As we may have mentioned once or twice before, we love Morocco and we love Marakech! So when looking for a few days away it wasn’t difficult decision as to where to go and then to return to a Riad we have used before.
Dar Rocmarra is ideally located inside the medina walls and is a real gem – a warm welcome always awaits. The accommodation is wonderful and, if you decide to eat in once or twice (which you must), the food is second to none.
An early doors EasyJet out from Gatwick allowed us to be sat in the Riad by midday talking to Jamila ahead of a home-cooked lunch – well worth the early start!
After grabbing a few minutes sleep we wandered into the souks and the main square. Jemaa el Fna is a hive of activity day or night. Daytime sees stalls ranging from dentistry to orange juice while the evening brings out the food stalls and story tellers.
The first night though we ate at a restaurant at the side of the square and just absorbed the atmosphere. It was the first time back for Amy and Chloe since the Motorhome trip of 2009.
As we wandered about the main square, Jemaa el Fna, June pointed out Michael Portillo walking away from us. For those that don’t know, he has a TV programme where he travels by rail around the world using Bradshaws guide. The fact that he had an old book in his hand should have given us a clue…. However it wasn’t until Bob went up to him and started chatting that it dawned on him that they were filming ….. So when Michael’s programme goes to Morocco keep and eye out for a 6’4″ geezer stalking the star of the show!
The trip was always going to be a shopping fest for the girls but we also managed to get a couple of day trips in too.
The first was to Cascade d’Ouzoud. These stunning waterfalls at about 2 1/2 hours drive away from the city. The car and driver was arranged by Jamila and cost €150. This was for the driver and car for the whole day.
Thursday had been inked in the diary as a shopping day and the girls have been saving for months. Lots of bargains bought so everyone happy all round.. While walking to yet another shop one teenage lad went up to Bob and asked if he spoke French…. Bob, in his best French accent said a little. The lad then spoke in English…. Obviously Bob’s French wasn’t too convincing… He asked for an introduction to the girls (previous offers having been for camels so this was a different approach!) as he liked them although clearly he didn’t like them that much as he’d gone as we left the shop.
Our second excursion was to Essaouira and again the cost was €150 for the day for the car and driver with journey time being around 2.5-3 hours from Marrakech. Chloe had asked to visit this pretty seaside town as she remembered it from 2009 and wanted to recreate a photo we took then at the fort.
Mission accomplished it was time for lunch followed by a stroll along the beach and before leaving, the Moroccan equivalent of #clewleystopsforcoffee…..#clewleystopsforminttea !!!
We have been looking for a painting to hang in our bedroom for ages and finally found one but it was twice the size we needed. The guy in the shop ran off, having asked the size, and returned a minute or two later with a smaller version. The price started at 1400 Dirham but was soon, maybe too soon, brought down to 1000 Dirham although he did throw in a free scarf for June. Price didn’t matter so much though as we wanted something that meant something to us and this was it.
Today was always going to be a day of shopping. We started off at the Complexe D’Artisanat in Rue de la Kasbah. This is one of the few places in Morocco that you don’t barter. The prices are fixed and for some that is a real help. Personally I love a good bit of barter banter. Leaving surprisingly empty handed we headed to, via a coffee stop of course, to the Ensemble Artisanal on Avenue Mohammed V.
This is where June had seen a hat before and today was decision day. Having watched how the hats are made a purchase was completed.
From there we headed off to the Photographic museum and back to their roof top restaurant. Today was so much clearer than our last visit so much so we could easily see the beautiful snow covered High Atlas to the south..
In the afternoon we managed to tick all off the shopping list but were still on the look out for a pair of ear rings to match the neckless June bought on the `kasbah trip. One of the guys in the souks, on hearing what we were looking for, took us for a hike (probably a bit longer than we needed) to one of his mates. He didn’t have what we were looking for so he took a neckless apart to make a pair. Not sure we would get that level of service in the UK.
During one of todays wanders through the main square we saw this a guy wearing pink wings and selling toys. So the next time you think your job could be better just remember the photo of this lad.
Today was another day to just wander around this glorious city. We started off by heading towards Jewish quarter. We dropped by Dar Si Siad which is former palace / royal house that now houses Moroccan arts. The building itself is along the same theme inside as the Kasbah at Telouet and the Alahambra with ornate stucco that the crafts men carve while still wet. The design are very detailed and must take an age to complete.
After a quick coffee we wandered around the old Jewish Section, While trying to find the entrance to the El Badi Palace we bumped into Mustapha, a 19 year old who is studying to become a motor mechanic. He started to take us to the palace when we realised that it would closed in a shortwhile. Mustapah then offered us tea at his house. We took him up on the offer and although the tea wasn’t the best we have experienced but it was a little different. We never did get to see the view of the palace from his house that we were told was ‘very very good’. We dropped him a few Dirham for his time and headed off to the Kasbah Cafe, which was nearby, for lunch.
