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Week 5 in Morocco

Week 5 in Morocco

by Alan Gow  |  March 2019  |  Morocco, Africa

Table of Contents

MAP

Week 5 had us driving from Guelmim, through to Sidi Ifni then on to Mirleft Beach. Click to enlarge map.

This week, we are kidnapped by a friendly local and not allowed to leave until we had seen all the unforgettable sights around Mirleft.

Day 29: Sidi Ifni;  Monday 25 Feb 

We left the traditional town of Guelmim today after spending three nights parked up on vacant wasteland outside the Marjane supermarket  (GPS 28.96757, -10.03258).  The fuel station on site has reasonable prices and accepts credits cards so we replenished Betsy’s depleted diesel tank before heading west.

TIP: A lot of petrol stations do not take cards so if you are expecting to pay for diesel or petrol with a credit card then ask the attendant if they will accept that for payment.  If you are not sure that they understand you or are not sure they are answering you correctly then keep asking until you are sure.  Maybe ask to see the actual payment terminal before allowing them to fill you up.

Unofficial Petrol Stations

Something interesting that we noted in Guelmim was a number of what you could call unofficial petrol stations because they appeared to be normal shops until you looked more closely.  We parked outside one by mistake one afternoon while checking our directions and witnessed a succession of cars and motorscooters pulling up and being served using funnels andfive litre plastic water bottles which had been filled with fuel from the large grey jerry cans.  We found out later that this fuel comes from the Western Sahara region which has little or no VAT so it sells for about 10% – 20% less than the usual price.  The downside is that it tends to be lower quality and can be dirty so it isn’t an option for Betsy’s delicate modern engine.

A Roadside Petrol Station in Guelmim Selling Cheap Untaxed Fuel

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Check Your Maps

After four weeks in the Moroccan interior, the siren call of the sea was beckoning to us and we had to heed that call.  So, our next destination was Sidi Ifni, a seaside town not far from Guelmim.

We usually cross-check our Garmin 760 LDT camper GPS (Emily) directions with Google Maps especially here in Morocco where both forms of electronic maps have had their issues with accuracy and being up to date.  Emily suggested taking the N12 with a drive of about an hour while Google Maps told us to drive about 88km for two hours via the minor P1305 road.  From experience, we knew the “P” roads might be barely one lane wide and the fact that Google said it would take two hours for a relatively short stretch wasn’t encouraging.  We chose to take Emily’s recommendation, which was the right one today.  There were a lot of road works, with some horribly rough short diversions, however long stretches of the road had been rebuilt and resealed and I reckon within 6 months or so this road should be excellent.  There was a short stretch where the N12 was blocked off, with a diversion via a small local road.  I believe that Google knew about the road closure, but not the diversion, which was why it wanted to take us on the torturous minor roads.  Emily, on the other hand was blithely unaware of any roadworks and just took us by the most direct route. It could have gone wrong for us but in this case, we won and found the diversion around the road closure.

Roadworks on the N12 – From our Dashcam

Having a good tyre pressure monitor is great for your safety and peace of mind when driving on these roads.  We have met many motorhomers who have experienced tyres blowing out, which are often the end result of small punctures not being noticed in time.  Our TPMS from TyrePal wasn’t the cheapest on the market but is one of the only ones rated for the high pressures that motorhome tyres run at, and constantly displays the actual pressure and temperature for each tyre.  An alert about possible leaks means that you can reinflate or repair the tyre, or change the wheel before the tyre becomes damaged or blows out on a tight steep Moroccan hairpin bend.

Our Tyre Pressure Monitor shows the real-time tyre pressures and temperatures

Sidi Ifni

Once again the Moroccan terrain changed.  The countryside flattened out with somewhat smaller mountain ranges to what we have become accustomed to and the new obvious visual features are the frequent argan nut trees and the proliferation of prickly pear cactus bushes.  These appeared to have been deliberately planted, probably to harvest the fruit although prickly pear oil production (for cosmetics), is a growing industry which could be driving the mass planting.

As we pulled into Sid Ifni, there was a heavy but dry mist in the air, no doubt originating from the angry Atlantic Ocean breakers pounding the sandy beach beside the Sidi Ifni Camping  (GPS 29.38466, -10.17324).29.384

Jumping out of Betsy, we tasted and smelt the sea in the air and immediately felt relaxed and at home.

Sidi Ifni is one of the last parts of Morocco to be given independence from Spain and remained a colony until 1969 – thirteen years behind the rest of the country. Many of the buildings show a strong Spanish influence and the pace of life is slow here with an economy built around fishing and tourism.  Visitors flock here to enjoy the mild climate, the paragliding and the surfing.  We missed the Sunday souk unfortunately which is apparently well worth planning your visit around.

Sidi Ifni Camping is one of several camp grounds in the town and 80 dirhams per night includes power, hot showers and a reasonably good WiFi signal (we were parked close to the office though).  The showers were nice and hot in the early evening but not so good late at night. Looking around, it appeared that most of our fellow campers are settled in here for weeks, if not months.  Most are from France who are down here for the whole winter – and who would blame them when you compare the weather here to anywhere in France!

Although you are given a three month entry permit when arriving in Morocco, it is apparently relatively easy to get this extended to six months, which is what most people seem to do, or alternatively you can get a new entry permit by taking the ferry back to Spain, then returning straight back to Morocco again.  There seems to be some conflicting information about how to get the original permit extended however for people from visa exempt countries, which includes EU, NZ, Australia, USA and Canada, this should be relatively easy and visiting a local police station would be the starting point.

In the afternoon we cycled up the steep hill to the shops to buy that wonderful round fluffy Moroccan white bread called khobuz for 2 dirham (€0.18 or NZ$0.31.  “Deux pain s’il vous plait” normally gets the desired result but for those non-French speakers just say “der pan seal voo play” and you should be right.  That evening we cooked our first goat tagine using some fresh goat meat bought from a roadside stall.  We are really getting the hang of these tagine things and the wonderful Ras el Hanout we found in Erg Chebbi gives a totally authentic flavour.  We don’t have a tagine pot to cook in but a large saucepan does the trick well enough.

Use Moroccan Tailors

Days 30: Sidi Ifni;  Tuesday 26 Feb & Day 31: Sidi Ifni; Wednesday 27 Feb

Morocco is a great place to save up those little jobs that can be expensive in mainland Europe.  We had some pillowcases that needed cutting and hemming and my trusty High Sierra backpack, which has served me well for over twenty years needed some stitching reinforced.  We were directed to a ‘taileur’ who for the paltry sum of 30 dirham (€2.77, NZ$4.60) did everything we needed on his old but sturdy sewing machine. 

Sidi Ifni Tailer

Back in New Zealand, a great easy meal is a roast chicken scoffed down with fresh bread and a salad. Along the strips of shops and restaurants in most towns here we can usually find at least one café selling freshly spit-roasted chickens.  The going price in Morocco seems to be around 85 dirhams (€7.90, NZ$13) for a whole chicken or 45dh for ‘un demi poulet’ (a half chicken).  The succulent fragrant roast chook, fresh tomato, lettuce, homemade beetroot and mayonnaise, encased in still warm Moroccan bread, khobuz, makes an awesome lunch.

Camel For Dinner

As we wandered the shops we spotted a butcher specialising in dromedaries, or camel meat.  Huge haunches of camel hung from hooks.  A camel hump split down the middle, which is almost entirely fat, looked very unappetising but the meat being cut up by the butcher was lean and looked very fresh.  Camel meat is reportedly cholesterol free with no fat running through it.

Camel is mainly eaten in the southern Saharan regions of Morocco and in keeping with our plans to sample local foods, we had planned on trying this at a café or restaurant while we were in the area.  However, the meat looked so good that we bought some to cook up for a camel tagine.  It was funny to us that the butcher would not sell us just the meat – if it was going in a tagine then we had to have a separate chunk of camel fat also.

Camel Meat in the Butcher Stall

Mirleft

Day 32: Mirleft;  Thursday 28 Feb 

As we headed north up the R109 and passed through the small town of Mirleft, little did we know that this was to become our home for the next week due to being kidnapped and kept in Mirleft by our local friend.  As we passed Mirleft Beach, we spotted a group of motorhomes parked near the sea and turned off to investigate.  The great thing about being in a motorhome is being able to take advantage of a nice-looking parking area so we decided to stay the night and found a small possie facing the beach.

TIP: The Atlantic ocean along here may look inviting on a warm winter day but it is actually damn cold and pretty rough.  As I found out.  Enter at your own risk!

When we heard some voices speaking English outside our motorhome I popped out to investigate because down here, you just don’t get to talk with many people who speak English well.  So you look for opportunities whenever they arise.  Mostafa (Mo), a Moroccan born Canadian, who has a house in Mirleft, was kindly offering to take a German/Chinese couple, Toby and Alice (travelling on bicycles, into town) to do some shopping.   A few minutes later and we were both invited to join them.

Tasting Tafranot

“Have you ever seen bread cooked on stones?  It’s called Tafranot”, asked Mo.  Well we have now.  Mo directed us into an old bakery to peer into an ancient bread oven containing embers on the left and a base of small pebbles.  The soft flat, round bread dough was pushed onto the bed of stones with some fresh twigs, and less than 10 minutes later we were scoffing warm bread.  The bread was still quite thin, almost burnt in places and with several stones still stuck on one side.  The baker picked off the stones, wrapped it in paper and handed it to us in return for 3.5 dirhams (€0.32 or NZ$0.53) – well worth the money just to watch the process.  The bread was delicious, very crusty and with the taste of the wood smoke.  ‘Best eaten warm with olive oil, or honey’ said Mostafa.

Tafranot Bread in the Oven

Tafranot Bread, Complete with Stones

Along in the market square, the fish were on display for sale.  “The fishermen have been coming in with their catch. They fish all day then sell their harvest at the market in the evening”, explains Mo. 

It all looked very fresh and for a few dirhams you can have it cleaned and cooked by one of the restaurants around the square.

Mo showed us Mirleft’s other two beaches and his house which he has been renovating so he and his Canadian wife can live six months in Morocco and six months in Canada.  Right now, it is about minus 14C where Mo lives in Canada so we can understand why he would rather be in Morocco.

Mo was very interested in how we were able to buy a French registered motorhome in Europe without being EU residents and we explained how this was possible using the organisation that we used.  There were a lot of advantages in buying a French registered vehicle and we explain everything in this article.

We invited Mo to join us for some supper while he gave us an impromptu Moroccan history lesson. 

Morocco was a French/Spanish protectorate (colony) from 1912 – 1956 and the border between the two zones ran through Mirleft.  The French border fort is still visible above the hills and we agreed to visit this with him another day.  It was already looking as if our stay in Mirleft was going to be longer than we anticipated but we have learned to go with the flow and having a local willing to show us around his home turf was an opportunity not to be missed. 

Mo was a font of knowledge including the origin of the name Gibraltar, which comes from Jabal Ṭāriq (literally ‘Mount Tarik’) named after the Berber general Ṭāriq ibn Ziyād, who captured the peninsular in 711, heralding the start of an astonishing 700 year occupation of much of Spain by the Moors.  Ṭāriq didn’t get to enjoy his successes for long though as he was recalled in 714 allegedly for misappropriation of funds and died in obscurity in 720.  We also learned how Moroccans were introduced to chocolate by American soldiers who landed near here close to Agadir during the second world war before helping to push the Rommel’s German army out of the Middle East.

Our Kind Kidnapper

Day 33: Mirleft;  Friday 1 Mar

Our one night stop is turning into another night, and then another as our friendly captor, Mo had more he wanted to show us.  Luckily we aren’t in any hurry.

After bringing us fresh Moroccan pancakes for breakfast, then taking us for the best cous cous in town, we were in for another treat..Astonished that we’d missed it, Mo drove us to Legzira Beach, 30km back towards Sidi Ifni.  It’s great to meet a local who is so passionate about his surroundings and we went with the flow.

Legzira Beach is famous for the arches eroded into the spurs of rock reaching into the sea.  Unfortunately, the most picturesque of these collapsed a couple of years ago and the sea is rapidly reclaiming the fallen material.  There is a theory that the collapse was initiated by the heavy equipment and loud sounds associated with an airline commercial being made here, as it fell just ten days later.  The remaining arch is still spectacular though and reminded us of Cathedral Cove in the Coromandel region of NZ.  The high cliffs and strong thermal updrafts make this a popular destination for paragliders and a constant progression of aerialists landed on the beach around us.

