Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Moroccan Meanderings

After a smooth crossing enlivened by the grounding of a large German van on boarding I entered the frenetic customs entry point where despite having filled in online and printed off the relevant forms there was some delay due to a 'computer malfunction'. A friendly young gendarme also had most of the cupboards out and took a liking to one of my many torches but was content with a fancy pen whilst the other various 'helpers' were content with a basic biro and eventually I was off in to the late afternoon traffic of Tanger. The sat nav soon had me up a blind alley behind a military complex surrounded by goats but eventually took me to a bank where 500 euros became 5500 dirham. Cape Spartel provided a first stop and a chance to reduce the larger denomination notes a little by having a meal in the cafe overlooking the lighthouse where another huge camper got rather stuck in  the small car park.
Further down the coast at Asillah I stopped on the edge of town with a few other vans and walked in to explore the busy centre and narrow confusing medina. A noisy street procession of drummers and dancers combined with the myriad of tiny colourful shops, street stalls and the profusion of exotic aromas made for an amazing first encounter as I strolled around until well after dark. The guardien's fee of £2 seemed reasonable and I spent a comfortable first night.
Heading south on Saturday torrential rain turned many roads in to muddy pools and the towns were a mass of mud and debris - I stopped mid afternoon at a small campsite near Moulay Idris and the Roman ruins of Volubilis to give it time to clear and soon after saw the large Silverstream caravan I had passed earlier pull in - a cumbersome combination on anything other than main roads.
A perfect day dawned for my walk around the impressive Roman remains - I arrived long before anyone else and the friendly guide was a fount of knowledge - most of which I could understand as French is widely spoken. Moulay Idris nearby draped itself over a rocky hill and made for an interesting explore before I headed off to find a supposed campsite in Meknes. Located near the old royal palace both had obviously not seen occupation for many years so I continued on towards Khemisset where a picturesque lake provided a good wild pitch which once the many friendly picnicing families had gone at dusk was very peaceful.

I then headed out on minor roads to cross the Midi Atlas entering a high barren limestone landscape with some pine forests, rough grazing and numerous herds of sheep tended by young boys who were always ready with a friendly wave. Their Berber camps were rough and simple - tarpaulins stretched over wooden frames and various donkeys, poultry and dogs scuffing around in the dust. At the Azigza Lake I decided it would be a perfect place to stay the night and was rewarded by a troupe of Barbary apes playing in the pines in a quiet corner. In a very humbling encounter a nervous young Berber mum came over with her 8 year old son who had toothache - with no dentist for 40 miles, only a donkey for transport and probably no funds she was very distressed and there was little I could do but give her some of my painkillers for him - it must have taken great courage for her to approach me and I felt very sorry for them both.
I visited the source of Morocco's largest river with its spread of tea shops and stalls having given a couple of locals a lift there - hitching and overcrowded pick ups (the Berber taxis) are the default mode of transport in these isolated areas
The sat nav developed a serious case of Tourettes as I tried to find my way across the ranges following successively rougher tracks with washouts, landslips, erosion, fords, gullies and debris all slowing my progress. The van performed beyond all expectation but we were finally defeated by a snow drift which although not too bad showed no sign of other tracks and I decided to return to the lake for another amazing night. The temperature at this altitude (5/6000') dropped to minus 2 but I was 'cosy as' thanks to down bags, insulation and a dozen tealights - the same dog slept alongside all night and was rewarded with a hunk of bread and pate.
Today has seen a successful route across incredibly barren mountain scenery to Zaida where I have stopped at a small but surprisingly smart campsite (by the standards of the region). Berber camps miles from anywhere on almost bare ground with patches of snow confounded belief as to how they survive - very much on a par with the indigenous people of Australia's red centre with which, apart from the mountains, this landscape shares many similarities.
 En route in a small village I consumed a delicious and filling lamb tajine whilst alongside a driver removed his lorry's gearbox and a guy cut up a large beef carcass - so much of this reminds me of my time cycling round India 25 years ago with the same friendly people who seem so much more at ease than the people back home despite having so little. A tankful of diesel cost less than half the UK price, lunch was £3 and the camping with (unexpectedly) hook up about £6 so life on the road remains particularly cheap and certainly very cheerful.
Anyway piccies HERE will give you some idea and my location will be reported daily HERE which updates every time I send a message.

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