It was only a short walk…well about 3 km, to our next venue. The Jardin Menara. We had seen a few photos of the lake there with the High Atlas in the distance. Ever the keen photographers we aimed to recreate this image. Well the view of the snow covered mountains was stunning but sadly the lake was a little choppy to get the reflections we had hoped for.
Back to the main square for a bit of people watching while we drank mint tea… well this time our eyes were caught by a couple of 5 or 6 years olds who were busy trying to sell cakes. There clearly was a bit of a turf war between them and it was a little sad to see young children, the same age as my grandchildren, having their childhood stolen.
This evening we returned to the square to eat at stall 118. Abdul recognised us straight away. The guys who are enticing potential customers to pick thier stall are all real characters with all the patter and banter. If you join in the whole experience is more enjoyable and they really don’t mind if you say no. It is a very similar scene to that of parts of France, Spain and Greece….but with more humour and fun.
Today was a later start… We updated yesterday’s trip on the blog and then just bimbled into town
A lunch at the main square was followed by a wander around the parks.
We managed to grab another geocache and a coffee…. it was all very slow and full of people watching.
Evening time took us back into Jemaa El Fna to eat at another stall. We had been told to try number 14. Walking past it was full of locals, always a good sign and it didn’t dissapoint. As we left 14 a guy from stall 118 started chatting up June. Result is that we will probably go there tomorrow night.
Walking back through the souks, where some were totally deserted, it struck me that we never felt unsafe, not once and having adopted the plan of turn left, turn right, turn left, turn right, etc we actually got back to the riad without getting lost!
An early start today as we were heading over the a High Atlas and back again in a day; luckily we were not driving but were able to book a car and driver for the day at a very reasonable rate. Younes from Ecovoyages Marrakech arrived promptly and by 7.30am we were clear of the city traffic and heading towards the mountains. A quick stop for coffee after a couple of hours before we hit the Tizi-n-Tichka pass, the highest pass over the High Atlas.
Our first destination was Kasbah Telouet and a real gem of a place and well worth the long drive along a road which in parts lacks any Tarmac. At first the place looked nothing more than a pile of ruins (the whole site is actually three kasbahs in various stages of decay) but there was a surprise awaiting in the form of four rooms almost exactly as they were the Kasbah was built in the 19th century. Our guide Rasheed was very knowledgeable and well worth his tip as he explained the history of the site. The family who lived here made their fortunes from the caravans passing through from the south to Marrakech, exchanging salt for gold and sugar for marble.
From there we continued along the same road following the Oued Mellah (literally translated as river of salt. Lesson learned today was that Morocco had salt mines!) and on to Ait Benhaddou whose claim to fame is to have appeared in numerous Hollywood films: Lawrence of Arabia, Jesus of Nazareth and Gladiator but to name a few. We didn’t have a guide, despite their best efforts for us to hire them, and were happy to wander around the place on our own.
People still live in the kasbahs which make up the area and to get to the highest point you have to run the gauntlet of several shop owners trying to entice you to view their wares. We did give in on the way back down and took tea with Hachim whilst negotiating on the price of a silver necklace and an “antique” wooden spoon….. Bob retained his reputation of bartering like a Berber and we were all happy in the end!
Then began the long drive home and this is where the 20,000 photos comes in. Having got a new toy after a last trip here (thank you Colin!), Bob had attached his GoPro to the outside of the vehicle and recorded time lapse photos of the routes we were taking. The plan was now to record the journey back over the Tizi-n-Tichka pass. The camera stayed in place but we won’t be able to post the short video until getting home to the UK.
The long day ended with a spectacular view of the sunset in the mountains and home to Jamila’s wonderful cooking…
Having visited most of the major sites in a Marrakech during previous visits, today we decided just to walk and see where we ended up whilst heading generally towards the east of the city. Things didn’t quite go to plan when we got lost in the souks but as there always seems to be a sign pointing towards the main square we followed one of them to get our bearings and start again! This time we got it right (eventually…) and arrived at the Museum of Marrakech. Not the largest museum we’ve been to but being located in a restored palace makes it worth a visit.
From there it was a very short walk to the Medersa Ben Youssef (combined admission with the museum of 60Dh each – under £5 at today’s rate) which was a former religious school. To quote from our guidebook “It displays all the fine decorative detailing that characterises what was the golden age of Moroccan architecture.” and that pretty much sums it up! If you like architecture head here. Point to note here, we were approached by a young man who was trying to get us to visit the tanneries and told us that the Medersa was closed due to a religious holiday – it wasn’t!
