TRAVELOGUE - NW AFRICA EXPEDITION 2007
Fri. 12 Jan
Pembrokeshire to Portsmouth. Overnight ferry to Caan.
Sat. 13 Jan
Drove from Caan stopping for the night just south of Bordeaux.
Sun. 14 Jan
Drove to El Port de la Selva in Southern Spain. All camp sites en route were closed for the winter. The only hotel in El Port de la Selva was also closed for the winter. Wild camped in a dried out river bed.
Mon. 15 Jan
Drove to Benidorm. Booked into a hotel. Avoiding British pubs and bingo halls found a bar/restaurant frequented by Spanish people (staffed by Spanish speaking locals) and serving truly Spanish food. (So it is still possible, even in Benidorm!) Had a wonderful paella and excellent bottle of red wine.
Tue. 16 Jan
Reached the port at Almeria and checked times/prices of ferries to Morocco. Stayed overnight at a nearby campsite on the beach.
Wed. 17 Jan
10 a.m. ferry from Almeria to Nador - 5 hrs.
Drove for 3 hrs from Nador to Al Hoceima. Set up camp on beach-side camp site.
Thu. 18 Jan
Grocery shopping at the market in Al Hoceima. Vehicle maintenance. Clothes washing, etc.
Fri. 19 Jan
Rest day at camp site, Al Hoceima.
Sat. 20 Jan
Drove south through the Rift Mountains towards Taza and then east passed Guercif.
Stopped at a small village to pick up fresh supplies. Found a stall/shop of a butcher where a joint of meat hung. We didnt know what meat this was and the butcher spoke only Arabic. Initially we were alone with said butcher. Then, obviously curious to see our vehicle and us, people kept arriving. In no time at all we were surrounded by men. Everyone wanted to say Hello and shake our hands. Everyone wanted to help but nobody spoke anything other than Arabic so they all just repeated what our butcher friend said but more and more enthusiastically! The carcass before us was too large to be sheep or goat so we were thinking cow or camel. I did consider making mooing noises and then but then I didnt know what noise a camel makes. I also had visions of me being forcibly taken away believed to be an insane lunatic! So, we thought wed just buy some of the meat anyway, whatever it was. Then came the challenge of describing how much we wanted. Im not sure how, but we did manage to purchase some meat and everyone was happy. After more friendly hand-shaking, and much waving good-bye, we departed with the makings of our mystery dinner.
Drove off-road to find wild camp spot. Set up camp near a lake in the foothills between the Rift and the Atlas mountain ranges. Had a very tasty meal although we still couldnt say what meat we had eaten!
Sun. 21 Jan
Drove to the Gouffre du Friouato, south of Taza, where we explored the caves (what an experience! Rock climbing in the pitch black with only a torch each), emerged in mud, dust and sweat, ate a picnic lunch amidst beautiful scenery and then tried but failed to find somewhere to camp. In desperate need of a wash/shower, booked into a hotel in Taza for one night.
Mon. 22 Jan
Our first real off-road route as described in the Sahara Overland book. Much tarmac has been laid since Chris Scott wrote the book. Even so, still an enjoyable drive with wonderful scenery and sporadic glimpses of local rural life. Found a beautiful spot for our second wild camp in Morocco.
Notes written at the time:
Drove off the main track into the hills. Sun is shining but there is a keen wind. Saw our first glimpse of what the wind can do to this dry, dusty landscape. Though the thick, brown, dust filled air was some distance away, we could almost taste it where we were and it looked quite threatening. I dread to think what a sand storm in the desert will look like.
Tue. 23 Jan
Drove N15/N13 towards Ar-Rachidia. Camped at Source bleue de Meski. Very nice camp site, near the ruins of an old kasbah, with lots of shade from palm trees but toilet/washing facilities not great.
Wed. 24 Jan
Staying at camp site for a couple of days - washing, re-organising, walking, relaxing.
Thu. 25 Jan
Walked around ruins of nearby kasbah. Evening: ate in small café/restaurant in tiny village near campsite - our first tagine which was really delicious and cost the princely sum of about £7.00 for both of us.
Fri. 26 Jan
Drove N13 to Merzouga. Approaching the village (a popular gateway to the Sahara) there were many touts ready to attempt to persuade us to one auberge / campsite or another (and judging by all the advertising boards there were plenty of them) and/or sell us a trip through the desert by camel. We didnt stop but drove through the village, continuing south for about 7km until we came to Nomad Palace.