The Famous Legzira Arch

The  Remaining Arch Photographed from the Collapsed Arch

After a great wander up the beach and under the arch, we returned to the inevitable collection of cafes and tourist traps for some genuine Moroccan tea at Mo’s friend’s cafe.  Mo demonstrated the rather complex, almost ceremonial process of tea making.  Nothing in Morocco is rushed, and tea making is no exception.  The green tea leaves are first steeped in a small amount of water, which is then poured out (and may be discarded as this draws out the bitterness).  More water is then added with a few sprigs of fresh mint and the tea is then poured back and forth from the tea pot held high, to the glass and back again until a froth develops on the surface. Some sugar may or may not be added according to taste and some of the bitter first tea may also be returned to the mix.

Mo Makes us Tea

Legzira Aerialists

One of the attractions here is a tame juvenile hawk that was electrocuted and after being nursed back to health he couldn’t fly.  He happily sits on it’s perch, eating only chicken, watches the tourists go by and will step onto an arm (protected by clothing) pressed up to his legs.  

Friendly Local Hawk

Day 34: Mirleft;  Saturday 2 Mar

The road leading down to Mirleft Beach passes alongside a dry riverbed with cultivated fields spread out alongside the narrow flood plain.  Prickly pear bushes form a picturesque foreground to the spire of the mosque minaret. The fields are mostly used for cultivating animal feed and several groups of locals were either turning over the earth or harvesting the crop using a sharp sickle to slice the plants off very close to the ground.

The farmers were happy to stop for a break while I attempted to converse with them in my pidgin French and we had a good laugh trying to make ourselves understood.

Berber Farmer Posing with his Donkey

View up to the Mosque

French Upper Fort, Mirleft

Today we are still held captive by the lovely Mo who as promised drove us to visit the old French Upper Fort overlooking Mirleft.

The atrociously bumpy dirt and clay road up to the site is not signposted and certainly not suitable for a motorhome.  Completed by the French military in 1935, the fort is now decaying but with the aid of a local guide Youssef, another friend of Mo’s, we are able to get a great insight into how the fort was laid out and how military life must have been like in this far outpost of French influence.  The fort originally had a guard/watch tower at each corner and was divided into areas for the horses, the common soldiers, the officers and the commander.  The size and quality of the rooms increasing with each level of rank. Up to two hundred men once manned the fort which now supports just a population of inquisitive desert squirrels.

French “Upper Fort” at Mirleft

Panoramic View Through the Ruined Walls of the Fort

After our time at the Upper Fort, we indulged in a couples massage at the local Hammam (bathes) and Spa.  ‘Le Jardin d’Orient’ is modern, clean and very reasonably priced.  We enjoyed a 60 minute massage for just 200 dirhams (€20) each.  This was a very rare treat for us.

Day 35: Mirleft;  Sunday 3 Mar

After seeing the main sights of Mirleft, it was time for a quiet day with the highlight being a visit from a local carpenter (another of Mo’s friends), who agreed that for 230 dirhams (€21.30, NZ$35) he would build two lightweight shelves under our bed and modify our chopping board so it could sit over the sink.   Another good job to get ticked off in this low-cost country.

It would have been so easy to drive right past this area without being aware of its unique history and charm.  We will always be grateful to Mo, who kindly held us captive, while sharing his home, his knowledge, and his passion for Mirleft and its surrounding areas.


Costs for Weeks 1 – 5

 We had a bit of a blow out in costs this week (by Morocco standards) as we needed some parts for Betsy and indulged in a massage.  Without these extras, our costs for a fantastic week would have been just  €155.   

We love to see comments on our blog as it keeps us motivated to keep writing.  Please say hi or leave a quick one line comment below, thanks.

Next week we visit a local souk and stay in what has to be one of the most spectacular motorhome stopping places you can imagine. 

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Fantastic Fes

Week 4

Week 1

Week 5

Week 2

Week 6

Week 3

How To Use Argan Oil

Eight Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Visit Morocco

Eight Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Visit Morocco

by Ruth Murdoch  |  March 2019  |  Morocco, Africa

When planning our travels to Morocco here’s a list of things we were told:

You don’t want to go there?
It’s dangerous
Didn’t you hear about those murders?
The people are African!
It is a third world country
Is it safe going there?
The roads and drivers are bad
Your life could be in danger

I could go on and on about all the reasons why others told us why we shouldn’t visit Morocco and here are my reasons why I believe you shouldn’t visit Morocco.

1. You enjoy the bitterly cold, often snowy, climate of Europe in winter

2. You don’t like stunning scenery

3. Understanding a new culture is not a biggie for you

4. It’s not like home and you will be taken out of your comfort zone

5. They eat different food there and you can’t find fish and chips

6. Learning about history is boring
7. Meeting friendly interesting people doesn’t appeal to you

8. You like spending your hard earned money in overpriced countries!

 

So for all those reasons, I think you should not visit Morocco!

After just five weeks we’ve fallen in love with this new country. 

Yes Morocco is in Africa, yes the roads are bad in places, yes some of the drivers are bad (unlike in our country, right?) and no we haven’t been able to find fish and chips.  And Yes we were taken hostage by a local Moroccan man for six days!

Here’s our highlights in picture form so far…

#1 The Sahara Desert

#2 The Inland Gorges

#3 The Variations In Scenery

#4 The Interesting Medinas

#5 The friendly people 

For more information to convince you why you should visit Morocco have a read of these related posts below.

We love to see comments on our blog as it keeps us motivated to keep writing.  Please say hi or leave a quick one line comment below, thanks.

Please feel free to Pin and read later

Fantastic Fes

Week 1

Week 2

Week 3

Week 4

Week 4 in Morocco

Week 4 in Morocco

by Ruth Murdoch  |  February 2019  |  Morocco, Africa

Table of Contents

MAP

Week 4 had us driving from Foum Zguid, through Tata, to Icht and finally arriving in Guelmim, a distance of 424 kms.  Click to enlarge map.

This week, discover the roads less travelled through some of Morocco’s back country and check out the unforgettable scenery as it changes regularly throughout our journey.

 

The Road Less Travelled

Day 22: Foum Zguid; Monday 18th Feb

We ventured out today along a ‘local’ Moroccan road with some trepidation.  A recently purchased English map book of Morocco gives us some clues about what the roads ahead might be like.  The options are yellow roads (motorways), red roads (national highways), green roads (regional highways), light yellow (local) roads or white tracks and paths.  Having already experienced tracks in Erg Chebbi I think we’ll give those a miss wherever we can.  Unfortunately, the map doesn’t go into enough detail to tell you whether the minor roads are sealed or a piste  (unsealed) road so you really just have to make the best guess you can.

The stretch of local road between Tazenakht and Foum Zquid was the first long section of local road that we have set out upon.

TIP: Make sure you purchase a recent map as a backup to electronic options such as your GPS or Maps.me.  The recommended map is the Michelin Morocco National Map 742 and you can find the most recent version on Amazon using this link.  https://amzn.to/2C181i5.

We didn’t buy one before we arrived then had trouble finding anything worth having that was current.  We eventually found a 2015 edition of a Road Guide to Morocco that was a lot more expensive and not as good as the Michelin Map.   We also bought the latest electronic maps for our Garmin 760 LDT.  These weren’t cheap at nearly 75 pounds however we much prefer ease and convenience of navigating with the Garmin compared with maps.me or Google Maps and when the cost was spread out over all of the days you may spend in Morocco, it really is insignificant.  A micro SD card you can plug into your Garmin can be found on Amazon here (https://amzn.to/2Uf40xv)

The almost complete lack of any other cars is somewhat of a give away that we are no longer on the usual tourist route.  We almost hold our breath as we turn off from the red R108 to the yellow R111.  The road surpassed our expectations and while still being disconcertingly narrow in places and exhibiting a number of potholes and crumbling verges, it was surprisingly kind to us and the traffic non-existent.  We passed through uneventfully and unscathed, phew!

Foum Zguid

We rolled into the Foum Zguid ‘Camping La Palmeraie” camping ground (GPS coordinates 30.0870 -6.8828) at about 3pm, eager to experience the family hospitality that reviewers on the “Park 4 Night” App raved about.  We weren’t disappointed and before long Rashid, the owner, arrived greeting Alan with a handshake and me with a double hug (both sides).  Rashid wanted to make us his special chicken tagine for dinner but we already had dinner sorted, and suggested that we will try one tomorrow perhaps.  He has a garden, where the vegetables that go into his cooking are grown and offered for us to help ourselves.  I just didn’t feel it was right to do so, as the locals have very little.  Vegetables are so inexpensive here that we can buy what we need from virtually any local town we pass through.

A word of caution, taste before drinking the water from the camping ground as with a lot of the tap water around here, it may be ‘potable’, which means safe to drink, but it certainly didn’t taste good.

Alan had a rare treat of being allowed into Rashid’s kitchen to watch him prepare chicken tagines for the other campers this evening.  The hygiene standards leave a lot to be desired but at least we know everything will be cooking for quite a while so any bugs will be well done along with the meat.

Cooking Facilities In Camping Ground

Day 23: Foum Zguid; Tuesday 19th Feb

Today was spring cleaning day for Betsy; after being in Morocco for a few weeks, and especially out in the desert, there’s dust and sand in every nook and cranny and a fine layer on every surface.  After several hours of hard slog, the inside looks shiny and new again, and while it will need to be cleaned again this might help to keep my asthma at bay.

Rashid was very friendly and brought all of the campers two small loaves of hot Moroccan bread every morning which is a lovely treat.

Have we mentioned before that virtually every other motorhome you see in Morocco is French and that very few French speak English?  Well, this certainly is the case so we were happy to see a German motorhome pull up with a young couple, Anna and Miko.  We were grateful for the opportunity to converse with other people willing and able to speak English.

Tonight we tucked into Rashid’s special goat tagine at 150 dirhams (€15 or $NZD23) and I was rather impressed with the taste of goat.  We will definitely have that again but next time, we will be cooking it ourselves.

Yummy Goat Tagine

When in Morocco be prepared to be asked for all manner of things.  So far we’ve been asked for aspirin, tissues, t-shirts, shoes, pants, bonbons (sweets), money and wine.  I wonder what will be next?  (Spoiler for next week, beer!)

Tip: Consider bringing along some low-cost wine that you don’t mind giving away.  Although you can always say ‘no’ you do sometimes form a sort of relationship with the locals when you spend time with them and having a ‘gift’ bottle or two on board can help preserve your limited stocks of your favourite tipple and make you out to be the good guys.  

Stunning Scenery Enroute to Tata

Day 24: Tata; Wednesday 20th Feb

The N2 National Highway to Tata was very quiet.  We had just one car pass us on the whole 140km stretch.  It’s strange that while the landscape, on one hand, appears bleak and barren, it is also beautiful and constantly changing as we travel through it.  Alan just had to pull over a few times and take some more photos of rocks, sand, and mountains.

Stunning Desert Landscapes

A Berber Home In The Middle of Nowhere

Camping Hyatt, Tata (GPS coordinates 29.73861, -7.97786) has a picturesque location beside a river, and is an easy bike ride or walk into the town.  Alternatively, there is a municipal camping ground right in town which looked adequate but we preferred the extra space, tranquility, and water views of Camping Hyatt.

Shopping Moroccan Style

Although Tata is a reasonably sized town, if you expected to find a decent sized supermarket, you would be sorely disappointed.  Instead, there are lots of small shops which seems to have their own niche items. We went to four different shops to buy typical grocery items that we’d expect to pick up from just one supermarket.  Not in Tata, but all part of the experience and the fun with plenty of time on our hands.

Alan Completing His Supermarket Shopping

Purchasing fresh vegetables in Morocco is an education in itself.  You collect a bucket, walk around and place the goodies in your bucket, then take it to the greengrocer for him to price.  He takes out anything that has its own higher pricing, in our case strawberries and avocado, then weighs everything else which shares the one price.

A great find was a small specialist spice shop.  Our ground coriander stocks were down to zero and we hadn’t been able to find it anywhere, except now, here in Tata.  We were also out of ground nutmeg (I know, a complete disaster for any motorhomer) and we were disappointed to see that he only had whole nutmegs. Our disappointment turned in amazement as he whizzed up the nutmegs in his industrial looking grinder in no time at all.  We ended up with rather more spices than we expected to buy but happy to have had another new Moroccan experience.

Morocco is the original home of spices.  Leave yours behind when you visit here as there is everything you’ll need, and more.  Make sure you purchase some Ras El Hanout, which is a blend of anywhere between 5 and 45 different spices!  Everyone has their own recipe and you won’t be disappointed as they are all delicious.  My favourite is a 44 spice mix we purchased in Erg Chebbi.

