Marrakech via Tizi n Test

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.

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