Marg and Leigh's travels around the world

We are two retired women from New Zealand, busy travelling the world. Our quest is to experience other cultures before they are changed beyond recognition, and see endangered animals and environments before they disappear. We hope you like our blog and enjoy our exploits. We sure have had fun getting here.

Monday, 23 July 2012

The Sahara and onwards

Road to Sahara hotel
There we were in the Sahara driving along a very bleak road. The heat continued to increase & the hot Sirocco wind off the Sahara was almost unbearable.

We had been unwell for days because of drinking a complimentary and customary mint tea out of the owner’s dirty glasses at our previous stopover. The last straw came when we found that the place we had planned to stay (a camping hotel) had no shade.
On top of that, their electricity current was not strong enough to run our air-conditioning – absolutely vital for us or we would have cooked! We could have taken a room inside the hotel but they were very hot & stuffy, so we drove back out their gate wondering where to now........?

The guide to our Sahara Hotel
Lo and behold, another chappie on a motor scooter caught our attention: “oh no, not another guide or tout” says we (see previous Morocco blog for background).

But this time the sell was for accommodation and his accommodation DID have shade & normal strength electricity that would run our air-con – sold! ‘Haven La Chance Hotel’ was right on the edge of the Sahara Desert in the Erg Chebbi Dunes – awesome! We declined his mint tea (for obvious reasons!) & crashed in Vanni with the air-con up full!

Sahara dune and camel
Leigh & Marg in the Sahara
During the night there was a sand storm which made everything look rather dusty brown & murky.
The next morning we felt a little better & by just walking a short distance we were in the Sahara desert surrounded by beautiful sand dunes, & very, very hot!

We decided not to do the 4 hr camel ride deep into the desert – bad idea when you need to be within 30 seconds of a loo! We visited the local village & purchased a lovely little kilm for Vanni’s floor & a cushion cover (now a cushion for Leigh’s back while on the computer). Nice memories of the Sahara despite our illness.
Dades Valley street
Dades Valley red kasbah
Next morning, we drove over quite skinny & bumpy desert roads and through the Dades Valley, aiming for Ouarzazat.
The Dades showed us some spectacular scenery. The red cliffs on each side of the valley are lined with Kasbahs, traditional Moroccan built forts and the like.

They are built of mud-brick that is the same colour as the earth, and are virtually invisible until you are upon them. The villages and rock formations were quite different to the desert scenery that we had just seen in the Sahara.

Todra Gorge rug washing day
Coming out of the valley, we came upon lovely Todra Gorge. It showed gigantic pink- grey rock walls and is also dotted with palmeries, Berber villages and ancient Kasbahs.

We eventually arrived in Ouarzazat mid-afternoon but couldn’t find a decent & safe camping place there, so decided to keep trucking – headed for Marrakech.

Dodgy hay truck
Atlas Mountains road
The trip to Marrakech took a lot longer than planned as the road wound its way for hours across the Atlas Mountains – a most amazing mountain range.
The road was not very wide, and had lots & lots of tight corners & amazing views. We were passed by many cars & even managed to pass some trucks ourselves although in one especially tight manoeuvre we touched the side of the truck with our passenger wing mirror!

The truck drivers here a great as they try to let you pass when it is possible by indicating - although sometimes we gulped but went for it & made it!

Marrakech campsite-Marg
After this drive, we were pretty tired by the time we reached the outskirts of Marrakech. We had no idea where the camping grounds were, when all of a sudden, we spotted a camping sign - yay!  We followed it on a main road then off onto a very rough & corrugated dirt track wondering where it would lead us.

We avoided huge potholes, kicked up lots of dust, drove through a dirty little village & then suddenly arrived at the gate to the camp.......which was shut! We peered through the gate & could see a couple of campervans so tooted & waited & tooted & waited.
Eventually a man came who let us in, told us the price & of course we said “Yes, that’s fine!”

Our oasis in Marrakech
What a find - an RV site attached to a 4 star hotel owned by a European couple - beautifully set out with a clean toilet block, nice clean sites, trees and grass (rare in Morocco); a big swimming pool & bar & restaurant topped it off!
What a place to relax & recover! We swam & sat in the shade & just generally relaxed as the heat was well in the mid-40’s & HOT, especially with the hot wind!