Bulk Bins House Dried Fruit, Grains, & Spices

Day 25: Tata; Thursday 21 Feb

Today was a lazy day, chatting with Peter and Carmel, our English camping neighbours and fellow intrepid Morocco adventurers.  Swapping stories and experiences is always entertaining and this took most of the day.  They had come from the west coast where we are headed, and they were going to where we had been so we could exchange information about what to see, and where to go and stay.

We were soon blessed with lovely German neighbours on the other side of us and Helga speaks good English.  We shared stories and discovered we are likely to be visiting Poland at the same time later this year so make plans to stay in touch.

To the right of the camping ground was an old, almost abandoned looking settlement built on top of a hill which looked interesting.   We took off on bikes to explore however after cycling up a rough track and through the walls, we soon realised that there were people living here and it wasn’t really appropriate for tourists to be wandering around wielding their cameras.  As is typical of many old towns, the vacant buildings are left to decay into ruins while newer ones sprout up on any spare land.  It is often hard to tell what is abandoned and what is occupied!  The people still greeted us with warm smiles and a polite bonjour but we didn’t want to intrude further and left soon after.

Tasting Sfenj

We always like to taste the local food and had to try what looked, and tasted like doughnuts being deep fried by a street vendor in a huge wok of smoking oil.  In fact, I’d call them doughnuts for lack of another name, except they’re called Sfenj.  I came across a recipe (below) if you’d like to try to make them for yourself.  Sfenj is an unsweetened, airy and fluffy doughnut.  It is chewy on the inside and crisp on the outside.  It has an interesting yeasty and delicate taste and is unsweetened so can be eaten with savoury or sweets. There is usually a big bowl of sugar beside the frying wok so those with a sweet tooth can dip them in for extra sugar hit.

Try These For An Occasional Treat Or Come To Morocco And Buy One From This Chap

Icht

Day 26: Icht;  Friday 22 Feb

Driving from Tata to Icht the roads were empty of any traffic to speak of and the landscape stoney, harsh, dry, and brown.  Grass just doesn’t exist in such barren countryside and nothing on legs seems able to survive except the odd donkey picking away at withered up weeds and thorns.  The few towns or villages we came across had only a handful of people wandering around.  As usual, some school children gave us big smiles and energetic waves and got excited when we gave them a big two-handed wave back.

The mountains here have changed appearance from those nearer the Sahara. They are devoid of any vegetation or trees.  The only thing we see is rocks and more rocks in different shades of browns with a spattering of hardy straggly trees and bushes.  Occasionally we spot an oasis where the groundwater has ventured close enough to the surface to be exploited by a patch of green palm trees, possibly date palms but it’s hard to tell because apparently, we’re out of season for dates (try October).

The camping ground that welcomed us this evening was Camping Borj Biramane, Icht (GPS Coordinates 29.05974, -8.85385).  It’s one of the better camping grounds we have been at, due to actually having toilet paper, soap and even a hand towel to dry hands!  This is the FIRST time in Morocco to come across all three in the one location, ah bliss.  Plus their showers are hot with a hanging shower rose, double bliss!

Alan cycled into the small township of Icht with his camera to capture some of the local images then rose early the next morning to catch the desert scene at first light.  Once again, Morocco delights with it own particular brand of simple beauty.

TIP: Bring with you a good quality lip moisturiser and a skin moisturiser because the dry air can play havoc with your skin.

TOP TIP: Make sure you wear footwear at all times as picking up a thorn in your foot can hurt for days, as I can testify to!

We were told (and I’ve since verified it as being true) that you can get rabies from cats, (albeit this is very uncommon) and given I like to feed and pat them, I am devastated to learn this. It was reported to us that an English lady died of rabies caught from a cat and this could result from a scratch, bite or even a lick! Cats are now sadly off limits to us. :-(
. It is recommended to have a rabies vaccination before coming to Morocco but even with that in your system, you still need to have at least two additional injections if you think you have been exposed to the disease.

Not To Be Trusted (sadly)

A friendly local guide knocked on our door to offer a two and a half hour walking tour, for 30 dirhams (€3 or NZ$4.60), to visit the local village, the mosque and museum and see the caves where the villages would hide out in times of war.  We declined this time but have pencilled it in for when we return to Morocco.

Wild Camping In Guelmim

Day 27: Guelmim;  Saturday 23 Feb & Day 28: Sunday 24 Feb

The first part of the N12 road from Icht to Guelmim hardly qualifies as a National Highway and is a narrow one-lane tar sealed road with no shoulder to speak of. The tarseal is oftentimes broken away at the side, with some nasty looking drop-offs.  The traffic here was heavier and really required both passing cars to plonk one tyre off the road and into the loose stones.  The local drivers appeared to play chicken with foreign vehicles expecting they will be the first to cave in and move over to protect their vehicle.  And they’re right. Betsy is our home and sustaining any damage would be a significant blow to our travels.  We’re just grateful that Betsy has new tyres that can cope okay with the rough sides and our tyre pressure warning gauge gives us some reassurances.

We had been advised to keep our wing mirror folded in on narrow, windy roads to protect it from being damaged by on-coming traffic.  This was the first time we heeded that advice as we didn’t want to lose our wing mirror as happened to some friends of ours the week before (thanks to a truck not keeping to his side of the road).

This road would have to be one of the least impressive that we’ve travelled on, however, it’s still passable and can be navigated at a reasonable pace, so don’t avoid it.  I don’t think there are many alternatives anyway, lol.

To be fair to Morocco the majority of roads we’ve encountered have been better than expected.  Roadworks are everywhere and it’s easy to see they are trying their best to improve the state of the roads Morocco wide.

Our free stopping point tonight in Guelmim was outside the Marjane Supermarket (GPS coordinates 28.96757, -10.03258). The actual parking area is nothing more than gravel and wasteland but has the benefit of being near a fairly new shopping centre which mainly houses a large supermarket jammed packed with everything one has been dreaming about but couldn’t previously find, e.g. ice creams.

The majority of motorhomes around us tonight are French.  Did we tell you that they travel in groups or packs of four or five vans?  Safety in numbers I guess but at no time have we feel unsafe.  That being said we are employing the usual safety precautions, the main one being to stay at camping grounds.  When there is an opportunity for wild camping we play it safe and follow our rules.

We sat here for a couple of days catching up on administrative paperwork and emails, so I won’t bore you with the details.

TIP: Make sure you don’t park on the sealed carpark here overnight or you may be asked to move. 

Be warned that children come around looking for food or money from the motorhomers but they didn’t show any concerning behaviour.

Visiting The Town of Guelmim

One of the highlights of the week was the opportunity to soak up the sights, sounds and smells of the very traditional feeling Guelmim town centre.  Modern cars jostled for space on the narrow roads with donkeys and carts piled high carrying all types of fruit and veges, or second, third or even fourth hand bits and pieces of every imaginable household items.  Those not fortunate enough to have a donkey had to push their carts around by hand and those without carts just sat on the footpath to sell whatever they had to offer.

The moving flashes of bright colour were the local women wearing the traditional melhafa outfits which are prevalent in the southern Moroccan and Western Sahara regions.  The gorgeous colours are a refreshing change from the drabber outfits of the eastern and northern areas and it seemed as if every woman was wearing different colours or patterns.


Costs for Weeks 1 – 4

The costs for week four represent the quiet week we’ve had, but don’t worry as we make up for it in week 5!

We love to see comments on our blog as it keeps us motivated to keep writing.  Please say hi or leave a quick one line comment below, thanks.

Join us next week when we meet a local Moroccan Man who takes us under his wing and shows us another side of Morocco.

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Fantastic Fes

Week 4

Week 1

Week 5

Week 2

Week 6

Week 3

How To Use Argan Oil

Week 3 in Morocco

Week 3 in Morocco

by Ruth Murdoch  |  February 2019  |  Morocco, Africa

Table of Contents

MAP

Week 3 had us driving from Erg Chebbi to Ait-Ben-Haddou, 383 kms. Click to enlarge map.

This week, discover our journey into the Sahara desert by modern day camel where we visited a mine site, a traditional African music group, had lunch with nomads in the desert then went fossicking for fossils.  We give you tips on the questions to ask at a camping grounds and the DO’s and DON’T’s if you are unfortunate enough to have an accident in Morocco!

 

Sahara Desert Tour 

Day 15: Still in Erg Chebbi; Monday 11 Feb

Hamid arrived promptly outside our motorhome at 10am for our desert tour with his enhanced camel, a 4WD Mitsubishi Pajero, and soon we were off to explore the Sahara.  (For details of our camping ground or the costs and details of the Sahara Desert tours see our Week 2 Morocco post). 

The first stop was at a rare Sahara lake about 2km west of Merzouga called Lac Dayet Siri which is home to a variety of waterbirds, including flamingos, although they are tourist shy and were sitting on the opposite side of the water to us.  A lake vista was very unexpected out here in the middle of a desert and Hamid informed us that the lake shrinks and grows during the hot and wet seasons but it doesn’t usually dry up completely and is up to 4m deep in places.  I was interested to learn that the summertime (July/August) is when they have the most rain.

A local chap arrived on a motorbike and proceeded to set up shop on the ground with the usual fossils, minerals, and small glass jars so we can collect some Sahara sand to take back home.  Sadly for him, his efforts go unrewarded, this time.

Imagine These Two Photos In One Panoramic
The Lake of the Sahara

A Moroccan Mine Site

The next stop was at an operational mine site.  Here they are mining for several different minerals including lead sulphide, which is used for making kohl; for eye makeup.  Once again stalls are set up selling the rocks, minerals, fossils and jewellery made from these mineral elements.  We were able to have a look at a lump of lead sulphide ore which was a glistening silver colour and was very heavy.

Mined Lead Sulphide

Shopping Sahara Style

Shop Til You Drop!

Black African Village of Dar Gnaoua

Our next stop is the black African village of Dar Gnaoua.  It past times, there were thousands of African slaves held in these parts and one of their tasks was digging underground canals to transport water across the landscape.  Some of the original stone-lined well shafts are still visible.

When slavery was abolished in Morocco under French rule, between 1912 and 1925, the local ex-slaves were offered the option of returning home or staying in the township of Dar Gnaoua, south of Merzouga.  Many of the slaves had actually been sold by their families and knew no other life other than what they had in Morocco so they chose to stay and their descendants continue to live here.  There are apparently other similar black African townships dotted around Morocco.  The original mud and straw houses of the township have decayed and are now uninhabited but we wandered around to understand what it may have been like living here.  The walls are thick and the air temperature inside is many degrees cooler than the outside temperature, making them bearable in the hot summer months, up to 60 degrees celsius.

We find it fascinating how these houses are constructed entirely from materials taken from the surrounding countryside and the environment immediately starts breaking them back down again to dirt and straw.  Each heavy rainstorm or sandstorm erodes some of the structure until their owners build another home nearby and abandon the old one.

Abandoned Buildings Returning To The Earth

African Music Centre

We’re off again, this time for a quick visit at the Dar Gnaoua, a traditional African music centre, which aims to preserve the inhabitants’ musical cultural heritage.  We are offered mint tea and a seat while a smiling troupe of dark-skinned African men played their various traditional instruments (drums and castanets) and chanted to the captivated tourists while hoping to sell their CD’s for 100 dirhams each (€10 or NZ$15.40).  The walls are adorned with a variety of percussion, stringed and wind instruments from various parts of southern Africa.

Being Entertained By A Traditional African Music & Dance Group

The Algerian Border

We’re in the camel, I mean 4WD again, heading closer to Algeria and learn a little about the border which is closely monitored by both the Algerian and Moroccan military.  The 1,600km border was closed by the Algerian government in 1994 after Morocco imposed visa restrictions following a deadly terrorist attack in Marrakech.  This has been disastrous for the nomadic Berber people who have always roamed far and wide across these lands as they search for water and food for their livestock.  The closed border has shut down this traditional way of life and sadly separated many families.

The Algerians can look down from a mountain range over Morocco and the no-mans-land that separates these two once friendly nations.  The Moroccan military has cameras on tall pylons to keep an eye on their side.  We were told that there is actually a trench a couple of metres deep, dug right along the border.

That’s The Algerian Border Behind Us

Along the journey, we’re treated to the sight of shepherds, virgin sand dunes, flat lands with small volcanic black rocks (called the Black Desert), donkeys, camels, wells and the occasional tree that is eking out an existence in this parched place.  Who would have known that a tree or two could be so photogenic but when surrounded by desert and with the Erg Chebbi sand dunes looming in the distance, everything looks amazing?

