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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MARRAKECH AGAIN, GORGES, MORE DESERT AND OUT OF AFRICA

29 November Saturday

There was an ominous silence on the campsite as we woke and instantly knew the little Suzuki van was no longer here. Another chapter closed. Alan and Dana are on their way back to Portugal to meet some friends and eat some humungous Kebabs and Steaks at some hostelry or other called Sweaty Eric’s or similar.

We made our way to the Airport to see if we could find any good value flights for potential visitors in January. As we should have expected , this being Morocco, airline desks were shut and we were redirected to downtown Marrakech.

Alan and Dana rang to confirm that they were boarding the ferry in Tangiers at 4pm, and would likely be in Sweaty Erics that night. I could smell a large steak sizzling.


30 November Sunday

Went into downtown to Royal Air Maroc office to see if there were any deals. Even more expensive than British Airways. Cheapest flights are to Casablanca but that’s a bit of a trek from here and anyone visiting just for one week would lose too much valuable time.

We were intrigued by the differences between old and new Marrakech. Very chic expensive shops abound in the new town way beyond the reach of the average Moroccan. Even a McDonalds burger is a luxury item, but not in our eyes. Having grimaced at McDonalds advertising back home I expected to see The Big Yash Mac as the Burger of choice !


1 December Monday

Lisa, Heather’s daughter, rang to say she was coming for Heather’s 50 birthday on Wednesday. (Plotting has been going on secretly for weeks). Heather is in a panic of excitement with a fixed grin. Lisa had flights on hold until 6pm but the flights were via Paris with an 8 hour wait and cross town transfer. Went to find Internet café to see if we could find better. No joy, but its worth a few words on Internet cafes.

Moroccan Internet cafes are readily available and very cheap, 35p – 50p an hour. However they are also kitted out with old, slow machines and sub capacity modems. Checking your e-mails can be a painful and frustrating experience which nearly ends in PC rage. Every step in logging on or reading, deleting, sending or replying to e-mails or moving from Contacts to Inbox or other section can take 5 minutes or more. The result is that stereotypical, highly agitated, male, Euro Travellers, are tapping their feet, looking daggers at non reacting computer screens, and trying to pretend that they are cool and can remain chilled, through this minor inconvenience. In the meantime their female Euro Travellers take great delight in winding them up even more by telling them how wound up they are. In the meantime Moroccans of all ages happily lap up this new technology on Chat Lines or Browsing without an apparent care in the world.


2 December Tuesday

The pre big 50 birthday tension is setting in. Heather is excited about the impending arrival. Richard is desperately trying to produce a disrespectful Birthday card. This includes all of Heather’s worst photos during the past three months of travelling. Heather is busy cleaning the outside of the Camper while Richard is inside on computer. Heather wants to come back in out of the cold and Richard intent on finishing card, without being found out, demands some space without constant interruptions. The inevitable consequence is a brief falling out.

A trip into the Medina and Jemma Fnaa is the antidote. Guess who has come to see us again ? King Mohammed VI is back in town and the streets are lined with police and soldiers. There are crowds of women ready to ululate and cardboard cut out mannequins dressed in finery. We are confused as to the significance of the mannequins or is it to make the speeding King think that the crowds are bigger than they really are ?


3 December Wednesday

She’s Arrived

She’s Arrived

Lisa arrives at the airport and we try to speed off to the Hotel Sherezade, the cosy little Riadh hotel that we have booked into just off the main square. We are held up again by yet another cavalcade of cars as Colin Powell heads off back to the airport following top level discussions with King Mohammed about African problems. We lounge about in the sun on the hotel terrace for the afternoon, sort out the suitcase of clothes and toys, that Lisa has brought to give away and then off to a restaurant overlooking the square for Heather’s 50 Birthday meal.


4 December Thursday

A bit of site seeing. The Bahia palace, again and more contemplation on my part of the benefits of having 28 concubines. Into the Souk, where Lisa proves to be a natural at extricating bargain prices out of the bazaaristes and soon has acquired all her Xmas pressies for friends back home. We eat in the square again at No 1, our appointed open air food stall and back to the Hotel for a good nights rest before setting off to show Lisa more of Morocco.


