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1999 March (Spain, Morocco) PDF Printable Version E-mail

 

MOTORHOME TRAVELLERS' DIARY FOR MARCH 1999

SPAIN AND MOROCCO

Barry and Margaret Williamson

What follows are extracts from a diary we kept during our travels in mainland Europe by motorhome, bicycle and sometimes motorbike in the years since we early-retired in 1995

01 MARCH 1999 E CAMPING PALOMA, TARIFA

In which we cycle and walk 15 miles to Baelo Claudia

We talked to Valerie and Peter, our neighbours in an old home-converted Daf van. Val had recently retired (Registrar of an agricultural college at Winchester) and they were on a 6-month tour to sample full-timing before deciding on a bigger motorhome. Peter (a larger version of Sean Connery) had been an aeoronautical engineer, gamekeeper and antique dealer, amongst other things!

As we prepared to cycle back to the Roman site at Bolonia and find a route home along the shore, they chose to come with us (silly people!) A short distance along the main road, then a 5 mile climb round the shoulder of the hills, where we waited for them to walk up, poor Val suffering badly from breathlessness. But she enjoyed the freewheel down to the ancient site on the bay, which turned out to be closed Mondays (despite today being a public holiday for the region of Andalucia - inflexible bureaucracy!) Pleased we'd visited it yesterday, we looked through the railings and bought coffee before a picnic lunch on the beach.

There was a track back through the wooded sand dunes (just), walking for 3 miles pushing our bicycles in the warm sun, skirting a military zone, till we reached the lighthouse at Punta Paloma, from where a private military road ran back to join the main road just past our campsite. Pots of tea and hot showers were welcome all round. Then there was time for baking, writing the diary, and finding the organiser had lost all its data again. We gave up and returned to pen and paper for recording expenses. Perhaps there'll be a Dixons in Gibraltar to save posting the thing back?

Later Val and Peter joined us for drinks, hot mince pies and travellers' tales.

02 MARCH 1999 E CAMPING PALOMA, TARIFA

In which we cycle 20 miles into Tarifa for the post

Val's 61st birthday, and they drove to Tarifa for a celebration lunch. We cycled in, collected our post, had coffee, shopped for food and looked round the old town. This entrance to the Mediterranean has been a port since pre-Roman times and the Punta Tarifa is the most southerly point of mainland Europe. We went to the windy isthmus leading out to the point, though the naval base at the end was out of bounds. The wind blows constantly through the Estrecho de Gibraltar resulting in hundreds of modern windmills above the town and dozens of windsurfers on its beaches. Enquiring at the port and the Tourist Office, we were told variously that the ferry to Tangier was (a) undergoing repairs for a few days; (b) unsuitable for large vehicles; or (c) the ramp was out of action for a few weeks! Whatever, it was clear that it isn't sailing right now and we have to go to Algeciras.

We cycled back to the campsite, glad of the wind behind us this time, for a late lunch, then opened our mail. Mum's package had a nice long letter and 4 videos (2 Inspector Morse, 2 films - 'Mrs Brown' and 'Indiana Jones'). 2 heavy packets from Alan had MMM for Jan and Feb, with our A-Z very well displayed, along with 'Which Motorcaravan' mags, some junk for the bin (Travelbag, book club, invites to join the RSPB, etc), the usual pile of statements from the bank, Vodafone and Turners, and, more welcome, the rest of our Christmas mail with cards and letters.

In the evening Val and Peter came round again, as we all leave tomorrow in opposite directions. They had information on camping and other sites in Spain and we advised on Portugal, a good exchange.

03 MARCH 1999 E CAMPING LA CASITA, SAN ROQUE

In which we drive via Algeciras to San Roque

Past Tarifa, the main road climbed for 5 miles to over 1000 ft (340 m) at the Mirador del Estrecho, a viewpoint and cafe overlooking the Strait of Gibraltar, with the Atlantic, Mediterranean and both continents in view. Outside in fierce wind the sound from the huge wind-farm above was powerful and eery. Algeciras is a large, sprawling, industrial port, which claimed 2 campsites in our 1998 Spanish guidebook - both had closed! So we continued 15 miles to San Roque, 10 miles north of Gibraltar, pausing en route at a shopping complex with Lidl, Dia and Continente superstore to choose from and a McDonalds for lunch.

Just past San Roque, one of their 2 campsites had also closed but we squeezed onto La Calista (mainly Spanish statics, scruffy and overpriced, but the nearest to Algeciras, or Gibraltar). We settled in and finished reading our mail - 2 notes from Mick & Flo who are leaving Aginara in mid-March, a postcard from long-lost Keith Durham in Peru, letters from Martin, Ken Norris, Janet Hutchinson, Dennis & Julia, Brian Underwood, Richard & Jean Carter, Ian Inglis, Sue Perry, the Swatmans, Sally Rigall, Barry's cousin Malcolm, Mike Guggenheim (with completed questionnaire and scheme documents), Barry Crawshaw and Tricia Milton at MMM (Tricia hoping to meet us in Morocco!), the Walsh family in Australia, Lois & Ron in Canada, Tor & Wallie and Sally in USA, and Dick & Audrey written from Barcelona. Also Mike Jago had returned the photos from the A-Z Part One and offered complimentary tickets for the shows at Peterborough (April) and York (September). We have some writing to do, but began by phoning mum to thank her for her package. We'll appreciate the videos, having seen a little Moroccan TV (2 black & white channels featuring government speeches in Arabic and adverts for luxuries like VQR cheese in French).

40 miles. £9.06 inc elec.

04 MARCH 1999 E CAMPING LA CASITA, SAN ROQUE

In which we write letters and prepare for Morocco

Barry prepared Rosie by checking tyre pressures; tread; wheelnuts; transmission, brake and power-steering fluids; oil and water levels. All OK. Margaret checked and filed the various bank statements and correspondence. The only bad news was that incoming calls on the mobile are costing us £0.82 per minute, which is slightly more than outgoing calls! We'd got 2 quotations for buildings insurance, from CGU (through Abbey National) and Letsure (through Turners). We wrote to accept CGU's proposal, with copies to Abbey National and Turners. We also wrote a note to Alan (with postal cheque), a card to Mick & Flo and a letter to mum. We finished the February diary and made mum a copy for her packet, along with letters for posting to the Pensions Agency and CGU, and a brochure on Fatima for Isabelle. Margaret entered the competitions in March's Which Motorcaravan mag (too late for any others). We also made 3 pints of lemon squash and a dozen choc-cornflake buns for the road and began reading and planning the start of our Moroccan tour.

05 MARCH 1999 E CAMPING LA CASITA, SAN ROQUE

In which we cycle 12 miles into San Roque

Over breakfast we heard the final episode of 'Captain Corelli's Mandolin' by Louis de Bernier (spelling?), which has been the beautifully written, well read, totally unlikely morning story for the past 3 weeks. A recent best-seller, set on Kefalonia over WWII, we presume the author is Italian like the hero.

We rode into the pretty hillside town of San Roque to post our mail, find a bank, have coffee with a view across the Bay of Algeciras to the Rock of Gibraltar, and search in vain for a map of Morocco. Back at the campsite after lunch we used the washing machine, the dhobi drying very quickly in the wind (which we wish would drop for our ferry crossing). Switching the mobile phone on in the evening, we found a message from Stan and Celia, who will be camping at Marbella in a week's time. We wrote them a card, saying we might catch them after Morocco?

06 MARCH 1999 E CASA BERNARDO CAR PARK, ALGECIRAS

In which we buy a ferry ticket for Ceuta and meet a German convoy

We drove back to Algeciras, stopping at the shopping complex to stock up with the usual essentials (cheese, ham, bacon, yogs, brown bread and choc truffles from Lidl, digestives from Dia, sausages from Continente), and found a Michelin map of Morocco at a garage. We had a useful talk with a seedy 'rep' selling ferry tickets for the hi-speed catamaran (30 min crossing), who insisted that we did not exceed the height limit, and also with the occupants of a German motorhome going to Morocco on their 4th visit, who gave dire warnings about the catamaran and insisted we should take the 'ferry normal' (2 hr crossing) to avoid damage to our roof in a rough sea! Confused, we consoled ourselves with a McDonalds lunch.

