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Week 6 in Morocco

Week 6 in Morocco

by Ruth Murdoch |  March 2019  |  Morocco, Africa

Table of Contents

MAP

Week 6 had us driving 297kms from Mirleft beach, through Tiznit (we didn’t stop here this time) to Tafroute then on to Taraoudant, an area called the Anti-Atlas mountains of Morocco.  Click to enlarge map.

This week we tour through the anti-atlas mountains of Morocco, we visit our first souk accompanied by a local and learn how to exchange the Moroccan way.

Spectacular Souk

Day 36: Mirleft; Monday 4th March

We’re in for a special treat today. Our friendly Moroccan kidnapper, Mo, whisks us away to the Mirleft souk (weekly market) where we come across the unexpected…

For a small town Mirleft packs a punch when it comes to their souk, selling outstandingly fresh fruit and vegetables. You would have thought that after 36 days of travelling through this wonderful country we would have properly experienced a souk before, but we have either missed them by one day or turned up too late in the afternoon when most of the sellers had left. This was one of those occasions where the early bird catches the worm, or at least the freshest vegetables, fruit and herbs.

We are told that if the sellers arrive and set up, and the expected crowds don’t appear, they simply pack up and go back home. Luckily today, the buyers are out in force so the stall holders stayed put.

Set up in a dry dusty paddock, that is empty six out of seven days a week, is today’s home for this market. Only a fortunate few have makeshift tables to display their wares, the others just spread out a tarpaulin for their merchandise on top of the dirt.

Goodies Piled On Top Of Cloths For Sale In Souk

It’s mainly men who are the sellers here and the souk appears to be an opportunity to catch up with friends.  The men greet each other; they chat, laugh, drink tea, and eat while watching out for their next sale.  The Moroccan people are always smiling and seem genuinely happy which makes hanging out here a real pleasure.

Men Hanging Around Mirleft Souk Sharing Secrets

Date Seller Asks To Have His Picture Taken

The quality of fruit and vegetables was the best we have seen in Morocco, bar none.  The cauliflowers must have just been picked this morning, as they still looked vibrant and alive.  But the real treat today was finding some much-longed for green spinach, again freshly picked this morning.  What a treat!  Now I can, once again, have green smoothies for breakfast.

It’s not just seasonal local groceries that can be bought here, another special treat was finding pineapples (imported from the Canary Islands) and fresh ginger.  I paid three dirhams (€.30 or NZ$0.46) for the ginger and handed over a five dirham coin.  Instead of money I asked for the change to be given in fresh soft delicious dates.  The vendor laughed at me saying ‘that’s the Moroccan way’ and Mo commented that we’ve been in Morocco long enough now to think like a Moroccan and that we should be applying for our residency status.

The souks don’t just sell fruit and vegetables.  There is also fresh honey from cactus, clothing, tea pots, tools, car parts, jewellery, belts, leather items, household items like plastic buckets, couscous pots, electronics (used and old), fabrics, melhafa (the traditional daywear of the ladies), sweet roasted nuts, dried legumes and more.  We saw an old xbox and a Dell computer that must have been twenty or thirty years old. Goodness knows how long the vendor has been carrying this stuff around and who he expects will buy it (apart from a museum curator).

TIP:  If you’re in the market, buy a Berber necklace early in your travels and wear it.  That way you will not only have a great souvenir, but you will please the locals, have a conversation starter and a valid excuse to politely decline to buy another.  Everywhere you go, you will find people selling ‘genuine’ Berber jewellery and artefacts and they are clever and relentless in their efforts to sell to you.

TIP:  Be careful eating the honey from cactus on its own, as it’s very strong and burns in your throat.  The bees know you’ve eaten it and they follow you around which isn’t good when allergic to bee stings!

In 2018, just two days before the clocks were due to be turned back one hour at the end of daylight savings, the Morocco Government decreed that they were going to stay permanently on daylight savings time (GMT plus 1 hour).  This caused mass confusion because the announcement was ‘totally out of the blue’ and even mobile phones automatically reverted to the old standard time as they were programmed to do.  Appointments and flights were missed – chaos!

Mo told us that many of the people have not accepted this new time zone and still use the old system, which is currently one hour behind the official time used by the Government and Government departments, schools, hospitals, airports and the like.

Ah, that explains why our iPhones and computers showed one time and our GPS a different time.

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Carpenter Day

Day 37:  Mirleft; Tuesday 5th March

There’s excitement in the air today as we patiently waited for our local carpenter to turn up with the two new shelves we’d ordered.  These were installed under our bed where our Truma gas heater system is installed.  The vulnerable pipes, valves and hoses are now protected.

The carpenter made an excellent job and if you are wanting any work on your motorhome while travelling in Morocco you can expect craftsmanship quality.

Our Ikea wooden chopping board has been modified to securely sit over the sink, thus increasing our usable bench space.  There’s never enough bench space in a motorhome when one likes to cook and bake.

From the land of cheap labour, all this work costs us just 250 dirhams (€23 or NZ$38) including a 20 dirham tip.

Food, Wine & Great Company

We had new neighbours park beside us today.  Roger and his wife Andy are a friendly retired couple from Germany.  Roger was an interpreter for a submarine manufacturer and speaks fluent English, Spanish and Norwegian as well as his native tongue.  They had so many stories to tell from their interesting life, which included 12 years full-time on a yacht in the Caribbean.

Tonight as a special treat I made my “Australian Chicken and Date Tagine” with Couscous as a treat and thank you to Mo.  This dish is one of my all-time favourites and I was proud to be trying it out on a real Moroccan to check how it stacks up against the local dishes.  

You know how sometimes it’s those unexpected, impromptu events that turn out to be a real treat?   The dinner was washed down with Roger’s Sardinian wine (water for Mo) and the food receiving a standing ovation.  Indeed a night to remember.

Goats Eating Their Favourite Food – Argan Nuts

Anti-Atlas Mountains of Morocco  and Goats in Argan Trees

Day 38:  Tafraoute; Wednesday 6th March

We went from being kidnapped by a friendly Moroccan/Canadian for six days last week to being shown the Anti-Atlas Mountains of Morocco and favourite haunts of our German friends, Roger and Andy for the next ten days. 

One of the touristy ‘must sees’ in Morocco is none other than the goats in argan trees.  We are lucky enough to see this sight in the anti-atlas mountains of Morocco.  The nutritious argan nuts and freshest leaves are out of their reach from ground level but the clever little beasts have learned how to climb the trees for a tasty snack.  Normally these are seen around Essaouira where enterprising locals have trained their goats to scale the branches and pose for photos in return for tourist’s coins.

Driving to Tafraoute we came across some self-taught goats in paddocks strewn with argan trees.  Unfortunately, by the time we found somewhere to park and walked back across the field, the shepherd called the goats away so our photos were a little average.  However, be sure to check in next week to see argan trees seemingly growing goats on their branches as they munch their way through the delicious argan nuts.

Stunning Scenery Photos in the Anti-Atlas Mountains of Morocco

Stunning Scenery Photos

Stunning Scenery Photos

The camper parking at Tafraoute (GPS coordinates 29.72197, -8.98352) is as picturesque as anything we’ve seen in our travels.  High mountains are all around us, lighting up red when the late setting sun kisses the rocks.   There must have been 200 motorhomes here, many of which are set up to stay for what looks like most of the winter. 

This camper parking area is quite unusual for Morocco, where proper campgrounds are the norm.  There can be up to 500 motorhomes here at the busy times, and this seems to support a lot of the local economy.  The cost to park is just 15 dirhams (€1.30 or NZ$2.28).  For such a handsome sum you can park anywhere you fancy, dump your rubbish and dispose of black water. 

If parking here for a while take note at the direction those who are well set up are facing and do likewise.  The wind can come in at night and you will want shelter from the sun’s daytime heat. 

Fresh bread and pastries are delivered fresh every morning around 7.30am by a man yelling ‘baguettes, pan(bread), patisseries’ at the top of his voice.  If you don’t want to get up, you can leave your money in a bag tied to your door handle.  The colour of the bag tied to the door handle indicates the order from the previous evening.  In our case yellow was for one loaf of bread.  Unfortunately, the loaf was half the size we were used to for our 2 dirhams. 

A water truck comes here daily and for 2.5 dirhams he will fill your water tank and every empty water containers you can find.  Or if you miss him, there are young boys collecting and returning 5-litre bottles of water.

Local women come around offering laundry services.

Local men offer to paint murals on your motorhome or make side covers for your awning.

A significant, low cost, motorhome repair and refitting industry has established itself in Tafraoute and a lot of motorhomers take advantage of this.

Tafraoute Camper Parking Area

Sunrise at Tafraoute Camper Parking Area

About Argan Oil 

Mo arrived later in the day to deliver us a very special bottle of argan oil.  He had ordered this for us a few days earlier, putting the local ladies to work on our order and then collected it from a friend living in a small village inland from Tiznit.  This precious ‘hand-pressed to order’ liquid, in a re-used one litre plastic bottle, had travelled many kilometres just to reach us and for 220 dirham (€20.25 or NZ$33.50) was a very reasonable price.  As a comparison this oil for consumption sells on Amazon for US$119.96 per litre!  

