Archives for the month of: September, 2015

Our last night in Morocco was spent at Martil a seaside resort near Tetouan.
We especially got up early and drove along the coast to get to Ceuta – part of the African mainland but belonging to Spain. The coast between Martil and Fndiq was full of luxury villas, appartments and manicured gardens. We must have passed the royal Summer residences in M’Diq judging by all the police, military and royal guards dotted along about 500 metres of high wall. We stopped at Fndiq for some breakfast and I had a typical Moroccan one – two kinds of round bread, three
different cheeses and a friend egg all drizzled with olive oil and what was like shredded polony – I left that but the rest was delicious. Maurice was boring and had a “pain au chocolat”.
We had to go through all the customs and passport formalities of first Morocco then Spain including a look into the van to see we had no illegals. Ceuta was like being on mainland Spain except for some Moroccans wandering around in their traditional dress. We could just spot the top of Gibraltar from Ceuta as we meandered around the coast. It was a very crowded looking city with buildings on
top of each other and no parking to be had by the time we arrived. They even had a jail on top of a hill. We left plenty of time to get back through the Spanish and Moroccan customs and immigration procedures again.
The Moroccan customs officer just wanted a quick look in the back of the van and asked us if we had any guns or pistols! We then drove over the Rif mountains with lone police standing on every hill and to Tanger Med – the new ferry port. Here they xrayed every car. We had to get out of the car and they did about five at a time with an enormous machine that moved over the vehicles. Inside were three people watching the screen. Probably looking for illegals.

A couple of words about Morocco – we were a bit apprehensive before we arrived with all the media attention given to any Islamic country however we found the people very friendly and helpful and never felt threatened in any way. Camping sites were secure with gates that were shut at night and someone on duty at all times. Parking was easy with men in fluoro jackets who would find a parking spot and who looked after the vehicle for a few dirhams. There was massive construction underway or
recently completed of roads and new appartments and official buildings all over the country as well as beautification of entrances to nearly every city or town with fountains and gardens.
We especially enjoyed the out of the way backroads and villages where the people made us feel very welcome and who were interested to know where we came from. The only pressure came from a few of the stall holders in the medinas who wanted us to buy their products. Any slight interest shown in anything and they would pounce from afar.
Morocco is a very long and large country. We covered nearly 3,000 kilometres in three weeks and only got to about half way down the country but we were happy with everything we saw and the lovely people we met. We would have stayed longer but we had to get back to Spain and up to Barcelona for Maurice’s 70th birthday celebrations on the 18th September.

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Many people had said not to bother with Casablanca and reports we had read was of to be a run down and not particularly nice city but we found the opposite.
State of the Art train station, tramways and many hotels like the “Sofitel” and very upmarket residences all along it’s coast. A mix of modern and old city and a large walled Medina.
Hassan II mosque was a most impressive building right on the seafront. Of course there were poorer areas on the edge of town but these were clean and tidy for the most part. “Camping Ocean Blue” was located at Mohammedia to the north of Casablanca on the coast but it was a rocky beach so swimming was not on the cards. We actually had another couple of French campers in the park.

We opted for a taxi to the train station about 15minutes the next day instead of trying to find parking in the city. The train station at Mohammedia was modern and very clean and a trip into town only took about 20minutes. The medina in Casablanca was an interesting one and quite different to the ones in Fes and Marrakech. We bought a couple of gifts where haggling was obligatory and we came across a lady and a sewing machine so she took in a dress that I had bought and only charged me 10dirhams or $1.40.

The city had both “Petit taxis” and “Grand Taxis”. The former were smaller Renault Dacia logans and the latter were all old Mercedes. They worked on a shared basis and you just had to hail a taxi, tell the driver where you wanted to go and he either said yes or no. We started with just us in a Mercedes and this swelled to six passengers along the way (a few needing a bath). In the middle of the traffic one got out and got into another car and someone replaced him. We knew how the sardines in the tin felt then. We were dropped off near “Quartier Habbous” a very nice suburb with government offices, lovely gardens and many streets with columned archways in front of their buildings. We bought a couple of things and the very nice shopkeeper walked us a few blocks to a very nice cafe/restaurant where we had a light lunch. We had to walk a fair way before a petit taxi picked us up and took us to a small museum which unfortunately was closed being Monday.

