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
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 ??
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
No bakeries open for crumpets, so back to camp, service van and away.
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 ?
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
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.
Can’t see the Camel? -
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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 ….
We have all bought desert turbans ready for the sand and winds, which
no-one can tie properly.
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
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 !
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.
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
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.
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
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 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
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
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
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 !
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
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