This is a very self indulgent account of Richard and Heather Knowles travels as they wander through Europe in search of a different way of life.
This is a very self indulgent account of Richard and Heather Knowles travels as they wander through Europe in search of a different way of life.
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EL JADIDA, OUNARA, ESSOUIRA

Thursday 6 November

Spent most of the day on computer preparing text etc. for web site. Had promised H a bike ride as she is pining for exercise ! Rode into el Jadida searching for post office. Its shut. Must return tomorrow after 9 am. Notice special Ramadan timetable. Ramadan is definitely not the best time to start a Morocco trip. We rode along the prom admiring the huge waves coming in off the Atlantic and the body surfers. No one doing it standing up ! A line of prom front cafes remain shut when I am sure normally gallons of mint tea and coffee would be drunk. The beach is full of people exercising. Football pitches everywhere and middle aged blokes like me doing various fitness regimes. “There’s a good one for your abs” says H and then I knew I had no choice but physical jerks this afternoon or no pudding!

The North Stand

The North Stand

Cycled off the main street in front of the Portuguese city. The Portuguese nabbed various key points along the Moroccan coast in the 14th century, El Jadida being one. They have always liked their fish and ensured a constant supply of sardines in this way. As soon as you approached, you could smell them, the sardines that was, so we didn’t venture into the old city but followed the crowd. Yet another football match was about to start. Full strip. Ref in a greyish patterned jumper and trousers and the crowd up on the medina wall, best vantage point and one touchline, or on stools and chairs they had brought with them, mopeds, bikes or just on foot. With the crowd and their hooded robes and Nike trainers I was sure a quidditch match was about to start. The pitch was about regulation size apart from a 5’’ kerb which stretched the length of the pitch half way in. This made it difficult to position the goalposts so they were a third of the way in from the other touchline. We threaded our way through the crowd on the opposite side to the medina wall avoiding washing lines still full of clothes down to the sea. Not a good idea. The fishy smell turned to acrid stench as the ghetto thickened. We tried to go into the port but the way onto the harbour wall was blocked by huge concrete lumps , like enormous jacks, piled up as a sea defence. “Typical of us Moroccans” said a white djellabah clad business type also trying to access the harbour. “We mend the sea defence and block the way in”. I have a theory about this which I hope is not disrespectful to Muslims. But it seems that Allah has preordained everything and will provide, so therefore if something is done wrong Allah will sort it out or Allah expected it to be like that anyway. It’s a great philosophy to avoid you getting stressed out by cock ups.

Fresh Fish ??

Fresh Fish ??

We set off back, as the end of Ramadan for the day was approaching, and we were famished, having only had a big breakfast. Negotiated the football once more and spotted a babbling crowd in the harbour. The previously experienced sardine smell grew stronger. The crowd were buying and selling fresh fish. Now fresh has more than one meaning and with the hot weather and despite liberal splashings of water, these smelt FRESH. Soon we will buy some nice, recently caught fish (just like these) for the barbecue, but at this moment the lingering odours of discarded fish-heads and guts is preventing my western mind from rising above the attack on my nose or eyes. If Padstow smelt like this Rick Stein would be bankrupt.

Back along the prom to watch the footy, one minute it is heaving, the next as chip shop time approaches, its empty. Back to camp. Forced into 30 minutes hard labour on football pitch.

Penne al arrabiatta sauce, Moroccan fruit salad with coconut macaroons dosed in brandy and amaretto, with ice cream. Ie Pomegranate trifle.

 


Friday 7 November

Walked into el Jadida to the post office to send latest batch of photos and text to web master Dave. Post Office buzzing. Previous day public holiday, Green March Day celebrating recapturing part of the Sahara. Becoming expert in Moroccan POs. Look for ticket machine. There isn’t one. Look above guichets to see what they do. No description. Finally find list explaining activities at each station hidden behind door. In future I will go to the welcome desk, first, and ask. Escorted to guichet 7. After serious discussion with guichet 7 officer. Did I want letter guaranteed. How much extra 10 derhams. Sounds like a deal. Go to guichet 6, hidden behind screen with huddle of people fighting to get to counter. Join huddle. After 5 minutes realise you need to fill in a form and interrupt,( how unBritish) ,proceedings to get form. No pen. Loiter around guichet 7 again to attract attention of officer, who by now is very keen to get rid of me, and get pen. Fill in form. How much is CD worth ? Back to guichet 6. Rejoin huddle clutching form. Make no progress to front of form in 10 minutes. “ Listen mate, put your envelope and form on the counter or you will be here until the end of Ramadan !” (or something similar) in French from guy in queue. Pleasantries exchanged followed by life history (in Franglais). Then I saw the notice, translation of which was. Any packages for foreign parts must be presented at the counter unsealed. Guess who had made his package bomb proof using up all EEC sellotape mountain. The man at the counter was quite nice about it, (Albert and the Lion), and agreed to let it pass if I did not do it again. Much hooting from queue as I prevented him from stamping my parcel with the ferocity with which he attacked a normal letter. “Doucement, doucement” and my vision of shattered CD case is averted. A little note in Arabic on the back, probably said, “ This pillock is an English Tourist who sealed this without knowing and won’t do it again !”.

Moroccan 4 x 4

Moroccan 4 x 4

No bakeries open for crumpets, so back to camp, service van and away.

Veg Stall

Veg Stall

First stop Sidi Bouzid in search of summer camper van site for future reference . Instead found huge waves crashing onto beach and sweet old man, with one eye, on donkey. Decided that we wanted to take a photo. Needed strategy. Ask if we can, and give 5 derhams for privilege was the solution. Worked a treat with old man, he was ecstatic. Travelled a bit further down the coast and found lovely fields full of veg, stopped at stall on roadside and bought 2 bunches carrots, turnips, leeks all freshly dug today. 7 derhams. Took photo. Further on a load of people fishing off cliff edge. Had friendly discussion and took photo. Half a mile on. Are my eyes deceiving me? That’s a camel pulling a plough. No it isn’t, Yes it is! Must have a photo. Stomped across field clutching 5 derham coin. Young guy, looked about 30 probably 25, stopped as I approached, I asked the question and handed over the 5 derhams. "That’s not much “ he responded in French “when I haven’t even got shoes on my feet”. So after feeling quite humbled and handing over spare trainers for which I was seeking a good home, I took photos of camel, donkey, plough and him. He was curious about English culture and was gobsmacked to hear of our obvious failing, "Vous n“avez pas chameaux en Angleterre ?” Not sure how long photo strategy will last.