We walked again to the tramway where we wanted to just go for a ride to see more of Casablanca with it’s six million inhabitants. The last stop was on the coast where people were enjoying the beach. There were many umbrellas on the beach but no sun lounges only plastic chairs. Another taxi ride (they only cost a maximum of 20dirhams and mostly 10dirhams for two people) took us to the Hassan II mosque. The mosques in Morocco were very different from the ones in the UAE with square turrets rather than rounded ones. We walked some more kilometres to “Ricks Cafe” which was nothing like the original one in the film but even so very beautiful with stunning decor and some of the waiters wearing Fez. I was spoilt and had a gin and tonic (my first alcoholic beverage out since arriving in Morocco)and a very good glass of champagne (it wanted to be at $25) and complimentary olives and almonds. The atmosphere was wonderful and we felt like staying for dinner but it was getting dark and we had to catch a train and a taxi back to the campsite. We left and got a bit lost and ended up outside a massive construction site for new appartments and offices. The site offices didn’t look too bad but the worker’s dwellings were very basic shacks.

We asked for directions to the train station and as usual the replies were very friendly and always ended with “je vous en Prie” – you’re welcome. Such willing, friendly and courteous people everywhere and they were a happy people. We could see this by the way people greeted each other and the banter in Berber or Arabic.

We wanted to see the capital Rabat and it was on our route up the coast about an hour north of Casablanca. The entry to the city along the coast was being upgraded and planted with at least five kilometres of new palms and all new footpaths. The scale of it was incredible. It was another interesting but quite different city from the others in Morocco as it comprised two walled cities – one on each side of the river. The southern one was the more interesting one with a new city and an
old city and medina. The medina was slightly different from the other medinas we had seen in Marrakech, Casablanca and Fes but they all had their own style and way of displaying their goods.

Rabat also had a good tramway network so after parking the van in a large open carpark by the river we took the tramway up to the medina and walked around for a couple of hours and over to the Kasbah overlooking the ocean.
After lunch in the van we left Rabat and looked for an exotic garden which was mentioned as being 20 kilometres out of town near Sidi Bouknadel. We missed the turn off as it was not signposted out of town and was only ten kilometres from Rabat. We turned around and it was well worth backtracking to visit it. The “Jardin Exotique de Bouknadel” was originally a garden developed by Marcel Francois
who went to Marocco from France after the second world war. He was a horticultural graduate and in 1949 he landscaped many hectares into a wonderful garden which now had very tall trees and plants from all over the world. His house by comparison was very modest.

We went further up the coast to Kenitra and had a break and then on to Ouazzane where we arrived late about 8pm and spend the night at the camping area at the “Rif motel”. The next morning we saw two busloads of foreign tourists, mainly Australians who had stopped there for coffee.

We left and followed the rolling hills into Chefchouen (the blue city)passing many stalls selling a different variety of carpet and unusual straw hats with different coloured pom poms which all the country people were wearing. We wound our way up to a basic campsite which was in a wonderful position high above the town and only a ten minute walk down to the old town and medina via many steps. We set up and walked down to have a look around and have a coffee above the main marketplace
which had a strong odour of fish. There were strange little numbered wooden booths where the women sold the usual round bread in the mornings and numbered stalls for fruit and vegetables.
The blue old town was VERY blue and many shades of the colour. It was a pleasant small town and an afternoon was enough to see what the place had to offer.

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After 5nights in Marrakech we headed for the Atlantic coast at Essaouira passing many vineyards and apple orchards and olive groves. Closer to Essaouira were many Argan tree groves and we stopped at one of the factory outlets to see how the Argan oil was produced from the nuts of the Argan trees. The main avenue and seaside road was beautifully planted with trees and flowers like the entrance to most cities and towns around Morocco. Even the small villages were neat and clean. There was usually one spot where all the rubbish was dumped.

