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Dr Bob & Sandra in Morocco PDF Printable Version E-mail

 

Dr Bob & Sandra's Two-Month Motorhome Tour of Morocco

Dr Bob Lyons
December 2009 to February 2010

We first met Bob and Sandra in Greece, when we were all camped at Finikounda in the southern Peloponnese. Several years later we met up for lunch in Sandra's native Blackburn, Lancashire (northern England). This well-travelled couple actually live in a mountain cottage in southern Spain, from where they still roam in their beloved McLouis motorhome known as 'Mr Custard' (or Mr C). This is Bob's account of their latest adventure, taking a ferry from Algeciras to Tangier for a two-month motorhome tour of Morocco.

Essential reading is 'Dr Bob's Prescription', his advice for future travellers in this challenging country.

For more excellent accounts of Dr Bob and Sandra's extensive travels, click:

Dr Bob and the Spanish Fiestas by Motorhome

Dr Bob Travels Spain's Silver Road by Motorhome

Dr Bob Right Round Australia by Discovery and Caravan

Dr Bob's Australian Prescription

Dr Bob Returns to Australia

Dr Bob in Portugal 2010

Day 1 - Sunday, 6 December 2009

After locking up our isolated cottage and leaving the keys with friends in the village, we finally joined the autovia and were on our way.

Actually we have travelled this road so many times by now that it should be a passing blur. However we still see beauty wherever we look and this time saw deer behind the security fence as we passed through the Sierra de Baza. Snow on the mountains around Granada (Sierra Nevada) - these are the ones we can see from home. We stopped here for lunch before driving on through the Sierra de Lorja to our overnight stop just before Campillos on the A384. Gratefully in Spain you can wild camp almost anywhere rurally, and for us truck stops, garages and restaurants provide the best surfaces, services and security. Obviously no 'hook-up' but that's why you have a self-contained vehicle. You can always use the facilities in the garage/restaurant etc, and sometimes there are showers for the truck drivers. A very quiet night with our Mobile DVD, and no disturbances of any kind.

Day 2 - Monday, 7 December 2009

A Fiesta day as it turned out! Cold this morning when we woke up, with Mr C covered in dew. Breakfast and shampoo and then on along the highway to Campillos where we turned towards Ronda. We had hoped to avoid Ronda by heading for San Pedro and taking the Ring Road. No such luck and we ended up going through the town, which even early in the morning was a bit of a nightmare. Large tourist coaches everywhere with guides wielding umbrellas aloft, marching their packs of tourists to and fro. Having said this, Ronda is a truly beautiful town with some stunning views and architecture. Even driving through the town we saw several of the numerous fine renaissance mansions and the houses precariously perched above El Tajo (the Gorge). So, as well as the amazing views of the gorge, mountains and valley of the River Guadalvin, there are the various bridges crossing the valley. We previously have walked 'The Mina'- the underground stone stairway of 365 steps leading from the town to the river banks. Bit slippy when it's wet!!!

Leaving Ronda on the A369 we wended our way firstly through the Serrania de Ronda and then the Sierra Bermeja, which is closer to the coast. Although rarely exceeding 1000m, the temperature seemed far lower and the vistas were awe inspiring. One particularly likes the wooden safety rails with intermittent gaps for those wishing to exit this mortal coil. Gratefully the traffic remained light, even for a Fiesta, as one is only too well aware of the obstruction a slowly moving motorhome can become, and the irritation to other road users. Not so much in Spain, one has to say, where everyone espouses 'tranquillo'. On our way to Algeciras we passed through the mountain villages of Jarastepar, Atajate, Benalalid, Algatocin, and Gaucin. All of these did seem rather crowded and we stopped for coffee, not in a village but on a viewing platform. Actually we afforded ourselves the use of a number of these in order to take photograph, although access to many was precluded by no entry signs from our ascending lane. As we wound down through the Sierras we saw in the distance the 'White Villages' that we had visited in 2005 while we were down in this area for the Horse Fair at Jerez de la Frontera.

Arriving at San Roque we started seeing White Storks and their nests (the latter more prevalent than the former), some of the resident population of White Storks that remain in this part of Spain and do not migrate across the Straits of Gibraltar to North Africa. Here we also passed cork factories with the piled bundles of Cork Oak skins destined for cork manufacture. We stopped here for lunch with the noontime temperatures much more comfortable than at the top of the mountains.

Joining autovia N340/E5 and skirting Algeciras, we arrived at Tarifa for late afternoon. There is a Lidl just as you drive into town, so straight in for our shopping. Then on into town, which was absolutely heaving with nowhere to park. Lots of ferry ticket offices though, and the initial plan was to park overnight at Lidl and walk back the next morning, as it's downhill (then taxi back). However by the time we arrived back at Lidl there were a number of motorhomes, including a German one about the same size as Mr C. He had done the trip before and as a result of our conversation we shall be driving back into Algeciras tomorrow morning to exit at Junction 112, which is the Lidl/Carrefour exit. Then, with your back to Lidl, walk 300m past the facing roundabout to a ticket shop run by Carlos and his family. The German had just paid 160€ for his fare (whilst I was quoted 250€ on line from here) and he is not sure any of the ferries from here can accommodate one the height of Mr C. So we stay here (Tarifa) tonight, as the Lidl car park at Algeciras is very noisy. We shall see what happens.

Day 3 - Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Today is the Feast/Fiesta of the Immaculate Conception, so no point in finding the ticket office as all would be closed. So 7 km west to one of Tarifa's famed beaches. Rather deserted due to the weather but numerous campers, in spite of signs everywhere advising 'No Camping'. Having said that there were also signs saying no dogs or horses on the beach -you've guessed it - they were everywhere, especially first thing in the morning. Rather a grey day and, for a town famed as the wind and kite-surfing capital of Spain, there just weren't any. Bit of a disappointment.
So a quiet day with preparatory reading on Morocco followed by washing Mr C.

Day 4 - Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Today we travelled the 30 km back into Algeciras and paid 110€ for a motorhome and 2 adults (Returns: Open both ways) from Viajes Normandie, aka Carlos. The German motorhomer had not mentioned the 'Slow Ferry' but Pilar, Carlos' daughter, did. So it was 110€ for the slow ferry and 160€ for the fast. No contest!!!!! (Viajes Normandie www.viajesnormandie.net). In addition to a spiffy travel wallet for ticket, passports etc, they also enclose the embarkation and return forms, as well as the Vehicle Declaration form ready for you to complete before the ferry. The latter is in French but extremely easy. The others are in English, French and Arabic. Then to complete the admirable service we were handed a bottle of cider and a chocolate marble cake. As we left the shop, there was Carlos himself and a genuine greeting and handshake. We are told 'everyone knows Carlos' and we can see why. So fuel and shopping at Carrefour opposite (cheapest fuel) and back to the beach to spend the rest of the day just relaxing.

Day 5 - Thursday, 10 December 2009

We took the opportunity to visit Bolonia and the Roman site of Baelo Claudia. This actually appears on some versions of the Roman Beatica Route (which we have to get round to writing about) and believe me it is well worth the visit. To say it compares favourably with Santiponce would be nothing but the truth and, unlike Santiponce, it is still actively being excavated.
Baelo Claudia was founded at the end of the 2nd century BC. Its origin and later development are closely linked to trade with N Africa, as it was the connecting port with what is now Tangiers. It possibly also had certain functions as an administrative centre. However, its main source of wealth was the salting of fish and the manufacture of the sauces derived from them.

These factors led to the town achieving a certain power, particularly under the Emperor Claudius (41-54 AD), who granted it the rank of a Roman township, which was when it reached its period of maximum prosperity and greatest building activity.

The economic decline of the town began during the 2nd half of the 2nd century AD, probably as a result of the earthquake that must have devastated the town at that time. Trade picked up again a little during the 3rd century, but then the town gradually fell into decadence until it was completely abandoned in the 7th century.

The town never attained the economic or political power of other cities in Hispania, such as Italica, Emerita, Cordoba, Tarraco, etc. We do not find buildings here that were monumentally or artistically spectacular. However, in the town we do have, for every interested visitor to see, all the representative elements that made up a Roman town, ie the forum, the Capitoline temples, temples dedicated to eastern gods such as Isis, a Basilica, administrative buildings such as the municipal archive (curia), a market, a theatre, thermal baths, an industrial area, a complete wall with its main gates, streets, aqueducts, etc.

We ejoyned our 3 hours' visit immensely: an enjoyment enhanced in that all of the signage in the Museum was in Spanish, French and English with media demonstrations as well. Certainly better by far than those at Cadiz. In fact nowhere on the Roman Beatica Route did we find a site with so much information for the English-speaking visitor. There are also guides, although how one arranges them we never found out. Admission is free to UK residents on presentation of your passport.

Then it was back to the beach at Tarifa, where we are all set for tomorrow's ferry to Tangier.

Day 6 - Friday 11 December 2009

Tonight sees us parked on a garage forecourt 6 km north of Asilah and 43 km south of Tangier. It could have been quite a fraught day but here we are safe and sound.
It was a very murky day in Tarifa/Algeciras and we were unable to take any photos of The Rock from the Tarifa Road. Then in rapid succession we missed the road to the North Port, not once but twice! Indeed if Carlos hadn't suddenly materialised in his battered Mercedes, we might still be there. The Dock/Docks is/are undergoing expansion and upgrading and naturally there were no road-signs. Then, having cleared ticket check-in, we were directed to the wrong ferry. We had initially been first in line to load and actually left the ferry last.

The trip was uneventful and our passports were stamped without difficulty by the Moroccan official on board. Not so a pair of Australians travelling in an old UK van. As Rough Guide states, on arrival they were diverted and parked up by officials until the very end of the day's business.

They had collected the white declaration cards but didn't realise they had to present them and their passports to the official on board. They are also heading to Asilah, so we hope to see them later on.

At Tangier dock our paperwork was collected by touts working there legitimately and for 10€ the paperwork was completed by the touts and returned. We then had to tip a further 2.50€  to a dock porter to take us to a passport office and lastly pay 50c for parking. So, considering it's £10 pp to enter Turkey, I reckon we did really well.

If you don't have a Green Card for Morocco, you must take out insurance, which one does just after Passport Control. It was 95€ for 1 month and 185€ for 2-3 months.

Getting out of Tangier was a bit of a hassle due to the city traffic but all went well and so it was a successful trip and arrival. Once again 'Good Old Carlos' had saved the day. And there is a slow ferry and a fast ferry but with the one-hour time difference (back to GMT from Spanish time) it had only just become dark at the time we parked up after the slow ferry. Actually there were loads of places to 'Wild Camp' but we have only just started.

Day 7 - Saturday, 12 December 2009

A golden rule of motorhoming is always to park up during daylight. After it grows dark one just cannot see off the road. So when we awoke and got out to stretch our legs, it was to find that we were 50m from the beach and if we had continued along the road about 50m there was a wide track leading down to the beach and excellent parking for 2 motorhomes! As it was, we tipped the attendant 13Dh, purchased 100 Dh of diesel at 0.70€ litre and drove the remaining 8 km into Asilah.

As we approached the town we saw 2 motorhomes still parked up for the night and were waved down by the usual touts, saying we could stay there as all the campsites in town were now closed for the winter. So it turned out, but we just drove in and parked in a side street to walk the streets of the Medina. We dutifully walked the Medina's circuit of towers and ramparts taking photos of the red tower (El Hamra) which isn't, the various gates and walls and the Palais of Raisuili. As it was still before 10am the streets were deserted and it was only as we were making our way back to the motorhome that the sidewalk cafes began to come to life. The menus and odours were tantalising and mouth-watering and just SO CHEAP!!!!! Still, we had covered the entire Medina and outskirts and so decided to push on to Larache some 49 km away.

We were captivated by so many of the sights and quite overwhelmed by the numbers of adults and children who waved, smiled or just nodded as we went by. There were ploughs drawn by oxen and in fact we only saw one tractor. Donkeys weighed down by humans and baggage were everywhere and everyone in good humour. We detoured to Ancient Lixus but were totally underwhelmed. We were actually more impressed by the panorama of Larache and harbour, fronted by the River Loukos. Photos within the port are banned, so this proved our only opportunity to photograph.

Entering Larache we became hopelessly lost and went in a gigantic circle of the town ending up where we had started from. Still, a few directions and we were soon at the free campsite of Centre d'Acceuil or Aire de Repos, which is about 3 km out of town on the N1. Actually it would have been just as easy to get to the port, go left up the hill to the Place de la Liberation (previously Plaza de Espana) and carry straight on. The slightly stressful but good humoured detour was well worthwhile as indeed this wooded oasis is FREE. There are all the conveniences you need, although I would not say the restaurant food was indicative of Moroccan cuisine - more of a truck stop. Actually long distance coaches stop here so the parallel is apposite!

Refreshed we returned to town by Mercedes taxi (as the Petits Taxis can only carry a maximum of 3). For 40 Dh we were deposited in the main square as mentioned above. Then it was through the Medina to the port, which turned out to be quite atmospheric with the ferries and fishing boats of all sizes. Again everyone was good humoured - even the gate guard who sternly warned against photography (there are large signs). Then it was back through the Medina to the Place de Makhzen, below the Chateau de la Cigogne (Castle of the Stork). The museum was closed. Throughout the Medina we were met with smiles and shouts of 'Hola'. There was no begging and even when Sandra distributed sweets there were 'thank yous' from children and parents. No-one approached us to buy things and a parking attendant even asked Sandra to take his photo and draped himself over a parked car.

We returned to the Place de la Liberation but, failing to find a taxi, walked a few more streets before managing to flag down another Mercedes. Arriving back at the campsite and asking the price, the driver produced a 100 Dh note. I laughed and said 50 Dh and that was accepted with a smile, as if he recognised his attempt to overcharge had been taken in good part. He was even smiling as he drove away. Taxis always cost more driving away from a town centre and how can one bridle at less than 5€ for over 5km. Try that in Spain or UK!!!!?????

So the second day in Morocco ends on another high note although as I pen this at 6.30pm there seems to be a lot of noise from the surrounding French and German motorhomes the majority of which arrived in after we did.

Day 8 - Sunday, 13 December 2009

As we had rather feared, we heard strident French voices waking us at 5.30am - one of the many reasons we try to avoid campsites, especially when they are crowded. Fortunately for them they didn't disturb me, as there would have been problems! Anyway, we had breakfast followed by cassette and water tank replenishment before a shower and hitting the road.

First stop was the vaunted Sunday Market at Kasar el Kebir. So vaunted in fact that the local policemen wondered what we were talking about. It proved to be a normal Arab street market, such as I have seen in so many Arab countries, but still we stocked up on fruit and Sandra purchased 3 pairs of slippers for £8.50. Then it was back out of town and onto a tarmac road taking us to Moulay Bousselham, which is famed for the lagoon and its Flamingos.

Just as we started on the 'road' we had Arab drivers attempting to indicate that it wasn't fit for travel, due to its rough potholed surface. But you have to see!! (Well don't you). It was OK for us in the McLouis with its excellent ground clearance. The other problem was children strategically placed along the route and pretending to fill in the potholes. One group almost attacked a motorhome in front, attempting to open a door and threatening them with a spade. We just blasted through, only stopping for a group of small children further on who obviously were working. They were delighted with the sweets and 15c we gave them. Discounting this isolated group of infant sociopaths, all along the route we were met with smiles and waves as we passed by. There were several stops for photos but, given that we were averaging 20 km/hr, this hardly slowed us.

Finally into Moulay Bousselham and straight to the front, where we were accosted by parking attendants, guides, scroungers and restaurateurs. Actually most of these titles are interchangeable. 10 Dh per vehicle to park and then the attendant attempted to wheedle clothes from us for his family. Sandra gave him her old Lidl slippers for his wife!!!!! We had an excellent if pricey meal by Moroccan standards but the fish was excellent and we really didn't need the chips.

We supplemented the meal with our own Spanish wine, cunningly concealed in a blue water bottle and carrier bag. No-one gave it a second glance, even though we are sure the waiter was aware.
Back out of town to the campsite, which according to 7th edition of Rough Guide Morocco is only open in summer! A beautiful site, sitting as it does right on the lagoon. We thought it rustic and unpolished and there were certainly no mosquitoes at time of writing. Just as in the town, we were immediately approached by a local boatman selling trips to see the lagoon birds, as well as fish and crabs all ready to eat. So we have agreed to the former at 10am tomorrow morning and to the latter in the afternoon. The price is the same, at 200 Dh for 4 people (just under £20 - not too bad at all) and the same price as quoted earlier.

As evening drew on, a violent thunder storm rolled in from the sea, unfortunately preventing us from trying to spot the African Marsh Owls which reportedly hunt the adjacent meadows. As darkness fell we heard the sound of drums echoed across the campsite from the town above. Unfortunately it was to be a wild night of heavy rain, strong winds and sleet. At one stage I went outside to check all was well but there was nothing untoward. The rain didn't abate until 6 am but the strong cold winds continued.

Day 9 - Monday, 14 December 2009

Tired and windblown we decided to forgo the boat trip to the lagoon, which really annoyed the local 'guide' who also brought the crab we had requested. However, when he suggested 250 Dh for 4 we decided against. Sandra had been handling the transaction and I only became involved when he demanded 'to see the Boss', so that was the end of any chance he had of a sale. Later he sold the same crabs to a Frenchman for 150 Dh and then offered us the same deal, but for crabs already prepared.

Later we took a walk through the town, which is really nothing but a row of grill restaurants with some lovely views out to sea and into the lagoon. Then back to the campsite, where in late afternoon a small whizz-bang drove in carrying 3 Australians originating from Brisbane. Daniel is here for the surfing, which he assured us is to be good tomorrow when the weather is apparently set to improve. After a long chat Sandra and I left to Owl spot at the edge of camp but saw only a Marsh Harrier. No sign of African Marsh Owls but we may be luckier further south just north of Rabat.

Our Australian neighbours reported an attempted scam at Algeciras docks. We all know of the touts just outside trying to sell ferry tickets for way above their stated price, but here they were approached by touts in luminescent jackets pretending to be dock staff and asking for 'Dock Fees' in order to enter. They had heard of this and so avoided this particular pitfall. However, even though they used Carlos for tickets, again they were only offered the 160€ returns.

Day 10 - Tuesday, 15 December 2009

A really strange day, which started with a Spanish motorhomer coming up to us on site, asking to borrow the Fiat manual as he had an electronic fault and then pointing out that I had lost a wheel nut from the passenger front wheel. Actually we believe that this was never replaced when the tyre was changed at the start of this journey. We have done 1000 km to date and the other 4 are all solid, so we shall try and replace as we go along our way. There are numerous Fiat dealers listed in the book we have on board.

So, leaving Moulay Bousselham we started along the coast road. Huge mistake as the road surface was non-existent. You learn by your mistakes (hopefully) and so we turned around and joined the motorway to take us the 70+ km to Kenitra. It had no campsite and nil worth visiting in the guide, so on to Mehdiya and Camping International. This was scruffy and deserted so, although a 'caretaker' was prepared to open up for us, we decided to push on to the campsite at Plage des Nations. What a mistake! The entire surrounding area has been purchased by some consortium and there is no camping or even parking of any kind allowed.

So we drove past Jardins Exotiques and Lac du Sidi Bourhaba and into Sale. You've guessed it: Camping de la Plage no longer exists. Still, one of the local parking attendants assured us that if we waited until 7 pm he would take us to overnight parking (not camping) where we could stay for 2 or 3 days if we wish. So we packed up and walked to the Medina.

Rip-off of the Day: We were viewing the Grand Mosque (which isn't) and were approached by a tout. We let him show us around the surrounding streets for the next half hour and then he demanded 200 Dh pp. Needless to say he didn't get it, as the book says for Official Guides it's 120 Dh for 3hrs, but we hadn't agreed payment and so we eventually handed over 100 Dh which didn't please him one iota. At one stage he handed it back and so we started walking off, then he grabbed it back and asked for another 50 Dh pp. At this stage we just laughed in his face (not good etiquette) and walked away.