We then drove to the port to ask at the ferry ticket agencies. The hi-speed catamaran (£130 return to Ceuta) was slightly cheaper than the normal ferry (£145) but, unhappy about the headroom, we booked on the normal boat, Transmediterranea line's Ciudad de Algeciras sailing at 8 am tomorrow. The port itself looked half-way to Africa, with some strange characters dossing about and nowhere safe to park for the night, so we returned to the McDonalds complex and talked to another German motorhome, busy buying in beer and sausage, labelled Paynes Reisen - Marokko. Jutta Payne from Hamburg (once married to an American) now has a business leading motorhome tours of Turkey or Morocco. She is on her way to Ceuta with a young Moroccan guide and a dog (both of whom she'd picked up there) taking 9 Dutch and German outfits with her, booked on the same ferry as us.

She told us they were all gathered for the night on the car park of a nearby restaurant, next to a caravan dealer's along the highway back towards San Roque, though that's about all she would divulge! (Her experience cost money and we were welcome to join her convoy at a reduced price!) We preferred Casa Bernardo's car park to manoeuvring back onto the campsite for one short night and got the manager's permission to stay without any obligation to eat there. As we settled down for the evening, the hi-speed ferry rep reappeared at our window - are we being followed?! The conversation always goes: What's the height limit? - How high are you? - 3.3 metres. - No problem, it's 3.4! We're not convinced!

30 miles. Free parking.

07 MARCH 1999 MA CAMPING ECHRIGUA, ASILAH

In which we cross to Morocco and drive via Tangier to Asilah

Up before dawn for coffee and croissants before driving to the port for 7.30 am. We eventually boarded without difficulty (Barry expert at reversing on after Greek ferries) and stood on deck watching the German convoy arrive at the last minute to delay our departure. The wind had dropped, as forecast, and we had a calm crossing, setting sail as the sun rose behind Gibraltar, watching Europe recede and Africa grow nearer. Apart from a few lorries and Jutta's group, there was only a slightly converted ex-Wehrmacht Unimog from Berlin, painted pink (the Pink Panzer!), whose occupants were even more taciturn! Foot passengers mainly take the catamaran, which passed us rapidly in both directions.

Disembarking at Ceuta, in the Spanish enclave, there were no formalities until we reached the Moroccan border 2 or 3 miles away. First we bought 120 litres of diesel (at an incredible 20p per litre in this tax-free zone) to give us a full 200 litre tank and a range of 700 miles. We also filled up with water (150 litres) while a beggar woman with a baby hung about, asking for Agua in her small plastic bottle. As Barry filled it for her, the garage owner came out angrily to chase her off - callousness we hope we never get used to. At the border we waited with the Pink Panzer and the convoy, filled in our yellow forms (passport control) and green forms (vehicle control), got a brief inspection, declared we had no weapons or CB radio, and were through in about an hour complete with an Immatriculation (Temporary Vehicle Importation) disc in Arabic firmly glued to the inside of the windscreen.

We changed some Spanish pesetas into about 1,700 dirham (at about 15 = £1), astonished that both the exchange rate and the coins were unchanged since our brief cycling visit at Christmas 1990-91. Then we put our clocks back an hour (Morocco is on GMT, like Portugal) and entered Africa, truly a different continent - Africa, semper aliquid novi (Pliny the Elder in 'Natural History'). Spurning the main road to Tetouan, we took an unsignposted right into what looked like a souq, solid with people and stalls. Winding our way through the crowd, donkeys, bikes, carts and trucks, rapidly adjusting to the Arabic version of the Highway Code, we emerged climbing high above Ceuta on the road to Tangier, a route we had cycled in the opposite direction on our visit from Spain 8 years ago. The road, narrow, rutted, rough, occasionally losing its top entirely, had a ragged edge dropping onto a stoney shoulder, a haven in the face of oncoming lorries. The road climbed and fell steeply along the edge of cliffs overlooking the Strait of Gibraltar, with views of Europe to the North, the Tarifa wind-farm clearly visible.

Some way along this road, the tail pipe of the exhaust, sorely tried in Portugal, finally came loose and was tied back on with copper wire, only to detach itself completely after a few more miles. Wrapping the end gently in an old sheet, it was laid to rest in a side locker and we continued without it, only slowly realising that it wasn't essential. Somewhere down the long road to come would be a welder or a make-do-and-mender.

We reached Tangier in about 60 miles, ready for a much-delayed lunch, but the intensity of the experience was such that we couldn't stop or even find a place in which to turn off (in any sense). We skirted the southern edge of Tangier, stimulating a few memories of the earlier visit (Hotel Sheherazade, camel rides on the long beach, wheeling our bicycles round the souq) and headed out in the direction of Rabat, turning off right yet again, after a few miles, towards the Grottes d'Hercule caverns (not visited) and Cap Spartel, the north-west corner of Africa (visited). On the way we found a quiet place on a deserted beach to stop, eat, take stock and relax without hustle or hassle.

Cape Spartel gave us a walk and a view (the lighthouse is closed to visitors) and our first opportunity to negotiate with a parking attendant. Unlike the 'Oto-Looks' of Turkey, this young man had a badge and an ability to disappear with the change (we agreed 5 Drs - 33p, gave him 10, waited and waited and gave up). Lesson 1!

Back on the main road south, we had an uneventful and fairly smooth drive to Asilah where we settled on the first of 2 campsites on the northern edge of this coastal town. Thus began a pattern of many quiet nights to come on fairly empty campsites, among a handful of French (mostly) and German vans. All the sites were to have completely unusable and disgusting toilets/cold showers, dodgy water, rotting posts barely supporting nests of wires among which might be a discoloured 2-pin socket, numerous friendly Moroccans who seemed to have some loose association with the site (we couldn't say they worked there) and general scenes of poverty, decrepitude and undercapitalised and failed attempts at improvements. Sad, resigned, approachable, human, real. 'Own san essential' as the Caravan Club say: this is the only possible way to travel here.

Cooking supper in the microwave, the shepherd's pie was fine but the rice pud, made as darkness fell, refused to become more than luke-warm. Testing the voltage, it had dropped from 220 to 190 as the town put its lights on! Relieved the problem wasn't only ours, we used the gas.

101 miles. £3.50 inc elec (some of the time!)

08 MARCH 1999 MA CAMPING ECHRIGUA, ASILAH

In which we cycle into Asilah and meet the Bungee Jumpers from Cyprus

Donning trousers, despite the sunshine, since Allah is apparently offended by the sight of bare legs, we rode a mile into Asilah, a port since Carthaginian and Roman times. The 15thC ramparts, built by the Portuguese, still contain the medina (old town), with look-out towers and rusty cannons pointing to sea. We wandered round the warren of alleys, some gentrified with white-washed houses and craft shops, most not. At the souq we got a bunch of bananas (tiny locally-grown ones, nice and sweet).

In the new town we bought postcards and found the post-office, freshly painted in red, green and white. Like the town, it's decked with Moroccan flags (red with a large green 5-pointed star) celebrating the recent 38th anniversary of King Hassan II's accession. His portrait hangs in every building, even the campsite reception hut! While M was buying stamps, Barry was being chatted up by a young man with excellent English (in addition to French, spoken by all those with any education). Invited to a drink at his family's restaurant on the sea-front, we had an interesting insight into Moroccan business life over glasses of sweet mint tea, very refreshing. Food was only served in the evening, so there was no pressure to buy a meal and he soon accepted that we didn't want to visit his brother's carpet and handicraft emporium!

Back to the campsite for lunch, to update the diary and write cards to mum (Mother's Day on 14th) and to Peter for his birthday. Later we talked to our latest neighbours, Lissa and Will, a young British couple travelling in an ancient Renault van. Despite appearances (nose- and ear-rings, tattoos, dog named Spike acquired in Turkey), they were good company and came in for coffee and biscuits bearing a bottle of local wine and a pile of useful information, as they were returning to Spain after a 3-week tour to the edges of the desert and into the mountains. With seasonal work in Cyprus organising bungee jumping, they travel for the other half of the year, telling stories of Saudi, the Lebanon, Thailand, Australia, buying a motorbike in India ... Of more immediate use were their advice, recommendations and warnings on their route through Morocco.

09 MARCH 1999 MA CAMPING MOULAY BOUSSELHAM

In which we visit Roman Lixus on the way to Moulay Bousselham

We gave Lissa and Will some books and a tin of dog food (carried since Corsica for a deserving case) and they insisted on responding with a packet of joss-sticks and one of a pair of bowls they'd made from coconut shell halves, sanded and polished till they felt like ceramic. An unusual couple!