LISA’S VISIT

5 December Friday

It is very difficult in six days to show the essence of Morocco, however our first venture is to cross the Tichka pass again to Ouzarzate. At the top of the pass we give a lift to a fossil and rock vendor down to his home village. Lisa gave this mountain man some clothes for his children and received some jewellery and crystals plus the inevitable invite for Couscous in his house if we were passing by again.


6 December Saturday

Whats got ten legs …..

What's got ten legs …..

Another visit to Ait Ben Haddou, but as Ouzazarte is the Moroccan Hollywood we were held up by filming on the main road. Naturally they were not keen to star our truck in some religious epic, unlike the wind surfer who appears according to Billy Connolly in a seaside scene of Mrs Brown.

Ait Ben Haddou negotiated, donkeys ridden, we met up with a backpacking British couple and gave them a lift back to Marrakech. Unfortunately they left us with Desert cough acquired in Erg Chebbi. We continued to Oukeimeden so Lisa can see skiing Moroccan style.


7 December Sunday

You can do it mother !!

You can do it mother !!

A gloriously sunny day, ideal for a donkey ride to the slopes. Lisa taught Heather to snowboard and on returning to the truck we were inundated by vendors wanting to exchange products for clothing. All items were quickly distributed, with demand much greater than supply. Mid afternoon we set off back to the Marrakech campsite to leave the truck for Lisa’s last day. Negotiating the way round Marrakech can be quite tricky as strategic road signs peter out once “faux guide” territory is reached. We ward off several people eager to escort us and Lisa’s navigational skills help us find our way successfully round the Medina wall.

take me to the snow

take me to the snow


8 December Monday

Jemma Fnaa

Jemma Fnaa

Back into Marrakech centre for a final wander around the Souk and its narrow streets. Desert cough has now seriously set in, but it did not stop us enjoying a final meal on the edge of the square, where we all ate and drank very well for just £3.50.


9 December Tuesday

After a long relaxing breakfast in the sun on the terrace at the Sherezade hotel our official Marrakech residence we took Lisa to the airport to await her flight. After a while Heather and Lisa spot a women across the departure lounge. We think we know her they both said in unison. Go and see if it is her. It’s daft question time again, something at which I have become an expert over the years. “Do you live in Clapham, North Yorks ?”, I ventured. She was gob-smacked to be recognised but intrigued about our travels and we had a good natter for half an hour. The last time we had seen her was on the receiving end of copious cups of tea and wedges of home made cake in her café in Clapham, Café Anne. Well worth a trip if walking in the Dales.

Say a tearful goodbye to Lisa ,Heather stands and waits till shes sure the plane has taken off without exploding, and then we set off to find a launderette, and found it in the back-streets of a suburb of Marrakech. It was shut. We spent time waiting for it to open in slower than normal Internet café. Nice to catch up with people though.

Heather has now made contact with girl at Launderette, who has had an instant rapport with her and on hearing of Heather’s past life as fitness instructor has whisked her into the back room to offer advice on her very Moroccan bottom. “I no like, but my husband does.” Sounds familiar. This girl, Raja, learned English at school but until now has never spoken it to an English person. She was excellent.

The copy market in Morocco is rife and we thought that we had tracked down some English language DVDs, to wile away the odd night but unfortunately they never materialised. Watching a DVD on the laptop from time to time is a real luxury.


10 December Wednesday

Yet another rainy day in Marrakech. The grotty state of the campsite here, muddy puddles, unfinished, dirty loos, cold showers etc. has finally got to both of us. We decide to fetch our washing from Launderette and move on, finish off the interesting bits of Morocco we haven’t yet seen and get back to France to bring in the New Year on the Ski slopes. The girl at the Launderette, Raja, is as ecstatic as ever to see her new buddy Heather and we cannot escape without promising to revisit in the future. Heather brought the remaining toys and books to see if Raja has friends with kids who would enjoy them. A gorgeous little 7 year old gave us spontaneous hugs and kisses all round in exchange for a cute Beanie doll, sent across by Lisa’s friend Lee. Mind you we first had to prise it out of the hands of Raja who is desperate for a baby and would have been happy with the doll as a temporary surrogate.