You don't have camels ?

You don't have camels ?

Drove on past Safi, through an yet another bustling cowboy town on route national and into Ounara. We were looking to stop at campsite recommended in French book of Moroccan sites bought yesterday. Obviously written by cynic. Recommendations stretched from don’t touch with a bargepole to spot on. This is a spot on, Camping le Palmyres at Ounara, badged chez Christian a Frenchman from the Vendee. As we parked up and got out of our truck our feet were met with a carpet of springy lush grass for the first time in weeks.

 


Saturday 8 November

Went out the campsite door turned left and then I was in downtown Ounara. Stopped at one of the first workshops I came to. The workshop was 6 ft x 6 ft but the pavement area annexed for business was 10 ft x 10 ft. They were making wooden marquetry boxes but after my conversation with a very smiley handsome works manager I discovered that they made anything in wood, from windows, tables to gift items but all to order. No retail. No Country Fairs. (Background coming out again.)

Bought a few bits. A box of ‘Tide’ for hand washing. My Grandma used both Tide and Omo I seem to recall. Moroccan Tide is more sophisticated than good old Scunthorpe Tide because now you can use it in the dishwasher (an accessory owned by most Moroccans I don’t think ) r for washing the dishes in the normal way, for washing by hand, in the washing machine, and for washing down the kitchen so it says on the packet. We have seen Omo here too I wonder if they have dolly tubs. I also remember Stardrops and Green Fairy soap as key players in washing activities in Scunthorpe. In the UK you buy a different product for each application , here one does all. Who has got it right ?

Lounged around all afternoon on Christian’s lush grass. H learning her French. Doing very well too.

Checked out campsites on map. Chicken piri piri, potato wedges, salad, More Spanish duty free wine for under £1 per bottle.

H not sleeping brilliantly at night and we have now renumbered the clock during the hours of darkness. Rather than looking at her watch to see what time it is you can go by regular nocturnal animal noises. The imam at the Ounara mosque is short of a decent PA system and when he calls people to prayer, he does unfortunately sound rather like a pissed off camel. During Ramadan he also calls people to prayer a bit too often and at horrible times. So that’s camels . The dogs get excited for prolonged periods twice a night. There is an owl that hoots around midnight. The dawn chorus starts with vibrant twittering birdsong which obviously wakes the cockerel and chickens who join in later, and the donkey just brays goodnight and good morning. So the hours of darkness go something like this.

Camels 1, Donkey 1, Dogs 1, Camels 2, Dogs 2, Owl, Camels 3, Birds, Cockerel 1, Donkey 2, Camels 4, Cockerels 2, Camels 5. H seems to be sleeping well between Dogs 2 and Camels 3 and is then immovable after donkey 2. Thank God there are not many cats here as on some other sites because the sound of their nocturnal pleasures added in might just be too much.

 


Sunday 9 November

Out early (10 am) to catch bus to ESSOUIRA, which we were assured came regularly at either 5, 20 or 30 minute intervals depending on ……, well anything really. Sat on wall outside mosque pointing in right direction. No bus turned up. Several camels, donkey carts, many Mercedes taxis (not as glamourous as you think) numerous overloaded little vans and a multicoloured truck holding a stack of wood, seven muggles, gandalf and several wizards and a severely nonchalant camel all passed by. I couldn’t see anything in the truck below 5 ft in height so no doubt Dobby the House Elf and the Seven Dwarves were in there somewhere too. After 15 minutes a full bus passed by, they only stop to pick up if there is room. One impatient Essex Girl, (Well what else do you call someone waiting expectantly at a bus-stop Oops not politically correct again!) set off at a gallop until he was sprinting by the side of it, got hold of the front passenger door handle, opened the door and hauled himself in. Obviously not a request stop. Five minutes later an extremely knackered looking 30 year old Mercedes minibus pulls up, decked out in blue and yellow stripes. A guy jumps out and shouts “Swirra”, “Swirra”. “No we’re waiting for the bus to Essouira mate” I think to myself. Then it dawns on me. This is the bus to Essouira. We climb on to much amusement of 14 passengers, driver, conductor and chicken already on board. The source of amusement is me, trying to stand upright in bus with head tilted to one side to avoid bald patch expanding again. “Je suis plus grand parce que j’ai trop mange” I explained and remembered again its Ramadan. They would all have to wait until tonight to trop manger. And apparently they do. In this season of fasting many Moroccans stuff themselves so much at night that they actually put on weight.

Nonchalent camel

Nonchalent camel
Can’t see the Camel? -
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The journey was very pleasant, the driver coasted down all hills. And I had a sort of conversation with a guy whose four front teeth were capped in silver and smiled a lot. I had been told that the expected price to pay on the bus was 7 derhams Ounara to Essouira and 7.50 derhams on the way back. There was no explanation why. It is obvious now. There were less hills to coast down on the return trip so therefore fuel costs were higher.

Essouira

Essouira

Essouira was OK. It was cleaner, designed for tourists with Soldiers and Police guarding the medina entrances and later as litter prevention. There were many more Europeans, and particularly women, I hate to say making us look silly, with their lack of conformity with even basic dress codes. Some women with fat, celluloid, porcelain or corned beef coloured legs should not wear skimpy velvet shorts anywhere. The Moroccan female attire can sometimes overcome some of the symptoms of middle age. The yashmak is the other weapon and that is all I am going to say on the subject before I get hung drawn and quartered by “her indoors”. The streets were less rubbish strewn and we were hassled much more. Many of the beggars, who had been silent could put on a wonderful wail as you approached. We could not help feel that this was not the real Morocco and really longed for somewhere more natural. On the way to the bus bought 8 crumpets, a tub of honey and 6 eggs which may already be boiled (they were clean and warm) but we won’t know until tomorrow. The whole lot for 20 derhams. £1.40.