Then we drove south, stopping after 25 miles for the Roman site of Lixus, on a hill above the estuary of the Loukos just before the modern port of Larache. As at Baelo Claudia near Tarifa, there were fish processing tanks for making garum paste, visible from the main road, then a track leading up the hillside past the remains of a small amphitheatre and baths, complete with a mosaic floor with a much eroded head of Neptune at its centre. Higher still, overlooking the salt pans and the shore, was the acropolis with the foundations of temples, houses, more baths, military quarters and fortifications. From 42AD until the 5thC it had been an important outpost of the Roman empire, exporting olives, salt, garum and wild animals for the circuses. A very gentle French-speaking uniformed guardian showed us round, explaining that a Carthaginian citadel lay below the Roman level. A few workmen were clearing one area for the French and Spanish archaeologists who come in May. It had been very overgrown and neglected, followed by some crude rebuilding, but has now been recognised as an important site (2nd largest in Morocco after Volubilis, near Meknes). There was no entry fee so we tipped the guardian, made some coffee, and continued past Larache and onto the motorway. The only one in Morocco, it runs as far as Casablanca, with a small toll which keeps it empty!

Just before it we were waved down by 2 firemen (whose uniform we couldn't distinguish from police - we're new to this!) who explained that they would rescue us in case of accident on the autoroute! They clearly expected a reward for this useful service so we gave them a packet of cigs each as 'insurance'. The section of motorway from Larache to Rabat is brand new, with roomy service stations, and we stopped at the first one to make lunch before turning off to the coast at Moulay Bousselham, a small fishing village at the entrance of a large lagoon (Merja Zerga), famous for its flamingos and birdlife. The big quiet campsite was among trees on the edge of the lake and we parked at the waterside near a couple of French and Swiss motorhomes, sharing the splendid view across the calm water to the Atlantic waves beyond. Fishermen with small motor or rowing boats plied the lake, bringing in their nets, and some came ashore to invite us to buy fish or take a trip to see the flamingos but we were happy to read in the sunshine and make minestrone soup and garlic bread.

55 miles. £5.17 inc elec.

10 MARCH 1999 MA CAMPING MOULAY BOUSSELHAM

In which we walk into My Bousselham and meet Hassan Dalil, ornithologist supreme

'Trips in rowing boats to see the flamingos in the lagoon are easily arranged' says our Lonely Planet book. Very true, we'd had several offers before breakfast! We avoided commitment, wishing to see the boats first, but we did buy some fish, so fresh they were still moving! We chose 4 'sole' (they were flat and white, anyway), declining the eels, crabs and other unidentifiable creatures squirming at the bottom of the basket. Thankfully, they were promptly gutted and descaled, using our board and knife, at the door. No sooner had M washed and wrapped them (2 for the freezer, 2 for supper), than the vegetable vendor arrived. No need to go shopping here! We bought potatoes, broccoli and lettuce, declining radish, spinach and mushrooms.

The next offer came from a very likeable man of around 30 who offered to guide us to another nearby lake (in Rosie and on foot) and show us many species of wintering birds. He spoke with authority, in reasonable English, and turned out to be Hassan Dalil, as recommended by Lonely Planet: 'If you're keen to see rarer species contact Hassan - he's been guiding since childhood and speaks French, English, German and Spanish.' He dismissed the boat trips to the flamingos (they are all you'll see, if you're lucky), and in any case we've inspected them at close quarters in the Camargue, eastern Greece and Sardinia, so we arranged to meet Hassan tomorrow morning for a half-day visit to Merja (lake) Khaloufa.

Negotiating, talking and coffee drinking passed the morning very agreeably and after lunch we walked into Moulay Bousselham, a one-street fishing village with a couple of hotels and plenty of cafes. By the beach, near the mosque, was a little 2-room school and we saw the mixed infants inside staring at loopy Arabic on the blackboard and working on slates. (Schooling is free, but not compulsory, so many country children, especially girls, never go. We see the smallest kids in the fields, watching the sheep or turkeys, fetching water, gathering firewood, ensuring they stay in a trap of poverty and ignorance. At school they would learn to read and write and to speak French. At secondary school there is also a choice of English or Spanish.) We walked a stretch of the wide sandy beach with nothing but the Atlantic in view, returning through the village.

The campsite was then invaded by a convoy of 25 German Hymers and we had to defend our space and our precarious hook-up. Later they were ferried off to see the flamingos in a fleet of rowing boats and we were pleased to learn that the birds promptly withdrew to the furthest inaccessible end of the lagoon!

The pan-fried sole was very good, though why do fish need so many bones? We rounded off the evening with the first half of a video film, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sharon Stone in 'Total Recall', a strangely compelling load of sci-fi!

11 MARCH 1999 MA CAMPING LORAN, MOHAMMEDIA

In which we see 36 species of birds before driving past Rabat to Mohammedia

Hassan Dalil joined us at 8.30 and we drove to Merja Khaloufa (or Lake Hassania, as he called it!) about 15 miles north near Barga. The local roads were busy with sugar cane lorries, well overloaded and dropping cane in our path. Parking Rosie at the side of the sandy track we brewed up and got to know Hassan. He had a couple of English field guides (one on birds of Morocco, the other an excellent Collins, same series as our 'Birds of Britain & Europe' but including Asia and North Africa), both given to him by visiting ornithologists. He'd learnt all the English bird names from them, and written in the French and Arabic. His dream is to produce an Arabic translation and to interest young Moroccans in ecology and wildlife before it's too late (many species are threatened because of deforestation, agricultural chemicals, building, etc). The campsite and lagoon were once the best place in Morocco for African Marsh Owls but it's getting too busy for them and the rare Slender-billed Curlew was last seen there in March 1995.

We followed Hassan along the path to the lake, where we were astounded not just by his knowledge but by his keen eye, pointing out and identifying birds we hadn't even noticed, flicking the pages of his book excitedly to show us the entry when there was something unusual. The small lake was undisturbed by fishing or boats and the water, marshy shores and nearby woods were teeming with birdlife, many wintering or resting here before returning to Europe at the end of the month.

On the water were a lot of Coot, along with Moorhen, Great Crested Grebe, Mallard, Shelduck, Shoveller, Gadwall and a pair of rarer Ruddy Duck, the male identifiable by his blue bill. There were also plenty of gulls, sitting on the water and wheeling in the windy sky above - Great and Lesser Black-backed Gulls, Black-headed Gulls (white-heads now in winter), and a smaller group, about 10, of the much rarer Mediterranean species, Audouin's Gull, similar to a herring gull but identified by a stout red bill with a black band and yellow tip. (All this Hassan explained). On the far side of the lake a large flock of Spoonbill were gathered before flying into the trees, where black Cormorants also sat. Swallows darted constantly, skimming the water, feeding on insects. Round the edges we spotted White Wagtail, Grey Heron and a Little Egret perched on a branch. We were all excited by a pair of Black-winged Stilt (unknown in Britain) and a pair of Avocet, the RSPB symbol but rarely seen, all probing the mud with their fine long beaks, a handsome sight.

Walking on past a very humble hamlet we were amazed to see several pairs of Storks building their nests directly in the low trees and bushes, even one on a cactus hedge. (Only seen them on chimneys or lamp-posts high above in Europe.) Collared Doves cooed in a farmyard. There was more! In the sky above Hassan pointed out the rare Squacco Heron (small and brownish, more like a bittern), a Common Sandpiper, Snipe flying rapidly, a hovering Kestrel and 3 Marsh Harriers which were coming in low in search of coot eggs. As we walked back along the edge of the woods we saw Jackdaw, Starling, House Sparrow, Goldfinch, Chaffinch, and more unusually a pair of Hoopoe. A Skylark sang overhead, Cattle Egret were plentiful (smaller than Little Egret and with yellow bill rather than black), and we saw our only owl - a Barn Owl, sadly dead.

We met a group of women and girls returning from gathering firewood for baking bread. They were laden like donkeys, bent nearly double under the weight of the bundles tied on their backs and only too glad to sit and rest and talk to us through Hassan. They eat vegetables and grains they grow and go to the weekly souq in Larache to sell their produce and buy a little meat, sardines, oil, tea or sugar. They asked for clothing, a common request, and we think guiltily of our surplus clothes in attics (and in every western wardrobe) and wish we could wave a wand and transport them here. Most were barefoot, walking on muddy paths through prickly bushes. But they laughed and joked, one asking if we'd like the 5th child she was expecting and another saying she'd like to come back to England with us except she'd once seen on TV how cold it was there!

Back in Rosie, out of the wind which had been gathering strength all morning, we made more tea and talked. Hassan's views on Islam were interesting. He firmly believed in Allah ('He's not stupid, He sees all') and (according to Hassan) there were 3 important things to produce in life - children (preferably sons), a book, and money (some of which should be given to the poor). So far, he's gathered none of these, though he's worked in Germany, England and Spain until his work permits ran out. Such an intelligent and honest man, it was good to have a morning in his company. We drove him back to My Bousselham, paid and wished him well, and returned to the motorway to continue south.

