Monday, 5 January 2015

Heading for the Sahara

 سنة جديدة سعيدة

Happy New Year

Dear Family & Friends from (yes I do have to mention it again) a bright, warm and sunny Morocco.

Morocco continues to enchant, intrigue and excite us. The more time we spend here, the more we fall in love with this wonderful country and her friendly generous people. Apart from a couple of days of torrential rain at the very start of our trip the weather has been just delightful. The day time temperatures climb up to 23̊ to 25̊  by about 12:00, then it stays that way through the afternoon, until about 4:30pm, when the temperature starts to drop as the sun goes down; the night time temperature is about 12̊ to 14̊ .

We have been treated to some stunning sunrises and sunsets:

The most stunning sunrise


When last we blogged we were in a little town called Asilah, about 60 miles south of Tanager. This is when the heavens opened and it rained continuously then for the next 2 days and nights. We decided, between the four of us, that there was not much point in being stuck in our motor homes listening to the rain lashing down on the roof, and that we might as well make tracks south in the hope of getting into some better weather; and this we did. Over the next 2 days we stuck to the toll roads, covered 400 odd miles, and made it to Casablanca and the sunshine!

Now here’s a thing about driving in Morocco, there are three rules you need to remember;

1) Rule number one......there are NO rules,
2) Rule number two......expect the unexpected, it will happen
3) Rule number three......if you are travelling with Fang take an ample supply of gas and air.

Warning.......big hole in road

Palm frond hole cover missing

Blimey O’Riley, driving on these roads is not for the faint hearted. The general rule on a roundabout is that oncoming traffic gives way to traffic on the roundabout, OK?..... that is unless someone on a donkey decides it doesn't apply to him! In that case all hell breaks loose and it’s a free for all on the roundabout.

Roundabout rebellion

Traffic joining the main road gives way, OK?.... that is unless it’s a taxi or bus or someone else in a hurry,  in which case they just come straight out under your nose!

Excuse me......coming through

 Pedestrian crossings are to alert you that someone might want to cross the road, OK?.....
No, they are just patterns in the road and mean nothing at all, pedestrians, chaps pushing carts, chaps with donkeys, chaps with donkeys and carts, chaps pushing broken down vehicles, chaps on mopeds with flat tyres, chaps with camels, chaps on pushbikes, chaps on scooters, chaps selling, chaps talking business, chaps arguing,  ALL  manoeuvre together like a dance, step out into the road and do not even know you exist!

Driving through a normal town 

Two lane roads are for two lanes of traffic, OK?....
No, two lane roads are for as many lanes of cars, motor bikes, buses, trucks, cycles, donkey carts, tractors, taxis, trailers pulled by clapped out bicycles as can fit on them, and that’s not counting the pedestrians, chaps pushing fruit and vegetable carts and vehicles going the wrong way against the traffic..

Oh yes, If they decide it’s quicker for them to drive on the wrong side, they do! But you know something......despite this apparent chaos it works!

But one thing they don’t seem to do is speed. There are police everywhere with mobile speed cameras.....and yes I did get stopped!

 A very nice policeman in a very smart uniform,(I always think our coppers look scruffy, flagged me down on a country road and gave me a good talking to about me being in a hurry.....doesn't matter  what language they use.....when a copper is giving you a rollicking you always seem to know what he is saying!

He sent me on my way after he had had his say (probably too much paper work to give me a fine). In the meantime Fang is taking a picture of the vehicle in front with a camel in the back.....he probably got stopped for having the hump!

Copper is giving me a rollicking.......Fang is taking pics of camels in trucks!

Anyway, back to Casablanca. Although it had stopped raining it was still a bit nippy, so we decided to just spend one night there, and then perhaps catch more of Casablanca on the way back.

We did, however, make time to visit the Hassan II Mosque, one of the only two mosques in Morocco that non Muslims can visit. You have to go with a guided tour, which was good, because we learned a lot of interesting stuff:

The prayer hall can accommodate 25,000 and measures 656 ft by 328 ft;
The roof to the prayer hall opens! it is the second largest religious building in the world after the Mosque in Mecca;
The minaret is 82ft wide and 656 ft high making it the tallest in the world;
At night two laser beams shine in the direction of Mecca and reach a distance of 18.5 miles; 35,000 craftsmen worked on the building and it took only 6 years to complete!

It cost an estimated $8 billion, however, as no one kept the receipts from B&Q they are not sure exactly how much it cost, our guide shrugged her shoulders and said; ‘it might be double, it  might be triple the $8 billion, who knows?’

But a third of the revenue was raised by ‘voluntary’ donations from the local community of Casablanca.