He didn't follow so we reckoned we had had a lucky escape, although in retrospect we should only have given him 50 Dh. Actually, small change (money) is really difficult to acquire and you always seem to have only 50 or 100 Dh notes and minimal coins. So we wandered around the various souks for the next 2 hours before sitting down for chicken, rice, salad, bread and chips in a street-side cafe. The cost of  95 Dh was value for money and really pleasant, although of course by 5.30pm the sun had set and with this the temperature plummets.

Back to our motorhome and yet another attempted rip-off. The illegal parking attendants wanted 50 Dh per vehicle (on an official car park it's 2 Dh/hr), so they were met with 10 Dh and we were on our way. We think the car park attendant we had spoken to, and who was riding ahead on his bicycle, thought he still had customers but we just drove past and settled for the night in a service station, having explained to the staff that we were lost. They even moved vehicles so we could settle in safely.

Greed: We met this everywhere and the car park attendants are only the latest. They would have received 10 Dh for parking, overnight site fees to them and friend/s and a large tip from me when they accompanied me to the Fiat garage the following day. As it was they received 10 Dh and our exhaust. Did they think we were just going to shower them with largesse? It really underscores the mentation whereby so many visitors to this and other impoverished countries (both Arab and otherwise) insulate themselves from the indigenous population. I have worked with such people in a professional capacity for decades and nothing changes. Gratefully I have always found that the kindnesses and smiles greatly outweigh the greed, but then as yet I haven't had Mr C damaged.

Day 11 - Wednesday, 16 December 2009

It started to shower overnight and was quite damp first thing. One of the overnight staff was still on duty waiting for our departure and the smile we received on handing over 50 Dh brightened the grey morning. He waved as he cycled off home and we exited Rabat to drive the 14 km to Tamura Plage and Camping. What a dump - and that goes for the campsite and the resort. Our arrival made 3 motorhomes on this weeded travesty of a site, where for 70 Dh you had parking only. No electricity (although it was promised), no water, no usable toilet etc. The bent barrier pole with its defective swivel and decaying concrete counterweight almost fell on Mr C as we drove in. We walked the 'plage' and found it hard to believe that this and the now defunct Plage des Nations constitute the city's main beaches. There was litter everywhere and a drearier and more dire vista you couldn't imagine. We decided we would use it only as a base to explore Rabat and leave at the earliest possible moment.

So, for 3.5 Dh single we travelled in an antiquated and filthy bus back into town, stopping at the bus terminal (Terminus) near Bab el Had. The next 2 hours saw us wandering contentedly through the Medina which had an excellent choice of goods. We only had one mildly persistent local, this one extolling the virtues of his father's spice shop. We photographed the Grand Mosque and took lunch in a kebab restaurant. Excellent fare for 1€, though restaurant is really too grand a term. Then it was on to the Kasbah des Oudaias, the site of the original ribat and citadel of the Almohad, Merenid and Andalusian towns. We entered through the Bab Oudaia, as there were some thuggish touts almost blocking the lower entrance to the museum. Actually we also attracted a tout at the gate itself and another when wandering the streets inside. Gratefully Rough Guide had warned of their presence here. The gate originates from around 1195 and was purely ceremonial. It was to be the Heart of the Kasbah. The Souk el Ghezel was located just inside the gate but was closing for prayer time as we arrived.

We walked around the Kasbah and then through to 'la platforme' for a short walk through the Souk to a broad belvedere/terrace commanding views of the river and sea and offering panoramic views for photography. From there we walked down to the lower exterior road and then all around the exterior of the fortress.

Our final stop for the day was at the Hassan Mosque and Mohammed V Mausoleum and we had certainly kept the best until last. Just a 15-minute walk from the Kasbah, the site is beautiful and awesome. There are lancers on guard at the entrance and they smile and nod and return greetings. Then at the Mausoleum there are 4 sentries with inlaid Mausers at the 4 entrances and 4 more lancers inside at the corners. The Mosque and Mausoleum face the Tower and were begun after the King's death in 1961, being completed 6 years later. Now Hassan II and his brother, Moulay Abdellah, are buried here as well, in smaller but no less beautiful sarcophagi all carved in white onyx. The Mausoleum was designed by a Vietnamese architect. The man reading the Koran was missing.

The Tower (or Minaret) was never finished and is 2/3 of its projected height at 50m. It looms over the river and is notable not only for its height and position but also as each facade is different. A truly beautiful site and, unlike most of Rabat, it appears to be kept in almost pristine condition. It certainly impressed us, as did, in spite of the crowds, the solemnity and sense of gravity. The guards were just so 'human' and were more than happy to pose with visitors for photos. Sandra paid 2€ (no bargaining here) for a photo of a local dressed as a Water Seller. His face alone was worth the 2€ and will become one of our better photos.

So finally we were at the end of the day, which was just as well as it started to rain. We became quite disorientated at times, finding our way back to the Terminus at the Bab el Had and then waiting an eternity for the No 33 Bus to put in an appearance. When it did it was 'every man or woman for themselves' and one man was actually dragged back off by a young woman fighting to get on past him. By now it was really dark but a fellow passenger told us when to get off.
The end of an excellent day in Rabat with some exceptional sights and with far less hassle and annoyance than we would have believed possible. It's no wonder that Sale is considered nothing more than a backwater suburb and a particularly scruffy one at that.

Day 12 - Thursday. 17 December 2009

Today was Chellah, just outside the main city of Rabat and allegedly the most beautiful of Moroccan ruins. If so, then we worry for the rest, as in Spain it would hardly deserve or receive a passing glance. The walls and main gate are an impressive sight when viewed from the long avenues of the Ville Nouvelle, but these are the best parts. The ruins themselves are tatty and ill kempt with no signage whatsoever. Probably removed by the touts who, while present, were easy to rebuff due to a Police presence. There was no sign to indicate the Roman ruins or the various tombs and we had difficulty comparing the map in Rough Guide with what we were seeing.

Actually we found the storks and friendly cats far more interesting that a group of dusty, derelict, muddy ruins, which were neither interesting nor well presented. We identified the tomb of Abou el Hassan (1331-51) but not the tombstone of his wife, Shams ed Douna (Morning Sun). The eel pool, where women allegedly came to feed boiled eggs to the fish in the hope of fertility, was drained and the eels probably eaten or sold by the same staff who were raiding the garden's tangerine trees and creating such damage.

We managed less than an hour at Chellah and then caught a bus into town for a meal in the Souk. We purchased bread for 1 Dh per loaf, some grapes at 1€ for 3 kilos and some pirate DVDs at 5 Dh each. We shall try them this evening. Then a leisurely walk through a part of the Medina we had missed yesterday, before returning to the Terminus where a No 33 Bus had just pulled in. Back to the campsite and a leisurely end to our visit to Rabat. We pull south again tomorrow. We managed to divert 3 French motorhomes from entering the site. We feel sure they will manage better further on, as they were only looking for overnight parking.

A few prices (at less than 10 Dh to the Euro): Bread 1 Dh a loaf. Tajine in the Souk 18 Dh, with salad 4 Dh (but incredibly more expensive in any restaurant we have used so far). Internet 7 Dh per hour. Stamps 7.8 Dh to UK/Europe for a letter. DVDs 5-8 Dh. Slippers 30 Dh. Taxi negotiable (we now carry a pad on which a seller can write his price, then we can offer ours). Bus 3.5 Dh (appears to be a fixed price). Post Cards 2-10 Dh or 30 Dh for the pack of 10. More to follow.

Day 13 - Friday, 18 December 2009 

Rip-off of the Day: We start the day with the Caretaker informing us that it was 100 Dh per day without electricity and not the 70 Dh that he had written on Sandra's pad. I was all for visiting the Gendarmerie next door but communal wisdom was that it wasn't worth it. A foul day weather-wise with torrential rain and gusting winds from 6 am. However by 10am all was well and so we exited under the broken barrier without a wave, smile or tip. (That is unless 'avoid it like the plague').

We drove along the coast road through Ech Chiana (Rose Marie Plage) and past the impressive Royal Palace at Skhirat Plage. This was the scene in July 1971 of a coup by Senior Moroccan Generals against King Hassan on the occasion of his birthday celebrations. Several of the guests were shot and the coup only failed, it would appear, with the fortunate shooting of the insurgents' leader, General Medbuh. The palace shines in splendour among the surrounding squalor.

Then Bouznika Plage and Dahomey Plage, stopping finally at Camping Mimosa in Mansouria. No problem at Camping Mimosa, apart from the access road and the electric supply with its limited capacity. It holds a permanent population of residents in 'bungalows' working locally. Again, after viewing the facilities, we shall be using our own! Again Sandra painstakingly had the manager confirm in writing the charges: 12 Dh per person, motorhome 20 Dh, electricity 20 Dh, tax at 10% = 70 Dh per day. We wait to see.

Being north of Port Blondin and Mohammedia itself, Mansouria is less than picturesque. We walked a little way along the coastal road but, apart from the line of tankers waiting in the roads for the piers and jetties of Mohammedia, it was pretty drear. We used the restaurant adjacent to the campsite, as recommended by a charming pair of Belgians. Sandra had the veal, while I had the usual overflowing platter of mixed fried fish and prawns. Alcohol was available but, at 22€ for a bottle for wine, we decided to stick to Adam's Ale. Moroccan wine is said to be indifferent at best and I'm not sure if we'll find out at these prices. My fish was essentially the same as that served in the Souk (yesterday) but cost 3 times as much, though served in reasonable comfort if not luxury. I wonder at the cutlery, which is the tinny aluminium-type that one used to see years ago in UK. It's disappeared now from Europe and it appears it was exported here.

So tomorrow the plan is for a taxi to the railway/bus Station at Mohammedia and then by train/bus into Casa, as Casablanca is known locally.

Day 14 - Saturday, 19 December 2009 

It hammered down with rain all day, so we just stayed in and read. We carry about 50 books at all times plus a rechargeable DVD. Such a pity that of the 3 pirate DVDs from the souk (1 for 75c and 2 at 45c each), only one was not in French. In future we shall take the portable DVD with us and try DVDs before purchasing. Being on electricity also allows us to use our fan heater, although frankly it's not been required to date.

In this respect, if my comments regarding the campsites to date seem a little negative, one must remember that we rarely use campsites in Europe or Australia, preferring to Wild Camp. Still, the one at Tamara was nothing short of a hovel and here at Camping Mimosa you certainly wouldn't use any of the shared facilities and the pitches are short, with a plethora of overgrown eucalyptus trees surrounding and lining each pad and entry way. On the road I am grateful for Mr C's considerable ground clearance and we had no difficulty here in reversing onto our slab (the trees and the rear drop off being the only concern) but we actually have a Rapido now blocking the main thoroughfare (a lane aka new river), as they are unable or unwilling to face the step from lane to pad. Anyway, fingers crossed for tomorrow.

Note: We are well under budget but certainly the sites and food have not proved as inexpensive as we had been led to believe.

Day 15 - Sunday, 20 December 2009 

Although it's a grey morning, we decided to risk it. Taxi from the top of the lane (24 Dh) dropped us off at the bus/train station. We waited patiently for the No 900 but, as it arrived, we were swarmed by a mass of football thugs/hooligans/yobs that pushed their way on board irrespective of those in front. The bus finally departed with them hanging onto the door-well, preventing it from closing. The 2 Casablanca teams were apparently playing. We decided to take the train, which was 30 Dh per person return, dropping us off at Casa Port for a taxi to the Mosque (40 Dh), although it was so close, as it turned out, that we walked back, photographing Rick's Bar as we passed.

At a stated half a billion GBP (or as our guide stated US $800,000), the Mosque is truly spectacular and we were right to hang on and visit. The entry fee is 120 Dh pp (Ticket Office downstairs) and you also get a sticky badge and a large plastic bag to put your shoes in. There were guides for every imaginable language and ours was female and extremely good. You are allowed to take photos anywhere in the public area but we did not see the glass floor and the roof was closed due to the weather. Apparently the roof (of Cedar from the Middle Atlas) weighs 1100 tonnes and is really only open when the mosque is jam-packed full, as there are no air conditioners. The huge doors featuring on all walls are made of titanium, due to light weight and resistance to corrosion. The details of the Mosque are as in Rough Guide, but just to reiterate:

Following a speech by King Hassan the Second in 1980, construction started the same year. The Mosque was inaugurated August 30th 1993. Designed by the French architect Michel Pinseau, its Minaret is actually 200 m high making it by far the tallest structure in the country, as well as the tallest minaret in the world. (Here the guide stated that the minarets at Mecca and Medina in Saudi were higher). The Mosque itself provides space for 25,000 worshippers within and a further 80,000 in its courtyard. A glass floor in the mosque reveals the ocean below, a reminder of the Koran's statement reiterated by Hassan II that God's throne is on the water. The Mosque is second only to Mecca's in size and St Peter's in Rome could fit comfortably inside it. During the early 1990s, when it was being readied for opening, 1400 men worked by day and a further 1100 by night. Most were master craftsmen working Marble from Agadir, Cedar from the Middle Atlas, Granite from Tafraoute, and (the only imports) glass from Murano near Venice and a small amount of Carrara marble. The cost, in excess of half a billion and probably far more, was raised by not entirely voluntary public subscription. Despite resentment in some quarters at this, there is also a genuine pride in the project and pictures of the mosque are displayed in homes and cafes throughout the land (the guide stated that 1/3 was from the King and 2/3 from the public). The mosque had a knock-on effect on the economy, too; at one stage the level of donations was so high that it temporarily reduced Morocco's money supply and brought down inflation.

The visit also includes the 'Turkish Bath' adjacent to the Mosque (one for each sex) but, in fact, they have never opened. They are superbly appointed and interestingly the inner columns are finished in lower tile and upper 'Italian/Venetian plaster', the composition of which causes it to absorb moisture. So the metal chandeliers here are not corroded as are the ones outside.
We walked as much of the exterior as was permissible and then walked back past Rick's Bar and through part of the old Medina. It was a real hovel and we found nowhere to eat. Then the rain lashed down and it was quick march back to the rail station and the train back to Mohammedia. From there a taxi to the campsite and a 'dry' lunch.

Taxis: As you know, you have to barter for these in Morocco and Sandra's pad is becoming ever more useful. A German here on camp had told us 4 Dh pp from here to the train station. We showed the taxi driver that price and he agreed, until he pulled off and then explained that his Mercedes taxi could take 6 and so was it OK if he picked up 4 more or did we want to pay 4 dh x 4 more for the entire cab? Passing Mercedes cabs did in fact have 2 in the passenger front seat and 4 in the back seat, and yet petit taxis are limited to 3 passengers at a time. At the Casa end, the taxi drivers wanted you to hire them for 2-3hrs but when we explained repeatedly that it was only to The Mosque we were directed to a Grand Taxi and it still cost the agreed 40 Dh. Go figure!

Day 16 - Monday, 21 December 2009 

After going to the beach for a while, we got onto the motorway as it was already gone noon and yet again the weather was closing in fast. The rain lashed down turning the slums outside and around Casablanca into a post-apocalyptic scene, made even more bizarre by the serried ranks of satellite dishes atop the hovels. From La Mohammedia to El-Jadida is about 85 km and the total toll came to 66 Dh (6.1€). Actually there were 3 sets of pay-tolls, so an excellent way to get change.

Just before El-Jadida we were slowed by the strong gusty winds, sleeting rain, waterlogged road surface and my natural caution in the haze. I kept on until the turning to the campsite, which is undoubtedly the best we have been on to date, although the 'free' campsite at Larache would be a very close second. It's 74 Dh a night including electricity. We had no sooner had lunch than a Brit was knocking on the door asking if we had a spare mains cable. We do and so, clambering like Spiderman to the top of Mr C, I claimed it from the roof-box and dropped it off. He was delighted although he intends to buy cable and plugs in the town if he can. We have had this old cable for years but ceased using it when the Spanish plug broke from UV.

So, weather diabolical at present and we have to visit the town to walk the 'Cite Portugaise', the remnants remaining from its days as a Portuguese possession. There is also the Cistern which appeared in Orson Wells' Othello - but more of that later.

Day 17 - Tuesday, 21 December 2009

Glorious sunshine from 10 am with clouds gathering again after mid-afternoon.

El Jadida was Mazagan under the Portuguese who held it from 1506-1769, when it was taken by Sultan Sidi Mohammed Ben Abdallah who renamed it El Jadida – 'the new'. Today the glorious beaches are the main attraction in summer and even today there were surfers trying the waters. El Jadida is certainly the tidiest and cleanest we have seen to date. According to motorhomers on-site 'this is the start of Morocco' and everything we have seen so far is the result of the industrialisation or attempted industrialisation of the north. Apparently many Moroccophiles arrive at either Tangier or Ceuta and overnight on the motorway until they arrive here or at Essaouira or Agadir, from where their Moroccan holidays begin. Still, to date we have seen 6 of the 36 'must sees' in Morocco and today we saw another.

The Cite Portugaise: El Jadida's Medina is often referred to as the Cite Portugaise after its founders. Allegedly it is slowly being restored but we saw no sign of any restoration work. Actually there is very little to see of note apart from the Old Portuguese Cistern which we have mentioned previously. It was still 10 Dh pp to enter and for a garbled chat and for photos - not sure ours will be as good as those staged by Wells in Othello!!!!! (but they are ours!!!!!) So many of these cisterns still exist in Spain and they are of the same construction, a subterranean vault that mirrors its roof and pillars in water. Carrying on along the same street we came to the Sea Gate (Bab el Bahr) which used to be the old access to and from the Port. Then onto the walls and around to the Bastions on each corner. Here the desolation is particularly marked, with cannon rusting on rotten and often collapsed carriages.

Out of the Medina and into the brass and copper souk, where we attempted to bargain for a brass tray and a copper and brass scuttle. A campsite Moroccophile was appalled by the asking price (which I was prepared to pay) and begged me to leave such purchases until at least Marrakesh! Well, as he has been visiting for 25 years I decided to take heed!

A bit of a disappointment this evening when we went back into town, lured by reportedly really low prices on Dongles (mobile broadband). Actually the Dongle turned out to be 45€ and then 18€ per month. We felt this not really cost effective, with internet cafes at 5-7 Dh/hr, so we just checked our emails.

A wild night with no sleep possible after 3.30 am due to the blustery gale force winds and lashing rain. The eucalyptus trees behind us rained down a steady stream of twigs and seeds but gratefully no large branches. Neighbours who had tried an up-market pizzeria had severe enteritis.

Day 18 - Wednesday, 23 December 2009  

We moved our motorhome away from the trees and decided that was enough for today. However the morning was spent entertaining Anthony, a property entrepreneur from UK, and Hans (known here as Hassan from Norway apparently), a Norwegian lorry driver. Together with Paul, an Irish ex-motorcycle dealer, they have 3 motorhomes and are friends for several years.

Anyway, we now have our route mapped out south and east of Agadir and have learned about the Solar Panel installers at Atlantic Park south of Essouria, where allegedly a system costs about 3000 Dh or less, and the Upholsterers of Agadir. Obviously we are interested, the more so in the latter as we are intending to get Mr C reupholstered once back in UK. We have the maps and details. Apparently once we get to Atlantic Park and then Agadir, we shall see hundreds of motorhomes, many of whom avail themselves of the services mentioned above. Although primarily French, I am assured that there will be plenty of others able to point us in the right direction. So, more information, and that's what you find from so many travellers, although rarely before have we had such a plethora other than in Australia (and all because I loaned Anthony a mains hook-up cable, which he returned within 24 hours together with a bottle of Moroccan Sauvignon, having fitted a new 2 pin plug to one end).

Day 19 - Thursday, 24 December 2009

Today started with a goodbye to Anthony, Paul and Hans. Out of the campsite for 10 am and along to the Supermarket where a small packet of Kellogg's Cornflakes was the equivalent of £5 and a packet of crisps was almost £3.

Exiting town we were supposed to pick up the R 301 Coast Road but after half an hour of 'wanderings' we happened on the N1, mistaking it for the Coast Road. By the time we discovered the error we had no choice but to carry on to El-Agagcha, where we turned towards Oualidia on the coast, our proposed destination. Gratefully the road wasn't too bad but arriving finally at Oualidia, the focus of the Moroccan oyster industry, we decided we would push on to Safi.