Tagine for two

Tagine for two

We walked back to the bus station. Intercepted by “friendly guide after a quick derham”. Lead towards one of several coaches (not sure that is the right term) all in different liveries with Arabic script on the front. We were ushered into spare seats at the back and our expectations of ending up in Agadir or Casablanca were allayed when Middle aged French Pothead on back seat assured me that we were on the Marrakech bus that “normalement” passed through Ounara. Not convinced anything normal here.

Paid 5 derhams each in jitney on way there and in coach on way back.

Had ordered a tangine, typical Moroccan stew to be delivered to the van for 7.30pm. Very tasty and most enjoyable. Beef, potatoes, onions, peppers, tomatoes, olives with lots of spices, all mopped up with fresh spongy bread and washed down with Cabernet Sauvignon rescued from proprietor.

 


Monday 10 November

Woken by our washing being delivered all beautifully clean and pressed for £2. Had a lazy day trying to catch up with finances to see if we can afford to be here and analysing the camp site, whilst H continues with her French lessons. This site has been a real Economic Devpt engine. Christian uses all local Artisans. They have made tents (on a Kenyan design), all the metalwork for electric points, built all the buildings, erected shelters, made all the planters full of small palms and even a fitted kitchen with marquetry doors. Ounara had 4 artisans working in wood 3 years ago and now there are over 25 due to the increased tourist trade selling tables, boxes, lamps etc. I like it here.

Nice site

Nice site

Acquired a litre of murky fresh virgin olive oil pressed yesterday, from olives picked from the trees in the campsite which I am assured is much better quality than that made from windfalls.

 


AGADIR TO OUARZAZATE

Tuesday 11 November

Drove down from Ounara to Taghazouit, free camping on Paradise Plage. As we arrived on the site, which consisted of a half mile long flat expanse of rough hard packed sand covered with twenty camper vans (which increases to 200+ in Jan, Feb. and March) behind a 3 mile long beach with foaming white Atlantic waves breaking heavily, a little Suzuki van with GB plates pulled up. After a short conversation with Dana and Alan ( 30ish youngsters) followed by an evening meal a firm friendship was established.

 


Wednesday 12 November

Woken by smart, thin but tired looking Moroccan, knocking on camper door. “Je suis guardian 10 derhams.” Did not expect to be paying on free camping beach. Anyway I had no change so put him off for time being. 10 minutes later another knock on the door. “Poissons, good price, very fresh, you want poissons”. No thanks, perhaps tomorrow. 10 minutes later another knock. “Pain, Pain 2 derhams”. We warded off fruit sellers, nut merchants, jewellery and leather sellers, but failed with the carpet salesman and bought a 6 metre plastic rug for in front of the van. There was also a guy painting desert scenes on camper vans so I had my new skis customised with night scenes of camels and Kasbahs. That should deter any ski thiefs on the French slopes. Anyway I ski like a camel.

Skis like a camel        Heather no money

           Skis like a camel                                                     Heather no money

Heather, “no money” (new tactic) was by this time fully dressed in yashmak and berber tunic despite trying to avoid buying anything. Alan didn’t help by insisting she looked fetching in Arab costume much to the appreciation of the hopeful salesman.

 


Thursday 13 November

Took Alan and Dana into Agadir to the supermarket, Marjane at Agadir. Much more expensive than souks but much wider range of products. Made friends with Cheese counter girl only to be berated by customer, wanting to be served, for talking too much.(Nothing new). Bought lots of pastries from patisserie. Broke into cave d’alcool. (Well it felt like it ). During Ramadan, only Europeans can be served and then after showing identity documents. Stocked up with beer and wine. Bought gas on way back in Banana village. 42 derhams ( £2.95) for Butagaz 13kg Butane. Cheapest yet. Extremely pleased with self for getting gas strategy right.

 


Friday 14 November

Richard went to Rocher de Diable, Devils Rock to try fishing. Collected Patates as bait off the rocks. Another use for Palourding rake. Heather desperate for a fire on the beach collected a big stack of wood . This act obviously induced the rain and wind that pounded the van overnight.

 


Saturday 15 November

Met another young Brit couple Claire and Josh in highly painted Volkswagen camper (already having spent 3 months on the same beach) and spent a relaxing day on beach, with a full complement of Brits coming for a picnic lunch. It is all very well going to exotic places, mixing with all kinds of foreign influences and to escape the humdrum way of life back home but sometimes you just need to forget all that and talk a load of British drivel with a load more Brits.. Danas toe. Rain and Wind all night.

Paint your wagon

Paint your wagon

 


Sunday 16 November

Took Alan and Dana to the Agadir Souk. Parking for souk opposite one of main gates. 300 yards of rudely marshalled vehicles of all types controlled by a motley collection of guardians and “fixers”. After 4 traffic jams in centre of site, administered by gesticulating and excited “officials” we parked up. Descended on by “car wash” boys. Agreed 30 derhams (£2.10) to clean truck. Do they realise how much washing it takes ! Set off ensuring guardians close purview of our vehicle. This guardian was at least seventy, 4 ft 6 in tall and 8 stone wet through. What was he going to guard effectively, I mused later. The souk was a modern , grid system market really. Not like the labyrinths we are used to in Sale or Rabat. Agadir was levelled by an earthquake in the 60s and is a relatively new town. Avoided many cons but Alan and Dana fell for the will you write a postcard for me scam and the resultant free mint tea cost us a few quid in herbal remedies. These included something for Alan’s vertigo (which we are assured will work, when Brit doctors have failed miserably), a potion of pomegranates for Heather’s wind (fingers crossed), but declined (as yet) the Moroccan answer to Viagra. (Took his card though just in case). We also bought wooden items, leather sandals and for me a traditional style Arab grandads shirt in a rather smart striped silky white cotton, fully embroidered but with the obligatory zip to demonstrate authenticity.

