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Week 2 in Morocco

Week 2 in Morocco

by Ruth Murdoch  |  February 2019  |  Morocco, Africa

Table of Contents

MAP

Week 2 saw us drive from Fes to Erg Chebbi, 454 kms

Day 8: Fes; Monday 4 Feb

Today was a much needed admin day after a big day out in the medina of Fes yesterday.

The afternoon saw us jump on our bikes and head into the Carrefour supermarket.  While we were out, we hunted down an electric fan heater as the nights are cold here and we don’t want to use our motorhome heating because we have to conserve our LPG to make it last two months.

The ride into town was thankfully fairly uneventful while we rode in with Kaz and Nik our camping neighbours.  Unlike the great cycle paths we became accustomed to in Europe, here you are forced to use the roads, as even the footpaths are not suitable for bikes.

We headed back to the camping ground and lunch was now long overdue. As often seems to be the case with us, we couldn’t find any eating place en route that attracted enough of our interest to inspire us to stop.  As we had plenty of food back in Betsy, that was no problem.

Tonight we have been treated to a cooking class and Nik and Kaz’ motorhome by our guide Wafi.  He is making a beef and prune Tagine with fruit for dessert.

For the recipe click here.

The almost finished product

Spiced Meat

Onions Piled High

Tomatoes placed on top

Tomatoes Skinned & Chopped

Serving Time!

Day 9: Azrou; Tuesday 5th Feb

It was time to move on today and we pointed south to Azour.  We had read ahead of time that they hold their souk (market day) on a Tuesday and we were hoping to arrive in time to experience our first one in Morocco.

On the drive to Azour we climbed high into the mountains.  Being such a clear day we stopped at the top to take a photograph.  Here we had our first of many experiences of roadside stalls with vendors selling all manner of fossils and mineral stones.  The kind gentleman showed us several gorgeous specimens, which look like any ordinary stone from the outside but when opened revealed a hollow centre lined with crystals in vibrant silver, green or purple.  I couldn’t resist and for €10 we came away with a lovely purple crystal stone and a polished quartz egg-shaped rock (we call this shape eggular).  The seller wanted to swap clothes for his wares but Alan doesn’t have excess clothes so we politely declined.

We resumed our journey, climbing the steep mountain passes and inevitably came across slow-moving fully laden trucks.  Picture the scene as Alan indicates to pass uphill.  Betsy isn’t the most powerful of vehicles but we eventually built up speed.  He pulled out to pass and halfway through the manoeuvre we heard a toot. A car is passing us… as we are passing the truck… uphill on a narrow windy road… with the straight road ahead rapidly disappearing!  There was nowhere for us to go safely except to continue passing.  The car driver did the same while fists appeared out from every window.  We all passed safely (phew) and the car slowed down and appeared as if it is going to stop.  The passengers in the backseat continued to stare at us.  This could be an interesting situation developing and I cautioned Alan to not stop under any circumstances; thankfully the driver continues driving onwards.

That was a close call!

We arrived into the salubrious castle themed Emirates Tourist Centre (GPS coordinates 33.44348, -5.19062), a Camping ground of much visual grandeur (on first impressions anyway).  It’s a pity they had no hot water, the men’s toilets were locked, there was no toilet paper, and both the reception and restaurant were closed. At 80 dirhams per night it was the cheapest we had stayed in so far but the lack of facilities wouldn’t have supported any higher fee.  It wasn’t until we had a look around this camping ground that we realised there had been no cooking facilities available in any site we had come across to date.  That won’t help with reducing our gas consumption.  Luckily though, we bought a cheap stand-alone electric hot plate in Spain prior to catching the ferry so we can do most of our cooking on that.  This is a good tip for anyone with the refillable LPG gas system planning on touring Morocco for an extended period of time.

Off come the bikes and we coast down the steep hills for the four-kilometre ride to see the town’s souk.  Unfortunately for us we seem to have arrived as things were packing up.

We need cash and after trying two ATM’s we finally find one prepared to accept our Qantas Australia cash card and dispense some much needed cash.  There are limits on how much the ATM’s can dispense at one time and although the menu offers options to request up to 4,000 dirhams, none seem to cough up more than $2,000 Dirham!  Humph!  It’s a bit annoying when your cash card provider charges A$2.50 per transaction but you can’t take out a decent wad of cash in one go.  Never mind, we are in Africa and this is a cost of being here and is somewhat insignificant in the big picture.  Another pro-tip – we tried our cash card in several bank ATM’s, all of which wanted to charge a fee in dirhams for dispensing our cash.  However, the Poste Maroc ATM’s were free to use so we now look out for them.  We had a similar experience in Turkey where the Post Office ATM’s were also fee free.

We bought a couple of pastries and bread then made our way back to the campsite. Our attention was taken by some delicious looking rotisserie chickens in a roadside restaurant and with fond memories of the succulent, crisp birds we were able to buy in Istanbul for a pittance, we enquired about the price.  Maybe they quoted tourist prices or maybe they wanted to charge full restaurant prices but we decided that the price tag of 80 dirhams was too rich for us.  Remember we bought a three-course meal for 45 dirhams in Fes just last week!

As we trekked back up the steep hill ever grateful for electric bikes, we thought back to the extreme hill-climb up to the Rock of Gibraltar where even with electric assistance we still needed to get off and push at times.  These hills have nothing on that experience.

Back at the camping ground I settled down to write for the next five hours while Alan cooked dinner and cleaned up.   What a great husband I have.

Transporting Sheep Moroccan Style

The Famous Purple Rock

View From The Top

Overlooking Azour From The Town

Cool Street Art

Tagines Anyone?

Emirates Tourist Centre Camping Ground

The Drive Into Emirates Tourist Centre

Betsy No Friends

Day 10: Jurassique; Wednesday 6th Feb

Happy Waitangi Day to us.  For our non-New Zealand readers, Waitangi Day is New Zealand’s National Holiday, which commemorates the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi between the indigenous people of NZ (the Maori) and England.

We left Azrou today, heading for Camping Jurassique in the picturesque Ziz Valley. Apparently the camping ground there has a free washing machine.  Isn’t it funny how something so basic can attract many motorhomers to their site?

Our first stop was for diesel and then we were on the road again.  We started climbing into the hills and Alan pulled off to the side to let the build up of cars behind us pass. We then realised we had an unwanted passenger!  A young lad on roller skates had hitched a ride by hanging off the back of Betsy.  Once we came to a stop, he had let go and was on his way back down the hill.  Wow, that was somewhat frightening and now we are aware to look out for such unwanted company.

Our first stop was to view Barbary apes in the wild.  They are located in the Cedre Gouraud Forest  (GPS coordinates 33.4263 -5.1555).  The narrow rough access road is lined with snow and meeting any on-coming traffic required one vehicle (usually us) to pull off the road to one side.  As we pulled into the guarded parking area, an elderly toothless man asked for the 5 dirham parking fee and also if he can have Alan’s shoes.  Nice try mate.  We explain that Alan only has one pair and he accepted that graciously.  Plus he would have swum in Alan’s size 11 shoes.

All manner of micro commercial enterprises have sprung up based around the ape hangout.  Men have horses available for riding and a small Shetland pony is taken out from the back of an ordinary van like you would carry a dog.  The owner wanted me to have my photo taken with the pony and I oblige.  That’s how they make their money here.  Another man wanted me to climb onto a horse that was stamping and whinnying and making a big fuss.  No thanks!  Further in, a man is selling bags of unshelled peanuts but Alan didn’t connect the peanuts with the apes and declined to buy some.  Thankfully another family had come to feed the apes with their purchased peanuts, which brought them close enough for us to photograph.

The track to the apes is lined with what looks like a shanty town of stalls selling handmade cedar woodcrafts and also the usual (now) fossils and minerals. They make their stalls out of any materials they can find which makes for some interesting architecture.

We manage to avoid buying anything today.  

The Shanty Type Huts With Locally Made Cedar Handcrafts

The Small Huts Open For Business

Barbary Apes In The Wild

We have a lot of distance to cover to get to Jurassique Camping so after some time with apes we were on our way again.  The road wound through some stunning scenery, the likes of which I had never pictured seeing in Morocco.  Of all the countries we have visited, 25 in total now, there have only been in two standout scenic countries, where you are constantly looking around in awe at what you are seeing – Norway and now Morocco.

Alan wanted to take a road shown on Google Maps as a shortcut to save ten kilometres or so but one look at the road had us in stitches.  Not even if our life depended on it could we get Betsy up that track!

Don’t Worry Betsy We’re Not Taking You Up There

We climb again, which seems to be a regular theme around here and came up behind the most overladen truck I’ve ever seen.  It’s crawling uphill at about 15kms per hour and the hay it is carrying hits the top of the roadside trees.  One wrong move, a pothole or incorrect camber and the entire contents would topple the truck over.  I feel very nervous being behind such a hazard but there’s nowhere to pull over or pass so we hang back and wait for an opportunity to overtake.  There appears to be no such thing as a passing lane in Morocco and not once do we see a slow vehicle pull over to allow other traffic to pass.  This resulted in some interesting passing maneuvers.

What Health & Safety Concerns?

As we arrived at the plateau the scenery continued to impress.  Snow topped mountains in the distance stood tall and proud behind red soil in the foreground.  The remnants of the recent snow lingered on the ground wherever it was shaded by trees or cliffs.

Life appears harsh up here.  Housing is oftentimes in the form of makeshift looking huts or shacks. One had plastic and sticks for their roof.  Intermittent roadside stalls sell whatever the locals have available, often eggs and fossils; there are plenty of those here.

The road took us through more townships, some enjoying their weekly souk and are generally in fair condition, but with sections of rough, potholed tarmac with crumbling edges.  I was happy to have our tyre pressure sensor system to give us fair warning of a puncture or slow leak, as you wouldn’t want to have a blow out on this sort of terrain.  A lot of motorhomes these days (including ours), don’t have spare wheels so anything that helps us to preserve our tyres and our safety is money very well spent.  Alan purchased this off Amazon before coming to Morocco after researching what is the most suitable one for motorhomes.  It is amazing what a sense of comfort you get from being able to see your tyre pressures in real time and know that they are optimised for safety and fuel economy.

Virtually every day we drive we see an accident and today was no exception.  An old Citroen car had rolled leaving his bonnet behind.  People from all around were offering assistance as we crawled past the scene.

We had a few close calls today with traffic.  Aside from the young lad who hitched a ride earlier, we then narrowly escaped a head-on – someone passing an oncoming car but misjudged the distance.  Later, two vehicles overtaking a slow truck in front of us had seemingly millimeters to spare before they ducked into a gap the front vehicle is forced to open up.

There is always something to see in these remote rugged roads, from flocks of sheep with their shepherds to donkeys carrying their owner as well as bundles of animal feed or twigs for cooking.

These Are Strong Animals That Work Hard All Day

The Colours and Mountain Peaks Continue To Impress

Water is Rare Here

A Local Home

An Old Kasbah (Hotel)

The Views Are Spectacular

We Weren’t Expecting Snow On The Mountains

As we drove through another township we experienced two kids jumping onto the back of our bike rack.  A younger kid deliberately walked out in front of us to slow us down so the teenagers could jump onto the back of Betsy.  Thankfully a local car behind us tooted at them and they jumped off.  Their weight could break our bike rack so we were unimpressed.  If you’re traveling in Morocco watch out for this behaviour when driving at slow speeds through the townships.

We left at 12.30 for a 211 kilometre journey. While our GPS said the driving time should have been y hours, it actually took us 5 hours 24 minutes due partly to the difficult roads and slow trucks, but also because the amazing and unique scenery compelled us to stop repeatedly to take it all in and capture the moments on camera.

We arrived at Jurassique Camping (GPS coordinates 32.15406, -4.37628) in the Ziz Gorge as dusk approached, with the last of the day’s sun kissing the brown dusty mountain tops.

Alan took the opportunity to throw on a load of washing which dried with no problem overnight despite the low temperatures.

