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Pococks Travels in Morocco PDF Printable Version E-mail


Pococks Travels in Morocco

Travelling via France, Spain and Portugal

Audrey and Graham Pocock

November 2012 to March 2013

Continued from the following linked series:

Pococks Travels from Norway to Greece

Pococks Travels in Turkey Part One

Pococks Travels in Turkey Part Two

Pococks Travels from Turkey to Ireland

Pococks Travels in Ireland and Scotland

We met Audrey and Graham in January 2012 at Camping Finikes near Finikounda in the Greek Peloponnese. A retired Australian couple, touring Europe, Turkey and Morocco in their motorhome (Bruce) bought in the UK, they left Finikes at the beginning of February 2012. Audrey now continues this full account of their travels with a journey from England through France, Spain, Portugal and Spain again - and so into Morocco.

FRANCE

From Normandy we continued down the west coast of France, stopping at a few Aires on the way. We were not in a hurry, but it was getting colder now as we were into November. The colours of the trees were beautiful. I must say I like the roundabouts in France, each one different from the next and showing what is famous in the area. It might make a good photography book. We stopped at one in Pons, a village on the ancient Santiago Pilgrim Route, and I had my photo taken amongst the pilgrims of the 12th century done in bronze (Audrey has actually walked the route from St Jean Pied de Port to Santiago herself – ed). Actually it isn't only France that has made their roundabouts into a spectacle; we have also seen it in other countries. Perhaps it's European funded. Might make a good competition.

We stopped for lunch at a village on our way south one day and had horse meat. I must say it was okay but I was expecting beef, although when I think about the menu it only said "steak" so I guess that was what we got. At least there was no fraud, in the light of what is happening in Europe. But yes, I have to say, I still prefer beef.

SPAIN

We reached Pau in the foothills of the Pyrenees and drove through to Spain via the Somport Tunnel, which is about 8.5 kilometres long. We had been a bit apprehensive about going this way, but as it turned out the road was wonderful and we were soon into Spain driving toward Zaragoza.

One thing I have to mention about Spain is that they have the very best highways in the whole of Europe. Most of them are toll-free and a lot of them are quiet, beautifully so.

We continued on to Aranjuez, staying in the campsite there, catching up with our washing and enjoying walking around this lovely and stately royal town. The Parks are large and spacious, the buildings classically Spanish. Rodrigo's 'Concierto de Aranjuez' named after this town is my favourite piece of guitar music.

Continuing our journey towards Portugal we stopped in Caceres, one of my favourite Spanish towns and one in whose Aire we had stayed four years ago on our first trip with Sidney, our first motorhome. I remember vividly a bunch of people en route to Santiago with a number of dogs, plus a man with a donkey. They were trying to bring the plight of dogs and donkeys and the way they are treated in Spain to the conscience of the public. People would walk maybe a day with the dogs and a backup team would go on ahead with all the food and equipment. The following day someone else might take over and walk. It was a wonderful sight. This time however the Aire was quieter. We wandered into the town to our favourite Tapas bar and had some wonderful food there again.

PORTUGAL

Crossing into Portugal, we stayed at a grand height in a lovely village called Carvao commanding a gorgeous view of the countryside all around. We had a quick look round and a walk up to the fortress at the top of the village the next day, before beginning our cross-country up and down journey to the university town of Coimbra.

Coimbra is a lovely town with a shop which has the best custard tarts (Pasteis de Nata) that I have ever tasted in my life. The pastry was so light it had almost to be held down and it was flaky too. Unfortunately they were rather large and even one was a bit too much to have to oneself. But quite unforgettable.

Unfortunately the weather was pretty awful and inhibited walking. After a few days we left and headed for the coast to try and find the lovely place we had visited four years ago, Foz de Arelho, one of the most beautiful estuaries and places to photograph. Again the weather was miserable and we had the place to ourselves. How different it was to four years ago with the sun shining. Oh well, I don't suppose it can be nice all the time.

From there we visited Peniche on a wild and woolly day, a surfer's paradise with rocky promontories, quite lovely, but the wind was so strong it almost blew one away and so we retreated inland to an Aire for the night. Next day we drove to Lisbon.

There seem to be plenty of places to overnight in Lisbon, all of them very close to each other next to the large 'Discoveries Monument', built in honour of Henry the Navigator, who was instrumental in the success of the Portuguese explorations during the 15th century. Here we left Bruce (our motorhome) and took the train into the city on a cold day in December.