Essaouira, a seaside resort on the Atlantic was an interesting city with a lovely beachfront and interesting fishing harbour and ramparts left from the Portuguese time there in the seventeenth century. It was a major caravan port for slaves and goods from southern Africa on their way to Europe. The ramparts were modernised over a century later and were very impressive overlooking the city and Mogador island where the Romans had centuries before constructed a villa. A very strong wind was blowing as we came into town and as walked around the colourful fishing harbour and up onto the ramparts.

The old town had many cafes, restaurants and tourist shops selling leather,carpets and many wooden articles as well as peanuts and dried fruit. We had a good walk around town and went back to our car minder with his fluoro jacket, paid him and went to our campsite on the edge of town which was a severe let down after our last 5star stay! We however decided to move further up the coast the following day but a fellow French camper showed us that we had a flat tyre on our way out of the campsite. Luckily it was Sunday in Morocco and so the local service station called a very friendly repairer who was there in ten minutes on his scooter and who fixed the tyre for 150dirhams or $20 and we were on our way again.

The drive from Essaouira to Safi along the coast was a very interesting one. There were many fancy houses built close to the coast near Essaouira and after a few kilometers this gave way to an enormous amount of industry and factories and a very large port construction. There were so many horse and carts – open and some with flimsy covers carrying people and others carrying hay and sand and various other goods.

After seeing so many police checkpoints on the road all over the country where we were just waved through, we were stopped at one and asked for a driver’s licence. Maurice gave over his licence and he said he wanted mine. I threw my hands up and he then looked properly and saw the wheel was on the other side of the vehicle. He started to laugh and we all did including his fellow officers who would have given him a hard time afterwards!

The air was lovely and clear and clean after we had passed the factories and we then came to many stone walls sectioning off land for future houses and areas for livestock and then a beautiful patchwork of crops and arable land which stretched down to the coast. Roadside stall were selling tomatoes and pumpkins of all varieties.

Safi on the coast and on the way up to Casablanca was another walled town and El Jadida also on the coast was not as affluent but had some interesting buildings and there was a lot of contruction in the city. We passed seas of new appartments in various stages of readiness and we were even given leaflets on the road about new residences which were under construction. Morocco was another country it seemed on the move with all the new habitation and many new cars on the road.

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More amazing scenery of unusual rock formations, stony desert with more southern African looking trees and intermittent valley oases took us the long way around to Agdz in the Jbel Sahro mountain range and then on to Ourzazate and to L’Escale camping where again we were the only campers – did we smell?
We did feel sorry for the businesses with practically no tourists anywhere that we could see. Everyone was hoping for a good high season crowd and they all asked us to tell everyone that Morocco was a safe place and we told them we would as we encountered nothing negative and the police check points and military presence made us feel very safe. The campsites locked their gates at night like all of the campsites we had also visited in Greece and Turkey.

I said to Maurice earlier in the day that the scenery around Ourzazate reminded me of the film “Salmon fishing in the Yemen” and when looking up on wikipedia where it was filmed – low and behold it was filmed in the high Atlas mountains around Ourzazate! What a coincidence. I couldn’t believe how many films had been filmed here in Morocco. Close to us was Ait Ben Haddou where the training arena for “Gladiator” was constructed and other such movies as “Lawrence of Arabia” and “Babel” and the “English Patient” were also filmed. Apparently a lot of the old village has been reconstructed for the various films but it had beautiful view across the river to the town and surrounding hills.

It was still hot 38 degrees and very hazy which gave the mountains a lovely soft aura. We were a bit apprehensive about the extremely winding mountain road (Tizi n Tichka) from Ouarzazate to Marrakesh which was THE only road to Marrakesh 170 kilometres away. It ook us about four hours as trucks had also to use this route and it was impossible to pass on most of the road. There were however large road works established to widen the road and we found it a long but very pleasant drive with magnificent views of the surrounding hills and not at all scary!