Again the small toll kept most traffic away and we stopped at the first services to make lunch. Barry spotted a man trying to pinch the red bucket fastened on the back but he ran off when challenged, dropping the leather strap he'd cut through. (Said bucket is now locked in the roof box, though if they knew what it's used for they probably wouldn't want it!) The wind was whipping the distant dunes into a sandstorm and rain fell as we continued, coating Rosie in red dust. We bypassed Rabat, the capital city which looked horrendously busy and crowded, and were joined at our next pit-stop by 3 kids watching the sheep, made happy with sweets and a packet of biscuits. We turned off at Temara Plage, a few miles south of Rabat, where Lissa & Will's list named 2 campsites not in our guidebooks. One was far too small for Rosie, the other closed, so we'll stick to our books in future!

We continued along the coast road, parallel with the motorway, to Mohammedia, busy port and centre of Morocco's petrol industry, 20 miles north of Casablanca. Searching for the campsite there, we found a bridge had collapsed, closing our road, and darkness was falling, but you're never alone in a country like this. We soon had a local lad on board who would tell us the way to Camping Loran for a packet of cigarettes. (Once we'd arrived this had gone up to include 10 Dr since he was now a 'guide'!) He either had a long walk home, or he'd gained a free lift as well, but we had a safe place for the night, a very rough site to ourselves and a hook-up from the shaver socket in the disaster of a Gents WC! We slept well.

167 miles. £3.50 inc elec.

12 MARCH 1999 MA CAMPING INTERNATIONAL, EL-JADIDA

In which we drive to El-Jadida and visit its Medina with Portuguese Cistern

After a windy night the sandstorm and rain passed over and we spent an hour washing Rosie down. Barry also renewed the cold water filter, hoping to keep impurities at bay. Then we returned to the last leg of the motorway, bypassing Casablanca, which looked even more frantic than Rabat. We got through unscathed (the lads dropping oranges from an overhead bridge missed) and continued south, stopping in a layby for coffee. There was soon a knock on the door - a little girl who'd run across the fields, where we could see her mother at the well with a cow. We gave her a handful of sweets but again she asked for clothes.

We reached El-Jadida along a good road and found the campsite, very orderly and secure, walled in with a guard at the gate. Pleasant trees and lawns, it could have been Europe until you inspected the 'facilities' and the electrics! We settled in, talked to a French couple who'd seen us at Moulay Bousselham and had lunch.

Then we cycled a couple of miles into El-Jadida, its Portuguese ramparts enclosing the old town, like a scruffier version of Asilah. In the new town we found a bank with a cash machine and a post office to send our cards (not even a post box in Moulay Bousselham). We rambled in the lanes of the medina inside the walls of the Cité Portugaise and visited the famous cistern where the ticket seller was pleased to watch the bicycles (friendlier than Seville Cathedral!) A vast water collection and storage cistern, built in the 16thC when this was the main Portuguese trading base in Morocco, its architecture and engineering were impressive - 25 vaulted arches reflected in the water beneath, used as a location in Orson Welles' Othello.

We walked up onto the ramparts above the Porta de la Mer and cycled round part of them, with a good view of the port and beaches, shipyards, lighthouse and new town. The Portuguese had been forced to evacuate their fortress after a siege in 1769, blowing up the walls as they left.

The Moroccans then settled in a new town outside the ramparts which have been rebuilt since 1820. In the new town we were pleased to get 2 spare locker keys cut (total 10 Dr), bought eggs at the dairy (of which more tomorrow!), and bread and delicious cakes at a French-style pâtisserie. With an oil change for Rosie in mind, we located 2 possible garages on the coast road out before returning to the campsite for a veg curry and a peaceful evening with the rest of 'Total Recall'.

76 miles. £3.92 inc elec.

13 MARCH 1999 MA CAMPING INTERNATIONAL, EL-JADIDA

In which we have a working day off and meet 2 world-travellers from New Zealand

A day in the safe haven of the campsite, catching up on a few jobs. Margaret worked on the diary (how to record the intensity of daily life here?), the expenses, and the bird-watching log.

Barry fixed the cab radio speakers (bad contact to left hand side), sorted the SW radio frequencies which had disappeared (bad contact on memory), soldered the lead back onto the digital multimeter, and mended the broken shower screen fitting. (This wear and tear is mostly down to vibration from rough roads, in Portugal and here.) He also changed Rosie's air filter, checked that her oil plug was free and got the filter wrench and spanners ready for an oil change.

Making lunch in the midst of all this activity, M fried up the last of our Spanish bacon with some tomatoes, and reached for 2 of the eggs we got yesterday. Tap on side of pan, tap harder, what's the problem - they turned out to be hard-boiled! We'd bought 10 hard-boiled eggs, wrapped them up carefully inside some spare clothing and cycled gently back with them! Another lesson learnt - make no assumptions, and ask in future.

We spent the evening with neighbours Bob and Pat McNeil from Rotorua, NZ, world travellers by land and sea. Bob, retired bridge engineer/sheep farmer/diver/climber, has a house in NZ and another in Australia, rented out while he and Pat have lived on a 47-foot luxury yacht for the past 7 years! They've sailed all over the Pacific and Atlantic, to Europe, round the Med and even up French canals and rivers to Paris. Recently the Chardé was impounded by Spanish customs at Mallorca for 6 months, as they're only allowed to spend half a year in EU waters. Undaunted, they bought a small second-hand motorhome in Barcelona and have begun their land-yachting by crossing to Morocco. We exchanged books and stories and enjoyed their wine and their company.

14 MARCH 1999 MA CAMPING INTERNATIONAL, OUALIDIA

In which we get an oil change and drive to Oualidia

After breakfast M rang mum on Mother's Day and reported our position, impressed that the mobile is working well from here.

Finding our way through El-Jadida to the coast road south, using the lighthouse as a beacon, we stopped at the Shell garage near Wendy's Pâtisserie. They supplied and changed 10 litres of oil and changed the oil filter, supplied by us, with Barry down in the pit supervising, for 1000 Dr and a tip of a packet of cigs each. Meanwhile, Margaret disappeared into Wendy's, a rare find among the squalor of the stalls and booths, catering to the luxury market. A few prices: hard-boiled eggs were 1 Dr each, a bag of 5 large tomatoes cost 1.5 Dr, Wendy's cakes averaged 8 Dr apiece and fresh round loaves are 1.1 Dr (white) or 1.5 (brown).

The 50 mile drive along the coast was pleasant once we'd passed the Phosphate works and port at Jorf Lasfar. We managed a peaceful coffee stop despite the many waving children along the highway, passed fields of carrots, tomatoes under plastic and salt pan lagoons, and turned off into the fishing village of Oualidia. Settled on the campsite, tucked between the sand dunes and the sea, we had lunch and sheltered from a brief thunderstorm. Bob and Pat arrived soon after, bringing a long new electric cable they thought we'd left behind (which we hadn't - some poor French guy will now be stuck without one!)

We talked with Robert (78 year old Brit, retired Rolls Royce engineer) and his American wife, Barbara, who live in a Spanish village near Orjiva (south of Granada) and are spending their 7th winter motorhoming in Morocco with 2 noisy dogs. They added more pieces to our expanding jigsaw of where to stay and what to see and gave us a note of introduction to their friends Leo & Greta on the camping at Taghazoute. Showing them the January MMM article about that site and, of course, our A-Z, they recognised the Serra family from their visit to Morocco! When the rain stopped we walked up to the village and along the shore of the lagoon, though birdlife was limited to a few gulls and one duck flying south.

58 miles. £3.22 inc elec.

15 MARCH 1999 MA PORT CAR PARK, ESSAOUIRA

In which we drive to Essaouira and see our first working camels

A fine morning, we walked down to the beach and watched the tide rushing into the lagoon through a couple of rocky inlets, fishermen perched precariously on the cliffs above with rod and line. Farewells to Bob & Pat and Robert & Barbara, then back on the road for a long drive, following the coast round Cap Bedouza to Safi then inland on the better road P8 (still narrow and rough in parts) to Ounara and back to the sea at Essaouira. Beyond the Cap Bedouza lighthouse, the coast was lovely and we stopped above a beach for lunch, soon joined by a little girl, alone in the middle of nowhere (where do they come from?) She gave us seashells and a bunch of wildflowers and asked pathetically for clothes. We did give her a hardboiled egg, some bread and jam and sweets, all rapidly eaten. The poverty is far worse than in Turkey. The landscape now looks stonier, more barren, and a few camels are appearing as beasts of burden, though donkeys are the commonest transport, tied up outside the shops in each village, or wending their way home from market with a huge bale or a rider on their back. One even carried a lamb in each pannier!