TIP:  Not all argan oil is equal and we are told that some dodgy people sell a blend of argan oil mixed with ‘other’ oil, instead of pure argan.  Buying from someone knocking on your motorhome door is considered particularly risky.  If you want the real stuff then ask a local for a recommendation and expect to wait for a day or two, or even three, for it to be specially made.

What does argan oil taste like?

As best I can describe it, this oil has a toasty, roasted nutty scent and flavour, much like sesame seed oil but not as strong and without the bitter after taste.  From experimenting it’s best added to dishes, both savoury and sweet.

How do you eat it?

Hmmm, we had to look it up.

One way is to blend it with ground almonds, honey and salt to make something called ‘Amlou’ which is like a dip or paste that you then spread on fresh Moroccan bread (khobuz).

You can also dip bread straight into the oil itself, although I found that a bit strong in flavour.

Apparently, it is awesome when added to tagines or other savory dishes but we haven’t tried that yet.

I have made date and walnut balls using argan oil and it was particularly delicious.

Why eat argan oil? 

It is believed to have anti-aging properties and helps to keep your skin hydrated and smooth.  The celebrities in American are said to be keeping the prices high with their demand for such products. 

Cosmetic Uses

I’ve also seen it being used as a conditioner in hair and have tried this twice without success.  My hair looks and feels greasy, so it doesn’t last long before I use regular conditioner for cleaner feeling hair.  I do however use it on my skin (face and hands) more successfully.  


Tandilt – A Town Built Under Suspended Rocks

Day 39:  Tafraoute; Thursday 7th March

Despite the offer of a water tanker, Roger had other plans for us.  Having been here before and stayed in the neighbouring camping ground, he made friends with the manager and used that very good relationship to gain free water for us all (with permission of course).  So, loaded up with every water container we could find, we jumped on our bikes and headed next door to fill up.

Some of the French motorhomers camped in the campground seemed to think that we were stealing water and looked concerned or upset.  One lady even approached me wagging her finger.  She spoke no English but understood the word ‘permission’ and sulked back into her home muttering (insert French accent here) permission.  The French seem particularly interested in other people’s business and are never slow to show their displeasure at something they are unhappy with.

We cycled into the neighbouring town of Tandilt today to see the famous imposing rock, called Napoleon’s Hat, a bunch of huge red rocks precariously perched overlooking the homes and buildings of this town.   One small earthquake, shock wave, or decent storm and it appears that this baby would come crashing down pretty quickly.

Can You Imagine Building A Town Under These Rocks?

On our way out to Tandilt we first stopped off to have a bite to eat from a local cafe called Espace Harbaz.  I ordered a beef taco which was regrettable as the meat was mainly gristle and later that night it came back up again.  We are told green tea or sage tea is good for ‘Moroccan belly’. 

When we arrived at the Cafe, Espace Harbaz, the lovely Anita, Gavin, Judy and Henry from the UK were there just finishing their meal.  We’d connected with Anita through the Motorhome Adventures Facebook page and realised we were all going to be in the same spot, so it was a good opportunity to meet up in person.   We also met Tim Rust and his wife Ali.  It’s so nice to put faces to names that are seen on Facebook, it makes the connection extra special.  

TIP: Social media is a great tool for meeting other people when you are travelling.  If you want that sort of contact then join some relevant Facebook groups or forums and start reading and posting.  You will often find people at the same spot as you and are happy to have a chat over a wine or three.

The footpaths here make me laugh, who decided it was a good idea to plant trees right in the middle?  Take a look at the photo below and tell me how would you walk on this footpath, let alone push a pram or wheelchair?  It’s no wonder that pedestrians mainly walk on the roads over here!

Tafraoute has some very cute shops and is apparently ‘the place’ to purchase babouche shoes.  ‘Babouche’ are brightly coloured traditional Berber handmade goat or sheep-leather shoes which are traditionally worn during certain ceremonies such as holy days or at weddings.  The yellow colour is worn by men and the red colour reserved for women. 

Babouche (Shoes) Anyone?

TIP:  Fillet steak in Morocco is far cheaper than in most other countries but you won’t often find it in the butcher’s display.  The price ranges around 120 – 150 dirhams per kilo (€11-13.75, NZD$18.20-22.80) so it is too valuable for most butchers to stock. However, many butchers will order it in for you to pick up the next day – provided you buy the whole fillet.

Roger and Andy keep their freezer filled with fillet steak to take back home as at €50 per kilo they feel it is virtually unaffordable in Germany.

Fresh Beef Eye Fillet

What to See and Do In Tafraoute

Day 40:  Tafraoute; Friday 8th March

I was laid low today recovering from my dose of Morocco belly, so I spent some time researching about the local area.

Tafraoute is a town in Tiznit Province, Souss-Massa region, Morocco, in the central part of the Anti-Atlas mountains. It had a population of 4,931 at the 2004 census, some fifteen years ago, and judging by what we saw the population has grown significantly.

For more information about this area, here is a great summary blog I found in my research which includes where to eat, which day the souk is on, and things to see and do in the region.  This is so well written that there’s no need for me to reinvent the wheel.


Is BYO Wine Okay In Morocco?

Day 41:  Taroudant; Saturday 9th March

Sadly it was time to leave Tafroute and keep heading inland towards the town of Taroudant that we’ve heard so much about.  The trip took 5¾ hours due to the distance, the windy roads, and a number of photo stops.  Ah, travelling with a keen amateur photographer can be slow going but oh the rewards are so worth it.  Check these out…

The Road Between Tafroute and Taroudant

The Scenery Between Tafroute and Taroudant

The reward for Betsy at the end of our day was a wash at the local Total Service Station carwash where for just 30 dirhams (€2.76 or NZ$4.57) plus ten dirham tip each, two men hand washed Betsy (and our bikes) from tip to tail and she was sparkling white again.

There is a brand-new camping ground, Grand Camping de Taroudant – 80 dirhams per night (€7.35 or NZ$12.15) plus 30 more for electricity built beside the Total Service Station (GPS coordinates 30.49734, -8.81879).  It was here that we stopped for the night.  The showers and toilets were shiny and new with hot water, ah bliss.

There is a restaurant adjoining the Station, which was welcome after such a long drive today.  We took our bottle of wine and ordered two pizzas.  I usually have very low expectations of restaurant purchased food but I have to say the pizzas here were great with lots of topping and large enough for two.  They were so good in fact that they had been scoffed before I thought about taking a photo!  Before the pizza arrived, we tucked into a Moroccan salad comprised of red onion, cucumber, tomatoes, green peppers and parsley.  Yummy.

TIP:  Ask permission before taking your own alcohol into a restaurant; some welcome you with your wine, some tolerate it and as we found out tonight some forbid it.  Or is this a case of asking for forgiveness rather than permission?  If your like this couple and fancy a wee drop with your dinner take it along and see if anyone says anything?

Roger, Yachty & Andy

Terrific Taroudant

Day 42: Taroudant; Sunday 10th March

We had just a short journey today into Taroudant where we parked literally just outside one of the gates of the old town. The camping ground was almost full, primarily with French vans that were once again set up for a long stay. And why wouldn’t you? This town has everything you need, including heat. It’s reportedly the warmest place in Morocco in the winter and I can tell you that it is bliss waking up on a winter’s morning to warm weather and sun.

The souk is vibrant, with people everywhere. The traffic is chaotic, the footpaths non-existent for the most part, and street vendors have set up anywhere they can. “But it’s only Sunday.” Roger tells us. “Just wait until you come in here tomorrow when the real traffic arrives.”

Roger and Andy have stayed in Taroudant many times and have established a routine for their visits. First, they make a beeline for the fresh juice man who sends a big wave and smile from about fifty metres away as he recognised his foreign friends. By the time we are seated on the bench behind him, he is already well on the way to freshly squeezing their grapefruit juice. We had orange juice and the following day tried a half and half mixture, which I can recommend. At 3 dirhams (€0.28, NZ$0.46) for a large glass of the freshest juice this has to be the best value drink around.

Then it was off to the tourist medina, followed by the Berber medina.

As soon as we stepped inside the medina we were greeted by a very well spoken Moroccan man who welcomed us to his country and enquired as to where we were all from. Roger has this down pat, “we are from Germany and have been here for nearly six months and this couple are from New Zealand, they’ve been travelling for 21 months and have visited 25 countries”, he says enthusiastically. He is always well received and a dialogue often ensues. Roger is very good at conversing with others, most understand him, others just nod and go on their way.

The town is very interesting; the mechanics workshops are small and dark, jammed packed to the ceiling with all manner of spare parts that may be needed one day. How they find anything is anyone’s guess.

Bab Lakhmiss Gate Into Taroudant

                                      Freshly Squeezed Orange Juice in Taroudant

Crowded And Cluttered Shops In The Medina

European Looking Butcher Shop in Tarodaunt

Our tourist guide, Roger, takes us to a European looking butcher, complete with red and white coloured tiles on the floor and a glass cabinet where the meat is chilled and beautifully displayed.  Inside this shop I’ve been teleported anywhere in the world, except Morocco!  Everything looks so inviting and I couldn’t resist purchasing some pre-spiced turkey mincemeat that was so scrummy I went back the following day for more.