A lot of walking usually involves geocaching for us, and although there are not too many caches in Morocco, we were not too far from one so it was off down the alleyways in search of it. The Moroccans are born traders and (sorry, spoiler alert) what better way of getting someone into your shop than by putting the cache there! Worth pointing out though that there was no pressure for us to buy anything and we had a very friendly chat with the shop owner.
As we mentioned we were off the main tourist track today so our next stop was the Maison de la Photographie de Marrakech, which houses a collection of photographs of early 20th century Moroccan life. Entry was 40Dh (£2.80 ish) but we can visit as often as we like which given the great little cafe on the roof terrace we will probably take advantage of!
Being on the east side of the city and despite what we told the young man earlier, we had always intended to visit the tanneries. We were approached by a “guide” who offered to show us around and despite being a little sceptics it was actually quite interesting! However having visited the tanneries at Fez, the ones in Marrakech were a little disappointing and of course the visit ended up in a shop which sold a variety of leather goods.
In desperate need of coffee (no surprise there!) we made our way back to the main square and one of the many roof terraces providing the best places just to sit and watch the world go by. Feeling suitably refreshed it was time to head back home but managed to take the wrong turn again which also happened when we came back in for dinner and then on the way back again….. By the end of the week we’ll have it all worked out…..we hope!
Having stopped at the Gatwick Hilton, with no free wifi in the room I may add, it was an early start to Marrakech taking off at 8.00. Made good time though arriving at 10.50, ahead of schedule.
Through passport control and onto Dar Romarra, the Riad we had used for a long weekend in October. We felt that with June’s arm recovering we needed a little haven in a mad mad city….
At 14 C it was a little cooler than last time….but warmer than the freezing UK we had left behind.
After a bit of a kip we wandered through the souks to the main square, Jamaa El Fna. It was far busier than October and a real hive of activity.
A quick coffee on a roof top terrace gave Bob a chance for a bit of timelapse ( will be posted once we get home). Then down to the food stalls. We were bombarded with requests to eat here and here….. they all knew too much about our TV adverts. Quotes like, ‘ this isn’t just any food…it’s Marks and Spencers food’ and ‘cheaper than Morrisons’ were everywhere. One of the guys thought from something June had said she was from Scotland and then started quoting East Enders. He knew more about the story line than either of us.
Having been to Morocco twice before we were both really looking forward to returning with our friends Sarah and Colin. We had found a Riad called Dar Rocmarra in the Marrakech Medina that had some brilliant comments on Trip Advisor and ticked a lot of boxes for us.
Leaving early doors on Thursday with Easy Jet we arrived at Marrakesh just after 10.00 where transport booked via the Riad was patiently waiting after a few more minutes than we expected in passport control. Being British we took part in an orderly queue while those around us jumped barriers, pushed in and generally tried to get in before us.
As we were driven to the Riad we realised that the driving had not changed since we were last here in May 2013. It is manic. Having said that though everyone seems to get along with each other, giving way seems to be a natural way of life. Yes the horns are sounded but I really got the impression they were not meant in anger. More of a ‘watch out mate’ than a ‘get out of my way’.
The driver got us as close as possible and after a few minutes walk along narrow alley ways we arrived at Dar Rocmarra 29 Derb el Halfaoui.
Once inside we realised we had hit a real gem and the reviews were right. It was beautiful! We had been in touch with Jamilla, who manages the day to day running of the riad as well as cooking the wonderful food, before we arrived and before lunch she gave us a brief about locations of places we may like to visit and offered to book a driver and car for any days trips we wanted.
After catching up on sleep we walked into the center. The souks, as we had experienced previously, were an assault on all senses…. the smells, the colours and the noise are very special to us. Some feel unsafe, but I have to say, I feel as safe in Morocco as I do in London, and like in any big city with lots of people, it’s just a case of keeping your eyes open and wits about you. Having had little sleep the previous night and a good lunch when we arrived, we found a small cafe with a rooftop terrace overlooking Jamma El Fna for a light meal before heading home for an early night.
Friday started with a breakfast on the roof… and then off to Cascades d’Ouzoud Waterfalls. Jamilla arranged a car and driver for the day at about £103 all in for the 4 of us. Although we could have booked an organised tour, at least this way we had total control over where and when we stopped. On the way we went through the town of Ait Taguella where there was a festival going on in a field next to the road. There were groups of horsemen in traditional clothing riding from one end of the field to the other while firing rifles in the air. It was a really stunning event to stumble on.