The enormous prayer hall with the upstairs gallery for the female worshippers

Now here’s a thing about parking in Morocco..... In every town and city you go to, there are Parking Guardians, who have the parking rights for stretches of roads/footpaths and car parks. We noticed that all these chaps seemed to look alike; all dressed in the same tatty yellow high viz jackets, and so we decided they were cousins, and that their name countrywide would be Bob.So you have Tangier Bob, Casablanca Bob, Marrakesh get the idea.

So you drive down the road, or into a car park, and out of nowhere Bob appears. He will show you where to park and then direct you to park forwards or backwards or sideways and make sure you are clear of the traffic. Once parked, Bob is your guardian, which means he will look after your vehicle while you go off and do your shopping or whatever. And Bob takes this responsibility very seriously; The result is that car crime is virtually none existent in Morocco! If you decide to stay overnight, Bob’s cousin, Night Time Bob, will be your guardian through the night...

The cost for this extraordinary service? 5 dh, which equates to about 35p!  As an additional service, if you would like to have your vehicle washed while you do your shopping Albert, Bob’s second cousin, will give your car/van a bath and polish on the side of the road!

Casablanca Bob's overnight park-up

From Casablanca we continued south to Safi. A fortified town built by the Portuguese. A wander through the souk and back streets of this old town were a delight. We spent 3 nights in a camp-site here because John managed to get a very gippy tummy, and was bed bound when he wasn't bog bound!

A back alley in Safi

Shopping for my veg.....they give you one of those washing up bowls and you put all your veg in for them to price for everything, nice and easy!

Fang feeding the local wildlife

On the road again

All party members now fit and mobile, we set off for our next destination, Essaouira.

Essaouira (pronounced esa-wera) is our favourite town so far. It has a fantastic fishing harbour, a wonderful souk and a beautiful beach. It dates back to the 7th century, but the harbour fortifications and town were not built until the 16th century.

It’s a favourite haunt for surfers but, as yet, has managed to escape mass tourism. It’s the most wonderful place to just meander through the streets and soak in Morocco at it’s best:  Fang is constantly sticking her sizeable beak into everything she comes across and asking; ‘what are you doing there?’ ‘what’s this’ or ‘what are you making/cooking’/cleaning? She had a nice surprise one day when, to her embarrassment my eternal mortification, she realised the old woman in a wheelchair she was smiling at, was actually changing her colostomy bag. She does say it’s important to immerse yourself in Morocco and embrace new experiences!!

Two beach bunnies

The locals walk around in coats.....we walk around in shorts!

This shopkeeper was so enchanted with Fang that he made me an offer of 1,000 camels and 25 goats......trouble was the goats weren't very good milkers, so I declined! 

Having a mint tea

Fang yet again not posing

We were now heading into Christmas week and so decided that we would find a base for a few days over the festive period. We settled in a campsite just 17 km north of Agadir. Atlantic Park is a campsite run along European lines and caters for motor homers settling in for 3-4 months to see out the winter.

It has all the amenities you could need for a long stay, but this sort of site is an anathema to us .... not what we call motor homing! Anyway, settle in we did and come Christmas Day the four of us had an excellent lunch in the restaurant overlooking the beach. Christmas morning Fang and I treated ourselves to a camel ride on the beach.

Christmas caravan

A Fang sized horse

The setting for our Christmas lunch

The day after Boxing Day we were off again. John & Clare decided that they were not going any further south, so we said au revoir to our friends and continued our journey south.

At this moment in time we are parked in an idyllic campsite right on the beach front, in the centre of a national park, about 60 miles south of Agadir. We have been here for 5 days spending our nights listening to the surf and our days lazing in the sun and walking on the beach......and we don’t look like moving anytime soon!

Our New Years entertainment

Our camping spot on the beach.....we might just stay here for ever!

And so Dear Family & Friends, until we blog again, we bid you وداعا from our beach haven in Morocco.

Monday, 15 December 2014

And into Africa

Es salaam alaykum Dear Family & Friends. Oh yes we are in Africa!
But first to catch up; since last we blogged we have been on a 3 week trip back to the UK to visit the family before Christmas. Our plan of parking the Trundlebus bus in a secure compound at Malaga airport worked like a treat. You park up a couple of hours before the flight and they take you to the airport; and then when you arrive back, you give them a call and they come and pick you up from the airport. The flights there and back were pleasant, on time and cheap! So the whole exercise went like clockwork and we intend to use this again to come home for visits instead of driving the Trundlebus all the way back to the UK.
We flew back to Spain on the 7th December and met up with our two intrepid travelling companions John & Clare. While I was in the UK I had bought the necessary equipment to install an LPG filler system so that we can fill our gas bottles from petrol stations with LPG pumps. For us this a big plus as we always worry about running out of gas on our travels; and as we are going to be away for an extended period this time, sorting this problem out was a must.
Now I can hear you all shouting in alarm ‘Why would anyone with more than two brain cells get into a Trundlebus after Jono has been fiddling around with gas pipes?’ Well you mate; in fact my very best mate John, is an expert in this field having just converted his own van from scratch. Add the fact that John is an engineer, and has been mucking around on boats for most of his life and you will understand why Fang gave her approval for this major works project to go ahead. The job was completed at the road side on a sunny day with no hitches, mainly because John knew exactly what he was doing and I kept out the way and just made the tea. John Boy is now Fang’s new hero and can do no wrong, which I don’t mind telling you is starting to get right up my nose! I mean who ever heard of a successful project without decent tea?
John Boy drilling a hole for the fiiller

Said hole drilled

Job done!