The fruit and vegetables here are superb, very fresh and they even sold pawpaw, brussel sprouts, raspberries, pineapples, tiny lady finger type bananas (that are small and sweet) and other more exotic fruit.  The locally grown produce is very cheap but the imported products are still well priced. 

Roger and Andy have a small poodle-maltese mix dog called “Yatchty” who they call their ambassador.  People are constantly stopping and hoping to pat her which makes for slow walking through the town but we don’t mind because it gives us time to look at everything. 

There are terracotta sellers, musical instrument shops, second hand (or maybe third or fourth hand) furniture dealers, leather goods, and shoe salesmen.  Apart from the tourist souk, most of these shops are there for the locals not the tourists so walking around Taroudant doesn’t feel like a tourist destination.  The odd tourist sticks out like a sore thumb, as I am sure we do.

You’ve no doubt heard the term ‘it’s an assault on your senses’? Well Taroudant is that place!  Everywhere we look there’s so much for our eyes to see and brain to process. 

Our nose is filled with delicious smells coming from the herbs and spices, the roadside street food, and the incense sellers. 

Our ears take in the sounds of the horses clip-clopping along the cobblestone streets, the tooting of vehicles horns, the ringing of bicycle bells, the happy chatter from the children being released from school at lunchtime and the yelling from street vendors advertising their wares and low prices.  It’s all rather exciting and a little overwhelming at the same time. 

I feel like a kid in a candy shop, not sure where to look first and wanting to drink in every last bit, while dodging the traffic that could and does appear from any direction at anytime.

 

TIP:  If you’re going in to this old town, be sure to take a photo of the gate you enter because like most souks you can easily get lost.  You can then show this to  someone to get directions to direct a taxi.  Another idea is to save a pin in Google maps so you can find your back way out again, if Google maps plays the game.

The next part of the today’s routine is to find somewhere in the shade, out of the sun, and have a cup of Moroccan (typically mint) tea.  There is a square with cafes facing inwards where groups of men (where are the women?) are sitting around listening to storytellers.  The Berber language is largely unwritten and it’s at these events that I imagine the old men pass down the traditional stories of their ancestors.  

There are buskers who entertain for a few dirhams thrown their way and the busker of the day had to be the owner of a trained white dove sitting atop his turban while playing an instrument resembling a guitar.  Check out the look on the Berber’s face, it is priceless.

Busker With His Well-Trained Pet Dove

By now it was getting late in the day and our weary legs needed a rest so Roger thumbed the nearest horse and carriage which, for a negotiated twenty dirhams (€1.83 or NZ$3) took us on a fifteen minute ride to the camping ground.

We returned back to Betsy buzzing from all the sensory stimulation the old town of Taroudant provided us with and we know that we will be back here on future visits to Morocco.

Tired And Weary But Back In One Piece

Costs for Weeks 1 – 6

A low cost week, apart from groceries as we were cooking for three while hanging out with Mo most days.  We also indulged Roger’s love of eye fillet steak and splashed out on some for ourselves.  

Our running average cost of living for a week in Morocco is €220.50 (NZ$365 or £188).

We love to see comments on our blog as it keeps us motivated to keep writing.  Please say hi or leave a quick one line comment below, thanks.

Tune in next week for a pictorial blog as we drive through the High Atlas Mountains, stopping every few kilometres to take some of the best scenic photos of our trip so far!

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Fantastic Fes

Week 4

Week 1

Week 5

Week 2

Week 3

Week 5 in Morocco

Week 5 in Morocco

by Alan Gow  |  March 2019  |  Morocco, Africa

Table of Contents

MAP

Week 5 had us driving from Guelmim, through to Sidi Ifni then on to Mirleft Beach. Click to enlarge map.

This week, we are kidnapped by a friendly local and not allowed to leave until we had seen all the unforgettable sights around Mirleft.

Day 29: Sidi Ifni;  Monday 25 Feb 

We left the traditional town of Guelmim today after spending three nights parked up on vacant wasteland outside the Marjane supermarket  (GPS 28.96757, -10.03258).  The fuel station on site has reasonable prices and accepts credits cards so we replenished Betsy’s depleted diesel tank before heading west.

 

TIP: A lot of petrol stations do not take cards so if you are expecting to pay for diesel or petrol with a credit card then ask the attendant if they will accept that for payment.  If you are not sure that they understand you or are not sure they are answering you correctly then keep asking until you are sure.  Maybe ask to see the actual payment terminal before allowing them to fill you up.

 

Something interesting that we noted in Guelmim was a number of what you could call unofficial petrol stations because they appeared to be normal shops until you looked more closely.  We parked outside one by mistake one afternoon while checking our directions and witnessed a succession of cars and motorscooters pulling up and being served using funnels and five litre plastic water bottles which had been filled with fuel from the large grey jerry cans.  We found out later that this fuel comes from the Western Sahara region which has little or no VAT so it sells for about 10% – 20% less than the usual price.  The downside is that it tends to be lower quality and can be dirty so it isn’t an option for Betsy’s delicate modern engine.

A Roadside Petrol Station in Guelmim Selling Cheap Untaxed Fuel

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After four weeks in the Moroccan interior, the siren call of the sea was beckoning to us and we had to heed that call.  So, our next destination was Sidi Ifni, a seaside town not far from Guelmim.

We usually cross check our Garmin 760 LDT camper GPS (Emily) directions with Google Maps especially here in Morocco where both forms of electronic maps have had their issues with accuracy and being up to date.  Emily suggested taking the N12 with a drive of about an hour while Google Maps told us to drive about 88km for two hours via the minor P1305 road.  From experience, we knew the “P” roads might be barely one lane wide and the fact that Google said it would take two hours for a relatively short stretch wasn’t encouraging.  We chose to take Emily’s recommendation, which was the right one today.  There were a lot of road works, with some horribly rough short diversions, however long stretches of the road had been rebuilt and resealed and I reckon within 6 months or so this road should be excellent.  There was a short stretch where the N12 was blocked off, with a diversion via a small local road.  I believe that Google knew about the road closure, but not the diversion, which was why it wanted to take us on the torturous minor roads.  Emily, on the other hand was blithely unaware of any roadworks and just took us by the most direct route. It could have gone wrong for us but in this case, we won and found the diversion around the road closure.

Roadworks on the N12 – From our Dashcam

Having a good tyre pressure monitor is great for your safety and peace of mind when driving on these roads.  We have met many motorhomers who have experienced tyres blowing out, which are often the end result of small punctures not being noticed in time.  Our TPMS from TyrePal wasn’t the cheapest on the market but is one of the only ones rated for the high pressures that motorhome tyres run at, and constantly displays the actual pressure and temperature for each tyre.  An alert about possible leaks means that you can reinflate or repair the tyre, or change the wheel before the tyre becomes damaged or blows out on a tight steep Moroccan hairpin bend.

Our Tyre Pressure Monitor shows the real-time tyre pressures and temperatures

Once again the Moroccan terrain changed.  The countryside flattened out with somewhat smaller mountain ranges to what we have become accustomed to and the new obvious visual features are the frequent argan nut trees and the proliferation of prickly pear cactus bushes.  These appeared to have been deliberately planted, probably to harvest the fruit although prickly pear oil production (for cosmetics), is a growing industry which could be driving the mass planting.

As we pulled into Sid Ifni, there was a heavy but dry mist in the air, no doubt originating from the angry Atlantic Ocean breakers pounding the sandy beach beside the Sidi Ifni Camping  (GPS 29.38466, -10.17324).

Jumping out of Betsy, we tasted and smelt the sea in the air and immediately felt relaxed and at home.

Sidi Ifni is one of the last parts of Morocco to be given independence from Spain and remained a colony until 1969 – thirteen years behind the rest of the country. Many of the buildings show a strong Spanish influence and the pace of life is slow here with an economy built around fishing and tourism.  Visitors flock here to enjoy the mild climate, the paragliding and the surfing.  We missed the Sunday souk unfortunately which is apparently well worth planning your visit around.

Sidi Ifni Camping is one of several camp grounds in the town and 80 dirhams per night includes power, hot showers and a reasonably good WiFi signal (we were parked close to the office though).  The showers were nice and hot in the early evening but not so good late at night. Looking around, it appeared that most of our fellow campers are settled in here for weeks, if not months.  Most are from France who are down here for the whole winter – and who would blame them when you compare the weather here to anywhere in France!

Although you are given a three month entry permit when arriving in Morocco, it is apparently relatively easy to get this extended to six months, which is what most people seem to do, or alternatively you can get a new entry permit by taking the ferry back to Spain, then returning straight back to Morocco again.  There seems to be some conflicting information about how to get the original permit extended however for people from visa exempt countries, which includes EU, NZ, Australia, USA and Canada, this should be relatively easy and visiting a local police station would be the starting point.