I headed off to the showers and picked the only one where the shower rose is actually hanging on the wall. The water only trickled out warmly but I’m not complaining.  We reckon that many of the houses we have passed on our long journey here today wouldn’t even have running water, let alone hot running water.

With us settled in for the night, it was time to make dinner and connect with family over Skype.  The internet here is reasonable and enables us to keep in touch.

The Camping Ground It All Its Glory

Day 11: Erb Chebbi; Thursday 7th Feb

Last night’s camping ground had very little around it to keep us there for more than one night and we head off.  We wind through the outstanding beauty of the Ziz Valley with constant exclamations at new sights of natural beauty or interesting buildings.  The arid hills stand proud and tall while small townships blend into the countryside with their brown mud bricks which are literally made from the surrounding lands.  These houses are not built to last and the rain and wind immediately start the process of returning the walls back into mud and sand.  Everywhere we see a mixture of new buildings, partially decayed structures, and long abandoned remnants.

Over countless thousands of years, the Ziz river has carved out large canyons through the countryside.  At times the river disappears entirely then emerges again allowing an oasis to bloom at the bottom of the valley.  Civilisation grasps at this opportunity for life and mud-brick houses and townships grace the edge of the greenery.  Date palms line up in groves and evidence of individual gardens can be spotted.

We came across a large supermarket (Acima, GPS coordinates 31.9305 -4.4529) and replenished supplies of meat and other hard to find essentials, such as glass cleaner.  They stocked a good range of groceries and it was well worth a stop before heading further south where larger supermarkets are sparse.  Their vegetables, however, looked somewhat secondhand so we gave them a wide berth.  That proved to be a good idea as later Alan bought a whole bag full of veges and a loaf of bread for 13.50 dirham (€1.25).

Spices In Bulk Bins at Supermarket

From Local Greengrocer

Our planned stopping point tonight was at a camping ground that backed straight onto the Sahara Desert sand dunes at Erg Chebbi.  Following the GPS coordinates in our sat nav, we were directed off the main road and across a barely made piste (compacted dirt and gravel) track towards the dunes.  Betsy was not made for this sort of rough road and none of us enjoyed the deep ruts and sand.  Tip – if you are venturing down here and your GPS tells you to travel off-road then carry on for a couple more kilometres to Mertzouga where you can double back on an asphalt road that takes you closer to the campsite.

As we got closer to the GPS coordinates on the sat nav, it became apparent that the roads shown on the screen did not actually exist and were actually a web of rough sandy tracks.  We followed the directions as best we could until we faced an uphill incline of soft sand, which Alan refused to risk.  I got out, had a look around and saw some motorhomes on the next site over so backed out in search of joining them.

A few more sand tracks later we arrived.  Haven La Chance (GPS coordinates 31.13488, -4.01594) is a large site incorporating an Auberge (accommodation), a restaurant and a very large area for campers which extends into the sand dunes, and gosh how stunning is this place?

We were asked how long we will stay because they have a large group of Dutch motorhomers coming in on Wednesday 13th February.  As it was Thursday 7th February, we knew we would be well gone by then.  ‘Just a couple of days’ Alan said in broken French and all was good.  The couple turned into six nights.

With a sense of excitement we nabbed the perfect spot overlooking the sand dunes so we could soak up the view in front of us.  Never before had we been in such an unique location.  We really felt as though we were in the Sahara desert, that nothing else in the world mattered.  This stunning view had to be from a movie set.  We walked into the dunes to assure ourselves that it was genuine and after returning with half an inch of sand in our shoes we can guarantee its authenticity.

Ali, the brother of Hamed the boss, is in control here and treats us to a tour of the site.  Ali, according to his older brother, is ex military and displays his military efficiency when proudly directing each vehicle into exactly the right position, ensuring maximum happiness for the punters.  There really isn’t a wrong place to park as the view is simply magnificent no matter where you look.

The Stunning Sahara Dessert

The facilities here are excellent with three large unisex showers big enough for two people and three European style toilets.  They even have a very enticing full swimming pool, which would have been tempting to dive into had the temperature been a few degrees warmer.

The nights here are cool, about 6C and during the day it climbs up to 25C.  The air is dry, the humidity is about 11 per cent.  I could feel the parched air playing havoc with my skin, making me reach for the moisturiser regularly.  My hair was frizzy with static electricity and my nails chip, crack and snap off at the slightest touch of something too hard.  I wouldn’t have traded this for anything though, it’s a small price to pay for soaking up the winter desert.

Evening and morning are the best times to see the sand dunes as the light provides shadows giving depth to the valleys and crests.  The clear air and total lack of light pollution result in a night sky bursting with stars which delighted us with a mixture of yellow, orange, pink and blue hues. The longer we look, the more colours expose themselves.

We can’t believe we are here, in the Sahara Desert, in all its glory.  I stand in awe, jaw dropped and excitement in my loins.

I can now see why Ali was concerned that we might still be here when the Dutch party arrives on the 13th.  Apparently is it common for people to plan on a short visit but then fall in love with the place and never want to leave.  Most of our neighbours have been here for many days, some weeks and others even reported they had been here since November last year – four months and counting.  It’s the perfect way to escape the harsh bitter northern European winters and why wouldn’t you?

Our View For The Next Six Days

Day 12: Still at Erb Chebbi; Friday 8 Feb 2019

Dawn’s first light appears about 7am and the sun peaks its head up over the dunes soon after 8am.  Alan braved the cool morning air to shoot some stunning photographs of yet more sunrises.  There’s something rather special about this one however – it’s the Sahara!

The morning sun gives colour to the sand like no other time.

Today was for relaxing and catch up on some downtime.  There is a special stillness, peace and beauty out here that just makes you want to stop and drink in the experience.

Alan sent some photos onto our Moroccan Messenger Group (Zoe, Tommy, Helena & Harkin) and we soon heard back that Helena and Harkin are making their way to us and will be here tomorrow.  After we all went our own way at Chefchaouen a week or so ago, Helena and Harkin headed to the west coast before now coming back across to the eastern side.  We are travelling much more slowly down to the south of Morocco before crossing over to the west.  Their impending visit has us excited to be seeing them again.

The evening sunsets are equally impressive over the dunes.

 


Day 13: Still at Erb Chebbi; Saturday 9 Feb

What better place to have breakfast than in the desert on a stunning, mild morning with blue skies over rolling sand dunes.  Alan made us a yummy breakfast of local turkey sausages and eggs.  The red sausage meat is highly spiced and absolutely delicious.  Make sure you put this on your shopping list if you like sausages.

Check Out That Breakfast View

We heard some scratching sounds and looked to see a rather large dung beetle scurrying about his business.  They make cool tracks in the sand behind them.

Later in the day we wandered into the township of Et Taous to check out the local shops.  Not expecting to see much we were surprised to come across several souvenir shops all selling pretty much the same things, fossils, mineral stones, rugs, scarfs, leather shoes, brightly coloured lightweight clothing and other trinkets.  I felt sorry for the shop owners that we really are not in the market to purchase anything (apparently!).  Alan tells many a seller that even if you give it to us “gratis” (free), we would say no because we don’t have room.  We are travelling for a long time and cannot afford to keep loading Betsy down with trinkets.  I just hope that my future self doesn’t regret not picking up the odd gem here and there.

The town shops included quad bike rentals (although at 300 dirham an hour they aren’t cheap to hire), a couple of supermarkets, one selling telecom data recharge codes (phew), but no ice cream.  What do you expect, Ruth?  There are also cafes and restaurants offering tagines and mint tea.  We stopped off at a fruit and vege shop to find old looking wrinkled aubergines that would be headed for the bin in most other countries, but out here where very little grows beggars can’t be choosers.  The butchers shop had some variety of meat in his cabinet and other, fresher looking, veges that we take note of should we need a top up.

Every village has at least one mosque, usually with red or white minarets silhouetted against the crystal clear blue desert sky.

The roads in the town are compacted sand, the buildings a mixture of mudbrick and straw.  Some of the newer constructions are smooth plastered, the exterior painted in shades of terracotta.

Everyone was friendly, greeting us with either ‘bonjour’ (French for hello) or the Arabic greeting ‘Salaam’, or occasionally the longer version Salaam Alaykum (which literally translates as ‘and unto you peace’) but also means hello.  French and Arabic are the two main languages spoken with Berber coming in a close third.  The Berber languages are spoken only, there is no written form and this is verbally handed down from generation to generation.

With wallet firmly intact, and shopping bags empty, apart from an internet data top up, we returned to the camping ground to find Helena and Harkin (as well as the famous Lovis, their adorable King Charles Spaniel and Poodle Cross dog) had arrived.  It was great to see them again and they too were in awe of the impressive views before them.

Day 14: Yet again still in Erb Chebbi; Sunday 10 Feb

We’re still here, and can you blame us?  Alan woke up early and put the new electric heater on to ward off the chilled desert night air.  The heater, however, is struggling to put out much heat and the electric kettle is taking an age to boil water.  A quick check with an electrical meter reveals another problem we had been warned about in Morocco – low voltage.  The voltage at the plug hovers around 186V, which is the cause of the low heat output and slow water boiling.  He also discovers that our fridge/freezer won’t run properly on the poor power supply and keeps switching back to using gas.

Apparently seasoned travellers to Morocco take with them a transformer, for about €60, which can transform the low voltage into a guaranteed 220V supply.

One of the reasons we stay in camping grounds is to conserve gas as there’s nowhere to refill our Gaslow LPG tanks.  It appears, however, that there is usually enough electric supply for the fridge during the night and if we are not running anything else or having lights switched on.   Welcome to Africa.

We had a laid back day again today, giving our weary travellers time to recover from a big drive yesterday.  It’s not only long distances that takes it out of you when driving around here, but it’s also the mental energy of always being on the look out, navigating roads that range from excellent tarmac surfaces to crumbling edges to narrow one lane roads being used as two lanes.  Then there’s the traffic, the dodgy overtaking, the slow truck and locals that drive seemingly head on not pulling over and expecting the foreigners to make way for them, or so it seems.  Moving through small villages one always has to be mindful of people, cyclists, vendors with carts, donkeys and dogs wandering about on the road anywhere, anytime.  We were brought up to think that roads were for cars, however here, the road is for anyone and anything and vehicles seem to have no precedence.

Interestingly enough the road toll in Morocco is about 3,800 per annum which equates to 209 per 100,000 vehicles on the road.  Compare this with New Zealand which has 12.2 deaths per 100,000 vehicles and the United Kingdom with 5.1 deaths per 100,000 vehicles.  These statistics put into perspective the dangers of driving here in Morocco and the discerning driver must stay alert at all times.

Onto more pleasant topics, Helena made a sponge cake to enjoy for morning tea and we sit in the warm sun chatting about life and winter conditions in Morocco.  They heard from family back in Sweden that there is a foot of snow on the ground.  We laughed while drinking our tea and tucking into another piece of freshly baked delicious cake.

The next decision we had to make, in our difficult lives, is what tour do we want to experience.  We have three options from the campsite, a sunset or sunrise camel ride into the desert for 300 dirhams (€27, NZ$46) each, an overnight self-drive quad bike ride into the desert staying in tents for 500 dirhams each (€46, NZ$76) or a full day visiting several different locations in an air-conditioned fully enclosed vehicle with a driver for 1200 dirhams per vehicle (€111, NZ$168).  We opt for the latter, not only due to the excellent value when split four ways, but also because of the variety it offers.  Four of us, plus Lovis, can all enjoy a tour starting at 10am through to 3.30pm.  We booked this in for the next day.  Oh boy, are we in for a treat?

Stay tuned for our desert tour in next week’s blog and find out about Ruth’s driving experience in Morocco – I know right, especially after sharing the stats for driving here.

Costs for Weeks 1 & 2

As you can see there wasn’t a lot to spend money on in week 2 with diesel and camping grounds being the two biggest (if you can call them that) expenses.  However with over 80% of our time spent wild camping, it’s unusual for us to exceed our €50 per month budget, until now.