DADES AND TODGHA GORGES

11 December Thursday

Tichka pass

Tichka pass

We intended to leave early to head across the Tichka pass yet again en route to the Dades Valley. Mid morning however we encountered the delightful Mumma family and ended up talking about Life the Universe and everything until well into the afternoon. Mus(tapha) Mumma is an Algerian originally, one of nineteen kids, mothered by one woman, all of whom have made good. His mum cannot read or write but made sure they all did their homework or at least had books open , even though she had no idea what they were. The whole Mumma family, including Irish wife and their two young enthusiastic daughters live a muslim life. This was the first time the kids had been allowed a McDonalds because the burgers here are Halal. They prefer Mums’ so won’t miss them on their return. We were so pleased that this Arabic speaking North African from Tottenham also was severely troubled by Moroccans trying to make a fast buck at his expense. Can you have a cockney arab accent ???

Finally drove to Ouzazarte, reaching the top of the Tichka pass in darkness. It is one way to avoid roadside vendors. They are trusting though. Most of them leave their pots and fossils outside overnight with no-one to guard them


12 December Friday

Weather lovely so decided to have a day to chill out in Ouzazarte. We have been here two or three times before but only passing through and feel that there is more to the place than we have seen so far. First stop the local carpet co-operative. Run by the state so there is a free guide to show us around. The first room we went in had 10 carpet weaving frames set up with up to four women working on each frame. Most were working on commissions copying smaller rugs bought on previous trips by mainly English tourists. The patterns they worked from were 6 inch x 4 inch colour photos of the originals. These women have very dextrous fingers and even nimbler minds to work out the complex combinations of colour to get the finished result. The raison d’etre of the co-op is to get women back into work making traditional carpets by hand and train up other young artisans to work in wood, alabaster, silver and metal, making a range of tourist items but of good quality. Not the sort of work European women or youths would be queuing up for if they only got Moroccan wages. For the first time we got a guide to pricing carpets as illustrated in the table below. If we were planning to see our apartment in the near future we might have been tempted.

Carpet Shop

Carpet Shop

Carpet Quality Knots per sq. metre Price per sq. metre Cost per knot ££££
       
Extra Superieure 160,000 1100 derhams (£77) 0.048 pence
Superieure 90,000 750 derhams (£52.50) 0.058 pence
Moyenne 62500 700 derhams (£49) 0.078 pence
Courante 40000 550 derhams (£38.50) 0.096 pence

As the Internet shop was heaving we went in search of a new battery and watch strap for my watch. The shop we bought them in was an electronics/ music shop selling both original and imitation equipment. There were both original and imitation products on the shelves. I can picture the scene in the Chinese factory when it was box ordering time and the manufacturer spoke to the packaging company. Apologies to our Chinese friends because I am about to be politically incorrect again.

“Rhat you rant on box ??”………..“Pioneer”……….”OK Pie on ear”. The resultant box and original have been snapped by yours truly for your delectation. The biggest difficulty was explaining to the guy in the shop why it was funny. He could not grasp why anyone should want a pastilla (a large Moroccan Samosa) on the side of their head whilst listening to music.

Pie on ear ?

Pie on ear ?

On our inevitable wander round the souk, we came across an attempt to get us into a shop we hadn’t come across before. Ouzarzate is not normally tourist’s first port of call, they have normally travelled first. “Hello my friend, remember me from Essouira ?”, shouted one guy and nearly caught us until the guy next door added “Oy, remember me from the desert !!!” Nice try boys ! We must produce a list of Moroccan blagues as we think we know most now.