In the afternoon we cycled up the steep hill to the shops to buy that wonderful round fluffy Moroccan white bread called khobuz for 2 dirham (€0.18 or NZ$0.31.  “Deux pain s’il vous plait” normally gets the desired result but for those non-French speakers just say “der pan seal voo play” and you should be right.  That evening we cooked our first goat tagine using some fresh goat meat bought from a roadside stall.  We are really getting the hang of these tagine things and the wonderful Ras el Hanout we found in Erg Chebbi gives a totally authentic flavour.  We don’t have a tagine pot to cook in but a large saucepan does the trick well enough.

Days 30: Sidi Ifni;  Tuesday 26 Feb & Day 31: Sidi Ifni; Wednesday 27 Feb

Morocco is a great place to save up those little jobs that can be expensive in mainland Europe.  We had some pillowcases that needed cutting and hemming and my trusty High Sierra backpack, which has served me well for over twenty years needed some stitching reinforced.  We were directed to a ‘taileur’ who for the paltry sum of 30 dirham (€2.77, NZ$4.60) did everything we needed on his old but sturdy sewing machine. 

Sidi Ifni Tailer

Back in New Zealand, a great easy meal is a roast chicken scoffed down with fresh bread and a salad. Along the strips of shops and restaurants in most towns here we can usually find at least one café selling freshly spit roasted chickens.  The going price in Morocco seems to be around 85 dirhams (€7.90, NZ$13) for a whole chicken or 45dh for ‘un demi poulet’ (a half chicken).  The succulent fragrant roast chook, fresh tomato, lettuce, home made beetroot and mayonnaise, encased in still warm Moroccan bread, khobuz, makes an awesome lunch.

As we wandered the shops we spotted a butcher specialising in dromadrie, or camel meat.  Huge haunches of camel hung from hooks.  A camel hump split down the middle, which is almost entirely fat, looked very unappetising but the meat being cut up by the butcher was lean and looked very fresh.  Camel meat is reportedly cholesterol free with no fat running through it.

Camel is mainly eaten in the southern Saharan regions of Morocco and in keeping with our plans to sample local foods, we had planned on trying this at a café or restaurant while we were in the area.  However, the meat looked so good that we bought some to cook up for a camel tagine.  It was funny to us that the butcher would not sell us just the meat – if it was going in a tagine then we had to have a separate chunk of camel fat also.

Camel Meat in the Butcher Stall

Day 32: Mirleft;  Thursday 28 Feb 

As we headed north up the R109 and passed through the small town of Mirleft, little did we know that this was to become our home for the next week due to being kidnapped and kept in Mirleft by our local friend.  As we passed Mirleft Beach, we spotted a group of motorhomes parked near the sea and turned off to investigate.  The great thing about being in a motorhome is being able to take advantage of a nice-looking parking area so we decided to stay the night and found a small possie facing the beach.

TIP: The Atlantic ocean along here may look inviting on a warm winter day but it is actually damn cold and pretty rough.  As I found out.  Enter at your own risk!

When we heard some voices speaking English outside our motorhome I popped out to investigate because down here, you just don’t get to talk with many people who speak English well.  So you look for opportunities whenever they arise.  Mostafa (Mo), a Moroccan born Canadian, who has a house in Mirleft, was kindly offering to take a German/Chinese couple, Toby and Alice (travelling on bicycles, into town) to do some shopping.   A few minutes later and we were both invited to join them. 

“Have you ever seen bread cooked on stones? It’s called Tafranot”, asked Mo. Well we have now.  Mo directed us into an old bakery to peer into an ancient bread oven containing embers on the left and a base of small pebbles. The soft flat, round bread dough was pushed onto the bed of stones with some fresh twigs, and less than 10 minutes later we were scoffing warm bread. The bread was still quite thin, almost burnt in places and with several stones still stuck on one side. The baker picked off the stones, wrapped it in paper and handed it to us in return for 3.5 dirhams (€0.32 or NZ$0.53) – well worth the money just to watch the process.  The bread was delicious, very crusty and with the taste of the wood smoke. ‘Best eaten warm with olive oil, or honey’ said Mostafa.

Tafranot Bread in the Oven

Tafranot Bread, Complete with Stones

Along in the market square, the fish were on display for sale.  “The fishermen have been coming in with their catch. They fish all day then sell their harvest at the market in the evening”, explains Mo. 

It all looked very fresh and for a few dirhams you can have it cleaned and cooked by one of the restaurants around the square.

Mo showed us Mirleft’s other two beaches and his house which he has been renovating so he and his Canadian wife can live six months in Morocco and six months in Canada.  Right now, it is about minus 14C where Mo lives in Canada so we can understand why he would rather be in Morocco.

Mo was very interested in how we were able to buy a French registered motorhome in Europe without being EU residents and we explained how this was possible using the organisation that we used.  There were a lot of advantages in buying a French registered vehicle and we explain everything in this article.

We invited Mo to join us for some supper while he gave us an impromptu Moroccan history lesson. 

Morocco was a French/Spanish protectorate (colony) from 1912 – 1956 and the border between the two zones ran through Mirleft.  The French border fort is still visible above the hills and we agreed to visit this with him another day.  It was already looking as if our stay in Mirleft was going to be longer than we anticipated but we have learned to go with the flow and having a local willing to show us around his home turf was an opportunity not to be missed. 

Mo was a font of knowledge including the origin of the name Gibraltar, which comes from Jabal Ṭāriq (literally ‘Mount Tarik’) named after the Berber general Ṭāriq ibn Ziyād, who captured the peninsular in 711, heralding the start of an astonishing 700 year occupation of much of Spain by the Moors.  Ṭāriq didn’t get to enjoy his successes for long though as he was recalled in 714 allegedly for misappropriation of funds and died in obscurity in 720.  We also learned how Moroccans were introduced to chocolate by American soldiers who landed near here close to Agadir during the second world war before helping to push the Rommel’s German army out of the Middle East.

Day 33: Mirleft;  Friday 1 Mar

Our one night stop is turning into another night, and then another as our friendly captor, Mo had more he wanted to show us.  Luckily we aren’t in any hurry. 

After bringing us fresh Moroccan pancakes for breakfast, then taking us for the best cous cous in town, we were in for another treat..Astonished that we’d missed it, Mo drove us to Legzira Beach, 30km back towards Sidi Ifni.  It’s great to meet a local who is so passionate about his surroundings and we went with the flow.

Legzira Beach is famous for the arches eroded into the spurs of rock reaching into the sea.  Unfortunately, the most picturesque of these collapsed a couple of years ago and the sea is rapidly reclaiming the fallen material.  There is a theory that the collapse was initiated by the heavy equipment and loud sounds associated with an airline commercial being made here, as it fell just ten days later.  The remaining arch is still spectacular though and reminded us of Cathedral Cove in the Coromandel region of NZ.  The high cliffs and strong thermal updrafts make this a popular destination for paragliders and a constant progression of aerialists landed on the beach around us.

The Famous Legzira Arch

The  Remaining Arch Photographed from the Collapsed Arch

After a great wander up the beach and under the arch, we returned to the inevitable collection of cafes and tourist traps for some genuine Moroccan tea at Mo’s friend’s cafe.  Mo demonstrated the rather complex, almost ceremonial process of tea making.  Nothing in Morocco is rushed, and tea making is no exception.  The green tea leaves are first steeped in a small amount of water, which is then poured out (and may be discarded as this draws out the bitterness).  More water is then added with a few sprigs of fresh mint and the tea is then poured back and forth from the tea pot held high, to the glass and back again until a froth develops on the surface. Some sugar may or may not be added according to taste and some of the bitter first tea may also be returned to the mix.

Mo Makes us Tea

Legzira Aerialists

One of the attractions here is a tame juvenile hawk that was electrocuted and after being nursed back to health he couldn’t fly.  He happily sits on it’s perch, eating only chicken, watches the tourists go by and will step onto an arm (protected by clothing) pressed up to his legs.  

Friendly Local Hawk

Day 34: Mirleft;  Saturday 2 Mar

The road leading down to Mirleft Beach passes alongside a dry riverbed with cultivated fields spread out alongside the narrow flood plain.  Prickly pear bushes form a picturesque foreground to the spire of the mosque minaret. The fields are mostly used for cultivating animal feed and several groups of locals were either turning over the earth or harvesting the crop using a sharp sickle to slice the plants off very close to the ground. 

The farmers were happy to stop for a break while I attempted to converse with them in my pidgin French and we had a good laugh trying to make ourselves understood.  

Berber Farmer Posing with his Donkey

View up to the Mosque

Today we are still held captive by the lovely Mo who as promised drove us to visit the old French Upper Fort overlooking Mirleft.

The atrociously bumpy dirt and clay road up to the site is not signposted and certainly not suitable for a motorhome.  Completed by the French military in 1935, the fort is now decaying but with the aid of a local guide Youssef, another friend of Mo’s, we are able to get a great insight into how the fort was laid out and how military life must have been like in this far outpost of French influence.  The fort originally had a guard/watch tower at each corner and was divided into areas for the horses, the common soldiers, the officers and the commander.  The size and quality of the rooms increasing with each level of rank. Up to two hundred men once manned the fort which now supports just a population of inquisitive desert squirrels.