On to the beautiful Cascades d’Ouzoud. There is a large car park at the top and as you walk towards them you can either take to the right of the buildings and go to the top or to the left and walk down the lanes past the stalls to the bottom. There are numerous places to eat…the more expensive ones have direct views of the falls (although by expensive we mean around £10 a head for a 3 course set meal!) . The falls stunning, yes I know that I use that a lot but have run out of superlatives. Have a look at our Morocco 2014 album to see more…
Saturday was a bimble around Marrakech sort of day. We love the souks, the smells, colours and sounds are really unique. I know some folk find this environment threatening or uncomfortable but I think the art is to accept that the traders do not mind you not buying or saying no. Ultimately you have control of your wallet and if you buy something, does it really matter that much if you find it cheaper on another stall. I guess you were happy with the price or you wouldn’t have bought it. I feel no more concerned in Marrakech than I do in some parts of London. I enjoy the banter and bartering. Many times have I walked away to the stall holder saying ‘good bye my friend. You are a good man and I like your smile’ But that is me at 6’4″…height always an advantage I feel 🙂
Having said all that we did have a bit of a ‘do’. Colin had a GoPro….more about that later, and wanted a few photos of the snakes in the main square. The problem was we didn’t agree a price before…top tip always agree a price…for everything 🙂 After some photos the guys asked for £20!! They were never going to get that much.. They were offered £10 and refused…after a few words they were given about a fiver and off we walked .
In the evening we decide to eat at one of the many stalls in Jamma El Fna, the main square. The previous night we had wandered through and one of the stall owners had approached us saying ‘ One Zero Zero always the hero’ referring to the stall number. Well we had to find that one didn’t we? The main square is somewhere Bob had always wanted to eat. Just feeling that it would be good to absorb some of the hustle and bustle. Hannin, our waiter, suggested we had a Meze type selection and of course the obligatory photo at the end. We had noticed young lads firing a small device into the air that gave off a blue light as it drifted down. These were visible all above the square… It was a toy that Bob didn’t have and was determined to get. As we walked through the square a couple of boys offered these for sale. Starting at 20 Dhirham he eventually got one for 5 (about 40p) He was happy.
Sunday was a visit to Essaouira which is on the coast and very Mediterranean in appearance. Again Jamilla arranged a driver and car for the day for about £107 this time. The last time we drove from Marrakesh to Essaouira in 2009 the road was under major repair and it took us ages in the motorhome, traveling at no more that 40mph for most of the way and at 10mph for a very long section. Drive times in Morocco always seem a little longer that here in the UK, mainly due to the road conditions, speed limits and cops with speed cameras. On the whole the roads are OK but the speed limits are often lower that you would get in the UK. There seemed to be, on this trip, a huge increase police checks, the more cynical might note how negotiable the fines are and wonder how much reaches official police coffers….. Some with a speed camera, often on a tripod and others where there are ‘stingers (a spiked device across half the road that can be pulled covering the whole road to stop vehicles that didn’t fancy being checked).
The harbour area of Essaouira was as beautiful as the last time we visited.
After lunch we wandered the lanes and then out to the beach. It can be very windy here, albeit not on this visit, and often the beach is full of surfers kite flyers and the like.
Our flight back was late Monday afternoon so we had plenty of time to visit Majorelle Gardens and more. The gardens are beautiful and an oasis of calm in the madness that is Marrakesh.
Leaving the gardens we grabbed a Caleche, horse and trap and were taken for spin around the city. We turned down the offer of visiting a pharmacy as we had experienced watching a demonstration before and then being put through the sales pitch. I think we still have some magic potions left over from that visit despite Bob using them daily to maintain his youth.
Back in Jamma El Fna the girls needed to get some cash while the boys met a young lad selling some packets of tissues. Through Bob’s bad French it seemed he was 10 and sold the tissues daily around the square. Bob asked why he didn’t go to school, the bank doorman smiled and said ‘this is his school’ as he pointed to Jamma El Fna. A very fair point! The lad was a real character but we found he didn’t like the ginger sweets that Bob had been carrying around all weekend. But then few did.
It was a brilliant weekend and one that involved quite a few Selfie on a stick photos as both Colin and Bob had one! I am sure we will see more Selfie on a stick photos appearing in this blog.
Having said our goodbyes to Chris and Penny, who were spending a fews days in Tarifa before heading up the east coast to relieve Penny’s youth, and to Tony and Margot who were joining Ray’s Andalucian tour, on the ferry and refreshed from the night on the campsite we began the long slog north on our own (oh to be retired and be able to take weeks to get back to the UK!).