We had a bit of trouble finding the campsite we wanted as they had changed hands since our book had been written and strangely the address shown was their postal address in another location entirely. Anyway we eventually rang them and they gave us clear directions to the campsite and 5 star guesthouse which was about 12kms out of the city near a new Oberoi hotel which had been three years under construction and had another year to go. The campsite was a couple of kilometres down a dirt road in the middle of nowhere which was lovely as it was very quiet and peaceful with only the sounds of birds in the morning and the Muezzin five times a day.
Manzil La Tortue was surrounded by a huge wall and had beautiful grounds, perfumed walkways,a large pool,restaurant and beautifully tiled facilities. We really landed on our feet. Wifi was a bit iffy but worked on occassions.
The owners and staff were very welcoming (we were the only campers again and the first for the season) and we were brought complimentary fresh rolls to the van every morning and Abidoul a very cheerful Moroccan took us to the bus stop on the main road whenever we wanted. It was very convenient and only took half and hour and the last stop in town was the main square of Jemaa el Fna which was very close to the Medina and many sights.

We found a lovely old fashioned “Patisserie des Princes” in town where two older waiters complete with bow ties served us lovely french style pastries as well as msemen – firm pancakes served with rosewater flavoured honey – delicious. The main square was vast and surrounded by horses and carriages for “romantic” trips around the city. I don’t know how romantic it would have been with so many cars, motorbikes and scotters as well as horse and carts and bicyles vying for position but it was a kind of organized chaos. There were snake charmers, monkeys and birds with which to be photographed during the day and at night the square changed into a place where tourists and many locals gathered to look at the miriad of street sellers and food stalls which appeared at night.

The Medina was well ordered and very large with countless alleyways displaying lighting, leather goods, carpets, local sweets, spices and everything else you could imagine. The Mellah or Jewish quarter wound off in another direction and they were not so inclined to barter. For those who didn’t want to barter at all their was a large artisan centre with similar goods and slightly higher prices.

We walked through the local souk with it’s variety of shops and butchers’ shops (which were not allowed to be photographed) where the meat looked excellent quality. We continued on to the Bahia Palace with it’s beautiful architecture and tiling and where most doors were painted with ornate designs. It was a tranquil haven away from the traffic.

There were many parks around the city (as with most cities and towns) with fountains and benches and some with manicured gardens.

We had lunch at the “Grande Cafe de la Poste” an old French colonial hotel building which had been converted into a lovely cafe/restaurant with excellent service and great food. A modern plaza with upmarket shops was opposite. “Jardin Majorelle” was in the vicinity so we had a nice time wandering in Yves St Laurent’s former garden which had been donated to the city.

We stayed at “Manzil la Tortue” for a relaxing day which turned into a frustrating day with the computer. We had wanted to book a few things but the wifi did not co-operate.

On the 3rd September I had booked a cooking course at the “Amal” association and restaurant. It was started by a Maroccan/American woman who helped a street beggar out of poverty and to start her own business. This had since grown into the organisation where two years ago they rented the current premises and opened a training school and restaurant.

I caught the 8am bus into town, had a coffee and had about an hour’s walk to arrive there for 10am.
A nice young English and an Irish couple were also there for course the and we had a great morning with a tour of the facilities of the training school by Ouamima and shown the kitchens and preparation areas. The NGO catered for women from 18-40 who were either divorced, single mothers or widows who could not support themselves. They picked their candidates carefully as they wanted them to be able to place them in jobs after six months. An employed chef made the international dishes and taught the women how to make these. They opened for lunch and dinner but during the afternoon they gave the trainees courses in French and English and other essential skills for all aspects of working in a restaurant.

We each made a different tagine – mine was fish and vegetables and the others were beef and vegetables and chicken with preserved lemon and olives – all delicious. The chef also gave us his arancini balls for an entree before we ate our handiwork.

