After a very early start (from our Supermarket carpark), we headed off in the dark to Algeciras Port to catch the ferry to Tangier in Morocco. I had forgotten how rubbish the headlights were on our 20 year old Daf Truck, but under the cover of darkness we soon remembered. According to the “agent” with whom we booked our ferry tickets with it was only 10 minutes drive to the terminal. That was very optimistic. Anyway we found it ok and were so early that we were first in the queue to drive through the booth for our ferry operator, which wasn’t actually open at that time.
Eventually we went through and were told to go through to gate 4, (this was actually the same gate we went through last year on our bikes) it was chaos, we were the only non commercial vehicle there, and it was full of trucks and trailers parked in all directions, we were in with the “big boys”. The ferry was due to depart at 8.00am and it was quickly evident that that was never going to happen, at about 8.30ish we were asked to drive forward but we would have to reverse onto the ferry so we could drive straight off! This was interesting to say the least, reversing into a black hole, and not being able to see a thing.
Once on the ferry, we learnt last year that we needed to sort out our immigration papers with the police on the boat, so with Jac having already filled out the forms the night before we headed straight for the desk, expecting to be one of the first in the queue, what we didn’t realise was there was quite a large number of foot passengers on board from coaches. So we had a little wait. Once all the formalities were taken care of, we went up on deck to wave goodbye to Europe, and the little bit of Britain known as Gibraltar.
Once we had docked at Tangier Med Port we expected the chaos to resume (especially after the stress of last years trip), we couldn’t have been more wrong, we reported to the Customs to sort out the documents for the truck, he then told me to go find a Policeman to check my passport first (the policeman I found was in jeans and tee shirt), that done it was back to the customs and documents stamped, and after a very brief check inside The Colonel, we were waved past the carnage that was all the local vehicles being completely stripped of the contents of their heavily laden cars and vans. It definitely paid to get the earlier ferry, as we were the only western tourists going through the checkpoint.
After that we moved away from the police area, and found a place to buy 3rd party insurance for Colonel K, there was a very helpful man in the booth who quoted us 95.00euros for 30 days, or 170.00euros for 90 days, so we opted for the 90 days as this will cover us right down to the Mauritanian border. I learnt a harsh lesson not to ask if it also covers Western Sahara. I was told in no uncertain terms that Moroccans do not believe it is a disputed territory, and that it is part of Morocco!!!
After finding a ATM and withdrawing some Moroccan Dirhams, we left the nicely organised port behind us. We were through all the various checks at the port in less than 30 minutes.
The night before, we loaded up our Garmin with Morocco maps, as we (Vince) had foolishly left our card from last year at home (probably in the KTM), and it was a god send on that first day.
We had decided to spend the first few days in the town of Chefchaouen, which is a small town set on a hillside in the Rif Mountains. We stayed in a small hotel here last year, but didn’t really get chance to see the town as we arrived in the dark and left early the next morning. We were glad that we did as its a beautiful place, and very relaxed.
The drive to the campsite, which is set way up above the town was made all the more difficult as the Garmin took us through the town below, at one point we got pulled in by Police at a checkpoint and when I said the were heading for Camping Azilan, he just pointed up!! The climb was mostly 2nd gear in the truck, for about 8km. I honestly thought there’s no way there’s a campsite for motorhomes up there, but eventually we got there and was greeted by a friendly face who opened the gates for us.
After asking the guy at the campsite the easiest way into the medina, he told us to cross the road, walk round the back of the football pitch and go down the steps, its easy….
He was right, it was easy going down, and straight away you are into the usual very narrow alley ways, still walking down hill, turn after turn after turn. The majority of the buildings in the old city are painted various shades of pale blue, and are stunning in a rustic sort of way.
Eventually we came out in the main square with the Kasbah, and the largest Mosque in the town, in this area there are lots of Cafe’s, and a few tourist type shops.
After a quick drink, and deciding it was not a great idea to have to walk back to the campsite in the dark, we left to find the steps back up. That was easier said than done. It was very hot, and we took quite a few wrong turns (all up the wrong hills), until we eventually recognised a place that we had passed on the way down. It was then a long, long slog back up the hill.
We visited the town on a few occasions, and the climb up that hill to the campsite never got any easier. Though we did spot this woman of the Rif herding her goats on that steep hillside
We decided to buy a local prepaid SIM card for one of our phones while in town on the second day, this was made more confusing as we don’t speak Arabic at all and French only a little, but we managed it somehow. For about £8.50 the new SIM card included 60 minutes of calls, 300 text messages and 1GB of data, its easy to see how so many people have mobile phones here.
We also had a lovely 3 course lunch, and drinks for about £3.80 each. There was absolutely no rush to get us through the food and drink and we spent about 2.5hours just sitting there watching the world go by, including the Berber wise men, who seemed to have the full respect of the younger men.
We stayed at Camping Azilan for 3 nights, the total cost was 300DH, which is about £21.00, as usual we met some great people here, including a Kiwi called Mark who was camping in a tent and was riding a BMW 650. Mark is planning to ride a Honda XR400 back from the UK to New Zealand, best of luck Mark and keep in touch (and thanks for drinking my beer lol). Mark passed on a few campsites to us, that a German guy had in turn given him. Also on the site was a German couple, with a fantastic 30 year old Toyota Landcruiser. Apparently this Overland Vehicle has an amazing history from a woman previous owner that had travelled the middle east, including Iran.
Leaving the campsite, we were relived to see that the Garmin was not taking us back through the town, the trouble was it decided to take us a different way through town….. through streets that the truck wouldn’t fit! After a very tight U turn we decided to ignore the Garmin and follow our noses. This worked and eventually we got down the long steep hill back to the main road. The next 5 hours was spent going up and down and up and….. the Rif mountains, towards Meknes.