Nomadic Shepherd

Camels Under Camels

A Random Donkey Doing Its Thing

Lunching With Berber Nomads

The highlight of the day was enjoying a very tasty lunch in the company of a Berber nomad family (or at least the elder male of the family) who have set up home in a collection of tents and mud buildings in the middle of nowhere.  The women cooked the food then ate separately once everyone else finished.

We were given a tour through the mud buildings and were amazed at how cool it stayed inside which allows them to preserve food even in the hottest conditions – and without an airconditioner or fridge!

Modern technology has certainly made some changes to life for the nomads as they now have solar panels and batteries to provide power for mobile phones and lighting.

Lunch consisted of a Berber pizza consisting of two pieces of flatten bread dough joined around well-spiced meat, grated carrot, and onion, then sealed.  The pizza was cooked until it browns and rises slightly on a large flat stone inside their wood fueled clay oven that looked remarkably like a small pizza oven.

I thought back to some friends in Australia who paid good money to have a larger version of this set up constructed in their back yard.  The Berber people would probably have a chuckle at that. 

Cooking the pizza only took about ten minutes from whoa to go as the oven is amazingly effective and heated with just a few, but very hot, twigs.

In the traditional manner, our host served us lunch by tearing off pieces of the tasty pizza and handing them around to each of us.  Coming from a country where food hygiene is seen as ultra important, it was a little disconcerting to see someone using their hands to serve you (we wondered had he washed them, was the water clean and germ-free?).  However as the traditional saying goes, ‘when in Morocco…”  and I am pleased to advise that the food tasted great and none of us had any ill effects, lol.  Our host spoke no English, just a little French and is only fluent in their traditional unwritten Berber tongue.  Our guide translated the conversation and we learned that our host is 51 years old and lives with his young wife and his son, with his son’s wife and their two children.

Lunch With A Berber Nomad

Nomadic Family Life

Our Berber Host

Fossicking for Fossils 

We literally walked up and down what looked like an old riverbed, obviously once underwater and were shown what to look for.  We have a bag of rocks containing trilobites and other prehistoric goodies.  We just need to figure out how to polish them now.

What Gem Has Alan Found?

Fossil Finding In The Valley

On our way back to the camping ground we drove past some movie sets that were used for the “Little Prince (Le Petit Prince)” movie, which is apparently famous in these parts but was unknown to us.

Hamid, who until now had been very restrained in his driving, seemed to decide that our group was up for a little Desert Ferrari driving and cut loose on the sand dunes with the Pajero like a mad man.  That was a lot of fun as we slid around on the soft sand.  I wonder if he also drives in the Dakar Rally?

Finally, we were taken to an area of sand dunes that were free of wheel tracks and footprints so we could get some photos.

Desert Tour Costs

This was a great day out and for just 1200 dirhams for the group which equated to €30 or NZ$46 per person, it was extremely good value for a tour from 10am4pm.

Day 16: Erg Chebbi; Tuesday 12 Feb

Before we left the sand dunes I choose to wake up early and photograph the sunrise over the Sahara.  It was my last chance, possibly in my life, to have this experience so I braved the cool desert air, wrapped up warmly in hat, scarf, gloves, and puffer jacket (it was about 6C), gave up some sleep and headed out with Alan, camera in hand.

Sunrise Photos In The Sahara

The early morning light in the desert throws off different colours from yellows, oranges, pinks and blues all silhouetted by the dark sand dunes in the foreground.  My camera isn’t as sharp as Alan’s Canon 700D but at least I got some nice photos.

My iPhone 6S Camera On The Left, Alan’s Canon 700D On The Right

Back at camp and it’s time for some girl time and shopping, so Helena and I wandered into the town of Et Taous to look at what the locals have on offer.  We both purchased some gifts to take back home at a much lower price than similar items in the Fez Medina or Chefchaouen for that matter.  We must have spent a lot judging from the huge smile on the shop owner’s face.

Happy Shopkeeper After A Big Sale!

Day 17: ‎Tinejdad; Wednesday 13 Feb

Finally and sadly it’s time to leave Erg Chebbi. 

Tip: Before leaving Erg Chebbi fill up your tanks with good drinking water, which has been sand filtered, as it’s a long way before you will find good water again if you are travelling in our direction.

Today it’s time for me to drive, just so I can keep my hand in and give Alan a break so he could better appreciate the views.

El Jorf Traffic

Hmm, I was thinking that this wasn’t such a good idea as we came through the town of El Jorf, near Erfoud.  I’ll let you be the judge when you see the video of us driving through this town.  There were people walking all over the road, the streets are narrow and cars seemed to wait for the most unlikely of places before squeezing past us.

Coming from a country where roads are intended primarily for cars, it takes a little getting used to driving where pedestrians, cyclists, vendors with carts, and donkeys all use the road with little regard for cars, or a 3.5 tonne motorhome, trying to get past. Maybe it was the local souk, or market day, but the streets seemed even crazier than usual.  This video is definitely worthwhile watching and while doing so put yourself in the driver’s seat.

A Challenging Drive Through Town

La Source de Lala Miymona Museum

One of the main tourist attractions along the R702 road to Tinejdad seems to be a major canal project and many enterprising locals have set up entrances to go down and see them.

We arrived at La Source de Lala Miymona, (GPS coordinates 31.4922, -5.1286) where we were able to park overnight after paying 50 dirhams each to visit the museum.

Zaid, (artist and owner) greeted us at the entrance and explained the museum has been his life’s work since 1973.  The museum is built up around a freshwater spring which had been a watering spot for hundreds of years before becoming filled with rubbish falling into disrepair.  Zaid has collected hundreds of traditional Berber artefacts and built traditional style buildings and walls to house them.

The springs have been cleaned and restored and he hopes the water will be drinkable again within the next year.  One of the displays was a water clock which we had heard about.  The water clock consists of a small, thin copper bowl with a tiny hole in the base, a container of water and a piece of dried reed.  The copper bowl is placed in the water and gradually fills and sinks to the bottom.  When sunk, the operator ties a knot in the reed and replaces the now empty bowl again on top of the water.  This gives a measure of time depending on the size of the bowl and the hole in its base.  This was used where there was a flow of water that could be directed, using sluice gates to different houses or irrigation channels.  Each user would be allowed, for example, ten knots of time before it was someone else’s turn.

The Famous Water Clock

Todgha Gorge & Dades Gorge

Day 18: Dadès Gorge; Thursday 14 Feb

We are constantly amazed by the ever-changing landscape of Morocco and the journey first up the Todgha Gorge and then to the Dades Gorge were no exceptions.  The mountains, the shape of the rock formations, the vegetation was varied and a real feast for the eyes and a target for the cameras.

Betsy is Dwarfed in the Todgha Gorge

At Todgha we parked up as the road became very narrow and took to the bikes to explore deeper into the canyon.  In hindsight Betsy would have easily driven through, however, being on the bikes lets us see more and it’s easier to stop and take photos.

A point in case is that on the bikes we came across a family, complete with goats, living in the caves high above the road.

Cave Living With Goats!

A Nice Way To Give Locals Money Is To Pay For A Photo

Our stopping place tonight was 28km up the Dades Gorge, opposite the La Gazelle hotel (GPS coordinates 31.52068, -5.93041), in their camper parking spot on the opposite side to the hotel.  This was deep down in the gorge beside a river and under tall rock walls.  The cost was 50 dirhams with no services and we were offered, but gently declined, a meal for half price in the adjacent hotel.

We were only two kilometres away from a much-photographed switchback road hewn from the side of the gorge and went in search of this experience the next morning.  I was glad Alan was driving and there were no other vehicles trying to navigate their way up or down and around these bends at the same time as us.  Betsy’s too fat to share such skinny roads.

An Interesting Drive For Betsy

Ouarzazate

Day 19: Ouarzazate; Friday 15 Feb

It’s on to Ouarzazate today where we found our way to their Municipal Camping Ground (GPS coordinates 30.9232, -6.88716).  The cost was 90 dirhams for all services.  There are lots of spaces but mostly they were full with the majority of campers being French registered (ours included, lol).  We didn’t find out until we tried to shower later at night, but the shower water is solar heated which explains why we saw people heading for the showers in the middle of the day.  Next time we check into a camping ground we will ask about the showers.  Another thing to check at a camping ground is if they accept credit cards (most don’t) and don’t just expect if you see an EFTPOS machine it means that cards are okay.  Also, small notes are often needed as we were nearly caught out a couple of times when reception claims to carry no change!  Alternatively check out at the same time as others and they are bound to have cash then.

While on the subject of camping grounds, also make sure you carry toilet paper when heading into the toilets because most just don’t have any.  Hand sanitiser is also a good idea and few toilets here have anything for drying your hands.  The question of whether or not toilet paper goes in the waste paper big, as in Greece where it’s to be binned only, or down the toilet seems to depend on the location.  I suggest to read the signs and if there are none check to see if there’s a bin in the toilet.  If so, use the bin for toilet paper disposal.

Although tourists seem to be largely unaffected, Morocco is a police state.  The camping grounds are required to have all paperwork fully and accurately completed.  Alan travels with two passports and gave his NZ passport at check-in, however, he entered Morocco on his Irish passport.  The receptionist looked for an entry number in his passport and got confused by his dual citizenship until he hand over his Irish passport so they could glean the requisite details.

Tips For What To Do If In An Accident

Sadly we heard today that our friends have had an unfortunate incident when a lorry came around the corner, partly on their side of the road, and took out their wing mirror.  Thankfully there was no other damage, however it gave them a fright.  They have given us advice regarding what to do, and not do, in the case of an accident.  Here’s what they told us…

If involved in an accident you must stop at the very spot where it happened.  Do not continue to drive to the nearest place that it’s safe to stop as we did.  Then phone 177 (if in the countryside) and get the police there.

Note; in the city centres, the phone number for the police is 112.  Also, ensure you get the other vehicle’s registration number and photographs if possible – unfortunately, they didn’t.

Medical services can be contacted by calling 110 and fire services are reachable by dialling 15.  Further research suggests that whilst waiting for the police, get witnesses details and take photographs of the scene as it’s been known that Moroccan drivers at fault in accidents soon drive away if the police have been called.

Our friends were told it will take 30 days to get a replacement wing mirror however a local handyman was able to fix up a makeshift replacement in just one day. Impressive!  We have heard previously how helpful and resourceful the local service people are.  We put this down to Morocco being a  ‘fix it’ community instead of a ‘throw away society’ which seems to be the norm in most first world countries.

A Scarf Anyone?

Day 20: Ouarzazate; Saturday 16 Feb

We pedalled around the township on our bikes, mainly looking for a data top-up and some groceries.  Most of the businesses were closed for the mid-afternoon siesta which supposedly runs from about 2.00pm to 4.00pm.  In reality, this seems to be one of those ‘Inshallah’ (God willing) things where shops seem to open and shut semi-randomly.

We came across a supermarket that on the outside looked small and uninviting, however, the shops are often like a tardis that expands up beyond expectations once you enter.  This one had a fresh meat counter, cheese and butter counter and a fruit and vege area as well as the usual main grocery items.  Remembering back to Turkey where tissues in a box were nearly impossible to find, here it seems to be sparkling water is a rarity.  Not a biggie, but interesting nonetheless.

Unusual Rock Formation

Ait-Ben-Haddou

Day 21: Ait-Ben-Haddou; Sunday 17 Feb

The camping ground yesterday didn’t have a good vibe and we headed off in search of something special.  Ouarzazate is well known for the Atlas Corporation film studios which have produced many well-known movies over the years (e.g. Gladiator, Jewel of the Nile, Cleopatra) as well as episodes of Game of Thrones.  Although this is a big tourist attraction, it didn’t appeal to us.

We headed towards a UNESCO site called Ksar Aït Benhaddou also written as Aït-Ben-Haddou, about 30kms north west from Ouarzazate.

After parking up and paying 20 dirhams in the Kasbar Hotel guarded parking area we walked through the streets of the new Ait-Ben-Haddou township towards the historic fortified town across a shallow river.

Once again, Morocco is showing us something different and remarkable.  This is a perfect example of Moroccan mud brick architecture with some of the buildings dating back to the 17th century.  Ben Haddou used to be an important watering stop on the caravan route from Marrakech to the Sahara and was a significant establishment in its day.

The mud walls with towers contain an extensive collection of houses, shops and narrow stone-paved alleyways leading up to the hill with panoramic views across the countryside.