My first fill watched over by John Boy

Going it alone now.....Fang was no where to be seen
While we had been in the UK John & Clare had done some research into the different ferries and ports we could use to get across to Morocco. We decided to go to Tarifa and catch the fast catamaran to the old port in Tangier which only takes 35 minutes. The alternative would have been to go from Algeciras to Tangier Med (a brand new port just outside Tangier) which is the main traffic route on conventional ferries and takes about 2 ½ hours.
We parked up just down the road from the port in Tarifa and went to find a ticket office, of which there are many, but again our advance party of J & C had already been and sussed out an honest looking agent. We wandered in at about 11:30 and booked ourselves onto the 1.00 ferry. Just like that......we were off to Africa!
Tarifa is only a small port, really just servicing the fast catamaran ferries to Tangier, so there is not much hustle and bustle to contend with. We lined up to catch the ferry, with us, another motorhome and about half a dozen cars, it’s not a big ferry so no HGV’s. Ferry duly arrives and backs up to the dock, it only has one loading ramp at the back so is not one of the drive on drive off ferries we are used to on the Dover to Calais trip. All the cars are waved on and then John & Clare (their van is the size of a large courier van) which left us sitting on the dock. Carlos the Spanish Loader then comes up to me and starts waving his arms about and gesticulating in Spanish that he wants me to turn around. Although I don’t understand why he wants me to turn around I do.......and then it all becomes clear.....he wants me to REVERSE onto the ferry......who ever heard of reversing onto a ruddy ferry?!”%*. Well, as you can imagine Fang has now slipped into one of her apoplectic fits and I am looking at this single ramp onto the ferry and notice that there is not even any safety railings! So off we go with Carlos the Spanish loader, hand on my bonnet as though he’s pushing me, waving left and right and straight ahead in Spanish. Looking in my reversing mirrors just wasn’t helping, so I decide to rely on Carlos the Spanish Loader to keep us out of the drink and just concentrated on his instructions. And that, it appears, was the right thing to do, because Carlos the Spanish loader got me onto the ferry in exactly the spot he wanted, all in one go and with no drama. Hand break on, engine off and I look across at Fang for the first time......remember the old Tom and Jerry cartoons when the cat get’s it’s paw stuck in an electric socket and it ends up with bulging eyes and it’s hair standing on end? Well that was Fang.
Us and J & C on the dock

Our ferry backing up to the dock
The journey across was smooth as you like and before we knew it we were in Tangier port. Now no one would expect an arrival in Morocco to be anything like the experience of arriving at Dover now would they? Well it wasn’t!
We drove off the ferry into a small port to be met by at least 6 guys in kaftans and flip flops and another three or four chaps in differing styles of uniform and guns, all of them waving manically to direct us into the lane for motorhomes.....trouble was they had not decided amongst themselves which of the five lanes was for motorhomes. I chose the inside lane with a chap in a very smart uniform at the end of it.
We were directed under cover and told to pull up at some very sturdy iron gates which were being guarded by a very official chap sporting yet another style of uniform and a gun. This was the gate to Morocco but we were not cleared to proceed yet.
I looked around and there was John & Clare behind us and a very battered Mercedes Benz in the next lane; everyone else seemed to have scarpered.
There was only one other car in captivity with us