Lisbon is a beautiful city. We had visited the old town before, so this time we stayed in the new town. Lots of lovely squares, shops, tramcars and streets leading down to the water and we spent the day just walking and walking, finishing in the evening in a warm restaurant, where I got to sit next to the Pizza oven to put my hands on the warm bricks. (Yes I know, Pizza in Portugal - what can I say? - Sometimes you just have to.) The outside of the restaurant was decorated with polar bears in 'snow' (battery controlled) and was very Christmassy.

We left Lisbon and headed southeast into the middle of the country in a diagonal direction to Alcoutim, which lies on the river that separates Portugal from Spain, where you can see directly across to what appears to be a twin town. Next day we drove along the river to the Algarve to Vila Real de Santo Antonio, where we were astounded to meet Motorhome City. My goodness, we couldn't believe it! All these motorhomes in one place! There was a mixture of people from Europe: French, German, Dutch, Italian, British and Swedish amongst others and we, by chance, bumped into a couple of Aussies. We hit it off right away with Julie and Warwick and stayed there for three days enjoying their company and eating some beautiful food together. Warwick and his wife Julie have been travelling for about 15 years on and off and they come from Sydney, which is wonderful in that we will be able to see them in the future when we go back to Australia.

From there we drove slowly along the Algarve's motorhome cities, stopping a couple of nights on the way. We were astounded to meet a couple with a very large pig sharing the motorhome with them + a dog! The pig was called Naomi and was quite huge with its stomach touching the ground. We were told Naomi was motorhome trained and in fact would tap on the door with one of her trotters when she wanted to go out. Very glad too I might add, I would not fancy having to clean up after her! I have no idea how the motorhome took the weight of this pig, as I stress she was rather large and very solid. I guess it takes all sorts.

We continued on to Lagos. We parked Bruce for a couple of weeks and moved into an apartment owned by very good friends of ours from Sydney. It was lovely to be in one spot with real furniture and a TV (a luxury we don't get to use in the motorhome) and so we spent Xmas and New Year there.

We had some memorable meals there but one we didn't enjoy was Bacalhau. I had never tried it before but we were not impressed. Definitely too salty, though perhaps that was the restaurant. However I didn't like the texture that had replaced the usual flaky cod. Of course this was and is a way of preserving it. Everywhere in Portugal and indeed Spain, especially at Christmas time, this salted cod is to be seen. It takes up so much room in the supermarkets.

SPAIN again

When it was time to leave we drove back along the Algarve and into Spain continuing on into Seville, where we spent the next day. I know Seville quite well but Graham had only seen it in Semana Santa (Holy Week - Easter) when it was so busy that you couldn't move. This time he at least got to visit some of the sights and taste some wonderful Tapas, one of the best areas in Spain for such. I love Seville and it is one of my favourite cities in Spain.

We drove down to Sanlucar de Barameda near Cadiz. The next day, 6 January, it was El Dia de Los Tres Reyes Magos (The 3 Wise Men, if you like) - the day when the children get their presents in Spain, known to us as 12th Night or Epiphany. This is the most important day of the year for the children in Spain. They are so excited, as are the adults too. The colourful floats parade down the street with the people in them throwing sweeties into the crowd. Graham and I managed to catch loads of packets, which we thought we would take to give to the children in Morocco. Wonderful excitement and the next day children with new bicycles, new scooters and new prams were delighting the passers-by on the streets showing off their new toys.

While there I caught Gastro-enteritis and had to visit the hospital. I was so dehydrated that carrying on didn't come into the equation and we stayed a week there until I felt better. I had lots of medication and some wonderful treatment, as indeed I have always had in Spain, and so we continued our journey towards Algeciras, stopping at the lovely white towns of Jerez and Los Arcos de la Frontera on the way down. This area is known for its Pueblos Blancos as they are called (the White Villages of Andalucía).

We stopped for the night at the Lidl car park, which seems to have become an Aire for people heading to Morocco. Obviously they tolerate it, as most people spend money there buying things to take with them to Morocco, like pork products etc and alcohol.

MOROCCO

Next day we crossed the Strait of Gibraltar and landed in Ceuta, a Spanish enclave. This was our second time going into Morocco, so we were not quite so shell-shocked as the first time with everyone clamouring to help with the paperwork. In fact it was over in no time and we scuttled on into Morocco, bypassing Tetouan and into the country.

The first time we had visited a few of the towns but never made it further south than Marrakech, which we loved. This time we decided we wanted to cross the Atlas to the desert.

First stop was Chefchaouen, the Blue Town as it is commonly known. We stayed high above the main road in the campsite, which a lot of overlanders use. Very nice it was, with lovely views. Lots of 'wacky backy' smells going on there! Chefchaouen was accessible by steps leading down from the campsite. The town has a lovely feel to it, with a square in the old part surrounded by cafes and restaurants and the Kasbah nearby, which we visited. A really lovely town. And is it blue? Quite extraordinary and very very lovely. Well worth a visit.