The drawn out departure from Morocco had meant a last minute change of plans to ensure we didn’t repeat the long driving days of the trip down so today, Wed 29th May, was only (ha,ha) 834km to the aire at Vitoria Gasteiz. The aire is well signposted and located in a designated section of a large car park to the north of the town. It takes 10 vans (although several others were parked in the main car park) and has water and WC and grey water disposal facilities.
Obviously supplies are running down on the way back leaving space for more purchases – Spanish wine and chorizo on today’s list!
Departing Spain on Thursday 30th, the next stop is Ste Maure de Touraine, approx 30km south of Tours. Again another well marked aire in the middle of a small village – we arrived around 6pm and there were plenty of spaces. An earlier arrival meant we had time for a walk around the village which was well needed after days on the road!
The driving days are getting shorter; 650km today and only 460km tomorrow!
A brief shopping stop in Tours and we headed to our final stop on Friday 31st at the Aire de La Baie La Somme. A fairly smooth trip until we reached our nemesis: Rouens. We have been through Rouen five times this year and each time we’ve taken a different route (there is a bridge closed which means there are diversions, one of which is height restricted and we can’t take). So it’s the third, and hopefully final, Bob’s mystery tour until we work out where we are and where we should be going. What I should also add here is that since January 2006 France has been renumbering its roads and each local authority is able to choose its own numbering system; our road map is dated 2009 and the renumbering was expected to take a few years. So to add to the confusion the roads on our map weren’t the same as on the road signs! New maps have been added to the shopping list for when we get home.
After an extra day’s well needed rest, on Monday 27th May the final three vans carrying Penny and Chris, Tony and Margot and ourselves left the Cascades with the intention of getting as far north as possible for a ferry crossing the following day. Our aim was Asilah which was 508km away which on normal roads would be perfectly doable. However here, an inch on a map can take hours…..
The gorge into which the Cascades fell continued for quite some time but once into the agricultural plains the road was much better and farm vehicles aside we made good time to Rabat where we picked up the motorway for the final 300km. Throughout the whole trip people appeared along the roadside from seemingly nowhere and this continued along the motorway as they crossed the carriageway to get to the other side – shepherds were even watching their herds as they grazed on the verges!
10 hours or so later and we reach our destination. On our last Morocco trip we overnighted in a car park right outside the medina walls and we were pleased to find out (initially) that we could still do so after a small payment to the guardian – Dh30 (under £2.50) and a couple of beers (with alcohol not on general sale it is very much a means of payment and we were asked for it on numerous occasions). We settled down to dinner and there was a knock at the door; it was the guardian again and this time he was with his father who had fresh fish he wanted to exchange for wine. After some negotiations it became apparent that our wine wasn’t good enough (and it wasn’t the rubbish we exchanged last time!) so we couldn’t have the fish. No worries on our part as it saved the worry of having to gut them and then store them without stinking the van out! With no joy from the other two vans, the father then decided to throw a bit of a wobbly and he and his son had a huge argument; now if we’d been able to understand the language it might not have been so intimidating but we had no idea what was going on or what was being said so we just shut down all the blinds and turned the lights off in the hope they’d go away. They did eventually at which point another drunk slouched up against the wall decided he would have a whinge and moan at the top of his voice; time to decide if we really wanted to stay here….
The car park did quieten down by a reasonable time so we stayed as it was only short hop to the ferry, or so we thought. As we had time we decided to take the scenic coast road rather than the motorway – our first mistake! All throughout the trip we had known that the return ferry crossing was from Tanger Med rather than Tanger although this was a small detail that didn’t register with Bob when he put the destination into the sat-nav – second mistake! The consequence of these events was that we missed the sign on the motorway to Tanger Med and ended up on one of Bob’s mystery detours through the old town of Tanger as we headed to the old port. Having followed a local’s instruction to find the sea and turn right we were able to pull over and put the correct port in only to find it was about 40km from where we were and we had about two hours to the midday ferry departure time; if the exit from the country took as long as the entry we were not going to make it, not to mention the 40km along the winding coast road.
Having survived a small tussle with a couple of Italian vans who also seemed to be lost but who decided to stop on a roundabout, we, to our amazement, made it to Tanger Med with 90 mins to spare. Tanger Med is a huge new ferry facility currently under construction although with enough complete to allow services to begin and to our delight, it’s very efficient – one window to check in, the next for the vehicle exportation, then two customs stops, one of which involves the entire van being scanned for what we can only assume is stowaways. 20 minutes from beginning to end – unbelievable! We arrive quayside around 11am to see a ferry sitting there although with its doors closed so decide to get coffee from the cafe – just as the boat pulled away! Question was, what time was the next one? Morocco has had several time changes recently and the timetable we had showed ferries leaving at either 12 noon or 1pm (clocks had been an hour out in several towns as well) so if we had another hour to wait then it wouldn’t be in issue. As it was we didn’t board our ferry until gone 1pm but the delay was just as well as Penny realised she had left her set of van keys at one of the first windows at the other end of the port and had to work out how to get them back. She and Chris are finally able to hop on a bus back to the entrance to the port but are gone so long, we’ve boarded by the time they get back but again there was no need to panic as it seems the ferry sits there until there are sufficient vehicles on board to move!