Leaving Oualidia on the Coast Road we did indeed see some truly beautiful coastline, with the land falling sharply between road and cliffs to form a huge plateau which is intensively farmed. So we had this bright and wide strip of green below us and then the cliff, which appeared in places as precipitous as on the Australian Nullabor. However, here the ocean is a dirty muddy brown (the Atlantic) and not the glittering blue of the Southern Ocean off Australia. We also had high winds and occasion torrential rain as we drove the 50 km into Safi but on a clear day the panorama would have been stunning, necessitating a number of camera stops. As the Coast Road descends into Safi there is a large viewing platform with the whole of the city, the cliffs and angry sea laid out before you. Too wild today but we will re-visit hopefully before we leave Safi on our continuing journey.

Camping International is open and even more expensive at 90 Dh per day with electricity - and you pay up front. The electricity isn't on (probably the weather again) but we were still required to pay on the promise that it would be restored shortly. Cold showers only, although western toilets. Not a single English speaker on site, although only about 6 vehicles all told. We found the Manager and apparent owner unpleasant and Sandra made sure that the 10 Dh change he never seemed to have (100 Dh note for 90 Dh) was not forgotten.

A few points: Just before Jemaa-Sani we noticed 3 robust young males working in the fields beside the road. Approaching, with one motorhome in front and another behind, one of the three, a huge burly youth, raced across the intervening field to position himself at the roadside and with hand to mouth attempted to flag us down and extort money. Two of us went by, giving this lout a wave, but with the third he aimed a blow at the vehicle, although we are unsure if he connected. All along the trip there were various hand-gestures for hand-outs but the majority signage by far was just from young children waving us by with big smiles on their faces.

Part way along the Coastal Road we started seeing shell sellers with large Conche type shells threaded on sticks, together with shell necklaces etc. We didn't stop but will look in the Souk. (Did, but didn't see any).

Day 20 - Friday, 25 December 2009 

After breakfast it was into Safi itself, walking the 2 km down the hill and into the town. WHAT A DUMP and the bad weather didn't help. Let's recap the pleasures! The Dar El Bahar or Chateau de la Mer was closed. It's the main remnant of the Portuguese occupation and is sited on the waterfront above the old port. We were unsure as to whether entrance was gained via a garbage and faeces-strewn urine-smelling abomination of an underpass under the railway line, or directly from the main street itself, but it never opened. However on such a blustery day we were unsure whether we would have risked the battlements with their reported cannon. Still, if we had, we should have managed some shots of a coffee-brown maelstrom of a sea boiling against the harbour walls. Similarly the other fortress, the Kechla, was also not available.

The Medina is a dump with its only spot of colour being in the pottery Souk which, while small, is loaded with all manner of variously coloured and functional pottery. We were the only ex-pats and bidding for OUR attention was brisk. On a second visit, we finally purchased a wall plate for home, bargained down from 180 Dh to 100 Dh. We say return/second visit, as early on we had collected the usual 'friendly' tout who we continually tried to slough off. We were repeatedly direct and he would back off, only to reappear 5 minutes later further on in the Souk. When we informed him we didn't want a 'guide', he informed us he was a local painter and he was an example of the friendly locals. He offered us the services (should we need them) of a local British Doctor (possibly a Gastroenterologist) who has been here for 20 years or more.

When I informed him I was also a retired Doctor, he was keen to drag us off to this Brit's office for tea. Again we declined! Although it may sound small-minded, his parasitic behaviour quite blunted what little enjoyment we might have derived from the old walls and various gates, and we aborted our proposed visit to the 'Colline des Potiers' (potters' quarter) with its dozens of white-washed beehive-shaped kilns. The goods on offer were no different to those in the Souk and we returned there alone for our one and only purchase. Even that was slightly amusing, as we were offered the plate for 180 Dh which we countered with an offer of 100 Dh that was immediately accepted. Sandra and money went to the till where the seller was joined by a third party, who loudly decried that the plate could not be sold at that price. Sandra immediately stated 'That's OK', turned and walked away, only to be immediately assured the price WAS OK and so the transaction was completed.

The highlight of the visit to 'dear old Safi' was that we were sitting in 'The Restaurant de Safi' awaiting our Xmas feast of Mixed Cous Cous, Chicken Tajine and Omelette, washed down with 'Mint Tea' aka 'Whisky Moroccain'.

Back to camp for a snacky tea/supper, washed down with our Spanish wine from home. We tried the 'excellent' Moroccan wine we had been given as a present and declared it fit only for 'tinto de verano'. And this was allegedly the 'best' wine!!!!!!! (glad we didn't buy it).
Historical Note: Thor Heyerdahl, of Kon Tikki fame, had a theory that ancient Mediterranean people could have crossed the Atlantic to Central America long before Columbus made the same voyage in 1492. To test his theory he built Ra, a reed ship, in 1969 in Safi and prepared to sail across the Atlantic from the town. His first attempt in Ra failed but a year later, in 1970, Ra II successfully crossed the Atlantic and reached Barbados, proving his theory correct. Just beyond Safi the Canary Current and the trade wind seize anything that floats and send it to America.

Day 21 - Saturday, 26 December 2009 

Exited for 10 am and, after only a few minor misdirections, joined the R301 Coast Road. The exit from the city by this route takes in some truly abominable industrial sites, again enhanced by the grey skies and episodic showers. Huge areas of surface flooding didn't help either. Then it was through Souira Kedima, which appears to be in the process of being enhanced by holiday homes, and then a further 100 km to Essaouria. Although there were some impressive seascapes and eventual evidence of luxury villas as we neared the city, generally the scenery was unremarkable although we enjoyed a short stretch through pine woodland which relaxed the eyes somewhat. Finally after 125 km, and arriving at the city itself, we located 'Camping Sidi Magdoul' positioned near the lighthouse without any difficulty. Absolutely packed but only 58 Dh per night with power.

So, having connected up, it was a long walk into town. This is not the norm, I hasten to add, but was due to the torrential flooding they have had and the damage to the Esplanade and surrounding properties causing extensive flooding. Mile after mile of beautiful golden sands are now covered with filth and tons of driftwood. Actually this has proved a boon to many a local, with hundreds of same on the beach collecting driftwood to use as firewood. Carts and lorries everywhere, although in spite of such industry I imagine that some heavy machinery will be needed at the end of the day to restore the beach. By now it was mid-afternoon but we walked along the Esplanade and past the city wall and various gates before arriving at Orson Welles' Square, with a graphic engraving of the actor/producer standing full square (excuse the pun) in the middle. This again was a site chosen for the shooting of 'Othello'.

Then through the Marine Gate and into the fishing port, which is open to the public and where we saw one such boat under construction. There are trawlers and sardine boats and it's all very colourful, atmospheric and smelly. Essaouira is the country's third fishing port after Agadir and Safi. Some wonderful vistas and panoramas kept the camera busy. Then it was 10 Dh pp to visit the Skala du Port with its Spanish cannon originating from Seville and Barcelona.

Back past the fish grills and into the town proper. I digress at this point to mention the fish grill cafes!!!! Their virtue/s is/are extolled to the heavens in 'Rough Guide Morocco'. They are the worst we have ever visited. The seats were soaking, the plates open to flies, cats etc. The portion was an insult at 60 Dh and at least one of the pieces of white fish was semi- cooked. Needless to say we paid the price later on. When the author eulogised about these restaurants they must have been under different management! Stick to the restaurants on the main avenue as you enter the town.

We found the wood-working quarter, which is along the Rue de Skala, built into the ramparts. We found this Souk delightful with hardly any harassment. Thuya, a local aromatic mahogany-like hardwood produced from a local coniferous tree (only repeating) is worked into any number of boxes, statues etc etc, with the trunk and root (loupe) being used. The latter is the denser. As Rough Guide suggested, we sought a price guide from Afalkay Art at 9 Place Prince Moulay el Hassan, but there were interpreters for every European language and you were able to access information. Within the Medina everyone appeared in high spirits and there were no objections to photographs of stall holders or wares. There was an old man on a corner sitting knitting woolly hats - delightful, and industrious from the hundreds displayed in serried rows. We returned to the battlement and came upon a TV camera crew et al filming a 'pop video'. There was the male star preening in full length silk coat and trousers and his harassed female co-star, who was being made up and adorned with heavy Bedouin jewellery.

Day 22 - Sunday, 27 December 2009 

A slow start after a very busy afternoon and evening yesterday, but with the Esplanade open it was a shorter walk back into town. Essaouira is by popular acclaim Morocco's most likeable resort, a comment which to date we would agree with. An 18th century town, enclosed by medieval-looking battlements, facing a cluster of rocky offshore islands and trailed by a vast expanse of empty sands and dunes. It has white-washed and blue-shuttered houses and colonnades, wood workshops and art galleries, boat builders and sardine fishermen, feathery Norfolk Island pines which only thrive in a pollution-free atmosphere. The work on the town's walls, which was completed in 1770, was ordered by the sultan Sidi Mohammed Ben Abdallah and carried out by a French military architect, Theodore Cornut, which explains the town's unique blend of Moroccan Medina and French grid layout.

Today, in preparation for departure tomorrow, we made our purchases. A beautiful jewellery box for Sandra, from the shop mentioned above, was not inexpensive at 150€ but Sandra chose it. Then we wandered the Thuya workshops and outlets looking for something comparable but we found nothing of such quality. Postcards and stamps (the former 2 Dh and the latter 7.8 Dh), a late lunch and then it was back to camp. Purchasing the box, we needed to wait about 30 mins while the item was repolished with a variety of grades of sand-paper and then re-oiled. We waited in the Orson Welles Square, where we were joined on our bench by one of the numerous friendly and healthy town cats. They are everywhere - a veritable cat city - and the locals seem to feed and water them without animosity. Guess they keep down the vermin and there are plenty of fish heads and entrails available.

We were also treated to aerial acrobatics by the squadrons of Lesser Black Backed Gulls - an argumentative and garrulous lot to be sure. Returning to the gallery, the box was ready and we were treated to a repeat of the 'tip-generating' scenario we had seen earlier. Your appointed salesman (no women) produces a 20 Dh note and states that this or a 30 Dh tip were acceptable, but not mandatory, direct to the polisher. I shall leave you to decide the outcome!!!!!

Even though this has been one of the most cramped campsites to date, still the town has been the most dramatic and inspirational. We can check another 2 'must-sees' from the list - the ramparts and the wind-surfing. Actually we never did, or intended to do, the latter and with the weather and the debris in the water we only saw a handful of surfers and even fewer para-gliders. Still. It MUST BE SO, as Essaouira has previously promoted itself as Wind City, Afrika, due to the prevailing wind known locally as the alizee. Maybe further on down the coast.

Day 23 - Monday, 28 December 2009

Out of the camp and on our way by 10 am, but not before Lorraine had tried to 'stitch us up' on a book swap. Now this will sound really snobbish, but scummy Brits are scummy Brits wherever you find them in the world. God knows, there are enough of them in Spain.

The drive down the N1 to Taghazout was extremely pleasant, and the road surface precluded any sustained speeds over 70 km/h. Once out of Essaouira it was relatively picturesque countryside and we actually saw 'goats in trees!' (another crossing off in the must-sees). One of the stranger sights of the Souss and surrounding coastal region is goats browsing among the branches of spiny, knotted argan trees: a species similar to the olive that is found only in this region. Though some younger goatherds seem to add a sideline in charging tourists to take photographs (as happened to us - 2 Dh), the actual object of the exercise is to let the goats eat the outer, fleshy part of the argan fruit. The hard, inner nut is then cracked open and the kernel crushed to extract the expensive oil. Argan oil is sweet and rich and is used in many Moroccan dishes, in salads or for dunking bread. It is also used to make amalou, a delicious dip of argan oil, honey, and almond paste.

An expensive delicacy, argan oil is not easily extracted: whilst one olive tree provides around 5 litres of olive oil, it takes the nuts from 30 argan trees to make just 1 litre of argan oil. Plastic bottles of argan oil are occasionally sold at the roadside in the Oued Souss area but are often (some would say usually) adulterated with cheaper oils. Indeed we saw many such roadside stalls in the same area as the tree-goats but we thought they were selling honey. In fact it may be that they were selling argan oil and honey in separate containers. We'll never know.

Finally, as we crested the mountains, there was the sea. Not the muddy disgusting broth of Safi but the bottle green depths of the Atlantic. A 'real seascape'. Shortly thereafter the first surfers and windsurfers turned up, although the former appeared far more numerous and we immediately noticed the increase in ex-pat-driven cars and 4x4's and the emblematic rooftop boards and accessories. Into Taghazout - and no 'Camping Taghazout' to be found. So much for Lorraine's 'useful information'.

We had passed Atlantic Park and, as a solar system was not imperative, on finding Camping Atlantis 4 km further on to be a 'council estate' of motorhomes, we turned back 2 km and parked on the beach, together with about 10 other motorhomes. You can see the aborted development that was to be here, with mile after mile of levelling and grading right from the road to the cliffs. This was allegedly stopped due to 'back-handers' but that's probably as much a fiction as 'Camping Taghazout'. Some very attractive French 'crusties' in a home-made motorhome told us that they had purchased 17 solar panels the day before and could 'phone a friend' regarding a system. We decided to pass for the time being.

So here we are, having a late lunch by an apparently pristine sea - the first time we have really 'Wild-Camped' since arriving in Morocco. We'd been appalled by the serried rows at Camping Atlantis and, should we have stayed there, it would have been on the beach just outside where more 'crusties' were ensconced in reasonable splendour.

WRONG AGAIN- Half an hour later the Police and Army turned up and we were ordered (rudely as it happens) to vacate the beach and move to a campsite. Not just our beach but, looking through the binoculars, every beach we could see! We figured the campsite was to blame. Just as we were about to leave, here comes Hassan, the solar guy, and we are now due to return to Atlantic Park tomorrow to have a 125 watt panel fitted, plus cable, solar regulator and 2nd recreational battery for 315€ (or 405€ with the 225watt panel).

Then it was back to Camping Atlantis, where a gloating Manager took 9€ for 1 night without power (we were damned if we were going to pay an extra 2€ for electric). We parked up and went off to thank the attractive French 'crusties', who similarly had been ordered to move. They were under active Army surveillance. They were unsure where they would end up, possibly Paradise Valley just south and inland. Anyway, good comes of bad and we not only had a super group of young Germans next to us in an ex-Police aka Desert ATV but also met up with the Aussies we first met in Moulay Busselham. Sadly, the Germans are on their way back to Germany (5-6 days and leaving tomorrow) after reaching the desert and realising that with the inclement weather it would be 'madness' to go on alone.

The Aussies were just a hoot and we have just staggered back from a few 'tinto de veranos' and a load of yarns. They have trouble with their motorhome fridge when they are on mains, so we have promised to ask Hassan tomorrow. Actually the campsite, here out in the unpowered area, is not too bad and it has distanced us from the hawkers who were all over us 'like a rash' there on the beach. One of them was really obnoxious to Derek, and we believe his barb has upset our travelling companion unnecessarily. I've worked in too many Arab countries to be surprised (or give a damn!!!!!!!!).

Day 24 - Tuesday, 29 December 2009

A real shower for the very first time on any site in Morocco. Steaming hot water and everything clean and tidy. Any mess had patently been dragged in by clients, who were obviously too grand to take the squeegee to the floor following use. Probably French!!!!!!!!

So back to the original Atlantic Park and by the end of the morning we had our solar fitted, with a 225w panel sitting snugly on the roof with a German solar controller, cabling all set in ducting where possible or requested and the cabling run for a second recreational battery. Unfortunately his suggested replacement didn't fit under the driver's seat and so we are to return tomorrow for the job to be completed. By the time we left the solar regulator was already indicating the battery was fully charged.

In the same complex we found an upholsterer and, whilst the price of 900€ was excellent (the entire van plus curtains etc - the cheapest in UK so far for Ύ of the van is £2000), we just couldn't find a fabric we liked. So we shall try in Agadir, as we now have a price to compare. We fear the fabrics will be the same but we shall not be downhearted as, on a later trip, we can always return with fabric of our choice and just pay for labour. We also met a mechanic (for our Aussie friends' motorhome, Scooby - they have rust that needs attending to) and he will turn up at 5 pm at the campsite. Eventually it turned out that it was his brother who was needed and he is coming tomorrow.

This, the first Atlantic Park caravan site, is owned by another of the brothers, who owns the one we are on. Too busy here for us and hemmed in by buildings to the front. They must be coining it but generally we have found the staff surly, unhelpful and patronising.

On the way back to our campsite for hopefully our final night, we pulled in as we spotted a UK Motorhome. Apparently the surfing hasn't been real good due to wind, wave direction and current all conflicting. They just look like huge rollers to us but we had wondered why no-one was out. Last thing we were joined by the young Aussies, who brought us a travelling book: 'The Seven Year Hitch - A Family Odyssey'. We hope to meet up with them in Brisbane in 2010-2011.

Day 25 - Wednesday, 30 December 2009

Back to Hassan and finished by 10.30 am. 405€ and we are delighted! We revisited the upholsterer but still didn't like the fabric patterns on offer. We shall have to live with it for years to come, so discretion is definitely necessary. Derek had his Motorhome power washed for 70Dh (we had hand-washed Mr C while we were being solared yesterday) and I re-blacked the front bumper. We exchanged our empty Spanish gas bottle for a full one at the fishmongers (20€, which is more than twice the 9.50€ we would pay in Spain) and were told a lie when he stated that such was no longer possible in Agadir. Next day, as we parked in Camping International, Agadir, we were to be offered a gas refill there on site, so looks like we may have been 'ripped off' again to some degree. Still, we now have enough gas to finish the trip, even if we stay the entire 90 days permitted.

So back through Taghazout , past the campsite and a left turn at Aourir (Banana Village) to take the Paradise Valley and Immouzer des Ida Outanane road. In retrospect, and should we be spared to return to the coast, A BAD MISTAKE. Obviously there is little point asking a local and opinions among travellers varied. To Paradise Valley was a little hairy in places, but from there on veritably nail-biting. The torrential rain of the last few weeks has caused incredible damage and the road has only just re-opened. Huge sections washed away or covered in mud, rocks and assorted debris. Guard rails (concrete blocks) either washed into the paralleling river or bull-dozed to aid drainage. Ascending the mountain road, having passed the valley (on the way to the waterfalls), meant hair-pin bends with only vertical drops to our passenger side. No guard rails whatsoever. And of course the Moroccan vehicles all determined to push past you, through you or round you at every available spot.

Paradise Valley, after the dust dry hills and plain, was a 'sight for sore eyes'. The road however, as mentioned above, wasn't, and a number of times Derek was all for turning back. Still, we ploughed on in hopes that the road would improve - it didn't. Finally 18 km from the waterfalls, which were our destination, we admitted defeat, turned around and headed back to the campsite. It was only marginally better returning to the plain, as there was more traffic using the road, much of it taxis and grand-taxis.

It was in an altercation with one such that Derek collided with a barrier and scratched one of the Chausson's skirts. Returning to camp, he went absolutely ballistic, reclaimed his 2-way radio, returned our map and exited as though the hounds of Hades were on his tail. Actually things have not been well for a number of days, which we ascribed to them not managing Morocco and its pros and cons. We noticed they didn't talk to people the way we do and almost seemed to object when we did. Anyway, enough said; they are gone and Sandra and I breathed a collective sigh of relief. In fairness we normally travel alone and only Morris and Helen, in Oz, proved to be the long-term 'ideal, faultless companions' that we all hope we shall meet, and rarely do.
So back to Camping Atlantica for the last evening - and such a pleasant one, where we said our final goodbyes to the Aussies, although we shall either meet them further along or in Brisbane next year.

Day 26 - Thursday, 31 December 2009 

A slow start but only 12 km into Agadir. We passed the campsite on which we shall now be residing for the next 4-5 days. The reason?! - we are having Mr C re-upholstered at the upholsterers recommended by Hans and Anthony. Their map was really excellent and we were able to park initially opposite the Souk and walk to the shop to ensure we found it.

