Adventures in Morocco
Picking up on day 15 of my journey down from London, through France and Spain.
DAY 15. Hotel Majestic, OUJDA. Morocco
Welcome to AFRICA.
The border crossing at Beni Anzar was a right bordello. Touts handed out arrival forms for a small fee, offering to help me jump the queue. Old ladies pushed thru, a father and daughter did the same, 'but my child is sick' and some others who simply did not want to wait, passing a few notes to the official, who then himself did a vanishing act for 20 minutes. Guess I am gonna have to get used to this, all over again. Everything is on Africa time and if someone needs a coffee, lunch break or to call his mistress, it won’t matter one bit if there is a queue 50m long.
By 1:30, the bus had arrived in Oujda, I headed to the center and found a good looking hotel up a side street and at 60MAD a night, I took it. I was expecting to have to pay much more and the good exchange rate means I got a nice room for less than a fiver. There isn't much here to detain the traveller but it breaks the journey up. No point in doing crazy long bus rides if I don't need to and gives me a chance to stop in a place I haven't been to before.
DAY 16. FIGUIG AND THE END OF THE ROAD
So how is it at ‘The End of the Road’? Well getting here through the endless ‘nothing’ was good. Except there is never nothing. There are the power cables, small settlements, stray donkeys, goats and their herders, the road and my bus. Sometimes there were just people just walking across the scrub.
And Figuig itself? Rather like a one camel town. A main street with all the normal Moroccan amenities in a dusty kind-a way. I am staying in one of the only 2 hotels in town. It’s called Hotel el-Meliasse. The other hotel is unimaginatively called, Hotel Figuig. The rate is just 50 Dirhams per night. Even better than last night. So I paid for 2 nights up front. It’s just too far to come for 1 night. I told the guy maybe I’ll stay for 3 nights. There is no other reason to come here other than to see life at the end of the road.
3km away lies the Algerian border which has been firmly closed since 1994. They should re-open it!! Put up an Algerian consulate with visas issued ‘same day’ and get this overland trail going again.
I could open up a traveller’s style hostel. Do free shuttle bus runs to the border, have showers that work and hot water. Can’t be that hard, put the water tank on the roof and let the sun heat the water up. Well that’s the option for winter. In the spring and autumn a cold shower would be welcome. In summer time I’d close up. Basic rooms with an option to sleep on the roof, provide plenty of shade and blankets, reading material and home cooked food. Moroccan bread with various fillings and couscous and rice with veggies on the menu.
Dinner was a Tajine of mutton. This forms the staple diet of any traveller in Morocco. It’s either a tajine with mutton, poulet, legumes or a plate of couscous.
So what am I gonna be doing here? I want to experience life at the end of the road for a few days. The isolation and the fact there is ‘nothing’, appeals to me far more than a big city. Of course there is always ‘something’.
There are 7 ksars; fortified strong holds, here in town and I wanna go exploring though these. Each one controlling an area of palmeraie. The palm groves, which is where the water is found. The one just where I am is called the Ksar Loudaghir. The main feature is the Ouled Ziyane mosque (below) with its octagonal Pierreux minaret dating back to 13th century.
I have some more ideas for my blog in the form of a photo essay. Within the main gallery page I will add a photo that will be linked to an extra page with various themes throughout the African part of my trip and some writings with each photo. Wifi would be good right now as my head is buzzing and have to write all this off line.
DAY 18. FIGUIG
Today, I feel totally relaxed and at ease with my Final Project. Just a feeling of contentment, washing over me. A day of people watching, reading on my lap top, ‘Running with the Moon’, so many things he writes run true and makes me feel good and understood. The strike is running for a second day but there are more shops open than yesterday. I was planning on going to the cyber café next door and asking if I could plug in my lap top. Would be good to up load pics to my blog and get that map working. Guess I will have to wait a bit longer. I hope the only restaurant in town will be open as last night I had a tin of sardines and some bread with added crunch. I guess they dropped the dough on the floor.
I’ve got my bus ticket for tomorrow at 8 back to Bouarfa where I will catch an onward bus to Er-Raichidia and hopefully I can get to Erfoud by tomorrow evening. Christmas is one week away. Would like to wake up in the Sahara. Let’s hope there are other travellers, being alone no longer worries me but I’d like to share the cost.