Here we stopped and were greeted warmly by the proprietor, Ali, a friendly and very laid-back chap who spoke excellent English. There was a choice of accommodation - camp with our vehicle and our own tent, camp in one of the traditional Berber tents already set up or have one of the Nomad Palace hotel rooms (complete with shower). But, before we did anything as energetic as making a decision we should relax and have tea with Ali, which we did. Decision made, we asked Ali if he could arrange for us to have a camel (the four-legged type that is) ride through the desert. No problem. That afternoon? No problem. We could go out, see the sun set behind the dunes, and then return.
And so we enjoyed our first camel ride. Talking to the herder that accompanied us we learned that he had walked, for two hours, with our camels from where they had been grazing, met us, (walked with us for about three hours) and then was set to walk back from whence he came! He did not seem to think this odd or see any hardship in his work.
There were fantastic views from on top of the dunes of the Erg Chebbi (on the edge of the Sahara) and it was a wonderful experience.
Sat. 27 Jan
Drove from Merzouga to Alnif. From Alnif we drove a piste to Tinerhir and then stopped at Ourti camp site just outside Tinerhir.
Sun. 28 Jan
Pouring down with rain all day. Apparently, this year, Morocco is experiencing the most snow and the most rainfall it has had for many years.
Updated website and went into town (Tinerhir). Visited the Berber kasbah where we learnt a little of the history and lifestyle of the Berbers and were shown traditional methods of spinning, weaving, etc. And, of course, we joined our hosts in drinking some Moroccan tea.
Mon. 29 Jan
Staying at Ourti camp. Very cold. We can see the snow on the mountains from here. Still pouring with rain so were reluctant to pack the tent away.
Tue. 30 Jan
A dry, sunny day. Drove N10 to the Dades Gorge. Breathtaking scenery, both in the gorge and from the road above in the snow covered mountains. We had hoped to drive the piste to the Todra Gorge but this had been closed by the police due to excessive snowfall making it impassable.
Set up camp at Ksar Kassair. A large camp site on Village de Touriste. The tourist season not yet begun, we were the only campers there. The facilities were excellent and we enjoyed steaming hot water in very clean showers. Bliss!
Wed. 31 Jan
Cant tear ourselves away from those hot showers just yet.
A day of car maintenance, clothes washing, etc. and another night at Ksar Kassair.
Thu. 1 Feb
N10 to Taliouine, stopped at Ouarzazate on the way.
Ouarzazate is a busy town with a large market and, unlike many places we have visited so far, one that is obviously used to foreign tourists. Traders speak English and are quite persistent when trying to entice you to buy their wares. Alongside more traditional cafes there are pizza restaurants.
Camped overnight at Taliouine.
Fri. 2 Feb
Started a piste from Taliouine to Foum-Zguid but much of this is now tarmac so we cut it short and drove to Akka. Wild camped near a palmerie. It was a lovely spot in the sand amongst the palm trees (and a scorching hot, sunny day). Two local men (a chap with his Father) had been picking dates in the palmerie and stopped by on their way home (which was an hours walk away). The younger man spoke French and a little English, his Father spoke only Arabic. They gave us some dates and chatted. We were invited to their home for some tea but had to politely decline as we had dinner cooking in the Cobb at the time.
Sat. 3 Feb
Took a minor road to Assa. We stopped for a coffee in a small roadside café and got talking to the owner, Aattman, who spoke French. He invited us into his home for some tea (he lived above the café). We met his family and his wife made us lunch which was most unexpected but gratefully received. Our first real taste of traditional cous-cous, served with chicken and vegetables and side dishes of yoghurt.
Some time after our feast we dragged ourselves away and started the piste from Assa to Es-Smara. (This piste had been used in a Dakar rally). Suddenly we really were in the middle of nowhere. We soon experienced our first real serious corrugations. And, after the unprecedented rainfall in the area over the previous week or so, the piste became more and more waterlogged as we drove on. There were some exhilarating and some very worrying moments as we tackled stretches of water, sand and rocky track. After about 63km we were faced with a plain of wet sand, with no way around it, and it was unsafe to continue as a lone vehicle so we were forced to turn back.
We found a place to wild camp as the sun was setting and spent the evening in a barren, inhospitable landscape. The silence was eerie.
Sun. 4 Feb
Drove back through Assa and on to Guelmin. Camped at a site called Fort Bou Jerif (named after a nearby ruin of a French Foreign Legion fort). Great site, great location and great facilities even if it was expensive compared to other Moroccan camp sites.
