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The Guscotts in Morocco 2006 PDF Printable Version E-mail

 

THE GUSCOTTS IN MOROCCO 2006

A 3-WEEK JOURNEY BY MOTORHOME

Susan and Henry Guscott

November 2006

Susan and Henry have been motorhoming for about 6 years. When their children were young, they did the usual camping and caravanning. In retirement, no longer limited to short trips, they have travelled further afield, exploring most of Ireland and a lot of France, Spain and Portugal.

They also travel widely in England, especially in the winter when it is not so crowded.  Keen on cycling and walking, they are very fond of Wales and Scotland. Last year, they discovered a lot of Norfolk. In the summer, they take all 5 grandchildren away, usually for an old fashioned seaside trip. Susan is thinking of writing an article on this subject as well: probably a few grandparents could find this a bit daunting but she says it's a lot of fun.

Susan and Henry spent 3 weeks at the beginning of 2006 touring Morocco in their 23-ft Elddis Suntor Motorhome. This is their story. We hope that it makes you want to visit that friendly, beautiful and varied country. It certainly makes us want to return!

Barry and Margaret Williamson

Firstly, don't let anybody put you off with, 'oh you might get stoned' (throwing of stones I mean!) or 'you really should go in a convoy'. It's all rubbish, just go! Make sure you have the right motor insurance. Safeguard and Comfort will insure for Morocco and I think Saga do as well. We didn't have insurance so bought it at Tangier, though only third party. Acquire the 'Rough Guide for Morocco' as the campsites mentioned actually exist on the whole and their descriptions of places are pretty fair. We had a rough plan of where we were going - basically to follow the coast down to Tan-tan, turn east, explore a few gorges and then return over the Atlas Mountains - though the plan changed somewhat because of the distances and time restraints. In retrospect we think April/May are probably better months to travel in Morocco than January, as it might be warmer (though it wasn't particularly cold, just chilly at night) and the Atlas mountains would be more accessible.

Anyway weMorocco-(10).jpg set off on 16th January in our 23 ft Elddis Suntor and made our way down through France, Northern Spain, Portugal and on to Algeciras, where we bought tickets for the ferry (226 euros for an open return) from an office adjacent to Carrefour. We changed euros for dirhams (cash needed for petrol stations, small shops, souks etc, as most of them don't take cards) and shopped for essentials in Carrefour, especially lots of drinking water and beer (booze being quite difficult to buy, obviously, as it's a Muslim country and supermarkets where you can buy alcohol are few and far between). Then we spent a comfortable night in Lidl's car park before an early start for the port in the morning to catch the 10 am ferry - we thought it better to arrive in a strange country in daylight!

There doesn't seem to be much order when boarding and the entrance to the ferry is very steep, something to watch if your van is low slung. One and three quarter hours later, after a calm crossing, we arrived in Tangier. It's most important to fill out landing cards on the boat, as there is an official aboard who deals with it. At Customs we had to fill in endless forms and see police to register passports. At this point you need to have much patience. An hour later we were through Passport Control and buying some motor insurance (85 euros for 3 weeks).

Off at last through Tangier, which is very busy and dusty, reminding me a lot of downtown Dubai. Quite a few children were begging at traffic lights, which can seem to be a bit threatening but, as I've said before, don't let any of this put you off. We were heading for the coast road south and it wasn't long before we'd left the city behind and were travelling down the motorway. The first thing you notice is that all the men are dressed in dark brown tabard affairs with large pointed hoods attached; it does look strange until you get used to it.

Our firstMorocco-(11).jpg stop was Larache. Take the exit off the motorway signposted Larache, go through the pay booth (35 dirhams), on to the roundabout where you turn left and the campsite is about a mile up the wide road on the right. It's the second campsite but you probably won't notice the first one! You'll discover in Morocco that there aren't many signposts so a little intuition and beady eyes are needed.  This is a free site and everyone is very friendly. It's a good idea to leave a tip for the man who guides you into your spot for the night - you never know you may stop there on the way home. Larache is not very interesting but we did cycle down to the sea through the town for some fresh air, having travelled all day.  Incidentally, our Sky TV gave up here as we were too far south: I'm surprised it lasted so long.

Next day we went on down the motorway towards Rabat with the intention of camping at Sale. We never did find the campsite but it looked like a pleasant area. Ever onwards, through Casablanca which I can only describe as being on the M25 in the rush hour with donkeys, horse and carts and the world and his wife. If you like Alton Tower rides it's worth a drive through. We had lunch down by the sea. We could see a mosque in the distance but decided that we needed to start looking for a campsite as it was past mid-day. We discovered later that we had missed one of the only famous mosques (Hassan Mosque) that non-Muslims are allowed to enter. We also found a supermarket in Casablanca.