Source of Berber Viagra

Source of Berber Viagra

 


Monday 17 November

We were now bored with Tagazouit and keen to see the desert. We set off by visiting a shop in a nearby town selling solar panels for the camper for 400 euros fitted (excellent price). Skirmished with a faux guide whilst finding it but did not have time for fitting on the roof. Will get one another time. Drove to Tarouddant a beautiful walled casbah and despite being cute to avoid attracting unwanted help, acquired a guide masquerading as a student. However, he did take us to places we would never otherwise have seen such as a complex where the nomads could barter for accommodation, with camels downstairs, apparently providing some level of warmth, and them above. Camel farts and belches are not my idea of underfloor heating. Ended up being diverted into family shop and given carpet selling routine with increasing hard sell as he appreciated we were not interested in rugs however gorgeous they were. Caught a horse drawn buggy back to car park, with us and charioteer masqueraded us with 1970s pop songs. Galloping around a roundabout twice with the driver singing “Buffalo Soldier” and famished Ramadan traffic intent on going home for tea surrounding you is quite hair-raising.

We don't want one !        Camels below, people above

        We don't want one !                                                     Camels below, people above

Drove to Tallouine and parked up in little site with big frogs. Met Carla and Andre keen to entice us down the Draa valley, where we were going anyway.

 


Tuesday 18 November

Drove from Tallouine to Ait Ben Haddou via a landscape from semi desert to high mountain passes. The road is quite narrow in places and where the tarmac stops are harsh jagged edges. Great care has to be taken when making room for large vehicles coming from opposite direction to pass without damaging tyres. Stayed at Auberge Kasbah du Jardin, which has a steep drop down to a car park for visiting vehicles. No electric Howe or emptying facilities but loos and showers inside. Nice clean basic rooms available at 30 derhams (£2.10) per person. On arrival Alan was immediately dressed in his Grandad's Djellebah by Mohammed our Berber host. We decided to suss out how to cross river to casbah for tomorrow on strict instructions to be back at sundown for free ramadin soup (Harira). This turned out to be soup, bread, crepes, honey, butter, dates, fish and mint tea. Mohammed has obviously taken a shine to us, Alan (who is a natural comic, is very blonde and has a pink suntan being Glaswegian is always an attraction for Moroccan humour) once more is dressed in Djellebah causing much hilarity, as Ahmed the English Berber. Dana once more is recognised as Fatima, of good breeding stock, pretty and worth many camels. At 8 pm we retire to Camper to rest before evening meal, put back to 9.30 pm to allow soup to settle. Moroccan salad and Chicken tagine and couscous followed by fresh mandarins still with leaves attached. We had been promised music and threatened with dancing but all we got was local lads on bongos singing Bob Marley. It didn’t actually sound like him, because they did not know all the words. Mohammed obviously very proud of his comfortable and good value Auberge. Various pressies handed over, including spare reading glasses, and were invited to spend time with the family and share a meal with them on our next visit.

un dirham s'il vous plait        Auberge Kasbah du Jardin

                                                  un dirham s'il vous plait                                          Auberge Kasbah du Jardin    

 


Wednesday 19 November

Started the day by setting up computer in Berber restaurant and printing out pictures from previous evenings activities. Toured Ait Ben Haddou Kasbah, an amazing mud structure just like the sand sculpted castles on Benidorm beach but older. This casbah has starred in many films, including Lawrence of Arabia and latterly Gladiator. Must watch it again now. In order to cross the river to get to the kasbah you have to have either a horse or donkey ride for 10 derhams return. As we dismounted from our various steeds on our return, a coach load of young tourists arrived and were immediately overwhelmed by Moroccan cowboys after their derhams. We felt a bit smug as we realised how green they were and how street wise we think we are becoming.

Ait Ben Haddou

Ait Ben Haddou

Drove to Ourzazate. Something obviously going on. King of Morocco has decided to drop in on us. The roads are closed.(except to us). There is a huge police and army presence who alternate facing the crowd every 5 yards, keeping them in order and making sure that no rubbish encroached onto the pristine road surface. The kerbs, zebra crossings and the base of all trees have all been painted and the streets cleaned. Buildings draped in red banners with green stars and even more flags than usual and as an extra precaution plenty of obvious plain clothes police in the crowd. Troupes of folklore musicians garbed in their traditional dress sang and danced and drummed on every corner. The royal cavalcade swept by, the king in an open topped limo waving to his cheering subjects (including us). 20 seconds and all over. Set off to Cyber café, had to wait for King to pass again.

Does my Ass look big on this

Does my Ass look big on this

Early night but tempted to see what the dancers and drummers were up to in the stadium next door from where emanated sounds of an exciting time.

 


ZAGORA AND THE DESERT

Thursday 20 November

Drove from Ourzazate to just beyond Zagora down the Draa valley. Kasbahs galore, stunning gorges through Anti Atlas and roads washed away by floods. Stopped at lay-by to view scenery, see a Berber girls smiling face through the storm drain in wall. Then another pops over the wall top. Stop anywhere and they come out of the woodwork like Ewoks (as Dana calls them). After pictures taken a young tall elegant looking young man with turban and robe appears from nowhere and starts the patter. They are his sisters. Tries to swap something but instead cadges a lift to Agdz on the pretence of buying flour for the family at the Souk. Converses intelligently in French on various subjects. Ali was 23 claims his family live in a tent in the mountains like nomads seeking fodder for the flock of goats and sheep, has four brothers and nine sisters, his mother a Tourag and his father a Berber who met her after working on a camel train. It all sounds a bit too perfect and Arabian Nights. He gives Heather a lovely but simple necklace and after having seen pictures of our family invites us to come to meet his. We think we smell a rat and decline. He protests and asks to get off on the edge of town, way before the souk and just before a police blockade. We wonder whether he intends to hitch a lift back to his sisters to try to lure some other probably by now suspecting tourist to visit some shop or other or whether he was genuine. Still not sure whether he was trying a scam or not. That is typical of Morocco and something to get used to.