Heather’s french language is coming on by leaps and bounds. However, we spotted a typical Moroccan moggie on Ouzazarte main street which summed up all the french with which Heather came away from school. “Le chat est sur le mur.” Now, she is able to ask it where it was born, whether it was married, where it lived, how many kids it has got, their ages and what they all did for a living.

Le chat est sur le mur

Le chat est sur le mur

As we are now hardened shoppers, that hard we suspect even those giving a good deal, we went in search of a local shop for locals to buy some precious things, mainly of the smelly variety, if at the right price. We found identical Argane, Rose and Almond creams for a quarter of the price we had been offered in Marrakech and which we had thought was good value, but luckily did not buy. Made up for it this time.


13 December

Had a brief trip into the Taourirt Kasbah, followed by a last coffee in our hostelry of choice in Ouarzazate overlooking said monument. This café is a warren of terraces, shaded areas and little bars on a variety of levels. It would have made a fabulous house or place for a party. We imagined the banter and fun of a bunch of our pals from back home (if we have still got any) and how much they would enjoy a visit here.

Taourit Casbah

Taourit Casbah

We set off down the road towards the Dades Gorge, stopping briefly at Skoura to buy a few provisions. These little provincial towns are not inundated by tourists and are really friendly. We were soon at the Dades Gorge turnoff and set off up what is rightly named the worst tourist road in Morocco. After 10kms of potholes we started to ascend up tortuous hairpin bends to a magnificent viewpoint over the vertical limestone cliffs of the gorge, the base of which were some 200 metres below. We carried on for another 4kms, giving a lift to a local lad who had failed to interest us in “tourist products” at the viewpoint, and who was threatened on pain of death not to even contemplate trying to lure us to a shop !! We squeezed the camper through fallen rocks from the recent rains and the overhanging rockface at the narrowest point of the gorge. In the right vehicle we would have carried on for another 15 kms of piste, after the ashphalt ran out, and then crossed to the Todgha gorge by a rough track and col 2800 metres above sea level. Next time, we are definitely coming back in a 4x4 demountable. There is a whole different world lurking out of reach, mind you we haven’t done so bad in our time here in a camper.

Dades Gorge

Dades Gorge

We turned round at what might might have been our stop for the night but it was totally in the shade, well it would be by 3pm with 600 ft cliffs all around wouldn’t it. Our campsite guide book implied that most of the sites locally are good so we are eagerly awaiting a good shower in a clean block. We soon circumnavigated the potholes on the descent and hit the main road. Darkness had fallen as it always does here, very quickly, and we soon gently climbed 5 km up the road in search of our well-recommended stop. Mind you the road seemed never ending and when we had given up hope, around a long left hand bend appeared “Camping Soleil”, like a mirage in the night sky . We were lead to a pitch, shown the unusually clean shower block and left to sleep.,


14 December

As we are having such an exhausting life, we felt that we needed to spend a day to recuperate and chill out in the sunshine. We managed to do this all day, and to inspect all of the further developments on the site, which is being expanded to cope with peak time capacity of Jan, Feb. and March. We also learned about the Swiss couple who are currently in residence in a little “cottage” overlooking the building site, who have bought a mule and a donkey and go off on treks into the mountains for 7 or 10 days at a time. It sounds fascinating, but I am not sure how good I am with 4 legged beasts of burden. My last encounter was shortly after my 17th birthday, in a gypsy caravan in Southern Ireland, with 2 schoolmates, one of whom, Dave Fish, received a nasty bite to the belly, the scar of which he still has, from our belligerent steed, whilst we tried to harness it.

Camping Soleil

Camping Soleil

Our waiter, Mohammed, turned out to be a frustrated showman, capable of jokes and tricks in several languages. We spent the evening with Heather teaching him aerobic moves, him showing us a range of tricks and us offering rock music and a slide show of our journey on the computer. It has been decided that Heather has “very sportive legs”. After one of his jokes, I’ll just keep an eye on him so he does not try to buy her flowers !! A Berber woman would put them in a vase, a European woman, apparently feels obliged to offer sexual gratification., The versatility and talent of these Moroccans, especially the Berbers, is humbling at times. Mohammed is a vulture for knowledge. Anything to do with alternative medicine, magic, tricks, jokes or dance fuel his ambition to become an entertainer with a one man show. It is the same commitment as shown when they move into “bloody annoying salesman” role.