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Week 1 in Morocco

Week 1 in Morocco

by Ruth Murdoch  |  February 2019  |  Morocco, Africa

Table of Contents

From Tangier to Fes in One Week, 345 kms

Click to enlarge images

Day 1: Spain To Morocco; Monday 28 Jan 2019

The steps we took to ease into our Moroccan adventure gently can be found here.  We read up about Morocco and what to expect plus we read numerous forums on Facebook.  The best resource we found, and were pointed to on multiple occasions, was a book we purchased on Amazon called Motorhome Morocco written by Julie and Jason Buckley.  This has been an absolutely invaluable resource and should you decide to venture over to Morocco this is a must buy.

The ferry to Morocco was booked for 1pm and we are told to be available and waiting one hour before.  So at 11.55am our long wait of ten and a half hours begins for a 90 minute crossing, immigration and customs.

Here’s how it unfolded.

After nearly an hour we are told we are waiting in the wrong line. “Yours is over there”!  We proceed over there and after another half an hour, as the line finally starts to move, we are informed that the 1pm ferry is ‘fast ferry’ which can only take vehicles with a maximum height of 2.8 metres.

Wouldn’t it have been nice for the ticket seller, who knew we had a motorhome, to give us this information.  The ‘slow’ ferry we need leaves at 4pm!  So, a little annoyed but accepting the situation, we naively continue to wait, expecting our ferry to leave at 4pm (silly us).

The 4pm ferry left at about 6.15pm and arrived around 8.30pm for a 90 minute crossing.   With hot meals and drinks available the ferry appeared pleasant enough and hosted what looks like the world’s smallest duty-free shop.

Upon exiting the ferry there is a long drive where one could be forgiven for thinking we’re out of the official zone.  Did we take a wrong turn?  Have we missed customs altogether? Fear not. The fun is yet to come.

Eventually, you come to a lineup of cars, many of them locals, stacked to the gunnels with all manner of goods inside plus bundles of goodies strapped to the roof, some trying to reach the sky.  Here you wait for the customs search. There doesn’t seem to be a system of who goes first to get their car to the front of the queue.  The more aggressive you appear the more likely you can sneak ahead.

Horns toot, at what we’re not sure.  One will start and the others soon follow suit. It’s like the male testosterone letting off steam.  We let a couple of cars squeeze in around us before we decide to stake our claim on a piece of tarmac and resist any invaders.

People start to unload the goodies from their cars and vans, some even included literally, the kitchen sink.  Not an inch of space is left unfilled.  It transpires that the locals travel across to Spain to purchase second-hand goods with a view to selling these much needed items in Africa.  Every vehicle is overloaded with suspension maxed out.

Men wander around with their car boots open displaying their newly acquired tidbits, waiting expectantly to be processed and are then flagged on.  In most cases the officer digs down through a few layers of goods, peering in with a torch looking for who-knows-what, before either letting the driver go on or directing him up to the X-Ray machine for a full vehicle scan.

I wonder if these over-worked customs agents actually find anything needing confiscation?  So far it hasn’t been obvious.

Two official looking people with police hats walk around looking at this and that, then refer to their documents. No one is moving very far or very fast.

We are lined up across seven lanes and four deep.  If you look hard and long enough you may just see some semblance of order to the chaos around.  The views are entertaining if nothing else.  It’s a game of patience and is certainly no showcase for Moroccan efficiency.

By 10.15pm we arrive at the front of the line.  Our documents are taken away for processing.

A young good looking policeman indicates he wants to look inside Betsy.  Speaking French, for which we don’t understand, he finally asks in English if we have any weapons.  Alan, always the comedian, suggests ‘just ma femme’ (my wife).  We got a smile out of him.  Next we’re instructed to open the overhead cupboards and revealed some dangerous looking spices and a frying pan that Alan suggested could be dangerous in his wife’s hands.  Again another smile and a lifting of tensions.

A quick look inside the bedroom and this young officer realises we are a low risk and leaves us alone.

It doesn’t take long before another policeman came knocking on our door with the requisite D16 temporary vehicle import form, our passports and our Green Insurance card in hand.  With no other instructions we assume that’s our ticket out of here.  We gingerly drive forward, hoping to not get into trouble.  We are travelling in convoy with two other motorhomes behind us and are mindful that we have to wait for them.

Feeling like we have survived and then escaped the clutches of some foreign country (oh hang on we have) we then crawl forward at 10.30pm outside of the confines and make our way slowly to the money exchange offices that are situated as you leave this zone.  Here we had been foretold is a good place (not quiet though) to spend the night in order to avoid driving in the dark to places unknown on our first night in this foreign land.  Alas we are not alone.  The car park is filled with motorhomes all having the same idea and we find the last three slots and tuck up for the night.

I wonder what treasures await us tomorrow.

Morocco, Here We Come…

Goodies on the Roof

Tidbits Including Kitchen Sink!

Car Boot Jammed Full

Day 2: Martil; Tuesday 29 Jan 2019

We woke to pile driving going on behind us and there was no way further sleep was possible.  We decided to head off about 10am and make our way to the Mediterranean coast, as that’s where the sun is supposed to be.

Having read up ahead of time we were aware that people walk randomly on the road and it didn’t take long before some chap, obviously high as a kite, decided that dancing on the road was important to him as three large motorhomes approached.  The entertainment factor was epic!

We made our way across the high mountains and enjoyed the feast in front of our eyes.  Brightly coloured houses painted blue, yellow, pink, red, or white greeted us nestled amongst the rolling hills.  The roads were surprisingly good and the two lanes for most of the way were plenty wide enough to squeeze past the odd parked car.

There was livestock galore to pique our interest, from a donkey all loaded up with saddles, to massive storks, which I thought were pelicans they were so large, to cows, sheep and of course dogs.  Zoe informed me she even saw a camel!

The road took us through the small town of Fnidq and then Tetouan before we arrived at our home for the next two nights in Martil.  We stayed at Alboustane, Camping Caravaning, Martil Marruecos, tel 05 39 68 88 22.  GPS coordinates 35.6289 -5.2773.  There is plenty of space for us and the grounds are situated nearby to the township.  The facilities are clean and adequate for our needs.

We took the opportunity to dump the grey and black water before settling into our pitch and plugging into electricity.  Needing electricity is rare for us, as is being in a campground, but with no LPG in Morocco and a desire to stay for a couple of months, we have to conserve every bit of gas we can.

The local cats came out to greet us and were happy to be picked up and cuddled.  They remind me of Turkey and I realise how much I miss having a cat around.

After a cuppa and a quick bite to eat we headed into town to purchase a local SIM card.  Who would have thought it would take all afternoon?

Maroc Telecom was suggested as the best bet, so off we went in search of them.  Thankfully we had downloaded maps.me before crossing over from Spain so we could find the GPS coordinates and the route to the shop without needing data or the internet.  That made finding the camping ground and the Telecom store easier (GPS 35.6179 – 5.2747).

The language barrier proves to be a challenge as we speak very little French and the man at Telecom spoke nil English.  Thankfully Alan knows a few words and uses Google Translate for the rest.

Alan and Tommy were at the counter while Helena, Harkin, Zoe and I were seated.  It wasn’t long before I noticed a man walk in and make his way to stand behind Alan and Tommy.  Next thing I see this complete stranger put his hand into Tommy’s pocket!  Quick as a flash, I jumped up to stop him and he casually backed off and walked around to another counter, his plan foiled.  No one in the shop reacted, as though it was a natural occurrence or they didn’t know what was going on, I’m not sure which.  Tommy didn’t lose his wallet this time but it was a close call.  We then realised that having someone watch out for you at a distance is a good strategy to employ.

The SIM card cost us 40 dirham (approx €4) from the Telecom shop and then we had to go down the road to purchase data for 10 dirham (€1) per 1 GB.  

We arrived back at the camping ground later in the day, too late to tackle the washing, so that will have to wait until tomorrow.

Helena and Harkin invited us all over for dinner, wild boar and moose stew and we contributed with some pastries purchased at the local bakery.  A most enjoyable evening, treasured times with wonderful friends and great traveling companions.  It was our first time traveling with other motorhomers and it proved to be successful and helped us to feel safe, particularly in such a foreign land.

Our Port of Entry, Tangier

After Purchasing The SIM Card, We Loaded Money Here (the shop on the right)

Tommy & Zoe

Harken & Alan

Ruth & Helena

Day 3: Martil; Wednesday 30 Jan 2019

We woke to slight dampness in the air but that didn’t deter Alan from tackling the washing and gosh how it builds up.  That kept us in Betsy for the day and stationed in the camping ground.  It also allowed me to catch up on some paperwork and have a quiet day in preparation for what was to come.

Day 4: Chefhaouen; 31 Jan 2019 

Heading towards the blue town, otherwise known as Chefchaouen, we meander up through the hills. There are people sitting on the side of the road selling their wares, from onions, strawberries, avocados, pears, carrots and plenty more.  They wave out with large smiles on their face.  We had been told that foreigners are treated like celebrities here so expect to be wave at and ensure we wave back.

The roads are rough with roadworks much of the way and they are needed due to the constant potholes and the edge of the road being broken away.  The speed signs say 60 but get behind a fully leaden old truck and traveling at 30km/hr is an accomplishment.

With a build up of cars behind us we find a spot to pull off and ease the congestion for our sake as much as theirs.  This proves to be an unusual manoeuvre as we learn later on.  Passing lanes are non-existent so the locals take their chance to pass slow vehicles, usually on a blind corner uphill.

We come around the corner to see a truck attempting to pass another truck uphill at 30km/hour.  Not a good idea and he thankfully gave up as there’s plenty of head-on traffic.  How they don’t have a head-on accident is anyone’s guess.  We crawl up at a snails pace and the expected arrival time on the GPS seems very optimistic.  We were told to add at least 30% onto stated driving times but from our experience this could easily be another 50%.

Rounding the corner we came across an example of what can happens when driving skills are put to the test.  This had just happened before we arrived as the cones were being distributed.

Parking Moroccan Style!

Betsy does a great job passing uphill. She’s not a high-powered machine by any stretch of the imagination but when the goal is passing another vehicle slugging away at 20 something kilometers per hour she doesn’t need a big run up.  Who would have thought she wasn’t the slowest thing on the road?

The trees high up here in the mountains are in full blossom, well ahead of schedule as though they are encouraging the spring to come early.

 The locals are spotted washing their clothes in the river below in the fine rain.  Or they are stooped over carrying bales of vegetation on their backs walking beside the road.  Others, mainly men, just stand by the roadside, their purpose unclear at least to the foreign eye.

We arrive into Chefchaouen and follow Tommy and Zoe through the township and out the other side to Camping Azilan (GPS coordinates 35.17579, -5.26701) overlooking the township below.  It’s a fair walk away and steep enough to put the eBikes and riders through their paces.

We are greeted at the camping ground by the resident ginger tomcat, a rooster and chickens.

We park and level up then tuck into a chicken salad for lunch.  The rain is coming down hard so I get the Monopoly cards out and try my luck against Alan (damn he’s getting good, I’ve taught him all my tricks).

The rest of our group decides to take a walk into town while there’s still some daylight as the rain has eased off a little.  It’s quite a walk back uphill so we opt to take Betsy and meet the others in the medina. The drive was a bit hair raising but no-one seemed to care that we wanted to drive on the road while they were using it as a giant sidewalk (except us).

Tommy & Zoe Lead The Way Into Chefchaouen

The Girls Are Looking At The Sights While The Boys Negotiate A Dinner Venue

Brightly Colourful Trinkets Adorn The Shops

Stunning Artwork

The medina is unique.  Lots of little alleys and paths weave their way through the hillside like a spiders web.  There’s no rhyme or reason as to the layout, no shops are the same size or shape, of some hardly have an opening, rather they appear more cave-like than a shop.

Children run around playing, darting in and out while adults stand around, some shouting in Arabic, at what or to whom isn’t clear.