My afternoon was then spent at “Hammam Zania” having a very thorough scrub, steambath and firm massage. From there I went and met Maurice at the Patisserie des Princes before walking through the maze of streets in the residential area behind the Medina to find “Latitude 31” a lovely courtyard restaurant. Excellent food and service again and although we were the only early diners, we enjoyed some music at least and the sound of the fountain next to our table.

We caught the last bus back at 9pm and by that time the main square was lit up and hundreds of people were eating at the stalls and wandering around the medina and it’s hundreds of shops.

We had another relaxing day with lunch around the pool at the campsite and went up to their rooftop terrace to see the sunset. Like many of the other big cities Marrakech was very clean and there were many parks and gardens dotted around the city.

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From the desert campsite near Merzouga we had to backtrack a bit to Erfoud and then took a long way around through the desert and up into the high Atlas mountains again and through the “Gorge du Todra” to the village of Todra. Around every bend there was a more impressive sight than the last and the mountain formations were amazing. We did have to cross the river several times but it was luckily not too deep. The children would come running when they saw the van and we handed out handfuls of sweets for the little ones. Most didn’t want their photo taken but some were happy for me to take a picture. When we waved at everyone we passed they also waved back and some shouted “Bonjour”.

The main mode of taxi transport seemed to be ancient Mercedes Benz usually carrying seven or eight people and we saw many Renault Dacias and ancient Bedford trucks. The drivers were all very relaxed and courteous (which for some reason we didn’t expect) and the most of the trucks would move over to
let you pass. You only got a beep if you were too slow at the traffic lights. The road signs were very good and all printed in French not Arabic.

The drive from the Sahara to “Camping Atlas” in Todra was another spectacular one travelling through the very high Atlas and through the “Gorges du Todra”. Camping Atlas’s hotel had fallen down after 40 years and they were in the process of rebuilding it and upgrading all their facilities. A pity
we were not there later as it all looked very well constructed and there was going to be a big Berber tent and swimming pool added later. We had another evening storm but without the sand thank goodness. There was little traffic and again we were the only campers in the place which was beautifully located right on the river with high mountains either side and an ancient Kasbah on the opposite steep hill.
It was a lovely small campsite with palm trees, roses and grapevines and we could look up and see the mountains all around us.

We had a huge day’s work cleaning the van inside and out and washing clothes. We couldn’t believe how much sand and dust had got into us and the van. It was also an excuse to give it a really good spring clean and organise things again. It was dry and hot during the day so the clothes dried in a minute but by five o’clock the clouds came up and another summer storm was underway with a lot of thunder and lightning but not much rain. The guy running the hotel took us down the road to another hotel for dinner of vegetable tagine and moroccan salad (tomatoes,onion and capsicum very finely chopped). The hotel owner took us back to the campsite and we collapsed into bed.

We were going to go to the “Kasbah Ancienne” across the river but with the recent rain the river was flowing and we couldn’t get across so we opted for a walk across the fields instead and over the bridge and down and up concrete steps to the other side of Todra which overlooked the abandoned houses of the Kasbah. A little old lady beckoned us to see the village further up and we ran into her son who had been doing some shopping for her (she was 90). He was chatty and wished us “bonnes vacances”.
We walked further up and past an open gate to a large house where a family was sitting outside on their Berber rug. The man we saw jumped up and invited us in. They gave Maurice a chair and brought us very sweet mint tea. Hamu told us that he had only been married three days and introduced his wife who still had her heavily henna decorated hands and feet. He proceeded to show us the whole house – all two storeys of bedrooms and lounges with heavily embroidered red and gold cushions. The terrace was large and overlooked the village and surrounding mountains. He worked in the local flour mill and
was very proud of his parent’s house. There were ten family members living there.
He insisted we stay for some couscous which his wife brought out for Hamu, his nephew and us. We did say we had no long eaten breakfast and were vegetarian so didn’t have to eat the pieces of horse tongue mixed through the couscous which was a mixture of corn and wheat. We just had a taste of the couscous.
Hamu’s father who we had by chance met walking his donkey down the valley came home and was a fit 75 year old man who walked down to the valley each day with the donkey for fodder for their animals, the donkey,one cow and several sheep that they kept. Later his mother arrived with the day’s mint and another vegetable. The other women of the house were busy hosing and cleaning the courtyard when we arrived. Hamu told us that the wedding was over three days with any guests and
much food and music and they all looked pretty exhausted.