It's Tapisserie & Garniture, Tel 212(0)28223238, email: . Yassine the Manager is on: They had a much more impressive and professional establishment with a material we were happy with. It will take 3-4 days at a total cost of £1245, to include the total interior excluding the 2 cab seats (fixed-non swivel) but including the bed space in the Luton. We are also having new foam to the dinette seats and also the mattress. Our only quote so far in UK was for £2000, which did not include any replacement foam and was for the various cushions only and excluding the bed-space. What a saving!

Obviously we are going to have to draw daily from our Spanish Bank Account and so Yassin (son of the owner) took us first to an Internet Cafe and then an ATM. Now here is the interesting point. Rough Guide had said that CC/Debit Card was better than cash and so it turned out. We were getting 11.11 Dh per € on CC and anywhere from 10-11 for cash. So, point taken. We left having stripped out the upholstery from the rear lounge and are due back at the shop at 10 am tomorrow. They are working tomorrow, New Year's Day, with only the Sunday off. So, CC permitting, we shall be finished and clear for end of play Monday.

Obviously we only drove through Agadir to find the shop but will be back again tomorrow, when we probably have the dinette commenced. So, on a daily basis we can explore the adjacent Souk which seems to be the only thing worth visiting. Again our fellow travellers were quite explicit that you visit Agadir for shopping and leave ASAP.

Back to Camping International, Agadir, where we shall now be based for the next 4-5 days. Perfectly acceptable so far as we have seen and 100 Dh/day for 2 adults and motorhome, plus 4 Dh/day for electricity but we are too far from a power outlet for it to be convenient. Still, we have our new Solar. Camping International, Agadi, was allegedly condemned several years ago and yet is still open and packed. The toilets and showers are unusable due to the usual squalor - just good enough to use as dump-points. Litter overflowing from the one and only wheelie-bin, although the site itself appears reasonably clean and tidy - more due, we suspect, to the residents than the staff.
Fireworks at midnight to welcome in the New Year. Then we had a group of garrulous intoxicated Germans talking loudly in the vicinity for about Ύ of an hour. One of the reasons we dislike sites.

Day 27 - Frida, 1 January 2010 

HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!!!!!

Not much to report for today as we spent most of the day parked outside the Upholsterers. Still, by 12 noon the cushions etc for the rear lounge had been returned and fitted, and the rest of the motorhome stripped out. Will be a bit of a delay as the replacement foam for the 2 dinette seats and the bed mattress has not arrived. So we return on Monday. Impeccable job so far and we are delighted. Weather staying fine so will walk the walled souk tomorrow.

Day 28 - Saturday, 2 January 2010 

Into town and absolutely heaving with humanity. The main car park opposite the Souk was full and so we parked Mr C about 1/2 km away on some waste ground (no little man with a peaked cap and his hand out, which is a miracle in itself). Agadir has 2 main markets, both containing stalls selling normal Moroccan goods, as well as tourist souvenirs. There's also a new 'traditional' medina, where crafts are made and sold.

Agadir was, by all accounts, a characterful port, prior to the terrible earthquake of February 29th 1960: a tremor that killed 15,000 and left most of the remaining 50,000 population homeless. Just 4 years into independence, it was an especially traumatic event, which created a great will to recreate a city that showed Morocco in its best, modern face. Four decades on, the result is quite impressive. However it's hard to escape the feeling that the city lacks soul and, though the lack of bustle has novelty value, coming from any other Moroccan town, it doesn't exactly merit a stay unless you want to just 'hang out' on the beach.

Much more Moroccan in style is the Souk, in a massive walled enclosure on Rue Chair al Hamra Mohammed Ben Brahim, selling fruit, vegetables, and household goods; here the tourist stalls are in a minority, albeit a significant one. We entered via the fruit market and within 20 m had attracted the attention of a tout who attempted to foist his services on us by stressing the danger we were in. When we explained we didn't need a guide he stated that he was provided by the market at no expense. We passed on our way unaccompanied, although we saw several couples who had obviously decided to take up similar offers. The Souk is excellent and was worth visiting. There's the fruit and veg part, where we stocked up (potatoes, bananas, and strawberries at 5 Dh a punnit). Then the poultry souk (what a smell), and then the spice souk, household goods, Berber jewellery etc, etc. We weren't troubled except by non-aggressive beggars who seemed to gravitate to you immediately you were buying anything (bit like Lidl in Spain really).

We decided to try for some more pirate DVDs, having taken the portable DVD player with us for that very purpose. Not a problem and they even showed us how to scan visually for ones that had English on them. Still, we tested every third DVD to be sure. What a bargain at 10 Dh each - we purchased 10 and shall try for more.(Actually our optimism turned out  to be ill placed as later when we tried the new DVDs only 5 had English available. We shall return on Monday). We even found a cous cousaire (we believe that's the name) for Sandra's elder son and Moroccan partner to make cous cous back in UK. Currently Stacey has to borrow her Mum's. We went to several stalls and the price went from 400 Dh to 250 to 230 to 100 Dh in different ones but for identical items. Inevitably we would get the price, followed by 'how much you pay' when we looked sceptical or went to leave. We thought 100 Dh was OK. The mirrors we saw weren't as good as in the souk at Rabat, which was a shame. Internet Cafe here was 2.5 Dh/hr, although the booths made you grateful you were economy size.

Day 29 - Sunday, 3 January 2010 

Bit of a non-day. We drove through to Inezgane but the traffic was appalling and so we looped back to visit the port (as recommended in Rough Guide) for lunch. Access prohibited to private vehicles, so back to the site.

Day 30 - Monday, 4 January 2010 

Back to the Upholsterers and everything back in the van. A lot easier refitting than removing. The foam hasn't arrived, so we still have the old foam in the new dinette seats and to that end the buttons haven't been fitted. We return on Wednesday in the hope that the foam will have arrived and the job can be finished. It looks FABULOUS and we couldn't be more pleased.

As the Souk is closed on Mondays, we did our supermarket shopping at the Marjane Superstore (think of Tesco or Intermarche), although many of the prices were far higher than UK or Spain. The bread was more expensive than the local shops and the fruit more expensive and less fresh looking than the fruit and veg section in the Souk (just cleaner and better presented). There is a separate checkout for alcohol and the only ones I saw pass through appeared to be Moroccan.
Back to the campsite, where we fitted the curtains (upper and lower) separating the van from the cab and Luton respectively and then had lunch. It rained heavily again although the grey skies now appear to be breaking a little.

Day 31 - Tuesday, 5 January 2010

Another 'down day' today, as it seemed pointless going into Agadir when we shall be there tomorrow hopefully for the completion of the fittings. Walked round the site of over a hundred motorhomes and we are only the second with Spanish plates, with no Brits at all. There is one Irish plated vehicle. One would comment that 90% are French, with the remainder being German, Italian, Dutch and miscellaneous in that order. We also took some photos of the 'artwork' that we saw on many of the motorhomes. These are primarily of desert scenes, with camels, palm trees, hooded Arabic figures etc. People have their satellite dishes and wing mirrors decorated in this fashion, as well as various panels, bonnets, Lutons, window blinds etc. I asked one French woman for the cost of her 18” x 48” desert scene and was told about 1,000 Dh (90€/£79). There were also local lads polishing a motorhome, which is something I would have liked to have done, but maybe later on the journey. As we said before, a veritable industry surrounds motorhomes visiting Morocco.

A few light showers but nothing like the downpour we had during the night.

A Traveller's Tale: 'Call me Mick' said the owner of the Irish vehicle a few hours later, when I approached him with a book-swap offer. His vehicle is an aged Ambulance that he purchased for 100€ and strangely he purchased his Kipor 2600 Silent Suitcase Generator from KMS as we did early last year. Apparently he stripped out all the medical and nursing accoutrements and donated them to St John's Ambulance. A native of the West Coast of Ireland, he has been coming here for more than 10 years and we had quite a yarn. I had wondered about the bruise to his left orbit and he wasn't slow in enlightening me. 'I was mugged 3 nights ago'. He had been walking back in darkness from a nearby restaurant about half a kilometre from the campsite when a Moroccan male appeared on each side of him. One of them quickly put a knife to his throat and bundled him to the side. Recovering from his surprise he back-elbowed the one and heard a rib snap; he then kicked and pummelled them both, losing his shoes and watch in the process, when the band snapped. One managed a punch or kick to his face before they fled. The Police arrived 15 minutes later and insisted on him going to the hospital, where they questioned him in such a belligerent fashion that he eventually just walked away. His only annoyance is that, with a full stomach, he had let his guard down and that he hadn't, at the time, told the Police that they had robbed him of 6000 Dh. Not for the insurance, but because they would have really searched for the offenders - not to punish them but to seize the money for themselves! I make no comment.

Day 32 - Wednesday, 6 January 2010 

A really full day but one which sees the upholstery completed in Mr C. What a superb job with the final bill (including 2m x 1.4m of extra material) £1257 or 1510€. We now just have to collect a replacement wheel nut (for the one probably left behind in Spain when we had the last tyre fitted) and we are on our way.

So today was our last day in the pleasant walled Souk in Agadir, where we purchased a cous cousaire for family and increased our pirate DVD collection by a further 8 discs. There was no difficulty returning/replacing the non-English DVDs and the lads happily tried each and every one of the new ones on their stall DVD player. Then it was the produce market where we purchased 6 huge free-range eggs for 5Dh. Interestingly the method of carrying was a plastic bag filled with wood shavings. It worked. Bananas at 8 Dh/kilo and then the internet cafι, where for 4.5 Dh we checked our emails and sent others. Interestingly we received a note of apology from Joy (of Derek and Joy, our erstwhile travelling companion). We really liked Joy and wonder if her initial hesitation in Tarifa was more an indication of her knowledge of the inevitable outcome. Derek just need psychiatric assistance but it has taught us a valuable lesson; never again will we travel with others - the risks are too great and anyway it's too limiting.

Finally, the French supermarket and a bill which confirms that it is better to shop in the Souk if at all possible. Prices higher than Lidl in Spain in almost every case. It's the labour that is still cheap here - certainly not the goods and certainly not when they are imported.

And then it rained - and I mean rained! It started at about 8 pm and went on incessantly through the night. So loud in fact that we couldn't hear the DVD and went back to reading.

Day 33 - Thursday, 7 January 2010

Tonight sees us not in Tafraoute but Tiznit. I will explain. The campsite was soaked this morning and checking out we were subject to:

Rip Off of the Day: Again we had clearly been told 100 Dh/day for motorhome and 2, plus 4 Dh for Electricity. Suddenly we are charged an extra 4 Dh/day pp for showers - except we haven't taken showers due to the squalid nature of the services. The showers immediately changed to water, even though the water was so tainted due to corroding pipe work that we had filled up at the local garage. Needless to say, no-one got a tip!!!!!!

Back to the Upholsterers, recognising how much mud had been carried onto the main roads. Our replacement wheel nut was immediately forthcoming for 100 Dh (perfect fit) and, after Naima the secretary had taken photographs for their library, we were on our way.

Amazingly we found the R 105 out of Agadir and progressed as far as Ait Baha. Actually we managed a further 4 km before the floodwaters of the Oued (River) Ait-Baha claimed the road. Back to Ait Baha, exiting on the road to Tanalt where we hoped to continue to Tafraoute. We virtually swam and skidded through the town, where the road bridge was less that 30 cm above the raging waters. As we exited to a T-junction without signs a friendly local showed us his camera snaps of the Tanalt road, which was similarly inundated.

A U-turn and fuel, then we returned along the R 105 but only as far as Biougra, where we took a left turn and travelled 18 km through Inchaden and back onto the N1 to Tiznit. The road conditions appeared to improve initially and then deteriorated yet again. The road was awash in numerous places and we have some excellent photos of the flooding. Now, driving in any Arab country is a test of nerve if not skill and this added dimension merely added to the challenge - if that's what you want to call it. Episodic rain, occasionally torrential, and strong gusting winds, graced our passage into Tiznit. Camping Tiznit proved to be full but driving in we had noticed a dozen or more motorhomes parked on some waste ground. We joined them, noting that the majority of them, unlike ourselves, were spotless and obviously haven't moved for days. By the end of the day there were no less than 34 motorhomes and 'whizz-bangs' parked on the waste ground, with no harassment whatsoever. Quieter by far than the campsites so far.

Day 34 - Friday, 8 January 2010 

Into old Tiznit this morning, a city which despite its solid circuit of walls was only founded in 1882 by Sultan Moulay Hassan (Hassan I). Entering along the main road and through the Bab (Gate) Ouled Jarrar, our first photo call was the Great Mosque which has an unusual minaret more commonly seen in Mali and Niger south of the Sahara. The walls of the minaret on all sides are punctuated by a series of perches, or rather tree branches which stick out all the way up on all corners. These are said to be an aid to the dead clambering to paradise and one can only guess that souls are weightless, given the rotten nature of the wooden perches. What if they are weighed down by sin?

From there it was a short 50m walk to the Source Blue, which is a cistern dedicated to the town's patroness, Lalla Tiznit, a saint and former prostitute martyred on the spot (whereupon water miraculously appeared). The area is obviously the subject of an ongoing facelift, together with the Kasbah behind and the city walls, so was a little better than anticipated from the guide-books. Via the Bab Khemis we accessed the fruit and veg market in order to get Sandra her strawberries and then back past the Post Office and through a variety of alley ways to the Mechouar (town's main square). On evenings this is supposed to be a focus for various street entertainers (a faint echo of Marrakesh's Djemaa el Fna, which we have yet to see). On our first pre-lunch visit it appeared quietly tatty, although it used to be a military parade ground. We walked through the small Souk but saw nothing of interest. We did find an internet, however, so were able to catch up on minimal correspondence.

Back to the parking ground, where nothing had changed with new arrivals obviously taking vacant spots. As twilight thickened we returned to the Mechouar in the hope of seeing some manner of performing artists. Nary a snake charmer or storyteller in sight and so, purchasing a spit-roasted chicken, we returned to Mr C for supper. Another lovely day and tomorrow it's on to Sidi Ifni.

PS: Well, I'm glad I didn't make any bets as Sandra met Joy and Derek outside the Caravan Park. They have had the usual appalling luck, in that due to the rough road and his overloaded and unmodified Chausson, the shower door dropped off its track. Then they got lost and added 70 miles to their local journey. They are returning from Sidi Ifni, which they recommend, and are then heading north. The local Caravan Park is 48 Dh/night without electricity - and No, they hadn't paid for water at Camping International Agadir. A rip-off as we had surmised but the extra 56 Dh, while little to us, is almost a day's wages in all likelihood. Still doesn't excuse the larceny.

Day 35 - Saturday, 9 January 2010  An early start, although unnecessary as it turned out. Leaving by the R104 we joined the coast road just north of Mirleft with its Marabout Tomb. Then it was a straight run along the coast road and into Sidi Ifni, where we found not 2 but 3 campsites. The 2 campsites mentioned are Camping el Barco, right next to the beach with excellent pitches, and Camping Sidi Ifni (which we ended up on) which more central but is absolutely packed with mainly noisy French motorhomers. Here it is 57 Dh/night with electricity and 37 Dh/night without. The third site is the first you reach as you enter town on the Tiznit road and is both small and enclosed by a high wall. It is, like Barco, near the sea.

We found Sidi Ifni a surprising disappointment after the spiel in the guide book. Only built in the 1930s, it was abandoned by Spain in 1969 when the Moroccan Government blocked landward access. Much of the old town is visibly decaying, whilst cuboidal new buildings spring up everywhere but without the supporting infrastructure. The much vaunted Art Deco buildings noted in the guide book took us all of Ύ of an hour to photograph. The obvious place to start was the Place Hassan II, aka Plaza Espana, which stands at the heart of the old town and was the only section that appeared cared for - to a degree. Its centrepiece is an Andalusian garden with Spanish tiled benches and a Moroccan tiled fountain. At one end of the square stands a Spanish Consulate, now locked, barred, its windows breeze-blocked up and its plasterwork rotting from the top down. Highly unattractive. In fact the only pristine, painted buildings were the small Royal Palace, the Law Courts and the Town Hall. The Art Deco lighthouse was undergoing some form of work with the light swathed in unattractive yellow plastic sheeting.

Viewing the coastline from the rear of the campsite, one could see the monumental stairways rambling down towards the port and beach. To the south of the town is the old port, built by the Spanish, and out to sea is an odd little concrete island, where ships used to dock. It was at one time connected to the mainland by a cable car, which hauled goods as well as passengers. This has now gone.

Minimal shopping in the miniscule Souk and then back on site, where we washed Mr C and had showers. The most fulfilling part of the day.

Day 36 - Sunday, 10 January 2010 

An early start as we had been informed that the road to Guelmim was particularly bad. Absolute rubbish when you compare it with the potholed monstrosity north to Tiznit! In fact the only mud and debris were apparent as we left Sidi Ifni and its Sunday Market, which had already started.
70 km of gently winding and quite pretty road took us to Guelmim, which was as bland and disinteresting as the guide book said. We located the crumbling vestiges of the palace of Caid Dahman Takni on a patch of glass, rubbish and rubble-strewn wasteland behind the BMCE Bank on Boulevard Mohd V. It's barely 100 years old and probably won't be there in another 5. As we were scrambling down the bank, two young Moroccan males coming the other way gestured and said, 'Est Bon, Non'? What can you do but agree and silently thank everything Holy for the gifts you have been given to see so much beauty in the world? We weren't approached by touts offering to show us 'Blue Men', nor did we see any sign of camels for sale, although a camel tajine might have been welcome.

Then it was 17 km back the way we had come, to the oasis and hot springs at Abbainou (Abeino). It's a tiny oasis with a koubba (tomb of a marabout/holy man or local saint) and hot springs, channelled into 2 baths enclosures - divided according to sex - where you can soak the afternoon away. Actually from 7 pm there is mixed bathing in the male bath, so obviously that was our choice. The temperature in the female is allegedly 28C and the male 10C hotter. We can only attest to the male one which we used that evening and it was gloriously warm, if ill-lit with no changing facilities. 15 Dh pp and you can stay in as long as you like. For us the 90 min we lazed in warm comfort passed in just a moment and we thoroughly enjoyed the experience. At this time of night there were just European couples: French (3), German (2) and us. There are 3 small campsites here and they appear to share facilities like showers, shops, restaurants etc. Ours was 40 Dh/day with water but no electricity. When we arrived we wondered if, like Sidi Ifni, we would have a wasted day but the warm bath was well worth the wait.

Day 37 - Monday, 11 January 2010 

Today it was back through Guelmim to Bou-Izakarn and then north on the N1 and back to Tiznit. At one stage we had been intending a grand loop west from Guelmim to Zagora and then north-east to Marrakesh. However the more we see, or rather don't see, in this dusty, mud strewn country, with the added problems due to the recent torrential rains, the more we realise that it would be better to stick to the more frequented paths, at least on this our first trip. So Tiznit and then Moussa-d'Aglou on the coast in the hope of seeing Bald Ibis, which to us would be far more interesting that innumerable mud ruins.

The 110 km back to Tiznit was quite scenic in places, although the latter third of the journey required a lot of concentration just to avoid the innumerable and cavernous pot-holes. Down to the coast where we decided to stay on the beach outside the restaurant/hotel for 30 Dh/night (water and toilets only) instead of on the campsite at Camping Plage Aglou, which was 75 Dh/night including electricity but 500m from the sea behind a high wall. Arriving on site we found a number of British vans (4 in all: 3 motorhomes and one Welsh whizz-bang) and had a number of conversations. The salesmen are around immediately with offers to repair your plastic skirting, sell you fish, wiper-blades and blankets. We settled for a pair of wiper blades for the same price as you would pay in Lidl in UK. When you realise that this is approx £4 and the stated price started off at £40, you realise the spectrum for bargaining. Even then one of the universal fittings was missing when I fully checked the box. My mistake in not doing it while the lad was there and not after he had departed. Just hope it marries with the existing and new Halfords blades. He also scrounged a pen - they never miss a chance.

Moussa-d'Aglou is quite pretty in a simple understated way and the beach is picturesque with some impressive surf. The currents, undertows and rips here make it quite hazardous and no water sports were taking place. Still, quite restful and low key. There is Wi-Fi at the restaurant/hotel but we thought 20 Dh a bit steep, so will use the internet cafe in Tiznit again tomorrow as we leave.
Oh, no Bald Ibis either (Waldrapp) but then it is 4 years since our Rough Guide was published. Certainly there were none, as promised in the Guide, perched on the walls of Camping Aglou from late afternoon and we waited quite a while. They are a shy bird and a local and decreasing species anywhere. So, another failure like the Marsh Owl we failed to see at Moulay Busselham.

