Saturday, 21 November 2015

Morocco (Rabat to Zagora)

So after 4 hours wait we got our visas into Mauritania! Finally we could escape the city. We first had to endure the taxi ride back.. Which can only be described as hair raising! Morocco has very few laws and regulations regarding the ownership and upkeep of cars and taxis; getting one with functioning seat belts is a bit like playing Russian roulette. However we got back (yes it was fairly safe Mum), stayed one more night in our rather dubious campsite, got up early in the morning and set off for Casablanca. 

Casablanca was a real contrast, as we drove through it was modern and quite Western. We stayed on the outskirts in a fairly decent campsite (hot showers included.. Toilet roll not), which was next to the market. We spent a few hours rummaging through stalls of veg (a whole host of veg for Dh7) and attempted to buy some meat.. Rob was convinced it was camel.. However I think it was beef! Meat in comparison to veg is fairly expensive, 1.5kg came to Dh90 which is approximately £6, however most of it was fat! Dinner that night was stew (it was stew the next night also). It was during this campsite that my poor flip flops almost met their maker.. not that they are anything to write home about but they are the only thing I have ever bought in Bicester Village (those who know me know my dislike for the place) - Havianas, and I have had them for 4 years and they are so comfortable. During the night the local dog (named Scroffels by ourselves) was keenly sniffing at them, eyeing them up. I left them over night in the tent however one must have fallen down..  by the morning said flip flop, and the dog, had vanished.. Driving out my flip flop was found in all it glory with the campsite owner telling me the dog had brought it to him last night... 

Again we decided to press on and drove the few hours to Marrakech, the drive into the city was amazing. Amazing villas and flats next to tin roofed shops! The scenery reminded me a lot of that scene in Star Wars when Anakin Skywalker competes in the pod racing on Tattooine (yes real Star Wars geek.. And my mum and brother will definitely get this reference!), endless sand and stone, cuboid houses. 

Driving up to the campsite (le relaxais de Marrakech) I was thinking if this campsite is like the last one I am going to have a serious diva strop, but turning into it we saw a pool, gym and beer!! For Dh90 it was a dream! Spending a few lazy days by the pool was going to be welcomed!!! Sadly another repeat flip flop incident occurred..they broke irreplaceably. Saturday afternoon we booked a taxi into Marrakech. It was an amazing experience: The winding streets selling stuff carried on for ever.. Jewellery, tagine pots, sweets and Flip flops (a well known brand called Coldsilver.. Like quicksilver.. It was either those or Proxy..) which were a pricey Dh40! We stopped for food and spent a good hour eating and watching the lads try and entice oncoming tourists into the restaurant! Great entertainment! Watching the street performers was good - acrobats, boxing, music! It was a bit like Covent Garden!

Having spent 4 days dopping about in the luxurious campsite it was decided it was time to move on! Heading towards Zygora on a gravel track that took us up through the Atlas Mountains. We drove past the most breath taking scenery, and even saw snow right at the to. Due to the amount of time taken to drive the route when we saw a camping sign we decided to check it out. Once it was established there was a decent toilet (I was in the midst of a stomach bug), we payed our Dh 80 and settled in. The camp site was in the most stunning place, mountains all around, the stars at night were amazing. It made up for the fact it was windy, and quite possibly the coldest night we have had (including in the UK!).

Leaving the camp site and driving to Zagora took us another 6 hours, again amazing scenery- much like the Alps in summer - and then into flat roads that could go on forever. It seems like Morocco has had a lot of investment into its transport system. New roads are springing up everywhere (sat nav tells us it's gravel when in fact it is brand new Tarmac), men working by hand to add in drainage ditches. Up mountains there are new roads and flats in the middle of nowhere are new roads! When in Fes we were told that UNESCO have labelled a lot of places in Morocco world heritage sites so this may have something to do with it. 

Driving in Zagora at 5.30pm brought its challenges, Mandy had read that mechanics sit by the road in their defenders flagging you down giving you their cards, "come to us, come to us" they say! As it was getting dark we quickly found a camp site (with a proper loo) and settled in for the night. Walking around the next day we found a mechanics, Ali's workshop, which had reviews online so we decided to get a quote for removing the gear box and the bearings changed (on both cars). The quote seemed acceptable however day 1 Rob's landrover went in and it turned out to be more serious, and more expensive, with the whole gear box needing to be changed. Day 2 and you can guess what happened... the same thing had happened to our car.. around £460 later and fingers crossed it will be fixed we were back in business! Mandy and I, whilst this was happening, spent the 2 days washing and then on the limited wifi researching our next stops (mainly visas and routes!). 

On a side note to those who are planning a trip like this, 4 weeks in and we have come across some things we would change (or have changed) given the chance! 

1. Charles wishes he had spent a bit more on the inverter so that it didn't draw as much power from the second battery. We are have real issues with charging appliances without draining the battery.

2. We are using tracks4Africa as our navigation system, however having spoken to a few people now they have used Open Street maps. We have managed to get a copy which we are running simultaneously - much better!!

3. Spent a bit more money on binoculars!

4. Bought head torches that didn't explode!!!! 

Wednesday, 4 November 2015

And onto Morocco.

France and Spain 

In total we spent 2 days zooming through France, and another 5 days in Spain. My conclusions from these countries were... 

- The scenery in general is stunning, especially Spain, even when on the tolls. 