On route, we topped Colonel K up with diesel, I put in 1,200 Dirhams worth, which got me 135.5 litres, this works out at approx. 64p per litre, now the Colonels 12mpg doesn’t seem so bad.
The scenery between these two North Moroccan towns is breathtaking in places, ranging from very mountainous to more rolling hills, but where ever you are in Morocco, you can’t take the road conditions of granted!!!! In places its not too bad, then all of a sudden the tarmac has all broken up, or your diverted around the tarmac onto dirt, and of course on every bend theres a dog, donkey, or a car on the wrong side of the road. Its an amazing country.
We found a lovely campsite, about 15km north of Meknes, near the Pilgrimage town of Moulay Idriss (again build on a steep hill). It is also close (about 12km) to the ruined Roman city of Volubilis. Camping Zerhoune Belle Vue is a nice smallish site, with all the areas having some shade from the numerous trees.
This is the view of Moulay Idriss from the Roman City of Volubilis.
We managed to work out that a number 8 or 15 bus from the bottom of the road would take us to Moulay Idriss, but we would have to walk the further 3 or 4 km to Volobilis. So next morning we set off and waited for the bus, hoping we were right. The bus driver took our fare (about 40p each), and off we went, until we got to the bottom of the hill below the town, we got off the bus and set off up the road in search of Volubilis. Sure enough after about a 40 minute walk, there was a small turning off to the left. It was obvious as we got closer, we had under estimated the scale of the place, its huge.
Luckily we had our Footprint guide book (16 years old) with us, which had a fantastic section on the place, describing what each building was used for and from what age it was from. Considering that the place is nearly 2000 years old, and had been plundered for building materials over the ages, its amazing that it it in such good condition.
Everything is completely open to the elements, and the mosaics on the floors are in such amazing condition, I’m sure if this place was in Britain it would be completey enclosed in a building, and it would be swarming with tourists.
The main road into the original Volubilis, ran through the main gateway, and right down to The Triumphal Arch, both of which are still standing, and the original road stones are still in place.
After eating a quick lunch (pre-made by Jac), in some welcome shade, and a quick drink in the “cafe’ “ we set off in the early afternoon heat along the road to hopefully find a bus to take us back. After a much harder walk back (in the heat), we managed to stop a bus near where we were dropped off, it was a bit different this time, packed with sweaty bodies, mmmmm nice.
A great day out, and the total spent, (including a fresh baguette delivered to the campsite) was 44 Dirhams, or about £3.80 for the two of us!
On an early evening walk out up the road, we spotted this guy, ploughing between his Olive trees, with nothing more than an Ass drawn plough, its amazing that these practices haven’t changed for centuries, even so close to a major city such as Meknes.
Check out the Egrets following the plough.
The next day we caught the bus in the opposite direction, into the sprawling City of Meknes, this is one of Morocco’s original Imperial Cities, and for a time was its Capital, there are many old buildings in the city, but many of them are in a poor state of repair, and though are still there, are surrounded by “newer” buildings. The city really is a place of two halves, there is the old city, and then a separate new city as built by the French during colonial times. The old city is the interesting part, and consists of the old Medina, together with the very narrow alleys of the souqs. We spent a fair amount of time exploring the souqs of Nejjarin, and Sebbat, most of the shops/stalls are for clothes or bags etc, but every so often you come across the distinct smell of spices, or olives (in chilli, or herbs or just about anything imaginable).
We bought some olives in chilli, and trust me they are hot!
At one point we got the overpowering smell of fish wafting towards us, but couldn’t see any, so we followed our noses until we came out into a small fish market, the variety of fish and shellfish was amazing, the piles of heads and guts wasn’t….(not shown)
Next stop was the meat market, beef etc down stairs, and by the sounds coming from upstairs, poultry on the 1st floor, the camera didn’t come out here, and after nearly tripping over two cows heads (horns and all), we decided to leave and definitely not venture up to the 1st floor!
Meknes is a very relaxed place, and definitely does not have the irritating hard sell of Marrakech (apart from walking past every Cafe’).
We had lunch in the main square called Place el Hedim, where a couple of cheeky young lads, possibly brothers, managed to sell us a packet of tissues and then a prayer book in Arabic!
As you leave the square you are faced with the Monumental Gate, called Bab Mansur, it was completed in 1732, and is named after one of the Sultans Christian slaves, Mansur the Infidel. It is right on top of the hill and as such dominates the Old City and Medina.
Check out the “immaculate” Mercedes Taxi in the foreground.
After leaving the Old City, we walked across town (a couple of koilometres) into the new vibrant town, with all the banks, insurance buildings, and of course the cafe’s. Whilst walking to catch the bus back, a young lad came running up to me all excited, and wanting to “high five” me, it was the young lad that sold me the prayer book in the morning, he couldn’t believe seeing us again.
Whilst in the new town, we eventually managed to top up our local SIM card at a Maroc Telecom main store, (the staff were very helpful), this was not a usual thing to be done in the store as its usually done on the phone or online, trouble is, our french is limited, and arabic nonexistent. So in the end a security man took us down the road into another place and the guy there did it for us. It was a data only top up, with 16GB for about £14.30! Thats a lot of data.
We caught a packed bus back to the campsite, and chilled in the late afternoon heat, (its about 28c here).
Tomorrow we are heading to Casablanca on the Atlantic coast.
Oh yeah and Jac is still befriending the local canine population.
This is ‘Tick ear’, and ‘Pale face’, apparently they like crackers, smoked meat, hard boiled eggs, and bread! Worryingly they are getting names now.