The young man came around at 7 pm to collect the 30 Dh and was remarkably well dressed and courteous. We calculated more than 40 motorhomes and sundries parked here by the end of the evening (too crowded for us), so a nice little income for zero expenditure by the owner of the land. Conversely, given the size of Camping Aglou just as you entered the town, there was an immense amount of unused space.

Day 38 - Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Given the numbers here, there was little noise until 9 am. We pulled out to Tiznit at 11 am, returning to the waste ground for an overnight stay.

Into the Souk to use the internet and check bank accounts, etc. We finally purchased a Tajine: just a plain one as suggested in Rough Guide, although it is glazed. We are going to sit it on the fridge in the kitchen at home in Spain just in case Sandra ever feels inclined to use it. We decided on this particular shop as we had seen the dozens displayed in haphazard piles on the pavement. At 20 Dh it seemed a real bargain. The bottom is as thick as a plantar bottom (which is resembles exactly), with the top being more fragile. Not quite sure what the indentation at the top is for! So that's the third of our buys (tajine, wall plaque and jewellery box), if you exclude the Solar and re-upholstery. Excluding the upholstery, we are in budget. We have just emailed Alice at Ibexinsure with a view to extending our travel cover for a further 28 days.

So tomorrow it will be an early start for the 2 hour+ journey to Tafraoute and the 'Painted Rocks'. We just hope we see the ground squirrels for sale along the way. Apparently it's quite a walk to get there and motorhome parking may be a bit problematic at this time of year. We shall have to see.

A Traveller's Tale: That evening a British Spirit 6850 pulled onto the waste ground and we watched while a really nicely painted satellite dish went round and round, vainly searching for a signal. None was found. This was a couple of travellers from Lancashire. This is the third time they have been to Morocco and will definitely be their last. We organised a book-swap and managed to swap 10 books in all, so we did really well. They also gave us information regarding the painters they had used at Atlantic Park and showed us the discreet and tasteful painted scene on their filler cap, of goats in an Argan tree -100 Dh. So we are sold and will manage the extra day back to Taghazout when we backtrack to Agadir after Tafraoute. However, the main point of this tale is the damage to their right side cab door. This was from a rock, one of several thrown by a group of small children as they travelled down the motorway just north of Casablanca. So, with due respect, 'they do throw stones' - a statement which we saw categorically denied in an obviously substandard Travellers' www. Nothing like the solid information you get on Magbaz! (www.magbaztravels.com).  Oh, and apparently there is wild camping at Tafraoute; we shall see tomorrow.

Day 39 - Wednesday, 13 January 2010 

An early start this morning and only just managed to say good-bye to our new friends, who never get up before 0900 hrs (they tell us). Then it was fuel before exiting on the R104 to Tafraoute via Assaka, Tighmi, Jemaa Ida Oussemlal, and Aguard Oudad. Between Tighmi and Jemaa Ida Oussemlal the road climbs steeply to 1100m in a series of hairpins, culminating in the Col du Kerdous with the Hotel Kerdous at the very summit.

All I will say is that I was extremely grateful to pull in to the hotel car park and let Sandra stroll off to take photos. The scenery is grandiose, but then so are the drop offs from this weather-damaged monstrosity of a road. Virtually no safety barriers. My only relief was that we were not on the drop-off side of the road, as we had been on the trip to Paradise Valley. Gratefully driving standards were good. No sign of ground-squirrels for sale at the side of the road, maybe because the children were in school.

We entered Tafraoute from this direction simply as we passed through Aguard Oudad, which is one point of access for 'The Blue Rocks'. Actually we had directions from numerous local sources and ultimately, in their own way, they were all right. Finally we found our way in: park anywhere in the village, or environs, and find your way to the square in front of the mosque. Now facing the minaret, look 10m to your right side and you will see an alleyway. Follow this as it winds through the outskirts of the village, through a farm gate and onwards along a wide sandy canyon with massive rock formations on all sides. One huge rock formation, that you wind around and which overshadows the village itself, is called Napoleon's Hat (le Chapeau de Napoleon) and you are to the left of this.

Whatever you do, just after the mosque, don't take the concrete steps to your right. These ascend to some old mosques which are frequented by the elderly women of the village. Then it's a pleasant but brisk half an hour's walk in each direction. You don't have to leave the track, as you will eventually see the rocks on your left. They have seen better days but then they have been weathered since 1984, when a Belgian artist together with a team of Moroccan fireman hosed some 18 tons of paint over a large area of rocks. One has to ask WHY!!!!!!! The rocks are now truly worn and weathered and only patchy, leached blue, and one rust red boulder remains. Certainly the photographs in the tourist brochures look better by far, but then we've now seen it and taken our own. We were accompanied for part of the walk back by a pair of Bonelli's Eagles cavorting lazily in the sky above us. Not sure if the breeding season is approaching!

Then it was into Tafraoute and through the mayhem of the centre to exit on the other Tiznit road. We stopped outside the first campsite, where you can park among other travellers for 35 Dh/night. Inside the compound it was 35 Dh with 17.5 Dh for electricity and 10 Dh pp for a hot shower. The owner speaks English and was both friendly and helpful. Not only did he give us specific directions to 'The Painted Rocks' (as it is his village in fact), but later that evening, having seen our Dutch neighbours collecting firewood and ascertaining why, he went off and returned with a load, set the fire and even joined the group for a while. The following morning he came and asked if we had slept well, and was able to confirm that the road to Agadir was again open. This is Camping Les Trois Palmiers, which is the first as you exit Tafraoute on the old Tiznit Road. And YES, there is plenty of wild camping in the immediate vicinity. One of the couples we had first asked directions of was 2 Belgian men, wild-camped just before the village.

Day 40 - Thursday, 14 January 2010

An extremely grey start to the day with clouds immediately above us due to our altitude. Our Dutch neighbours forecast rain before day's end, though our camp host was adamant it wouldn't, but suggested we leave as early as possible. While sitting eating breakfast we saw a male Moussier's Redstart at the small stream behind us but that was as good as the day was to get, at least until we arrived back at Taghazout.

God Works in Mysterious Ways - even though for 16 years I jumped out of aircraft 12 times per year, my PTSD now results in a fear of heights, and I think I've referred to it previously if not inferred. As you will recall, we were foiled in making the Agadir-Tafraoute trip about 10 days ago when we arrived at Ait Baha to find the town circled on all but one side by a swollen river. What a godsend that was - that we had to return and then drive via Tiznet. I shall explain!

We climbed out of Tafraoute up a winding single track road to arrive on a plateau of some 50 km width. Pleasant, with fabulous scenery, especially once we had driven above the clouds and the sun was shining brightly in the heavens and all was wellish!!!!! Of course you were constantly shuddering and juddering due to the road surface, or lack of it, and having to pull over and even stop, episodically, depending on the size of vehicle coming the other way. Then about 40 km from Ait Baha we began the descent - I shudder just to think of it. Let's see what we had:

1. A single track road of dubious consistency.
2. Potholes, rain damage, mud, gravel, rock slides etc.
3. Episodic 10m lengths of guard rail but usually just a sheer drop for hundreds of feet.
4. Taxi drivers et al coming the other way. But gratefully most of them courteous. Why, because we invariably pulled over to let them through.

And here's the ONLY positive; we were on the mountain side of the road and not on the drop-off side, as we should have been if we had come the other way. I never came out of 2nd gear, apart from a few exceptions, nor above 30 km/hr, but often with my wheels merely rolling as we faced one blind right angled bend after another, with no idea of who or what was coming the other way. We had a bit of a laugh at an ex-pat tourist in a hire car who, approaching, stopped on seeing us and then pulled in front of us indicating that we should take the outside track. Needless to say we indicated 'politely' that this was not an option and past he went. Actually there was a second positive, as we saw loads of ground squirrels and would have stopped for photographs under other circumstances.

Once at Ait Baha it was a straight run through to Agadir and then Taghazout, where we hope to have some Moroccan scenes painted on Mr C - actually just the filler flap and gas bank door - we were that impressed by the ones on the Spirit back in Tiznit.

We found Hassan as before just outside the old Atlantic Park Campsite and he was delighted to see us. Even more delighted when he discovered how happy we were with the system he had installed. He had 2 more motorhomes waiting for his attention but was all finished by 3 pm, when he introduced Khalid the artist to us. He stayed for the initial bit of conversation, acting as interpreter, but when Khalid went off to get his photograph album, he returned with 2 Brits (husband & wife) and a Frenchman in tow. We still have no idea what the Frenchman wanted, as all he seemed to do was show us what he had had done to his vehicle over the years. David, who has been coming here for 15 years ('Well, where else is there to go?') and a Lebanese also interpreted and sang Khalid's praises. As the second painting, we are torn between 2 - my choice a camel with a palm tree, and Sandra's an oasis scene. We'll choose tomorrow finally when he arrives at, or rather outside, Atlantica Park, where we are now ensconced. He reckons it will take about 2 hours approximately at a cost of 50€.

I think we mentioned previously that Atlantic Park and Atlantica Park are owned by the same family, we think brothers, and it has literally doubled since we were here some few weeks ago. All the work on the addition pitches has been completed, and they are currently just netting the external fences with green plastic privacy screening. The site has to be 2/3 full and they must be 'raking it in'! We do wonder, however, if there will prove to be sufficient showers and one of the two washing machines has already packed in. It's 3.5€ for a wash but they are large capacity machines. Even though we both had showers yesterday, the stress of the mountain road had caused biological effluent and we were glad to fling ourselves into piping hot showers.

Glad to get to bed after watching a pirate video but for some time scenes of the cliff-top odyssey kept appearing on my eyelids!!!!

Day 41 - Friday, 15 January 2010 

Late start this morning, but to no concern as no water to the campsite. Only re-established about 11.30 am. So cleaned the motorhome roof, using the dew in situ, paying particular attention to the solar panel. Seem to be a lot more salesmen visiting the site and we had several offers for fish, argan oil, fancy bottles and jewellery, etc. We don't recall this from last time here. Gratefully last night's wind has abated and it's a glorious day for having paintwork done.

Khalid knew what he was about in arranging to meet us outside the campsite. By the time he was finished painting the backgrounds, he had two other motorhomes waiting. The one, our French neighbour (a bit unpleasant) had the same oasis scene painted on his bonnet as we had on our gas bank door. We had a smaller version of this and an excellent miniature of 'Goats climbing an Argan tree' on the filler flap. The other French motorhome had an oasis scene with Berber and camel, palm trees etc painted on a rear side panel, with the name of their motorhome underneath. Apparently Khalid doesn't recognise our alphabet, so they had to write it so he could copy it. Have to say they would have been better forgetting it, as it was not a good result. So we were finished by 5.15 pm and back to the site and tea. An evening with our Aussie friends, who apparently have never really left the site. They will be in for drinks later and we are taking Kim to the Souk in Agadir tomorrow while Darren surfs. That's all he lives for. Then it's Marrakech.

Day 42 - Saturday, 16 January 2010 

A final trip into Agadir tomorrow, for shopping and internet. The latest travelogue sent off.

We walked the walled Souk for the final time, calling in to our usual DVD stall and purchasing a final 10 DVDs at 10 Dh each. Then it was the Fruit and Veg Souk for tangerines (5 Dh/kilo), potatoes (3.5 Dh/kilo), strawberries (5 Dh/punnet) and bananas (7 Dh/kilo). As we were with Kim and Darren, we passed through the Poultry Souk for eggs and Darren and I watched as this lad prepared live chickens. Separating the head from the body with a sharp knife he plunged the bird upside down into a bucket of water to preclude fountaining arterial blood. Then, by means of a rotating series of blades, all plumage was removed and finally, and only if you required, the bird eviscerated. You were given the entrails in a separate bag.

Finally the Internet Cafe before driving to the French Hypermarket, Mejane, for a few other items. Back to camp, although we join Kim and Darren tonight for a fish tajine, cooked by them. Their tagine cooker is too small, so it will be the first trial for ours. Sandra is to watch the whole process as a learning experience.

Day 43 - Sunday, 17 January 2010 

So the end of day sees us ensconced at Camping Le Relais, approximately 10 km from the centre of Marrakech. This isn't in our Rough Guide edition but Darren and Kim gave us detailed directions and we drove straight here without any 'detours'. Saying a fond farewell to our Aussie chums, we were out of Camping Atlantica for 0930 hrs. We exited on the N8 from Agadir, which brought us directly to Marrakech although we picked up the motorway 50 km from the camp itself (as given in the directions). A 300 km journey took four and a half hours and we were fortunate to travel on a Sunday, as traffic was extremely light until Chichaoua, where traffic started to slow and box up due to the increasingly damaged road surface. We had no less than 3 hairy moments, where vehicles hurtling from the opposite direction forced us onto the hard shoulder which wasn't really suitable. They just go for it, with no consideration or even concern as to whether or not traffic may be approaching. In Libya we used to explain such behaviour, and many others, as due to the IBM system: Inshallah, Bukra, Mallish. God Willing, Tomorrow, What the Hell.

So it was quite a relief to reach the motorway unscathed and we celebrated by stopping for lunch, given that the location precluded pedestrians with their hands out!!!!!! Then it was a further 35 km along the motorway to the Palmerie exit (36 Dh toll) and straight towards town, turning right on the Safi road just after the new and yet to be completed Stadium on the left. Then you follow the signs to 'Camping' or 'Sangho Private Club' with the campsite just past it.

It is just like an oasis and 95 Dh/night with electric. There is a swimming pool, spotless toilets and showers, a restaurant and roomy sites both powered and unpowered. (, or www.lerelaisdemarrakech.com.) We have already arranged our taxi for the morning, although we plan to be here for a minimum of 5 days. An arranged taxi from here is a necessity as we are miles from the main road with little chance, I should think, of a passing cab. 60 Dh each way for a maximum of 5 passengers. The outward time is logged and you arrange for the return with the taxi driver. Travelling along the main road into town we passed Camping Ferdaous on the right - certainly this would be an easier site from which to flag down a taxi into town.

Marrakech has always been something of a pleasure city, a market place where the southern tribesmen and Berber villagers bring in their goods, spend their money and find entertainment. For visitors it's an enduring fantasy - a city of immense beauty, low, red and tent-like before a great shaft of mountains - and immediately exciting. At the heart of it all is a square, Djemaa el Fna. Really no more than an open space in the centre of the city, it's the stage for a long-established ritual in which shifting circles of onlookers gather round groups of acrobats, drummers, pipe musicians, dancers, story tellers, comedians and fairground acts.

The Koutoubia and Saadian Tombs excepted, Marrakech is not a place of great monuments. Its beauty and attraction lie in the general atmosphere and spectacular location, with the magnificent peaks of the Atlas rising right up behind the city.

Marrakech has Berber rather than Arab origins, having developed as the metropolis of Atlas tribes: Maghrebis from the plains, Saharan nomads and former slaves from beyond the desert. Marrakech was at one time the entry point for goods - slaves, gold, ivory and even 'Morocco leather'- brought by caravan from the ancient empires of Mali and Songhay via the great desert port of Timbuktu.

I could transcribe pages on the history and development of Marrakech (aka Marrakesh) but all this can be found on the Internet. So, better we confine ourselves to the various sites visited and our personal feelings about this city, whose very name conjures up so many mysteries and fictions.

Day 44 - Monday, 18 January 2010 

The pre-booked taxi into town at 10.30 got us to the Complex Artisanal for 11 am. Although supposedly closed on a Monday, it was in fact open and we strolled around with Sandra purchasing a leather wallet (no cheaper than Spain!). Then it was along the Avenue Mohd V to the Koutoubia Mosque and Minaret for the obligatory photographs.

The Koutoubia did not really live up to its lavish description in the guide book and in fact we found the Hassan Tower in Rabat and the Minaret of the Kasbah Mosque more attractive. Completed by Sultan Yacoub el Mansour (1184-99), work on the minaret probably began shortly after the Almohad conquest of the city around 1150. It displays many of the features that were to become widespread in Moroccan architecture - the wide band of ceramic inlay near the top, the pyramid shaped, castellated merlons (battlements) rising above it, the use of derj w ktars (cheek and shoulder) and other motifs - and it also established the alternation of patterning on different faces.

Here, the top floor is similar on each of the 4 sides but the lower two are almost eccentric in their variety; the most interesting is perhaps the middle niche on the south-east face, a semi-circle of small lobed arches, which was to become the dominant decorative feature of Almohad gates. At the summit are 3 great balls made of copper: the subject of numerous legends, mostly of supernatural interventions to keep away thieves. They are thought to have originally been made of gold and were possibly the gift of the wife of Yacoub el Mansour presented as penance for breaking her fast for 3 hours during Ramadan.

If you look carefully at the tower, you will notice that, close to the arches, the stones of the main body of the tower become slightly smaller. This seems odd today but originally the whole minaret would have been covered with plaster and its tiers of decoration painted, as with the Kasbah Mosque, which has been faithfully restored in this, the original fashion. There has been talk over the years about doing the same with the Koutoubia but in the end the authorities settled for a cleaning-up and restoration of the structure, completed just before the Millenium to stunning effect, especially when floodlit at night.

From there it was through Bab Agnaou and down Rue de la Kasbah to the Centre Artisanal, which has a veritable treasure trove of goods at fixed prices, only slightly higher than you would find in the Souks, without the bother of having to haggle. We still thought the prices extortionate for the brass we wanted to buy to replace that stolen from our Spanish home and it was of inferior quality. We decided to leave it, wishing that we had purchased the second- hand brass table top in El Jadida.

Then it was lunch in a nearby street (180 Dh for a snack of a meal, so not VFM when compared with the Menu del Dias of Spain), before paying 10 Dh pp to enter the Saadian Tombs.
Sealed up by Moulay Ismail after he had destroyed the adjoining Badi Palace, the Saadian Tombs lay half ruined and half forgotten at the beginning of the last century. In 1917, however, they were rediscovered on a French aerial map and a passage way was built to give access from the side of the Kasbah Mosque. Restored, they are today the Kasbah's main 'sight'- over-lavish, maybe, in their exhaustive decoration. We thought it rather drab! Late afternoon was absolutely heaving with people queuing and pushing to get sight of the 2 Mausoleums.

The one as you immediately enter, a group of 3 rooms, was built to house El Mansour's own tomb and completed within his lifetime. The room next door is littered with the thin marble stones of Saadian princes. It is here that Moulay Yazzid was laid out. Opposite this is another elaborate arch, leading to the domed central chamber and El Manour's tomb, which you can glimpse through the next door. Really that's all you can do, with knee-high barriers precluding entry at all points and people shoving and pushing to get good shots. The tomb, slightly larger than those surrounding it, lies right in the middle, flanked on either side by those of the Sultan's sons and successors. The whole is under-lighted.

The second Mausoleum, older and less impressive, was built by Ahmed in place of an existing pavilion. It is again a series of 3 rooms of which only one is notable.

We, and I would imagine everyone else, were through the whole thing in 10 minutes. Poorly presented and a poor shadow of Cordoba and Granada, much needs to be done - and undoubtedly won't be. There is no signage of any form and even finding the place is more by luck than good judgement. Touts and local shopkeepers flank the entry way demanding that you visit their shops once you leave and demanding you do when you emerge from another less than memorable experience.

Then on to Djemaa el Fna which, during the late afternoon, was another less than awesome site. Although we are to visit in the evening before we leave, we were not impressed. There were several Barbary Ape handlers vying for your money in exchange for photographs, as were the snake charmers. Sandra, taking a photograph of the entire square, was then accosted by a monkey handler demanding money. He had short shrift from a 'Lancashire Lass'. Although there were at least 2 dozen locals around a snake charmer, it was we who were accosted with 'paper money' being demanded. Needless to say, he didn't get it! Various half- hearted musicians, fortune tellers and sundry stalls filled the remaining bill of fare, although you spent an awful amount of time just dodging cyclists, motorcyclists and scooters. This was even worse in the alleyways of the Souk itself where we wandered for a 'feel' of the place, and in the hopes of identifying the Tanjia restaurants shown on the map behind the Mosque. No luck whatsoever, but there were numerous Tajine and Cous Cous joints and outlets selling Western-style food.