We finally depart Morocco at 2pm and spend the entire crossing on deck from where we can see Spain, Gibraltar and the Moroccan coast. We are also joined briefly by a small pod of dolphins but they don’t hang around and we see no more. The journey should be around 90 mins but just outside Algerciras the captain switches the engines to minimum power and we sit there for 30 mins or so going nowhere. Ordinarily this wouldn’t have been a problem but we were intending driving for a few hours once we arrived in Spain to get a headstart on the journey but after putting the clock forward to local time it became obvious we weren’t going to get too far tonight. Time to switch to plan B and we found a campsite just south of Seville (Camping Villsom) which was €22 well spent for a quiet pitch and good showers plus being able to fill with water. It was then turn right out of the campsite and head north for the next few days!
Friday 24th May and with all the shopping complete we leave the heat and chaos of Marrakech to move on to the final destination of the tour – the Cascades D’Ouzoud some 150km to the north east.
On the way we stop near Demnate, a town which we can safely say beat all other places hands down with the insanity of their driving…. There just seemed to be no rules – if you want to move you do, if you want to do a u-turn you do, if Mr Taxi Driver wants to stop to pick up or set down a passenger he does. And all this with seven motorhomes passing through!
Just outside Demnate and marked on the map as “Pont Naturelle” is the site of a collapsed cave system which has left a natural stone bridge spanning a narrow gorge. We have a guide who takes us down into the gorge bottom and under the bridge where the opening is thought to resemble to shape of Africa.
Having survived the return journey through Demnate, it’s on to the Csacades and “Zebra Camping”. This is a great little campsite up on the mountainside with superb views over the surrounding countryside and compared to most other sites, facilities to die for: large pitches separated by flowers and trees, multiple water points, clean and spacious toilets/showers, a good restaurant, washing machine and wifi. Everyone agrees that this is their favourite site of the trip. Tonight we eat in the restaurant courtesy of Desert Detours as it’s the last night we are altogether before Steve leaves us early in the morning to prepare for his next tour.
The following day a guide is arranged to take us to the Cascades. The route takes us through olive groves where the fruits are still harvested by hand from trees which can live for hundreds of years. We follow the course of a fairly innocuous looking river with no idea of what we’ll eventually see. When we do come out by the waterfalls they are amazing – a total drop of over 120m into a series of pools at the bottom. The path then zig zags down the mountainside through more olive trees and large areas of calcified stalactites and stalagmites (the waterfalls previously covered this area of the gorge). After a quick break at the bottom most pool we begin to climb up again to the main pools where we decide to take one of the boats into the upper pool into which the water cascades. I say boat but only in that it was a floating vessel; it was really no more than several large plastic drums with a flattish wooden structure holding them together and then several brightly decorated plastic chairs fixed on top. The whole structure when loaded with paying customers is then rowed by some poor young man out in to the main pool when everyone gets soaked by the spray.
The slow walk back to the top includes a stop for lunch. On this side of the gorge there is a proper path and all along there are restaurants and stalls selling the usual Moroccan souvenirs. It’s then back to the campsite to enjoy a little downtime – we haven’t had very much of that on this trip. This is the last night that all the vans are together; four are leaving in the morning but three of us have decided to stay one last night. Although we are the only ones with a deadline for getting back to the UK, the return trip does allow us a little flexibility as we have almost a week to play with.
After waving off those leaving the following morning we have nothing to do except sit around and enjoy the surroundings. However Bob and I being as we are couldn’t spend a whole day doing nothing so head back to the Cascades later in the day to take a few more photos and hopefully take advantage of the better afternoon light. Being away from a group we are also able to explore other areas of the falls and take some photos from the top where the water falls over the cliff.
Final dinner at the restaurant that night before we begin the long journey home.
Wed 22nd and today’s destination is Marrakech via the Tizi n Test pass through the High Atlas. The road through the mountains runs for around 150km or so and climbs to a height of 2092m through almost continuous hairpin bends. It is barely one car wide in places but with the way the road bends and turns you can see for miles and pull over well ahead of meeting anything coming in the opposite direction. Today’s coffee stop was at the highest point – the cafe was called Belle Vue and certainly lived up to its name.
