We didn’t linger travelling north through Spain and France. It was mid November and, although it was warm enough during the day, at night the temperature plummeted to 0°. And Europe was an hour ahead of GMT so it was dark by 6pm which discouraged us from taking our long evening walks into town. We found ourselves eating our main meal in the middle of the day and spending the evenings watching DVDs or reading and, of course, early to bed!
La Campiña At Santaella – Last Warm Days
In Spain many camp sites stayed open throughout the year, especially along the coast but in France (the home of “camping cars”) sites were closing for the winter like sleepy eyes after dark. Our planned site at Le Mans advertised a closing date of the 19th but when we rocked up on the 16th the gates were already locked and the site deserted. We parked up outside for the night but I was disappointed that I couldn’t have a shower or a fresh baguette in the morning. A better overnight stop out of season would have been at one of the larger Aires next to a fuel station where truckers took their obligatory rest. We always found those Aires safe enough overnight – although a bit noisy with lorries coming and going
As we approached Calais we stopped to fill up with diesel. Driving out from the fuel station we noticed cars overtaking us had put on their hazard warning lights and were indicating that we should slow down. Assuming there was something amiss with the van, we pulled on to the hard shoulder and a couple of the cars stopped too. We were careful as we could have been victims of a scam but it turned out there was a man – an asylum seeker, we assume – hanging off our rear, clinging to the bike rack as we sped along at 50mph. As we stopped he jumped down and ran off. It looked as if he had been trying to conceal himself under our bike covers. He could so easily have fallen off and been killed and maybe we would have been none the wiser.
We had had a similar problem in Tanger in stop/start traffic where groups of youngsters were continually running beside our vehicle, trying to climb on the back I don’t think they had any sinister intentions but were just joyriding. Tony reckons our new van will have all round camera surveillance and a big klaxon to frighten off any boarders!
Last Night In France, Cité Europe At Calais
We Spotted These Friendly Faces Sharing Their Vehicle With Three Horses
As we travelled north towards the Atlantic coast, the scenery softened into fertile plains. We stopped over night at the seaside resort of Mohammedia, close to Casablanca. The campsite was perched right on the beach but was being surrounded by rows and rows of newly built apartment blocks overlooking the scruffy beach area. We presumed the seaside development was for the folk of Casablanca. A small apartment cost in the region of £30,000 – we were not tempted.
Atlantic Coast Beach At Mohammedia
The next day we drove to the ferry at Tanger Med. We checked in at the ferry terminal and proceeded through the port’s long winded security procedures. Ten minutes further on we were told our vehicle was wrongly classified on our boarding pass so we had to turn back, exit the port and drive along the dual carriageway before turning back into the port entrance. We checked in for the second time and were given reprinted boarding passes. We reappeared at each security barrier and no-one seemed to notice we had passed that way fifteen minutes earlier. Fortunately from then on it was easy going and we disembarked in Algeciras two hours later. Soon after 9pm we were enjoying a late supper at Casa Bernardo’s.
Zebra Camp, Tanaghmeilt
Zebra Camp in the Middle Atlas Mountains was a popular camping site, owned by a Dutch couple who ran the camp to European standards – so the toilets and showers were modern, clean and in good working order. I was able to hand over a bag of laundry and when I returned to the camp two hours later my washing was hanging up to dry in the sunshine. There was a restaurant serving a small selection of freshly cooked local food. We were charged £80 for three nights’ stay including an evening meal – but no wine – although you could bring your own bottle. We were sad to learn that the site had just been sold to a Moroccan investor and we wondered whether their high standards would be maintained in the future.
Zebra Camp was adjacent to the Cascades of Ouzoud, spectacular waterfalls 110 metres high. We had taken a guided tour of the Cascades during our previous visit, so we decided that on this occasion we would visit the tourist attraction and walk around independently. However, when we walked down the following morning, well before the tourist coaches arrived from Marrakech (two hours drive away), we were approached by a Guide who offered us a walking tour, showing us places where most of the tourists would not go. We reluctantly accepted him as our guide and by the end of the day we realised that we had chosen wisely and it had been well worth the £24 he charged.