Finally it was off to find a taxi to take us back to the campsite. We had Abdou's telephone number but couldn't find a public phone taking coins. Eventually we found a petit taxi driver willing to take us for 60 Dh whilst others (both petit and grand) tried to take us for up to 180 Dh. We even jumped out of one taxi when, after agreeing to 60 Dh, he then increased to 70 Dh. I wouldn't agree in UK, Spain, India or Oz, so why here where the fuel is cheaper? Back to camp at the end of another mediocre day. Tomorrow it's the Jardin Majorelle. Perhaps they have the peace and tranquility to salve our souls.

Day 44 - Tuesday, 19 January 2010 

Today's visit to Jardin Majorelle from the Campsite cost 160 Dh return. It seems a lot but after yesterday and the distance and traffic encountered today, it was money well spent. Web: www.Jardinmajorelle.com  E-mail:  
The garden was created in the 1920s by French painter Jacques Majorelle (1886-1962) and was subsequently owned and maintained, until his death in 2008, by Yves Saint Laurent. The opening times are different depending on the time of year but for us it was 8 am-3 pm, 30 Dh per person. There is just a small pamphlet provided, of no real function. Dogs and unaccompanied children are not allowed and inside the walled gardens there is a restaurant, museum (closed at the current time) and a boutique.

Jacques Majorelle, son of celebrated furniture maker Louis Majorelle, was born in Nancy, France in 1886. He first came to Marrakech in 1919, acquired land and in 1924 began the landscape we see today. In 1947 he first opened the garden to the public. Following a car accident in 1962 he returned to France and died shortly afterwards.

The garden was advertised at 12 acres and that may be so if you include the 'Private Garden' adjacent and attached, to which you have no access. We had foolishly stated 3hours to our taxi driver and even prolonged sitting and contemplation could not take us past an hour. My 2 acre garden at my previous Shropshire house was much bigger, if not as cultivated!

The garden does have a feeling of tranquility when not overrun by garrulous French, an atmosphere enhanced by groves of bamboo, palm and agave, and the striking cobalt blue of the walls, buildings, pots and workmen's overalls. Actually the various walks are lined with many-hued planters, contrasting with their contents and the surrounding vegetation. The various water features must be splendid in summer but even here in winter the many cacti and xerophytes were a charm, as were the palms and mature trees. Common bulbuls, doves, blackbirds, sparrows and house buntings flit from perch to perch, using the water features as drinking and bathing opportunities. The garden became better known abroad when it was featured by Yves Saint Laurent in a brilliant reproduction at the 1997 Chelsea Flower Show in London. Since his death the garden has been managed by a Trust set up by Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Berge.

However, please note that you do not have 12 acres to stroll through and an hour is more than enough by any stretch of the imagination. Luckily there is a nearby cyber-cafe where we were able to while away 90 minutes, followed by refreshments in a local cafe which were a third of the price of the cafe in the Jardin itself.

Day 45 - Wednesday, 20 January 2010

One of our busiest and longest days, and one which saw us visit the Bahia Palace, the El Badi Palace, Tanjia in an excellent restaurant overlooking the Djemaa el Fna, the Main Souk and finally the Square again but in the evening, when it was both crowded and entertaining.

But first the Bahia Palace: Whether you refer to it as a palace or mansion, the Bahia Palace (10 Dh pp) gave us the WOW factor in Marrakech. It was originally built in 1866-7 for Si Moussa, a former slave who had risen to become Moulay Hassan's chamberlain, and the Grand Vizier. His son Bou Ahmed, who himself rose to the rank of chamberlain under Moulay Hassan, became kingmaker in 1894 when Hassan died while returning home from a harka. In something of a coup, Ahmed managed to conceal news of the Sultan's death until he was able to declare Hassan's fourteen year old son Sultan in his place, with himself as Grand Vizier and Regent. The wily Bou Ahmed thus attained virtually complete control over the state, which he maintained until his death in 1900.

Ahmed began enlarging the Bahia (meaning 'brilliance') in the same year as his coup, adding a mosque, a hammam and even a vegetable garden. Although in latter years a restoration programme has been initiated, there is still much to be accomplished but the shoddiness fails to detract from the magnificence and splendour of the wooden ceilings (both painted and otherwise), the doors, the archways and the friezes. They were so intricate and beautiful as to be awesome and made the trip so worthwhile. One could only conjecture about the time and patience such splendour must have taken to complete. The Palace is a series of rooms and gardens and is both easy to follow and understand.

There is a certain pathos to the empty, echoing chambers (when not full of jabbering French and American tour groups and singletons) and the inevitable passing of Bou Ahmed's influence and glory. The London Times reported as follows: “for several days as the Vizier lay expiring, guards were stationed outside his palace waiting in silence for the end. And then one morning the wail of the women within the house told that death had come. Every gateway of the great building was seized, and no-one was allowed to enter or come out, while within there was pandemonium. His slaves pillaged wherever they could lay their hands. His women fought and stole to get possession of the jewels. Safes were broken open, documents and title-deeds were extracted, precious stones were torn from their settings, the more easily to be concealed, and even murder took place ... A few days later nothing remained but the great building - all the rest had disappeared into space. His family were driven out to starvation and ruin and his vast properties passed into the possession of the State. It was the custom of the country.”

But what a heritage remained: constantly looking up at the ceilings, friezes, etc, one loses track of the crowds swirling through. If you were to visit but one monument to the past, this, for us, would be the one.

Of the El Badi Palace (10 Dh pp), although substantially in ruins and reduced throughout to its red pise walls, enough remains to suggest that its name - “The Incomparable” - was not entirely immodest. Following its capture, it took the Sultan Moulay Ismail over ten years of systematic work to strip the palace of everything moveable or of value. The scale, with its sunken gardens and vast 90m long central pool, as well as others, is certainly unrivalled. What you see today is essentially the ceremonial part of the palace complex, planned on a grand scale for the reception of ambassadors etc. Through the palace's entrance you enter the vast central court, over 130m long and almost as wide. Within this there are 4 sunken gardens, all poorly tended. Pools separate the gardens, these being filled during the June folklore festival and at other times. On each side of the courtyard were summer pavilions, although of the Crystal Pavilion to the east, only the foundations survive.

Luckily, here at least there is minimal signage in English, French and Arabic and this certainly helps. Also, in the NE corner you can climb up to get an overview from the ramparts and a closer view of the storks that nest atop them.

Our Tanjia Lunch is one of the most classic Marrakeshi dishes. As with tajine, paella or casserole, the word tanjia correctly refers to the vessel rather than the food - in this case a kind of urn. (Strange then that in our restaurant it was served in a tajine!) The contents are beef or sometimes lamb, cooked very slowly to be extremely tender. Most good restaurants offer tanjia, but there are also cheap tanjia joints which serve nothing else and which we failed to find. We certainly didn't have to pre-order and I feel it unlikely that the tanjia urn had been buried in the coals of the nearest steam-bath for the duration of the morning. Yes, the meat was tender but, to our mind, the lamb was no more tender than in a tajine. You also seem to get a chunk, or chunks, of bone from which you need to scrape your meat and you feel that you are probably the mug at the end of the food chain, who gets served up, as a delicacy, the remnants of a stripped carcass. Anyway we enjoyed it for what it was and in that we can record that 'we have the t-shirt'.

The Main Souk at the end of the day was not as arduous an exercise as you might be led to believe. We entered both from the Main Square itself and then from the other end, near the Mouassin Mosque, near the Souk of the Coppersmiths. Certainly it is a huge Souk but we neither felt intimidated nor did we become hopelessly lost. Yes, there were a few touts but mid-afternoon the pace was quite sedate, although should you stop to browse you immediately became a potential target.

We were just exiting the Souk towards the square for the second or third time when we become aware of an increasing commotion and clamour to our rear, and drawing closer. Everywhere you will see porters pushing barrows; here these are basically stout wooden boxes 1.5m x 1m on 2 wheels with a pushing handle. The crowd, when it appeared, was following one of these, pushed by stern faced men and holding a pitiable individual lying curled in a foetal position with his hands tied behind him. As the mob passed, so it was added to from the crowd until the whole spilled into the square where there are always police Transits (or similar). The individual was unceremoniously loaded on board and the vehicle departed. A thief? A sexual deviant? We shall never know.

Finally, as the afternoon waned we saw the Djemaa el Fna Square change up a gear. The drums and pipes from various groups of drummers and snake charmers were incessant and the whole area seemed to become more vibrant. In addition to the 'juice stalls', food stalls now started to be assembled and to open to customers. To one side of these were the snail stalls, more than a dozen of these, but I couldn't get Sandra to partake! Knowing how our Spanish snails need 3 days of cleansing prior to preparation, I too was hesitant. Unlike the single resplendent Water Seller in Rabat, the dozen or so here were tatty, dirty and scruffy. We had deliberately kept the camera in its case but even so we were approached on numerous occasions and shown 2 x 1€ coins to indicate the cost of a photograph. They weren't so restrained with other tourists, several of whom we saw encircled by up to 4 of the harlequin- clad touts. You would have been required to pay extra, I'm sure, to ensure a 'closed mouth' shot! Without fail, those that approached us were unshaven with the sort of dental hygiene to frighten children.

The monkey trainers were also out in force and we saw the one of days ago harassing would-be victims, in several cases hurling the poor Barbary Ape onto their arms or even heads unsolicited, and then demanding payment. We noticed that he, more than most, received short shrift. Lastly the snake charmers were in full swing, with huge crowds of locals packed in circles around them. We stayed well clear, knowing that tourists form their staple focus. However, the whole formed a colourful, noisy, shifting kaleidoscope and we were glad that we had returned, even if the only purchase was a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice at 5 Dh. Ice cream was also quite inexpensive with any flavour at 5 Dh.

Finally a short walk to where our taxi was to collect us. We learned our lesson from Day 1 in Marrakech and now arrange the return journey when we are dropped off.

Day 46 - Thursday, 21January 2010

A 'down day' today, our last in Marrakech. A lie-in followed by breakfast, hair cut, shower, fill up with water, laundry, swim and ironing. A gloriously sunny day, so we read sitting outside. Tomorrow it's the N8 to Fes and hopefully at 165 km a taxi to the Cascades d'Ouzoud. While in Tafraoute we were warned about the road by some Netherlanders, so hope to catch a taxi from the junction of the access road with the N8. Of the remaining 'must sees' we have one at Fes, the ruined Roman City at Volubilis, Chefchaouen and finally Tangier. We shall miss about 11 of the 37, although 2 of these (like Trekking in the Atlas and Skiing) we were never intending to do. Then again it was unlikely we would see an Imilchil Wedding Festival or be painted with Henna! We'll see what we manage.

Sandra used the swimming pool on site but it was far too cold. Packed and ready to go for the morning.

Day 47 - Friday, 22 January 2010

Just a travelling day today, finishing our 200km at 20 km NW of Beni-Mellal. We initially took the wrong road leaving Marrakech but backtracked without difficulty. Then it was through Tamelelt, El-Kelaa-des-Sraghna and numerous small villages to Beni-Mellal, where we could have parked, according to a Police Officer, in a supermarket car park. However we drove on through, finding an abandoned fuel station about 20 km further on. Good enough for us!!!! The road has been acceptable to poor, worse in the vicinity of humanity. The scenery has been interesting but unimpressive.

Day 48 - Saturday, 23 January 2010 

An uneventful overnight stop. However, as we prepared to start off again it began to rain with moderate to heavy rain for the totality of the day. This part of the journey is marked as a scenic route and with sweeping vistas, olive trees and barrages I'm sure this is correct. However the mediocre visibility and pouring rain limited one's perspective to the immediate road surface, which alternated between poor and horrendous. During the entire 200 km journey of four and a half hours we only saw four motorhomes and a crusty-mobile travelling the same road. The road surface in many places was replaced by water-borne red mud and by the end of the journey Mr C was a red-brown colour.

Passing through Kasba-Tadia and approaching Khenifra, we searched in vain for a monument to a French defeat back in 1914 (600 men lost). Finally arriving in Azrou and taking the Ifrane road towards Fes, we were amazed to see an 'Arabian Nights' group of buildings with tiered and landscaped gardens rising above them on the steep mountainside. This, as it turned out, was the new and as yet uncompleted Emirates Tourist Centre (Euro Camping Azrou.Ifran), where we were one of only 3 motorhomes and able to stay FREE OF CHARGE. When it finally opens there will be the usual tariffs, which will make it 8€/night for motorhome, 2 persons and electricity, but currently there is no charge. www.camping-morocco.com .

We found a site and settled in. We don't carry levelling chocks but anyone being here for some time would be well advised to purchase some  .Given it's mountainous location, none of the terraces are actually flat, so as to facilitate drain away from the slopes above. I do hope the drainage is adequate, as one would not wish to consider the effect of water damage on the extensive and palatial hotel and guest facilities that lie below. It is going to be a beautiful site but one wonders whether a more level one would not have been an advantage?

Day 49 - Sunday, 24 January 2010 

And the rain fell, and fell and fell, so there seemed little point in driving on to Fes, where we would pay for the same facilities as here and would not be able to sight-see due to the weather. So a quiet day with only a shower (lovely facilities) and reading to break the monotony of the falling rain on the roof. Had a quick chat with American-English speaking factotum, who tells us that the owner is an Abu Dhabian and that to date the cost of this project has been over 5 million Euros (and he believes the figure to be much higher). Our fan heater failed (the fan part that is), so we may have to take a taxi into Azrou tomorrow if the weather persists. Apparently similar models are available for about the same price as at B&Q and we need a few staples as well. Both Fes sites appear to be well out of town, so here is probably more convenient in a number of respects.

Day 50 - Monday, 25 January 2010 

Another wet and dismal day but a replacement heater was a necessity and so we drove into Azrou, rather than take a taxi. We and 2 whizz-bangs are all that are here on this huge, unfinished and yet so badly planned site. One red VW machine we seem to have seen everywhere we have gone, but this morning we had a brief chat with a lovely couple (he from Spain and she from Holland) in a Spanish-plated Fiat. They hope to head towards Zagora but are concerned about the weather.

Down the hill to Azrou, a small unimpressive town, even more so due to the weather and the days of rain. As Tuesday is the Souk day, which allegedly draws Berbers from all the surrounding mountain villages, today was relatively quiet and we had no difficulty parking. With a few enquiries we found an electrical store and purchased a replacement for our defunct heater. Bread, water and a huge bagful of bananas and tangerines for 20 Dh and then it was a chicken shop for an immense meal, consisting of half a chicken, spicy and plain rice, bread, chips, salad, sundry sauces and 2 cokes. We even left with uneaten chicken for sandwiches later. At 94 Dh in total, we had an excellent and cheap midday meal.

Although there are a number of local walks, down to the river and in the local mountains and cedar forests, the weather was against us. So having already walked the various shopping areas, it was back to the campsite where we are now the only campers.

Azrou, the first real town of the Middle Atlas, stands at a major junction of routes: north to Meknes and Fes, south to Khenifra and Midelt. As might be expected, it's an important market centre and it has long held a strategic role in controlling the mountain Berbers. Moulay Ismail built a Kasbah here, the remains of which still survive, while more recently the French established the prestigious College Berbere - part of their attempt to split the country's Berbers from the urban Arabs. The college, now the Lycee Tarik Ibn Ziad and still a dominant building in the town, provided many of the Protectorate's interpreters, local administrators and military officers but, in spite of its ban on using Arabic and any manifestation of Islam, the policy was a failure.

The town takes its name from a massive outcrop of rock (Azrou = rock in Berber). There's the Tuesday Souk (as mentioned above) and craft stalls in the old quarter of town around Place Saouika and Place Mohammed V, not particularly geared towards tourists. The carpet shop by the Hotel des Cedres has a comprehensive collection of carpets and rugs from the various Beni M'Guild tribes in the Middle Atlas, most with bright geometric designs based on traditional tribal patterns. For a further selection of rugs and carpets you can take a look at the Cooperative Artisanale on the Khenifra Road, which has seen better days! There is a ruined Benedictine Monastery of Tioumliline in the hills 3 km above Azrou.  

Day 51 - Tuesday, 26 January 2010 

Snow fell, so we settled in for the day and just read. A pair of scuzzy Brits in a Francia pulled in mid-afternoon. Just so full of braggadocio about their travels and their home in France. We rated them as idiots, after a relatively short conversation. What an embarrassment.

Day 52 - Wednesday, 27 January 2010 

It was trying to snow again as we left the campsite to begin the 80 km journey to Fes. Unfortunately we were unable to say goodbye to the Manager, of whom there was no sign. An excellent uphill road through snow covered hills and forests took us through Ifrane, which appeared an extremely pretty village. With its pseudo-Alpine villas and broad suburban streets, it had a distinctly peculiar feel in this Moroccan setting. After independence, they were absorbed by Moroccan government ministries and the wealthy bourgeoisie, and in recent years they have been granted extra prestige by the addition of a Royal Palace.

Exiting Ifrane on the Fes road, it was another 30 or so km until a right turn towards Safrou, although we merely skirted the town. Both campsites shown in Rough Guide appeared related to the Safrou road entering the city, and so it turned out. Camping International is the first one that you arrive at, although there was no sign or even parked motorhomes etc. On the right as you enter you will see the new football stadium and Camping International is immediately before this, but accessed via a long tree-lined avenue. So poorly pruned were these that we had difficulty getting through to the gates. We saw little of the site, which was 110 Dh/day with electricity, as we knew the other campsite was preferred and cheaper. Also, the trees here were too low to be safely traversed.

So, back to the main road and a right turn to the traffic island 500m further along. Here we turned left and a further 5 km along was Camping Diamant Vert, although again there are junctions and a roundabout where, at each, you need to bear right. Everyone we asked knew where the campsites were, and we saw no sign of 'touts on motorbikes and scooters' as mentioned in the Guide. Guess they must be further in and prey on cars with foreign plates rather than motorhomes.

We arrived at lunchtime and no bread was to be found at the shop on-site. It arrives at 9 am and you have to pre-order. An under-used site, quite muddy and with barely acceptable services at 90 Dh/day with electricity. It's green and interesting with lots of mature trees, streams, ponds etc. There are resident Muscovy Ducks, geese, goats, cats and kittens everywhere and a very friendly camp dog which we diligently fed. All in all quite a delightful environment and much much warmer than Azrou - to our surprise and gratitude. Sandra went off to sign in and then we filled up with water, connected to the mains and washed Mr C, who was absolutely filthy. Quite a few crusties on site in 3 French vehicles but with a total of 6 dogs - must be good for begging! We identified the bus stop just round the corner, No 17 (it's the only bus) and timed it at every half hour. The bus runs to Place de Florence in Ville Nouvelle and from there we can take a petit taxi.

Day 53 - Thursday, 28 January 2010

Fes (Fez): to quote from Walter Harris in 'Land of an African Sultan' “The history of Fes is composed of wars and murders, triumphs of art and sciences, and a good deal of imagination”

Fes is the most ancient of the Imperial Capitals and the most complete medieval city of the Arab world. Fes is a place that stimulates your senses, with infinite visual details and unfiltered odours especially around the tanneries. As with other Moroccan cities, it has a French-built Ville Nouvelle - familiar and modern in appearance and urban life - but a quarter or so of Fes's 800,000 inhabitants continue to live in the extraordinary Medina-city of Fes el Bali, which owes little to the West besides its electricity and tourists.

Leaving the campsite by bus no 17 we were deposited, together with what seemed like 500 others, near Place de Florence, from where we took a petit taxi to Borj Nord and the Arms Museum. The bus was 3 Dh pp single and the taxi was 12.6 Dh. Borj Nord, despite its French garrison-like appearance, was actually built in the late 16th century by the Saadians, along with its southern counterpart across the valley. The dynasty's only endowment to the city, they were used to control the Fassis rather than protect them. Carefully maintained, the Borj now houses the country's Arms Museum. Everything from stone-encrusted daggers, suits of armour, swords and muskets, right through to early machine guns are represented by pieces from Morocco itself, the Arab world, India, France, Spain, UK and the USA. There is a small section representing Moroccan arms etc, but most are from elsewhere. Outside among a dozen or so cannon and mortars there is a 5m beauty discovered at Larache and allegedly used in the Battle of the Three Kings, weighing 12 tonnes. We walked to the museum's roof but the views were no better, as it turned out, than from the drive below or from the Merenid Tombs, which were a 15 minute walk further up the road.

