Africa bound - Morocco
Despite the planned 'early start', we finally said goodbye to La Cala at 12 noon and headed for Algeciras and the ferry to Ceuta in Spanish Morocco.
The day was glorious, crystal blue sky, bright sunshine and most important of all, a calm sea. A couple of hours later we arrived at the port having purchased ferry tickets along the way. At the port the gents was conveniently locked, necessitating in a quick dash into the ladies where it was rather disconcerting to find quite a number of used disposable razors! Maybe the gents had been inoperative for sometime or maybe not?
The ferry crossing was very quick with the high speed catamarans, half an hour later we were in Africa. Being a Sunday and at the start of Ramadan, the border crossing between Ceuta and Morocco was the quietest we had ever seen, this being our fourth visit, with none of the usual chaos. Passports stamped, Grommet added to my passport unofficial officials tipped, next stop customs, so far so good. Now the fun began. First of all the custom's official didn't recognised the 101, so called his boss for a second opinion and this being a quite Sunday, soon we had all the Customs officials inspecting Grommet. Once they had all being assured that it was a Land Rover and had agreed that it was in fact a Land Rover, the next problem was the contents.
Since they were all keen to take a look inside, they were astonished to find a wall of boxes, containing second hand clothes, blankets, children clothes for a small village high in the Atlas Mountains.
We had to unload and open a number of the boxes explaining that we would be travelling in Africa for some time and needed a lot of clothes. Unfortunately the first box contained children clothes, try explaining that one. Once everything had been prodded and looked at by all with a great deal of muttering in Arabic and French, we were at last allowed to go, but only once we had removed the redundant radio antenna. Free at last!
Opting to take the coastal route, Grommet was once more straining away one steep incline after another. It makes you take a moment and think how easily we accept our freedom to travel this globe at will when you view the groups of young men milling around intensely watching the border waiting for the approaching darkness and the chance to escape to the west and here we are trying to escape the west for a much simpler life on the road.
Our first stop was to be Asilah, on the coast and camping Echrigui.
Our mission to purchase and post back to London two pairs of black babouches (typical Moroccan leader slippers/shoes) for David and to buy a pair for me.
Asilah, in my opinion, has the finest babouche in the whole on Morocco. Time for our first Moroccan mint tea and watch the world go by. Then back to camp for an early night and our first rain for two and a half months.
Next stop Casablanca to get our visas for Mauritania.
It is strange on a vehicle dependant journey how attuned you become to every noise, vibration or sound the vehicle makes, so when you stop and there is a very strange buzzing coming from the back, my first thought was that the fridge had packed up already, only to find that it was Blanca's electric toothbrush.
Casablanca. Question 'How do you find a campsite in the centre of a city?' ask loads and loads and loads of people!! Camping Oasis is true to its name and is set right in the heart of a bustling suburb and is a mayor stop for overlanders since the Mauritanian embassy is right around the corner.
The following morning at 9 o'clock sharp, we presented ourselves at the embassy, handed over our passports, photocopies and photos along with a large sum of money and were told to come back at 1 o'clock to collect our visas.
As with most campsites on the overlanders route this is an opportunity to swap stories, e-mail addresses and sat phone numbers along with picking up information about the countries and places ahead. It also gave me a chance to undertake a couple of modifications. Blanca had commented on water dripping from the ceiling mounted inverter, a small hole used to pass cables from the roof mounted spot lights had not sealed properly so out with the silicone sealer. The other was having filled the long range tank, precious fuel was leaking from the breather pipe and would need to be remedied. Spare pipe form the spares box, plugged the drill into the now dry inverter and voila, job done.
Casablanca is much like any other huge city in the world, but with a unique driving style all of its own. The idea is to try and get a close to the side of the other car as possible without actually making contact. With this being the case and most of the Moroccans are a little crazy by the afternoon having not eating or had a cigarette since before down, we opted for a Petit Taxi to go downtown to see the medina and Hassan II mosque. The medina is quite uninspiring, unless you want some fake Von Dutch or Nike, and with most of the stalls close for the festive season we opted jet again for a mint tea in a quiet bar to escape the hustle and bustle. The mosque burst in to life, announcing sunset, the quiet bar was quiet no more and people along with food appeared from nowhere. Having politely accepted some typical Moroccan milk and semolina soup with some small honey pastries and then got lost in deep French conversation with a couple of old guys on the table next to us who had apparently been is Esaouira with Jimmy Hendrix, Beatles songs, the dangers of cocaine and the fact that we were sitting in the very same spot that Lauren Baccall and Humphrey Bogart have sat during the filming of Casablanca and that at a later date, Brad Pitt and Michael Douglas had also been in those very same seats and they knew the Beckam's. Since they were smoking a very large spliff at the time and we didn't want to appear rude by questioning the authenticity of the tale, decide to make our apologies and leave before anyone else famous dropped by.