We meet up with our friends in the square and proceed to check out the many restaurants enticing us in with offers of cheap food, photos of specialty dishes and their Google ratings (gotta love technology).  We decide on a little place called Marisco Twins and are treated to good quality authentic tagines. Alan had a starter of shrimp and avocado salad where the shrimps had turned into rather large deliciously fresh prawns served on a bed of lettuce and cucumber.  His main was beef and plum tagine and we both tucked into cream de caramel for dessert.  My entree was a Spanish omelet and for the main, I opted for chicken and lemon tagine.  We don’t venture out for dinner often so this was a real treat and the food was delicious. 

Avocado and Prawn Salad

Beef Tagine

Lamb Tagine

Day 5: Chechaouen; 1st Feb 2019 

It rained heavily last night and the wind blew hard.  Facing African rain in a motorhome was an experience.

We didn’t want to leave Chechaouen before we had a real chance to see all the sights it had to offer without the interference of rain and the forecast was promising a break in the weather.  Therefore we decided to hang out for an extra day and relocate to a parking area nearer the medina (GPS coordinate 35.16603, -5.26162) (at 30MAD compared to 110MAD in the campground).  The money here is called Dirhams, and is written as MAD.  Ten MAD is equivalent to €0.93 and NZ$1.56.  Our parking in the camping ground was €10.20 or NZ$17 for the night including electricity.

This is where we parted with our friends, who are on a tighter timeframe than us and who are in search of finer weather, so they headed towards the west coast.  They found it too, 20C compared with our 8C!

Thankfully the expected break in the weather eventuated and by 3pm we were off exploring again.  This township is truly remarkable.  The influx of Jews escaping the Spanish Inquisition in 1492 brought with them the tradition of painting buildings blue.  Five hundred years later this has become famous, known as the ‘blue town’ and is a tourist destination which is possibly the most unique place we have come across on our travels through 25 countries and two continents.

The locals are friendly and were respectful of our tourist status.   We were offered hashish by one fellow, which we politely declined, and were not harassed or bothered by shopkeepers wanting to sell us rugs or take us off the beaten track to see their family shop.  A few asked us where we were from, some knew New Zealand, others looked blank.  We were freely given unsolicited, helpful information to find our way without asking for or expecting anything in return.  This is a far cry from what we had read about before coming here.  I wonder if this is the city style, as opposed to the countryside towns and time will tell.

We had been given a tip of saying that this isn’t our first time in Morocco, so that we don’t get pestered too much.  So far it seems to be working.

We made our way back to Betsy, buying some eggs, bread and water on our way.  It pays to check out the price of water in particular as it varied from €0.40c per litre to €0.25c per litre.  Whichever way you look at it, the water isn’t expensive.

Arriving back at just before 6pm was perfect timing as the weather started to turn again and it rained constantly through the night, although this time without the howling wind to shake Betsy and us inside her.

Looking Up Towards The Hills Of Chefchaouen From The Square

A Typical Alleway In the Medina

Could You Imagine Checking Into A Hotel Here?

Life In Morocco

Day 6: Fes; 2nd Feb 2019  

It was time to head down to Fes, also spelt Fez, today and off we set.  According to Google maps we were in for a four-hour drive, but Emily, our Garmin GPS had other ideas suggesting it was just a 2.5 hour trip.  However she was clearly not aware of the ‘add 30% to your driving time’ rule and she was way out, Google Maps was right.

We left Chefchoeun at 11am and arrived into Fes at 3.30pm which included a short stop for lunch on the side of the road, a four and a half hour trip.  The roads are average and at times reminded me of Bosnian roads where they are narrow and the crumbling shoulder drops down a foot below the road surface giving a strong incentive to not drive too close to the edge.

Most of the children just wave to us but some stand on the road with their hand up indicating they want us to stop, basically playing chicken with a 3.5 ton vehicle!  Alan toots the horn as a warning and shows that he has no intention of stopping.

The cars here are a mix of new modern ones and old bangers. Mercedes Benz seem to feature regularly amongst the older ones and we wonder how many original Merc parts are still holding them together.

The crops in the highlands are mainly olive trees, the roadside vendors sell jars of olives in some kind of liquid.  On the flats, the crops are orange trees.

The non-mechanical mode of transport here is the donkey, which not only carries humans side saddle, but their panniers are filled with goodies, sticks or produce.

Flocks of sheep, with newly born lambs, and accompanied by a shepherd brandishing a requisite stick are grazing on the roadside.  The men are dressed in long cotton robes that oftentimes drag through the mud. They look heavy and not very warm.

Finding a suitable stopping area to pull off for a rest proves challenging so we keep pressing on.

We come across a fully laden truck toppled over on its side in a paddock beside the road.  It’s the second vehicle to be parked in such a manner that we’d seen in just a few days.  Given it was a straight flat piece of road we wonder how it met its demise. Then not far ahead of us we witnessed a very near head-on accident again on a flat straight piece of road. The culprit was traveling directly in front of us and had been swerving in and out of his lane for several kilometres.  Typically Muslims don’t drink so we ruled out alcohol, however, hashish is plentiful and maybe this was a factor?

The offending driver eventually pulled to the side of the road and looking down as we passed I could see he was glued to his mobile phone sitting on his lap.  Ah, that’s the culprit.  Not just a factor in first world countries eh?

Finding the camping ground Diamant Vert** (GPS coordinates 33.98787, -5.0191was easy and the traffic and roads leading into it were kind to us.  The reception area was of first world standards with a solid building, tiled floors, and two (male) receptionists behind the counter.  A restaurant sat alongside in the hope of catering to the campers – a pity about the reviews, however.  After check-in, we found the way to our parking spot nearby a shower and toilet block, which left a bit to be desired in terms of functionality.  The taps were coming off, the hand drier in bits hanging down from the wall and the showers run hot and cold.  The toilets thankfully are of European standard with real toilet paper and included a toilet seat.  Funny how the expected things in life become welcomed and not so expected in a foreign land.  I figured the trick to a successful shower, was to go at 6pm when there is no one else around.

We are relieved to finally be parked up and take a well-earned break over a cuppa tea.  Alan meets the neighbours, a lovely couple from the UK, Karen (Kaz) and Nik and we are invited to join them on a guided tour into the medina tomorrow.  A medina is the name given to the old walled part of a North African town.  We graciously accept and are looking forward to what tomorrow might bring.

Soon we hear a knock at the door and it’s another English couple, David and Sue, who we were parked beside in Chefchoeun.  They were also accompanying the others into the medina tomorrow and when they heard of a third couple from New Zealand joining them they realised it must be us, so they came over to say hi.

We enjoyed a few glasses of wine together and a warm bowl of pumpkin soup Alan had freshly made for our dinner.  Karen and Nik joined us later for drinks so we could all get acquainted before our medina experience.

** P.S.  We hear that Diamant Vert is now closed and there seems to be a pending legal battle to reopen.  For an alternative camping ground try Camping International Fez which is in Camping Contact (sitecode 21394).  (GPS coordinates 33.99982, -4.97150).

Day 7: Fes: Sunday 3rd February 2019

Today we headed into the medina of Fes, one of nine UNESCO sites in Morocco.

The medina, dating back to the 9th Century, encloses 89 kilometres of narrow passages, some no more than shoulder-width apart.  It houses 220,000 people and umpteen shops of all descriptions including many that defy description in Western terms.

Donkeys are used to transport goods in and out of the medina just as we would typically use vehicles for transporting goods to and from our businesses and homes.  They are strong but small animals and appear to just plod along placidly, often also carrying the weight of the rider, sitting sidesaddle with his goods.

Camel and goat heads are hanging in the market, their meat for sale.  Wafi tells us that the going rate for a camel is €2,800-3,000 so I wonder what price the meat sells for.

During summer, up to 60 degree temperatures are reported in Fes, however, the medina itself with its narrow paths and tall walls stays much cooler.  We enjoyed 18-20C in the sun on our February visit into the medina however with such narrow tall buildings the sun had little opportunity to kiss us or the ground.

The first floors of the medina houses have no windows.  The reason for this is privacy for the women as traditionally it is forbidden to see women without her head covered.

The alleyways between the homes are so narrow I’d hate to think how one would get new furniture or move house. The walls are shored up with timber bracing to stop them from falling inwards.  Although parts of the medina have been rebuilt due to earthquakes and fires, the mainstay buildings dating back from the 9th Century still remain original.

We visited thirteen different places today, nine inside the medina and four outside.  Here’s a list and to read more please click on the link to access the full blog called Fantastic Fes.

1. Royal Palace
2. The Jewish Quarter
3. Al Qarawiyyin University
4. Bou Inania Madrasa (School)
5. Mosques
6. Carpet Weaving and Sales
7. Restaurant Palais Tijani
8. Herboriste Diwan Pharmacy
9. Antiquities Shop
10. Clothing and Weavers Cooperative
11. Chouara Tannery
12. Borg Nord Ruins
13. Ceramic Workshop

If you are going to visit there yourself then I highly recommend a Guide.  When people say you will get lost, they really mean it.  The alleyways don’t follow any logical pattern or flow and as great as Google is, there is no such thing as using Google maps here.  I read that even a compass won’t help to find your way back.

I would also recommend visiting the medina with other people for a few reasons.  One, others often see things that you may have missed and can point these out to you.  Two, you get to share the experience and learn about the travel plans of others and pick up on their top tips.  And three, if you’re not in the market to make expensive purchases (eg a new carpet), then maybe someone else will, which takes the pressure and focus away from you.

So if you are interested in finding a professional certified guide (please ensure they are certified as some are imposters), then please contact Wafi, the guide we used.  He charges $400MAD for a couple (€37), for a full day tour.  Below are his details.

Elouafi Hanaf (pronounced Wafi)
Email: guide-elouafi@hotmail.com
Phone: 00212672040156
Works for the Office of Tourism Morocco

Please let him know you found him through Ruth & Alan from New Zealand, cheers.

Stay tuned for week two when we learn how to make Moroccan Beef and Prune Tagine at a private cooking class in a motorhome.

Costs for Week 1

These costs do not include the ferry ride over (€190).  The petrol is for our generator and the cost for alcohol was from Spain (beer for Alan) before we came over.  Even if you can find it, you don’t want to buy alcohol in Morocco as it’s expensive.

Borg Nord

The Township of Fes

Will We Get Betsy Down Here?

Mosaics Are Beautiful

For more photos and details of Fes, visit our blog Fantastic Fes.

Please feel free to Pin and read later

Fantastic Fes Morocco

Fantastic Fes Morocco

by Ruth Murdoch  |  February 2019  |  Morocco, Africa

Fantastic Fes

Reading about the famous medina in Fes and learning all it had to offer was enough to get me excited to actually be here and anticipating a full on day.  We were not disappointed.  Today we headed into the medina of the fantastic Fes, one of nine UNESCO sites in Morocco.

The guide had introduced himself to us yesterday and told us we could join the other two couples from the UK.  You’ll be home by 3pm, maybe 4pm at the latest he told us!  As he dropped us back at the camping ground after 7pm I was thinking that he really knows how to provide value for money.

We woke at 7am in anticipation and excitement of the day to come.  By 8.30pm I was back in bed with stomach pains unsure if we would ever make it on the tour, and thinking we may have to bow out.  A couple of Panadol and rest took the edge off the pain and I was determined not to let this opportunity pass us by.

We met our guide Elouafi, pronounced Wafi, at 9.30am and waited for our driver with the eight-seater van. We were in for a treat visiting thirteen different sites, nine inside the medina and four outside. Our first stop was on our way to the medina where we came across the Royal Palace and Jewish Quarter.

1. Royal Palace

Fes Royal Palace, or the Dar el-Makhzen, is located at Place des Alaouites, in the center of the Fes el Jadid quarter and was built in the thirteenth century under the reign of Mérinides Dynasty.  Formerly the main residence of the sultan, the Royal Palace is still used by the King of Morocco when he is in the city of Fes.

Surrounded by high walls that we cannot look over it spans an area of 195 acres (80 hectares).  We hear that a drone once crossed over the boundaries, daring to take a look inside the mystical palace grounds, resulting in 14 days in jail for the owner.  Perhaps that’s why drones are now banned from entering Morocco? Our guide tells of multiple spectacular gardens being created to represent different corners of the world, inside the walls, however without anyone ever seeing inside, this information is handed down through a trust and belief system and cannot be verified.