French “Upper Fort” at Mirleft

Panoramic View Through the Ruined Walls of the Fort

After our time at the Upper Fort, we indulged in a couples massage at the local Haman (bathes) and Spa.  ‘Le Jardin d’Orient’ is modern, clean and very reasonably priced.  We enjoyed a 60 minute massage for just 200 dirhams (€20) each.  This was a very rare treat for us.

Day 35: Mirleft;  Sunday 3 Mar

After seeing the main sights of Mirleft, it was time for a quiet day with the highlight being a visit from a local carpenter (another of Mo’s friends), who agreed that for 230 dirhams (€21.30, NZ$35) he would build two lightweight shelves under our bed and modify our chopping board so it could sit over the sink.   Another good job to get ticked off in this low-cost country.

It would have been so easy to drive right past this area without being aware of its unique history and charm.  We will always be grateful to Mo, who kindly held us captive, while sharing his home, his knowledge, and his passion for Mirleft and its surrounding areas.


Costs for Weeks 1 – 5

 We had a bit of a blow out in costs this week (by Morocco standards) as we needed some parts for Betsy and indulged in a massage.  Without these extras, our costs for a fantastic week would have been just  €155.   

We love to see comments on our blog as it keeps us motivated to keep writing.  Please say hi or leave a quick one line comment below, thanks.

Next week we visit a local souk and stay in what has to be one of the most spectacular motorhome stopping places you can imagine. 

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Week 4

Week 1

Week 2

Week 3

Week 4 in Morocco

Week 4 in Morocco

by Ruth Murdoch  |  February 2019  |  Morocco, Africa

Table of Contents

MAP

Week 4 had us driving from Foum Zguid, through Tata, to Icht and finally arriving in Guelmim, a distance of 424 kms.  Click to enlarge map.

This week, discover the roads less travelled through some of Morocco’s back country and check out the unforgettable scenery as it changes regularly throughout our journey.

 

Day 22: Foum Zguid; Monday 18th Feb

We ventured out today along a ‘local’ Moroccan road with some trepidation.  A recently purchased English map book of Morocco gives us some clues about what the roads ahead might be like.  The options are yellow roads (motorways), red roads (national highways), green roads (regional highways), light yellow (local) roads or white tracks and paths.  Having already experienced tracks in Erg Chebbi I think we’ll give those a miss wherever we can.  Unfortunately, the map doesn’t go into enough detail to tell you whether the minor roads are sealed or a piste  (unsealed) road so you really just have to make the best guess you can.

The stretch of local road between Tazenakht and Foum Zquid was the first long section of local road that we have set out upon.

TIP: Make sure you purchase a recent map as a backup to electronic options such as your GPS or Maps.me.  The recommended map is the Michelin Morocco National Map 742 and you can find the most recent version on Amazon using this link.  https://amzn.to/2C181i5.
We didn’t buy one before we arrived then had trouble finding anything worth having that was current.  We eventually found a 2015 edition of a Road Guide to Morocco that was a lot more expensive and not as good as the Michelin Map.   We also bought the latest electronic maps for our Garmin 760 LDT.  These weren’t cheap at nearly 75 pounds however we much prefer ease and convenience of navigating with the Garmin compared with maps.me or Google Maps and when the cost was spread out over all of the days you may spend in Morocco, it really is insignificant.  A micro SD card you can plug into your Garmin can be found on Amazon here (https://amzn.to/2Uf40xv)

The almost complete lack of any other cars is somewhat of a give away that we are no longer on the usual tourist route.  We almost hold our breath as we turn off from the red R108 to the yellow R111.  The road surpassed our expectations and while still being disconcertingly narrow in places and exhibiting a number of potholes and crumbling verges, it was surprisingly kind to us and the traffic non-existent.  We passed through uneventfully and unscathed, phew!

We rolled into the Foum Zguid ‘Camping La Palmeraie” camping ground (GPS coordinates 30.0870 -6.8828) at about 3pm, eager to experience the family hospitality that reviewers on the “Park 4 Night” App raved about.  We weren’t disappointed and before long Rashid, the owner, arrived greeting Alan with a handshake and me with a double hug (both sides).  Rashid wanted to make us his special chicken tagine for dinner but we already had dinner sorted, and suggested that we will try one tomorrow perhaps.  He has a garden, where the vegetables that go into his cooking are grown and offered for us to help ourselves.  I just didn’t feel it was right to do so, as the locals have very little.  Vegetables are so in-expensive here that we can buy what we need from virtually any local town we pass through.

A word of caution, do not drink the water from the camping ground as with a lot of the tap water around here, it may be ‘potable’, which means safe to drink, but it certainly didn’t taste good.

Alan had a rare treat of being allowed into Rashid’s kitchen to watch him prepare chicken tagines for the other campers this evening.  The hygiene standards leave a lot to be desired but at least we know everything will be cooking for quite a while so any bugs will be well done along with the meat.

Cooking Facilities In Camping Ground

Day 23: Foum Zguid; Tuesday 19th Feb

Today was spring cleaning day for Betsy; after being in Morocco for a few weeks, and especially out in the desert, there’s dust and sand in every nook and cranny and a fine layer on every surface.  After several hours of hard slog, the inside looks shiny and new again, and while it will need to be cleaned again this might help to keep my asthma at bay.

Rashid was very friendly and brought all of the campers two small loaves of hot Moroccan bread every morning which is a lovely treat.

Have we mentioned before that virtually every other motorhome you see in Morocco is French and that very few French speak English?  Well, this certainly is the case so we were happy to see a German motorhome pull up with a young couple, Anna and Miko.  We were grateful for the opportunity to converse with other people willing and able to speak English.

Tonight we tucked into Rashid’s special goat tagine at 150 dirhams (€15 or $NZD23) and I was rather impressed with the taste of goat.  We will definitely have that again but next time, we will be cooking it ourselves.

Yummy Goat Tagine

When in Morocco be prepared to be asked for all manner of things.  So far we’ve been asked for aspirin, tissues, t-shirts, shoes, pants, bonbons (sweets), money and wine.  I wonder what will be next?  (Spoiler for next week, beer!)

Tip: Consider bringing along some low-cost wine that you don’t mind giving away.  Although you can always say ‘no’ you do sometimes form a sort of relationship with the locals when you spend time with them and having a ‘gift’ bottle or two on board can help preserve your limited stocks of your favourite tipple and make you out to be the good guys.  

Day 24: Tata; Wednesday 20th Feb

The N2 National Highway to Tata was very quiet.  We had just one car pass us on the whole 140km stretch.  It’s strange that while the landscape on one hand appears bleak and barren, it is also beautiful and constantly changing as we travel through it.  Alan just had to pull over a few times and take some more photos of rocks, sand, and mountains.

Stunning Desert Landscapes

A Berber Home In The Middle of Nowhere

Camping Hyatt, Tata (GPS coordinates 29.73861, -7.97786) has a picturesque location beside a river, and is an easy bike ride or walk into the town.  Alternatively, there is a municipal camping ground right in town which looked adequate but we preferred the extra space, tranquility, and water views of Camping Hyatt.

Although Tata is a reasonably sized town, if you expected to find a decent sized supermarket, you would be sorely disappointed.  Instead, there are lots of small shops which seems to have their own niche items. We went to four different shops to buy typical grocery items that we’d expect to pick up from just one supermarket.  Not in Tata, but all part of the experience and the fun with plenty of time on our hands.

Alan Completing His Supermarket Shopping

Purchasing fresh vegetables in Morocco is an education in itself.  You collect a bucket, walk around and place the goodies in your bucket, then take it to the greengrocer for him to price.  He takes out anything that has its own higher pricing, in our case strawberries and avocado, then weighs everything else which shares the one price.

A great find was a small specialist spice shop.  Our ground coriander stocks were down to zero and we hadn’t been able to find it anywhere, except now, here in Tata.  We were also out of ground nutmeg (I know, a complete disaster for any motorhomer) and we were disappointed to see that he only had whole nutmegs. Our disappointment turned in amazement as he whizzed up the nutmegs in his industrial looking grinder in no time at all.  We ended up with rather more spices than we expected to buy but happy to have had another new Moroccan experience.

Morocco is the original home of spices.  Leave yours behind when you visit here as there is everything you’ll need, and more.  Make sure you purchase some Ras El Hanout, which is a blend of anywhere between 5 and 45 different spices!  Everyone has their own recipe and you won’t be disappointed as they are all delicious.  My favourite is a 44 spice mix we purchased in Erg Chebbi.

Bulk Bins House Dried Fruit, Grains, & Spices

Day 25: Tata; Thursday 21 Feb

Today was a lazy day, chatting with Peter and Carmel, our English camping neighbours and fellow intrepid Morocco adventurers.  Swapping stories and experiences is always entertaining and this took most of the day.  They had come from the west coast where we are headed, and they were going to where we had been so we could exchange information about what to see, and where to go and stay.