15 December

We spent the afternoon walking through the palmyrie and up to the Todgha gorge. Once more, we were touched, by the friendliness and inquisitiveness of the natives. One pink fluffy pyjama clad young maiden, in a group of garrulous girls was convinced that the tall handsome Englishman was going to take her home to England to make babies, as his current wife was obviously dried up and past it !!! Dream on !

Photo dearie ?

Photo dearie ?

The evening was spent letting our Campsite staff watch a DVD, Something about Mary, with english language and subtitles. Some bits became tricky to describe, so Heather made a hasty exit to bed, before the reason for Ted’s organic earring had to be explained in Richard’s by know far from perfect French. His French is now less grammatically correct but twice as fast as it used to be, and probably even more unintelligible..

Watch out Camels

Watch out Camels


16 December

We planned an early departure at 0930 hrs but were arm-twisted into lunch with the boss of the campsite, back from work in France to oversee the latest developments. Not that we didn’t want, just that we had now decided on a course of action that meant we intended to leave Morocco just before Xmas and we still had a lot to do. Lunch was a delicious prune, almond and goat tagine. The boss had heard that I was thinking of writing a campsite guide in English for the growing number of Campervanners venturing into Morocco and wanted us to be aware of their excellent cuisine..

Another carpet shop

Another carpet shop

We finally escaped in the early afternoon and pulled into Tinerhir. As I tried to get some cash out of the nearest guichet Heather had met a “moroccan who worked in Paris but was home for a holiday, who knew of a cottage industry we should visit. He insisted that he wasn’t a faux guide”. Against our better judgement he lead us into the medina and to a berber carpet weaving shop, where we were enthusiastically received, whilst he disappeared supposedly to the loo because of his diarrhoea. The only diarrhoea he had was verbal and if I catch up with him a certain amount of it would hit the fan !!!

Smokey Joes

Smokey Joes


THE DUNES OF ERG CHEBBI

We stood our ground and got out carpetless and went off to the supermarket. The supermarket was useless and beer was twice the price of Marjane. Understandable really as it was the last source of alcohol before the desert. A little shop further along the road provided us with a variety of essential groceries, including Schweppes tonic, for a modest number of dirhams.

We drove in darkness cross country through half lit but lively little towns to Rissini, from where we anticipated taking the last tarmac road out to Erg Chebbi, the area of high sand dunes near to Merzouga. On entering Rissini a Touareg on a moped tried to engage us in conversation about a campsite. I had already decided where to go so ignored him and sped on. At the next T junction he had caught us up and was tapping on the window. Even after me being pretty rude he did not give up persuading us that his offer of accommodation, even though not mentioned in our guide book was the best option, being right under the highest sand dune, with all amenities and options for trips to see the sunrise. If we did not like it when we got there we were free to go somewhere else. He abandoned his moped and got in the camper to direct us.

He was really very sweet and full of good intentions and info. He was a nomad and loved the desert. He put me right on my misconception that Touaregs were a tribe of nomads. Touareg means traveller. We are Touaregs. I am quite pleased about that really and will now wear my blue turban with renewed enthusiasm. In fact blue clothing has always been my favourite colour just like a nomadic Touareg, with their robes dyed with natural indigo from the desert flower. The nomadic tribe I now understand are the Amazirs.

The journey to Erg Chebbi ,which is glibly described in the guide books with a passing mention, ended up with a 14 km leg of desert pistes in the dark of night. We had not a clue where we were going, so it was just as well we had been kidnapped. In retrospect we also think we took several diversions to avoid coming close to any civilisation until his chosen place. The camper stood up well, but pots and pans rattled and clanked and all the contents of cupboards and drawers moved from their allotted spots. This area of the desert is also often used in films, Mummy II being the latest and our guide had been an extra in every one made there in the last 10 years. He demonstrated his acting knowledge with an enthusiastic flourish of “Action, cameras roll, move !”