There are seven brass doors of different sizes with matching knockers and intricate geometric patterns, surrounded by fine zellige (mosaic tilework) and carved cedar wood.  Although this is the only thing to be seen here, it was well worth the visit and we were grateful to be allowed an up close and personal view of the doors.  At times, there is a 100 metre exclusion zone barrier, preventing the perfect photo opportunity.

Talking about photos, around the corner on our way to the Jewish Quarter there were guards wearing three different kinds of uniforms.  Apparently, in Morocco there are many different branches of armed forces, guards and police and each has their own uniform.  Permission must be asked before taking photos of these guys, and one of our party asked and was refused.  We learn that guards can lose their jobs if a photo is taken which is then displayed on the internet.  In a country where employment is difficult to find, this request must be highly respected.  I read that your camera will be confiscated if you were seen taking their photos and given I take photos on my iPhone I didn’t want to risk having this taken from me.

Kaz & Nik in front of the centre doors of the Royal Palace

Outer doors of the Royal Palace

2. The Jewish Quarter

Located just around the corner from the Royal Palace is the Jewish Quarter or Mellah. Although most of the Jewish population has left the distinctive architecture of the buildings and charming antique shops remain for our viewing pleasure.

Next, we arrived at the medina where the driver drops us off and it’s on foot from now on.  First here’s some background information about the medina  to set the scene of this unique location.

Architecture of the Jewish Quarter

Famous road in the Jewish Quarter

About The Medina

The word ‘medina‘ is used to describe the old walled part of a North African town. This is the second one we have come across and is by all accounts the most impressive.

The medina, dating back to the 9th Century, encloses 89 kilometres! (according to our guide) of narrow passages, some no more than shoulder width apart.  It houses 220,000 people and umpteen shops of all descriptions including many that defy description in Western terms.

Research indicates there are some 9,000 – 9,500 alleyways here but how would you know.  Perhaps that’s one of those urban myths that has turned into fact by repetition.

Donkeys are used to transport goods in and out of the medina just as we would typically use vehicles for transporting goods to and from our businesses and homes.  They are strong but small animals and appear to just plod along placidly, often also carrying the weight of the rider, sitting sidesaddle with his goods.

Camel and goat heads are hanging in the market, their meat for sale.  Wafi tells us that the going rate for a camel is €2,800-3,000 so I wonder what price the meat sells for.

During summer, up to 60 degree temperatures are reported in Fes, however, the medina itself with its narrow paths and tall walls stays much cooler.  We enjoyed 18-20C in the sun on our February visit into the medina however with such narrow tall buildings the sun had little opportunity to kiss us or the ground. The first floors of the medina houses have no windows.  The reason for this is privacy for the women as traditionally it is forbidden to see a woman without her head covered.

The alleyways between the homes are so narrow I’d hate to think how one would get new furniture or move house.

The walls are shored up with timber bracing to stop them from falling inwards.  Although parts of the medina have been rebuilt due to earthquakes and fires, the mainstay buildings dating back from the 9th Century still remain original.

Our guide gave us some basic rules about walking through these narrow streets.  If someone calls out beware (obviously not in English), then you must stand aside so they and their trollies or donkeys can safely pass you by.  These are workers going from A to B and don’t want to be held up by meandering souls.  The second was that photographing individuals is out unless you ask permission first.  Taking general photos of the produce was okay but be respectful of taking photos of people alone.  Just think how you might feel if someone took your photo without your permission.

The Road Leading To The Medina

So Many Choices Here

Donkeys Carry Payloads To The Many Shops

The Narrow Alleyways

Camel For Dinner?

A Feast For The Eyes

3. Al Qarawiyyin University

Also known as the University of Al Quaraouiyine, this institution nestled in the medina dates back to 859AD and as such is the oldest university in the world.  It is still operational today.  

Whilst we couldn’t enter, I did manage to snap a photo of its impressive front gates and then, later on, we got a quick look at the mosque that sits inside the university boasting some of the stunning mosaics ceilings.

This historic university is actually recognised by the Guinness Book of World Records as the oldest degree-granting university in the world.  

The Doors To The Oldest University In The World!

A Wee Glimpse Into The University

Through A Side Door Into The University

Check Out This Mosiac Display

4. Bou Inania Madrasa (School)

We visited this school, located near the Mosque of Al-Quaraouin which is the most famous school in Fes, built by Sultan Abu Inan Faris ibn Abi-Hassan Marini between 1350-1355.

It is considered the last of the great schools of Morocco in terms of the unique and vast area, building decoration, and its planning.

The school consists of a large courtyard and two classes of teaching.  Students would live for 18 years here learning the Quran and sleeping in tiny windowless rooms on the second and third floors.  

Today the school is a museum displaying the stunning mosaic tiles and intricate woodwork throughout.  The wood is typically cedar and was treated so it would last thousands of years.  This involved drying it out completely then soaking it in a mixture of fats, oils, and garlic (to stop insects from eating it).  This was a one-off process and seems to have done the job because most of the wood is in excellent condition.

School Courtyard

5. Mosques

We poked our head into several Mosques that are centuries old.  Wafi joked that if I, as a non-Muslim, were to enter one of these then Alan would be circumcised.  Enough said.

Mosque For Prayer

6. Carpet Weaving and Sales

The widows of Fes are often left without any form of income after their husband dies. 

If they are able to work, there is a cooperative that provides an opportunity to learn the art of carpet weaving, thereby providing an income. 

The cooperative handles the materials supply and the sale of the carpets and ensures that the widows receive a fair price for their efforts, 80% of the sale proceeds.  It’s painstakingly intricate and skilled work taking months to complete just one carpet.

We are shown a young looking lady weaving a carpet and were astounded to learn that the pattern is memorised.  She kindly slows down to show us how the knots are tied and I noticed the bandage on her finger.  After weaving the thread through two pieces of vertically strung yarn, she then ties the knot over and back on itself and physically yanks at the wool to break the thread and then starts again.  The speed at which she works is incredible and I found myself wanting to purchase her work just to give her some money.

From here we were taken into a room and served mint tea (make sure you say yes to a little sugar in your tea otherwise it can be bitter).  The sales pitch starts and we are shown a number of different carpets made from sheep wool, camel wool, agave silk, silk, and cotton.  Some had half a million knots per square meter and were stunning displays of craftsmanship (or should that be craftwomanship?) 

One of our party purchased a large blue rug for her bedroom floor, making the time they spent with us worthwhile.  As is always the case though in this type of transaction, the final price was much lower than the first asking price because haggling is normal and expected.

A Small Room Housing Three Weavers

7. Restaurant Palais Tijani

Immediately underneath the rug shop was Restaurant Palais Tijani, a delightfully decorated ‘safe’ place to eat.  The typical format for dining out is a three-course meal, starting with salad, then hot tagine for the main followed by fruit for dessert.  A word to the wise, the salad alone was plenty for lunch and we were rather thankful that Alan and I shared a vegetarian couscous main dish. The salad consisted of several hot and cold dishes and fresh bread.  Lunch, including a bottle of water between us, and a ten percent service fee, came to 180 Dirham (€16.50 or $27NZD). 

It was the first time we had come across a service fee and felt that lunch was expensive when compared to a three course evening meal we had in Chefchaouen a few nights earlier for $45 Dirham (€4.10 or $NZ6.80). Unfortunately, according to our guide, safe choices for tourists inside the medina are somewhat limited and no one wants to be sick for a couple of days while on holiday. 

We are left to eat without the companionship of our Guide, Wafi, who went off to pray.  As a devout Muslim, this happens five times a day, every day!

A Moroccan Salad!

8. Herboriste Diwan Pharmacy

We were treated to a pharmacy tour and shown how argan oil is made.  The argan tree (Argania Spinosa) is endemic to Morocco and is ecologically indispensable.  Its deep roots are the most important stabilising element in the arid ecosystem, providing the final barrier against the encroaching deserts. Despite its uniqueness and indispensability, the argan tree sadly faces a variety of serious threats.

Nearly half of the argan forest disappeared during the 20th century – and average density dropped from 100 to less than 30 trees per hectare. This historical pressure on the forest was driven by demand for high quality charcoal (especially important during the world wars) and, more recently, by conversion to agricultural production of export crops such as tomatoes.

In recognition of its ecological value and local economic importance, the argan forest region was declared a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in 1998.

Argan oil, derived from the seeds of the argan tree fruit, has been an important resource for Morocco’s Berber people for centuries. The oil came to the attention of the outside world in the 1990s and is now highly sought for culinary, cosmetic and medicinal purposes.

Goats are one of the primary threats to the argan forests because they climb the trees to graze their leaves.  The goats, as well as aggressive fruit harvesting techniques from some locals, can damage branches and dislodge buds for the next year’s production.

What is interesting, however, is that goats used to be an important part of the oil making process.  The nuts are incredibly difficult to crack open, so enterprising people poked through goat poop to pick out the valuable argan nuts. Through the magic of goat digestion, the shells of the nuts became easier to open, and processing went from there. These days, most of the argan oil used in cosmetics is harvested without the help of goats, but in some places, the traditional goat-poo process is still in place.

The process, without the help of the goats, is painstakingly tedious.  First, the ladies harvest the pods, which look like small pebbles.  To crack open the pods they use sharpened stones and bang them against a block of wood.  Each nut is opened individually in what is a very manual and labour intensive process.  The kernel is then removed, and it looks somewhat like a flat almond only smaller.  Beware of eating them however as they start off tasting sweet before turning bitter in your mouth.

From here the seeds are placed in a grinder, separating the oil from the residual brown tacky substance left behind.  Nothing goes to waste; the brown substance is turned into soap.

We purchased a 75ml bottle of this ‘liquid gold’ at a cost of 120 Dirham (€12), making this a whopping €160 per litre.  I have seen reports where the price is as high as €263 per litre!  Compare this to the cost of a one litre bottle of olive oil and you get the feeling for the price.  

Painstakingly Cracking Open The Kernels

9. Antiquities Shop

Our next spot was an antiquities shop and my eyes bulged.  It was difficult to take everything in and there were so many goodies that I could have easily purchased.  One was a table that pulled out to reveal a chequers board, backgammon board and a felt card table.

The displays were separated into different ethnicities/origins, for example there was an area for Sephardic Jewish antiquities and another for Berber artifacts.  The prices were a little eyewatering but probably reasonable given the quality, age and generally excellent condition of what we were looking at.

The detail was stunning and sadly we were unable to take photos of individual pieces.  Here are a couple of photos of the broader views that we were allowed to take.

This shop was one of the oldest houses in Fes and had been beautifully restored.  It was apparently unique in that it had balconies on the third floor at each of the internal corners of the courtyard.

The shop is on three stories, each one jammed packed with stunning ancient furniture, weapons, and household goods, each of which no doubt had their own history to reveal.  The owner asked Alan how many camels he wanted for his wife, and when Alan said a random 500, the owner said I was worth more than that, even much more than 600, although he didn’t give the exact figure.  At the going price of €3,000 for a camel, the price tag on my head exceeded €1.8 million and counting!  Hmm, I’m not sure whether to be flattered or worried!

Antiques Glore!

Stunning Building

What Can We Fit Into Betsy?

Looking Down From The Third Story

10. Clothing and Weavers Cooperative

Our next treat was to see a weaver making scarfs.  This is the second time we had seen this (the first being in Chefchaouen) and both times the weaver was a male.  I was keen to take some of these beauties home and really had to restrain myself due to space and costs.  I did, however, find two gorgeous scarfs, one from agave silk and the other made from traditional silk.

Many of the shops are traditional 15th century Fes houses, which have been restored using UNESCO money.  Behind the multitudes of scarves and other weavings, the detailed mosaics, plasterwork, and intricate architectural features can be spotted and appreciated.

A Weaver Hard At Work

Our Guide Waiting Patiently

11. Chouara Tannery

Morocco is famous for its leather goods and no visit to this city is complete without a visit to the tannery.  The tanning industry here is considered one of the main tourist attractions.

