Tuesday, 31 January 2017

2017 - On The Road Again - A Return to Morocco

Finally after much deliberation and soul searching I decided to embark on another trip south for the remainder of the winter.
An overnight ferry from Newhaven to Dieppe dropped me in France in the freezing early hours and I headed south planning to avoid rush hour in a couple of cities before catching a nap.
However after applying the handbrake at a toll terminal whilst I nipped round to insert my card the sub zero temperatures caused the rear brakes to partially seize and thus I took a break earlier than planned, settling down in a rest area to await day break and sunrise.

Thereafter a straightforward two days saw me across France, in to Spain at the western end of the Pyrenees and after a very quiet night in Caceres I arrived at Europe's most southerly camp site near Algeciras. Here I undertook an oil and filter change on the van which had clocked 333,333 miles earlier that day, did some laundry and walked on the empty beach with views across to the Rif mountains of Morocco barely 10 miles away.




Monday morning saw me obtaining an open return for around £160 and with under an hour's wait I was on the ferry soon to be passing the busy docks of Algeciras and then the vast bulk of Gibraltar.
Ninety minutes later we were docking in the new Tangier Med port which makes arrival and entry far simpler than three years ago when I arrived in the chaos of Tangier Ville.

I had got talking to a German lad in a fully restored Type 3 VW and we were both soon through immigration and customs thanks to the ability to precomplete the forms online and print them off. Thankful to have a few hundred dirham left from the aborted 2015 trip I was soon off on the back road to Chefchaouen where the familiar if rundown campsite provided a base for two nights.


A good walk in the town on Tuesday achieved much with my ATM card confirmed as working and the purchase of a new SIM card to revive my dongle giving me internet access whilst on the move -around £10 saw me with a months worth of usage.





Heading south I enjoyed the familiar sights and sounds of this engaging country with as ever the women seeming to do most of the work, agriculture still largely on a simple self sufficiency scale and endless half hearted construction of bridges, roads and housing. Friendly waves from the kids warmed the heart and miles soon ticked by before I arrived at Sefrou planning to try the municipal camping 2km out of town.




Whilst it did actually exist there was little else going for it - no water, loos or showers but the gardien seemed so pleased to have a customer that it was hard to move on. He hooked me up to a socket in his house and with a superb view over the town I decided things were just fine. Next morning I again headed south planning to return to Boudnib via various back roads and was within twenty miles when a well surfaced road stopped abruptly and became a sandy track heading of in to the mountainous distance.


Unwilling to take the risk I turned back and spent the night up in other hills assuming I was miles from anywhere and certainly above the snow line. Early next morning I heard a donkey trot by and observed an old man and a young girl sitting patiently by the road. As I left he came over to ask for a lift so I tucked them in the back to drop them off ten miles later amused and moved at their absolute amazement to be in such an incongruous setting.

The Rekkam Camping at Boudnib is run by Francois and provided two comfortable nights with the intervening day spent exploring the old kasbar - the mud walled town abandoned after floods but slowly being rebuilt. The mosque which was half way to being finished in 2015 was indeed now complete but little else seemed to have advanced. I carried on through the palms to another less crumbling village grateful for the GPS which at least left me a snail trail to retrace my route back to the main town.



On the Sunday when it came to leave a power cut also meant there was no water to be had so I bought six 5 litre bottles of spring water to tide me over.
Moving on I arrived high above the impressive Ziz Valley for the awe inspiring view over the vast palmeries that stretched away south. Having on previous visits passed through I have decided to make this a more leisurely trip as there are things I have no need to return to and a moderate list of new intentions.
Thus a sign to Camping Hakkou near Asinou tempted me to turn off and I was soon parked up in a large courtyard with clean loos and good water with only one other occupant - an 8m van with GB plates.
David, a writer, hailed from west Wales and his partner Frankie was an artist from New Zealand so we hit it off straight away - however I had unloaded the bike and was keen to explore so set off up the back roads amongst the palms and villages creating quite a stir amongst the locals who are unused to visitors being some way off the main road. On my return a wedding party had erected a large tent and furnished it with brightly coloured rugs and cushions around the edges. In the centre dozens of women were dancing enthusiastically whilst outside the men were supervising the roasting of a goat. They seemed keen for me to join in but mindful of the possibility of an older unmarried sister I politely declined their invitations and made my escape.
It was very liberating to explore on the bike as I could also head off the rough roads and cut through the palms following the paths that linked all the small fields where broad beans, wheat and brassicas were growing irrigated by the network of ditches and shaded from the worst of the sun by the date palms.
Back at Hakkou I cooked an evening meal and was able to keep in touch with people back home, catch up on world events and check out onward plans.
So one week in I was planning to move on early when David mentioned that Achmed the site owner was going to take them on a tour through the local area and I was welcome to join them.

Thus for 4 hours we were escorted through the maze of trees and fields calling en route at a traditional olive oil mill where a patient donkey was padding round and round turning a huge millstone that was crushing many kilos of black olives picked locally. The set up was a cooperative for local farmers so no oil was sold as everyone helped process the harvest for their own usage. The simple press was based on layers of circular discs made from palm fronds that were screwed down by a simple thread and ratchet with the black oil draining away in to an adjacent pit from where it was carefully ladled in to 5 litre bottles.
Achmed explained that many of the dates had an infectious organism causing them to die but government scientists had developed resistant varieties which were gradually being introduced. Similarly solar pumps costing a fraction of the diesel variety to run were making the water abstraction more affordable.


Further on we arrived in Asinou on the main road where a local womens cooperative were making a better and more independent living adding value to the date crop with jams, juices and a delicious fig paste flavoured with aniseed and almonds. I was tempted by two slabs of the paste and a jar of date kernel coffee the latter of which I have yet to try.
Anyway we eventually returned and I left for a site recommended by Achmed near Tazzarine reached by a good road through stunning mountain scenery. Camping Serdar was in fact 12km south and then 6km east on a dirt track and was indeed as claimed 'camping in the middle of nowhere'. The large mud walled site contained plenty of space for the few vans lined up and the facilities were excellent. Two solar heaters provided hot water and Brahmin was proud to show me the tents available and the handful of comfortably furnished rooms - all very much unexpected in such a remote location. Whilst very happy to stay out in the sticks I also feel it is important to support the people who attempt to provide facilities and at around £5 a night with power it is well worth the peace of mind to be legit.
Thus today I set off in to the desolate lands around the site following various tracks and trails with the sun shining and temperatures in the high twenties. After several miles I came across a quarry where huge blocks of limestone absolutely saturated with fossils were being carved out - they are then sliced and polished to make unique floor and wall tiles but at this stage they were just large blocks that would be finished elsewhere.
Using the mapping I had installed on the GPS I headed across country to the N12 road where after turning left I arrived in Tazzarine to buy some fresh fruit and veg at the weekly market. The simple system involves filling a washing up bowl with your choice, presenting this to the stallholder and then paying the final price based on most items costing about the same. As I headed out of town I was tempted by the aroma of tajines bubbling away in a roadside cafe so took a table in the shade to enjoy an excellent meal and watch the world go by.

A final 12 miles much on dirt tracks returned me to Serdar where the thermometer showed 32 degrees - a very comfortable temperature as there was zero humidity and a modest breeze.

Tomorrow I move on again down the Draa Valley and will try to find time to work out the mechanism of Google Photos which has replaced Picasa. Thus there are no photos to see other than those embedded in the above but the SPOT device reports my whereabouts daily at this link.