We made a note of where the house was located before making our way back across the river to the campsite. We wanted to go back the next day before we left Todra and give them something. They were so hospitable and friendly. We found the house the next day and saw Hamu’s wife who was lovely but only spoke a couple of words of French so we gave her our gifts and moved on towards Ourzazate.

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One of the roads out of Fes the next day led us to the Roman ruins (seems there were not many countries the Romans didn’t get to!) at Volubilis south west of Fes. It was a Unesco site but was a bit unkempt compared to their Italian, Greek or Turkish sites.
We spent some time exploring the site and then headed for Meknes via Moulay Idriss a charming hillside town. All along the road men were
selling pomegranates, figs and grapes. Near the larger towns there were a lot of large,brand new car dealerships.

In Meknes we found a parking spot aided by a man in a high viz jacket. These men are not official parking people but for about 50cents they will help you get in and out of a parking spot and make sure the car is not interfered with. Well worth the money!
We picked a nice corner cafe (one of the scores in town) and most cafes seem to still be set up on their old French model with the chairs all facing the street and the waiters in black trousers, white shirts and a black apron. They serve tea in lovely little silver coloured teapots and a small glass and the “cafe au lait” comes out separately. Mostly the coffee is brought out first and then the waiter brings the hot milk and fills the cup according to how much milk you want. Water is usually supplied with the coffee. The price for coffee (depending on the area) ranged from 7dirhams ($1) to 14dirhams and it was like a real Italian coffee. Their version of a cortado was a moitier or cafe casse – strong coffee and a dash of milk. Every small town had a multitude of cafes with
good coffee machines. We had never seen so many cafes anywhere and nearly all were populated by men sitting watching the world go by. Maurice was always the object of curiosity with his white hair and hat.

The scenery on the drive up into the middle Atlas mountains on the secondary roads was beautiful and there was a great diversity of landscapes along the way with forests, orchards of apricots and apples and many crops.
There were many riders of donkeys in the country areas for the tranportation of themselves and other goods. We landed in the late afternoon in one of the best campsites that we had stayed in. It was near the town of Azrou and was extremely well kept and beautifully set out and they even gave us free fresh bread in the morning. Camping in Morocco was much cheaper than in Europe and even in the best campsite it only cost us $11 for the night including electricity.

I invested in a Maroc Telecom dongle for my computer but unfortunately the man who sold it to me omitted to give me back the card with the PUK and Code so another visit to another helpful man in Azrou and new PUK got me into the internet for $30 for 8GB unlimited time.

We had wanted to see the famous cedar trees which grew in the middle Atlas especially on the backroads around Ifrane and from Khenifra to Zaida. We found their famous Cedar Gourand which was an enormous tree. There were several Barbary Macaques or commonly known as Barbary Apes which I had thought were only made famous in Gibraltar however I later read that they were imported from Morocco and Algiers. They were supposed to be somewhat agressive so I only photographed them from the van although locals were more adventurous. There were many camps set up in the forests, some tented and some sturdier structures. They appeared to be like scout or school camps.

We found the fairly rough small road which crossed across the middle Atlas and through the majestic cedar forests. Some of the forest and valleys looked very European and we were both surprised at the amount of lush agricultural land. The first part of the drive was fairly easy through some wide valleys but as we got further into the mountains the road deteriorated to a very bumpy one. We hardly saw another car except for three men who had no water left in their radiator and one man was
walking towards us and asked us for some water. We luckily had five litres spare and he was grateful to not have to walk back many kilometres to fetch water. The extensivie cedar forests (thousands of hectares) were very beautiful and it was a lovely drive until the road petered out to
gravel, stones and hardened mud and much of it had disappeared due to many mudslides and rockslides from recent rain. That went on for about 60 kilometres with very steep drops to the valley below where the very narrow path had partially broken away. We didn’t speak much and I took no photos. We were very glad to get to the end and back to not so bad roads but having said that the views down and across the valleys and mountains were spectacular. Back on the highway to Midelt we saw a lot of iron ore and the mountains there reminded us of the north west of western Australia.