We arrived at Camping Lamhada, a mud walled compound which surrounded several buildings comprising the auberge and a number of nomad tents. We unsuccessfully hooked up to electric we had been promised, which went off anyway when the generator was switched off. We were relieved to see a converted Slough Borough Council Social Services bus laden with bikes and all manner of paraphernalia on its roof parked up next to us. We wondered how they had fared over the potholes. We then investigated inside the auberge.

It was lit by candles and a group of lads were enthusiastically drumming. We were lead off to a table for a welcome drink of tea and a sales pitch for a camel ride to see the sunrise followed by breakfast with nomads, a trip taking just over 3 hours . We declined the price of 1000 dirhams (£70) offering just 300 dirhams, pointing out that we had had 3 days in the desert in a 4x4 for only £400 for four of us with all food and a guide. The explanation for the high price was that camels need feeding all year and there weren’t trips everyday, whereas you only put diesel into a 4x4 ! (no thought of the capital and maintenance costs. I bet the maintenance cost of a camel is somewhat limited.) A contribution was also given to the nomads. When it was obvious that we were not prepared to pay their last price of 420 dirhams per person, an alternative was offered of a ride into the black desert, or the flat boring bit. It would be much cheaper for the same amount of time. It went very quiet for several seconds when I quizzed whether camels ate less in the black desert hence the price reduction until they all burst into spontaneous laughter, high fives all round and they knew the argument was lost. Tea was followed by the arrival of a 2 ft high bong loaded with an apple mixture which was very smooth and pleasant and not at all narcotic. Terry from Todmorden and partner Julie, (owners of the converted bus) joined us as did a Senegalese drummer and Spanish wife and banter abounded. In the early hours after much bong and bonhomie Terry and Julie came back for a brew and we knew that another friendship was forged. We had decided to get up early and walk to the top of the dunes, (which we had not seen yet but we hoped were nearby). As we said our goodnights we all stared up at the blazing firmament of galaxies, made even more impressive by the moon just appearing over the horizon at 1.45 am and by a fiery shooting star. No light pollution here.


17 December

Alarm at 6.00 am. Its only 30 minutes by camel to the dunes, we were told, so we allow 45 to walk. Not enough time, sunrise has been by the time we get to the top. At least we get to the top under our own steam, unlike the ancient but enthusiastic bunch of American biddies dragged up with a virile young blue clad nomad on each arm. The insomniac Terry had been up there for hours, having dug himself into a sandhole on top of the dune and still remained frozen. I was impressed, I have to say, by one young lad’s attempt to sell me some fossils and jewellery at 7.00am. I can’t focus never mind purchase at that time of day. The game old biddies were then dragged feet first down the steepest part of the dunes, “bum surfing” , by rapidly back-peddling Amazirs. Quite a site.

 Dunes

Dunes

We descended back to the auberge for breakfast, where a group of Japanese were “drummed into submission” and whizzed off on a camel into the desert. Outside we spotted a motley selection of knackered skis against the auberge wall. “Desert skis”, someone said. “They’re not proper desert skis”, I retorted, dragging out my top of the range Salomon Crossmax decorated with camels and kasbahs. “Now they’re desert skis”. An expectant hush came over the auberge. I knew some skiing had to be done. There was no way that I was going to ruin my skis on the dunes and their skis were useless. My cunning plan was to raise the street cred of Kharma, Terry and Julies, oldest and bored 12 year old, by letting him snow-blade down the dunes. Heather’s equipment not mine. The plan was set for early afternoon.

