We had a very good reason to return to the Narbonne area – we wanted to stock up on wine. We had stayed at the campsite three years earlier and, whilst having a meal in the campsite restaurant, we enjoyed two pichets of the local rosé wine, served very cold – it was dry and very delicious. We were so enthusiastic about the wine that the patron recommended we visit La Cave de Gruissan in the nearby town where the local wine was sold by the bottle as well as in 3, 5 and 10 litre boxes. You could also buy the wine dispensed from a pump to fill your own container as you would fill a petrol can with fuel. On this occasion we bought rosé and red wine in 3 litre boxes and paid the equivalent of £2 a bottle.
Our next stop was at Tamarit Park Resort near Tarragona, south of Barcelona. It was a holiday village with chalets and glamping stuff as well as the usual touring pitches. It was twice the price of our regular stops but the site had an excellent beach side restaurant, a long sandy beach and a swimming pool. The temperature was 35°, even the sea breeze felt warm and the sea was just perfect.
We stayed at the site two nights which provided me with the opportunity of doing a machine load of washing (€5). Tony strung up our washing line between two trees on our pitch and the washing was pegged out to dry in the sun. Some while later a member of staff came by to say we were not allowed to put up washing lines – on this over-manicured resort you could only dry your clothes on a clothes airer (they had them for sale in the site supermarket, of course). Needless to say, I apologised profusely but our line remained firmly in place until we left the following morning.
We stopped for lunch at an over-smart hotel near Jaén. The temperature outside had reached 40° and the hotel’s air conditioning was extremely welcome – and we had an excellent, if expensive, lunch.
We had a sense of déjà vu as we approached our chosen campsite later that afternoon and soon realised we had stayed there before. I checked our log book and discovered we had been there two years earlier; at that time it had been a public holiday and the site was overcrowded and noisy.
Now it was quieter and we appreciated the shady canopy of trees and the refreshing swimming pool, surrounded by lawns and green hills behind.
We cycled a couple of miles to a restaurant by this bathing pool. At the weekends it was heaving with people but pleasantly serene on that Monday lunch time.
After two days we left Moulay Boussselham and drove up the coast for an hour an a half to the port of Tanger Med – only to be told that our ferry did not leave Morocco until 6pm that evening. We could have spent the day perfectly comfortably on the quay as we had everything we needed in the camper van – but we had the sniff of Europe and wanted to be there as soon as possible. We chose to purchase a new ticket with another ferry company (cost £140, cash only, if you please) and we were soon crossing the Straits of Gibraltar, arriving about 2pm GMT (Morocco time) – Spain was two hours ahead so it was almost 5 pm before we arrived at the campsite La Bella Vista.
It was quite a culture shock arriving at the busy port of Algeciras and dodging traffic on the busy dual carriageway. Everything seemed so crowded, cars rushing here and there, horns blaring. It was the same on the campsite, we were packed like sardines in neat rows with very little privacy. But the weather was warm, a breezy 28°, the site was on a long sandy beach and we managed to console ourselves at the local beach bar with a bottle of wine and a delicious, perfectly cooked turbot.
The area around Malaga was seriously overbuilt with urbanisations and golf courses covering the beautiful green hills. Building was still going on although many of the properties appeared empty and unused. We spent a couple of nights living cheek by jowl with our fellow campers (Spanish and English, a few German) and then felt ready to hit the open road again.
We stayed in the small town of Moulay Bousselham because it had a reasonable camping site and was within striking distance of Tanger Med, where we would catch the ferry back to Europe. It was a pleasant seaside resort, used mainly by Moroccans – the sandy beach was huge and virtually deserted and the cafés and restaurants were closed, due to it being Ramadan (they may well have opened after sunset). We were hoping to buy some fresh fish to cook on the barbecue but had no success.
There were some noisy residents at the camp site in the form of chickens and geese. The cockerels kept up their raucous cries throughout the day – I thought cockerels were suppose to crow three times at dawn and then politely remain silent for the remainder of the day. We decided they must be Muslim birds rather than Christian.
We put the skin of our breakfast melon (the size of a dinner plate) out for the chickens to eat. They were soon enjoying pecking at the melon skin but their happy clucking and cockadoodle-dooing brought three large geese to the feast and the chickens were shooed noisily away. For an hour or more the melon skin was taken hostage by one or other of the groups in a fierce battle punctuated by hisses and clucks until the melon skin was finally totally consumed. A hen and her three chicks were one of the last to be allowed to have a peck.