One of the officials in a smart uniform came to the driver’s side window and asked, no told us, to give him our passports, which he promptly took away without any indication where he was going or when he might be back. This was a little disturbing as we had already had our passports stamped for entry on the ferry, by a customs official. 
After what seemed like an hour but was probably only half an hour, Smart Uniform Man appeared back at the window and handed me back our passports. He then told me to get out of the van, with my passport only, and waved over a chap in casual European dress who was sporting a big official badge. With me outside the van surrounded by officials, Fang was inside the van slipping into her second apoplectic fit of the day.
Big Badge informed me that he was going to help me fill in our vehicle importation document, which we knew we would need and had already filled it in. I showed it proudly to Big Badge who gave it a cursory glace, told me I had filled it in wrong, threw on the ground, leant on my bonnet and proceeded to fill in another form. On completion of the form Smart Uniform Man appeared back at my side as if by magic and told me that I needed to pay Big Badge for filling out the form. I dug in my pocket and took out some loose euro change but Smart Uniform Man said NO, Big Badge wanted paper money. So I dug into my wallet and gave Smart Uniform man a 5 euro note which he promptly put in his own pocket and walked off! Turning back to Big Badge to get my completed form, he held out his hand and said he would have my loose change, which I gave him. He then gave me back my passport, told me to get back in the van, and walked off with my ruddy form!
On clambering back into the van Fang whispers, ‘What on earth was that all about?’.....’Not entirely sure’, says I ‘but I think I just bribed a customs official to get the Trundlebus into Morocco’......apoplectic fit number three!
So we then sit there with nothing happening for an age until another official strides out, this one in a very smart light blue uniform with big gold epaulettes and a very large cap sporting a very large gold badge. The whole effect made him look more like the Head Concierge at the Casablanca Hilton than a customs official, however, he is waving my green vehicle importation form and shouting ‘Where is Mr Jonathan’.
So now I realise that Big Badge has got my first and last names the wrong way round and I am registered with the Morocco DVLA as Mr Cain Charles Jonathan. Deciding that any attempt to explain to Big Gold Epaulette Man the error would only cause more trouble, I stick my head out of the window a shout ‘Over here!. Big Gold Epaulette Man comes to the window and tells me to get my passport and get out of the vehicle. He then tells me to follow another chap casually dressed in a kaftan and flip flops. Kaftan Flip Flop waves at me to follow, and we go towards the big iron gates which lead out of the customs holding area. Kaftan Flip Flop then gets into what looks like a very heated argument with the guard on the gate who seems reluctant to let us through, however, Kaftan Flip Flop wins the day and we are let through into the outside world.
So now I am outside the iron gates, with absolutely no idea what I am doing, where I am going or who I am going there with. What I do realise is that Big Epaulette Man inside the iron gates thinks my name is Mr Jonathan, and I am carrying a passport that says my name is Mr Cain, and if these two bits of conflicting information ever come together I had better have a more convincing story than Big Badge filled in the form wrong!   
Kaftan Flip Flop leads me off and around the side of a building and into a back entrance, we go up the stairs and come face to face with four soldiers in full battle fatigues and carrying machine guns......this is it, thinks I, my trip to Morocco ends here and it’s the next five years in a smelly Arab prison while the British Consulate negotiates my release in between attending cocktail parties and formal dinners and polo matches.
Not so, the indomitable Kaftan Flip Flop waves me past the Moroccan army and on towards those security things like what they have at the airport; but instead of going through, Kaftan Flip Flop waves me around them, much to the consternation of the two officials standing there. I am starting to realise that Kaftan Flip Flop is a man of some authority.
I am then told to go to a window where yet another official takes my passport, bashes a few keys on his Toys R Us old and very out of date computer and hands me back my passport. I have absolutely no idea what he was doing or why he was doing it and from the look on his face I don’t think he knew either!
Kaftan Flip Flop then takes me back the way we came, through the iron gates and back into the customs holding area where Big Epaulette Man is again waving my green vehicle import form and shouting ‘Mr Jonathan’. This time he gives me my form and Kaftan Flip Flop escorts me back to the van where he sticks his hand out for payment, for what I have absolutely no idea, but pay him I did.  
This whole trip took about ¼ of an hour so by the time I got back in the van Fang is way past apoplectic and has gone into a full blown catatonic seizure. However, shortly after, the big iron gates are thrown open and we are driving into Tangier!
As luck would have it the campsite we had chosen for our first night in  Morocco was only 5 minutes drive from the port. We settled ourselves in, had a quick lunch to unwind and then it was off into the Medina and Souks of Tangier for our first experience.
Our first lunch in Morocco

The Trundlebus parked up in our camp-site
 Wow, wow and wow again......this is sort of what we had expected but more, much more. The sights the sound the vibrancy the colours and the smells are fantastic. The shops are packed full of exciting and exotic goods and the people of Tangier are just a delight......happy, smiling, polite, helpful and welcoming. I am going to stop with the adjectives now and just let the photos tell the story of our first day. Some of the photos are a bit on the poor side but that’s because we have to take them firing from the hip, as it were, so that we don’t upset anyone

Fang making friends as only she can

Do they know how lucky they are being in a Muslim country at Christmas?

All the very latest releases

Spices galore

Clare in the second hand market

This chap is sweeping the street, lifting a man hole cover and brushing the dirt down it!

Olives R Us

Our next stop was a little town called Asilah

Beggars at the city gate

Clare going in for some bartering on the spices

John buying some fresh mint for our mint tea

Donkey park....their owners are on their stalls

So there we are Dear Family & Friends, we are safely in Morocco and looking forward to many more adventures, which we will share with you as they happen with pictures in full Technicolor. Until we blog again, we wish you all a Very Happy Christmas, we love you and miss you all very much.......but not enough to come home yet!
Maeel salaama Dear Family & Friends.