UNESCO Site Of Aït-Ben-Haddou
Top & Bottom

Entry is 10 dirhams each (€1 or NZ$1.50) and immediately a local man attached himself to us and began telling us about the history.  It is obvious that he is intending to be our guide then will request an unknown fee at the end.  We explained firmly that we did not want a guide and he left us alone to explore.  This is definitely something to watch out for in Morocco.  People don’t do things here for no payment, so if they are doing something for you, they probably expect to be paid for it.  If you do want their services then ask for and agree on the price up front.

The narrow streets are lined with the usual assortment of shops and stalls selling brightly coloured rugs, scarves, ceramics, clothing, jewellery, artefacts, paintings and drawings.  Only three families still live in the old town now and we can wander around freely, joining the millions of tourists who pass through each year.

Typical Street Of Aït-Ben-Haddou

We wandered through alleys, and in and out of buildings and rooms only to be met by a wide smiling young man who greeted us, explaining that we are in his home!  Whoops, we were embarrassed that we had taken a wrong turn but he gently persuaded us to go upstairs to enjoy the view from his balcony.  We accepted and pondered on life up here as we looked down on his sheep and goats on the next level down in his house.  Said, the homeowner, soon joined us to explain that the animals and cooking facilities are always located on the first floor and the family has the two stories above.  He uses his home as a guest house and manages a shop selling crafts, jewellery made by his sisters, and his own art.

Of course, we then followed Said to his shop where I purchased a traditional Berber necklace made of onyx, silver and ebony depicting the southern cross.  As the Berber people typically travelled only at night and navigating by the stars, the southern cross was an important symbol and constellation for them.  With my new purchase I won’t get lost on a clear night and will have good luck with me.  How could I refuse to buy such an important piece of local craftsmanship? 

Said Happy After His Sale

Games Of Thrones & Morocco

After our visit, I discovered this Ksar was used in the filming of Game of Thrones when Daenerys Targaryen laid siege to the slaving city of Yunkai.  It is now the second place we’ve visited that was used in the filming of Game of Thrones (or the A Song of Ice and Fire series, if you prefer to refer to it by its book title).  The first was in the old town of Dubrovnik, Croatia, which was used as Kings Landing.

As we were walking out of the Ksar, we met Adrian from London who is celebrating turning 60 by riding solo on his BMW800 motorcycle from England to China, via Morocco.  You can follow his travels on Instagram at ‘adrianfromlondon’ and tell him how you came about to be following him.

We spent the night back at the Kasbah Hotel guarded parking area (GPS coordinates 31.04221, -7.12981) for another 20 dirhams after Alan declined to give the guard his shoes or his shirt.  We were rather glad we were guarded as we did see an unsavoury character looking rather interested in Betsy.

Costs for Weeks 1, 2 & 3

Some of week two’s camping ground costs, as well as our Sahara trip, were actually paid in week three, making this week look higher than it actually was.  The costs show up when they are paid.  I’ve excluded the costs for gifts from these figures.

We love to see comments on our blog as it keeps us motivated to keep writing.  Please say hi or leave a quick one line comment below, thanks.

Join us next week to see the road less travelled (by tourists and locals) as we venture into unknown territory.

Please feel free to Pin and read later

Fantastic Fes

Week 4

Week 1

Week 5

Week 2

Week 6

Week 3

How To Use Argan Oil

Week 2 in Morocco

Week 2 in Morocco

by Ruth Murdoch  |  February 2019  |  Morocco, Africa

Table of Contents

MAP

Week 2 saw us drive from Fes, through to Azour and then on to Erg Chebbi, 454 kms

Personal Cooking Class In A Motorhome

Day 8: Fes; Monday 4 Feb

Today was a much needed admin day after a big day out in the medina of Fes yesterday.

The afternoon saw us jump on our bikes and head into the Carrefour supermarket.  While we were out, we hunted down an electric fan heater as the nights are cold here and we don’t want to use our motorhome heating because we have to conserve our LPG to make it last two months.

The ride into town was thankfully fairly uneventful while we rode in with Kaz and Nik our camping neighbours.  Unlike the great cycle paths we became accustomed to in Europe, here you are forced to use the roads, as even the footpaths are not suitable for bikes.

We headed back to the camping ground and lunch was now long overdue. As often seems to be the case with us, we couldn’t find any eating place en route that attracted enough of our interest to inspire us to stop.  As we had plenty of food back in Betsy, that was no problem.

Tonight we have been treated to a cooking class and Nik and Kaz’ motorhome by our guide Wafi.  He is making Beef and Prune Tagine with fruit for dessert.

For the recipe click here.

The almost finished product

Spiced Meat

Onions Piled High

Tomatoes placed on top

Tomatoes Skinned & Chopped

Serving Time!

Azour & ATM Machines

Day 9: Azrou; Tuesday 5th Feb

It was time to move on today and we pointed south to Azour.  We had read ahead of time that they hold their souk (market day) on a Tuesday and we were hoping to arrive in time to experience our first one in Morocco.

On the drive to Azour we climbed high into the mountains.  Being such a clear day we stopped at the top to take a photograph where we had our first of many experiences of roadside stalls with vendors selling all manner of fossils and mineral stones.  The kind gentleman showed us several gorgeous specimens, which look like an ordinary stone from the outside but when opened revealed a hollow centre lined with crystals in vibrant silver, green or purple.  I couldn’t resist and for €10 we came away with a lovely purple crystal stone and a polished quartz egg-shaped rock (we call this shape eggular).  The seller wanted to swap clothes for his wares but Alan doesn’t have excess clothes so we politely declined.

We resumed our journey, climbing the steep mountain passes and inevitably came across slow-moving fully laden trucks.  Picture the scene as Alan indicates to pass uphill.  Betsy isn’t the most powerful of vehicles but we eventually built up speed.  He pulled out to pass and halfway through the manoeuvre we heard a toot. A car is passing us… as we are passing the truck… uphill on a narrow windy road… with the straight road ahead rapidly disappearing!  There was nowhere for us to go safely except to continue passing.  The car driver did the same while fists appeared out from every window.  We all passed safely (phew) and the car slowed down and appeared as if it is going to stop.  The passengers in the backseat continued to stare at us.  This could be an interesting situation developing and I cautioned Alan to not stop under any circumstances; thankfully the driver continues driving onwards.

That was a close call!

We arrived into the salubrious castle themed Emirates Tourist Centre (GPS coordinates 33.44348, -5.19062), a Camping ground of much visual grandeur (on first impressions anyway).  It’s a pity they had no hot water, the men’s toilets were locked, there was no toilet paper, and both the reception and restaurant were closed. At 80 dirhams per night it was the cheapest we had stayed in so far but the lack of facilities wouldn’t have supported any higher fee.  It wasn’t until we had a look around this camping ground that we realised there had been no cooking facilities available in any site we had come across to date.  That won’t help with reducing our gas consumption.  Luckily though, we bought a cheap stand-alone electric hot plate in Spain prior to catching the ferry so we can do most of our cooking on that.  This is a good tip for anyone with the refillable LPG gas system planning on touring Morocco for an extended period of time.

Off come the bikes and we coast down the steep hills for the four-kilometre ride to see the town’s souk.  Unfortunately for us we seem to have arrived as things were packing up.

We need cash and after trying two ATM’s we finally find one prepared to accept our Qantas Australia cash card and dispense some much needed cash.  There are limits on how much the ATM’s can dispense at one time and although the menu offers options to request up to 4,000 dirhams, none seem to cough up more than $2,000 Dirham!  Humph!  It’s a bit annoying when your cash card provider charges A$2.50 per transaction but you can’t take out a decent wad of cash in one go.  Never mind, we are in Africa and this is a cost of being here and is somewhat insignificant in the big picture.  Another pro-tip – we tried our cash card in several bank ATM’s, all of which wanted to charge a fee in dirhams for dispensing our cash.  However, the Poste Maroc ATM’s were free to use so we now look out for them.  We had a similar experience in Turkey where the Post Office ATM’s were also fee free.

We bought a couple of pastries and bread then made our way back to the campsite. Our attention was taken by some delicious looking rotisserie chickens in a roadside restaurant and with fond memories of the succulent, crisp birds we were able to buy in Istanbul for a pittance, we enquired about the price.  Maybe they quoted tourist prices or maybe they wanted to charge full restaurant prices but we decided that the price tag of 80 dirhams was too rich for us.  Remember we bought a three-course meal for 45 dirhams in Fes just last week!

As we trekked back up the steep hill ever grateful for electric bikes, we thought back to the extreme hill-climb up to the Rock of Gibraltar where even with electric assistance we still needed to get off and push at times.  These hills have nothing on that experience.

Back at the camping ground, I settled down to write for the next five hours while Alan cooked dinner and cleaned up.   What a great husband I have.

Transporting Sheep Moroccan Style

The Famous Purple Rock

View From The Top

Overlooking Azour From The Town

Cool Street Art

Tagines Anyone?

Emirates Tourist Centre Camping Ground

The Drive Into Emirates Tourist Centre

Betsy No Friends

The Ziz Valley and Barbary Apes In The Cedre Gouraud Forest

Day 10: Jurassique; Wednesday 6th Feb

Happy Waitangi Day to us.  For our non-New Zealand readers, Waitangi Day is New Zealand’s National Holiday, which commemorates the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi between the indigenous people of NZ (the Maori) and England.

We left Azrou today, heading for Camping Jurassique in the picturesque Ziz Valley. Apparently the camping ground there has a free washing machine.  Isn’t it funny how something so basic can attract many motorhomers to their site?

Our first stop was for diesel and then we were on the road again.  We started climbing into the hills and Alan pulled off to the side to let the build up of cars behind us pass. We then realised we had an unwanted passenger!  A young lad on roller skates had hitched a ride by hanging off the back of Betsy.  Once we came to a stop, he had let go and was on his way back down the hill.  Wow, that was somewhat frightening and now we are aware to look out for such unwanted company.

Our first stop was to view Barbary apes in the wild.  They are located in the Cedre Gouraud Forest  (GPS coordinates 33.4263 -5.1555).  The narrow rough access road is lined with snow and meeting any on-coming traffic required one vehicle (usually us) to pull off the road to one side.  As we pulled into the guarded parking area, an elderly toothless man asked for the 5 dirham parking fee and also if he can have Alan’s shoes.  Nice try mate.  We explain that Alan only has one pair and he accepted that graciously.  Plus he would have swum in Alan’s size 11 shoes.

All manner of micro commercial enterprises have sprung up based around the ape hangout.  Men have horses available for riding and a small Shetland pony is taken out from the back of an ordinary van like you would carry a dog.  The owner wanted me to have my photo taken with the pony and I oblige.  That’s how they make their money here.  Another man wanted me to climb onto a horse that was stamping and whinnying and making a big fuss.  No thanks!  Further in, a man is selling bags of unshelled peanuts but Alan didn’t connect the peanuts with the apes and declined to buy some.  Thankfully another family had come to feed the apes with their purchased peanuts, which brought them close enough for us to photograph.

The track to the apes is lined with what looks like a shanty town of stalls selling handmade cedar woodcrafts and also the usual (now) fossils and minerals. They make their stalls out of any materials they can find which makes for some interesting architecture.

We manage to avoid buying anything today.  

The Shanty Type Huts With Locally Made Cedar Handcrafts

The Small Huts Open For Business

Barbary Apes In The Wild

We have a lot of distance to cover to get to Jurassique Camping so after some time with apes we were on our way again.  The road wound through some stunning scenery, the likes of which I had never pictured seeing in Morocco.  Of all the countries we have visited, 25 in total now, there have only been in two standout scenic countries, where you are constantly looking around in awe at what you are seeing – Norway and now Morocco.

Alan wanted to take a road shown on Google Maps as a shortcut to save ten kilometres or so but one look at the road had us in stitches.  Not even if our life depended on it could we get Betsy up that track!

Don’t Worry Betsy We’re Not Taking You Up There

We climb again, which seems to be a regular theme around here and came up behind the most overladen truck I’ve ever seen.  It’s crawling uphill at about 15kms per hour and the hay it is carrying hits the top of the roadside trees.  One wrong move, a pothole or incorrect camber and the entire contents would topple the truck over.  I feel very nervous being behind such a hazard but there’s nowhere to pull over or pass so we hang back and wait for an opportunity to overtake.  There appears to be no such thing as a passing lane in Morocco and not once do we see a slow vehicle pull over to allow other traffic to pass.  This resulted in some interesting passing maneuvers.

What Health & Safety Concerns?

As we arrived at the plateau the scenery continued to impress.  Snow topped mountains in the distance stood tall and proud behind red soil in the foreground.  The remnants of the recent snow lingered on the ground wherever it was shaded by trees or cliffs.

