Week 5 in Morocco
by Alan Gow | March 2019 | Morocco, Africa
Table of Contents
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 motor scooters pulling up and being served using funnels
A Roadside Petrol Station in Guelmim Selling Cheap Untaxed Fuel
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
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.
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
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
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,
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
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.
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
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.
“Have you ever seen bread cooked on stones? It’s called
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
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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
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
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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.