From there we made our way to Fez. We had been to the Medina before and thought we might visit the city itself. However, on meeting a couple of Aussies in the campsite they managed to persuade us that we should not miss Meknes, so we almost went back on ourselves to go there. The campsite in Meknes is now closed and we found ourselves driving even further north again to Moulay Idriss, a lovely little intimate campsite run by a couple of very friendly men.

Next day we were able to visit Meknes, one of the Royal towns. It was a bleak day and cold. We sat with some mint tea in the square reminiscent of the square in Marrakech, although smaller and not so famous of course. We visited a fine museum off the square, very interesting with some beautiful Islamic architecture, and then wandered up to the Royal Palace but unfortunately didn't actually get there, as it was a long way and we didn't have the time before our bus was due to depart and it was getting dark to boot. Meknes is full of walls, a real walled city but I think we prefer the countryside. Sometimes it's just a bit too much hassle in the city.

The next day we continued our way south driving on roads marked with snow lines, but thankfully we didn't come across any. By then we could see the high Atlas Mountains and they were beautiful - a shark's mouth showing across the sky.

Our campsite for the night was a place north of the town of Middelt with a lovely restaurant with Wifi that we could use in our camper van. Wonderful! Graham enjoyed his first Moroccan tagine of the trip and I had a lovely soup.

The next day dawned cold and very very windy, so windy in fact that no one was moving anywhere except for a couple of Italians who left early and hopefully managed to cross over to the south before the wind really got up. All we could do was sit in our van and wait for the wind to die down. We had been told there was now snow on the route that we had come on but that there was still none further south, so with that in mind we decided to go on the following day.

And an awesome journey it turned out to be. We crossed the mountains at the lowest point. Having said that, we were already up at some 2000 metres. It was cold and bleak at first but the snowy north-facing mountains were protecting the ones to the south and soon we came to the beautiful and awe inspiring Ziz Gorge, where it was warm and with each turn of the corner another wonderful view. High above were huge bare cliffs overlooking the gorge, it was quite extraordinary.

Stopping for lunch of course brings its problems. While sitting eating our sandwich a face appeared at the window staring at us. Quite disconcerting while eating, so we put the blind down, only to be presented with the same face at another window. This went on until all windows were covered, which really was not what we wanted in this wonderful gorge. So having made up a roll with meat for the Peeping Tom and some money for him, we accepted his offer of a grass camel (purely for the Xmas tree you understand)! As we were leaving we couldn't help but notice the French motorhome 200 metres away with another face peering in at their window. I guess they work in pairs and compare their wares at the end of each day. Oh well, it is Morocco after all!

The scenery then began to change, with palm trees suddenly appearing and this lovely greenery was in stark contrast to the dusty, yellow ochre, aridness of the desert. I loved it! Miles and miles of it to follow, leading us on to our camping spot for the night.

This was the wonderful oasis campsite at Source Blue, our favourite of the trip as we were to discover. Driving up the dusty road to it we wondered if there really was a campsite there. But then, as we drove down the uneven ground, there was what you imagine in your dreams as a desert oasis. A brilliant stream of the most beautiful cobalt blue, palm trees and rough sandy ground, the perfect place to stay. Oh, not forgetting the vendors hoping to cash in on the next person to stop. And cash in they did.

There we met an Irish couple, well he was from Kilmarnock about 12 miles from my home town in Scotland but having lived in Ireland a long time we can call him honorary Irish. They would wander over to the shops of an evening, taking with them clothes and wine (shh, did I say that?) With his partner they became the firm favourite of the local shop keepers to such an extent that when Graham and I returned for a couple of nights a few days later, they asked us "where were the Irish"?

We stayed there a few nights, just vegging out and cleaning up a bit. But it was so lovely and relaxed and the weather so perfect that we didn't want to leave. This was January and quite exquisite. One day we went to the local village to shop, but decided to turn down the offer of chicken when it was lifted by hand from a pail where the rest of the animal was lying. No, we decided, another evening eating vegetarian would do us no harm!

We had Australia Day there with our Aussie Flag flying but unfortunately no one to share it with this year. I remember a certain Margaret Williamson helping us celebrate last year in our Greek campsite. However this Aussie day was definitely warmer. Burns Day passed yet again with no haggis! Morocco was clean out of it!

When we finally dragged ourselves away from this lovely campsite, it was to drive down into the desert, where we reached Merzouga and the Erg Chebbi, the big sand dunes that lie next to the campsite.

