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Majestic Morocco – Part 1

So the trip begins….we met the rest of the group (21 of us) at the Spanish/Gibraltar border early on a rainy Monday morning and jumped on the truck bound for the Algeciras port and a ferry. Sounds relatively straightforward, however, a few minutes into our 45 minute journey on the high speed ferry one of the group members came over to tell Nienke (our leader) that they were waving to Jono and the truck. It then transpired that we had all piled on the ferry expecting Jono and the truck to follow only to find the truck was too heavy for that boat and was going to have to come over later. That ended up being 4 hours later.

So we made it across into Ceuta, a Spanish enclave in Morocco, and had 4 hours to wait for the truck….we decided to effectively manage our time but all traipsing to a nearby shopping centre and hitting Carrefour for snacks and food for the truck. Bit surreal but you find on these kind of trips that tends to happen!

After being reunited with the truck we headed to the Spanish-Moroccan border for what was supposed to be one of the easier border crossings….2&1/2 hours later and wondering how that can be easy, we made it into Morocco!

Due to the unplanned delays throughout the day we only had time to make it to a small town called Martil and a reasonable campsite there. It was dark, cold and rainy and therefore an ideal time for Nicole to put up the tent for the first time! Thankfully I had practiced with Dad in the garden at home so had a good idea as to how to do it!

Our first night in the tent was accompanied by rain, incessant barking dogs, low morale and a sense of ‘why are we doing this again!’.

Still the next day was a new day and we headed to the lovely blue town of Chefchaouen. We pitched the tent to allow it to dry out and headed into town for an exploratory mooch.

It’s an exceptionally pretty town awash with blue paint and cats which combined gives it a certain charm and popularity on instagram!!

We spent the afternoon meandering around side streets and back streets taking in the hustle and bustle of the medina.

After a few hours we headed back to camp and wrapped up for the evening as it started to get chilly.

After a cold nights sleep in the tent we had a productive morning doing washing, charging and showering before headed back into town to chase down some instagram sights….

The colours are beautiful, bright colours of salesman’s wares stand out against the blue…

The remainder of the day was spent lounging in various cafes and rooftop terraces enjoying the sun and the mint tea.

The next day was a drive day…we left Chefchaouen and headed to Fez, home of the Fez hat

Again the arrival routine commenced….scout for good tent spot, set up tent and hit the shower hoping for some hot water!

Another cold night with showers and a drizzly start to day 3….wasn’t impressed with the weather so far….I do not do rain and expect nothing but glorious sunshine and warmth on my travels!

The day turned into a vegetative day, we walked to the nearest Carrefour and procured some emergency items such as a Tupperware box to keep snacks fresh, a Coke Zero and some chocolate. We then spent the rest of the day plonked on the campsite’s reception area sofas charging appliances and reading whilst grazing on chocolate. Not a bad way to spend a drizzly day in my opinion!

That night we had our first campsite crisis….one of the rogue felines that tended to hang out at the campsite got run over by our tents and was in a bad way….this led to various activities from comforting the cat, being bitten by the cat, crying, organising a car to take it to the vets, sourcing a box to put it in and digging a hole to bury it in! All of a sudden our evening became a hive of activities….eventually the cat and a couple of members of the group took the cat to a vets, another person administered first aid to Clarissa who had been bitten by said cat whilst trying to comfort it and everyone else tucked into dinner.

A few hours later the feline Florence Nightingales returned with news that the cat would be operated on and they had forked out €300 for it…we then could contribute towards it if we wished….god knows where the €300 came from….if we end up eating rice and tinned tomatoes for the next few months I shall deduce it came from our food fund!! Lol

I did donate some euros I had hanging around and decided that I now have positive cat karma for the rest of the trip.

The next day was our last in Fez and we had a list of things to do…firstly we had to pop to the station and purchase 4 train tickets to Rabat as 4 of us had decided to leave the truck for a few days and make our initial foray into the world of ‘flash overlanding’ as the truck would be heading up into the mid and high Atlas Mountains, where the temperatures would dip at night and there would be snow around…totally unacceptable weather for a holiday!

We purchased the tickets from Fez to Rabat (first class of course!) and then Rabat to Marrakech for 2 days later. First job done!

Then we walked into the central part of Fez and the Medina and wandered about the hundreds of stalls selling hideous Chinese made socks and pants and suspect clothing that would definitely fall foul of the fashion police!

Frankly somewhat bored of Medinas already we headed into the centre to find a lovely rooftop cafe called Cafe Clock where Nicole and I treated Hills to a birthday meal of a toasted cheese sandwich and a milkshake, got to love a now 72 year old.

After a relaxing lunch we headed back into the throng of narrow streets and noise to find the Mausoleum and the tanneries.

After the tanneries our plan was simple….get a taxi to Decathlon (the sports shop) so Nicole and Hills could pick up some last minute bits then head back to camp as it was my turn on cook group.

