For more photos showing our Morocco trip click HERE
Week 13 – oh dear – apart from showing we’ve had a quarter of a year away – its also a bad omen…
After an early start we all headed to Algeciras for a fast-cat crossing to Ceuta which whilst being in Africa is still actually part of Spain. The vans were crammed in with us being about 1 inch from a pillar, then scarily the crossing was rough. Very rough. So bad in fact all subsequent crossings were cancelled and almost half the people were throwing up – including Mel – but, of course, I manned up and survived (by skin of teeth!) worrying the van had rocked into the pillar. It didn’t – apparently they all got chained in. The best thing about Ceuta is diesel at €1.01 euro (85p a litre). We planned well and arrived empty.
The border crossing into Morocco was interesting and shows the sort of organised chaos we should expect. We all got through okay in just over an hour before heading to a campsite in Martil. Lets just say we’re glad we’ve got our own loo and shower – not sure we’ll be using local facilities. Martil is just a small tourist-type town for our first night acclimatiser and isn’t anything great, but still looked better than some of the south coast of Spain resorts, with long sandy beaches etc. We walked into town and got absolutely soaked in heavy rain and wind. Can’t believe we come all this way for British weather!
Our first impressions of Morocco really weren’t that great, but the following days drive to Chefchaouene changed all that. For the first time we felt we were in a different continent and country and the sights and spectacles along the way were amazing. Along the drive we saw cattle sales with individuals putting goats into their cars, 5 major accidents (rolled car/lorry/4×4 crash and 2 crashed coaches), different people and clothing, working animals and really everything different to everywhere else we’ve been.
At Chefchaouene the campsite is, well, shite, but our own facilities are great so it hardly matters. Chefchaouene though is a wow place. As our first excursion town we were a little nervous, but no begging kids, no shop-keeper hassle, and we got offered “top quality hashish” from numerous people. Only one or two were pushy but not enough to annoy and no worse than many other European places. The town felt so genuine and we felt really quite privileged to be there and felt slightly guilty about taking photos. It brings home how this is their way of life and how different their lives are to ours. A lot of the town and back alleys are “blue” and the whole town looks stunning and full of character.
The following day we went on a walk up the mountain and then twigged why there were so many hippies around and why they were all driving up the mountain. The area has loads of cannabis farms and the village in the mountain seems to be the main distribution and sales centre. Being the only “Europeans” not buying weed we did get bored of being asked, and opted not to go into the village lest people wonder why we bothered walking up without wanting weed. Beautiful views from the road over the Rif mountains – and maybe how UK looked centuries ago.
For the evening almost everyone went out for a meal in one of the town restaurants in the central square, and a reasonable 3 course meal for 75 dirham (£5.70) which can’t be sniffed at. Especially as most of what is sniffable is cannabis!
In the morning we headed towards Volubillis stopping at a typical roadside cafe for some genuine fresh lamb chops and burger-thingies made direct from a carcass in front of us. As each portion was for 2 this meant I had lunch and dinner sorted whilst Mel made her own cheese roll! The drive down provided stunning scenery and even we were smiling when little kids were running to the road just to give us a wave. It is such an amazing and genuine feeling to receive (and give) a wave to these kids. Even young Sheppards (and Sheppardesses) left their few sheep/goats/cows to come and wave. Such a difference. We all wild-camped in woodland near Volubillis for a good walk and drink, but sadly the rain (!) put check to the campfire. The entire route was covered with people looking after only a few animals; working donkeys pulling water barrels or carrying crops; and farms where crops were all genuine and unique rather than all uniform as per European standards.
Volubillis, for us, was just another Roman ruin – if you’ve seen as many as us, unless you have a specific interest, then skip it. From Volubillis we headed to Meknès for the day, parking pretty centrally we were able to explore the squares, souks, and market, and also another more remote large market where we were (as Barry put it) – “the only infidels around”. Superb insight into the real culture of Morocco as well as a lovely walk.
The butcher stalls were interesting, with camel heads and even one hosing down a cows head on the floor, and chickens were obviously VERY fresh… Cakes and doughnuts cost pennies so we had a rather unhealthy lunch. From Meknès we headed to Fes for a couple of nights, the drive in was rather chaotic in terms of other drivers and road conditions. A few roads were closed due to a football match and we had to reroute via non-existent roads across building sites.
We opted for an organised tour of Fes which was probably required, but really wasn’t our thing. Not sure we’d have found the tanneries or found our way out of the souks, but following a group around like lost sheep wasn’t ideal and the diversions via the Sheppard – sorry guide – to his friends shops wasn’t a good use of time. That said, it did give us a look inside shops which we may not have seen. The tour round the pottery factory was very interesting seeing how the pots, tagines, and mosaics were all made with hard manual labour. We had another healthy lunch of bargain cakes and strawberrys (£1 per kg) and enjoyed what we saw (though Mel didn’t like the butchers with goat heads for sale) – so an interesting day and the best it could have been – but think we like doing things our way a little better. For tea was a lovely meal around the camp fire.
Next day we stayed in Azrou after going via the “French” resort of Ifrane – which really was identical to a French town – really weird and out of place. Apart from a lovely lion carved by a POW in WW2 there wasn’t much to see. At Azrou we had a good walk in the hills looking for apes, but they were wise and were hiding from the rain – unlike us who got soaked. Again.
At the end of week 13, one week in Morocco, we can happily say that we have been very pleasantly surprised. Morocco feels nicer and safer than we expected and we have been hassled far far less than expected. The majority of kids happily wave as we drive past (though one or two on the trip have experienced spitting/mud throwing), and the locals seem happy to just say hello and point us in the right direction. We were also not looking forward to being on a tour as guided groups aren’t our thing, but so far it has been absolutely fine and we’ve enjoyed the company of friends old and new. Ray and his team at Desert Detours really do a huge amount of work (visibly and hidden) to make everything work and for the tour to feel like an experience rather than a holiday with some nice touches and gestures along the way.
Could we have done the trip alone so far? Yes we could, but would we have found and/or experienced it to the extent we have? Almost certainly not. Our only complaint so far is that bizarrely it has rained every day and as I write this our trousers are dripping in the bathroom drying; rain is lashing down; and winds beating us. Just like the lake district. There won’t be a drought in this part of Africa this year…
The best is still to come and we are very much looking forward to it.