We picked up some provisions from the marked along with a pressure cooker, now the chance to try out the ex-army cooker which fortunately also runs on unleaded petrol.
Following a few pyrotechnics in which I almost went out in flames, we at last had two roaring flames. It's akin to cooking on a couple of little jet engines. No recipes that require a gentle simmer here.
Next stop Agoudal in the High Atlas.
The surrounding countryside is breathtaken as we crawl up the wooded hillside for El Ksiba and at one point overtake an even slower lorry carrying what appeared to be a Land Rover series I but it was hard to be sure. The climb was quite severe so we stopped for a while to take in the scenery along with our now standard lunch of bananas and grapes. By the sides of the road were row upon row of sacks of charcoal in readiness for the approaching winter.
At Tizli n Izli which sounds like a name of a children's tv character, we turned off for Imichil, this road is also now paved which is a far cry from the first time we took this route and had to drive along rivers guessing which direction to take.
Passing the Auberge by the lake we where tempted to stop and see if they still had Blanca's handbag and makeup from the trip before. The GPS indicated that we should soon be turning off to the right and follow the piste marked in Arabic to Agoudal. How did we ever get by before? Ah! By asking directions in exchange for cigarettes.
At the Aubege de Ibrahim in Agoudal we were greeted by Ibrahim.
The Auberge has definitely come a long way with new rooms, electric light, a toilet block and very good gas powered hot showers imported direct from France, and I almost forgot, an internet address. At last we could pass on our cargo of clothes and things for the village, I think he was quite overwhelmed with everybody's generosity.
It was just pass sunset and time for some typical thick noodle soup follow later by tagine and cheese, again imported straight from France, and of course plenty of time to catch up with each others news. It is amazing how cold it gets up here in the Atlas Mountains at night when it is still only October. The room was very cosy and a very hot shower in the morning soon brought everything back to life. Now the first real test for Grommet, the route through to the Dades Gorge, which is all piste/track.
Very soon we discovered what happens when you meet a truck coming the other way while half way up a mountain. The one coming up reverses back down, which is not for the faint hearted, I can tell you. Three hours or so later we were back with civilisation passing through sleepy little villages and fertile valleys where once more the cries of 'bombon', 'monsieur' 'stylo' from the children at the roadside.
A quick word of advise, if you stop to give the children pens, sweets, money, etc. what you end up promoting is a begging culture. Should you feel the desire to assist and, I have to say it is very hard to resist, the best option is to take the pens, pads, footballs sweets, etc, along to the local village school so that the children have the facilities they require.Hopefully this will eventually put an end to the begging and to the isolated cases of stone throwing.
Once back on paved road, it was time to stop and celebrate Grommet's first test with mint tea and a late lunch of Kalia, salad and fruit before setting up camp for the night.
With the boxes gone we could now utilise the inside of the truck. Sitting with a view of the mountains by moonlight and updating the computer to the purr of the inverter's cooling fan.
The following morning, while we had breakfast, our fellow campers busied themselves by hovering out their caravanettes, now that is 'luxury'. Across country to the road to Rissany, we were on piste once more, but with Blanca trying her hand at the wheel. She had been doing an admirable job considering the weight and size of Grommet, remembering that it has no power steering, the roughness of the terrain which combined with her lack of experience. While rounding a particularly tight rocky corner at speed, we were momentarily air bound, landing with a bang at the side of the truck. Fortunately, there was no damage done apart from a friction burn on Blanca's wrist due to the steering wheel and the bad case of damaged pride.
Next stop, Merzouga, and the Dune d'Or. At last I can give Grommet a much needed check over and remove the locust bodies from the swam we had passed through.
Blanca did some of our much needed washing using our portable hand-rotary washing machine, which in fact works very well.
Tomorrow, we will try out our first African internet caf? before moving into Mauritania and pastures yet unknown.