Along the way we stop at the Tin Mal mosque which sits just off the main road and is open to non-Muslim’s as it is being restored to its 12th century glory. Although very plain looking from the outside, once we passed through the small door we are overwhelmed by its beauty; the arches which supported the original roof have been rebuilt using the traditional materials and methods as are the intricate plaster carvings and wooden roof beams. We are given a brief history by the guardian – it’s all in a mixture of basic English and French but enough for us all to understand each other! There is no entry fee to the mosque and we are left to decide how much to donate – Dh10 is a suggested amount but we enjoyed the place so much we felt this was not enough. A highly recommended place to stop.
We continued down the pass looking for a place for lunch and decided from the map that Asni would be good. It’s the usual one street town with cafes all along the road side but from the minute we parked the van we were pursued relentlessly by men trying to sell “silver” jewellery or wanting us to exchange Dhirams for UK coinage they had. Lunch was good but we couldn’t wait to leave the town for some peace and quiet.
One decision we have to make occasionally is whether we should follow the driving instructions we are given or follow Tom Tom blindly and today was one of those situations. We very rarely have precise directions as they are not needed but with the big towns we have been given co-ordinates for those with sat-navs. So we enter Marrakech with our instructions to turn left and follow the Casablanca road; Tom Tom however says otherwise and the road starts heading towards the chaotic city square of Djemaa el Fna. By this point we have ignored 3 left turns to Casablanca (at which point I absolve myself of any navigational responsibility) and Chris, who is following us (we suggested we should lead as we had sat-nav….) and who has the same driving instructions is on the radio suggesting that maybe we should turn off! After a few hairy moments at roundabouts and junctions we do eventually meet the road we should be on and find the campsite although we miss the supermarket which was on the other road. Another of “Bob’s Detours” journeys and a chance for everyone to give him some stick in camp that night.
We settle into the campsite (Camping Ferdaous) and set ourselves up for another two night stay. although the campsite here is a large gravelled square, there are some trees to provide shade and the facilities are perfectly useable. We decline the city tour the following morning and pop to the supermarket we missed the day before to stock up before going into the main square in the late afternoon. There is a shuttle bus running into the camp site which is about 13km from the city centre which costs Dh20 per person each way. Our first stop in town is the Government shop which has everything you could find in the souk but at fixed prices which is relief from having to haggle constantly.
In the gardens of the Koutoubia Mosque we bag the oddest geocache – it is actually held by one of the gardeners. We had to hang around the general area of the cache in the hope he spotted us and once he did we were able to swap the coin we had been carrying for a while for a new one. Sadly this was the only cache we found here.
With all the shopping done we went to Cafe de France for dinner on the 3rd floor terrace overlooking the square, as the sun set and the square took on its night character – something we managed to capture on time-lapse photos. Great fun people watching again.
Today, Tues 21st May, will be our longest driving day of 320km/200 miles for tonight’s wild camp just north of Aoulouz at the foot of the High Atlas. The route is back along the Draa Valley where we stopped to buy a box of dates from a roadside seller (a good recommendation from the guide book) and then along the plane, where the scenery does become a little boring after a while.
Most days we stop along the route for nus nus and then again for lunch. The breaks from the bumpy road are most welcome and give us the chance to people watch for a while – one of our favourite habits! We pull off the main road late afternoon into a clearing on farmland in the middle of nowhere but with a clear view to the mountains and tomorrow’s route through them. Dinner is eaten as the sun sets behind the peaks and a local farm drives his sheep and goats through the site on his way home.
Sun 19th May and we head to Zagora for a two night stay. For a change we do take the direct route as it’s the only one and it takes us through the Draa Valley with its kasbahs and palmeries. The town of Zagora is like may others with one main street and the buildings are all modern as it is a local government town. Camping d’Amazrou is a total surprise and set in a palmery with small grassy tree-lined areas for the vans. Once we had picked our pitch the staff laid out mats and carpets by the van door and came by once we had settled in with mint tea. Oh and the business card for the family shop in the town – never is an opportunity to promote a shop missed!
Another group meal tonight – chicken tagine cooked by Hamed who is following in his father’s footsteps and producing delicious food. We had the opportunity here to do a four wheel drive trip into the desert the following day but decided against it and after a little shopping just relaxed around the van and recharged the batteries. There is a lot of driving on this trip and mostly just one night stays so having the extra night was a bonus.
Sat 18th May and today we travel through the stunning Todra Gorge on our way to Tazzarine. The Gorge runs through 300m high sheer cliffs of red sandstone and at points narrows to just the road and the river wide. Having been before we didn’t stop this time although I probably still took hundreds of photos!
