Week 1 in Morocco
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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…
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!
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.
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.
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.
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, and 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 omelette 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.
Chefchaouen 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 Chefchaouen 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.
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 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, -5.0191) was 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)
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]
Works for the Office of Tourism Morocco
Please let him know you found him through Ruth & Alan from New Zealand, cheers.
Costs for Week 1
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