Marg & snake charmers Marrakech
We enjoyed the local cuisine & beer, then took their transport into Marrakech one evening. We chose evening as we thought it might be cooler. This was not the case & we struggled with the high temperature and hot wind, but were pleased we got to see some of Marrakech.
We found it to be much more aggressive and dirty, and not nearly as friendly as Fes.

Marg in Essaouira souk
The Essaouira medina
After several nights at our little oasis, we decided we would drive to the coast seeking the cooler temperatures of the Atlantic Ocean.

Our first glimpse of the Atlantic was in Essaouira, a pretty coastal walled city where we found the medina a much more laid back & not at all a pushy place to walk around.

Fishing boats at Aquemond commune
We drove onward on a rotten road where it was hard to pass, and with lots of trucks. The road wound alongside the Atlantic coast and through tiny fishing villages where the boats outnumber the buildings.
We eventually reached Safi, another coastal town, and checked out the Municipal camping ground - but decided to keep moving after seeing their toilets - ugh!

Rubbish used for landfill beside
the supermarket in Casablanca
Signs to another camp lead nowhere, so we ended up in a car park overlooking the Atlantic & free camped there for the night. We felt safe & managed to get some sleep as it was much cooler with the sea breeze.
Next day, we moved on through more little villages to reach El Jadida, a pretty town but flanked by lots of heavy industry which has badly polluted the sandy beaches.
Reaching Casablanca, we found it also badly polluted, dirty and relatively featureless.
Sidi Mohktar market day
Safi market day
On the way out, we got lost (no GPS coverage in Morocco) and ended up driving through a street market, so a local guy in a newish Mercedes offered to guide us.

We moved on, and then hit the same problem again a few km later where we drove around in circles trying to get out of the town through its market!

It was the same in many of the rural places that we had driven through – the main street is the market place and we were always carefully driving through crowds, crates, donkeys, carts and potholes - don’t know how we got through these places without a chicken or two ending up on Vanni’s front grill!
Leigh at Mohammedia Beach
Eventually, we ended up in Mohammedia where we got lost again looking for our campsite. This time we were saved by a teenage boy who offered to travel in our van to show us the way – our positive view of Moroccan people reinforced!
The camp is right on the coast with a nice temperature and lovely sea breezes. The view is great as long as you don’t look too closely at all the rubbish everywhere! 

Gates to Rabat
We then drove up the Atlantic coast to Rabat – the capital. Rabat is a modern city although it does have a medina and souks.
As we wanted to see Asilah, a beach town over 3,600 years old, we needed to be on the coastal road.

However, we were getting a bit tired of the increasing tourism & grubbiness of the coast so decided to head inland and travel the much longer but more picturesque route to Asilah.

Rural taxi stand
The views instantly became more attractive the further from the coast we went. There were lots more small towns, markets, donkeys, people in ethnic dress & not quite as much rubbish (at times).

The roads were bendy and very bumpy in places & the trip took longer than we thought.
Asilah free camping-Leigh
After arriving quite late in Asilah and not finding a suitable campsite, we were eventually directed to a parking lot on the beach front.
Once we paid the parking ‘minder’ a small amount of Dirhams we parked for the night with a great view of the beach and the Atlantic.
All beach parking in Morocco seems to be operated as pay parking whether it is legal or not!

Leigh in Tangier
We drove into Tangier the next morning & navigated our way around some most interesting roundabouts which seems to operate in a totally random manner with cars, trucks & buses going everywhere!
Marg drove skilfully through & managed to avoid any major problems - although there were a few stressful moments.
Part of the beauty of being so big is at least they can see you & usually give way.
Tangier was hot but interesting & we enjoyed walking around exploring before heading towards our ferry back to Spain.
We badly miscalculated how long it would take us to get to the ferry and through customs so we missed the 5pm ferry & had to wait for the 8pm one - that one was at least an hour late leaving but eventually we were heading back to Spain.
Overall, we loved our time in Morocco, especially while travelling through the rural areas. But while we were sorry to be saying farewell to Morocco and the wonderfully friendly people, we were not sorry to be leaving the dust & dirt behind.


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