DAY 19. ER RACHIDIA
Wasn’t planning on stopping here. Just that the bus was late arriving having been pulled over by bored gendarmes, so I have taken a room in a quite unremarkable hotel but they do have hot water showers. Not that I mind cold water ‘baths’ but there is no point passing up a hot one.
Day 20. TODRA GORGE
‘Le Col de Todra’.
One of my favourite spots in Morocco and the feeling I get from being here is perhaps the best anywhere.
I was up at 7:30, out the door by 7:45. The bus was set for an 8:30 departure so I took a quick breakfast across the road. Had Malaysian style bread. Met a Japanese guy, an older version of my travel buddy Yuta, from my first trip here in 2009. “Are you tourist?” Memories! Yuta, what are you doing getting married? You should be out travelling!
Two hours later, arrived in Tinerhir and got a Grand Taxi up the gorge straight away and secured a very good deal. Room with half pension for just 120MAD. 10 UK pounds. Nice one!
Within an hour I had eaten and changed into my running gear and was under way. Through the gorge, left behind the souvenir stalls and then up and up.
A Berber girl with 4 donkeys in tow. I wanted to talk to her. To know more about her life. They live high up where there is no water, no fire wood, scorching hot in summer. I have seen before a couple of nomad tents. I asked her if they were coming down for the winter, which surely must be around the corner. She waved her hands in a giro motion which I understood as I know some of the paths but can’t find the words to write it down. However removed they seem to be from the modern world, they know all about asking ‘Foto?’ for which you are obliged to pay. Normally I don’t do that. We are intruding on their privacy but they are from the mountains and I feel certain infinity with these people. This is what makes this pass special to me.
We carried on our separate ways and 10 minutes later I reached the pass which I have named, ‘Col de Todra’
DAY 21. TODRA GORGE
Made the complete loop above the gorge, following the donkey tracks. Met the same Berber girl again coming down on her daily water collecting mission. Up to the pass, hang a left, follow the well, worn track, traverse the hill side, up again and then down and round and back to the road. Another great day. Have good feeling right now. I met my first back backers here in Morocco. 2 from Japan. I invited them to do the loop with me tomorrow. And after a couple of Dutch climbers. I get the guys here to bring me hot water for my tea and the heat up enough water for 2 buckets, so I can take a shower.
DAY 23. TODRA GORGE
My last night tonight. I have walked up to the pass 4 times and twice continued to complete ‘la marche’ as they are calling it here. Today, at the pass, I headed off to the right. Passed some more camps high up and quite a long ways off. Sat for a while. Just watching, enjoying the silence and then the Berber girl I had met on my first day here, slowly came in to view. She had told me she lived up to the right and every day at around 12 she sets off for the valley to collect the days water. She has all these 5l jerry cans and make-shift saddle bags for her 4 donkeys and 1 horse. She’s always at the pass around 1. She greets me with ‘salaam’. I try out my new leant phrase. ‘la-bas’ which is an informal hi, how are you? She smiles and returns the ‘la-bas’ which is like the French Ca va?! I let her carry on and then catch her up. I follow her down. I return to my room, get changed and take a 50 Dirham note and buy some bread and two tins of mackerel. I return up the gorge to where the fresh water spring is and offer the Berber girl 1 tin and half the bread. She tucks it away for later and is happy. I pass her a 20 Dirham note. ‘shukran’ she says, and carries on filling her water bottles. Well, today is December 23rd, mum would be proud of me and am in a festive mood. Christmas is soon. I eat my picnic. Tomorrow I will get to Ouarzazate. I need to do laundry and need internet to post all my writings and wish everyone a happy Christmas. Not forgetting, of course to let people know I am still alive after 9 days with no comms. :) have been happy here. Have all that I need but a Christmas beer would be nice!
DAY 26. MARRAKECH
Marrakech just wouldn't be the same without the freshly squeezed OJs from the stalls at Place Jamaa El Fna and trying something new. Snails. Needed some garlic though.