Upon arrival, we were handed a fresh mint sprig to disguise the smell of the tannery.  It wasn’t that bad, although I could imagine on a forty plus degree day it would be another story.

The tannery is eleven centuries old and the entire manual process hasn’t changed since medieval times.   They work with lamb, cow, goat, and camel hides and the process takes a staggering three months from whoa to go.

Initially the hides soak for three days in large vessels made from limestone which allows the fur and hair to fall off.  Next, the hides soak in a white liquid for three weeks, which we are told is made using pigeon feces that they collect from the markets below.  Further research indicated it might also be mixed with cow urine, lime, salt, and water.  This soaking cleans and softens the tough skins and we watch as men, wearing waders, tread on the hides in the large round stone vessels.  Next, the hides sit for one month in the coloured dyes.  These chemical-free colourants are made from natural products, such as henna for orange, poppy for red, indigo for blue and cedar wood for brown.

After dying, the hides soak in vinegar for one week, which fixes the colour.  From here they are left out in the sun for drying.

We were taken into the large display rooms where every kind of leather goods imaginable are displayed.  High-quality bags and purses of all shapes and sizes are for sale, as are beautifully crafted coats and jackets, shoes including slippers and belts.  Apparently, camel skin is best for bags because it is lighter but flexible and extremely tough while goatskin is best for leather jackets because it stretches so is more comfortable.

I was impressed to learn that they would take your measurements and make a jacket of your colour choice and style, then deliver it to your hotel in just two hours!  

12. Borg Nord Ruins

We left the medina late in the afternoon and visited the ancient ruins on the mountain overlooking the medina and the old historic city.  From here our guide pointed out that during our eight hours of walking we only managed to explore a small part of the medina.

The ruins of Borg Nord, reminded us of the Greek ruins, and in a similar state of disrepair, although for me that it all part of the attraction.  Below the ruins sit the Marinid Tombs, also known as the Merenid Tombs, which were not part of our tour today.

13. Ceramic Workshop

As the evening light started to fade, the last stop on our packed tour was to the ceramic workshop called Art D’Argile.  Here we were treated to a demonstration of how to make tagines on a potters wheel – so simple, it only took a few seconds.  It’s funny how one can make something look so easy after twenty five years of practice.

Next we watched as a skilled artist carefully chiseled away at the surface of a plate, removing the unwanted ceramic to create his carefully crafted pattern.  The same craftsman then demonstrated how each tile for a mosaic is cut out using exact strokes with a hammer and chisel.  You start to gain an appreciation of how much skilled labour goes into producing the stunning mosaics we have seen today and the goods on display around us.

The following artist was hand painting a detailed pattern onto a dinner service for an Australian client.  The paint he used was a dull purple colour that becomes a brilliant vibrant blue following glazing and firing in the kiln.  How he could paint such a perfect pattern and reproduce it over and over again defied belief.

Out in the courtyard we were led to a mosaic surfaced table and told it contained an error.  If we could find the error we were welcome to the table.  After a clue about which area and colour to look for I found the offending piece, see if you can pick it.  Here’s the clue, one piece was supposed to be red but wasn’t.  (I didn’t take the table because I couldn’t lift it and anyway, it wouldn’t fit into Betsy, lol).

Can you find the offending piece?

Our Purchases in the Medina

I’d been hanging out to buy dates and finally saw them.  Our guide organised the sale for half a kilo (sweet tasting and yummy) @40MAD (€3.68) per kilo

Small orange leather coin purse 10 MAD (€0.92).  The seller had been waiting patiently for me to complete our rug visit and then lunch.

Two scarfs, a rich orange colour made from the agave plant, they call the product agave silk and the other a pink one with many colours and patterns made from silk.  I paid $400 MAD (€37) for the two.

Argan oil 75mls ($120 MAD, €11) and massage oil 100mls ($150 MAD, €13.80)

Tanned coloured soft leather belt $170MAD (€15.60)

The Many Doors of the Medina

The architecture here is unlike anything I’ve ever seen before and some of the doors take your breath away.  I snapped all manner of doors and must show you some of these splendors here.  Click on the images below to enlarge and look at the details.

Guides & The Medina

A guide isn’t just a good idea in this labyrinth, it’s a must, in my humble opinion.  Without a guide, we would have been wondering the whole time how we would find our way out.  When people say you would get lost, they really mean it.  The alleyways don’t follow any logical pattern or flow and as great as Google is, there is no such thing as using Google maps here.  I read that even a compass won’t help to find your way back.

I would also recommend visiting the medina with other people for a few reasons.  One, others often see things that you may have missed and can point these out to you.  Two, you get to share the experience and learn about the travel plans of others and pick up on their top tips.  And three, if you’re not in the market to make expensive purchases (eg a new carpet), then maybe someone else will, which takes the pressure and focus away from you.

So if you are interested in finding a professional certified guide (please ensure they are certified as some are knock-offs), then please contact Wafi, the guide we used.  He charges $400MAD for a couple (€37), for a full day tour.  Here are his details.

Elouafi Hanaf (pronounced Wafi)
Email: guide-elouafi@hotmail.com
Phone: 00212672040156
Works for the Office of Tourism Morocco

Please let him know you found him through us Ruth & Alan from New Zealand, cheers.

Oradour-sur-Glane, Why Everyone Should Know This Story

Oradour-sur-Glane, Why Everyone Should Know This Story

by Ruth Murdoch  |  December 2018  | France, Oradour-sur-Glane

Where Is It?

Oradour-sur-Glane is a small settlement in the Nouvelle-Aquitaine region in west-central France.  It is 23kms northwest from Limoges.

What Happened There?

During World War II, two hundred Waffen SS (pronounced Vaffen SS) the armed wing of the Nazi Party’s SS organisation committed an act of sheer terror.  They stormed this quiet village and massacred all those people they could find, a total of 642 men, women and children.

They rounded everyone up on the pretence of checking their documentation, a relatively common occurrence.  Therefore, at the time no one seemed overly concerned as they had no reason to suspect what was about to unfold.  They were forced by the officers to the town square (although it’s not a square at all).  Anyone who resisted was immediately shot dead.

The area to the right is where everyone assembled

They then separated the men and teenage boys from the woman and children.  The men were divided and sent to six different buildings* throughout the village.  In one of the buildings the perpetrators lined up two machine guns in the doorway and proceeded to open fire in a sweeping motion while the men stood facing the back wall.  For anyone who hadn’t died instantly, they then received another bullet to finish the job off.  Similar fates befell the men in the other buildings.  The soldiers were instructed to cover the bodies with straw and oil and burn them.

The women and children were taken to the local church.  Here they were locked in and smoke bombs were set off inside the church.  While the woman and children were screaming and gasping from the thick smoke, some of the SS fired into the mass with machine guns.  The bullet holes in the walls remain today.  The church was then set alight while the soldiers stood outside listening to the screams of those inside and from their position of safety threw grenades into the building.  They waited there watching until the roof of the church collapsed and the sounds inside died away.

NB: *There are many blogs, posts, and stories written that talk about these men being taken to ‘barns’.  When I think about a barn it conjures up in my mind a single building on a farm that houses hay, farm equipment, some chickens and the occasional cattle.  Here in Oradour-sur-Glane the buildings that we saw these men taken into were flanked by adjoining buildings either side on a main street.  Perhaps we have a different understanding of what the word ‘barn’ means to those from France.  Anyway, I cannot accurately recall the information from the museum about where these men were taken, so if anyone can shed some knowledgable light on this, please feel free to leave a comment below and I will ensure this post is updated with accurate information.  I didn’t feel it was correct to put the word ‘barn’ into this post without verification.

Inside the Church a Memorial of WWI Victims Bears The Scars Of Bullet Holes Meant For
The Women & Children

The Church Ceiling Collapsed
Courtesy of Museum Photos

The Church Today

After everyone was dead, the soldiers then set fire to the bodies in an apparent effort to conceal what had happened.  They also put the entire village to the torch and although the buildings are made of stone, the roofs and large parts of the walls collapsed in the ensuing inferno.

Photo Courtesy of the SS

A Tribute To Those Who Perished In The Church 

The following day orders were received to bury the bodies and bits of bodies in a mass grave making identification impossible.  Fewer than ten percent of the victims’ bodies could be identified which made the mourning that much harder for any surviving relatives.

Sadly this was not an isolated incident.  According to the International Military Tribunal all the Nazi armed forces including the Waffen SS, security forces and SS police, reserve troops and the Wehrmacht followed orders involving killing and terrorising civilians, which were later deemed to be war crimes.  There were many horrific events of mass murder documented on both the Western and Eastern Fronts.   What makes Oradour-sur-Glane unique is that the remains of the village have been left virtually undisturbed as a continuous and powerful reminder of how brutal and callous mankind can be to each other.

About The Population

Of the 642 victims, 638 had known ages.  Amongst the deceased were 62 children less than 6 months old and 263 less than 21 years.  Thirty-nine people were aged over 71 years old, eight of these were 81 years plus, with the balance of 340 people aged between 21 and 70 years.

On 10th June 2017, a tribute to those people who were murdered was unveiled.  The purpose behind this gallery is to think of these people as individuals, rather than as a collective group.

The individual portraits, where possible, are displayed on porcelain plaques lining both walls on the corridor as you enter through to the village.  Where photos are missing a name and age is written in the ever-hopeful attempt to find those from absent victims.

Individuals’ Photos Line The Corridor Leading Out To The Village

When Did This Happen?

It was Saturday, 10th June 1944.  Oradour-sur-Glane was especially busy on this day as there was a school vaccination program for the children being carried out here.  Tobacco distribution day also bought people in from the surrounding areas.

 

Why Did It Happen?

Terror was an effective weapon used by the Germans and the Nazis wanted to ensure that this weapon be used on a regular basis.  Encouraged by the recent D-Day landings, the French resistance had taken control of the areas to the west and east of Oradour-sur-Glane, however this village had little resistance activity and effectively became a sitting duck for the SS.

It appears that the events at Oradour-sur-Glane were intended to demonstrate to the population that terror could happen anywhere, anytime and that attempts to disrupt the German war effort would be severely punished.

There were no specific reason given as to exactly why the village was selected or why it was so completely and ruthlessly annihilated, despite several urban myths and earlier theories arising in the following years.

Click on the middle right-hand side of the picture to show more or wait for the slideshow

Urban Myths Put To Rest

Was Oradour-sur-Glane a case of mistaken identity like many claim?  There are rumours saying that the real town the SS were looking for was in fact Oradour-sur-Vayres.  However, that’s all it was, a rumour.  According to the audio commentary at the museum, this fact was never substantiated.  On the contrary, it has been proven that there was no case of mistaken identity after all.

Another myth concerned the reason for the attack which suggested that it was in retaliation for the capture of an SS officer by the resistance (even Wikipedia states this).  However again new information has now put this one to rest.  Yes, there were two incidents of captured SS officers immediately preceding the event, however, one of the men (and his driver) escaped and fled to the nearby town of Limoges, to arrive during the morning of Saturday 10th June.  A second SS officer was captured in the general area and moved to a secret location, however at the time of the incident these two events were unlinked.  The SS themselves used the disappearance of their Officer as later justification for the Oradour massacre.

A third story tells of how the SS shot the men below the knees to prevent them from escaping.  However, the orders of the SS were to kill everyone, so there was no need for inflicting incapacitating injuries and the information at the museum suggests that the SS shot to kill and finished off the survivors before incinerating the bodies.  There was no specific account of wounding, according to official sources that I have been able to verify in the research, despite seeing this recorded in numerous places and blogs.

An entire family killed

Look at the name Thomas, so many family members gone!

They Were Just Children!

The New Town Rebuilt

On 10th June 1947 President Vincent Auriol presided over the ceremony of laying the “foundation stone” of the new village of Oradour-sur-Glane.  The new town, which took over six years to build, was an exact replica of the old town, except that there was no train station.  The new town sadly entered into a period of mourning that was to last for decades.