Life appears harsh up here.  Housing is oftentimes in the form of makeshift looking huts or shacks. One had plastic and sticks for their roof.  Intermittent roadside stalls sell whatever the locals have available, often eggs and fossils; there are plenty of those here.

The road took us through more townships, some enjoying their weekly souk and are generally in fair condition, but with sections of rough, potholed tarmac with crumbling edges.  I was happy to have our tyre pressure sensor system to give us fair warning of a puncture or slow leak, as you wouldn’t want to have a blow out on this sort of terrain.  A lot of motorhomes these days (including ours), don’t have spare wheels so anything that helps us to preserve our tyres and our safety is money very well spent.  Alan purchased this off Amazon before coming to Morocco after researching what is the most suitable one for motorhomes.  It is amazing what a sense of comfort you get from being able to see your tyre pressures in real time and know that they are optimised for safety and fuel economy.

Virtually every day we drive we see an accident and today was no exception.  An old Citroen car had rolled leaving his bonnet behind.  People from all around were offering assistance as we crawled past the scene.

We had a few close calls today with traffic.  Aside from the young lad who hitched a ride earlier, we then narrowly escaped a head-on – someone passing an oncoming car but misjudged the distance.  Later, two vehicles overtaking a slow truck in front of us had seemingly millimeters to spare before they ducked into a gap the front vehicle is forced to open up.

There is always something to see in these remote rugged roads, from flocks of sheep with their shepherds to donkeys carrying their owner as well as bundles of animal feed or twigs for cooking.

These Are Strong Animals That Work Hard All Day

The Colours and Mountain Peaks Continue To Impress

Water is Rare Here

A Local Home

An Old Kasbah (Hotel)

The Views Are Spectacular

We Weren’t Expecting Snow On The Mountains

Beware, Unwanted Passengers!

As we drove through another township we experienced two kids jumping onto the back of our bike rack.  A younger kid deliberately walked out in front of us to slow us down so the teenagers could jump onto the back of Betsy.  Thankfully a local car behind us tooted at them and they jumped off.  Their weight could break our bike rack so we were unimpressed.  If you’re traveling in Morocco watch out for this behaviour when driving at slow speeds through the townships.

We left at 12.30 for a 211 kilometre journey. While our GPS said the driving time should have been y hours, it actually took us 5 hours 24 minutes due partly to the difficult roads and slow trucks, but also because the amazing and unique scenery compelled us to stop repeatedly to take it all in and capture the moments on camera.

We arrived at Jurassique Camping (GPS coordinates 32.15406, -4.37628) in the Ziz Gorge as dusk approached, with the last of the day’s sun kissing the brown dusty mountain tops.

Alan took the opportunity to throw on a load of washing which dried with no problem overnight despite the low temperatures.

I headed off to the showers and picked the only one where the shower rose is actually hanging on the wall. The water only trickled out warmly but I’m not complaining.  We reckon that many of the houses we have passed on our long journey here today wouldn’t even have running water, let alone hot running water.

With us settled in for the night, it was time to make dinner and connect with family over Skype.  The internet here is reasonable and enables us to keep in touch.

The Camping Ground It All Its Glory

Arriving at Erg Chebbi

Day 11: Erg Chebbi; Thursday 7th Feb

Last night’s camping ground had very little around it to keep us there for more than one night and we head off.  We wind through the outstanding beauty of the Ziz Valley with constant exclamations at new sights of natural beauty or interesting buildings.  The arid hills stand proud and tall while small townships blend into the countryside with their brown mud bricks which are literally made from the surrounding lands.  These houses are not built to last and the rain and wind immediately start the process of returning the walls back into mud and sand.  Everywhere we see a mixture of new buildings, partially decayed structures, and long abandoned remnants.

Over countless thousands of years, the Ziz river has carved out large canyons through the countryside.  At times the river disappears entirely then emerges again allowing an oasis to bloom at the bottom of the valley.  Civilisation grasps at this opportunity for life and mud-brick houses and townships grace the edge of the greenery.  Date palms line up in groves and evidence of individual gardens can be spotted.

We came across a large supermarket (Acima, GPS coordinates 31.9305 -4.4529) and replenished supplies of meat and other hard to find essentials, such as glass cleaner.  They stocked a good range of groceries and it was well worth a stop before heading further south where larger supermarkets are sparse.  Their vegetables, however, looked somewhat secondhand so we gave them a wide berth.  That proved to be a good idea as later Alan bought a whole bag full of veges and a loaf of bread for 13.50 dirham (€1.25).

Spices In Bulk Bins at Supermarket

From Local Greengrocer

Our planned stopping point tonight was at a camping ground that backed straight onto the Sahara Desert sand dunes at Erg Chebbi.  Following the GPS coordinates in our sat nav, we were directed off the main road and across a barely made piste (compacted dirt and gravel) track towards the dunes.  Betsy was not made for this sort of rough road and none of us enjoyed the deep ruts and sand.  Tip – if you are venturing down here and your GPS tells you to travel off-road then carry on for a couple more kilometres to Mertzouga where you can double back on an asphalt road that takes you closer to the campsite.

As we got closer to the GPS coordinates on the sat nav, it became apparent that the roads shown on the screen did not actually exist and were actually a web of rough sandy tracks.  We followed the directions as best we could until we faced an uphill incline of soft sand, which Alan refused to risk.  I got out, had a look around and saw some motorhomes on the next site over so backed out in search of joining them.

A few more sand tracks later we arrived.  Haven La Chance (GPS coordinates 31.13488, -4.01594) is a large site incorporating an Auberge (accommodation), a restaurant and a very large area for campers which extends into the sand dunes, and gosh how stunning is this place?

We were asked how long we will stay because they have a large group of Dutch motorhomers coming in on Wednesday 13th February.  As it was Thursday 7th February, we knew we would be well gone by then.  ‘Just a couple of days’ Alan said in broken French and all was good.  The couple turned into six nights.

With a sense of excitement we nabbed the perfect spot overlooking the sand dunes so we could soak up the view in front of us.  Never before had we been in such an unique location.  We really felt as though we were in the Sahara desert, that nothing else in the world mattered.  This stunning view had to be from a movie set.  We walked into the dunes to assure ourselves that it was genuine and after returning with half an inch of sand in our shoes we can guarantee its authenticity.

Ali, the brother of Hamed the boss, is in control here and treats us to a tour of the site.  Ali, according to his older brother, is ex military and displays his military efficiency when proudly directing each vehicle into exactly the right position, ensuring maximum happiness for the punters.  There really isn’t a wrong place to park as the view is simply magnificent no matter where you look.

The Stunning Sahara Dessert

The facilities here are excellent with three large unisex showers big enough for two people and three European style toilets.  They even have a very enticing full swimming pool, which would have been tempting to dive into had the temperature been a few degrees warmer.

 

The Sahara Desert

The nights here are cool, about 6C and during the day it climbs up to 25C.  The air is dry, the humidity is about 11 per cent.  I could feel the parched air playing havoc with my skin, making me reach for the moisturiser regularly.  My hair was frizzy with static electricity and my nails chip, crack and snap off at the slightest touch of something too hard.  I wouldn’t have traded this for anything though, it’s a small price to pay for soaking up the winter desert.

Evening and morning are the best times to see the sand dunes as the light provides shadows giving depth to the valleys and crests.  The clear air and total lack of light pollution result in a night sky bursting with stars which delighted us with a mixture of yellow, orange, pink and blue hues. The longer we look, the more colours expose themselves.

We can’t believe we are here, in the Sahara Desert, in all its glory.  I stand in awe, jaw dropped and excitement in my loins.

I can now see why Ali was concerned that we might still be here when the Dutch party arrives on the 13th.  Apparently is it common for people to plan on a short visit but then fall in love with the place and never want to leave.  Most of our neighbours have been here for many days, some weeks and others even reported they had been here since November last year – four months and counting.  It’s the perfect way to escape the harsh bitter northern European winters and why wouldn’t you?

Our View For The Next Six Days

Stunning Photos of The Sahara Desert

Day 12: Still at Erg Chebbi; Friday 8 Feb 2019

Dawn’s first light appears about 7am and the sun peaks its head up over the dunes soon after 8am.  Alan braved the cool morning air to shoot some stunning photographs of yet more sunrises.  There’s something rather special about this one however – it’s the Sahara!

The morning sun gives colour to the sand like no other time.

Today was for relaxing and catch up on some downtime.  There is a special stillness, peace and beauty out here that just makes you want to stop and drink in the experience.

Alan sent some photos onto our Moroccan Messenger Group (Zoe, Tommy, Helena & Harkin) and we soon heard back that Helena and Harkin are making their way to us and will be here tomorrow.  After we all went our own way at Chefchaouen a week or so ago, Helena and Harkin headed to the west coast before now coming back across to the eastern side.  We are travelling much more slowly down to the south of Morocco before crossing over to the west.  Their impending visit has us excited to be seeing them again.

The evening sunsets are equally impressive over the dunes.

 

Breakfast In The Sahara


Day 13: Still at Erg Chebbi; Saturday 9 Feb

What better place to have breakfast than in the desert on a stunning, mild morning with blue skies over rolling sand dunes.  Alan made us a yummy breakfast of local turkey sausages and eggs.  The red sausage meat is highly spiced and absolutely delicious.  Make sure you put this on your shopping list if you like sausages.

Check Out That Breakfast View

We heard some scratching sounds and looked to see a rather large dung beetle scurrying about his business.  They make cool tracks in the sand behind them.


Et Taous Village

Later in the day we wandered into the township of Et Taous to check out the local shops.  Not expecting to see much we were surprised to come across several souvenir shops all selling pretty much the same things, fossils, mineral stones, rugs, scarfs, leather shoes, brightly coloured lightweight clothing and other trinkets.  I felt sorry for the shop owners that we really are not in the market to purchase anything (apparently!).  Alan tells many a seller that even if you give it to us “gratis” (free), we would say no because we don’t have room.  We are travelling for a long time and cannot afford to keep loading Betsy down with trinkets.  I just hope that my future self doesn’t regret not picking up the odd gem here and there.

The town shops included quad bike rentals (although at 300 dirham an hour they aren’t cheap to hire), a couple of supermarkets, one selling telecom data recharge codes (phew), but no ice cream.  What do you expect, Ruth?  There are also cafes and restaurants offering tagines and mint tea.  We stopped off at a fruit and vege shop to find old looking wrinkled aubergines that would be headed for the bin in most other countries, but out here where very little grows beggars can’t be choosers.  The butchers shop had some variety of meat in his cabinet and other, fresher looking, veges that we take note of should we need a top up.

Every village has at least one mosque, usually with red or white minarets silhouetted against the crystal clear blue desert sky.

The roads in the town are compacted sand, the buildings a mixture of mudbrick and straw.  Some of the newer constructions are smooth plastered, the exterior painted in shades of terracotta.

Local Phrases

Everyone was friendly, greeting us with either ‘bonjour’ (French for hello) or the Arabic greeting ‘Salaam’, or occasionally the longer version Salaam Alaykum (which literally translates as ‘and unto you peace’) but also means hello.  French and Arabic are the two main languages spoken with Berber coming in a close third.  The Berber languages are spoken only, there is no written form and this is verbally handed down from generation to generation.

With wallet firmly intact, and shopping bags empty, apart from an internet data top up, we returned to the camping ground to find Helena and Harkin (as well as the famous Lovis, their adorable King Charles Spaniel and Poodle Cross dog) had arrived.  It was great to see them again and they too were in awe of the impressive views before them.

Low Voltage Electricity

Day 14: Yet again still in Erg Chebbi; Sunday 10 Feb

We’re still here, and can you blame us?  Alan woke up early and put the new electric heater on to ward off the chilled desert night air.  The heater, however, is struggling to put out much heat and the electric kettle is taking an age to boil water.  A quick check with an electrical meter reveals another problem we had been warned about in Morocco – low voltage.  The voltage at the plug hovers around 186V, which is the cause of the low heat output and slow water boiling.  He also discovers that our fridge/freezer won’t run properly on the poor power supply and keeps switching back to using gas.

Apparently seasoned travellers to Morocco take with them a transformer, for about €60, which can transform the low voltage into a guaranteed 220V supply.

One of the reasons we stay in camping grounds is to conserve gas as there’s nowhere to refill our Gaslow LPG tanks.  It appears, however, that there is usually enough electric supply for the fridge during the night and if we are not running anything else or having lights switched on.   Welcome to Africa.

