happy to tend livestock, walking the herd miles every day so they can feed on scraps of shrubs at the roadside? Morocco is beautiful but it’s a harsh baron beauty that I was at home with, for now, but how long would it hold my attention if I had to work endlessly just to put a meal on the table and a second hand shirt on my back, I didn’t know.

I decided to head for Akka a reasonable sized town which should have a hotel. The town before was small and well kept so my hopes were high as I travelled through the next deshevilled village, however as I left I saw that had been Akka. I returned and asked for a hotel but they didn’t have one and clearly the Berber hospitality hadn’t reached this far yet, so I continued onwards. It was at least two hours to Guelmim but that’s where I was headed. The sun set and again I was driving unlit roads with Dubless and his impaired lights shinning the wrong way. Two cars passed in the other direction one had lights which was a bonus. Then the roadworks started. It’s fine because running at the side of this highway is a dirt track and so they direct you onto this, but this time that track went on for ten miles. Dust blew everywhere the heat still radiating from the earth made the whole thing pretty rotten. The only accompanying noise being Dublesses knocking joint. I was tired long before Guelmim and saw lights of a town to the left. Turbo g off I saw another hitch hiker, only this time local. He needed a lift and I needed a hotel, a win win surely. Error no, he speaks no English or French. Dropping him off I saw another guy and in my best French asked if he knew of a hotel, “do you speak French?” A little he says, so I try again to which he asks if I speak English! And for some reason I say “Yes a little” with a French accent, I’ve been in the sun too long. I needed an oasis and this guy directed me to one.

Within 3 miles I turned onto a gravel track leading to Borj Biramane a hotel like no other. It was fantastic, laid out with different shape and size rooms in a large expanse of land all linked by footpaths to a central reception, it was a delight to walk the grounds and see little covered rest areas and dinning tables under tent type covers. Very chic bebowin I would say. But I needed sleep and for £35 I had a double room with air conditioning. 

A big chunk in one hit.

I’m getting behind with the blogs as the mileage has been very high and the roads not always straight! So this episode should be called, Put more stuff on your pickup, Game of Thrones, dont visit the worlds biggest movie studio, write me a letter and finally……

So leaving Marrakech I travelled the Tizi n Ticha pass, a tarmac festival of sublime corners and vista’s that I struggled to take in. Such is the size and height of the High Atlas Mountains, climbing to 2000m or 7200ft the road was torturous for the Bug but hey I wanted to be on a bike anyway. If Dubless was struggling spare a thought for the many trucks and pickups loaded well beyond their maximum capacity for sure.At the very top was a rest area and as usual I was hounded by touts of tat. “No really I don’t want a life size crystal encrusted model camel”. Travelling on I was heading for Ouarzazate another place on my trip list. On arrival you pass a huge movie studio. Checking up, the internet tells me its the biggest studios in the world and has been the set for Gladiator, James Bond and many more films. It did also warn that the sets were starting to decay in the desert. It was at this point I checked the map to find Ait Benhaddau a world heritage site and film set for Game of Thrones. I had wanted to visit it, I’ve never seen G.O.T but I wanted to say I had been there. Anyway I haven’t because I’d already passed it. So I booked to see the studio. The internet didn’t lie. It is the biggest studio in the world due to the fact its in the biggest desert in the world and nothing more. The tour was on foot and the sets quite run down. It was interesting and worth the £5 entry, but if you have the choice go to Ait Benhaddou.

From left to right. Aladins home, James Bond?????, Gladiator, some building that took 3 months to build for 3 seconds in the film, Egyption tomb. Game of Thrones series 3 but you can’t go closer!!!