Safi was marked by more chemical and phosphate works and an industrial harbour as well as one of the world's largest sardine fishing fleets, but we managed to bypass the centre and its potteries, pausing only for diesel at 30p/litre. After Ounara came pleasant woods and then the wide curve of Essaouira's bay and beach, known to surfers as 'Windy City Afrika'. The campsite had closed down 3 months ago but for 10 Dr we joined about 30 other motorhomes (French, German, Italian - no British) on a guarded car park right at the port by the entrance to the old town. Seagulls and camels strutted on the sands and we liked the relaxed atmosphere and broad promenade. We walked round the harbour before dark, a hive of activity with the fishing boats in, stalls selling the catch, gulls wheeling overhead, vendors balancing trays of buns on their head and hand-knitted hats and jumpers for sale in the square. Offshore lie a couple of small islands, famed breeding grounds for the rare Eleonora's Falcons which winter in Madagascar, but they won't arrive until next month. (Called the Purple Isles, as Romans made dye from the molluscs there.)

126 miles. £0.70 parking.

16 MARCH 1999 MA CLIFF TOP, Nr TAGHAZOUTE

In which we explore Essaouira Medina and drive to Taghazoute

A splendid 2 hours wandering inside the old town and onto its Portuguese ramparts, complete with sea view and canon collection, where the dramatic opening of Orson Welles' 'Othello' was filmed (must see!) The artisans' workshops were built into the walls below the rampart entrance and their carvings in rich dark fragrant thuya wood were on sale in the narrow lanes, everything from jewel boxes and inlaid tables to statues and masks. Lots of whitewashed houses with blue doors, cafes, every kind of shop selling curios, carpets, spices, herbs and cures, jewellery and art, very relaxed. The car park attendant wanted shoes and a jacket, but settled for an old jumper, cigs and biros for his 3 children, and we were on our way. The road ran inland, gradually climbing through small busy villages and crossing the odd river bed (now drying up).

We had a quiet lunch parked opposite a flock of sheep, goats and 4 camels watched over by a tall lean weathered man, who tired of chasing the largest camel and hobbled it by doubling and tying a front leg. It might have been kinder to tether it to a tree. The camels were eating the lower branches of the argane trees, the goats climbing skilfully into them. The olive-like argane nuts are crushed for cooking oil, and we'd passed through an area where roadside vendors held up bottles of oil and jars of honey. We did stop to buy but were quoted 200 Dr (£14) for a kilo of honey, which ended the conversation!

The road twisted, climbed and fell to reach the coast near Tamri with a splendid view of the cliffs, rocks and shore as a backdrop to a pot of tea. We continued to Taghazoute, about 12 miles before Agadir, but the camping recommended by Robert & Barbara as their long-stay favourite was very rough and unfriendly so we backtracked a couple of miles to a small gathering of motorhomes we'd noticed on the clifftops and joined them for a free night. Mainly respectable French camping-caristes with a couple of German surfers in an old van. We talked to a couple from Brittany on their 3rd visit, busy making orange and strawberry jam after a trip to the market, and watched the sun set.

98 miles. Free parking.

17 MARCH 1999 MA CAMPING INTERNATIONAL, AGADIR

In which we reach motorhome city, Agadir, and paddle in the African Atlantic

An ancient British van had arrived at our al fresco camp last night but the young couple were out with their surfboards before we'd had breakfast, and we were up early! A local entrepreneur on a bicycle came round selling groceries and asking for shoes, tapes, anything he could sell on his stall in the souq! We bought biscuits and gave him a video tape (we'll never be businesspersons!) Then a bus-load of Moroccan schoolchildren arrived for nature study round the rock pools, the boys unusually in shorts but the girls well covered. On the way to Agadir we paused at the 'banana village' of Tamrhakht, by the plantation and selling bunches of small sweet fruit at 10 Dr a kilo.

Then another 10 miles (and nearly 700 miles from Tangier), we finally reached Agadir and its famous overwintering campsite, whose name we'd heard from every traveller with an oasis scene on the side of their van! Expensive by Moroccan standards but right in the country's premier package resort and warmest beaches, it was still busy with French, German, Austrian and Italian motorhomes (even one Finn and one Swede but no British), though many are now heading home (with a 3-month visa limit, those who came in December are leaving). We got a good pitch near a tap (city water, at an extra 2 Dr a day on the tariff), with a live hook-up and our very own cat to feed.

Before lunch we walked into Agadir, found a bank with ATM and a Tourist Office with leaflets in assorted languages (no English), located the coin-op laundry at the Hotel Al Medina Palace, and arranged to hire a Fiat Uno for the weekend. There was plenty of choice: Hertz, Avis, Europcar and Budget all charged over £100 for 2 days, with the Moroccan companies much less: 'Tourist Cars' at 1000 Dr or Week-End Cars at 800 Dr (£52) all inclusive. We booked Week-End and hope it's a wise move! Returning along the beach we had a paddle in the Atlantic, warm enough for swimmers of all shapes, sizes and ages. After lunch Barry washed the sand and dust off Rosie while M wrote the diary and mobile-phoned Endsleigh Insurance to renew our annual health policy, pleased to find Morocco is included in Europe (they mustn't have seen it) and that the premium is the same as last year, despite the increase in tax. Also rang the British Embassy in Rabat for travel advice, which they were reluctant to give except to say there were no consular services in the provinces of the Western Sahara or south of Goulimime (where we intend going!)

14 miles. £5.10 inc elec (& water!)

18 MARCH 1999 MA CAMPING INTERNATIONAL, AGADIR

In which we meet Hassan Chakir, oasis painter

We cycled into Agadir, Morocco's only package tourist resort, completely rebuilt after an earthquake in 1960 which killed 15,000 people. The restaurants (even a Pizza Hut, and McDonalds under construction) and hotels resemble any cheap Mediterranean resort, certainly unlike the rest of Morocco, offering a sanitised version to Europeans who don't stray outside their zone. We left the dhobi at the launderette behind Hotel Al Medina Palace and went shopping. The large Uniprix store, busy with freshly-packaged white-skinned arrivals in search of souvenirs, sold all manner of junk along with forbidden foods like alcohol, tinned spam and sausage, and western luxuries like biscuits, crisps, chocolate and cornflakes at inflated prices. We didn't bother joining the long checkout queue. Behind it we found the Crown English Bookshop which stocked new and used books run by a studious young man, and bought a new VS Naipal and an old Tom Vernon. A small Moroccan supermarket had no goodies but no crowds, and we got milk though we passed on the meat. Lovely fresh bread (1.1 dr white, 1.5 dr brown - 7 or 8p) is always available at bakers and kiosks, but no sliced loaves anywhere. Back for the dhobi, a large machine load for 30 dr (just under £2), and home for lunch.

Hanging out the washing, to dry in no time, and talking to our Austrian neighbours, we learnt more about the routes south and east. A retired long-distance lorry driver and his wife on their 3rd visit, they lent us an excellent German guidebook with good descriptions of the roads and pistes and gave us 4 black camel stickers he had made. Her mother had flown out from Vienna to Agadir for a fortnight to join them briefly. Hassan Chakir, the oasis scene painter we wanted to meet, arrived on the scene and proudly showed us his work on many of the motorhomes, caravans and satellite dishes round the site! 'When could you do us one? - Right now, finished in 2 hours, what do you want?' He set to with his pots of acrylic paint in white, green, blue, sand, brown and black, with great confidence and some artistic skill.

Supplied with coffee and cigarettes, discouraged from having a camel drinking at the oasis (his resembled giraffes), we soon had a splendid scene on Rosie's side, to the left of the door, with 3 'blue men' riding their camels away - one for Barry, one for Margaret and one for England he said! He spoke a capuccino of languages and shows his work all over Europe! We were well pleased with the result, and he completed Rosie's Moroccan décor by painting a black camel and palm tree silhouette on the front top (to join the bull, cock, elks and dog), so Barry stuck the 4 fablon camels on the back. The evening was spent studying the German guidebook, much more thorough than Lonely Planet. The weather is now consistently hot and dry, Agadir being on a sheltered bay warmed by the Gulf Stream, with daylight until gone 7 pm and darkness falling suddenly as we get further towards the Tropics.