The extended mourning period was due in part to the fact that the SS burnt many of the bodies beyond recognition making identification near impossible for grieving relatives from outside Oradour.  Additionally, the fact that no-one was brought to any kind of justice for committing these atrocities helped to fuel the mourning.  It wasn’t until the 1980’s when a new generation inhabited this town did the mourning period officially end.

 

The Silent Treatment

In the Bordeaux War Crime Trials after the war, the relatives and survivors of Oradour-sur-Glane sought justice and expected that those responsible would be tried, sentenced and punished appropriately.  However, the majority of the soldiers, officers and commanders were now dead and many others were in East Germany who refused to extradite them.  Eventually, after eight and a half years, 21 men were brought before the tribunal, found guilty and sentenced to prison.

However, this wasn’t the end of the story due to fourteen of the soldiers being Frenchmen from the province of Alsace, which had been annexed by German at the start of the war.  These soldiers had been forcibly conscripted, e.g. against their will, into the German army and an amnesty on 20th February 1953 freed all such forced conscriptees.  This action so disgusted the locals that politicians, local authorities and local state representatives were not invited to ceremonies organised by the National Association of Victims’ Families and the local council of Oradour-sur-Glane.  All other convicted soldiers were eventually released by 1958.

What isn’t clear from the information made available in the museum is what happened to the six people, one woman and five men who escaped this massacre.  I wonder why none of these people took part in the trial.

Memorial in Cemetery

Children’s Items

Memorial in the New Town

The 1983 Trial In The German Democratic Republic

Lt. Heinz Barth was in command of the 3rd Company of 1st Battalion Der Fuhrer Regiment.  It was thought that all trace of him was lost.  Could it have been that he was wounded and escaped capture by Allied forces?  Accused of taking part in the Oradour-sur-Glane massacre, he was condemned in absentia by the Bordeaux military tribunal in 1953.  Later reintegrated into civilian life in East Germany, in the former zone of Soviet occupation, Barth was ‘traced’ in 1982 and put on trial in East Berlin.  Barth did not deny his involvement but claimed to remember almost nothing.

Being the only SS member involved in the Oradour massacre to have been judged, the trial seemed to be a bit of a sham showing the protection given to former SS officers on the eastern side of the Iron Curtain.

The outcome of the trial was not recorded, however further research suggested he was sentenced to prison and released in 1997.  He died in 2007 at the age of 87.

The Children of Oradour-sur-Glane

Access To The Old Village

The only way into the old village during operational dates is through the superb architecturally designed building that houses the museum, which opened in 1999.  There is disability access to the old town via a lift and the town itself was built on relatively flat land making is easy to get around.  See Opening Times below for more information about access in winter.

Costs

Free entry to the Martyr Village (the name they now give this village).

Entry to the museum including two audio units cost us €19.60.  If you only speak English then it is highly recommended you make the most of the audio guide.  There is a short twelve-minute movie at the end of the museum and the audio provides extensive information not available elsewhere.

It was also thanks to the audio guide that we were able to obtain the answers regarding some of the misconceptions around this event as highlighted earlier.

My only criticism was the lack of closure on certain things.  Apparently, six adults escaped, plus one young boy.  Only one of the women who escaped from the church survived being shot, the other two perished.  There are no accounts for what became of these survivors.  Did they stay in the area, did they ever return, did they go on to live a long life?  It would have been great to have this detail filled in, as I guess we all want to cling onto some happy ending if that was even possible.  Perhaps it wasn’t.

 

Opening Times

From February 1st to 28th February: 9am5pm

From March 1st to 15th May: 9am6pm

From 16th May to 15th September: 9am to 7pm

From 16th September to 31st October: 9am to 6pm

From November 1st to 15th December: 9am5pm

Admittance is up until one hour before closing time.  Believe me, you will want to spend more than an hour here if it is your goal to try to comprehend what went on and to contemplate the many ruined buildings and relics of the lost civilisation here.

Annual closure of the Centre de la Mémoire is from 16th December to 31st January inclusive. During this closed period, the ruins are still accessible between 09:00 to 17:00 via the entrance on the road to Confolens (the D9) opposite the Centre de la Mémoire. The ruins can also be accessed during the dates when the Centre is closed, via the original entrance at the Northern and the Southern ends of the village.

Parking Nearby For Motorhomes

We stayed two nights here, on the first night we parked in the carpark overlooking the old town.  This gave easy and close walking access to the old town.  I’m not sure how busy this place becomes in the height of summer, however there is also an Aire situated 1.3kms further north past the new town.  Here you can find electricity and in the summer months water for a small fee.

Spread The Word

Please help to spread the word about the events of Oradour-sur-Glane by sharing this blog far and wide.  A brief Facebook post reached over 15,500 people in one week and many people had no knowledge of the town or what took place.  That, in my humble opinion, is a real shame.  I believe everyone should know some of the atrocities of war.

If you wish to read further, here’s an excellent link for more information https://www.oradour.info/

Please PIN this far and wide

How Finland Reduced Our Gas Consumption Part 2

How Finland Reduced Our Gas Consumption Part 2

This entry is part 2 of 2 in the series LPG

If you missed Part 1, you can read it here How Finland Reduced Our Gas Consumption Part 1.

We limped on through Finland very mindful by now of our dwindling gas levels.  Anything and everything possible is being considered to make this last bottle see out the distance.  We just hope we don’t run out of gas before we run out of country.  Then there’s the looming thought of it’s getting colder and before long we may need heating (another gas guzzler).

One thing that helped to extend our gas consumption was a pre-planned, albeit quick, trip to St Petersburg, Russia for three days.  Betsy, however, still has to use gas to keep the freezer cold (we can’t bring ourselves to spend another €8 per night to be plugged into electricity while we’re away).   This does take some pressure off the gas consumption somewhat and as you will see below, every bit helps.

We leave Helsinki and head north.  The first stop about an hours drive is a place called Hyvinkaa where we located a business called Best Caravans.  Not only do they have caravans, but they also have the best, and I mean the best, free camping spot that we have ever come across, bar none.  Yes they have electricity (phew) and they also provide a washing machine, a dryer (rare to find this), a double shower (nice) and then, wait for it… they offer a sauna!  All this for free (provided you buy something in their shop and/or secure their loyalty card).  So after buying some toilet tabs, which are always needed, we take advantage of these facilities while plugging in to give our fridge a much needed break from sucking on the gas.

Whenever we are plugged in the kettle goes away and the electric jug comes out.  I prefer this as electric is much quicker (especially when in urgent need of a quick cuppa).

We venture further north and planned our route around two more Best Caravan franchises.  Neither, however, as fruitful as the first, but that’s okay because it’s electricity we’re mainly looking for and were incredibly thankful for.

We found a LPG supplier reasonably close to the Finland border in Sweden.  Alan phoned to ensure our information was accurate and that they did, in fact, have LPG.  They did.

So the original plan was to drive from Oulu to Sweden, get the gas, then back into Finland and up to Rovaniemi to see Santa.  That plan changed to driving to Rovaniemi first, then across into Sweden, back into Finland and head north.

In the end we drove to Rovaniemi from Oulu, thankful as we saw the Aurora Borealis for the first time ever (so exciting!), then decided that we could possibly make a run for Norway and drive all the way over to Tromso for LPG.

By now the second tank is oh so low and I’m sure we’re sucking fumes.  We have reduced the number of hot drinks we consume and look for meze type food for dinner.   So cheese on crackers with salami and relish, anything that doesn’t need gas becomes our dinner.  If we do choose to a warm dinner we make sure it’s using one pot that is watched carefully.

We never skip a nightly shower that is until now.  With gas levels at a critically low level, we opt to skip a night due to prioritisation, a cuppa is more important than smelling good.  We reduced our timed water heating to 15 minutes which was ample providing it wasn’t a hair washing night.

The temperature is due to drop like a lead balloon to just two degrees tomorrow night.  I’m keen to drive through to Tromsø in one go, but it’s over six hours.  When we are used to one or two hours at a stretch, a six-hour drive is a far cry for us to consider.  I reluctantly resign to one further night in Finland and think about all the clothes I can wear in bed to stay warm tonight.    Thankfully the heater in Betsy is very good, so it gets turned on in short bursts just to take the chill out of the air and assist with sleeping.

We park tonight at a layby and notice, surprisingly, there are several other motorhomes and some caravans parked here too.  All through northern Finland we seem to have been on our own at overnight stops, but not tonight.  I brave the bone-biting cold wind and knock on the doors of other travelers inviting them to come over later for a drink and chat.  I’m hoping the distraction will get my mind off the lack of gas and more bodies inside Betsy will help to keep the warmth in.

The other motorhomers must have wondered who this was knocking on their door on dusk.  Dressed in all the warm clothes I could find, hat covering the blonde hair, and a scarf wrapped around my neck to fight off that bitter cold, I brave my fear of shyness and knock away.  Most occupants open their doors, and some speak English.  I get some polite no thank you declines, some who don’t speak English soon shut their doors to Mrs Blobby, and those who do engage in conversation are delighted at the invitation and agree to valiantly brave the cold and come across after dinner.

My plan worked, we have a lovely evening meeting new and interesting people and listen to their travel tales.  The night passes quickly and the temperature inside Betsy is cozy (without the need for any gas, whoops, I mean heating).

Once the evening congregation is finished, we say goodbye to our new friends and jump into bed to stay warm.  The heater goes on briefly and we hope we are well insulated from the jaw-dropping thermometer-dropping temperatures outside.  It works.

The next day we make a run to Tromsø and oh boy are we blessed with the most glorious day.  That’s a post for another time, needless to say we arrived safe and sound, filled up with that beautiful and most precious juice, LPG, and were on our way to great food and warmth inside Betsy.

So how long did we stretch bottle number two?  Well, that’s a good question.

Let me step back to the beginning of having two fill tanks of LPG, sourced from Sweden on 7th August.  We crossed into Finland later that day and didn’t fill up again until we were in Norway on 17th September.  So that gives us a staggering 41 days of gas consumption.

The first bottle was empty by the time we left the Awesome Åland Islands on 19th August (so that bottle lasted 12 days).  Therefore we stretched, and I mean stretched thin, the second bottle to a staggering 29 days.  HOW COOL IS THAT???  Just don’t ask me to do that again, especially when the weather starts to turn cold and we are in the north of Scandinavia.

Looking back now I would not, for the life of me, have skipped Finland just due to their lack of LPG.  (I do have to ask, however, Finland why don’t you have LPG?).  Finland offers so much to see and do and it even gave us challenges that looking back now, were fun.

So if you have LPG and have discounted traveling to this part of the world because of a lack of LPG then take a leaf out of our book, put on your big boy/girl pants and grunt up.  Making our gas last for 41 days is epic and if we can do it, then so can you.  I’m throwing down the gauntlet and want you to beat our record.  I dare you….

 

From Glorious Sun to Snow Storm in One Day

From Glorious Sun to Snow Storm in One Day

by Ruth Murdoch  |  1st October 2018  | Norway
The first day of October dawned bright and clear and pretended to be just like any other day, only it wasn’t.  This was a sheep in wolf’s clothing day.

Today was a day of firsts, not only as in the date but in many things that happened along the way.  We woke in Ulsvag, Norway and by 9am were on the road.  That was the first ‘first’ as we don’t usually move too early in the morning.

We had no set destination today, again a first.  We typically make a point of plotting our destination but today was different, we just hopped on the road and started driving, south. Hmmm.

The extent of our planning, however, was to not use the coastal route due mainly to the high costs of taking ferries.  That decision was to save us €100.  In hindsight, which is a wonderful thing, we are now thinking that perhaps it wasn’t worth it.  Or maybe it was, otherwise I wouldn’t have a story to tell.

We are making our way south to leave Norway hopefully before the winter snow set in.  The surrounding hilltops have been sprinkled with snow that looks like icing sugar (powdered sugar) and makes for amazing photos, particularly in the reflective waters that can be found everywhere we look.

We don’t go far before Betsy, our motorhome, is stopped on the roadside for us to jump out and take some photos.  A two-hour trip usually turns into three or four depending upon the landscape and photographic opportunities. On route we stop at a place called Drag for this photo.