We had a laid back day again today, giving our weary travellers time to recover from a big drive yesterday.  It’s not only long distances that takes it out of you when driving around here, but it’s also the mental energy of always being on the look out, navigating roads that range from excellent tarmac surfaces to crumbling edges to narrow one lane roads being used as two lanes.  Then there’s the traffic, the dodgy overtaking, the slow truck and locals that drive seemingly head on not pulling over and expecting the foreigners to make way for them, or so it seems.  Moving through small villages one always has to be mindful of people, cyclists, vendors with carts, donkeys and dogs wandering about on the road anywhere, anytime.  We were brought up to think that roads were for cars, however here, the road is for anyone and anything and vehicles seem to have no precedence.

The Road Toll

Interestingly enough the road toll in Morocco is about 3,800 per annum which equates to 209 per 100,000 vehicles on the road.  Compare this with New Zealand which has 12.2 deaths per 100,000 vehicles and the United Kingdom with 5.1 deaths per 100,000 vehicles.  These statistics put into perspective the dangers of driving here in Morocco and the discerning driver must stay alert at all times.

Onto more pleasant topics, Helena made a sponge cake to enjoy for morning tea and we sit in the warm sun chatting about life and winter conditions in Morocco.  They heard from family back in Sweden that there is a foot of snow on the ground.  We laughed while drinking our tea and tucking into another piece of freshly baked delicious cake.

Desert Tour Options and Costs

The next decision we had to make, in our difficult lives, is what tour do we want to experience.  We have three options from the campsite, a sunset or sunrise camel ride into the desert for 300 dirhams (€27, NZ$46) each, an overnight self-drive quad bike ride into the desert staying in tents for 500 dirhams each (€46, NZ$76) or a full day visiting several different locations in an air-conditioned fully enclosed vehicle with a driver for 1200 dirhams per vehicle (€111, NZ$168).  We opt for the latter, not only due to the excellent value when split four ways, but also because of the variety it offers.  Four of us, plus Lovis, can all enjoy a tour starting at 10am through to 3.30pm.  We booked this in for the next day.  Oh boy, are we in for a treat?

Stay tuned for our desert tour in next week’s blog and find out about Ruth’s driving experience in Morocco – I know right, especially after sharing the stats for driving here.

Costs for Weeks 1 & 2

As you can see there wasn’t a lot to spend money on in week 2 with diesel and camping grounds being the two biggest (if you can call them that) expenses.  However with over 80% of our time spent wild camping, it’s unusual for us to exceed our €50 per month camping ground budget, until now.

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Week 2

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How To Use Argan Oil

Week 1 in Morocco

Week 1 in Morocco

by Ruth Murdoch  |  February 2019  |  Morocco, Africa

Table of Contents

From the Port of Tangier Med to Fes in Week One, 336 kms.  Don’t be fooled by the time according to Google, you need to add one-third more to be anywhere near accurate.

Click to enlarge images

Customs, Culture Shock, and Camping 

 

Day 1: Spain To Morocco; Monday 28 Jan 2019

 

The steps we took to ease into our Moroccan adventure gently can be found below.

 

We read up about Morocco and what to expect, plus we read numerous forums on Facebook.  The best resource we found, and were pointed to on multiple occasions, was a book we purchased on Amazon called Motorhome Morocco written by Julie and Jason Buckley.  This has been an absolutely invaluable resource and should you decide to venture over to Morocco this is a must buy.

 

The ferry to Morocco was booked for 1pm and we are told to be available and waiting one hour before.  So at 11.55am our long wait of ten and a half hours begins for a 90 minute crossing, immigration and customs.

 

Here’s how it unfolded.

 

After nearly an hour we are told we are waiting in the wrong line. “Yours is over there”!  We proceed over there and after another half an hour, as the line finally starts to move, we are informed that the 1pm ferry is the ‘fast ferry’ which can only take vehicles with a maximum height of 2.8 metres (we’re 3 metres high).

 

Wouldn’t it have been nice for the ticket seller, who knew we had a motorhome, to give us this information?  The ‘slow’ ferry we need leaves at 4pm!  So, a little annoyed but accepting the situation, we naively continue to wait, expecting our ferry to leave at 4pm (silly us).

 

The 4pm ferry left at about 6.15pm and arrived around 8.30pm for a 90 minute crossing!   With hot meals and drinks available the ferry appeared pleasant enough and hosted what looks like the world’s smallest duty-free shop.

 

Upon exiting the ferry there is a long drive where one could be forgiven for thinking we’re out of the official zone.  Did we take a wrong turn?  Have we missed customs altogether?  Fear not. The fun is yet to come.

 

Eventually, you come to a lineup of cars, many of them locals, stacked to the gunnels with all manner of goods inside plus bundles of goodies strapped to the roof, some trying to reach the sky.  Here you wait for the customs search. There doesn’t seem to be a system of who goes first to get their car to the front of the queue.  The more aggressive you appear the more likely you can sneak ahead.

 

Horns toot, at what we’re not sure.  One will start and the others soon follow suit. It’s like the male testosterone letting off steam.  We let a couple of cars squeeze in around us before we decide to stake our claim on a piece of tarmac and resist any invaders.

 

People start to unload the goodies from their cars and vans, some even included, literally, the kitchen sink.  Not an inch of space is left unfilled.  It transpires that the locals travel across to Spain to purchase second-hand goods with a view to selling these much needed items in Africa.  Every vehicle is overloaded with suspension maxed out.

 

Men wander around with their car boots open displaying their newly acquired tidbits, waiting expectantly to be processed and are then flagged on.  In most cases the officer digs down through a few layers of goods, peering in with a torch looking for who-knows-what, before either letting the driver go on or directing him up to the X-Ray machine for a full vehicle scan.

 

I wonder if these over-worked customs agents actually find anything needing confiscation?  So far it hasn’t been obvious.

 

Two official looking people with police hats walk around looking at this and that, then refer to their documents. No one is moving very far or very fast.

 

We are lined up across seven lanes and four deep.  If you look hard and long enough you may just see some semblance of order to the chaos around.  The views are entertaining if nothing else.  It’s a game of patience and is certainly no showcase for Moroccan efficiency.

 

By 10.15pm we arrive at the front of the line.  Our documents are taken away for processing.

 

A young good looking policeman indicates he wants to look inside Betsy.  Speaking French, for which we don’t understand, he finally asks in English if we have any weapons.  Alan, always the comedian, suggests ‘just ma femme’ (my wife).  We got a smile out of him.  Next we’re instructed to open the overhead cupboards and revealed some dangerous looking spices and a frying pan that Alan suggested could be dangerous in his wife’s hands.  Again another smile and a lifting of tensions.

 

A quick look inside the bedroom and this young officer realises we are a low risk and leaves us alone.

 

It doesn’t take long before another policeman came knocking on our door with the requisite D16 temporary vehicle import form, our passports and our Green Insurance card in hand.  With no other instructions we assume that’s our ticket out of here.  We gingerly drive forward, hoping to not get into trouble.  We are travelling in convoy with two other motorhomes behind us and are mindful that we have to wait for them.

 

Feeling like we have survived and then escaped the clutches of some foreign country (oh hang on, we have) we then crawl forward at 10.30pm outside the confines and make our way slowly to the money exchange offices that are situated as you leave this zone.  Here we had been foretold is a good place (not quiet though) to spend the night in order to avoid driving in the dark to places unknown on our first night in this foreign land.  Alas, we are not alone.  The car park is filled with motorhomes all having the same idea and we find the last three slots and tuck up for the night.

 

I wonder what treasures await us tomorrow.

Morocco, Here We Come…

Goodies on the Roof

Tidbits Including Kitchen Sink!

Car Boot Jammed Full

Telecom Maroc & A Pick Pocket

Day 2: Martil; Tuesday 29 Jan 2019

We woke to pile driving going on behind us and there was no way further sleep was possible.  We decided to head off about 10am and make our way to the Mediterranean coast, as that’s where the sun is supposed to be.

Having read up ahead of time we were aware that people walk randomly on the road and it didn’t take long before some chap, obviously high as a kite, decided that dancing on the road was important to him as three large motorhomes approached.  The entertainment factor was epic!

Successfully dodging him, we made our way across the high mountains and enjoyed the feast in front of our eyes.  Brightly coloured houses painted blue, yellow, pink, red, or white greeted us nestled amongst the rolling hills.  The roads were surprisingly good and the two lanes for most of the way were plenty wide enough to squeeze past the oddly parked car.

There was livestock galore to pique our interest, from a donkey all loaded up with saddles, to massive storks, which I thought were pelicans they were so large, to cows, sheep and of course dogs.  Zoe informed me she even saw a camel!

The road took us through the small town of Fnidq and then Tetouan before we arrived at our home for the next two nights in Martil.  We stayed at Alboustane, Camping Caravaning, Martil Marruecos, tel 05 39 68 88 22.  GPS coordinates 35.6289 -5.2773.  There is plenty of space for us and the grounds are situated nearby to the township.  The facilities are clean and adequate for our needs.

We took the opportunity to dump the grey and black water before settling into our pitch and plugging into electricity.  Needing electricity is rare for us, as is being in a campground, but with no LPG in Morocco and a desire to stay for a couple of months, we have to conserve every bit of gas we can.

The local cats came out to greet us and were happy to be picked up and cuddled.  They remind me of Turkey and I realise how much I miss having a cat around.

We headed into town to purchase a local SIM card.  Who would have thought that would take all afternoon?

Maroc Telecom was suggested as the best bet, so off we went in search.  Thankfully we had downloaded maps.me before crossing over from Spain so we could find the GPS coordinates and the route to the shop without needing data or the internet.  That made finding the camping ground and the Telecom store easier (GPS 35.6179 – 5.2747).

The language barrier proves to be a challenge as we speak very little French and the man at Telecom spoke nil English.  Thankfully Alan knows a few words and he uses Google Translate for the rest.

Alan and Tommy were at the counter while Helena, Harkin, Zoe and I were seated.  It wasn’t long before I noticed a man walk in and make his way to stand behind Alan and Tommy.  Next thing I see this complete stranger put his hand into Tommy’s pocket!  Quick as a flash, I jumped up to stop him and he casually backed off and walked around to another counter, his plan foiled.  No one in the shop reacted, as though it was a natural occurrence or they didn’t know what was going on, I’m not sure which.  Tommy didn’t lose his wallet this time but it was a close call.  We then realised that having someone watch out for you at a distance is a good strategy to employ.

The SIM card cost us 40 dirham (approx €4) from the Telecom shop and then we had to go down the road to purchase data for 10 dirham (€1) per 1 GB.

We arrived back at the camping ground later in the day, too late to tackle the washing, so that will have to wait until tomorrow.

Helena and Harkin invited us all over for dinner, wild boar and moose stew they had bought with them from Sweden and we contributed with some pastries purchased at the local bakery.  A most enjoyable evening, treasured times with wonderful friends and great travelling companions.  It was our first time travelling with other motorhomers and it proved to be successful and helped us to feel safe, particularly in such a foreign land.

Our Port of Entry, Tangier

After Purchasing The SIM Card, We Loaded Money Here (the shop on the right)

Tommy & Zoe

Harken & Alan

Ruth & Helena

Day 3: Martil; Wednesday 30 Jan 2019

We woke to slight dampness in the air but that didn’t deter Alan from tackling the washing and gosh how it builds up.  That kept us in Betsy for the day and stationed in the camping ground.  It also allowed me to catch up on some paperwork and have a quiet day in preparation for what was to come.

Chefhaouen – The Blue Town

Day 4: Chefhaouen; 31 Jan 2019 

Heading towards the blue town, otherwise known as Chefchaouen, we meander up through the hills. There are people sitting on the side of the road selling their wares, from onions, strawberries, avocados, pears, carrots and plenty more.  They wave out with large smiles on their face.  We had been told that foreigners are treated like celebrities here so expect to be wave at and ensure you wave back.

The roads are rough with roadworks much of the way and they are needed due to the constant potholes and the edge of the road being broken away.  The speed signs say 60 but get behind a fully leaden old truck and travelling at 30km/hr is an accomplishment.

With a build up of cars behind us we find a spot to pull off and ease the congestion for our sake as much as theirs.  This proves to be an unusual manoeuvre as we learn later on.  Passing lanes are non-existent so the locals take their chance to pass slow vehicles, usually on a blind corner uphill.

We come around the corner to see a truck attempting to pass another truck uphill at 30km/hour.  Not a good idea and he thankfully gave up as there’s plenty of head-on traffic.  How they don’t have a head-on accident is anyone’s guess.  We crawl up at a snail’s pace and the expected arrival time on the GPS seems very optimistic.  We were told to add at least 30% onto stated driving times but from our experience this could easily be another 50%.

