On the back road from Estepona to Algeciras where we were to take the ferry over to Morocco we saw a lot of cork trees and a large cork collection area. We had a bit of trouble locating “Voyages Normandie” the agent who would sell us our tickets and give us documentation for Morocco. Having found him and paid him 220euros for return tickets we made our way to the ferry which departed at 3.15pm (only 15minutes late). The crossing took about an hour and a half through the straits of Gibraltar. There were shorter crossings but they did not accommodate campervans. There was very little English spoken on board, mainly arabic and French.

The new ferry port in Tangier was very impressive only the custom’s agents let the place down. When they saw Maurice’s Irish passport they asked him to come with them and after explanations that Southern Ireland wasn’t part of England and three phone calls later they decided that he held a valid passport!

First impressions of the roads were excellent with good highways and good secondary roads. People we encountered were friendly and helpful.

Imui a new telephone company was set up on the road out of the port near the ATM’s giving away free sim cards with 100dirham 3gig 6hours of calls so we had one of those, used the ATM and were our way to Asilah about an hour away on the coast. There were many locals out enjoying the late afternoon and the beach area and the shopkeepers were starting to open their doors again about 5 o’clock in the Medina .

There was a strong police presence everywhere – on top of bridges at roundabouts and in the towns. We stopped to fill the tank with diesel or (gasoil as it is called here) for 535dirhams or 90cents a litre!

Luckily we reached our camping site in Moulay Bousselham just after sunset. A lively festival was going on outside the walls in preparation for a wedding the following day. There were few campers and most there were Moroccan. Moulay Bousselham was known for it’s wetlands and flamingoes but it was not the season for them to be there. The beach area was popular with the locals but there was
not a lot to see there and there was much rubbish lying around in the streets which they were starting to clean up the next morning.

I had a “Lavazza” coffee and the waiters were smart in their black trousers and white shirts with black aprons in the nicest looking cafe in town. We took the toll road for a small fee for a short while and then turned onto the secondary roads to see more of local life on the way to Fes. On the highway we could have been in Australia with thousands of gum trees lining both sides, some old trees and much new growth forest.

There was a lot of land dedicated to agriculture on the plains which gave way to rolling hills where grain and hay had been harvested recently. The patchwork of colours was beautiful. The villages mainly had one storey buildings and there were a lot of shanty type dwellings near the fields on the sides of the road.

The tourist office in Fes was unfortunately closed being a Saturday so we stopped and had a coffee (French was in use again)and a wander around the new city. There was a heavy military presence in the city and we felt safe wherever we travelled in Morocco. If asking directions people friendly and helpful and a lot asked where we came from and chatted to us (well me in French) or waved or raised their hands in greeting.
Camping International only 3kms from Fes wasn’t very international as there were three other campervans all from France. The facilities were basic to say the least although they had been recommended in our camping site book which was a few years old. We were warned by some of the campers that we had met previously not to expect too much from the Moroccan campsites. We were lucky that if facilities were too bad we could use our toilet and shower in the van. Most campsites had a mixture of squat and western toilets. The prices in Morocco for our campsites were much cheaper, costing around $11-$15 a night.

We were advised to take an official guide to tour the medina in Fes which had over 1000 alleyways and we were glad we did. He picked us up as well as picking up his wife along the way and we sat and had coffee (Maurice had the popular Moroccan mint tea)at their local cafe. A lot of the pastries were the French kind with pain au chocolat and croissants. The bees (instead of wasps here) buzzed in and around the pastries but didn’t bother us. The couple gave us a lot of general information about Morocco and we chatted for nearly an hour. Mohammed worked as a journalist two days a week and as a guide another two days and his wife worked Monday to Friday in a bank. They both spoke Arabic and the local dialect,Arabic, French and English and he also spoke Spanish. They had two children at university which was free but after they graduated they had to then work for the government for two years which seemed reasonable. The king of Morocco wanted to build up tourism and the infrastructure of roads, bridges and highways was well underway (and a lot of it needed updating!)

Mohammed drove us up to the Merinid necropolis to get a view of the whole city. It was divided into three areas. The Medina or ancient city from the 8th century was Unesco listed and had a wall surrounding it. The middle aged city from the 14th century was near it and further away was the 20th century “new” city. Mohammed’s wife dropped the three of us off at one side of the medina for us to
explore. There were over 400,000 people living in the medina as well as countless small shops, schools, mosques and university. We visited the Abou Inania Medersa and the architecture and detail was stunning. Likewise the decorated fountains and mosques were beautifully decorated however we were not allowed to enter the mosques not being muslims. This is different from Turkey and many middle eastern countries who did allow us to see their mosques and unlike many Cristian churches there was no fee and in Oman we were even given dates and tea!
It is a great shame that most muslims who just lead an ordinary life are tarred with the brush of terrorism because of their faith. Mohammed and his wife were both muslim.

The alleyways were indeed narrow and winding and we had to watch out for the mules and men pushing small carts which was the only form of transport in the medina. We went to a carpet co-op where we bought a small Berber rug and then we went on to the tanneries which had just had a five month complete renovation compliments of Unesco.
There were very few dyes or hides in the vats but the smell was certainly there. I had wanted to buy a leather pouffe and we chose a neutral coloured camel leather one with Berber motifs. We had one given to us when I was a child from students from Iran to whom my mother taught English. They had every kind of leather goods for sale from pouffes to bags, shoes and clothing made from goat,sheep,cow and camel hides. We were picked up by Mohammed’s wife and deposited back to the campsite and our half day with Mohammed only cost us 200dirhams or $28.

In the morning we stopped for some supplies at the “Marjane” superstore (like a Lulu hypermarket) selling anything and everything. We bought some of the wonderful array of olives available and some fruit and vegetables. All the signage was in French and not in Arabic and there was a vast array of cheeses and other items from France.
The same applied in the Maroc Telecom sales office where I went to get a USB modem for my computer. All signage was in French and the transaction was conducted in French. Road signs were also in English.

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