The Palin pose

The Palin pose

Didn’t stop on route through casbahs much because of being invaded by kids all after bon bons, money, or puppies (teddy bears). The clothing around here is getting more Sahara like as we get further south. Took picture of Heather (doing a Michael Palin impression) in front of the famous “Tomboctou 52 days” at Zagora sign and made our way to bijou campsite, with limited facilities but its own camels and in midst of palm trees, laden with dates(and flies).

Nice campsite, shame about the loos.

Nice campsite, shame about the loos.

Visited small but beautifully decorated Moroccan hotel next door to campsite for a beer with Andre and Carla (the Swiss ex telephone engineer and his English nurse wife that we met up with in Tallouine), who now live permanently in their camper. They are almost local, so multi kissed and greeted everyone who came near. With their guidance after a skinful of Flag and Stork beers arranged to meet a desert tour company at Mohammed the shopkeepers premises at 11 am next day.

 


Friday 21 November

Picked up by Mohammed and taken into darkest Amezrou. Shop doorway tiny and down a side street. I hate the phrase an Alladin's cave but that is what it was. Three floors of all types of nomad and Touarag products from Casbah doors to exotic wedding jewellery, all fantastically displayed on the walls, in trunks and boxes and on tables. The rooftop garden sported not one but two nomad tents and more bedouin paraphernalia. Mint tea later and much gentle banter and half hearted salesmanship the tour company boss arrived. A price of £130 per person for 3 days and two nights of 300 + kms of travel in the desert, sleeping in berber tents including all food, with a bonfire and seeing in the sunrise, by 4x4 vehicle was whittled down to £115, with difficulty. The itinerary ,all off any normal map, includes a trip to the Dunes de Juif (200 metre high sand dunes), into the Iriki part of the desert, to the edge of the Algerian border and return through 60 kilometres of palm trees. We are all very excited.

Something borrowed ….

Something borrowed ….

We have all bought desert turbans ready for the sand and winds, which no-one can tie properly.

Where's Alladin ?

Where's Alladin ?

 


Saturday 22 November

10 am the Landrover Defender arrives with a roof rack full of gear with our driver/guide/cook Nagi. Nagi will make or break this trip, will we be lucky ? He speaks no English so my French will be important. We pile in with necessary extra equipment, sleeping bags (it gets cold in the desert), loo roll, warm clothes, cup-a-soup (just in case the food’s not so good and for me it will have to be awful), turbans, cameras and palourdes rake (yet another purpose for burying poo in the desert, there are no WCs lurking behind sand dunes). Our journey starts by gently taking us off road along the dried up River Draa valley and into a lost casbah in a palmyrie. We have not been off tarmac before and are a little trepidacious. Before long we arrive at the Dunes de Juif, which is a bit more commercialised than we had imagined. A series of nomad tents are permanently set up for tourist use, (not a real nomad in sight) apparently organised by a French woman married to a Moroccan. Surprise, surprise there is a sweet smelling, steel cubicled WC at 5 derhams a throw (if that’s an acceptable term). There are lights along the dunes to prettify the site at night and lanterns on all the tents. It just does not quite ring true. We take quick snaps and set off again soon arriving in Mahmid to buy fresh bread and we go out of town to a Camping site to eat lunch. Bread, sardines, le vache qui rie cheese spread, olives, tea and oranges. The latter are small, mottled orange and green and delicious. This site (like everywhere along this road between Zagora and M’hmid) also offers nomad tents to sleep in within its walls and even sports a hammam in its loo block. Heather is very keen to try one at some point.

L Rover Juin de Juif

L Rover Juin de Juif

We set off back to M’hmid and pick up a nomad woman and her two children who are trying to get back to their tent somewhere in the desert. Nagi is a Touareg, nomad, it transpires and was born in the desert. We travel through the desert for some 20 miles, admiring Nagi’s driving skills. It was obvious we were going to be in for an interesting time. Heather made friends with the kids and broke the ice with the nomad woman by feeding the kids bonbons, which the little girl stashed in her pockets and shared with her friends or sisters later when she got home. Home was a typical nomad tent nestling under another more natural set of dunes. We were invited into another tent for mint tea, Nagi knew all these people and was very much at home We felt like intruders. This woman was a widow with a teenage daughter who was intrigued by us and we felt desperate to communicate but her etiquette meant she had to hide her face, but you could tell by her beautiful eyes she was obviously a gorgeous girl. We asked various questions about nomad life but the main one was how did she survive and why live 20 miles from the nearest community and in the searing heat ? Food was bread, tagine or couscous and they lived by raising goats and selling them as and when necessary. The bread was baked in an oven built in the sand. There had been no rain in this region for the last 5 years until we Brits arrived and saved the day. Now the desert is blooming, trees are green, shrubs sprouting and the African equivalent of dandelions everywhere. The goats and camels will now prosper.

Heather of Arabia

Heather of Arabia

We bade our farewells and moved a mile or so round the dunes, stopping momentarily to remove the passenger side rear shock absorber which broke 10 miles before. We stopped next to one of three wells established for the nomads by a German foundation, which also has set up a school for the kids. I can’t help but think that the absentee rate will be high on account of escaping or wandering donkeys or camels that the kids will be sent to retrieve.

Nomad Aga

Nomad Aga

Our overnight bivouac was a cluster of nomad tents under the dunes, near where Nagi was born. We were met by a curious cross-eyed but cheerful and friendly cook/tent preparer whose real name escapes me, but whom we nicknamed Salad because he spoke little bits of many languages all jumbled up together like the veg in a Moroccan salad. Nagi and I went collecting wood for a bonfire (Heather desperate for one under the stars !!!) and what stars they were for a while until clouds came in. No light pollution here, in the desert the moonless night sky seems pitch black with millions of bright stars most of which are invisible back home. The moon is an interesting point too , because Ramadan will not finish until the next full moon is in view and we haven’t seen a moon at all for days.