Camping Bougarfer (don’t quote me on the spelling) is another combined hotel/campsite although it’s clear to see where the money has been spent. The “campsite” is nothing more than a huge gritted area with a tap under a tree in the centre although plenty of electric sockets around the perimeter wall. There were toilet and shower facilities but the less said the better…. However we did have use of hotel swimming pool at a cost of Dh50 / £3.90 each but with it getting hotter and dustier is was worth every penny. South of the Atlas and temperatures are in the late 30sC (sorry to all those freezing at home in the UK!) although night time temperatures continue to be comfortable.
Friday 17th and tonight’s destination is Tamtattouche at the northern end of Todra Gorge. But first we have to get out of the campsite…..
The campsite at Meski lies in an oasis at the bottom of a steep, slick, crazy-paved, twisting driveway and the only way to get out is put your foot down and go for it. One by one everyone takes a go and gets out on to the road; all except one that is. After several attempts someone offers to tow the van out but it was the oldest and smallest van – a bit like David towing Goliath and needless to say it didn’t work. However after one last go with some extra weight at the front, the van was out. We said goodbye to Mohammed here and his delicious cooking and set off for today’s drive.
As with most of this tour, we do not head straight to our destination but take the scenic route through the southern edge of the High Atlas. Anyone who has driven in Morocco will know that the roads are not that good, if they exist at all and those that have tarmac are usually full of potholes. When we got the new van we loved the spice rack which sat above the glass topped hob but the spice jars had a real dislike for the Moroccan roads and kept jumping out of the rack. Up until today no damage had been done but as we were oohing and aahing at the stunning rock formations there was suddenly a crash from the rear of the van and the shattering of glass. First casualty of the trip and top of the list to buy when we get home – a new hob top! Not an hour later the blind spot mirror disappeared as Bob got a little close to the roadside trees but luckily Chris and Penny were behind us and had seen what happened so stopped to pick it up for us.
After no further mishaps we arrived at Campsite Bad Dou, the best site we had been to yet; hot showers, a swimming pool (bloody cold but great to spend some time relaxing by!) and even washing machines! The food continues to be excellent and good value with 3 course set meals around Dh100 each (about £8) in most places.
Thurs 16th May. Our stop tonight is Source bleue de Meski – one of our favourite places from the last trip but as with most of this trip, we do not take the direct route! First stop is Gourrama for a sneaky nus nus, well it wouldn’t be right to pass a coffee shop and not stop, and it’s then on to Boudnib. Here we have a guide and are shown round an old kasbah (walled town) which despite being devastated by a huge flood in 2008, still has some inhabitants. The King, who is a major factor in modernising much of the agriculture in the country, granted funds to be made available for the restoration of the kasbah, including the installation of electricity, although many people have moved to the new town.
Slight problem on the way out when one of the vans got stuck in the dried riverbed where we were parked! After much discussion amongst the men and with the use of anti-slip mats, the van was finally free and we were on our way again.
The campsite at Meski is built around a natural spring which fills a swimming pool. Not being totally sure that the water was parasite free, we gave swimming a miss so spent the afternoon drinking tea in the various shops on site – the tea drinking is a vital part of shopping and price negotiating here! An impromptu drumming session accompanied the tea with Abdul and it was then on to Beni who had been our unofficial guide last time we were here; if there was anything you wanted then Beni could provide it! Bob was after a silver bangle and managed to find one in amongst the rucksack of goodies Beni was unwrapped as sadly a break-in last month meant that he no longer kept the good jewellery on show.
Beni remembered the girls from the last trip and wanted to give them something so after dinner we went back to his house to collect a bottle of olive oil. He also wanted to show us his house of which he is very proud (it’s a beautiful place) and to which we have been invited to stay on our next trip back…..
Wed 15th May. We were waved off from Fatima’s by the children and left feeling suitably humbled. We continued to head up into the Mid-Atlas with the High Atlas to our south and over Legionnaire’s Pass where there is a monument to those who lost their lives in the construction of the road through the mountains. Since coming into the mountains we’ve rarely been below 1700m, higher than anywhere in the UK.
The scenery continues to change – greys to greens to the bright red sandstone with the rocks bent and broken as nature has taken its course over millions of years. Man’s impact on the land can be seen through the creation of numerous lakes as rivers are dammed to provide irrigation for agriculture but the roads are continually washed out by flash floods moving huge boulders down from the mountains.
Tonight’s campsite is on a desolate plain bounded by small mountains to the north and south and on the site of a former secret prison for political prisoners. Nowadays the building that is left is used for mechanically crushing rocks mined from the nearby mountains.