And it was so exciting! We booked a 4x4 trip into the desert, where we went fossicking. There are lots of minerals to be seen and the guide took us to see an old mine no longer in use. It is extremely scratchy bare country, bleak in parts. I managed to find a stone showing a leaf marking embedded within it. Afterwards we drove over some sand dunes, which was good fun. This was quite close to the Algerian border. After the 4x4 we were met at a prearranged site by a Berber holding two camels, which were to take us to the Berber encampment for a stay overnight.

Getting up on the camel is quite a feat, as you think you are falling off frontwards when it rises on its hind legs. Then you think you are falling off backwards when it lifts its front legs. But I was holding on for dear life to Jimmy Hendrix, the camel. Graham's camel was called Zadane (don't know what his football skills were like)! We walked for a good 40 minutes through the dunes in the late afternoon, quite magical, but sore, as there is no stirrup and so the feet just hang. Both camels behaved themselves I must say and we had the desert to ourselves.

Once we got to the Berber camp we had some hot sweet tea and walked up the dunes to watch the sun go down. By this time we could see a caravan of camels in the distance moving towards our camp. This was a tour from Marrakech and they were to be sharing our camp that night. Aussies, Brits and Americans, they were a nice bunch of young people.

We had a shared meal and then some Moroccan music provided by the camel drivers and some dancing beside the fire. By this time I was in agony, I think more from scrambling up the dunes than being on the camel. I could hardly lift my leg, so we retreated to our much blanketed bed in the tent with some pain killers for me and had a good night's sleep, leaving the youngsters to their 'wacky backy!'

We were wakened about 5.30am while it was still very dark and scrambled back onto our two camels. We were to go in front and wait later for the others, something Jimmy Hendrix was not happy about. Obviously he had a girlfriend in the caravan and so for the whole journey until the others came he gave vent to his feelings. At first I was quite scared but relaxed a bit when our driver kept telling him to shut up.

But the most beautiful part was (in between the groans of Jimmy) the sheer silence of the dunes and the shadows dancing in the moonlight. It was something I will never forget. When we had climbed to the highest dune we waited for the others to catch up and once Jimmy had his lady love in his sights he started to calm down and not another word was heard from him.

We got back for breakfast and then Graham and I took off back north again. We had decided to turn westwards and visit the Dades and Todres Gorges and so we parked for the night in a beautiful campsite. It was there we heard of the demise of Graham's mother, which came as a great shock to Graham having just spoken to her a few days before.

Of course after the initial shock and a few drinks to rally round, we had to think of what to do as we were so far away in the middle of the country. First priority of course was to find somewhere to phone Graham's sister and so we motored on to Ouarzazate looking for an internet cafe or a phone. Unfortunately their phones had broken down, however we were able to Skype .

Graham spoke with his sister and it was decided for us to continue down the Draa Gorge, as our insurance was going to run out and Graham wouldn't have been able to get back to Morocco without a renewal and I would be there with the motorhome uninsured. We decided the best thing would be to travel up to Ceuta again when we reached the coast before taking the ferry back to Algeciras, with the intention for me to go to our flat in Mallorca, while Graham could fly to London.

And so we continued on to Agdz. The journey between Ouarzazate and Agdz is astounding, especially near Agdz. The rocky magnificent backdrop of mountains and the great valley below before coming into Agdz are wonderful. And then back into the palmeria along the river again. This is date country and good they are too. You can see them hanging in the trees, hoards of them and of course lots of people trying to flog them. In the end I started holding up the box of dates we had bought to show everyone that we really had some and didn't require any more.

The campsite in Agdz was good. It is owned by a Moroccan and his French wife and there is a Medina on the campsite, in fact two, both still in the family. We got the guided tour of the owner's Medina, which is where he and his wife and children actually live. This is a work in progress, the funds from the campsite helping to bring it back to its former glory. The other belongs to his uncle and looked in a better state of repair. In the campsite, who did we come across but the Irish couple again. It was so nice to see them and they didn't know of course about our fast tracking, so we left them there while we did a quick trip to Zagaro staying the night there in a lovely little campsite in the town. It had its own garden and little shacks to stay overnight, meals on site, wifi; its only downside was that it was small, but with the usual friendliness.

The next day we decided to drive to the end of the road. We soon came to a one-way asphalt track, pot-holed in lots of places. This was a slow journey as we kept having to leave the road to let oncoming traffic past. They of course showed no fear and carried on regardless, so basically we were the ones who continually had to keep stopping. The road continues like this for a good 70 or 80 kilometres, scraggy country but still very awe inspiring, with huge empty spaces. It finally reaches an end in a place called M'Hamid. We stopped and got out after turning the car back toward where we came from, as there was no going on. This was it. It's sand the rest of the way. But it felt good to have got there and I wanted a quick walk through the town before getting back into the motorhome.