Sahara Sunset

Sahara Sunset

We ate Ramadan tea with our guides at 1740hrs and sat down to Moroccan Salad flavoured with Coriander, followed by Brochettes of beef and the ubiquitous bread and oranges for our evening meal. The guides would eat Tagine later to fit in with prayer and their own timetable. We swapped tricks and blagues. Some of which amazed our hosts. Here is a Touareg joke/piece of wisdom.

“What is the difference between a woman and a dromedary camel” ( the answer is not “one hump !”).

“A camel will get you through the desert and a woman will get you through life”.

Salad, who is 23 already has 3 wives, and would have put in a bid for Lisa, Heather’s daughter, after seeing her photo. He proudly pointed out that they all lived in separate houses (which turn out to be tents), to stop them arguing and he spent a week with each one when at home and then moved on to the next. How he supports 3 wives on £20 per week, we cannot figure. Nagi has one wife and two young children and will take another wife when his kids are 14 or 15 and then have another couple of children. Nagi is bright and seems to be trying to make a more comfortable life for himself and his family. We enjoyed the bonfire and retired to our tents. Snuggled up in our sleeping bags with extra covers, lying on thin mattresses on rugs covering the ground we felt very cosy as the wind blew outside and some light rain fell again during the night. We did not begrudge them the chance of some fertility.

 


Sunday 23 November

We woke at 6 am to see in the sunrise. Our beds were covered with a liberal dusting of sand blown through the fabric door of the tent and its woven camel hair roof which smelt like the unmistakable odour of a damp animal like a dog drying out after a swim in the sea. The sky once more was cloudy so sunrise could have been better, but we were intoxicated by the fact that we had survived a night in the desert miles from civilisation with another to follow. We breakfasted on bread, jam, fruit and coffee. Small glasses of strong Nescafe and evaporated milk, boiled up together, and if you were not quick enough loads of sugar.

We broke camp, said farewell to Salad and set off again passing through a variety of terrains dunes, sandy plains, scrub, dried up river wadis, rocky roads marked by little cairns both flat and undulating. We were all struck by the vastness of this desert which we were just on the edge of. We passed a real (non tourist camel train). Only a short one of 3 camels, the desert goods transport system and somehow expected  it to be in the colours of Eddie Stobart with Fatima Queen of the Desert emblazoned across it.

We stopped for lunch in the middle of nowhere, in a sheltered spot in a dried up river bed. As usual from nowhere appeared a young lad of perhaps 14 years, quite shy, timid and graceful. He was looking after the family camels and because of Ramadan he was weak and asked for some food. He was struggling to walk the distances necessary without sustenance. Nagine said it was OK for him to break Ramadan because of his youth and he shared our (now usual and expected) lunch of bread, sardines, cheese spread, olives and oranges followed by tea. Any leftovers went to the young nomad as a carry out including the left over sardine oil. I took a photo of the picnic and showed it him. He laughed which I thought was a cue for another photo. He adamantly refused to my surprise. When I checked the pictures later, he had his hand over his face on the original one. We have not yet worked out why the nomads are so against photos (even the young kids) but we have failed at all attempts to get people shots, either being respectful of their wishes or useless at being sneaky.

Heather and Salad

Heather and Salad

We soon passed a hill with a profile just like Pen y Ghent back home, and whilst speeding along the route of the Paris Dakkar rally, spotted a tall blue figure walking at speed, miles from any visible landmark. Nagi went to investigate. Formalities over, it turns out that he is a nomad and he has lost four of his camels and has been looking for them for three days. Reports have said that they may be a few miles back in the direction from which we came. He stayed the previous night with nomads near Form Zguoid. Nagi realises that it is his sisters encampment and he decides that we will stay there for the night. We got to Form Zguoid to see if the shock absorber can be fixed. Five kilometres from the town, we pass through a military checkpoint on our unmade road, which I later find is marked on the map as a normal route. Nagi has to prove a good reason to the military to be on the road and acts very humbly. Visiting his sister suffices and the barrier is raised.

We turn off the tarmac road from Form Zguoid to Tissint onto a lunar landscape of football sized boulders and trundle towards three nomad tents way in the distance. Nagi’s trained eye can spot them easily. He pipped his horn some 500 metres from the tents to warn them of our coming and to give time to cover up and tidy. After ascertaining which tent to head towards , we are heartened by the welcome he is given by his sister, brother in law and especially his nieces so obviously overwhelmed to see the brother and uncle that made good, and moved to the big town, with his own house and now drives an expensive vehicle ferrying around visiting tourists. The joy is genuine and infectious. Nagi had not seen these relatives for over a year since his fathers funeral.

We set up our prestige bivouac which is a ten foot square moth eaten contraption, with rocks to hold down the sides and only four pegs, one at each corner, and a central pole. The secret seems to be the small poles inside the tent at an oblique angle pushing out the corners which give the rigidity. Again the front door was a threadbare flap which waved in the wind with no zip or closure. The tent was erected on a small relatively flat clearing in the rocks. I had seen many such spaces during our desert journey which are obviously nomad tent pitches. By now we had amassed an audience of a dozen raggedy kids from about 3 to 12 years. Whilst Nagi prepared Tagine we encouraged the kids to join us in the tent, with difficulty as one move too quick and they scattered to the wind to return equally as quickly. We soon had the two biggest and bravest playing Snap, which they struggled to say and had difficulty recognising the characters which of course were neither in Arabic or anything they could understand as they were all illiterate. They were fascinated by us as we were by them.

Eddie Stobart Touareg division.

Eddie Stobart Touareg division.

Darkness fell and we shared another Ramadan soup, nomad style this time in Nagi’s sisters tent. I could spend hours trying to explain how little these people have in material wealth and how much dignity and spirituality they exude. Heather soon had the kids screaming with laughter as she “This little piggy’d” and “Round and round the gardened” with them on the women’s side of the tent to the sheer delight of both parents. The mother occasionally let slip her veil to reveal a broad smile and shining white teeth. Whilst we quaffed copious amounts of sweet tea with the men, Heather explored the intricacies of “women’s work”, making bread and cooking in the darkness over an open fire, whilst being stroked and cuddled by her new soul mate Sukina the 6 year old daughter. There were six kids in this family between 3 and 14 years old.