Sounds simple huh…we found a taxi, flagged it down and proceeded to ask how much to take us to Decathlon, the driver wasn’t really getting the destination so some random local stepped in and proceeded to explain where we wanted to go…the driver nodded and claimed to have grasped our requirements and after negotiating a suitable price we departed….the drive was somewhat longer than we anticipated and ended with him trying to drop us off at an Ibis budget hotel out of town…..the staff on reception there came out to help and we assumed would provide the driver with the correct directions so that he could fulfil his task…alas no…the driver then demanded to be paid the full previously negotiated fare and then another almost similar figure to then take us to Decathlon. I wasn’t convinced he was clear how to get there still…things got heated when we refused to pay and the driver told us to get out of the taxi…we were already contemplating that anyway…at that point a security guard appeared and asked us what the issue was, in French, I then formulated my best French sentence ever….GCSE French at its finest…..pointing at the map on my phone and emphasising our current position and our required destination…I said ‘nous sommes ici mais nous sommes aller ici ‘ for those that don’t speak French that translates as ‘we are here but we are going here’ . A star right there…sadly my brain couldn’t formulate a more complicated response to this ridiculous situation!

The driver continued to rant and the hotel staff continued to not get involved so we walked off around the corner to where we had spotted another taxi. We were halfway through confirming where Decathlon was and a rate when the irate driver appeared at the new taxi drivers window and started shouting at him. It appeared the new taxi driver also had ever needed a tracksuit or outdoor gear and wouldn’t take us so we got out and headed back to the relative safety of the ibis….the irate driver then spat at us and demanded a reduced fare which we still refused to pay on the grounds that he had taken us totally in the wrong direction and had no actual idea as to where he should be going.

On our way back to the ibis we had the bright idea to flag a taxi down along the main road further down from the hotel where he couldn’t see us so we trampled through some roadside flowerbeds, practically launched ourselves at a young lad in a taxi, quickly discovered he knew the location of Decathlon (Le magazine du sport….my excellent French explanation of Decathlon) and after confirming the price told him to go, go, go! We sped off leaving the irate, unpaid driver behind….inept taxi driver 0 – tourists 1!

I leapt out of the taxi at the campsite leaving Nicole and Hills to peruse Decathlon’s wares as I was on cook group with Grant & Don.

I have the best cook group this time…Grant & Don are the nicest, most easy going guys who just let me get on with cooking whilst they sort all the other stuff such as washing up bowls, boiling water, chopping and washing up etc.

Knocked up an amazing chicken and vegetable stroganoff with mash potato which went down a storm and left people fighting for seconds…Jono and Terry were even fighting over the pan and scraping the sauce out the bottom! Think that means they liked it!!!

The following morning we were also on breakfast cook group…that’s how it rolls…cook group in the evening every 6th night, breakfast the following morning and then sweep the truck out the following evening and that’s you done until it’s your turn again!

So breakfast had a lot to live up to….we knocked up porridge with chopped prunes, chopped dried apricots, a little brown sugar and some cinnamon….thankfully it got rave reviews also and even a wonderful commendation from Lauretta, our resident food blogger and therefore food obsessed Italian,who said it was the best porridge she has ever had! Winner!

After breakfast myself and my upgrading and flash overlanding compatriots (Nicole, Michelle and Nicola – wife of my cookgroup compatriot Grant) waved goodbye to the truck and headed off to the station for our train to Rabat.

The train journey was around 4 hours and was pleasantly comfortable in our 6 seater first class compartment for a princely sum of £12.

We arrived in Rabat, walked 5 minutes to our plush hotel, checked in, freshened up and headed out to a wonderful french bistros for a late lunch.

Nicole and Michelle, both suffering with coughs and potential bronchitis, then chilled out back at the hotel whilst Nicola and I headed out for an explore of the city.

We took in some amazing street art before wandering over to Hassan Tower which is the minaret of an incomplete mosque from 1195 and at the time was intended to be the largest minaret and mosque in the world.

After spending an hour or so mooching about we stopped at a pleasant pavement cafe for a drink whilst enjoying the sun’s final rays of the day.

The next day we spent the morning sightseeing around Rabat, we started at the furthest point and worked back towards the hotel.

We began the day at the Kasbah of the Udayas on the seafront, it contained some beautiful small streets and street art and was a lovely and quiet place to mooch about.

We then headed to a lovely garden called Jardin Andalou which contained plenty of botanical treasures, old painted wooden doors and sleeping cats!

We then grabbed a quick lunch in a very plush but smoky restaurant before Nicole and Michelle retired to rest and Nicola and I hit the cities archaeological sites again.

This time we walked 35 minutes or so to the ancient site of Chellah. Chellah is a medieval Muslim necropolis that was previously the site of an ancient roman colony, so right up my street!

Nicola and I roamed alone about the ruins which are now home to a phalanx of storks, the light during late afternoon was amazing and the site so peaceful. Absolutely loved it, thankfully as did Nicola who gets as excited about old stuff as I do!!!

We walked back through Rabat taking in some more street art before we grabbed Nicole and Michelle and headed out to dinner nearby.

The next morning we headed back to the train station for our first class train to Marrakech where we were staying in a Riad and meeting back up with the group again.

See you next time for my adventures in Marrakech and beyond.

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