One wonders how people live here – sure, in January it was really lovely, warm but not too hot. God knows what it's like in Summer, it must be horrendous. There has been no rain to speak of for over 6 years, I don't think I can imagine what that must be like, waking every day to the sameness of it all, give or take the odd sandstorm that might come along.

After that it was back to Zagora where we were delighted to come across our Irish friends again. This was definitely the last time we were going to see them as we were turning north with a vengeance. So we said our goodbyes the next day over tea and began our northward journey past Ouarzazate and up to Ait-Benhaddou, which is on the road to Marrakech.

Ait-Benhaddou is a Unesco World Heritage site. It is a former fortified town built with mud bricks on the old route from Marrakech to the Sahara. The new village is on the other side of the river. Apart from the history of the place, it has also been the site for many films, among them, 'Gladiator', 'Jewel of the Nile' and 'The Man who would be King'. It is an interesting place to visit and should not be missed.

From there we turned a most definite westward, knowing that this basically was the end of our trip, although we had a long way to go.

Driving west the countryside is forbidding with no trees for miles and miles, wide open spaces with black rock. Eventually we came to a town called Tazentakht, famous apparently for its carpets. And so we decided to buy one. This is after saying no to all the vendors we have had groveling round us everywhere we have been. Anyway, suffice to say we decided on one and continued on our way to Taroudant, which is the saffron capital of Morocco, not that we had time to look. There is a good campsite there and so we stayed the night.

Driving on the next day we finally reached the coast at Agadir. This city is a surprise, very elegant with long boulevards and very modern shops. The beaches look fantastic and we tried to get ourselves an overnight stop in one of the main campsites in the city. Well, forget that, not only was it completely overcrowded with motorhomes but the staff didn't appear to be all that friendly. I asked for a night's stay and it was difficult to actually get an answer, the man behind the counter seeming much more interested in a heated conversation that was going on behind me. Without exaggerating I waved my hand in front of him saying "Hello" and then started to jump up and down, my eyes about 6 inches from his face, but no, he continually ignored me. I decided that really I didn't want to stay anyway with such impoliteness to a customer and once I'd explained this to Graham there was no going back and we pressed on ahead to the next nearest place.

The views of the sea were absolutely beautiful and I now know what brings all these French people (about 90% of them are from France) here to escape the horrible cold of northern parts in Winter.

We stopped for the night at a gem of a place called Imsouame, a lovely, small, intimate campsite overlooking the sea. I could have stayed a week. Everybody else was doing just that it seemed. However we had to go and next day we drove further north stopping in Essaouira for a couple of hours. This place looked lovely too but all we did was check our emails in a beautiful hotel where we ordered coffee. Then it was off northwards again, bypassing Safi and arriving at night in El-Jadida. A bit of a scruffy campsite, but the town looked very interesting. However, we had to give it a miss and continue on our way, stopping at Moulay-Bousselham for the following evening. Another beautiful spot where we watched the sun setting in glorious colour. This town is a good place to stop either coming or going from Morocco, as it's not such a long way to Tangier or Ceuta now.

Next day on our way back to Ceuta we passed the new port of Tangier - not the town, where we've been before, but Port Tangier. It is massive and completely state of the art. Ceuta is not on the radar and everyone is intent on trying to sell tickets across the Strait from Port Tangier. However, we had return tickets from Ceuta and so we drove on through the most incredible scenery yet again with towering cliffs and green mountains surrounding us. The road is fantastic. Such amazing scenery and we could see Spain across the water.

Friendly seems to be the middle name of most Moroccans. Very affable, they are always ready with a smile. It seems to be a way of life here and apart from the endless hassle that you get trying to sell you something, it is indeed a non-threatening place. Morocco is a delight, so near to Europe, yet so far in culture, totally exotic and a great place to come to. I would come here again and again.

Finally we arrive in Ceuta and are just in time for the ferry to Algeciras, where we once again stop for the night at Lidl.

Next day saw us purchasing all our pork products again, doing our emails at McDonald's and back on the road up through Andalucía to get as far as we could as fast as we could toward Valencia. This we managed to do in 2 days, arriving in a campsite not far from the port, where we parked Bruce after spending the night there.

Next day we were taken by taxi to the docks where we overnighted on the ferry, arriving in Palma, Mallorca, in the dark to be met by a friend of ours and driven to our apartment.

(to be continued)