Sand Skis

Sand Skis

In the meantime we had fun with Kharma and Chi (or slug as I called him. All kids with a spark are called slug by me, it’s a sort of inverse onomatopoeia.) We took some great photos on the roof of the auberge. Inside the auberge compound, Terry had his Yamaha 125 serviced by a be-turbaned mechanic, setting off into the desert on a road test. Kharma then took it out for a spin. Where else can 12 year old kids play on motorbikes ? During this time Freia, (Terry and Julie’s 18 month little girl,) wandered all over the site peering down holes, into buildings, and being kissed, cuddled and greeted by “macho desert men”. Moroccans love kids.

Slug

Slug

Kharma proved a natural on blades. He wasn’t however quite as good getting back up the dunes to go again. It’s an adolescent thing I think.

Sand Bladeing

Sand Bladeing

We were invited for tea in the bus, a lovely experience. The interior twinkling with candles, great vegetarian food and followed by everyone swapping tricks and jokes. The best thing about this trip for me has been understanding and discerning the difference between real and artificial values. Sod the material things. Lets focus on what really matters !

Modern Camel

Modern Camel

Poor Heather was struck down with Desert trots and sickness. Hadn’t felt well at the meal but hadn't liked to make a fuss. Any way all those veg helped to keep her regular. About every five minutes !!!!

The Bus

The Bus


18 December

Terry and Family

Terry and Family

Breakfast of bread, jam and coffee, shared with anyone who wanted it (definitely not Heather). Slug has been renamed Spike , as Julie has finally caught up with him, given him a shower and a haircut. Didn’t actually catch him on film with his new image but his indomitable spirit remains. We talked for several hours with other travellers, with whom we would liked to have spent more time whilst awaiting the return of the Japanese to follow their tourist vanette out to the main road across the black desert, and back to Rissini. The return journey was easier than we thought in the daylight.

Beasts Of Burden In The Rif Mountains

Beasts Of Burden In The Rif Mountains


FEZ

We stopped in Rissini at the first Shell station to have an oil change. It cost 225 dirhams,( £15.50) was done immediately, the oil cost 210 dirhams, and 15 dirhams (£1) for labour. On paying the bill there was much banter over yet another several cups of tea and it was explained that now as a valued regular customer, the next time I needed an oil change there would be free labour. In order to save 15 dirhams (£1) after the next 5000 kms I have decided to come back to Morocco for my free oil change. This decision once more was received with much chortling and hand slapping.

It is difficult to explain how nice it is to talk to Moroccans not on the make, but just wanting to interact. We imparted our observations on how to attract British tourists to Ali, yet another bright young lad, who worked in a tourist shop in the season. We wait to see if he has listened..

En route to El Rachida we bought two Tagines (at the right price) from a roadside vendor to offer a different meal to our friends, on a prearranged rendezvous in the Alps.

We travelled, almost without noticing through the spectacular Ziz valley, the fossil and mineral town of Midelt until we parked up, not far from Fez at Azrou.


19 December

What a day of contrasts. We started off through the Valley of Cedars, apparently stuffed full of monkeys (much like Barbary Apes) although we only saw one, who was very accommodating for photographs until two bus loads of squaddies arrived and he shot up a tree.

owzat ?

Owzat ?

Half an hour later we were at the Ski resort of Mischliffen. There was not a lot of snow, so the two lifts were not working as we know them. A Morrocan ski lift comprises people walking under the Poma steel ropes to the top of the piste to ski down. Apparently the lifts do open when there are enough people to make it worthwhile. A Dutch guy had built a jump to try 360s. We suggested that one rather prominent rock should be moved. The suggestion was ignored and the first aerial artist hit it, but luckily without serious damage. Following that after one phenomenally, phenemonilly, phennomminally, phenomminally, oh bugger it flat out breakneck speed toboggan descent for a couple of locals resulting in a minor crash at the bottom of the bowl. The next ended in a disastrous broken leg only metres from the top. We helped where we could but the ambulance soon arrived. We beat a hasty retreat, as the remaining skiers tried to ski as close as possible to the damaged sledger without hitting him. We now really understand the meaning of Inshallah. It does not mean “God willing” but “Sod it, if I hit him its not my fault really, it’s fate !!!!”