We were soon blessed with lovely German neighbours on the other side of us and Helga speaks good English.  We shared stories and discovered we are likely to be visiting Poland at the same time later this year so make plans to stay in touch.

To the right of the camping ground was an old, almost abandoned looking settlement built on top of a hill which looked interesting.   We took off on bikes to explore however after cycling up a rough track and through the walls, we soon realised that there were people living here and it wasn’t really appropriate for tourists to be wandering around wielding their cameras.  As is typical of many old towns, the vacant buildings are left to decay into ruins while newer ones sprout up on any spare land.  It is often hard to tell what is abandoned and what is occupied!  The people still greeted us with warm smiles and a polite bonjour but we didn’t want to intrude further and left soon after.

We always like to taste the local food and had to try what looked, and tasted like donuts being deep fried by a street vendor in a huge wok of smoking oil.  In fact, I’d call them donuts for lack of another name, except they’re called Sfenj.  I came across a recipe (below) if you’d like to try to make them for yourself.  Sfenj is an unsweetened, airy and fluffy donut.  It is chewy on the inside and crisp on the outside.  It has an interesting yeasty and delicate taste and is unsweetened so can be eaten with savoury or sweets. There is usually a big bowl of sugar beside the frying wok so those with a sweet tooth can dip them in for extra sugar hit.

Try These For An Occasional Treat Or Come To Morocco And Buy One From This Chap


Day 26: Icht;  Friday 22 Feb

Driving from Tata to Icht the roads were empty of any traffic to speak of and the landscape stoney, harsh, dry, and brown.  Grass just doesn’t exist in such barren countryside and nothing on legs seems able to survive except the odd donkey picking away at withered up weeds and thorns.  The few towns or villages we came across had only a handful of people wandering around.  As usual, some school children gave us big smiles and energetic waves and got excited when we gave them a big two-handed wave back.

The mountains here have changed appearance from those nearer the Sahara. They are devoid of any vegetation or trees.  The only thing we see is rocks and more rocks in different shades of browns with a spattering of hardy straggly trees and bushes.  Occasionally we spot an oasis where the groundwater has ventured close enough to the surface to be exploited by a patch of green palm trees, possibly date palms but it’s hard to tell because apparently we’re out of season for dates (try October).

The camping ground that welcomed us this evening was Camping Borj Biramane, Icht (GPS Coordinates 29.05974, -8.85385).  It’s one of the better camping grounds we have been at, due to actually having toilet paper, soap and even a hand towel to dry hands!  This is the FIRST time in Morocco to come across all three in the one location, ah bliss.  Plus their showers are hot with a hanging shower rose, double bliss!

Alan cycled into the small township of Icht with his camera to capture some of the local images then rose early the next morning to catch the desert scene at first light.  Once again, Morocco delights with it own particular brand of simple beauty.

TIP: Bring with you a good quality lip moisturiser and a skin moisturiser because the dry air can play havoc with your skin.

TOP TIP: Make sure you wear footwear at all times as picking up a thorn in your foot can hurt for days, as I can testify to!

We were told (and I’ve since verified it as being true) that you can get rabies from cats, (albeit this is very uncommon) and given I like to feed and pat them, I am devastated to learn this. It was reported to us that an English lady died of rabies caught from a cat and this could result from a scratch, bite or even a lick! Cats are now sadly off limits to us. :-(
. It is recommended to have a rabies vaccination before coming to Morocco but even with that in your system, you still need to have at least two additional injections if you think you have been exposed to the disease.

Not To Be Trusted (sadly)

A friendly local guide knocked on our door to offer a two and a half hour walking tour, for 30 dirhams (€3 or NZ$4.60), to visit the local village, the mosque and museum and see the caves where the villages would hide out in times of war.  We declined this time but have penciled it in for when we return to Morocco.

Day 27: Guelmim;  Saturday 23 Feb & Day 28: Sunday 24 Feb

The first part of the N12 road from Icht to Guelmim hardly qualifies as a National Highway and is a narrow one-lane tar sealed road with no shoulder to speak of. The tarseal is oftentimes broken away at the side, with some nasty looking drop-offs.  The traffic here was heavier and really required both passing cars to plonk one tyre off the road and into the loose stones.  The local drivers appeared to play chicken with foreign vehicles expecting they will be the first to cave in and move over to protect their vehicle. And they’re right. Betsy is our home and sustaining any damage would be a significant blow to our travels.  We’re just grateful that Betsy has new tyres that can cope okay with the rough sides and our tyre pressure warning gauge gives us some reassurances.

We had been advised to keep our wing mirror folded in on narrow, windy roads to protect it from being damaged by on-coming traffic.  This was the first time we heeded that advice as we didn’t want to lose our wing mirror as happened to some friends of ours the week before (thanks to a truck not keeping to his side of the road).

This road would have to be one of the least impressive that we’ve traveled on, however it’s still passable and can be navigated at a reasonable pace, so don’t avoid it.  I don’t think there are many alternatives anyway, lol.

To be fair to Morocco the majority of roads we’ve encountered have been better than expected.  Roadworks are everywhere and it’s easy to see they are trying their best to improve the state of the roads Morocco wide.

Our free stopping point tonight in Guelmim was outside the Marjane Supermarket (GPS coordinates 28.96757, -10.03258). The actual parking area is nothing more than gravel and wasteland but has the benefit of being near a fairly new shopping centre which mainly houses a large supermarket jammed packed with everything one has been dreaming about but couldn’t previously find, e.g. ice creams.

The majority of motorhomes around us tonight are French.  Did we tell you that they travel in groups or packs of four or five vans?  Safety in numbers I guess but at no time have we feel unsafe.  That being said we are employing the usual safety precautions, the main one being to stay at camping grounds.  When there is an opportunity for wild camping we play it safe and follow our rules.

We sat here for a couple of days catching up on administrative paperwork and emails, so I won’t bore you with the details.

TIP: Make sure you don’t park on the sealed carpark here overnight or you may be asked to move.  Be warned that children come around looking for food or money from the motorhomers but they didn’t show any concerning behaviour.

One of the highlights of the week was the opportunity to soak up the sights, sounds and smells of the very traditional feeling Guelmim town centre.  Modern cars jostled for space on the narrow roads with donkeys and carts piled high carrying all types of fruit and veges, or second, third or even fourth hand bits and pieces of every imaginable household items.  Those not fortunate enough to have a donkey had to push their carts around by hand and those without carts just sat on the footpath to sell whatever they had to offer. 

The moving flashes of bright colour were the local women wearing the traditional melhafa outfits which are prevalent in the southern Moroccan and Western Sahara regions.  The gorgeous colours are a refreshing change from the drabber outfits of the eastern and northern areas and it seemed as if every woman was wearing different colours or patterns.  


Costs for Weeks 1 – 4

The costs for week four represent the quiet week we’ve had, but don’t worry as we make up for it in week 5!

We love to see comments on our blog as it keeps us motivated to keep writing.  Please say hi or leave a quick one line comment below, thanks.

Join us next week when we meet a local Moroccan Man who takes us under his wing and shows us another side of Morocco.

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Fantastic Fes

Week 1

Week 2

Week 3

Week 3 in Morocco

Week 3 in Morocco

by Ruth Murdoch  |  February 2019  |  Morocco, Africa

Table of Contents

MAP

Week 3 had us driving from Erg Chebbi to Ait-Ben-Haddou, 383 kms. Click to enlarge map.

This week, discover our journey into the Sahara desert by modern day camel where we visited a mine site, a traditional African music group, had lunch with nomads in the desert then went fossicking for fossils.  We give you tips on the questions to ask at a camping grounds and the DO’s and DON’T’s if you are unfortunate enough to have an accident in Morocco!

 

Day 15: Still in Erg Chebbi; Monday 11 Feb

Hamid arrived promptly outside our motorhome at 10am for our desert tour with his enhanced camel, a 4WD Mitsubishi Pajero, and soon we were off to explore the Sahara.  (For details of our camping ground see our Week 2 Morocco post).  The first stop was at a rare Sahara lake about 2km west of Merzouga called Lac Dayet Siri which is home to a variety of waterbirds, including flamingos, although they are tourist shy and were sitting on the opposite side of the water to us.  A lake vista was very unexpected out here in the middle of a desert and Hamid informed us that the lake shrinks and grows during the hot and wet seasons but it doesn’t usually dry up completely and is up to 4m deep in places.  I was interested to learn that the summertime (July/August) is when they have the most rain.

A local chap arrived on a motorbike and proceeded to set up shop on the ground with the usual fossils, minerals, and small glass jars so we can collect some Sahara sand to take back home.  Sadly for him, his efforts go unrewarded, this time.

Imagine These Two Photos In One Panoramic
The Lake of the Sahara

The next stop was at an operational mine site.  Here they are mining for several different minerals including lead sulphide, which is used for making kohl; for eye makeup.  Once again stalls are set up selling the rocks, minerals, fossils and jewellery made from these mineral elements.  We were able to have a look at a lump of lead sulphide ore which was a glistening silver colour and was very heavy.