The coast roMorocco-(12).jpgad from Casablanca towards Al Jadida has many seaside towns along it: not very pretty but quite interesting and different. No campsites that we could see (there are some marked in the Rough Guide but they're not open in January). However, there are many restaurants and hotels dotted around and I'm sure they would allow you to stay in their car parks in the off-season. I also spotted places to wild camp on the beach but we were not confident enough at the time to try it.  We were getting pretty desperate by about tea time and knew we wouldn't make Al Jadida when we came across a signpost for Hawaii Camping. Eventually after about half a mile of bumpy unmade road there it was: Hawaii I think not, ramshackle yes, nevertheless it was our home for the night.

It was quiet, just a few donkeys for company, and it was cheap but most of all we felt safe. The majority of  campsites that we stayed on were very basic, the loos (French style, plant-your-feet jobs) were mostly smelly and some impossible, the drains for emptying waste were unhygienic. Most had water but not for drinking, hence the importance of making sure you take plenty of drinking water. All have electricity but you have to watch the reverse polarity and usually it's not more than 4 amps. Showers are cold but some have hot showers to be paid for. Hopefully things look up the further into the season you go, but probably not in most cases.

Next morning we headed off oMorocco-(13).jpgn the 'B' road towards Al Jadida, which turned out to be very bumpy so we turned left off it and returned towards the motorway, just missing running over a tortoise! The narrow road took us through rolling agricultural land with the odd horse and cart going to market. The town at the end of this road was heaving with market people, as are most towns in Morocco for most of the day. The pot-holes had to be negotiated plus the pools of water all over the road. All in all quite an adventure finding the main road again but we were certainly beginning to see Moroccan everyday life.

We arrived at Al Jadida around mid-day at Camping Caravanning International on Avenue des Nations, very posh after 'Hawaii' and within good cycling distance of the walled medina which we walked all around. It was a hot day soMorocco-(14).jpg the sea breeze was very welcome. Riding home through the busy souk, we bought some fish for supper. People everywhere are so friendly. They speak French mostly so my smattering of same was very useful. The police who are everywhere are great, they will stop the traffic to come and direct you. Another trick I used if I couldn't find a campsite was to get a blue Petit Taxi to take us, as they are so cheap it's well worth it to avoid hassle. Because we arrived at campsites fairly early in the afternoon we were able to see anything worth seeing, stay another day if necessary or just move on the following day. We rarely did more that 150 miles in a day - the roads won't let you!

We decided to follow the beach road to Qualidia, which turnMorocco-(15).jpged out to be easier said than done. The signposts are awful but we found it eventually and passed a supermarket, which was an unexpected bonus as we had run out of wine. Qualidia is about 50 miles from Al Jadida, a picturesque rather run-down resort. Follow the road down to the sea and use the free camping area opposite a campsite, if only for the views out to sea from your van windows. We walked back up to the town for groceries, the post office and cash point. Cash points are accessible in most towns, though whether you find them or not is another matter.

On one side of the lagoon was aMorocco-(16).jpg derelict palace, once the playground of King Mohammed V and now boarded up. I was disappointed with a lot of old buildings in Morocco, which have been allowed to fall into disrepair but then I suppose they have other priorities. You do have to remember at all times that this is a third world country. The fish hasslers were all around our vans when we got back, selling a huge array of fish and shellfish. Later on in the evening we walked to a distant beach were hundreds of men were fishing. We had a veritable feast that night.

On to Essaouira, another 150 miles. It's quite interesting to note what's going on in the fields as you travel. From Tangier there is agriculture and sheep, but as you go further south the land is more lush and it seems the people have a little more money; you see the odd tractor instead of donkeys and camels pulling ploughs. Many children are helping the family in the fields and they have ready smiles and waves for you.  The colour of the earth is so red and, with the rich browns against the green and greys of the hills, it makes for spectacular viewing.

We drove through Essaouira and realized that we had arrived at sMorocco-(17).jpgomewhere quite special. There was wild camping on the beach front but we needed to do washing and use some electricity so we found a decent camp site, Camping Sidi Magdoul, out by the lighthouse and within good cycling distance or a cheap taxi ride from the main town. The site was luxurious compared with what we had been used to, only let down by a stinking chemical disposal drain right by the washing-up sinks! The hot shower had to be paid for. Next morning turned out to be warm and sunny, so washing was the priority and all by hand (no washing machines in sight on any sites we stayed on).  I had forgotten how long it takes by hand, but it was a sociable occasion in a row with lots of other campers - men as well I might add. We met very few English on our travels, mainly French, German and Dutch. 