The encampment is of three tents, the men all brothers and their families. Until last year when both parents died two families shared one tent, ie 4 adults and probably 12 kids in a space 12 ft x 12 ft. Heather was amazed at how sweet smelling the children were. Despite their lack of sanitary facilities, and their remote environment the young kids did not smell of urine or dirt. Even the little 3 year old, who when desperate for the loo, danced up and down on the spot, just like a kid back home and was whisked off somewhere over the cobbles into the darkness by his six year old sister.

Mohammed (we have met a lot of Mohammeds) and his wife (Nagi’s sister) Miriam have obviously specific roles. Mohammed oversees the brewing of tea, which is quite a ritual, prays a lot and has serious discussions with visitors whilst Miriam (or the kids) do everything else, including the six year old ferrying red hot coals from the main fire to the tea stove on a sort of shovel. It is not too dissimilar to home as it reminded me of a description of family decision making once related to me. The wife made all the small decisions like, where they lived, the children’s schooling, the car they drove, holidays and how the household budget was spent. The husband made all the strategic decisions like whether we should have Cruise Missiles, put men on the moon or if UFOs were a real threat.

Careful they might eat us !

Careful they might eat us !

Mohammed’s brother soon joined us and after we guests had eaten Beef Tagine with hot Nomad bread, The bread is black when it comes from the oven and then it is rubbed with sand and beaten with a cloth until clean. Its delicious. The locals would eat later because of Ramadan. A fabulous discussion was engineered, which turned the tables on the nomads and got them asking us about England. The price of a kilo of tomatoes creased them up and an average wage amazed them. The thought of selling a house to go travelling, like Alan and Dana have done was incredulous to them. We finished by drawing a map of Europe on the carpet for them using its natural pattern and fruit. It took some convincing that to travel anywhere from UK you had to take a boat or plane and the concept of a tunnel under the sea incomprehensible. We left to let them eat but could have talked all night.

 


Monday 24 November

We woke up almost wondering if the night before had been a dream and where we were. It was already light. The nomads had all been up since daybreak. Early to bed and early to rise does not make a nomad wealthy, healthy but perhaps wise ? We poked our noses outside the tent and were spotted. Kids arrived from all angles to watch the strange visitors. This was quite difficult for those with a weak bladder. I might add all four of us had convinced our bowels not to work for 2 days to avoid the use of the palourdes rake to bury the evidence. The result was we all felt pregnant and feared the arrival of more bread. Teeth cleaning was a hilarious activity to our audience. “They must be mad they’re foaming at the mouth !” Heather spotted the girls playing 50 metres away and went to investigate. They were playing shop with two stick dolls, with bits of rag for clothes, a little bag sewn from material, 3 empty perfume bottles and the back half of a small plastic truck with two wheels and a bit of string with which to pull it. Now that little lot would not go down well at Xmas back home but these kids were dead chuffed to show them off.

Dune North

Dune North

We asked Nagi how often he took visitors to the nomads and he said that it depended what his clients were like. Many tourists do not want a real experience there is too much chance of getting dirty.

We wanted to help in some real way not just by handing over money and it appears that their greatest needs are clothing, medicine and for the kids toys. Toy cars are the number one favourite. Heather handed over various pain killers with instructions and offered several practical cheap remedies for sticky eyes and burns on children. Everyone seems to cook on stoves directly on the top of gas bottles whether in tents or houses. Kids naturally gravitate to fire and burn themselves. We explained to Nagi whilst discussing our home that as it was modern we did not have a real fire and how we missed it, hence Heather’s love of bonfires. His remedy was easy. Build it in the middle of the room on the floor. He had no idea of the effect that would have on our polished wooden floor and underfloor heating system in our trendy third storey apartment.

It's better than the telly !

It's better than the telly !

We drove back to Zagora along a long off road route the other side of the mountains past oases and villages not marked on the map. It would be impassable by anyone not in a 4 x 4. With bums numb and after being offered more bread, sardines, and cheese spread we arrived back at Amezrou.

 


Tuesday 25 November

An easy morning on the camp site followed by a camel ride through the palm trees. 3 of the camels were well behaved . Alan of course got the unruly one. Zig Zag. Couldn’t walk in a straight line, so aptly named ,but as camels go a total plonker. We were taken to see the Jewish Kasbah, Parts of it at least 10000 years old, now housing a jewellery factory, and the inevitable shop which we had to visit but escaped without buying. May go back to buy in bulk if we go back here in future. Went for a drink at the posher hotel, Hotel Asma, like everywhere at this time of year, noticeably empty. Tried to ring England, various times, lines unavailable as Moroccans ringing family all over the world celebrating the end of Ramadan.

 Zig Zag        Jewish Kasbah

                  Zig Zag                                                             Jewish Kasbah

 


END OF RAMADAN AND MARRAKECH

Wednesday 26 November

Drove back to Ait Ben Haddou through the Draa Valley, past numerous old towns and Kasbahs. Everyone out in their finery, all the kids wearing new clothes. It’s the Moroccan version of Christmas day. The only shops that are open are sweet stalls and the kids are all clutching bags of them. Should give us a bit of respite from the inevitable “donnez moi un bonbon”. We are also a bit disillusioned about our perceived generosity, having heard stories of kids being taught at an early age to ask for derhams, bon bons and stylos (pens) which are stockpiled by the parents and then sold at the souk.

We arrived at our camping site to find it deserted. The guardian, aged about 11, said that Mohammed would be back later. We suddenly had doubts about his expected hospitality. We went for a walk seeking beer, all the inns were dry. Back to the campsite with the prospect of a quiet night, when we expected a bit of life. Shortly after Mohammed arrived. We are not sure whether he is pleased to see us or not. Next thing we are being whisked away to his ancient mud walled, berber house in his knackered, old Renault. Only close inspection made you realise how knackered. The ignition was either hot wiring or a push start. The doors did not shut properly, the boot almost opened and the seats sort of tipped.