19 MARCH 1999 MA CAMPING INTERNATIONAL, AGADIR

In which we locate a good dentist and garage and plan a weekend away

Our Austrian neighbours left and the site is gradually emptying. Margaret walked into Agadir to check out dentists, as she'd broken a corner of a back tooth on the morning we sailed for Morocco, and made an appointment with a young woman who had trained in Toulouse, recommended at the private clinic opposite on Avenue Hassan II. Further along on the edge of the industrial zone in search of a garage that might fix Rosie's exhaust pipe, M crossed the invisible line into the 'Moroccan Men Only' quarter, meeting more stares and comments than usual, but she did locate a good repair place with lorries, buses and a German motorhome inside and was assured they did welding. Back to base to read, plan a route for the Fiat Uno weekend and pack a few essentials.

20 MARCH 1999 MA HOTEL SALAM, GOULIMIME

In which we take the car to Tiznit, the coast at Sidi Ifni and Goulimime

We collected a blue Fiat Uno at 8.30 am from Week-End Cars, just outside on Boulevard Mohammed V, filled it with petrol and set off into the traffic. The car was reminiscent of Margaret's Metro, though it wasn't much like driving in Huddersfield. After Rosie it felt like skimming the road in a demented sardine-can-on-wheels. Getting used to novelties such as a gear lever and clutch, Barry negotiated Agadir's urban sprawl for 10 miles beyond the holiday zone, past its airport to the river crossing at Ait-Melloul. Then a pleasant, quiet, desert highway for 50 miles to Tiznit, a 19thC fortress town enclosed by 6 km of red mud walls. We checked the campsite, a small tidy municipal right by the walls to which we shall return, Inch Allah, then we bought a couple of cakes at the Pâtisserie and found a quiet place to park by the mosque while we drank our flask of coffee. Very dry and dusty, though windy - bearable while travelling with all the car windows open but stifling as soon as we stopped.

We turned west on a minor road for 50 miles through the hills to the coast, saw our first tortoise ambling across, and stopped at the former Spanish town of Sidi Ifni to eat our packed lunch and see the sights. This didn't take long as they were all closed - the old Spanish consulate and church round the former Plaza de España, renamed Place Hassan II, and a lighthouse - but just being there is miracle enough. The only road out of Ifni wound for 35 long miles through the hills to Goulimime (or Guelmim), single track with plenty of roadworks and the usual rough edges (not recommended for large motorhomes). A couple of miles before Goulimime we were stopped at our first police control check of the weekend (passports please), and soon after turned up a rough road for a few miles to Abainou, an oasis village with thermal spring baths and a campsite which had been recommended.

Deciding it might be worth a detour in Rosie, we continued to Goulimime, 'Gateway to the Sahara', busy with its weekly market. Amidst the dusty crimson-walled buildings a policeman struggling to direct traffic broke off to inspect our vehicle papers, got totally confused and gave up. We found our way out to the site of the famous camel market (but only saw sheep) and back again to the very best hotel in town, the one-star Salam. After 165 hot and dusty miles, we were pleased with a simple room at the back, the quietest place, brewed tea on our primus and read until dinner, specially cooked to order - we asked for chicken. We dined alone on plenty of tomato salad and bread, chicken and potatoes in a lemon and olive sauce, mineral water and fresh fruit, a filling meal. We ventured out to take a turn up and down the main street, seething with life, then slept well.

165 miles. £24.50 dinner, bed and breakfast for 2.

21 MARCH 1999 MA CAMPING INTERNATIONAL, AGADIR

In which we return to Agadir via Tiznit and Tafraoute in the Anti-Atlas Mts

After a French style breakfast of croissants, bread, butter, apricot jam and coffee, we took the main road directly back to Tiznit, this time over the Anti-Atlas mountains on an excellent 3,000 ft pass, through the arid stony semi-desert studded with clumps of cactus and prickly pear. No crops, just the odd herd of goats. In Tiznit we bought cakes and drank squash, before turning east into the Anti-Atlas whose silhouette was now filling the skyline. The hillsides were immediately greener, some terraced for cultivation (a little wheat and barley) and we climbed for 35 miles, fording the river at Assaka where the women had brought their dhobi, on foot and donkey, from the village. At the top of the pass, Col du Kerdous at 1100 m/3630 ft, we parked at the 4 hotel in a former Kasbah to buy coffee and gaze at the view, the road we'd just taken snaking away below into the distance. Another 30 miles, gradually losing height, through a wild landscape and an occasional Berber village of mud brick, to Tafraoute, nestling among smooth pink boulders rather like views of Petra. (We could have walked out to look at those painted blue by some Belgian artist(?), but preferred the natural colours.)

We put more petrol in the car (still not empty from its initial fill and doing better than 45 mpg!), bought bread and parked under a big shady argan tree opposite another police checkpoint for a picnic before looking round the town. There was a small campsite and a couple of hotels but it was mainly a working Berber village at the heart of the Anti-Atlas.

The road since the Kerdous Pass had been very narrow and as we left Tafroute, it continued out of the Ameln Valley, over the Tizi Mlil pass, before doubling back on itself north-west to Agadir. There were roadworks and a lengthy diversion into a gorge on the beautiful stretch through the hills to Ait-Baha, the almond trees were still in bloom, the sun beat down. Stopping for a drink of squash we were soon joined by a motorbike rider asking for water. You're never alone! At Ait Melloul we joined the main road for Agadir and 10 miles of chaotic traffic, a real contrast to most of our tour, with its coast, desert and mountains, but above all quiet. We were back soon after 6 pm, collected a take-away from the Pizza Hut and returned to find Rosie suffering from heat exhaustion with all her windows closed - it was over 100ºF inside! We'd all cooled down by about midnight.

240 miles.

22 MARCH 1999 MA CAMPING INTERNATIONAL, AGADIR

In which Margaret visits a dentist, Barry buys a Jellaba, strawberry jam is made

We returned the Fiat Uno to Week-End Cars at 8.30, then walked into Agadir. M had the broken tooth mended and refilled very quickly and efficiently, with some new natural coloured material, indistinguishable from the real thing, for 400 dr (about £26). We got fruit & veg at the market and gave the man in the Crown Bookshop a Jean-Paul Sartre for his shelves. Then M was tempted into a shop with lovely leather slippers for her birthday. The proprietor was a good salesman and proceeded to sell Barry a pair as well (yellow for men, red for women) along with a brown wool jellaba (the long flowing garment with a pointed hood that Berbers over a certain age wear) - a cosy dressing-gown/housecoat come winter.

After lunch Margaret made jam with the kilo of strawberries from the market while Barry made a more permanent job of fixing the cab radio, involving lengthy dismantling to get it out, rewiring all the speaker leads and, even harder, putting it all back in without disturbing something that might turn out to be quite important. Then we packed to move on tomorrow and watched 'The Quick and the Dead', a film in the Femmes Fatales series, a surprisingly good western with Sharon Stone and Gene Hackman.

23 MARCH 1999 MA CAMPING MUNICIPAL, TIZNIT

In which we get Rosie's exhaust welded, move to Tiznit and buy a washer!

After waiting for the welder to come and manoeuvring over the maintenance pit, Rosie was in the hands of the best garage in town, surrounded by large lorries and buses. After trying and failing with electric-arc welding, an oxy-acetylene set was brought out, goggles donned, Barry hovered in the pit like an expectant father, French dictionary to hand. But all was well, a proper job was done re-fixing and adding a supporting strut for the heavy tail pipe we lost between Ceuta and Tangier. It took 2 men a good hour, and all for under £10 including a generous tip! (What would Frenchie have charged?!) Delighted, we headed for Tiznit, the road and campsite familiar from Saturday's car drive.

Along the way we stopped for lunch and watched many sheep being taken home from market: singly led on a length of string, groups tied on donkey carts or flocks crammed into the back of small pick-ups. Next weekend is the festival of Eid Al-Adha (the Feast of the Sacrifice), marking the end of the Haj (season of pilgrimage to Mecca). It means 3 days of feasting with your family or, if you're a sheep, getting your throat slit. We settled on the Tiznit Municipal International campsite, the least expensive and best equipped yet, and walked into the town and round the souq inside the walls.

Tiznit is famous for jewellery, Islamic gold and Berber silver, but the jewellery souq didn't tempt us. We did buy a Boule Magique in an aladdin's cave of a hardware store - a hand-operated churn ideal for washing the dhobi or making butter (not at the same time). Bright blue, a rustic version of the type we'd once had from Brownhill's but at a quarter of the price.