Mined Lead Sulphide

Shopping Sahara Style

Shop Til You Drop!

Our next stop is the black African village of Dar Gnaoua.  It past times, there was thousands of African slaves held in these parts and one of their tasks was digging underground canals to transport water across the landscape.  Some of the original stone lined well shafts are still visible.

When slavery was abolished in Morocco under French rule, between 1912 and 1925, the local ex-slaves were offered the option of returning home or staying in the township of Dar Gnaoua, south of Merzouga.  Many of the slaves had actually been sold by their families and knew no other life other than what they had in Morocco so they chose to stay and their descendants continue to live here.  There are apparently other similar black African townships dotted around Morocco.  The original mud and straw houses of the township have decayed and are now uninhabited but we wandered around to understand what it may have been like living here.  The walls are thick and the air temperature inside is many degrees cooler than the outside temperature, making them bearable in the hot summer months, up to 60 degrees celcius.

We find it fascinating how these houses are constructed entirely from materials taken from the surrounding countryside and the environment immediately starts breaking them back down again to dirt and straw.  Each heavy rainstorm or sandstorm erodes some of the structure until their owners build another home nearby and abandon the old one.

Abandoned Buildings Returning To The Earth

We’re off again, this time for a quick visit at the Dar Gnaoua, a traditional African music centre, which aims to preserve the inhabitants’ musical cultural heritage.  We are offered mint tea and a seat while a smiling troupe of dark-skinned African men played their various traditional instruments (drums and castanets) and chanted to the captivated tourists while hoping to sell their CD’s for 100 dirhams each (€10 or NZ$15.40).  The walls are adorned with a variety of percussion, stringed and wind instruments from various parts of southern Africa.

Being Entertained By A Traditional African Music & Dance Group

We’re in the camel, I mean 4WD again, heading closer to Algeria and learn a little about the border which is closely monitored by both the Algerian and Moroccan military.  The 1,600km border was closed by the Algerian government in 1994 after Morocco imposed visa restrictions following a deadly terrorist attack in Marrakech.  This has been disastrous for the nomadic Berber people who have always roamed far and wide across these lands as they search for water and food for their livestock.  The closed border has shut down this traditional way of life and sadly separated many families.

The Algerians can look down from a mountain range over Morocco and the no-mans-land that separates these two once friendly nations.  The Moroccan military has cameras on tall pylons to keep an eye on their side.  We were told that there is actually a trench a couple of metres deep, dug right along the border.

That’s The Algerian Border Behind Us

Along the journey, we’re treated to the sight of shepherds, virgin sand dunes, flat lands with small volcanic black rocks (called the Black Desert), donkeys, camels, wells and the occasional tree that is eking out an existence in this parched place.  Who would have known that a tree or two could be so photogenic but when surrounded by desert and with the Erg Chebbi sand dunes looming in the distance, everything looks amazing?

Nomadic Shepherd

Camels Under Camels

A Random Donkey Doing Its Thing

The highlight of the day was enjoying a very tasty lunch in the company of a Berber nomad family (or at least the elder male of the family) who have set up home in a collection of tents and mud buildings in the middle of nowhere.  The women cooked the food then ate separately once everyone else finished.

We were given a tour through the mud buildings and were amazed at how cool it stayed inside which allows them to preserve food even in the hottest conditions – and without an airconditioner or fridge!

Modern technology has certainly made some changes to life for the nomads as they now have solar panels and batteries to provide power for mobile phones and lighting.

Lunch consisted of a Berber pizza consisting of two pieces of flatten bread dough joined around well-spiced meat, grated carrot, and onion, then sealed.  The pizza was cooked until it browns and rises slightly on a large flat stone inside their wood fueled clay oven that looked remarkably like a small pizza oven.

I thought back to some friends in Australia who paid good money to have a larger version of this set up constructed in their back yard.  The Berber people would probably have a chuckle at that. 

Cooking the pizza only took about ten minutes from whoa to go as the oven is amazingly effective and heated with just a few, but very hot, twigs.

In the traditional manner, our host served us lunch by tearing off pieces of the tasty pizza and handing them around to each of us.  Coming from a country where food hygiene is seen as ultra important, it was a little disconcerting to see someone using their hands to serve you (we wondered had he washed them, was the water clean and germ-free?).  However as the traditional saying goes, ‘when in Morocco…”  and I am pleased to advise that the food tasted great and none of us had any ill effects, lol.  Our host spoke no English, just a little French and is only fluent in their traditional unwritten Berber tongue.  Our guide translated the conversation and we learned that our host is 51 years old and lives with his young wife and his son, with his son’s wife and their two children.

Lunch With A Berber Nomad

Nomadic Family Life

Our Berber Host

Next stop – fossicking for fossils.  We literally walked up and down what looked like an old riverbed, obviously once underwater and were shown what to look for.  We have a bag of rocks containing trilobites and other prehistoric goodies.  We just need to figure out how to polish them now.

What Gem Has Alan Found?

Fossil Finding In The Valley

On our way back to the camping ground we drove past some movie sets that were used for the “Little Prince (Le Petit Prince)” movie, which is apparently famous in these parts but was unknown to us.

Hamid, who until now had been very restrained in his driving, seemed to decide that our group was up for a little Desert Ferrari driving and cut loose on the sand dunes with the Pajero like a mad man.  That was a lot of fun as we slid around on the soft sand.  I wonder if he also drives in the Dakar Rally?

Finally, we were taken to an area of sand dunes that were free of wheel tracks and footprints so we could get some photos.

This was a great day out and for just 1200 dirhams for the group which equated to €30 or NZ$46 per person, it was extremely good value for a tour from 10am4pm.

The Stunning Sahara Dessert

Day 16: Erg Chebbi; Tuesday 12 Feb

Before we left the sand dunes I choose to wake up early and photograph the sunrise over the Sahara.  It was my last chance, possibly in my life, to have this experience so I braved the cool desert air, wrapped up warmly in hat, scarf, gloves, and puffer jacket (it was about 6C), gave up some sleep and headed out with Alan, camera in hand.

The early morning light in the desert throws off different colours from yellows, oranges, pinks and blues all silhouetted by the dark sand dunes in the foreground.  My camera isn’t as sharp as Alan’s Canon 700D but at least I got some nice photos.

My iPhone 6S Camera On The Left, Alan’s Canon 700D On The Right

Back at camp and it’s time for some girl time and shopping, so Helena and I wandered into the town of Et Taous to look at what the locals have on offer.  We both purchased some gifts to take back home at a much lower price than similar items in the Fez Medina or Chefchaouen for that matter.  We must have spent a lot judging from the huge smile on the shop owner’s face.

Happy Shopkeeper After A Big Sale!

Day 17: ‎Tinejdad; Wednesday 13 Feb

Finally and sadly it’s time to leave Erg Chebbi. 

Tip: Before leaving Erg Chebbi fill up your tanks with good drinking water, which has been sand filtered, as it’s a long way before you will find good water again if you are travelling in our direction.

Today it’s time for me to drive, just so I can keep my hand in and give Alan a break so he could better appreciate the views.

Hmm, I was thinking that this wasn’t such a good idea as we came through the town of El Jorf, near Erfoud.  I’ll let you be the judge when you see the video of us driving through this town.  There were people walking all over the road, the streets are narrow and cars seemed to wait for the most unlikely of places before squeezing past us.

Coming from a country where roads are intended primarily for cars, it takes a little getting used to driving where pedestrians, cyclists, vendors with carts, and donkeys all use the road with little regard for cars, or a 3.5 tonne motorhome, trying to get past. Maybe it was the local souk, or market day, but the streets seemed even crazier than usual.  This video is definitely worthwhile watching and while doing so put yourself in the driver’s seat.

A Challenging Drive Through Town

One of the main tourist attractions along the R702 road to Tinejdad seems to be a major canal project and many enterprising locals have set up entrances to go down and see them. 

We arrived at La Source de Lala Miymona, (GPS coordinates 31.4922, -5.1286) where we were able to park overnight after paying 50 dirhams each to visit the museum.

Zaid, (artist and owner) greeted us at the entrance and explained the museum has been his life’s work since 1973.  The museum is built up around a freshwater spring which had been a watering spot for hundreds of years before becoming filled with rubbish falling into disrepair.  Zaid has collected hundreds of traditional Berber artefacts and built traditional style buildings and walls to house them. 

The springs have been cleaned and restored and he hopes the water will be drinkable again within the next year.  One of the displays was a water clock which we had heard about.  The water clock consists of a small, thin copper bowl with a tiny hole in the base, a container of water and a piece of dried reed.  The copper bowl is placed in the water and gradually fills and sinks to the bottom.  When sunk, the operator ties a knot in the reed and replaces the now empty bowl again on top of the water.  This gives a measure of time depending on the size of the bowl and the hole in its base.  This was used where there was a flow of water that could be directed, using sluice gates to different houses or irrigation channels.  Each user would be allowed, for example, ten knots of time before it was someone else’s turn. 