Mon. 5 Feb
Couldnt leave without a quick visit to the ruins of the original fort (not much left unfortunately) and the Oued (river). The Oued is a must-see because of the terrapins that inhabit it. Shy they may be, but we quietly and patiently waited, hoping to get a glimpse of these creatures and were not disappointed.
Headed south on the N1 towards Tan Tan. Just north of Tan Tan we stopped at a camp site called Ksar Tafnidilt. There was a very long, rocky track to get to this site but it was worth the drive. On a hill, commanding wonderful views, we once again felt we were in the middle of nowhere. We chose to camp but there were rooms to let here. There was no hot water available but we enjoyed cold showers in exceptionally clean facilities.
Tue. 6 Feb
Chose to stay here another day. There is a great feel to this place, I could stay here for a week! Who needs hot water anyway?!
A day of unhurried chores. The usual - vehicle maintenance, clothes washing, etc.
Wed. 7 Feb
Drove south towards Laayoune in Western Sahara. On the N1, about 40-50 km north of Laayoune we saw smoke billowing out from under the bonnet. Serious problems! A very nice man stopped to ask if we needed help and ended up towing us to a garage in Laayoune town. We booked into a hotel for the night, leaving the vehicle at the garage to be repaired. A new head gasket was needed and we were relieved we had brought a spare with us.
Thu. 8 Feb
Despite the fact that we didnt arrive at the garage until 4 p.m. yesterday, the vehicle was ready to go at 9 a.m. today.
Back on the N1 heading south. The hot sun beat down as we drove this straight, monotonous road through the featureless desert landscape. With no shelter of any description and nowhere to wild camp we had no alternative but to drive all the way to Dakhla.
After a very long day we camped at a site just north of Dakhla town. The prison-like wall around this very basic camp site offered little in the way of shelter from the fierce wind that blows in from the Atlantic Ocean.
Fri. 9 Feb
Eager to move on, we continued south on the N1 towards the Mauritanian border. The border control point closes at 4 p.m. so, as there was nowhere to wild camp, we stopped at a motel about 80 km north of the border.
Sat. 10 Feb
The Moroccan border crossing was less of a beurocratic procedure and more of a haphazard free-for-all. A crowd of people huddled and queued outside a room. Once inside we were given forms to complete and then re-join the huddle/queue. Once these forms were handed in they were placed inside our passports and the passports were then placed in one of several piles on a table and we were dismissed. After a while the two men seemingly in charge of processing then walked off closing the door to that particular room. Nothing to do but wait. We had expected a wait and knew nothing anyone could say or do would speed up any process. So, we sat in the sun, chilled out and chatted to fellow travellers. Eventually, the officials returned and the door was re-opened (but nobody was permitted to enter the room). Slowly but surely they randomly picked passports from this pile or that and then called out names to the crowd gathered around the doorway. When we heard our names called out we entered. After a couple of questions about our professions and reasons for being in Morocco/entering Mauritania, our passports were stamped and returned to us. Nothing else was said and we were left to work out which room dealt with vehicle documentation. That done and paperwork completed, our vehicle was briefly inspected, a few more questions were asked and then we were allowed to proceed.
And so came the drive to the Mauritanian border control - about 2 miles away and the only route to it is through a minefield. Sticking to the well used, albeit rocky, track, we arrived at a couple of dilapidated wooden huts. We were invited inside by a policeman who asked some questions, completed entries in a book, asked us to sign a form and then sent us on our way. Is that it? we thought. NO. Of course it wasnt. Next, some more dilapidated huts. A whole array of them with no indication or clue as to what each one was for or where we should go next. Many men in different uniforms strolled around in no hurry to be anywhere and having no intention of speaking to us. Ah well, summoning up our best, but very limited French we entered the first hut. Books and forms were completed and we handed over the euros to pay for our visas. Next came the vehicle documentation. We entered a hut, a uniformed soldier passed us on his way out and disappeared, leaving us standing there. Unsure of what to do next we decided to just stay and wait for his return. Sure enough, he did return eventually. He gave us a form to complete. We didnt understand a word on the form but wrote all the details of the vehicle that we thought would be required. As it turned out we completed all the correct details but in all the wrong places! With a shrug the soldier indicated that it would be OK and he then threw the form in the general direction of one of the many piles of paperwork on a table in the hut. We then paid for the vehicle visa and that was that. Well, actually it wasnt. Next came the hut for vehicle insurance to cover our time in Mauritania. More forms were completed and more money changed hands. After that we went to a small touring caravan which served as a bureau de change and then, we were now sure, that must be that! The only thing between us and Mauritania was a plank on the floor of the exit with nails sticking up from it. Soon enough this was pulled aside and we were waved through.