59 miles. £2.74 inc elec for first 2 nights, £2.35 3rd night onwards.

24 MARCH 1999 MA CAMPING MUNICIPAL, TIZNIT

In which we use our new washer

Another wonderful drying day (humidity 45%, temperature 80+, light wind) and we washed 2 loads in the boule magique, glad to be self-sufficient again. We also walked to Tiznit market, with a wonderful array of fruit & veg and less appealing butcher's section, sheep and goat heads and feet piled on the counters, and bought sweets and cheap biscuits for hand-outs. Back at the site there was time for diary-writing, reading, baking and talking to some of the neighbours - mostly French, as usual, in their former colony for a warm cheap winter.

25 MARCH 1999 MA CAMPING MUNICIPAL, TIZNIT

In which we cycle 27 miles to Aglou Plage and meet Leonardo Leopoldo

We celebrated our 4th anniversary on the road with a 10-mile ride along a quiet road to the coast at Aglou before the sun got too fierce. Waved down by an old German motorhome, we met the remarkable Leonardo Leopoldo, not German but American, of Sicilian parents, and in the process of becoming a resident of Morocco. He arranged to meet us at his friend Omar's restaurant for a drink and drove away. Down to the sea, past a small campsite with a few Dutch and French, and we eventually found Omar's place, being extended into the only hotel on the beach. Leonardo treated us to big glasses of fresh orange juice and a slice of his extraordinary life. Going on 70, he's worked as a photo-journalist in many Arab countries, especially Egypt, while his Swiss wife Bettina, currently in their flat in Zurich, is a well-known socio-anthropologist and author. He's looking for a house to buy and settle in the area, which wouldn't be our retirement choice!

With much name-dropping (the local governor whose wife is the king's cousin, the architect responsible for much of modern Agadir, etc) he worked through some implausible tales, including living in a remote Egyptian Berber village for 12 years while his wife was doing some aid and research work with the women. A fascinating character, with a lovely painting on the side of his van, by an artist in Sidi Ifni, copied from his business card in shades of red. He finally left to walk his restless puppy and we rode up a piste to look at the cluster of fishermen's houses on the beach, though no-one offered to cook us a freshly caught fish as he'd suggested!

Delayed by this encounter, we rode back to Tiznit in the blazing heat of the afternoon sun and suffered for it later, Margaret with sunburn and Barry with sickness and a slight temperature which developed to give him an uncomfortable night. We rang mum, knowing the Vodafone wouldn't get a signal south of Tiznit, and got her to check the message service, which is still working.

26 MARCH 1999 MA CAMPING MUNICIPAL, TIZNIT

In which we shelter from the wind at Tiznit

Barry spent the morning making a rapid recovery while Margaret did some dhobi and talked to Inger and Gunnar Pedersen, a very gentle Danish couple in an old Merc van who proudly showed their Tuareg rug and jewellery bought from a man on a camel in the oasis village of Ait Bekkou near Guelmim. A man named Abdullah had invited them to camp outside his hotel and shown them the area for 100 Dr! (Were they set up?) Their other story concerned a guide called Mouloud who showed them prehistoric rock carvings near Akka, camped them in his village and fed them at his sister's for 200 Dr. (We made a mental note to avoid these 2 characters!) But we won't avoid the Pedersens if we pass by Aabenraa, near the Danish-German border, with an open invitation to camp by their house, where they also have a boat.

After a light lunch Barry felt strong enough to walk into Tiznit to shop at the market for veg, eggs and bread. The wind was fierce, swirling dust, sand and litter - not a good day to travel. In the evening we enjoyed singing along to a few old favourites on the Andrew Lloyd Webber 50th birthday video, especially the early ones written when he was only in his 20's.

27 MARCH 1999 MA TAN-TAN PLAGE SEA-FRONT

In which we drive south through the stony desert

A splendid drive to Bouizakarne over the Mighert pass on the edge of the Anti- Atlas, looking down on the plain. Children at the roadside were trying to sell bunches of herbs (mountain thyme?) On through more barren scenery to Guelmim, where we got diesel, the next being in Tan Tan over 100 miles away. The weekly livestock market was in full swing, many sheep going to meet their fate for tomorrow's Feast of the Sacrifice, though nary a camel - the 'blue men' (the colour of their indigo-dyed robes and skin) don't come trading camels, wool and milk for oil and grain these days.

Heading south, beyond the jurisdiction of our Embassy, we felt the thrill of the unknown. No villages in the harsh stony desert or hamada, the waddis were all dry except for the Oued Draa, crossed a few miles before Tan Tan. The wind gusted across from the Atlantic, 20 miles or so to our right and inaccessible except by rough piste. The only signs of life were a few sandy-coloured larks and other small birds (warblers or wheatears, hard to identify), the odd buzzard overhead and a few goats somehow living on the even fewer low prickly shrubs. Tan Tan was heralded by 2 giant stone camels forming a photogenic arch over the road. The small town is a remnant of the Spanish Sahara, a colony Spain only abandoned in 1975. It had a couple of petrol stations, banks and hotels, police, a small airport and hospital - like a miracle in the desert. We parked in the main street to brew tea and checked the Tan Tan Club, Lonely Planet's 'best hotel in town', for guarded parking (it had closed).

Another 16 miles to the coast at Tan Tan Plage (or El Outia), a scruffy little resort near a fishing port. The sea-front was newly paved and lit, the houses mostly empty. We parked on the deserted promenade, opposite a house where a woman was at the ceaseless task of sweeping sand from her doorway. Apart from 3 men chatting at the tele-boutique/coffee bar, we saw no-one and had a quiet evening, re-rolling the awning which had come loose in the buffeting wind and cooking supper by the crashing ocean, on a level with Lanzarote though the Canaries are too far out to be seen. To add to the feeling of isolation from the rest of our known world, neither the TV, radio nor mobile phone got any signal at all except for that wondrous miracle, the BBC World Service, who tell of NATO bombing in Yugoslavia and a mounting death toll from the Mont Blanc tunnel fire - very cheering.

168 miles. Free parking.

28 MARCH 1999 MA SIDI AKHFENNIR POLICE STATION

In which we are turned back by sand-dunes blocking the road!

Despite putting the clocks forward an hour (probably mistakenly), we were off early, the streets deserted at the dawn of Aid al-Adha, the grand feast of the Muslim world. The only filling station was closed, so we returned to Tan Tan for diesel before continuing into the disputed territory of the Western Sahara. Today's route followed the coast, where the desert improbably meets the ocean, the body of sand ending abruptly in cliffs. Ramshackle fishermen's huts perched on the clifftops and a couple of shipwrecks rusted away on the shore below. Berber tents, usually in pairs, could be seen in the distance, evidence of the sparse nomadic population. But the waddis we crossed today had water, each forming a lagoon behind a sandbank where they met the sea. The first had a large flock of black & white auk-like birds standing on the far side and we stopped to train the binoculars on them over coffee. Perhaps great cormorants, as the Moroccan species has a white face and throat, though we really need Hassan Dalil's expertise.

On, past an isolated new filling station, to the next waddi where a flock of flamingo or spoonbill strutted in the distant estuary. The wind was getting up again by the time we reached the roadside village of Sidi Akhfennir and stopped for lunch. Here was another new filling station (our book said there were none between Tan Tan Plage and Tarfaya), a police post and a few workshops and fish cafes, all closed for the Feast. We had seen only 8 vehicles in the whole 50 miles from Tan Tan: 3 buses, 2 cars, 2 taxis and one lorry!

A roadsign warned of sand for the next few kilometres, where the stony desert was giving way to softer dunes which drifted onto the narrow road. We crossed some small sandbanks without problem until we came to a series of deep drifts on an uphill stretch, with a totally ruined Moroccan van firmly stuck in the gathering sand. The driver, barefoot and clad in his best white cotton jellaba, was working furiously and futilely to dig his way out with his hands - no sandmats, tow rope, not even a spade - and he lived in the next town of Tarfaya. With neither equipment nor skill, we marvelled at his optimism! With no intention of entering the sand ourselves, we turned round and then towed him out with our ropes. Determined to get home, he promptly drove straight back in and got stuck again!

Reminded of lemmings, M brewed tea while B tried to assist with our wheel ramps, which got overheated and welded to his tyres! We still have some of his tread on them as a souvenir! The sand was getting into our hair, eyes, mouths, every nook and cranny. A taxi coming downhill took the drift at speed and flew through it, not pausing to help, but eventually another car arrived and stopped alongside us. Finally a 4WD jeep came, entered the sand too slowly with misplaced confidence and was also stuck! Who said this was a monotonous drive? The jeep was finally pushed through, then it towed the white van out the other side with our rope. The car driver left his vehicle for a lift to Tarfaya, and we returned to the safety of Sidi Akhfennir, 10 miles back.