I stayed in Ouarzazate that night in a colourfully decorated hotel. I was finding hotels are cheap and offer better rest than a campsite. Next morning I was off again. Stopping to get water in a non descript town I was approached by a smartly dressed local who spoke great English. I was waiting for the ‘sell’, but he engaged in conversation about my trip, my plans and offered some good advice. Then he asked if I could help him write a very short letter in English. I was happy to help and he duly showed me to his home. The place was the typical run down type of building synonymous with the poorer parts. He got a pen and paper and dictated the letter to his friend Paul from France, shouldn’t that be Pierre? Paul works for ‘Medicines Sans Frontieres’ and had been in Morocco helping nomads get medical assistance. Anyway the letter complete we spoke more about his work as jewellery maker. He made me coffee and I was enjoying some propper Berber hospitality. He asked if I was married, for some reason I said yes, because it is expected and to say no is weird apparently. So he wheels out the bracelets and chains he has made for various tv companies who film in the area, and before I know it I am looking at jewellery for my fake wife! Then the selling began and I ended up giving him £5 for the coffee and chat before having to be quite rude to escape. My genuine Berber experience may have been as fake as my wife, but it was momentarily nice. 

That night I made Zagora, which in a different version of this story was the start point of some serious off road biking. Many bikers have photos taken with their bikes at a sign indicating ’52 days to Timbuctu’. I chose my hotel and decided the night’s entertainment would be to find the iconic sign, only to find the sign was attached to my hotel less than 20 foot away. The sign dates back to the camel train traders who travelled from Zagora to Timbuctu in order to trade spices for other goods and return to sell them on. I couldn’t get Dubless up the kerb to have a picture taken at the sign.

There was a great thunderstorm that night.

The next day, taking advice from my Berber friend the previous day, I headed for Mhamid the start of the desert as we would consider it, but not before having to send yet another tout off. I really didn’t want a fake, genuine Berber night in the desert. The road again was amazing and I saw my first camel, followed by many more. The desert with its rolling dunes doesn’t just start like a trip to the beach when you turn the corner and there’s the sea, the desert sand encroached inland, slowly tingeing the rock with the fine yellow colour and as the miles click by the sand takes over until you reach Mhamid. Through the dirty tiny village and then the road ends. This was it, over the crest and my journey would begin, well it would on the bike but in Dubless it may well end. I was feeling a bit elated that despite all that had happened I had made it to the actual desert. Seconds away and a 4×4 came round the corner, stopped almost blocking my way. Out jumped two guys dressed in, what I would consider Toureg clothing, brightly coloured djellaba, with head scarves that covered most of their faces. They came to either side of the car. In hurried speach they each explained it was to dangerous to venture further, my car wouldn’t cope, I would get lost, we are close to the Algerian border, this is a training ground for terrorists. In short I needed a guide and a 4×4. Guess what? They had both at a reasonable cost. I looked at them and their impressive knives, not wanting to upset them and I said very quietly “oh fuck off”! and then a little louder and in my best English ” Thank you so much but I’m English and we like a challenge”. I drove round the big black Mercedes and headed for the crest of the hill, watching in the mirror for them to come after me but they didn’t. Just more touts, or maybe they were being genuine. Finally I was in the sand, quite firm under the wheels it was a little like a car park at the beach. Then as I drove on it became more rutted and the sand scraped the bottom of Dubless, occasionally causing him to lose traction. Like a novice child in a swimming pool we were getting out of our depth. The last thing I wanted to do was walk back to Mhamid and seek out those guys to come tow me back. I turned Dubless round and on firmer ground stopped to take a picture. Within seconds there were three snarling dogs making for me. I jumped back in the car and with my little following of snappy dogs, made my way back. So after 17 days, some 10 days late and endless trials. The bike, the engine, the Rav4, the touts, the beggars, the officials, the fixers, had all frustrated my efforts but I had done it. I had driven less than 2 miles in the sands of a real desert. The photograph looks like it could have been taken on any beach in the UK!

The T shirt says “The only impossible journey is the one you never start”.

I was still a long way north of my intended destination but I was running out of time, so I decided to drive across the desert highway.

Marrakech

We rocked up to Marrakech mid afternoon and booked into a campsite. It was a lovely site with hot showers and a pool. The guy who runs the place taught us some Arabic for thanks and no thanks, before booking us a taxi to go to the ancient medina market. The journey had taken longer than we thought because we detoured to see the Cascades Ouzed or waterfalls. The road to get there was incredible, which is good because we never did find Morocco’s most famous waterfalls. 

Our taxi dropped us at the marketplace and because we couldn’t get my phone to connect to his for the return trip he gave us his spare phone with the number ready to dial as soon as we were ready. In essence that sums up the hospitality we had seen throughout Morocco so far. I’ll deal with beggars and touts later.