The Merenid Tombs are really nothing but a group of crumbling ruins situated on the hillside overlooking the city itself. They say the best views are at dawn or dusk but we could see all that we needed to see in the city below, with its warren of streets and alleyways. People no longer know which of the dynasty's sultans had them erected and there is not a trace remaining of the previous marble cladding. Touts were obviously waiting for our arrival but, having taken our photos, we withdrew to the sounds of a rug vendor touting his wares. From there it was a petit taxi to Bab Boujeloud, where we were approached by Abdul - our Official Guide-to-be. Now we don't normally use guides (official or otherwise) but Abdul not only spoke excellent English and was prepared to reduce his official price from 150 to 120 Dh, but also agreed to our route. I did, however, forget to mention we didn't want to see any shops, but having said this it all worked to our benefit.

First stop was the Kairouine Mosque, or rather what we could see from the roadway and through the gates. The building is so thoroughly enmeshed in the surrounding houses and shops that it is impossible to get any clear sense of its shape. This was the largest mosque in Morocco until the construction of the new Hassan II mosque in Casablanca and it vies with Cairo's Al-Azhar for the title of the world's oldest university. It remains today the fountainhead of the county's religious life, governing, for example, the timing of Ramadan and the other Islamic festivals. There is an old Fassi saying that all roads in Fes lead to the Kairouine Mosque - a claim which retains some truth. The mosque was founded in 857 by the daughter of a wealthy refugee from the city of Kairouan in Tunisia, but its present dimensions with 16 aisles and room for 20,000 worshippers are essentially the product of 10th and 12th century reconstructions.

Having viewed and photographed 2 of the mosque's 16 gates, it was on to the Medersa el Attarin, which is, after the Bou Inania, the finest of the city's medieval colleges. 12 Dh pp entry fee. It has an incredible profusion and variety of patterning: equally startling in the zellij, wood and stucco. Remarkably, each aspect of the decoration seems accomplished with an apparent ease and the building's elegant proportions are never under threat of being overwhelmed. The medersa was completed in 1325 by the Merenid Sultan, Abou Said, and is thus one of the earliest in Fes. The basic ground plan is more or less standard: an entrance hall opening onto a courtyard with a fountain, off which to the left are the latrines, and directly ahead the prayer hall. The zellij decoration in the entrance hall is allegedly the most complex in Fes. Here you are able to enter the prayer hall itself with its Mihrab and its zellij glass windows. Access to the 2nd floor is now prohibited, as tourists were allegedly photographing down into the Kairouine Mosque.

From the Medersa it was to our first shop, but one that we were happy to visit as it gave us a wonderful view of the tanneries from its roof terrace. Merveilles de Cuir (Terasse de Tannerie) allows visits for free, although it is expected that you at least view the goods on offer. The smell is ATROCIOUS and as you reach the terrace your guide passes you a sprig of mint to hold at your nose. Immediately opposite us, cascades of water pour through holes that were once the windows of house; hundreds of skins lie spread out to dry on the roof tops and on the adjacent mountainside; while amid the vats of dye and pigeon dung (used to treat the leather) an unbelievably gothic fantasy is enacted. The rotation of colours in the enormous honeycombed vats follows a traditional sequence - yellow (supposedly saffron, in fact turmeric), red (poppy), blue (indigo,) green (mint) and black (antimony). Although vegetable dyes have mostly been replaced, we were assured that here only vegetable and mineral dyes are still used.

There can have been little change here since the 16th century, when Fes took over from Cordoba as the pre-eminent city of leather production. The foremen run a hereditary guild and the workers pass down their specific jobs from generation to generation .We were the only visitors, but then tourism is apparently suffering here as elsewhere and really you need a guide to introduce you, although the 'free-service' is advertised at the shop entrance in 3 languages. Being from Spain, we are able to compare prices and found the goods here to be at least 100% more expensive than Spanish-marked leather goods - and infinitely more expensive than you can now purchase on eBay! One is advised against buying almost any form of goods in Fes, the same or similar being available in other Moroccan cities. The Fassi culture is held responsible.

From here it was two more shops before we indicated that we were not interested in shopping, when the tour was rapidly brought to an end with us taking a taxi ride (at our expense) back to the Bab Boujeloud, where we were pointed rather than led in the direction of the Water Clock and the Bou Inania Medersa. Of the 2 shops, we found the rug shop of Dar Ibn Khaldoun quite interesting, in that it was the government outlet of a co-operative with prices set for the square metre of rug/carpet. However, having said that, you then had the different 'qualities' of product, so that a 2m x 1m rug that we were interested in turned out to be 500€ - go figure!!!!??? We just took pictures. However it wasn't hard to leave, although our guide Abdul made some comment about the Boss being present and 'striking while the iron was hot'. We smiled and left. The final shop was also a weaving establishment but allegedly spinning with a derivative of cactus fibre. We guessed this must have been the 'vegetable silk' the owner manager referred to, but all other constituents of the various materials, bags etc were standard organic fare. I even had a Moroccan turban fashioned to my head and photos insisted on. Of the 3 shops this was the least interesting and it was after this 3rd failure at 'wallet-ectomy' that the tour was curtailed.

Arriving back at Bab Boujeloud, we purchased some rather expensive postcards and paid off Abdul, leaving him a reasonable tip as the tour had been informative, his English excellent and, by his very presence, we had been spared the attention of illegal touts. Even children approaching with hands outstretched were gently rebuked and directed elsewhere. One of the things immediately noticeable in this maze of alleyways was that there were no motorised vehicles of any form. Our walks through the Souk at Marrakech had been fraught with the risk of a fractured forearm due to the omnipresent and often ridiculously ridden scooters and mopeds. Here none are allowed; 'grand taxis' are horses and 'petit taxis' are donkeys, although there are handcarts as well. Would you believe we actually had a number of 'gridlocks' due to four-footed beasts of burden with pedestrians unwilling to pass until the obstruction cleared? The Souk was definitely tattier than Marrakech but cooler and somehow less pressured, although we thought this again was due to Abdul's presence. As stated elsewhere, all street signs are in Arabic.

So finally to the only 'must-see' that Fes, according to Rough Guide, has to offer - the Medersa of Bou Inania - although we also found and photographed the remains of 'The Water Clock' which is sited almost opposite the Medersa's entrance.

The Medersa of Bou Inania (10 Dh pp) is the finest of the city's medieval colleges. The most elaborate, extravagant and beautiful of all Merenid monuments, it comes close to perfection in every aspect of its construction. Its dark cedar is fabulously carved, its zellij tilework classic and the stucco a revelation. In addition, before restoration works began, the Medersa was the city's only building still in religious use that non-Muslims were permitted to enter. Non-believers cannot, of course, enter the prayer hall, which is divided from the main body of the Medersa by a small watery canal. We were the only entrants at 2pm and were able to stand and photograph into the hall over the canal.

Set somewhat apart from the other Medersas of Fes, the Bou Inania was the last and grandest built by a Merenid Sultan. It shares its name with the one in Meknes, which was completed (though not initiated) by the same patron, Sultan Abou Inan (1351-1358). The Fes version is infinitely more splendid. Its cost alone was legendary and Sultan Abou Inan is said to have thrown the accounts into the river on its completion, claiming that 'a thing of beauty is beyond reckoning'.

There is a fascinating little story about the Sultan himself, who at first glance doesn't seem the kind of Sultan to have wanted a Medersa. His mania for building aside, he was most noted for having 325 sons in 10 years, deposing his father and committing unusually atrocious murders. The Ulema, the religious leaders of the Kairouine Mosque, certainly thought him an unlikely candidate and advised him to build his Medersa on the city's garbage dump, on the basis that piety and good works can cure anything. In any case he set up the Medersa to the Kairouine itself and for a while it became the most important religious building in the city. The Medersa was finally granted the status of a Grand Mosque -unique in Morocco - and retains the right to say the Friday khotbeh prayer. The upper floor is still inaccessible to visitors at this time.

The Water Clock: More or less opposite the Medersa just across the main thoroughfare, Bou Inania's property continued with an extraordinary water clock, built above the stalls in the road. Only the upper 13 windows and lower 12 arched cedar windows with elaborate cedar- carved surrounds remain, the bowls and other brass fittings having been removed 'for restoration' some time ago. Nobody has yet been able to discover exactly how it functioned, though a contemporary account detailed how at every hour one of its windows would open, dropping a weigh down into the respective bowl. Clocks had great religious significance during the Middle Ages in establishing the time of prayer and it seems probable that this one was bought by Abu Inan as part of his campaign to assert the Medersa's pre-eminence. The house to which the clock is fixed was once owned by a Jewish rabbi and is commonly known as 'The House of the Magician'.

Then it was an excellent lunch of chicken tajine on the elevated terrace at Panorama Cafι, where we overlooked the Souk's main thoroughfare. With a set menu of 3 courses for 60 Dh pp we were absolutely stuffed when we left. The waiter politely asked 'nothing for us?' as Sandra paid the bill to the Dirham. We do not tend to tip (anywhere) but were so replete that we proffered 5 Dh. Finished by shopping in the Souk and then a petit taxi back to the campsite which cost just 16 Dh and took 15 minutes, as opposed to the 6 Dh and 45 mins on a dirty crowded bus.

Day 54 - Friday, 29 January 2010

Down-day, spent quietly on the campsite with some hand-washing etc. The campsite forms part of a larger complex and can be entered from 2 directions, both accessed from the same road. It must be glorious, although busier, in summer as there are no less than 3 large swimming pools, one of which has an excellent water slide/water park arrangement for the delight of families only. All empty of water, but then the weather hardly tempting (a chill breeze, although gloriously sunny, for the entire day).

Day 55 - Saturday, 30 January 2010 

Our final day in Fes, a city that we have not really enjoyed, which we have found rather cold and soulless and where you most definitely feel an outsider.

Catching the bus into town, we took a petit taxi from the terminus to Place des Alaouites for 5 Dh. Then it was but a moment to the new ceremonial gateway to the Royal Palace. The palace, which has been constantly rebuilt and expanded over the centuries, is one of the most sumptuous complexes in Morocco, set amid vast gardens with numerous pavilions and guest-wings. Of course you see none of this, as it is all locked away behind huge walls and imposing gates. Still the gates themselves are worthy of several photographs.

Walking around the Palace walls we came to Bab Semarine, where we turned left and walked through the Souk, finally finding our way to Jardins de Boujeloud, which were to be the main focus of the day. Closed for the last 2 years while under repair and restructuring, what we could see of the gardens through the wrought iron gates looked incredibly lush and picturesque. Alas they, and the restaurant we had intended to lunch at, were, as with the Palace, out of bounds. So walking towards Bab Boujeloud we took another petit taxi to Majane, where Sandra had her hair cut and styled and we completed our shopping ready for our departure to Meknes tomorrow morning. Then it was back to the campsite to pay, pack and prepare. One had such hopes of the glories of Fes, but then we should have been warned by the detailed but uninteresting (to us) write up in Rough Guide. 'Something and nothing' or 'smoke and mirrors'. We shall be glad to leave!

Day 56 - Sunday, 31 January 2010

Exchanging cards and email addresses with David and Carol from Brisbane, Queensland in their Australian plated VW whizz-bang, we were on the motorway between Fes and Meknes by 10 am. A pleasant 50 km stretch of virtually deserted motorway to Meknes, where we exited at the first Meknes exit (toll 19 Dh). Then it was into town, which was extremely busy with all manner and number of Sunday Souks taking place.

Now we had been told of 2 alternatives: 1.Guardian parking near the Royal Palace (we were directed there to find it was no longer available) and 2. An overnight is allegedly allowed outside any Police station! Didn't fancy that! There were a number of other alternatives, as just before the first Meknes turn-off, Motorway Services were signposted 10 km on, between the 2 Meknes exits from the motorway. So theoretically, you could park on the services overnight, accepting the toll for motorway use, and then park in town during the day and take a petit taxi.

We decided to drive the 14 km towards Moulay Idris and use the campsite there, Camping Belle Vue - another dump with no electricity, no hot running water at time of writing and muddy churned up pitches. Just us, 2 other motorhomes and a tent. Still, the site dogs are friendly and hopeful and indeed we opened another tin of Lidl dog food and watched them tuck in.

Day 57 - Monday, 1 February 2010

Up and off this morning in Mr C, as Sandra was feeling a little fraught and we rather feared the return 10 km journey and having to find and bargain with a taxi driver. (Taxis and buses pass the road leading to the campsite, but obviously it's a matter of luck and time). As it turned out it was exactly the right thing to do, as the main road N 13 splits just to the south of Moulay Idris, with Volubilis being clearly marked to the left (the right leads into the town). A further 4 km and then it's a left turn down to the site itself. At 10 Dh pp it's well worth the expenditure, although believe me it is no Bolonia and certainly no Santiponce. There is a huge new Gate, Visitors' Centre and Museum being constructed, which is a shame as they would be better tidying the existing site and financing clearance and further exploration. As a result of this development you enter up slope of the layout of the site (at least on our map) and we needed to walk south before starting to follow our guide. The signage is mediocre but it is there. Better than many sites in Spain in fact.

Except for a small trading post on the island off Essaouira, Volubilis was the Roman Empire's most remote and far flung base. The imperial roads stopped here, having reached across France and Spain and then down from Tangier, and despite successive emperors' dreams of penetrating the Atlas, the southern Berber tribes were never effectively subdued.

Direct Roman rule here, in fact, lasted little over 2 centuries, as the garrison withdrew early, in 285AD, to ease pressure elsewhere. But the town must have taken much of its present form well before the official annexation of North African Mauritania by Emperor Claudius in 45AD. Tablets found on the site, inscribed in Punic, show a significant Carthaginian trading presence in the 3rd century BC and prior to colonisation it was the western capital of a heavily Romanised but semi-autonomous Berber kingdom, which reached into northern Algeria and Tunisia. After the Romans left, Volubilis saw very gradual change. Latin was spoken in the 7th century by the local population of Berbers, Greeks, Syrians and Jews; the city remained alive well into the 18th century, when its marble was carried away by slaves for the building of Moulay Ismail's Meknes.

What you see today, under-explored, weed-grown and with the mosaics crumbling and fading due to gross lack of care, are largely the remains of 2nd and 3rd century AD buildings. The city exported significant quantities of wheat and olives to Rome, as it did wild animals from the surrounding hills to feed the Roman games. The slaughter of these games is the stuff of nightmare (in the dedication of Rome's Coliseum alone, 9000 beasts were killed); as a result within 200 years lions, Barbary bears and elephants became virtually extinct.

The site: As you will have a map, there is no need to detail the various Roman houses, mosaics etc that are all easy to find and photograph. The main house/mansion remains are off the Decumanus Maximus, which itself leads to the Triumphal Arch, the Basilica, the Capitol and the Forum, all laid out in standard Roman architectural fashion. Throughout the site numerous houses have evidence of olive presses, the extent and number of which, built into even the grandest mansions, reflect the olive's absolute importance to the economy and the city itself. A significant proportion of its 20,000 population must have been involved in some capacity in the oil's production and export, which explains why Volubilis was present long after the Romans withdrew. One oil press (Oil Press 35) was restored in 1990, featuring a reconstruction of the grinding mechanism, including both grinding stones. This is now a stone building and thus is easy to identify on the site.

We spent approximately 2 hours on the site and felt we had explored it with due diligence. As we were leaving we noted the number of touts/guides now in attendance but absent when we arrived. Obviously not early risers! There were already several coaches and even a number of Tour Group 4 x 4s which we recognised from Agadir. There is the ubiquitous car park attendant in the usual self-purchased fluorescent jacket attempting to rip you off for 10 Dh for a public car park. We noted with interest the way the drivers of 2 French motorhomes just turned their backs on him, ignoring him as they drove away.

Turning north we then drove the 170 km to Chefchaouen, which constitutes the next of our 'must sees' after Volubilis. Only this town and then Tangier and we have finished Morocco to the best of our ability and patience on this trip, which will probably be our last to this country. The drive itself was quite interesting, apart from the roads which were shocking (a countrywide phenomenon)! Much of the scenery was worth seeing and we noted 2 functioning donkey-driven oil presses working along the roadside in the vicinity of Derdara. Olives, oranges, olive oil and honey are available at roadside stalls as you near Chefchaouen.

Arriving at Chefchaouen our immediate feeling was of disappointment as we viewed the sprawl of the town against the surrounding hillsides. There are some pale blue and lavender buildings but the majority of the town is a scruffy white melange, just as you would see with a Spanish hill village. Driving the 2 km climb to Camping Azilan (100 Dh/night with electricity, but everything else including showers extra) was a nightmare, as the road (under repair and with no flag waving workmen) winds its way up the mountain to the site itself. It's a reasonable site but only part electrified. It's quite small and set in conifer woodland, allegedly packed in Summer.

A few Brits on site included one lovely couple in a Hymer. Dawn is a retired Nurse/Health Visitor and many years ago, just like me, worked for Whittaker Corp KSA at Tabuk. Frank, her husband worked there at BAC. We were to spend several hours reminiscing over the next few days and the pair were a fund of knowledge. They did get targetted by a 'motor-cycle tout' at Fes who 'guided' them to Camping International, claiming Camping Diamant Vert was closed. They saw him collect his 'tip' at the Reception desk. They subsequently moved to Diamant Vert. There was also an elderly British female in a tent, attached to her friends in a Dutch caravan. She lives outside Pulpi, just 40 km from us in Spain. We exchanged books. Then there was a pair of crusties with teenage children (where's the education?) in a dilapidated UK bus.

There's a restaurant of sorts on site and the prices seem more than reasonable for the usual fare. There is also a cyber cafe with a few really old machines but these turned out to be infinitely better than the 3 internet cafes we tried to patronise in town. Patently dial-up, they were so slow as to be unbelievable and we abandoned each and every one. It seems a standard 10 Dh/hr here, the most expensive we have met. The showers are on a par with Fes in terms of cleanliness, pipework etc, but only the hot showers actually work and these are individually padlocked. For 10 Dh/shower, your site receipt is amended at the desk and you pay as you leave the site.

We shall visit the town tomorrow and then decide how we get out of here.

Day 58 - Tuesday, 2 February 2010 

See comments under Asilah, Day 7 (and also from Day 65).

These days Chefchaouen is well established on the excursion routes and indeed has become over-concerned with tourism. There are the inevitable Souks and stalls for the tour groups and a major hotel disfigures the twin peaks (ech-Chaoua = the horns) from which the town takes its name.

Local attitudes to tourists are relaxed: you are seen as a source of income to be exploited. We took a taxi from below the campsite (there is a steep but easy walkway from opposite the campsite down into the town taking 5minutes) to Place Outa el Hannam and were overcharged 300%. The taxi back was at least honest and he had to traverse the horrendous ascent with his exhaust often hitting the rutted soil of the road works! The square is pretty with the usual glut of eateries. Touts pick you up as you exit the taxi and then follow you, attempting to initiate a conversation and indicate photo ops. We priced up a random selection of tourist items and they were all grossly overpriced, so we didn't bother to haggle.

We walked the town which, given its hillside position, is somewhat difficult on the elderly and saw nothing of any interest. Just a tatty tourist trap, which we were amazed had been granted 'must see' status in Rough Guide. For us it would have been 'better to avoid'.

Day 59 - Wednesday, 3 February 2010 

Saying goodbye to Dawn and Frank, and the British woman from Pulpi, we had an uneventful journey down into the town centre shadowing, as we did, one of the construction lorries. Then gratefully it was just 2 km to the northern border of the town and the road to Tetouan and Tangier.