- The tolls are not that expensive due to the fact the diesel is cheap. They are faster and the services have toilets.. Essential for us ladies..! 

- The roadside services (especially France) are immaculate, the toilets are decent and in general there is wifi - in Spain they aren't so great!

- The campsites are not particularly expensive (if you are ever camping in Europe get an Axis card (I think that is how it is spelt) for £13.99 which will give you up to half price off). Campsites ranged from €14 to €30. The people on the campsites are lovely, they come up and talk to you - a lot of them staying in the sun for 8-9 months of the year - and always willing to help! In Benidorm we met Chris who was keen to do the same trip but by bike, we spent a lot of time talking to him, and in Terifa we met Martin, a gentleman from Germany who had spent 2.5 months biking from there - we spent a rainy day in the bar with him (€1.8 for a San Miguel) and cooked him spag Bol in the evening! 

- There are also swimming pools and generally wifi!

There isn't much negative to say about these two countries, only the cost to travel down both was quite high... And also when it rains it pours! 


We caught the ferry from Terifa having bought our tickets the day before in Algersiras. This was a rather interesting place however for our efforts we saved €30, making the price €150. On the Monday Luckily the storm had halted long enough to squeeze our car onto the ferry (maximum height in the hull 1.32m so we were placed rather precariously right next to the door) to make the choppy one hour ride to Tanger. Arriving there we waited to get visas etc for about 45 mins with a very stern looking policeman asking for our passports every 5 minutes, the car being inspected (mainly for guns?!) and a trip upstairs to the police HQ! All fine we headed through to be greeted by a man who claimed to be working for the government.. Non-surprisingly to ourselves he turned not to be, but was a fixer (someone who sorts out documents etc), he was pretty useful providing us with car insurance and other things needed. He wanted Dh100 (there are 15 dirums to the pound... So the rest of this blog post is going to sound very cheap once you convert back!).

Having declined the fixer's offer to look after our cars.. (Wonder why) we found a campsite (Dh 72 per night) and wondered off into town. Mandy and myself were apprehensive about our clothing, however our trousers, jumpers and rain macs were not out of place. Regarding covering our hair, it seemed to be personal choice and no one really took much notice of us. During the night there was another torrential downpour, and we woke up in the morning to a grey sky and a kitten under the bonnet of the car.. Which did not move (despite coaxing with ham) until we had driven 100km down the road where it bounded out of the engine on a road side stop..! Taking the back roads we carried onto Chefchouon famous for its blue houses which were painted like that in the 1930s. Across the back roads we came across a lot of people goat herding, wanting money, lifts and finally our warning triangle which was taken out of the back of car.. Could have been worse! Spending time in Chefchouon was beautiful, heading to the cascades and walking through the hilly town trying not to get lost! Buying food was an adventure in itself (night one: camping beef.. As it sounds...! Pasta and eggs, night two being veg stew.. A whole host of veg for Dh13 and a kg of beef for Dh72). 

Four days in we headed to Fes, arriving to an immaculate campsite with toilet roll, soap and temperamental hot water! We were approached by a guide in the evening offering us a lift into Fes and a 4 hour tour including visits to various shops.. We took it up and would cost us a total of Dh320.. Bargain... And it was, his knowledge was vast, and he took us to the mosaic factories, tannery, oil shop (yes Beckie, be proud I bought so actual Moroccan oil!), a silk weaving shop (pashmina bought..) and a rug loom, where Mandy and Rob bought a lovely blue rug. We spent 4 hours winding through the Medina, full of stunning architecture and interesting little stalls. After this we were taken to a restaurant and left to a lovely meal.. We were not sure what to expect, however for £33 each couple we got endless supply of meze type vegetables, couscous with lamb and chicken. Safe to say we could not move after (they even served beer). On the way home the driver told us he would take to a super market to buy beer... We finished the day with two happy boys and some wine!

Packing up we headed to Rabat, there is not a huge amount to see however here is where the Mauritanian embassy is. For those of you wanting to camp in Rabat for a good time my advise would be don't! Our campsite (the only one open for miles) was a little piece of land, no showers and a hole for the toilet. We managed to book a taxi (again some actions and limited French) to take us to the embassy. The embassy opened at 9, some vague translating of questions from French to English but myself, helped by a gentleman from Belgium and the applications were in for a princely sum of Dh1000 (for all of those over landers out there it has gone up..!).  I leave this blog post whilst sitting in Rabat waiting to hear if we have got our visas.. What a cliffhanger! We leave for Casablanca after this! 

My conclusions so far from this country:

- People are very friendly, they love to chat to you and always say tourists are welcome in the country. They try and chat in English where ever possible.

- Very few people are helping you for free, that is just the way it goes. However it does make people very helpful and most can speak limited English and good French (they even understood me!). French is definitely the language to learn at school.. So all my former pupils try hard in French! It will pay off in the long run!

- Apprehensions about female dress are going to be there, out and about we wore trousers and at the least covered shoulders. In the camp sites shorts were worn and in more touristy areas this was also ok. I did always carry a scarf around with me in the ruc sack.  

- Hot water (and showers) is a luxury, it very rarely comes included with the price of the campsite and can cost Dh15 (not huge amounts!), and even when it does it is more likely to be cold! 

- For those who like a beer, take it across from Spain, it is very hard to get over here! 

- Remember that whilst things seem expensive, you divide everything by 15 and it becomes very cheap!!!