We found a place to wild camp on a beach north of Nouadhibou. We enjoyed an afternoon in the sun but as the day wore on the wind became stronger and stronger. Unable to sit out we took refuge in the cab of the vehicle (which rocked in the wind) before retiring to the roof tent.
That night, the noise from the wind was unbelievable. We had no sleep at all and were just relieved that we, and the tent, survived unscathed.
Sun. 11 Feb
Up early, we spoke to some people, in Unimog expedition trucks, who had wild camped nearby for the night. After discussion and contemplation we decided the route we had planned to take (which the trucks had just completed) was not safe to try as a lone vehicle.
And so, we drove north back through the Mauritanian border and on to the N1 to Dakhla.
Mon. 12 Feb
Drove north from Dakhla towards Laayoune. Stopped briefly to change a flat tyre. What is it about this N1?! Quick pit stop in the border town of Boujdour for a coffee and a new inner tube. The chap who changed the inner tube expressed a preference for a bottle of whisky over cash as payment. Unfortunately, as we had no whisky he had to make do with the cash.
Overnight stay in a self-catering room at Le Champignon approx. 20 km south of Laayoune. Another long day.
Tue. 13 Feb
Continuing north, stopped off at Guilmin for supplies then back to camp site Fort Bou-Jerif.
Wed. 14 Feb
Stayed at camp site.
Thu. 15 Feb
Picked up some supplies, including some camel meat.
Internet room in Guilmin - took a lot longer than we thought so only made it a few km.s outside Guilmin before stopping at a camp site for the night.
Fri. 16 Feb
Drove around an area south of Assersif looking for a piste clearly shown on our map but definitely not clearly apparent on the ground. We got lost in a small village with lots of narrow tracks leading to other narrow tracks which lead to er, nowhere! We ended up in somebodys cactus garden. Not sure who was more surprised, the owner or us. Its not every day you see a big yellow Land Rover in your garden. (The only forms of transport we had seen in the village were donkeys and mopeds). He was very friendly though, opened his gates to let us out and offered to help us with directions.
After more piste searching (without success) we joined the main road, drove through Biougra and then headed north west towards Agadir.
Wild camping is not permitted around Agadir and there is only one camp site. Consequently this flat, concrete site resembled a sardine tin but we managed to squeeze in
to a spot amongst the hundreds of motor homes and campervans. Not quite what wed had in mind! Popular place Agadir - winter sunshine and a large, clean, sandy beach - with tourists from Morocco, France, Germany and the UK.
Sat. 17 Feb
Spent the morning walking around Agadirs beach and shops. In the afternoon we hired a dune buggy and played around in the sand dunes and on tracks a few miles away from the town. Those buggies are great fun to drive.
Sun. 18 Feb
Stayed at Agadir.
Mon. 19 Feb
Drove east on the N10 through Taroudant then north east on the R203 Tizi-n-Test pass. What a road! Climbing ever higher, this road seems to go on forever, hairpin bend after hairpin bend. It was pretty scary in parts (narrow track complete with recent rock-fall, steep drops, etc.) but worth driving for the spectacular views of the Atlas Mountains and the Souss Valley below.
We found a good place to wild camp south west of Asni.
Tue. 20 Feb
Avoiding Marrakech we drove NE on minor roads, incl. the R210 through Demnate, to Cascades d'Ouzoud. We had a few unintentional detours along the way and the weather was awful. For the most part it poured with rain but we also encountered heavy snowfall in the area of Setti-Fatma. Finally reaching our destination we set up camp, in the rain, on a rather muddy camp site (Camping Amalou) very near the cascades (waterfalls).
Wed. 21 Feb
Aaahhh... a dry day. The sun even came out to welcome us to this beautiful place. We walked to the picturesque waterfalls and then wandered through the surrounding woodland. We met the resident Barbary Apes. A couple of them looked vaguely curious as we passed just a couple of feet from the tree in which they relaxed.