Parked in front of the Gendarmerie Royale Margaret went in to report the highway blocked by sand. After a 'Yes, so what, this is the Sahara Desert' sort of look, the police chief said we were welcome to stay for the night and it would all be gone tomorrow! We took a walk along the beach and the one street, providing some English and French conversation practice for a small group of bright teenage girls. They knew Manchester United and the music of the Spice Girls, wanted European penfriends, and gave us hope for a future generation of more liberated women. The eldest was at school in Laayoune, home in the village for the holiday.

Two of the gendarmes on duty, speaking some English and better French, were friendly and we gave the old night watchman cigarettes and matches to share with the mates who joined him from time to time. Alongside was the Cafe Restaurant de France, whose signwriter had managed the title in Arabic but the French wording underneath read: CAFE RESTAURA- (new line) NTDEFRANCE, as he came up against a window! An eventful day, a peaceful night.

110 miles. Free parking.

29 MARCH 1999 MA LA AYOUNE PLAGE SEA-FRONT

In which we storm our way to Tarfaya and Laâyoune

The police assured us the road would now be clear and off we went, as far as the sand drifts, still there but just slightly better than yesterday as a few vehicles had pushed their way through! We parked and made coffee, pondering the situation. A couple of cars came through downhill without much difficulty, a coach drove through uphill, our direction, then a taxi coming down got stuck and was eventually pushed out by all the passengers. Barry bravely took a run at it and thankfully we got through. There was a series of smaller drifts for several miles, but no more problems. The road turned inland, diverting round a large salt-lake estuary marked by a flamingo sign - the bird reserve of Khnifiss Bay, which we visited later on our return journey. Then along the coast, past wild empty beaches and a series of dramatic shipwrecks, turning off into the fishing port of Tarfaya, a 19thC British (later Spanish) trading post to park for lunch.

It was the poorest, raggedest little town we'd yet seen and we were mobbed by begging children as soon as we stopped, so we promptly got back on the road, grateful we hadn't reached this place yesterday for the night - the sand drifts had been our good luck. Leaving town, we were again turned back by deep sand drifts and had to head north for a few miles to rejoin the road on which we had entered.

We'd seen a few roadsigns depicting camels and a few of the animals, but now, south of Tarfaya, there were plenty of them, including young and one baby, wandering freely. The long straight road also had signs declaring La vitesse tue though nothing in Arabic (and a dead camel by the roadside to prove it). Just before the village of Tah we passed the Tah Depression, a salt chot which is 55 m/ 180 ft below sea level. Tah itself had a new filling station, a plaque commemorating the visit of the Sultan in 1885 and King Hassan in 1985, and another crowd of unruly children, forcing us to drive a few miles further before stopping for an overdue lunch. We ate this in peace, watched only by 2 very small, very black lads who ran across the sand from a distant shack and were rewarded with bon-bons and biros in time-honoured fashion. Nevertheless, they gave us the ritual Un Cadeau? unaware of its meaning, since they'd just been given one! The desert highway continued, with only slightly more traffic than yesterday, past another new filling station at the tiny oasis village of Dawra, until the surreal vision of the city of Laâyoune appeared on the horizon.

Transformed from a Spanish admin centre since it was handed over in 1975, it is Rabat's showpiece in the Western Sahara with 120,000 population, supposedly lured from the north by the offer of employment, cheap petrol and tax-free living. We saw a splendid sports stadium, locked and empty, a small airport and several hotels, the budget ones full of soldiers and the best three block-booked by the UN, whose vehicles filled the car parks. 100,000 troops once occupied the region, when the Polisario rebel group had Algerian and Libyan backing in its claim to the disputed territory, but the UN negotiated a ceasefire in 1991 and since 1996 Morocco's claim is virtually settled, though the promised referendum of inhabitants has yet to take place.

Our entry was delayed by a police check, filling in forms with our professions and mothers' and fathers' forenames in a fly-blown sentry box. Once through, past the domed workshops of the silversmiths, we tracked down the Restaurant San Francisco, where our LP guidebook promised hamburgers or chicken with chips and salad, but it was neither open nor inviting. Said book also mentioned a simple campsite on the coast at Laâyoune Plage, 15 miles further, which simply didn't exist.

But there is a magnificent sandy beach with the governor's house built at one end of the esplanade and a collection of mostly empty houses and a tiny shop at the other. If motorhomes ever gathered here in winter, they'd gone, leaving just 2 vans tucked between the houses sheltering from the wind - one German-registered (occupied, we hear, by a Bulgarian couple with 7 dogs) and one Dutch. We settled alongside them (Maria Lentze and her Indonesian retired-Dutch-navy husband Donald plus one dog). Campsite or no, this was the end of a long desert safari, 433 miles from Tiznit (and over 1,100 since landing in Ceuta).

155 miles. Free parking.

30 MARCH 1999 MA LA AYOUNE PLAGE SEA-FRONT

In which we have tea with Fatima & Mohammed while bread is made

We are parked outside the garage and yard occupied by Mohammed, Fatima and their 2 youngest children. They work as caretakers for the big empty house behind, owned by an architect in Laâyoune, an ironic contrast to their tiny quarters in the window-less garage. Our Dutch neighbours have befriended them and we followed Maria in to watch Fatima making bread - sifting flour and adding salt, yeast and warm water in the usual way (though no fat or sugar), then kneading it vigorously on a big earthenware platter, sitting on the floor. The garage had been furnished with low bed/seats, table and TV at one end, fridge and gas rings at the other. She had a bread oven in the yard and had already been out collecting twigs from the sparse bushes to heat it. Hard work indeed to produce 4 round flat loaves. While they were proving she made a pot of Green Gunpowder Tea, served sweet but without mint, which doesn't grow here in the desert. Mohammed joined us, sharing Maria's roll-your-own Dutch cigarettes, and we fetched a bowl of biscuits.

Donald was ill in bed with a fever, which sounded to us like malaria but was dismissed as 'flu'. Fatima and Moha had come 9 years ago from a mountain village in the Atlas, where their eldest child still lives with grandma. Fatima cleans the house in their care, minds her own and a neighbour's children, knits things to sell, bakes the daily bread and everything else, while Moha fishes (no boats, they just wade in to lay and then haul the nets) and fettles. Their water and electricity are rationed, so we filled Rosie's tank at the public taps in the small village of Foum el-Oued, a couple of miles inland, taking an assortment of Dutch containers to fill for Maria and Donald. On our return we had a gift - a loaf still hot from the oven.

After lunch M worked on the diary while Barry checked things under the bonnet and topped up the house batteries with bottled water, thirsty like us in this climate. We walked briefly on the beach and back past a motley assortment of flat-roofed houses (that architect should be ashamed!), but the north wind was still strong.

31 MARCH 1999 MA LA AYOUNE PLAGE SEA-FRONT

In which we go beachcombing and find a rare argonaut shell

A longer walk up the beach past the governor's residence. The Dutch couple collect fossils and lapidary and had pebbles they'd broken open with a geologist's hammer to reveal quartz crystal interiors. Inspired, we took Barry's hammer and smashed a few stones on the beach, revealing interesting layers inside but no crystals. There were a few shells and cuttlefish bones in the sand but our best find was an unusual papery shell in the shape of an ammonite which we carefully carried back. Moha had never seen one and Donald (who'd also found one at the flamingo reserve) claimed they were so rare that their export is forbidden! We identified it from our encyclopaedia as the shell secreted between the first pair of arms by a female argonaut (or nautilus), a small deep-sea member of the octopus family found mainly in the Pacific and Indian Oceans! Rare indeed.

There were more gifts - another warm loaf from Fatima and a plump fish fresh from Moha's net. Margaret bravely gutted and descaled the spiny creature ready for the freezer and we walked to the tiny shop to buy tea and sugar to give the family when we leave. The sugar came in a solid pyramid loaf, wrapped in blue paper, like a giant firework! The man sold the very basics - flour, rice, salt, locally canned sardines, light bulbs and bottles of orange juice and LL milk. He gave us small glasses of sweet tea while we worked out the price, bringing him down from an unlikely 480 to 24 Dr! (He spoke only Arabic and couldn't work his calculator!)

And so the day went by, talking to our various neighbours, reading and writing, and wondering which way the wind will blow us tomorrow, the first of April and the beginning of our fifth year on the road.