Snowcapped Mountains in Drag

Half an hour later at Innhavet, we come across the camping ground where we had expected to stop the previous night.  It was closed.  That seems to be the common thing around here after the summer season.  This one however offered a wonderful photo opportunity so we wandered over for a closer look.  The row of cabins were mirrored perfectly in the reflective water.  The golden hues of the autumn trees were resplendent in the foreground reflections of the snowcapped mountains behind.

It’s really not difficult to take wonderful shots here when the scenery is so spectacular.

Camping Ground Hut Reflections

Not a breath of wind!

By this point we continue south, to where we don’t yet know but it doesn’t matter.  We are just enjoying the ride and there is only one road south.

The opportunity for more photos presented itself, however it was more of the same, albeit still stunningly beautiful.  I made the decision that we would only stop again for different scenery and forty-five minutes later this arrived.

Engan gave us rocks of greys, blues, browns diving into the again reflective waters.  When I first saw this sight my brain couldn’t comprehend what my eyes were seeing.  The scene in front of us was one of seamless rocks in an unusual shape, until I realised it was the water playing tricks on my eyes.

We asked [the universe] for different landscapes, and Norway provided these for us unlike anything I had ever seen before.  The colours had been carefully chosen from nature’s palette by the most experienced of artists.  Should anyone care to paint this scene, it would simply look too contrived.

But here in Engan we stood with jaws dropped and eyes wide, trying our best to take it all in.  It was still morning, just, and there was not a ripple of wind on the water, and the clouds above are soft and fluffy.  The day is stunning, there’s nothing to worry about here, yet.

Engan’s Rock Formations Repeated In the Still Waters Below

After a lunch stop we are on the road again and at about 4.30pm it only took ten minutes to come across more of nature’s glory, this time a roaring waterfall.  It was as though someone had turned on a fireman’s hose, the sound was deafening and the water rushing in a hurry to find the end, wherever that may be.

Another hour or so later the surrounds had changed and changed dramatically.  We knew we were heading through Saltfjellet National Park and had been climbing for a while.  However there was nothing, and I mean nothing, to give us any warning of what was to come.

We’re in the snowline, says Alan, excited to see the white around us.  We pulled over to frolic in the snow (okay we’re from the other end of the world where snow isn’t common).  We take photos of Betsy surrounded by the snow.  Gosh it’s cold outside.  About 1 degree showing on the dashboard.  It was a quick stop.  That was 5.59pm.

We continue climbing and drinking in the sights of the beautiful white snow and the barren mountain slopes.  The beautiful autumn colours were left far behind us and it was just black on white.  What a picturesque scene before us.  Until…

Six minutes later at 6.05pm we are still climbing and then it starts to snow.  Gently at first and we are pleased to have just replaced our dashcam with a better one now so we can capture the stunning scenery here in Norway.  I also capture a video on my iPhone, and the delight of seeing snow is clearly obvious in my voice.  The roads are clear and there’s no concern about driving, yet.

The next video is taken at 6.08pm when the snow is coming in heavy and just starting to land on the roads and is staying there.  The sound in my voice has a little more concern than the previous one and I say “I hope we don’t get snowed in”.

The third video is just one minute later at 6.09pm.  We are in Rokland.  My voice is quiet and I state the obvious ‘we’ve really been caught out here today’.   The road is white, Besty has slowed right down and we’re in trouble.  We don’t have winter tyres on, nor do we have chains.  We have snow ‘socks’ but there is nowhere to pull off the road to fit them.  I look at the other vehicles on the road, what few of them there are, and notice they also haven’t put on any chains.  Phew, that’s a relief.

Driving in horizontal snow is another first for us.

The weather is really closing in now, the visibility low and I am feeling concerned.  We don’t know how far we are to safety, or how long this is likely to last.  We don’t understand the weather in Norway and we’re miles from anywhere.

It defies belief that the weather conditions in 90 seconds could deteriorate so dramatically.

Watch the dash cam video to check it out for yourself then consider putting yourself in our driving seats.  For those from Europe reading this, it’s probably second nature.  But for those from Australia, or NZ, this situation is far from normal.  In particular look at the colour of the road surface at the beginning of this video then see how quickly it changes.

I have an out of body moment and hear my quivering voice saying “I’m out Alan, I’ve had enough, I can’t do this any longer”.  Then I have the thought, what do you want him to do about it Ruth?  There’s nowhere to pull over, he’s driving slowly, and there are no options right now other than to go straight ahead.  To say I’m not feeling particularly comfortable at this point in time is somewhat of an understatement.

We continue for another ten minutes.  We see a sign for a parking area.  Upon approaching this we could see it’s a steep slope of snow down to a snow-covered carpark.  We bailed on that idea, realising that if we got Betsy down there, there was no guarantee we could get her out again.

We continue forward, now travelling at just 50km/hr.  A van passes us and Alan opts to drive in his tracks giving us a smidgen more traction, or so we hope. Ahead we can see a sign saying we’ve just crossed the Arctic Circle.  We hope there are some buildings or structures and a welcoming rest area to stop.  There is a sign pointing to something but the side road is covered with virgin white snow and we are not about to turn down there.

So we plod on forward with Besty still occasionally losing traction as her feet find it difficult to hold onto the ground through the thickening snow.  Thankfully the road is straight, it’s relatively flat and Betsy holds her line as she connects again with the road and Alan keeps her pointing forward.  Again she slips and slews a little sideways.

Keeping a 3.5-ton vehicle moving forward in these conditions is no small feat.  Alan does a sterling job of man-handling Betsy and keeping her pointing straight ahead.  He also tries to keep me calm, but I know him all too well and realise he’s managing his own concerns for our safety in these conditions.

The snow has now well and truly settled on the road and it’s not going anywhere.  The temperature has dropped from 1 degree earlier to zero and the indicator on the dashboard is flashing, which means that there is a risk of ice – no kidding Sherlock!

We often talk about how the sun follows us around, how we are lucky with the weather, and whenever we ask the universe for something, like different scenery, it delivers.   Well, today it’s delivering and I make a mental note to be more specific in my future requests.

Up ahead we spied some lights.  What was it?  Is there a village there, or some sort of life?  We nudge slowly and carefully towards the lights and see a parking spot.  By now the snow is hammering into our windscreen, the wipers are on high speed, and the snow is caking where the wipers don’t reach, making an unobscured outlook for the passenger rather difficult.  I’m not sure if that’s a good or a bad thing by this stage.

My heart is in my throat, and I don’t mind saying that I’m more than a tad scared by now. It’s made worse by the fact that I have run out of data on my internet plan.  However, that wouldn’t help in any case because we have very little mobile service up here.  No-one knows where we are and there’s no way we can call for help. Great.

I calm myself looking at our position rationally, which isn’t easy when faced with a new situation like this.  My rational mind says that we have lots of food, we had just filled with LPG at lunchtime, meaning we have heating and can cook, we have plenty of diesel, we are safe inside Betsy and we have each other.  Plus I don’t think there are Polar Bears in this part of the world.

We turn into the lit parking lot at Storforshei, especially grateful that the entry is flat and notice a building with lights on.  It’s a toilet block and the toilets in this part of the world are always heated.  Now I know why.

I look outside and can’t help but see the beauty in the scenery.  The bare sticks in front of me have snow clinging on one side from the now horizontal snow that’s hammering them.  They stand staunchly, teaching me a lesson in humility.  If they can brave it outside, then I can toughen up inside.

We park up and decide we’re not going anywhere tonight.  On the side of the road stands tall skinny red pegs that mark where the road used to be before the snows arrived.  The odd truck continues to drive on in the snow and I figure they, the Norwegians, are used to this stuff.  We, on the other hand, are not.

Heading into Betsy’s garage Alan retrieves the snow socks that we purchased in Sweden.  They are our insurance policy should we get unexpectedly caught out.  I think this situation qualifies for the inaugural snow socks outing.  Snow socks are lighter than chains, are made of a fibrous type material, and can be used to gain traction in the snow, providing one drives at no more than fifty kilometres per hour.  According to the marketing material on the outside of the packaging, these socks are designed to ‘get you home’.  I am now thankful for the €86 investment we made during the searing 31-degree summer heat.

Alan comes back into Betsy looking like a giant snowflake.  He’s covered in snow, it’s in his hair, on his shoulders, and all over his clothing.  He is also looking rather cold.  By this time the temperature had dropped to minus one and it doesn’t look like it’s about to let up any time soon.

Alan takes a wander over to the toilet block to suss it out and I start to set up the cabin to bunker down.  The heating is turned on, the blinds are lifted to cover the windows, and the front screen covers put in place.

We check out the forecasted temperatures for tomorrow and OMG!!!!  Have a guess what it says?  Go on, you can give it a guess.  Well, we are expecting to wake to a balmy minus five, tomorrow morning.  What on earth?  Minus five, do people really live in these conditions?  And what’s more, it’s due to ‘warm up’ to minus three by mid-afternoon.

My mind runs back to an earlier conversation we had with a local chap just a few days ago who said that the snow sometimes doesn’t come in until December.  December!  Not October!  Did I really hear him correctly?  Didn’t anyone tell the weatherman this news?

Then another conversation comes to mind from not one but two locals on two different occasions.  ‘We don’t mind minus ten, it’s when it gets to minus twenty or thirty that it becomes too cold.’  Really?

By now the snow has turned to rain, which possibly means that it’s warmed up outside.  If you can call it ‘warm’!

The amount of snow on the roads has visibly decreased with the help of the rain.  Alan returns from his reconnaissance trip to the bathroom and strongly suggests that we should continue driving tonight, now!  He recommends that we’re not to stay here because with the minus five conditions tomorrow, then minus six the next day, the wet snow is likely to turn to far more treacherous black ice and the roads could be closed.  The black ice is more dangerous to drive in than the option we have now.  Black ice is the name we give it when water on the road has frozen clear and becomes invisible to see.  It acts like a skating rink for cars and I don’t think Betsy would like that. 

My mind races back a couple of years ago when my sister, travelling during winter in the South Island of New Zealand, had a head-on accident with someone who skidded on black ice and wrote off their motorhome.

Local Weather Forecast For The Next Two Days!!!

I look outside and am thankful that we can actually see the tarmac on the road again.  The couple of inches of snow that had previously been hiding the road have now melted.  It’s now or never!

I agree with Alan and we make a run for it.

So the cabin gets prepared for moving, the blinds go down, the TV is put back into place, and we are bravely on the road once more. Betsy’s feet firmly connect with the now wet tarmac and she’s much happier.

Before long a truck comes up behind us, so Alan pulls over to let him go by.  Ah, following a vehicle lit up like a Christmas tree makes for much easier driving.  Although just trying to keep pace with him proves a challenge.  He’s honking.  Before long the truck is just a distant blur ahead and we’re on our own again.

The Norwegians are prolific road builders and they are constructing a new one alongside us.  Kilometre after kilometre of workmen, excavators, and dump trucks are still working away in the pitch darkness and freezing cold.  Road barriers, temporary traffic lights, diversions, and dug up roads all try to slow our progress but after coping with the snow earlier, these are mere trifles. The snow has stopped and between the roadworks, the road is actually reasonable. The seal is in good condition and the roads provide a comfortable enough width when meeting trucks coming towards us.

We slowly and safely make our way down the mountain and arrive, relieved and happy, an hour later at the small settlement of Storforshei.

We find a cheeky parking spot outside an abandoned building and gain some shelter from the elements for the night.

It’s now the following morning as I write this and we awake to the most glorious of days, the snow is now more than just a sprinkle on the hills around us.  The beauty of Mother Nature again takes our breath away as the clear blue sky shows off the fully covered mountains with her clean crispy white snow blanket.

Our day of firsts yesterday will make for a good story in our future.

In the words of a friend ‘we know we are alive’ and are happy (now) to have had this experience.

Our lesson with this new knowledge is to never attempt driving over a high mountain range in the late afternoon if there is a risk of snowfall.  We just need to be a little more mindful of the elements and how vulnerable we can be.