Thu. 22 Feb
We searched for a piste which could clearly be seen on our map but was nowhere to be found on the ground. Mmmm... we've been here before. Failing to find a piste no longer surprised or frustrated us and we enjoyed the drive anyway. We drove high in the snow covered Atlas Mountains still amazed that the people live in, and adapt so well to, the surroundings. The small farmhouses were miles apart, built into the hillsides. Men and women sat literally in the middle of nowhere watching their herd of goats graze on what meagre pickings they could find lower down where some areas were free from snow. I loved this day, I think probably more than any other. I'm not sure why but there was something very special about being so high in the Atlas Mountains. Peaceful? Yes, but then many places had been. Spectacular scenery? Yes, but again... we'd seen lots of that. As I say, I'm not sure why, but that particular landscape and the houses and the people there will stay foremost in my memory forever.
We drove to Arhbala then doubled back to El-Ksiba. There, exhausted, we set up camp in the dark after a very long day.
Fri. 23 Feb
Travelled NE on the N8 towards Azrou. We turned off just south of Azrou and drove through a forest where we watched a troupe of Barbary Apes. From here it was on through Ifrane which was very wierd - like driving through French suburbia. Yet another contrast in environments. We drove through tree lined streets, our perceptions confused by large European-looking houses.
We continued on the N8 before turning off for Sefrou. We camped overnight at a site on a hill overlooking the town of Sefrou.
Sat. 24 Feb
Short drive to Fes. We set up camp early at a lovely camp site - Camping Diamont Vert - about 6 km outside the city.
Sun. 25 Feb
Hopped on a local bus to the nearby town just outside Fes itself to pick up some supplies. Spent the rest of the day catching up on chores and generally getting reorganised.
Mon. 26 Feb
Back on the bus (practically locals now!) and off to Fes. Wandered, explored, then back to camp.
Tue. 27 Feb
Maybe it was the great camp site or maybe we were shattered and in need of another day to relax. Maybe both! Anyway, stayed another day.
Wed. 28 Feb
Drove North on the N8 through Ketama then onto the N2 to Kalah-Iris. Camped overnight at a beach-side camp in Kalah-Iris.
Thu. 1 Mar
Found a piste... yes, found a piste... towards El Jebha. Drove on this for about 8 km but then had to turn back when it became impassable. From here we drove on a road still under construction. West of El Jebha we set up wild camp on a beach. After a dip in the sea we cooked dinner and began eating as darkness enveloped us. All was well with the world! Then, suddenly, we had visitors. Several soldiers, all with automatic weapons. Their spokesman was polite but his message was very clear. We had to leave. Immediately. We politely asked a few questions before packing up. The replies were simple and polite. There were no camp sites nearby, no hotels, there was (he apologised) nowhere for us to stay but, nevertheless, we had to move on, immediately. And so we packed up as they stood by and waited. We drove in the darkness on a narrow mountain road. There was a steep drop to our right and a steep incline to our left. Nowhere to wild camp. So we drove on. Eventually we came to a village. Still there was nowhere to camp but we managed to speak to some local men who directed us to the village's petrol garage. There was a cafe next to the garage which had a roadside car park. We spoke to the cafe's owner/manager. And so, we spent the night in said car park and had a very good night's sleep until we were awoken very early by lorries filling up at the adjacent garage. It was a small and very dirty village. By this I mean their means of waste disposal was to dump their rubbish anywhere and everywhere on tracks throughout the village. (Not the most picturesque of our camp sites!) But, who is to blame for that? This was not a village the government anticipated any tourists seeing. And, despite the location, and lack of visitors, we were welcomed with the usual Moroccan hospitality. We were grateful for a safe and peaceful night's sleep.
Fri. 2 Mar
Drove on the N16 coastal road to Oued Laou. West of here we found a camp site but it was so bad we moved on. N16 & N13 to Martil. Found a camp site but again, not great. Far from it! We had a walk along the beach, eventually found somewhere to have lunch (this place is very geared towards tourists but obviously only in the Moroccan tourist season). We moved on.
Disappointed with what we found on the Northern coast of Morocco - very tourist orientated but waiting for 'the season' to start, and not at all like the real Morocco we had encountered during our previous six or seven weeks - we headed for the port of Ceuta.
Unable to think of any reason to stay in this area we bought our ferry tickets and boarded a ferry to Algeciras.
The route to the port was scarily similar to the built up areas of the 'costas' in Spain with many new apartment developments in progress. Each to their own and all that and I know the Moroccan Government needs/wants to make money. But, from our point of view our last views of Morocco left a sour taste and were views so very far removed from the real Morocco we had seen and loved.
We will definitely return to Morocco but we shall not revisit the Northern coast.