We drove north along the coast road towards Essaouira (Essa-wee-ra), eighty miles from Agadir. It took us four hours to make the journey following the narrow road that ribboned inland and climbed up to a thousand feet before dropping down again to the coast. We had one scarey moment as we rounded a blind bend and saw a speeding truck coming towards us, swerving to avoid two donkeys in the road. Everyone braked and a collision was avoided – and the wretched donkeys just carried on grazing.
Essaouira’s crumbling fortifications dated back to the 17th century and, with its towers and ramparts, its narrow streets and its main square with cafés and restaurants, it was a popular tourist attraction. It also had a modern promenade with a wide sandy beach, well known for kitesurfing and windsurfing. The town was one of the busiest fishing harbours in Morocco – they caught sardines, herrings, mackerel and hammerhead sharks. Back in the 1960s, it was a bit of a hippy hangout – Jimmie Hendrix stayed there and in the 1950s Orson Wells made the film “Othello” in the town.
We arrived mid afternoon and found the ancient port teeming with visitors. A film crew was camped on the harbour wall and a large area was cordoned off for their use. Jostling for space were boatbuilders and repairers, fisherman unloading and selling their catch, others were putting bait on hundreds of fishing hooks, a flying army of seagulls vying for the fish scraps with hundreds of hungry cats prowling the ground. It was a warm but breezy day and we enjoyed watching young lads jumping into the water.
Essaouira was known for its open air fish restaurants by the main square where you purchased your seafood from a large display. The food was then cooked and served to you on outside tables. We had a late lunch of a bream, a bass, sardines and calamari, served with salad, bread, chips and water – the cost was £25.
Our overnight parking spot was in the car park right next to the main square, and cost £8. There were optional extras too – £4 to have the van washed and two more charges of £1.50, given to other guardians who came to the van to say hello and to assure us we were being looked after. Frankly we had no idea who we were paying but felt confident these people would make sure all was well with the van.
We were treated like royalty, beggars were shooed away and when the car park became less busy they invited us to move the van so we could have a better view of the beach. Only thing they failed to do was to keep the seagulls from landing on our the van with a loud thud followed by stomping footsteps across our roof – sounded like we had a grumpy teenager upstairs!
We drove past groves of argan trees and spotted a herd of goats. This special goat was well known for climbing up into the tree branches to graze.
We arrived on the Atlantic coast at Agadir where the temperature was almost 20° cooler than it had been inland, it was such a relief! The seaside town of Agadir had been destroyed by an earthquake in 1960, killing 15,000 people. The rebuilt town was modern and had a wide promenade lined with shops and restaurants with a huge sandy beach, a fishing port and marina. Agadir was more like a European resort than an African one.
We had supper in a fish cafe at the port, bread and olives, Moroccan salad followed by a huge platter of fresh fish and seafood, some fried and some grilled.
The following day we had lunch at a beach cafè, I chose the octopus. It’s not to everyone’s taste but I loved it – a rare treat. Another rare treat was being able to have a beer with our meal. Alcohol was not normally available as Morocco, especially during Ramadan, but Agadir was a tourist resort and alcohol rules were more relaxed.
The campsite had improved since we last visited two years ago. It was in a great location, five minutes walk from the promenade – but it was still very run down. Moroccans didn’t seem to maintain anything, the plumbing in the shower blocks was either bad or worse; the fittings were often new-ish but taps either dripped constantly or refused to work at all. They usually had the ratio of two “hole in the ground” toilets to one pedestal type – thus limiting the choice of loo for us Europeans. Sometimes toilets were reasonably clean but the pedestal was rarely attached firmly to the floor, the seat (if provided) was never attached to the toilet and, more often than not, the toilet flush did not work. I always took a pack of disposable antibacterial wipes to the loo and, if things were too awful, I would attack the loo with a toilet brush and a bottle of bleach, carried in the garage of the van for that purpose.
The shower cubicles were the same – you chose your cubicle carefully – one might have had a tap attached to the wall, another a pipe attached to the tap and, very occasionally you found a rose attached to the pipe. To turn on the tap and have a reasonable stream of water emit from the rose in the approximate direction of the showeree was an experience that could cause total euphoria.