We sped through Ifrane, Morocco’s Little Switzerland which really is quite cellubrious compared to other parts, where the king has yet another Royal Palace, and is obviously worth a more detailed visit. There’s trout fishing in them there hills and lakes and I did not have time to give it a closer look.

Breakleg Speed

Breakleg Speed

We arrived in Fez in the late afternoon and were escorted to the camp site by “one of its workers”, no doubt on a commission and we arranged a guide for the next day, knowing that Fez has a very complicated medina. Richard went in search of vegetables in the nearby suburbs not to reappear for several hours with everything but the carrots we had seen piled high on mopeds on our entrance to the city.


20 December

Richard awoke at 3 am desperate for the loo having for some reason been unable to go for several days. His desperation was such that he broke his duck with Turkish toilets and managed quite successfully, without covering his feet in excretia.

Painting Pots

Painting Pots

Our guide arrived and took us on a tour of Fez, which encompassed views over city, a trip to a ceramics factory with artisans cutting intricate mosaic pieces with extremely sharp chisels. The tannery illustrated once more the lack of Health and Safety in Morocco. We viewed many of the architectural gems of the city and realise we need more time to do Fez properly. Our guide had been helpful, we still needed to escape from the odd shop and we explained how annoying it was to us to be hassled by vendors all the time. His philosophical view was that it was important to keep the money moving around. Mainly ours !!!

Dyeing to do this

Dyeing to do this

After a final visit to Marjane we set off on our journey to Chefchaouen. Yet another series of mountain passes through countryside we would have liked to see more of. It was olive pressing time. There were loads of donkey driven contraptions extracting virgin oil from freshly collected fruits still working in the darkness late on into the night. We finally found the campsite perched high above the town.


CHEFCHAOUEN AND OUT OF AFRICA

21 December

Pot Fest

Pot Fest

After having what only can be described as a slow dribble of a shower in the usual grotty loo shower block we set off to walk into Chefchaouen, through the outskirts with its inevitable washing powder shop (Tide or Omo) for those of you old enough to remember those brands, kids playing in the street, a boy riding a bike much to small for him with only one tyre, and a group of boys playing football with a flattened ball. Chefchaouen is an obvious tourist town but not as pushy as other places, the people far more layed back could be the fact that the Rif mountains that surround the town are the largest dope growing areas in Morocco. The town has an obvious hippy feel to it, the café’s decorated with fairy lights brightly coloured muslin drapes and cushoins blasting out Bob Marley. on decrepit speakers. We decided to be decadent and eat lunch out. I had omelette chips and rice, Rich had a chicken pastilla ,(chicken mixed with herbs, fruits and nuts in a filo pastry, delicious. A large bottle of fizzy water and a glass of fresh orange juice the bill came to £3.50, well you have to push the boat out occasionally. After searching the town for a mattress shop (we want two roll up mattresses to use in the summer when hopefully visited by friends) we gave up and did our weekly visit to the internet café. It was dark when we finally emerged and the centre of town looked magical with candles lighting up all the pavement cafes, over a coffee we chatted to a couple of Australian girls who are living in London and in Morocco for two weeks, Rich gave them advice as to good places to visit in their time scale, Im useless with names of places all our trip is described by” that place where they filmed Gladiator or that place we saw the King or that campsite where the toilets were nice,( very few are far between).After marching back up the hill, to the campsite we were ready to eat again, it’s a hard life.


22 December

Festive Sebta

Festive Sebta

Left Chefchaouen. Drove through beautiful Rif mountains. Stopped to photograph sheep and cows against mountainous backdrop. No-one about , but from nowhere someone came to offer to sell me some dope. He would have accepted 20 derhams (£1.40) for 4 cm x1 cm tube of resin, shaped like a suppository, pre-wrapped in cling film, presumably to escape customs apart from the most uninvited and vigourous body searches. Stayed on docks at Ceuta, tax free town, full of cheap watches and electronics, not really important to us. Did buy some good value booze though and half a dozen B movies on DVD because H gets really excited about a night at the pictures.
 

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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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