The Famous Water Clock

Day 18: Dadès Gorge; Thursday 14 Feb

We are constantly amazed by the ever-changing landscape of Morocco and the journey first up the Todgha Gorge and then to the Dades Gorge were no exceptions.  The mountains, the shape of the rock formations, the vegetation was varied and a real feast for the eyes and a target for the cameras.

Betsy is Dwarfed in the Todgha Gorge

At Todgha we parked up as the road became very narrow and took to the bikes to explore deeper into the canyon.  In hindsight Betsy would have easily driven through, however, being on the bikes lets us see more and it’s easier to stop and take photos.

A point in case is that on the bikes we came across a family, complete with goats, living in the caves high above the road.

Cave Living With Goats!

A Nice Way To Give Locals Money Is To Pay For A Photo

Our stopping place tonight was 28km up the Dades Gorge, opposite the La Gazelle hotel (GPS coordinates 31.52068, -5.93041), in their camper parking spot on the opposite side to the hotel.  This was deep down in the gorge beside a river and under tall rock walls.  The cost was 50 dirhams with no services and we were offered, but gently declined, a meal for half price in the adjacent hotel.

We were only two kilometres away from a much-photographed switchback road hewn from the side of the gorge and went in search of this experience the next morning.  I was glad Alan was driving and there were no other vehicles trying to navigate their way up or down and around these bends at the same time as us.  Betsy’s too fat to share such skinny roads.

An Interesting Drive For Betsy

Day 19: Ouarzazate; Friday 15 Feb

It’s on to Ouarzazate today where we found our way to their Municipal Camping Ground (GPS coordinates 30.9232, -6.88716).  The cost was 90 dirhams for all services.  There are lots of spaces but mostly they were full with the majority of campers being French registered (ours included, lol).  We didn’t find out until we tried to shower later at night, but the shower water is solar heated which explains why we saw people heading for the showers in the middle of the day.  Next time we check into a camping ground we will ask about the showers.  Another thing to check at a camping ground is if they accept credit cards (most don’t) and don’t just expect if you see an EFTPOS machine it means that cards are okay.  Also, small notes are often needed as we were nearly caught out a couple of times when reception claims to carry no change!  Alternatively check out at the same time as others and they are bound to have cash then.

While on the subject of camping grounds, also make sure you carry toilet paper when heading into the toilets because most just don’t have any.  Hand sanitiser is also a good idea and few toilets here have anything for drying your hands.  The question of whether or not toilet paper goes in the waste paper big, as in Greece where it’s to be binned only, or down the toilet seems to depend on the location.  I suggest to read the signs and if there are none check to see if there’s a bin in the toilet.  If so, use the bin for toilet paper disposal.

Although tourists seem to be largely unaffected, Morocco is a police state.  The camping grounds are required to have all paperwork fully and accurately completed.  Alan travels with two passports and gave his NZ passport at check-in, however, he entered Morocco on his Irish passport.  The receptionist looked for an entry number in his passport and got confused by his dual citizenship until he hand over his Irish passport so they could glean the requisite details.

Sadly we heard today that our friends have had an unfortunate incident when a lorry came around the corner, partly on their side of the road, and took out their wing mirror.  Thankfully there was no other damage, however it gave them a fright.  They have given us advice regarding what to do, and not do, in the case of an accident.  Here’s what they told us…

If involved in an accident you must stop at the very spot where it happened.  Do not continue to drive to the nearest place that it’s safe to stop as we did.  Then phone 177 (if in the countryside) and get the police there.

Note; in the city centres, the phone number for the police is 112.  Also, ensure you get the other vehicle’s registration number and photographs if possible – unfortunately, they didn’t.

Medical services can be contacted by calling 110 and fire services are reachable by dialling 15.  Further research suggests that whilst waiting for the police, get witnesses details and take photographs of the scene as it’s been known that Moroccan drivers at fault in accidents soon drive away if the police have been called.

Our friends were told it will take 30 days to get a replacement wing mirror however a local handyman was able to fix up a makeshift replacement in just one day. Impressive!  We have heard previously how helpful and resourceful the local service people are.  We put this down to Morocco being a  ‘fix it’ community instead of a ‘throw away society’ which seems to be the norm in most first world countries. 

A Scarf Anyone?

Day 20: Ouarzazate; Saturday 16 Feb

We pedalled around the township on our bikes, mainly looking for a data top-up and some groceries.  Most of the businesses were closed for the mid-afternoon siesta which supposedly runs from about 2.00pm to 4.00pm.  In reality, this seems to be one of those ‘Inshallah’ (God willing) things where shops seem to open and shut semi-randomly.

We came across a supermarket that on the outside looked small and uninviting, however, the shops are often like a tardis that expands up beyond expectations once you enter.  This one had a fresh meat counter, cheese and butter counter and a fruit and vege area as well as the usual main grocery items.  Remembering back to Turkey where tissues in a box were nearly impossible to find, here it seems to be sparkling water is a rarity.  Not a biggie, but interesting nonetheless.

Unusual Rock Formation

Day 21: Ait-Ben-Haddou; Sunday 17 Feb

The camping ground yesterday didn’t have a good vibe and we headed off in search of something special.  Ouarzazate is well known for the Atlas Corporation film studios which have produced many well-known movies over the years (e.g. Gladiator, Jewel of the Nile, Cleopatra) as well as episodes of Game of Thrones.  Although this is a big tourist attraction, it didn’t appeal to us.

We headed towards a UNESCO site called Ksar Aït Benhaddou also written as Aït-Ben-Haddou, about 30kms north west from Ouarzazate.

After parking up and paying 20 dirhams in the Kasbar Hotel guarded parking area we walked through the streets of the new Ait-Ben-Haddou township towards the historic fortified town across a shallow river. 

Once again, Morocco is showing us something different and remarkable.  This is a perfect example of Moroccan mud brick architecture with some of the buildings dating back to the 17th century.  Ben Haddou used to be an important watering stop on the caravan route from Marrakech to the Sahara and was a significant establishment in its day.

The mud walls with towers contain an extensive collection of houses, shops and narrow stone-paved alleyways leading up to the hill with panoramic views across the countryside.

UNESCO Site Of Aït-Ben-Haddou
Top & Bottom

Entry is 10 dirhams each (€1 or NZ$1.50) and immediately a local man attached himself to us and began telling us about the history.  It is obvious that he is intending to be our guide then will request an unknown fee at the end.  We explained firmly that we did not want a guide and he left us alone to explore.  This is definitely something to watch out for in Morocco.  People don’t do things here for no payment, so if they are doing something for you, they probably expect to be paid for it.  If you do want their services then ask for and agree on the price up front.

The narrow streets are lined with the usual assortment of shops and stalls selling brightly coloured rugs, scarves, ceramics, clothing, jewellery, artefacts, paintings and drawings.  Only three families still live in the old town now and we can wander around freely, joining the millions of tourists who pass through each year.

Typical Street Of Aït-Ben-Haddou

We wandered through alleys, and in and out of buildings and rooms only to be met by a wide smiling young man who greeted us, explaining that we are in his home!  Whoops, we were embarrassed that we had taken a wrong turn but he gently persuaded us to go upstairs to enjoy the view from his balcony.  We accepted and pondered on life up here as we looked down on his sheep and goats on the next level down in his house.  Said, the homeowner, soon joined us to explain that the animals and cooking facilities are always located on the first floor and the family has the two stories above.  He uses his home as a guest house and manages a shop selling crafts, jewellery made by his sisters, and his own art.

Of course, we then followed Said to his shop where I purchased a traditional Berber necklace made of onyx, silver and ebony depicting the southern cross.  As the Berber people typically travelled only at night and navigating by the stars, the southern cross was an important symbol and constellation for them.  With my new purchase I won’t get lost on a clear night and will have good luck with me.  How could I refuse to buy such an important piece of local craftsmanship? 

Said Happy After His Sale

After our visit I discovered this Ksar was used in the filming of Game of Thrones when Daenerys Targaryen laid siege to the slaving city of Yunkai.  It is now the second place we’ve visited that was used in the filming of Game of Thrones (or the A Song of Ice and Fire series, if you prefer to refer to it by its book title).  The first was in the old town of Dubrovnik, Croatia, which was used as Kings Landing. 

As we were walking out of the Ksar, we met Adrian from London who is celebrating turning 60 by riding solo on his BMW800 motorcycle from England to China, via Morocco.  You can follow his travels on Instagram at ‘adrianfromlondon’ and tell him how you came about to be following him.

We spent the night back at the Kasbah Hotel guarded parking area (GPS coordinates 31.04221, -7.12981) for another 20 dirhams after Alan declined to give the guard his shoes or his shirt.  We were rather glad we were guarded as we did see an unsavoury character looking rather interested in Betsy.

Costs for Weeks 1, 2 & 3

Some of week two’s camping ground costs, as well as our Sahara trip, were actually paid in week three, making this week look higher than it actually was.  The costs show up when they are paid.  I’ve excluded the costs for gifts from these figures.

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Join us next week to see the road less travelled (by tourists and locals) as we venture into unknown territory.

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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: Erg 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 Erg 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 Erg 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 Erg 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 camping ground budget, until now.

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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.