Post Ramadan party

Post Ramadan party

We entered the house and were ushered into a roomful of people about 20 of them, all but 3 being women or kids (from 2 months to 14 years). We felt awkward but soon all that was forgotten. Mohammed’s first wife, who is an Arabic teacher, speaks some English. Our women were soon whisked off to be dressed in Berber costumes, I became resident photographer and was ushered back to Camping Car to bring computer and printer to produce photos. Office set up in corner of room, Mohammed soon wanted large A4 pics of all photos which included him. Wife No1 and Wife No2 vied for superiority and one little girl with lovely smile and National Health equivalent glasses attempted to be included in all shots.

It's me again.

It's me again.

It was an absolute pleasure to print out photos for them all and cause real excitement. Most of the kids were absolutely drop dead gorgeous and so well behaved. Soon tangines of Chicken and veg arrived with house bread, galette. All eaten from the communal dish with fingers. We felt a bit guilty as if we were eating all the kids tea, because our tagine was the biggest but realised that they had been feasting for the last 24 hours. Meal over, we turned back to “blagues” and tricks. At the first opportunity I am going to put a box of necessary bits together for numerous jokes, they are really good collateral.

Ahmed and Fatima Knowles

Ahmed and Fatima Knowles

Time to go home, we pile into Mohammed’s Renault. He sets off down hill, with no lights on, hurtling out of his walled yard down a steep incline with a ravine on one side and nothing but an unmade mud track to follow. The journey back, although only half a mile was hair-raising. With shouts of “Voiture Berber” he did his best to scare us witless, only putting the lights on when he himself was gripped and had run out of bravado.

 


Thursday 27 November

We set off early and drove to Marrakech over the Atlas Mountains and the Tizi’n’ Titchka pass. Yet another different landscape in this country which is always full of surprises. We avoided the shops, which were set up on every photo opportunity corner, and which sold pottery from Tamegroute and fossils and geodes dug from the hills. The latter were in fantastic colours, but we have absolutely no need for them.

We arrived in Marrakech, and after a trip to the local cash and carry (where we were given a day pass to visit, to our surprise, we stocked up with booze and provisions. On entering the chilled food room, the staff desperately tried to give us bodywarmers to ensure we didn’t freeze. They were highly amused as we wandered through in T Shirts explaining that we were from England and this winter of theirs was like an English summer. Then we carried on into town. At the first traffic lights, with vehicle chaos all around us a moped pulls up by our window. A 50 something guy with a big smile says “You want camping on road to Casa ? Follow me.” There was no question of refusing as we turned off the main road against my better judgement. “Bollocks”, I thought out loud. Another Faux Guide after a quick buck. The roads got narrower, through suburban back streets and areas into which you would not normally venture with a camper. Alan and Dana, apparently were a bit concerned too, but consoled themselves with the thought that we had not failed them yet. Our guide pulled into the side and beckoned us to him. We expected the worst “Come and meet my family in my cousin’s carpet shop”, but were relieved to hear instead “ Drive to next lights, turn right and the campsite is 5 km on left by garage, and by the way I am a student, anything to help me with my studies !!” Faux Guides are now all students to try to avoid the law.

 


Friday 28 November

Arranged taxi from campsite into town. We had already decided that we would get a guide in Marrakech to see the sights and decided to head for Tourist Office. We have only found one Tourist Office so far, in Ouarzazate. The taxi driver immediately sussed out why. “I can arrange accredited guide for you. 120 derhams half day. I'll ring him now and he will be waiting for us.”

No fangs but a nasty suck !

No fangs but a nasty suck !

Abdul was there waiting, official badge proudly displayed from suit pocket. We breakfasted and then he took us around the pretty tourist spots of tombs and palaces, explaining the roles and etiquette of concubines and tortoises and then into the Kasbah and the Souk. Marrakech is fun, we like its cosmopolitan but Moroccan feel. We were not the only tourists in town but we felt like the more adventurous. It may not be heaving with visitors, (due to low season, just after the end of Ramadan and Friday being the main holy day of the week) but at least we have a bit of space from merchants desperate for a sale. We did , however, make some purchases, some to our advantage and some not. At yet another herbal medicine stall, we had an introductory massage which will entice Heather back for more. After wandering the souk we decide to have a brew in a café with a terrace overlooking the main square, which resembles a rather more ethnic Covent Garden with street entertainers extracting the last buck from their audience before actually doing anything. The sound of the square is a total cacophony of noise. Snake Charmers, drummers (trying to whip up audiences into a frenzy of generosity), local regional troupes, food stands offering “free music accompaniment” from the battered transistor radio hanging from the stand, and the babble of jugglers, acrobats, 3000 voyeurs and transport ranging from donkey carts, horse-drawn carriages, mopeds and petit taxis .

Restaurant No 1

Restaurant No 1

We decide to eat at one or more of the open air cafes in the square, rather than a proper restaurant. At one stall, 4 soups are quaffed for 70p the lot. Café No 1, listed in Les Routieres is our next stop, with the request to our charming “maitre d’hotel” to give us a good mix of what they had to offer. We ate mixed kebabs, deep fried squid, prawns, battered eel, lemon sole, aubergines, peppers, olives, bread, a liver and onion dip, accompanied by bread, fresh orange juice, tomatoes and chilli sauce. We then demanded some chips as the withdrawal symptoms were just too much and they were on offer. This whole lot cost about £3 a head and was cooked in front of us.

This is our last night together as a foursome, as Alan and Dana are up the road tomorrow, to return to Portugal to meet some of their mates, but expect to return to Maroc to visit the bits that they have missed. We have been together for only 10 days or so but have managed to do many things that would have been impossible or expensive as independent couples.

 

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[Loire/Ile De Re] [Dordogne and Gorges] [Summer Alps] [Italy] [Slovenia] [Croatia] [On The Road To Morrocco] [Monte Carlo or Bust] [Spain, Benidorm and Gibraltar] [Rabat And All That] [El Jadida, Ounara, Essouria] [More meanderings & out of Africa] [Snowmads] [Snowmads 2] [Richard -  The BIG 50 !!!] [Eastern Europe] [Eastern Europe (cont)]
 

 

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