There were many people in the rural areas living a very subsistence way of life by their poor dwellings and clothing.
The children would shout and wave and I had bought some sweets in Spain so gave them out to the kids as they came up to the van. Most of the adults waved to us and the ones that stopped to say hello all wanted to shake our hand. Those who helped us in cafes and on the street were all interested in where we were from and gave us a lot of helpful information. This was mostly in French.
The hats that a lot of the rural people wore made them look more like Mexicans than Moroccans. The typical Moroccan dress with peaked hood was worn by both men and women although they had different fabrics and colours.

In our first week in Morocco we saw only one group of Spanish tourists but no large tour buses and very few individual foreign tourists even in cities like Fes. Several people told us that tourism was down for August and the ISIS threat had the military out in force and many police check points along the highways. They always just waved us on when they saw the GB numberplate and Maurice’s white hair. We were obviously not a threat to anyone.
Most public signs were still in French even in Maroc Telecom which was surprising. My school and University French really came in handy as most Moroccans everywhere spoke French which they learn at school.

We reached the city of Midelt with it’s beautifully planted gardens and many fountains, well kept buildings and streets and many new buildings under contruction. The municipal campsite was in the city but we were the only campers there and it was a very quiet location.

We found Mt Blanc cafe which had only been open for 5months and had a good morning coffee the next day before setting off for the high Atlas (Haut Atlas) mountains and through the Ziz gorge which was incredible with steep mountains on both sides and a river or sometimes river bed running through the centre. In Erachidia we stopped to buy some Moroccan bread and happened to meet a lovely moroccan who was on holiday from Spain where he lived. He then walked us to a good local restaurant where we had lunch and then he took us back to his mother’s house for some lovely Moroccan mint tea and for his brother Abdoul who also worked abroad in Holland to give us some tips about where to see the “real” Morocco and told us which roads were passable and which were more scenic. We also met his lovely sister who lived in Germany and another brother who worked in Spain. They were all on their Summer holidays back home. Abdul kindly drove us out of town. The road let us to Erfoud via the stunning Ziz Valley, a huge band of green oases with escarpments on either side. From there we went on to the start of the Sahara desert and the dunes at Merzouga.

There were many shops and stalls along the way selling fossils and pods of semi precious crystals in all colours.
We arrived at the service station where it was a dry 43 degrees and Lho met us and directed us into the Dune area of the Sahara at Merzouga where we stayed the night at “Haven La Chance” campsite which was a short walk from the dunes and was pretty with pool and many date palm trees where we
could eat the delicious fresh dates from the trees. We were again the only campers there.

The wind started to blow and the sand and dust went everywhere including every nook and cranny of us and the van. Oh well it was due for a good clean but we thought we would wait until we were out of the desert. Lho the Berber guide for the camp suggested a walk to a local village in the morning which was an interesting one via the water channel to the water collection well for the village and then through the village which had been flooded in 2006 with over 20houses lost. These had been rebuilt but we could see where the damage had been done. We walked via the Berber Depot (a craft bazaar) to the campsite having bought a couple of lovely bright throws. We saw some domesticated camels (there were no wild ones left in the desert)in a large pen with goats and some load baa-ing sheep. We asked Lho how people survived with little tourism in Summer but he told us that if the household is not connected to water or electricity they virtually have no costs. They all have a plot of land and are subsitence farmers. A lot of the time the land owner just builds a
mud wall around his plot of land and when he has money he constructs the house.

The 26th August was cooler at 38 degrees but we did not want another sand and dust storm that evening so we headed off via the black Sahara desert (remains of volcanic activity thousands of years ago) to Goulmima to the backroad which took us into the high Atlas mountains again.

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