So I arrived in this wonderful city. Yes, I am going to stay a few nights. The drive here was over the 2260m Col du Tichka. There was some snow lying around but not much and so I will go to Imlil for a few days. That's at 1700m so it won't be too cold. Last chance to get some trekking in. Can't pass up that opportunity. Am basically am killing time before going up to Rabat to apply for Mauritania. and then push south.!!
DAY 30. TSAMPA DREAMS
I woke up and was thinking about Tsampa (Tibetan porridge). Memories from Xiahe in central China filled my mind. A bowl of yoghurt with barley flour on top with a spoon of sugar. It’s what I fancied for breakfast.
Bobby, a girl I met there, had told me a way to ease my belly issues, which since Marrakech has come back to haunt me. She was into alternative remedies. I placed two fingers either side of my belly button and pressed. Then 3 fingers above and below my belly button. Pressing down hurt, it made my belly growl. Too much wind and gas.
Yesterday I'd hiked a tough 6 hour loop. The ground was rough. Very cold in the shade and warm in the sun. This was after a meager breakfast of just some bread and jam. A lunch which I ate too fast, cos time was running and I did not wanna be out too late into the afternoon as when the sun goes down, the temperature drops like a stone. I did not have enough water with me. I had to use a 3rd of what I had to attend to the needs of nature; my bowels gave me grief half way up the second climb! I love being high in the mountains....
I haven’t consumed anything solid since. A bowl of tsampa would go down a treat just now.
DAY 32. HAPPY NEW YEAR
After a very calm 2 weeks in Morocco, trying to leave Marrakech irritated me. The baggage handlers at the bus station wanted to over charge me. I climbed aboard the bus with my bag. There were 2 empty seats across the aisle and one next to me. No one wanted to take the broken seats nor the one next to me. The bus guy got crazy, started shouting his head off left. Then some drunk got on and started demanding money. Eventually some one took the seat next to me and the bus driver got ready to leave and then suddenly, 5 people got up, said good bye to loved ones and got off. So we needed another 5 people. I thought it quite bizarre. This made the bus guy mad. The mentality of people here is just unfathomable. Most days I can thank my lucky stars that I come here as a visitor. I can always leave.
I plugged my MP3 player in and sought escapism with some Neil Young, Johnny Cash and Janis Joplin and as the bus hit the highway I felt soothed and good; happy to be on the move again. Cos the BIG adventure is coming up.
I have arrived in Rabat. I am in the HOTEL Marrakech. 8€ a night. Spotlessly clean and bright pink walls.
DAY 33. JANUARY 2 2013 VISA RUN
Posts on the various travel forums detailed chaos and aggro at the Mauritanian embassy in Rabat. In reality, obtaining the visa was as 'easy as'.
Fabricated stories make for good reading and the reader will think, "wow, they are so cool doing this, so brave". Yeah right. Pussies.
You arrive early. You can get the visa application form from a guy who comes every morning with a stack of photo copied forms and sells them for 1€. There is no copy shop situated across the road from the embassy. It's a guy who sits on the pavement!. He is doing you a favour as going to an internet cafe and paying to print out 2 sides, will cost more than he charges. There was no list, there was no mafia type guys... we all just waited patiently and were dealt with quite efficiently.
It's true that the Moroccans had a hard time. They were repeatedly told to fill the form out correctly, responding to all questions. For me and a Canadian guy, the embassy guy barely glanced at our forms. The form was in French and I wasn't sure about some of the answers. I just left those bits blank. We paid and were told to come back at 3pm to collect the visa. Getting to the embassy had been harder than getting the visa.
DAY 35. THE ROAD SOUTH
Casablanca, Marrakesh, Agadir, Goulmime, Tan Tan, Laayoune and finally Dakhla (Da- Hla). Endless Hamada. 1700km in one push. Not recommended and I promise myself no more long haulers like that.
I had taken the city bus to the gare routiere at 8am yesterday and arrived here at 3pm today. But it passed relatively painless except for the usual twitching legs and numb butt.
There is no public transport to the border. As in 2009 when I was last here, attempting to get all the way Timbuktu, I was met by some of Mauritanian business men looking for travellers to share the fuel costs on the return journey.
I have got a ride for tomorrow to Nouadhibou. We leave at 6.