Our guide’s name was Mustapha and he proved very knowledgeable and an interesting companion. He took us along dusty mule tracks down one side of the valley, crossing a series of pools at the bottom of the valley and walking up the other side. We didn’t need to hurry, we walked slowly and had plenty of opportunity to sit and rest. At one place we sat in a cool cave and drank glasses of freshly squeezed orange juice. Further up the track we bought a bag of mixed nuts from a vendor. When we came across another tourist group heading our way, Mustapha deftly steered us on to a different path where we were able to enjoy the views without interruption. The weather was a warm 28° but it was cooler in the shade of the trees, surrounded by tumbling water. The terrain was difficult in places but we really enjoyed seeing the waterfalls and the series of pools below from several different vantage points around the valley. Our guided walk lasted over two hours and we finished up having a well deserved lunch in a café overlooking the falls.Edit
We decided to spend a few days at Ourika Camp, said to be the best site in Morocco. Ourika was five miles south of Marrakech city centre. The weather was warm (25°) and sunny and we had been into Marrakech on several occasions so we were content to sit by the pool and enjoy the beautiful gardens.
Traditional buildings in Morocco were usually constructed with adobe-like bricks, made from local earth and dried in the sun so they blended perfectly with their surroundings.
Swimming Pool And Restaurant At Ourika Camp
The following day the camp site guardian arranged a taxi for us so we could do some shopping. The taxi collected us from our pitch and the guardian gave the young driver instructions of where we wanted to go. He drove us to an ATM and then on to a restaurant for lunch. After lunch our taxi collected us again and took us to a supermarket. The driver helped us load the shopping into the boot and returned the trolley to the supermarket himself. When we got back to our pitch the driver unloaded our shopping for us. The taxi cost £25 including a generous tip.
The next day we drove west across the Marrakech Plain towards the Middle Atlas Mountains. The roads were straight, but narrow and then the scenery changed dramatically when we began to climb.
The Marrakech Plain
The Middle Atlas Mountains
The Todra Gorges in the High Atlas Mountains were near the bustling town of Tinerhir and were a spectacular series of limestone river canyons 5,000 ft above sea level. As soon as we arrived we were greeted by an old friend – the ugliest cat in the land (already recorded in an earlier post). This cat was wild and prowled about the van, hissing if you came too close but would rub against your legs hoping for food and it actually came into the van once when I left the screen open.
Those with a nervous disposition look away now.
. . . . 😱
Camp Site At Todra Gorge
We saw that the women still did their washing in the river. Many of the dwellings in the countryside did not have a direct water supply and we often saw folk collecting water from springs or stand pipes at the roadside.
Women Washing Clothes In The River
The next day we travelled west towards Ouarzazate (sounds like Wha-za-zat), a journey of only a hundred miles but it took us almost three hours as we drove slowly and stopped often to enjoy the vast rugged landscapes stretching to the horizon – my simple camera could not begin to do it justice. Our drive finally took us along the fertile Dades Valley with its lush palm groves, providing contrast against the russet backdrop of the High Atlas.
The Ouarzazate area was a noted film-making location and featured in those spaghetti westerns set in places like Arizona as well as such films as “Lawrence of Arabia” and “Salmon Fishing in the Yemen” and, more recently, “Game of Thrones”.
We stayed two nights at Meski and were very excited when an impressive expedition truck drove onto the site. Tony couldn’t wait for the travellers to settle so he could stroll over and find out about their vehicle. It turned out that they were Nancy and Hans who were experienced long distance travellers and were leading a group of Dutch camper vans on a 75 day tour of Morocco. Tony had already been in contact with Nancy via the internet because we planned to join their Silk Road Tour in 2018 so it was a happy coincidence that we were able to put faces to names and to have the opportunity of having a good look over their truck.
Nancy and Hans’ Expedition Vehicle
The following morning we made the short journey south through Erfoud and on to Erg Chebbi at the edge of the Sahara where we stayed in the car park of the Auberge De Sud. This was normally a quiet billet but on this occasion they were holding an Off Road 4×4 Rally. The dusty car park was very noisy and the air was laced with petrol fumes- Tony loved it! We managed to spend a few quiet hours sitting round the pool and, later that evening, we enjoyed dinner at the poolside. We paid just over £50 for two nights’ stay including dinner and breakfast.
The Sahara was not all sand, most of the desert was flat stony ground. The dunes of Erg Chebbi spanned an area of 50k and were 150m high in places. The colour of the sand was vivid in the sunshine but when the sun went down the dunes took on dark, eerie shapes like huge sleeping beasts. At night the skies were inky black and the stars looked so bright that they appeared to hang overhead just out of reach.
Of course, there was plenty of noise around – sparrows cheeping, pigeons cooing, camels harrumphing and added to this were the noise of people having fun, dune buggies roaring and drums beating out their musical rhythm to entertain the guests. But the dunes were so peaceful, sitting in perfect silence unaffected by the human activity going on around them. We loved the Sahara Desert and we felt it a privilege to be able to visit it.
Auberge De Sud, Erg Chebbi