We stopped shortly after leaving town at a roadside pottery stall and purchased some plates and a tajine. WE WERE AMAZED!!!! Not only was the lad really friendly but, having made our choices and asked the price, he laboriously scrawled 260 Dh; this was cheaper than Safi and yet all the goods were marked as originating from Safi. We were so impressed that Sandra purchased another plate for 80 Dh - markedly less than at the Safi Souk - and with that he handed us 2 small bowls as a thank you. Enchanted at one of the few instances of courtesy and kindness we have met, we handed him a 70 cl bottle of Lidl wine. I can't describe the surprise and happiness on his face. One can only imagine that noting the direction we were heading, he realised we were on the way back to the Tangier ferry and thus knew the correct scale of charges (or hopefully he was an honest man!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!).

Skirting Tetouan we joined the Motorway to Rabat, exiting at Tangier West (Oueste). It wasn't difficult to find either Cap Spartel or the Campsite - Camping Achakkar - as we followed the signs to Cap Spartel and the Grotto of Hercules. Another dump of a campsite - now there's a surprise. 115 Dh/night with electricity, although we had to change pitches twice before we found a junction box that worked. Cold showers only and only 5 cubicles. Toilets and sinks - and that's it. The site needs serious work, which naturally it won't get, as you are a 'hostage to fortune' with very little option.

Although the 'Caves of Hercules' are obviously quite close, Tangier is not, and you could be talking 30€/day just to get to and fro by taxi! There is a Bus No 2 that stops just outside the camp and goes to and from Tangier but there is no sign of a schedule, so I guess you just stand and wait (and hope). We shall check out the caves tomorrow and then possibly drive south to Asilah and train in from there on a daily basis. The weather has deteriorated yet again, with strong winds and showers early evening which turned into severe gusting winds and torrential rain overnight. We were buffeted and did not get a good night's sleep.

Day 60 - Thursday, 4 February 2010

The campsite looks even more of a tip this morning with storm-tossed debris scattered everywhere. My Crocs and a saucepan lid had actually blown away and I had to retrieve them. Sky a uniform grey but, who knows, it may clear later. Huge 'moat' at the front gate should we decide to drive down to the Caves of Hercules but Sandra is unwell, so will probably have a down-day. There are 2 snack bars on site. It's 9.30 am and most of the camper vans have already left. No surprise there.

Day 61 - Friday, 5 February 2010 

A 3minute walk from the campsite  to the Caves of Hercules, which turned out to be an enclave of small restaurants (all open) and a few shops selling tourist items. It was 5 Dh pp to enter the caves and it's about a 10 minute experience with a few photo ops. The Caves of Hercules (Grottes d'Hercule) are something of a symbol for Tangier, with their strange sea window, shaped like a map of Africa (in reverse). The name, like Hercules' legendary founding of Tangier, is purely fanciful but the caves, 16 km outside the city and above the 'Atlantic Beach', make a short excursion, located on the rocky spit above the beach. A natural formation, occupied in pre-historic times, they are most striking for a man-made addition: thousands of disc-shaped erosions created by centuries of quarrying for millstones. There were still people cutting stones here for a living until the 1920s but by that time their place was beginning to be taken by professional guides and discreet sex hustlers; it must have made an exotic brothel. There were no touts on the day we visited, but why would you need one?

Just further south and slightly inland is the old Roman town of Ancient Cotta. Unfortunately we couldn't find our way through from the caves to the beach proper. The caves have a guardian, to whom you pay your entrance fee, and there is a barred iron gate which is presumably locked when the caves are closed.

Day 62 - Saturday, 6 February 2010 

Down-day as Sandra had a 'tummy bug'. We had not eaten out. Glorious sunny day so merely cleaned Mr C and re-blacked the front bumper.

We are the only vehicle on site!

Day 63 - Sunday, 7 February 2010

And so finally the No 2 Bus from just outside the campsite and into Tangier, being deposited in the Grand Socco or square. It was 23 Dh pp and at least, starting from the terminus, we had seats.
According to legend, Tangier was founded by Sophax, son of the Greek demi-god Hercules and of Tingis, widow of a giant by the name of Antaeus, whom Hercules slew (hewing Africa and Europe asunder in the process). In fact Tingis in Berber means marsh, although it was colonised in the 7th century BC by Phoenicians, a seafaring race from Lebanon. In 42 AD the Romans made Tingis the capital of Mauretania Tingitania. In 429 AD Tangier was taken by the Vandals, followed by the Byzantines, before falling to the Visigoths from Spain in the 7th century. In 707 Tangier was taken by the Arabs, who used it as a base for their invasion of the Iberian Peninsula. Following the reconquest of Spain and Portugal, however, Tangier fell to the Portuguese in 1471 and then in 1661 they gave it to the British (along with Bombay) as part of Princess Catherine's dowry on the occasion of her wedding to Charles II. The British, finally unprepared to continue the expense of defending the city, pulled out in 1684, destroying the fortifications which the occupying Mouley Ismail promptly re-built. The city remained in Moroccan hands until the 20th century, growing in importance as a port. One of its exports, mandarins, even took their name from the city, being known in Europe as tangerines.

Today as a port it is second only to Casablanca and there are plans to build a second port further along the coast. Tangier, of only doubtful tourist interest, has two other sources of wealth, neither of which appear in the official statistics. Cannabis (although on the entire trip we were never offered any, nor detected its odour in public places) and ferrying would-be immigrants across the straits to Spain. Probably hundreds die each year in this venture.

The Grand Socco: The markets that used to fill the square are long gone but we did enjoy the Menoubia Gardens which flank the square itself. Although now used for registering weddings, they used to enclose the former offices of the Mendoub, the Sultan's representative during the International years. Apart from some old cannon, they also contain a spectacular Banyan Tree allegedly 800 years old. From the square it was on to the 19th century Church of St Andrew which, being a Sunday, was open. We had wanted to view the interior and the Lord's Prayer in Arabic but this proved impossible. We wandered the graveyard with the various tombs and gravestones. We did manage to identify that of Caid Sir Harry Maclean, the Scottish military adviser to Sultan Moulay Abd el Aziz at the turn of the 20th century, and a number belonging to British aircrew killed during WW2.

From the Grand Socco to the Petit Socco, now just another conglomeration of cafes and tourist stalls but at one time renowned for its vice, with gay and straight brothels staffed with Moroccan and Spanish sex-trade workers. Then it was the Medina, via Rue es Siaghinoff which has most of the Souks. It was here that we attracted most of the tout attention, but gratefully few speak English and disappear when you explain you are just waiting for the ferry back to Spain. 'No money' did seem to work. Many of Tangier's market stalls and stores are eminently avoidable, selling tourist goods that you wouldn't give house-room to. This proved to be the case and so it was back to the Grand Socco and the bus back to the campsite, although we shall be returning again before our ferry back to Spain.

Day 64 - Monday, 8 February 2010

Hammered down with rain from about 3 am so the campsite awash this morning. Seems to be brightening but will have to see.

Day 65 - Tuesday, 9 February 2010 

Sandra and I both down with a recurrent viral infection, so Tangier will be a no-no. Decided to pack up and drive to Asilah, so emptied cassette and filled tanks with water before paying up and leaving. The bill was 690 Dh for the 6 days but when I tendered 800 Dh I only received 100 Dh in return. 'No change'- the usual lie!

Leaving the campsite we detoured initially to Cap Spartel and its lighthouse, a circuit of just 9 km. It really is a beautiful piece of coast and of course Tourist Resorts are being built. Even at this time of year we counted 12 camels for hire. Cap Spartel is a dramatic and fertile point, known to the Greeks and Romans as the 'Cape of the Vines'. The lighthouse was built in 1864 by Sultan Mohammed III, who then persuaded Britain, France, Italy and Spain to pay for its maintenance, which they did until independence in 1956.The lighthouse keeper arrived at 10 am while we and a French motorhome were there but there was no offer of a tour.

(See Day 17) Back out of town and the N1 to Asilah. We had actually missed an attractive road and coastal views by arriving here after dark at the beginning of our Moroccan journey and were glad we had revisited. We had failed to find a supermarket as we left Tangier and failed to find one here, although we circled the town in Mr C before entering and parking up on the 'gardien-controlled' car park next to the sea and the Medina walls - 30 Dh/night but of course no services. Still we were parked next to the harbour so had the sea views right outside.

No shortage of touts here and so far we have had fish salesmen (who also tried to cadge beer), a cake salesman, a tout wanting to guide us around the Medina, wooden items displayed at our window, and a local wandering around with a young Barbary ape on a leash -photo op!!!!!!! We have, better late than never, discovered that the way to put off fish salesmen is to say you are vegetarian and the cake salesmen by saying you are diabetic! Anyway, with us both feeling 'out of sorts' we merely walked to the Souk for fruit and veg, bread and coke (the latter for Sandra's upset stomach) but will return later for a spit-roasted chicken, again for obvious reasons. The weather is intermittently sunny and cloudy with a fresh breeze coming straight off the sea.

Returning for a spit-roasted chicken we were quoted 120 Dh and then 100 Dh (should be 65 Dh), so we walked back to the chicken Souk and purchased a half-chicken for 28 Dh. Obviously most of the travellers arriving here are coming from the Tangier ferry and the local rip-off merchants act accordingly. Not that there are many travellers here, although the campsite was packed solid by nightfall.

Day 66 - Wednesday, 10 February 2010
The campsite was only one third full when we woke up this morning, on what turned out to be a grim, grey, wet day. We stayed in and read, being intermittently pestered by sundry salesmen and beggars at the door. The only ray of sunshine came in the form of a Kingfisher sitting on the rocks below us. A veritable jewel among the flotsam, jetsam and general rubbish of the beach below us. Too wet to walk the harbour wall or make it to the cyber-cafe.

Day 67 - Thursday, 11 February 2010

Nil of note today, apart from a Shag fishing in the lagoon in front of us and a shopping trip into town. A lesson was learned when we went into a currency exchange to change Dirhams into Euro. Although the chap eventually made the transaction, we should have had a passport (self-evident) but also a receipt from a previous bank or ATM transaction. We ended up getting 86€ for 1000 Dh, which is an effective loss of 4€. Still better than trying to spend Dirham on 'things' that we just don't want or need!

Day 68 - Friday, 12 February 2010

Another wet and murky day, although we did manage to walk into the Administrative Area of the town which was remarkably clean, orderly and spacious. Here we finally managed to locate a post box and mail our final postcards. There are numerous cyber-cafes in Asilah and at 5 Dh/hr half the price of the ones in Chefchaouen. The wind damage at the cottage turned out to be a dislodged 'sombrero' from one of the chimneys. Phil had already replaced it; so a great relief!

The Kingfisher turned up this morning for a short time and we also had 4 Turnstones foraging on the small litter-strewn beach below us. They are still in their black and white winter plumage although some Black-Headed Gulls have already changed to their summer plumage.

A new ticket collector came round at lunchtime, which is far earlier than previously. Having scrounged a biro, he returned with change but nothing to split a 20 Dh note. His suggestion that the extra 10 Dh should be a gift to him was met by retrieval of the note and its replacement with a 10 Dh coin. “Nothing for me?' was the monotonous refrain and he left having been forcibly reminded that he already had our pen. Yet we have sat on this site, as indeed today, and watched fellow travellers (and morons in my estimation) hand over alcohol, fleeces, etc, etc. The only creatures to have benefited from us have been the site dogs and cats - and they can't work for a living as these scroungers can.

Day 69 - Saturday, 13 February 2010

Another quiet day after a night of torrential rain and gale force winds. Sandra hates strong winds but I slept through it all! Shopping today, we tried to use the last of the Dh while leaving enough to top up with less expensive Moroccan fuel on the way to the docks and a little more in case of 'tips' on exiting. A grey day with several motorhomes arriving from Tangier just at dusk. This evening's site fee collector complained that I never give him beer when he asks for it. We have watched all day as numerous touts and beggars have assaulted motorhomes as they arrive, attempting to either sell or cadge anything they can. Roll on Monday.

Day 70 - Sunday, 14 February 2010

Our last day in Asilah and so we drove 4 km out of town to a fuel station to fill up with diesel and replenish our water tanks. We dumped our grey water before spending most of our remaining Dh on some more plates (for the outside terraces at home) and a tajine for a friend of James. Not the bargains they were earlier in the journey, especially the tajine for 50 Dh, as opposed to the 20 Dh we paid in Tiznit. Here again (as at Chefchaouen) the teenage stallholder wrapped up a small ash-tray (we don't smoke) as a 'present' and said that it was the custom for us to return his generosity. I was tempted to toss it in his face (the charming lad at Chefchaouen hadn't asked and yet had received), so we handed him a defunct leather wallet of Sandra's destined for a UK charity shop. He reluctantly took it and we drove away.

Back to the site for breakfast and a shower before our last bit of shopping in town.

Day 71 - Monday, 15 February 2010 

THE FINAL DAY

Up at 0700 hrs and out of Asilah by 0730. It had lashed it down again overnight so the N1 in to Tangier was extremely wet with flooding to the surrounding fields. We arrived in town and, happening on a huge roundabout, carried straight on. Actually, as we were shortly informed, it was back to the roundabout and then an immediate right. So coming from Asilah it would have been obliquely across to the left and there was a sign for The Docks.

Arriving at the docks the touts are immediately in evidence and it took 3 (three) of them to walk the 3m to the ticket window and present passports and tickets. You can imagine how 'upset' they were when I retrieved a 2€ coin and a 10 Dh piece! “Paper money” they kept demanding; I kept smiling and reiterating it was all the change I had and only a credit card apart from that. They moved off and it was then to the Passport window (Police), where you stand in line to have your passports checked and the exit stamp entered. You check with Customs next door but they just waved us through as the entire vehicle is scanned later on. As we were driving towards the scanner (which takes one artic or 3 vehicles), we saw an illegal break from under an artic that had just arrived on a ferry. Everyone gave chase but we couldn't help wondering why he bothered to come back!!!!

About this time, and against a backcloth of utter confusion as the rain drummed down and all the staff scattered for cover, it happened that we were adopted by a little man who really earned his tip. He walked us and other vehicles through the X-ray scanner, then collected registration documents to take to the Docks Police and finally pointed us in the right direction to 1. Collect our Registration (a man comes out to you); 2. Hand over the green Vehicle Registration Form that you were given when you arrived in country; and 3. Confirm that we had been through the scanner and provide the ticket. He was absolutely soaked and we gave him all the Dh we had left. He was so happy and no mention of “paper money” here. He even made sure we all stood well away from the Scanner - concerns re Pacemakers!!!!!!!!!

So finally it was the queue-side lanes for the ferry and we were first in line at 0945hrs. We drove on about an hour later but the ferry didn't leave until 12 noon. In spite of our concerns the crossing was smooth and, although we didn't see any Whales or Dolphins, we did see a number of large Sunfish. The crossing took 3 hours in total and we arrived to rain in Algeciras. Passport Control, where an officer just checked our toilet/shower compartment, and then we were through.

Tonight sees us, and about 20 other motorhomes, outside Lidl where we have already done our shopping. We are hoping to visit Gibraltar over the next 2 days, though we think we may be unlucky. But that's another tale!

Financial Breakdown

At a daily budget of 50€/day we end the trip 650€ under-spent, although this does not include the upholstery at 1509.36€. Still, subtracting the underspend (and a currency adjustment), and with the savings we can make between now and the end of the month, we shall be again fiscally neutral.

The total mileage in Morocco was 3,567 km or 2,230 miles. The Spanish mileage is not included.
So at 67 days in Morocco at a permissible 50€/day the total expenditure (without upholstery) was 2,698.82€

Fuel 319.36€                                                  Sites 405.40€ (Total waste of money)
Upholstery 1509.36€                                     Solar 405€ incl 2nd Recreational Battery
Painting 45€                                                   Ticket 110€
Insurance 129.44 (for 73 days) Ibexinsure (only for those living in Spain or Portugal)             
Jewel Box 135€     Pottery 48.60€     2 x Cous cousaires 24.30€     DVDs (30) 27€
Gas Bottle 18€ 

So the remaining  1667.1€ went on food, shopping, post cards, stamps, entry fees, tips, 1 guide, restaurants, taxis, buses, medication and internet.

Conclusion

And so we reach the end of our 'Moroccan Adventure' and head for our Spanish home.       
Now I guess 25,000 motorhomers or more can't be wrong, but for us it was the least enjoyable of our many journeys. Only Hong Kong comes close to the disillusionment that we felt as one grimy town followed another, with campsites worse than wild-campsites we have been on previously. One should never say 'never again', and I guess we would return for inexpensive Solar Panels or should our front seats need re-upholstering, but we would arrive in Tangier or Ceuta and then head straight down the motorway to El Jadida, Essouira, Taghazout (panels) and Agadir (upholstery), then retrace our steps.

We met very few Brits and those we did were equally divided as to whether they loved or hated the place. Having said that, the ones that returned to the place seem to have done so for many years, except Ray and Doreen (Tiznit), who are now so disillusioned with the place that they won't return again.  As Dawn & Frank (5th timers) commented: 'We come for the sun. We feel the people are friendly and less threatening than in Spain. We prefer the food here to Spanish food'.

Obviously we would feel the exact opposite, but then Spain is one of our homes and we don't feel the need to use sites, which undoubtedly are more expensive in Europe. They felt that we hadn't seen the best of the country and they may well be right, but what we saw was mediocre to say the least. We are used to seeing beauty in a sunset or dawn, a butterfly's wing or a hitherto unseen species of bird; here we just didn't see it. Although I have also written 'Awareness of Morocco', I feel a pro and con column may be a way of quantifying and qualifying our perceptions; - (I would do it in column form but am not that computer literate)

Pros

Motorhome matters - see Awareness re Solar etc.

Fruit and veg in profusion and fish, crab and shellfish when on the coast.

Wood and pottery.

Aussies, Spanish, Belgians, Scandinavians and Brits that we met.

Smiles and waves from the children.

An awareness of just how lucky and privileged we are compared to those who genuinely have so little.

Cheaper Fuel (Diesel 72.5 Dh/l = €0.65/l or 0.53 pounds/l).

Although it could be perceived as a 'con', we learned not to adopt and travel with other motorhomers. One of ours turned out to be a psychiatric case in need of treatment. Never again.

Unlike Spain and Greece, where cruelty to animals is endemic, here it was a delight to see the majority of the stray dogs and cats well fed and socialised. For all the pros of our lifestyle, we dearly miss a pet and in Spain we abhor the cruelty to animals we see on a daily basis. Here even strays in the street will approach to be petted and are clearly accepted by society. It must be a facet of their Faith, but here animals are not afraid of humans.

Cons

Touts, louts, cheats and begging. It's incessant, and how you can ever trust yourself to open up any conversation with a local knowing that there is in all probability a 'hidden agenda' is beyond me. Granted we are generally talking about small amounts, but it's the morality of the thing. Many a town or village walk was spoiled by some tout (or several) just dogging your steps and constantly attempting to insinuate themselves into your conversation. You are asked for money, cast-offs, cigarettes, alcohol etc, etc. Even the children, when you handed out sweets, always wanted more and often the cry was “one dirham, one dirham”. The boys were undoubtedly the worse. Even if you were tempted to use a tout, and I would suggest you never do, most we met only had a smattering of English, just enough to approach you in the first instance.

Very few English-speaking locals. With French it may have been a lot easier but the preponderance of rude, egocentric French motorhomers on sites was not a positive by any means.

Stone-throwing at vehicles.

Rubbish everywhere.

Atrocious roads and abysmal road sense and courtesy (actually non-existent). The damage that we saw to motorhomes, and one imagines the 'invisible' damage to tyres, suspension, etc.
The boredom of repetitive menus. It is cheaper to live in Spain than it is in Morocco. We never had a meal as full, varied and inexpensive as the Menu del Dia in our nearby Spanish restaurant. Here you pay good money for pap.

Expensive French supermarkets (and others).

Grotty campsites for which you are paying up to 10€/day just to segregate yourself from the great unwashed, who see you as a resource to be exploited and harassed. With the exceptions of Atlantica Park, Taghazout, Azrou, Camping el Relais, Marrakech and Diamant Vert (Fes), the sites were atrocious and only these had showers you could use.

Weather atrocious for weeks and, whilst this is of little consequence in a developed country, here the effect on the roads and travel is horrendous. I haven't seen such effects on main roads since Libya in 1975-7.