We spent 3 days here cycling around, wandering round the souk, walking the medina walls, watching the ship-menders and the fishermen and eating plenty of fresh fish. There is a posh Sofitel hotel here, which I looked longingly at thinking that a hot bath would be rather nice! If you are a fresh food fiend, you'll love Morocco, as everywhere you go there are fresh vegetables, fruit and meat. I did some shopping here and I particularly liked the shirts and trousers which reminded me of the sixties. A number of motorhomers we met actually live in Morocco for months on end, making a living from turning fossil stones into necklaces etc and then flogging them in Europe.

We were told that Agadir wasn't worth visiting and that the authorities had banned camping on the beach, subsequently causing the only camp site to be chocca-bloc. Our intention had been to go on, south of Agadir, to the desert but time was running out and progress on the roads was slow so we turned east for Marrakesh and further adventures.

It's usually impossible to find campsites in towns. We were told to look for the tallest minaret and there would be a car park nearby to camp in. The road to Marrakesh was interesting: some of it was industrialised, some quite hilly with stony ground. It looked like the start of Berber country, with houses enclosed by stone walls and cooking pots for sale on the roadside. It was very busy in Marrakesh but we managed to find the car park near the Koutoubia mosque. We shared it with horse-drawn carriages awaiting custom, so you can imagine it was a bit smelly, but for a few dirhams the boss-man of the car park looked after our van and the other six parked up.

We walked toMorocco-(18).jpg the most famous square in Morocco, the Djemaa el Fna, where we found a bright red tour bus to take us around Marrakesh to get our bearings. It took about an hour and was well worth the few dirhams it cost. We left the bus in town and paid a visit to Emzi Tours to book an Atlas Mountain tour (we didn't want to take the motorhome as a lot of melt water had made the roads precarious in places.) We had lunch overlooking a roundabout and it was highly amusing to watch the poliMorocco-(19).jpgce direct the mass of traffic, including horses and carts and the hundreds of motor bikes, to at least five exits off it. That evening we spent in the Djemaa el Fna square which is a must. You very quickly become immersed in the ritual wandering around, looking at musicians, storytellers, snake charmers, dentists pulling teeth (!) and herb doctors. When you're worn out there is the Café de France to sit and gaze over the square. The whole experience was described by my husband, Henry, as like a midnight fete.

The following day we made our way to Emzi Tours where we picked up a minibus and set off for the mountains, stopping off at a bazaar where I bought presents for the grandchildren and enjoyed the haggling with the seller. The roads up to the mountains are very narrow and quite hair-raising, as it's quite common to meet large lorries coming the other way. I just closed my eyes! We eventually arrived at Setifatma and climbed and walked to the Cascade Asgaour - not for the faint-hearted but worth  the trouble for the views and the waterfall. We stopped in a local house on the way back for a meal of tagine and cous cous, which was very welcome after our exertions.

On to Asni which is very high up with lovely views again of the snow-capped mountains. We arrived back at our five star campsite quite late in the evening and asked our boss-man if he could get us some beer. He duly obliged and we didn't ask where it had come from.

Leaving early next morning, we took the Casablanca road out of Marrakesh and (joy oh joy) found a supermarket. The supermarkets are few and far between and are huge, a bit like Carrefour, selling everything. It was good to have fresh milk again and to be able to stock up on beer etc. The road up to Casablanca was quite busy and it was not easy to overtake, but it was quite a civilized road in that the towns seemed a bit tidier. We kept on the motorway towards Rabat heading for Meknes. The motorway services are mostly new and quite safe to stay on overnight, which we did as it was quite late in the day.

We left early for Meknes, passing over mountains with good views. Tractors were pulling ploughs, so this must be a well-off area as usually donkeys and camels are used. Boys on the side of the road were selling wild asparagus, a welcome addition to our diet. We had the address of the campsite but couldn't find it, so we hired a taxi to take us which was well worth the 20 dirham. Camping Aguedal-Camping International (it's in the Rough Guide to Morocco) was a relatively posh site, where we had our own pitch and hot showers for 7 dirham. At this stage in our journey this site was absolute bliss. Here we met a couple who had bought a small washing machine in the souk. You'd have thought they'd won the lottery but, after hand-washing for weeks, I enjoyed their delirium. We were advised by the same couple not to go into the Riff Mountains as it's not safe, with many bandits selling drugs etc. We didn't know what to believe, but a local person had told them this.