Rounding the corner we came across an example of what can happen when driving skills are put to the test.  This had just happened before we arrived as the cones were being distributed.

Parking Moroccan Style!

Betsy does a great job passing uphill. She’s not a high-powered machine by any stretch of the imagination but when the goal is passing another vehicle slugging away at 20 something kilometers per hour she doesn’t need a big run up.  Who would have thought she wasn’t the slowest thing on the road?

The trees high up here in the mountains are in full blossom, well ahead of schedule as though they are encouraging the spring to come early.

The locals are spotted washing their clothes in the river below in the light rain.  Or they are stooped over carrying bales of vegetation on their backs walking beside the road.  Others, mainly men, just stand by the roadside, their purpose unclear at least to the foreign eye.

We arrive into Chefchaouen and follow Tommy and Zoe through the township and out the other side to Camping Azilan (GPS coordinates 35.17579, -5.26701) overlooking the township below.  It’s a fair walk away and steep enough to put the eBikes and riders through their paces.

We are greeted at the camping ground by the resident ginger tomcat, a rooster and chickens.

We park and level up then tuck into a chicken salad for lunch.  The rain is coming down hard so I get the Monopoly cards out and try my luck against Alan (damn he’s getting good, I’ve taught him all my tricks).

The rest of our group decides to take a walk into town while there’s still some daylight as the rain has eased off a little.  It’s quite a walk back uphill so we opt to take Betsy and meet the others in the medina. The name medina means an African walled town and we soon learn that most townships we come across have a walled town centre, their medina.  The drive down was a bit hair raising but no-one seemed to care that we wanted to drive on the road while they were using it as a giant sidewalk.

Tommy & Zoe Lead The Way Into Chefchaouen

The Girls Are Looking At The Sights While The Boys Negotiate A Dinner Venue

Brightly Colourful Trinkets Adorn The Shops

Stunning Artwork

The medina is unique.  Lots of little alleys and paths weave their way through the hillside like a spiders web.  There’s no rhyme or reason as to the layout, no shops are the same size or shape, of some hardly have an opening, rather they appear more cave-like than a shop.

Children run around playing, darting in and out while adults stand around, some shouting in Arabic, at what or to whom isn’t clear.

We meet up with our friends in the square and proceed to check out the many restaurants enticing us in with offers of cheap food, photos of specialty dishes and their Google ratings (gotta love technology).  We decide on a little place called Marisco Twins and are treated to good quality authentic tagines. Alan had a starter of shrimp and avocado salad where the shrimps had turned into rather large deliciously fresh prawns served on a bed of lettuce and cucumber.  His main dish was beef and plum tagine and we both tucked into cream de caramel for dessert.  My entree was a Spanish omelet and for the main I opted for chicken and lemon tagine.  We don’t venture out for dinner often so this was a real treat and the food was delicious. 

Avocado and Prawn Salad

Beef Tagine

Lamb Tagine

Chechaouen Without the Rain


Day 5: Chechaouen; 1st Feb 2019 

It rained heavily last night and the wind blew hard.  Facing African rain in a motorhome was an experience.

We didn’t want to leave Chechaouen before we had a real chance to see all the sights it had to offer without the interference of rain and the forecast was promising a break in the weather.  Therefore we decided to hang out for an extra day and relocate to a parking area nearer the medina (GPS coordinate 35.16603, -5.26162) (at 30 MAD compared to 110MAD in the campground).  The money here is called Dirhams, and is written as MAD.  Ten MAD is equivalent to €0.93 and NZ$1.56.  Our parking in the camping ground was €10.20 or NZ$17 for the night including electricity.

This is where we parted with our friends, who are on a tighter timeframe than us and who are in search of finer weather so they headed towards the west coast.  They found it too, 20C compared with our 8C!

Thankfully the expected break in the weather eventuated and by 3pm we were off exploring again.  This township is truly remarkable.  The influx of Jews escaping the Spanish Inquisition in 1492 brought with them the tradition of painting buildings blue.  Five hundred years later this has become famous, known as the ‘blue town’ and is a tourist destination which is possibly the most unique place we have come across on our travels through 25 countries and two continents.

The locals are friendly and were respectful of our tourist status.   We were offered hashish by one fellow, which we politely declined, and were not harassed or bothered by shopkeepers wanting to sell us rugs or take us off the beaten track to see their family shop.  A few asked us where we were from, some knew New Zealand, others looked blankly.  We were freely given unsolicited, helpful information to find our way without asking for or expecting anything in return.  This is a far cry from what we had read about before coming here.  I wonder if this is the city style, as opposed to the countryside towns and time will tell.

We had been given a tip of saying that this isn’t our first time in Morocco, so that we don’t get pestered too much.  So far it seems to be working.

We made our way back to Betsy, buying some eggs, bread and water on our way.  It pays to check out the price of water in particular as it varied from €0.40c per litre to €0.25c per litre.  Whichever way you look at it, the water isn’t expensive.

Arriving back at just before 6pm was perfect timing as the weather started to turn again and it rained constantly through the night, although this time without the howling wind to shake Betsy and us inside her.

Looking Up Towards The Hills Of Chefchaouen From The Square

A Typical Alleway In the Medina

Could You Imagine Checking Into A Hotel Here?

Life In Morocco

Fes (Also Spelt Fez)

Day 6: Fes; 2nd Feb 2019  

According to Google maps we were in for a four-hour drive to Fes today, but Emily, our Garmin GPS had other ideas suggesting it was just a 2.5 hour trip.  However she was clearly not aware of the ‘add 30% to your driving time’ rule and she was way out, Google Maps was right.

We left Chefchoeun at 11am and arrived into Fes at 3.30pm which included a short stop for lunch on the side of the road, a total trip of four and a half hours.  The roads are average and at times reminded me of Bosnian roads where the narrow and crumbling shoulder drops down a foot below the road surface giving a strong incentive to not drive too close to the edge.  I’m glad Alan is driving.

Most of the children just wave to us but some stand on the road with their hand up indicating they want us to stop, basically playing chicken with a 3.5 ton vehicle!  Alan toots the horn as a warning and shows that he has no intention of stopping.

The cars here are a mix of new modern ones and old bangers. Mercedes Benz seem to feature regularly amongst the older ones and we wonder how many original Merc parts are still holding them together.

The crops in the highlands are mainly olive trees, the roadside vendors sell jars of olives in some kind of liquid.  On the flats, the crops are orange trees.

The non-mechanical mode of transport here is the donkey, which not only carries humans side saddle, but their panniers are filled with goodies, sticks or produce.

Flocks of sheep, with newly born lambs, and accompanied by a shepherd brandishing a requisite stick are grazing on the roadside.  The men are dressed in long cotton robes, we later find out are called Jalabas, that oftentimes drag through the mud. They look heavy and not very warm.

Finding a suitable stopping area to pull off for a rest proves challenging so we keep pressing on.

We come across a fully laden truck toppled over on its side in a paddock beside the road.  It’s the second vehicle to be parked in such a manner that we’d seen in just a few days.  Given it was a straight flat piece of road we wonder how it met its demise. Then not far ahead of us we witnessed a very near head-on accident again on a flat straight piece of road. The culprit was traveling directly in front of us and had been swerving in and out of his lane for several kilometres.  Typically Muslims don’t drink so we ruled out alcohol, however, hashish is plentiful and maybe this was a factor?

The offending driver eventually pulled to the side of the road and looking down as we passed I could see he was glued to his mobile phone sitting on his lap.  Ah, that’s the culprit.  Not just a factor in first world countries eh?

Finding the camping ground Diamant Vert** (GPS coordinates 33.98787, -5.0191was easy and the traffic and roads leading into it were kind to us.  The reception area was of first world standards with a solid building, tiled floors, and two (male) receptionists behind the counter.  A restaurant sat alongside in the hope of catering to the campers – a pity about the reviews, however.  After check-in, we found the way to our parking spot nearby a shower and toilet block, which left a bit to be desired in terms of functionality.  The taps were coming off, the hand drier in bits hanging down from the wall and the showers run hot and cold.  The toilets thankfully are of European standard with real toilet paper and included a toilet seat.  Funny how the expected things in life become welcomed and not so expected in a foreign land.  I figured the trick to a successful shower, was to go at 6pm when there is no one else around.

We are relieved to finally be parked up and take a well-earned break over a cuppa tea.  Alan meets the neighbours, a lovely couple from the UK, Karen (Kaz) and Nik and we are invited to join them on a guided tour into the medina tomorrow.   We graciously accept and are looking forward to what tomorrow might bring.

Soon we hear a knock at the door and it’s another English couple, David and Sue, who we were parked beside in Chefchoeun.  They were also accompanying the others into the medina tomorrow and when they heard of a third couple from New Zealand joining them they realised it must be us, so they came over to say hi.

We enjoyed a few glasses of wine together and a warm bowl of pumpkin soup Alan had freshly made for our dinner.  Karen and Nik joined us later for drinks so we could all get acquainted before our medina experience.

** P.S.  We discovered that Diamant Vert closed the day we left and was subject to a legal battle before reopening.  By the time we left Morocco, however, it had reopened.  Check before making your way here or for an alternative camping ground (that didn’t have a very good reputation) try Camping International Fez which is in Camping Contact (sitecode 21394).  (GPS coordinates 33.99982, -4.97150).

Magical Medina in Fes

Day 7: Fes: Sunday 3rd February 2019

Today we headed into the medina of Fes, one of ten UNESCO sites in Morocco.

The medina, dating back to the 9th Century, encloses 89 kilometres of narrow passages, some no more than shoulder-width apart.  It houses 220,000 people and umpteen shops of all descriptions including many that defy description in Western terms.

Donkeys are used to transport goods in and out of the medina just as we would typically use vehicles for transporting goods to and from our businesses and homes.  The donkeys are strong but small animals and appear to just plod along placidly, often also carrying the weight of the rider, sitting sidesaddle with his goods.

Camel and goat heads are hanging in the market, their meat for sale.  Our local guide, Wafi, tells us that the going rate for a camel is €2,800-3,000 so I wonder what price the meat sells for.

During summer, up to 60 degree temperatures are reported in Fes, however, the medina itself with its narrow paths and tall walls stays much cooler.  We enjoyed 18-20C in the sun on our February visit into the medina however with such narrow tall buildings the sun had little opportunity to kiss us or the ground.

The first floors of the medina houses have no windows.  The reason for this is privacy for the women as traditionally it is forbidden to see a woman without her head covered.

The alleyways between the homes are so narrow I’d hate to think how one would get new furniture or move house.  The walls are shored up with timber bracing to stop them from falling inwards.  Although parts of the medina have been rebuilt due to earthquakes and fires, the mainstay buildings dating back from the 9th Century still remain original.

We visited thirteen different places today, nine inside the medina and four outside.  Here’s a list and to read more please click on the link to access our full blog called Fantastic Fes.

1. Royal Palace
2. The Jewish Quarter
3. Al Qarawiyyin University
4. Bou Inania Madrasa (School)
5. Mosques
6. Carpet Weaving and Sales
7. Restaurant Palais Tijani
8. Herboriste Diwan Pharmacy
9. Antiquities Shop
10. Clothing and Weavers Cooperative
11. Chouara Tannery
12. Borg Nord Ruins
13. Ceramic Workshop

If you are going to visit there yourself I highly recommend a Guide.  When people say you will get lost, they really mean it.  The alleyways don’t follow any logical pattern or flow and as great as Google is, there is no such thing as using Google maps here.  I read that even a compass won’t help to find your way back.

I would also recommend visiting the medina with other people for a few reasons.  One, others often see things that you may have missed and can point these out to you.  Two, you get to share the experience and learn about the travel plans of others and pick up on their top tips.  And three, if you’re not in the market to make expensive purchases (eg a new carpet), then maybe someone else will, which takes the pressure and focus away from you.

So if you are interested in finding a professional certified guide (please ensure they are certified as some are imposters), then please contact Wafi, the guide we used.  He charges $400MAD for a couple (€37), for a full day tour.  Below are his details.

Elouafi Hanaf (pronounced Wafi)
Email: [email protected]
Phone: 00212672040156
Works for the Office of Tourism Morocco

Please let him know you found him through Ruth & Alan from New Zealand, cheers.

Stay tuned for week two when we learn how to make Moroccan Beef and Prune Tagine at a private cooking class in a motorhome.

Costs for Week 1

These costs do not include the ferry ride over (€190).

Borg Nord

The Township of Fes

Will We Get Betsy Down Here?

Mosaics Are Beautiful

For more photos and details of Fes, visit our blog Fantastic Fes.

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