The market was an explosion of colours, smells and sights. All set within the ancient city walls. I wasn’t keen on snake charmers and would have been happier if the pesky little killers had been in baskets like you see in the movies, but oh no, let’s just leave 8 or 10 venomous snakes on the pavement and occasionally glance at them to check they are still there. We decided to look closer a bit later as neither of us were keen on the slithering dealers of death. We walked endless corridors of sales stalls, the wood carvings, clothing, spices and all manner of traders made for a great evening. We found a resteraunt and ordered a beer free meal. We were on the third floor overlooking the stalls. It was getting dark so we headed to find the snake charmers, hoping the little buggers would have had their tea. However it appears snakes like an early night and we couldn’t find any, either that or they had done a slither off whilst unattended. A quick call on the borrowed phone and our lift arrived.

Did I  mention the campsite was rock hard and I couldnt get the tent pegs in? I slept in the car again. In the morning there was a new arrival, a guy with a busted Land Rover. I didnt get to know him other than to hear his story and assertain that I couldn’t help with his blown intercooler hose. I told him my story, “Honda XR400, they’re bullet proof” he said. That’s it I’m off. I thanked Ian for his company over the past 5 days and set off. 

It’s a road trip

I think I can condense the last two days into one brief post. Sunday I was stuck in Chefchaeoun. I walked down to the new medina and was very happy to see a huge market and festival atmosphere. The only thing to cause me concern was my own stupid concerns about personal safety. I need not have worried. Everyone was in a good mood and always willing to chat, even if I couldn’t understand a word. The market was packed with stalls selling, mostly cheap toys and for some reason peanut brittle. At least 70 percent of the stalls were selling it, it was a wasp fest. There were three or four air gun stalls where you tried to hit sticks of chalk with tiny pellets. The stalls were so small that some pellets struck the metal frame and ricochet into the crowd, it was hilarious to watch the indiscriminate shooting of relatives and shoppers, by young children. After that I went to the small gardens in town where a guy had an ostrich for some reason. I just added it to my growing list of animals seen so far, I know it’s a bird but you know what I mean.

Later in the day I returned to camp where Ian and I drank most of his coffee and made plans to move on the next day. We would travel together to Marakech

In the morning, unrefreshed from another night on the collapsed bed, we met up and went in search of insurance. It was really easy to get one month cover and even easier if the car is in your name. Both now covered for, well probably the only thing it covered was passing through Police checkpoints, we hopped in a Bedford Rascal taxi back up to the camp. We both wondered if the little van would make it up the steep hill with three on board. It straddled mostly in first gear.

We set off towards Marakech as a  small VW convoy. We drove and drove. The day got hotter and hotter, in my mind we weren’t moving very fast at all. I did insist on stopping at a recognised beauty spot to get a picture of the mid atlas mountains. It was now so hot I couldn’t put my arm out the window and my water bottle was hot enough to make coffee. The scenery was great with mostly barron red soil in the open areas. A martian landscape and other areas were barron black rocks. No wonder film crews make their sci-fi movies here. It completely lends itself to Star Wars and The like.

The driving through towns was scary with mopeds, taxis, busses and pretty much every road user out to get you. I was sure Dubless was going to get battle scars. Its like playing Grang Theft Auto but never go above 50mph in the smallest car you can get and set to the hardest level, then play for 9 hours. Do all that sat in your mums fan oven and that was our day. When night came it just got worse. I was petrified as I led the way through mountain roads and villages, all unlit. The varying surface conditions and massive drops allied to dodging mopeds, with and without lights, bicycles, no lights, pedestrians in dark clothing on unlit roads and obviously all manner of livestock and donkeys. We were heading for a campsite which we never found. Convinced that carrying on would result in an accident we stopped in Kasbah Tadla. Ian saved the day by asking a local where we might find a hotel. The guy went off and came back in his car telling us to follow him. It was easy to tell the area we ended up in wasn’t the plush end of town but £15 each got us a room. The Hotel Atlas was actually really nice, despite a mattress formed from concrete. After a street vendor chicken wrap I was ready for bed.