Meknes turned oMorocco-(20).jpgut to be more interesting than its write-up – always go and look for yourself I say. We picked up a horse and carriage just outside the campsite for 2 hours which enabled us to see a great deal of the city, the new and the old, the old being of more interest. We spent time in the undercover souk which is divided into different areas, as are most souks. The meat area has all parts of the animal displayed and it was quite funny watching a tourist back into a severed cow's head, as she was taking a picture. Did she ever scream - much to the amusement of the stall holders. The olive and lemon stalls were beautifully laid out. That evening we strolled around a man-made lake near the campsite in the sunset. We are beginning to meet up with the same people as we travel around, for instance 'know it all' Malcolm who has been travelling around Morocco for years and probably does know it all, and the couple who keep warning us of the dangers that they haven't met yet but just in case …

The following day dawned sunny but chilly. It was only 45 km to Fez., where we managed to find Camping International near the football stadium quite easily. (We had stopped first at the Green Dragon campsite but it didn't look too good.) This was a large site by Moroccan standards and they are really trying here, with lots of trees being planted. The showers were hot and there were washing facilities, though no washing machines. Local women were using the facilities but I suppose in the low season why not? The electrics went off in the afternoon and it was panic-stations with little men rushing around everywhere. The power was restored just as we were getting the generator out. The Camp Manager warned us about being ripped off in Fez, but if anything the camp fees here are a rip-off by Moroccan standards. It rained a lot so we caught up with reading matter.

Next day when we set off walking towards town, it was a bit disconcerting to see a man defecating by the side of the road but, as there are no public loos anywhere, what is one to do! We picked up a Petit Taxi to the centre of Fez (Fez means pick, the tool). The Tourist Office gave us a map which wasn't very good so we went into the nearest hMorocco-(21).jpgotel and asked if they could organize a local guide who spoke English. No sooner said than done! Mohammed appeared and we negotiated 150 dirham for the day. It's important to mention to a guide that you want to see the sites rather than do shopping, unless of course that's what you want . We walked into the Medina, where we saw brass and silverware being made, and the tannery was most interesting. We looked into the ornate mosque where Moulay Idriss II is buried, an extremely holy place of pilgrimage.

The Museum de Bois, situated in a beautiful building, is well laid out and well worth visiting. Among the exhibits were very old hand-carved egg cups. I thought the English were the only ones who used egg cups as I am never able to find one in most countries I have visited. We lunched with Mohammed in a magnificent ornate house turned into a restaurant. Mohammed ate for Morocco, bless him. We had lamb tagine and cous cous and some other things (I have no idea what they were). After lunch we watched mats beings woven on looms: a silk cover 6 ft x 3 ft took 4 days to complete. We passed through narrow passageways full of people and mules going about their business, then back into the street where we bade farewell to Mohammed and caught a taxi home to our campsite, having had the most wonderful day albeit in the rain, which we didn't notice, such was the fascination of the place.

We left Fez in the pouring rain intending to visit Volubilis, which we had been told was fantastic - the Roman Empire's most far-flung base. It was certainly remote; we passed through Meknes on the way and managed to miss the turning to Volubilis. Probably I was still excited, having found another supermarket outside Meknes where we stocked up again. As it was getting late we headed for Larache and a campsite that we knew. There were a couple of quite posh petrol stations/restaurants on the way, where I'm sure you would be welcome for a night. We arrived at Larache in the early evening, very tired and looking forward to a good sleep.

We left Larache late the next morning as we had met up with some familiar faces, exchanged books and managed to find someone technical to change the settings on our TV so I could watch 'Coronation Street' again. After making our way up the coast for 30 km to Asilah, the friendly policeman told us we could park on the beach but we found a small campsite almost on the beach. It was very muddy as it had been raining hard but we found a dry patch. There was hot water (joy oh joy) and good loos. It may sound as if we are fussy but, believe me, after some we had come across this was bliss. We walked along the beach towards the ramparts of the Medina and out onto the harbour wall where fish was being sold. There were many campers on the beach but apparently they had been hassled for money so we were pleased to be on a site. Asilah is a pretty place, an elegant old Portuguese port and a good first stopover from Tangier, enabling one to acclimatize to the country. This was our last port of call and the next day we headed for Tangier and Spain.

We had a long wait at Tangier port because we had an open ticket and people who had booked went first. It's probably better to book if you know your dates. To anyone who knows Morocco well, our trip will probably seem quite tame but for first-timers I think we had a good taste of a fascinating country and can't wait to go back one day.

Susan and Henry Guscott