Fez Please!


That’s what Moroccan bus drivers say when you get on the bus apparantly. But that’s enough of my jokes. Let’s join Nick and Lesley Poole as they travel to North Africa.


We’ve travelled extensively by motorcycle for several years but the time came to have a change of transport, so off shopping for a camper van we went.

We bought ours in October 2012, from ‘Andy’s Imports’ near Norwich. Andy’s been great showing us around the van explaining how things work etc. The van’s a 2000 model Mazda, 2.5 diesel auto It’s been converted, and a nice job they’ve done too. Elevating roof, blinds, two burner hob, sink and a fridge for the beer and wine! With the rocker bed we’re good to go.

So here we are on our first Bongo adventure. The plan was to search out some heat while back home we’d be freezing in another winter, so Morocco was the chosen destination. I hope you all enjoy the adventure with us.

Feb 11th 2013. Portugal, Algarve.

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It seems we escaped the UK weather just at the right time. The Bongo was all packed and ready to go so we headed south through France stopping off at roadside Aires overnight. We found a campsite 2km from the centre of Santiago de Compostella where we took a day wandering around the narrow streets and taking in the views of the Cathedral and other wonderful buildings.

We had heavy rain storms and very chilly nights so we decided to head to the Algarve , Portugal as quickly as possible. The van is very comfortable and it is great not having to pack up a wet tent every morning. We do however have to pack up our bed and repack the storage area but it only takes a few seconds and we are developing a bit of a system between us.

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Spain in particular is not ready for people needing to camp. Many of the sites are closed up until May and the few that are open seem very surprised to see anyone. We hugged the coast line through Spain and into Portugal, the resorts are like ghost towns. The most spooky was Praia da Tocha which had been engulfed by sand dunes and was completely desolate with trees strewn along the roads, evidence of a big storm.

We have been mainly sticking to the small back roads where we have seen more of the locals. Old ladies in Black with, aprons and head scarves, men on ancient mini tractors, donkeys pulling carts, Local roadside markets selling very local produce and folks just sitting in the sun chatting.

The road networks in Portugal are quite OTT. Almost empty Duel carriageways run along side almost empty toll roads, the signing is ok for a while and then nothing at all. I don’t think our 2012 map is up to date with the change of road numbers so we have taken a few unplanned detours!

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The further south we are the more large campervans we see , mainly German and Dutch with the occasional Brit but once we arrived in the Algarve all the signs are suddenly in English. Large signs advertising “Full English Breakfast” and “Sunday Roasts with choice of Chips or roast potatoes” are everywhere it seems we have arrived…….but it’s raining!!!

Feb 20th 2013 Tarifa , Spain

So here we are in the south of Spain. The breeze is a bit cool but the sun is constant…..it has been raining over the past few days, but not where we are!

We had a couple of days in Luz, catching a bus into Lagos to enjoy the wonderful buildings and superb marina and walking miles around the narrow streets. The locals are wrapped up in their winter woollies and we have t-shirts and a light fleece and receive many odd looks.

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52 miles along the coast we stopped off at Armacao de Pera and used our cycles for the first time on an hours hilly ride along the coast line. The cliffs and caves are magical and the beaches are golden and clean. The campsite cost 5 Euro’s and was worth every cent with lovely hot showers and plenty of space.

The lovely site at Albufeira was full of Brits. The Sgt major organised a boule match that lasted the whole morning and kept the campers happy.

On Friday we arrived at Quatiera where we met up with friends from the UK who spend their winter in the sun. We used our cycles regularly as the loo block was almost half a mile away! We also cycled along the wonderful promenade to the huge marina and again out into local villages in the hills.

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We are now in Tarifa on roads we know well from the motor cycle guiding days. We are close to the Hurricane hotel a favourite lunch stop. We can see Morocco clearly, it looks as though we could swim across but we have decided to search out Carlos in Algeciras and hopefully get a ferry to Tangier Med by Friday. All is well with the Bongo, it’s neat and compact and buzzes along happily.So hopefully the next update will be from Moroc

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Morocco! Thurs 28th Feb

Whilst on the ferry we queued to have our passports stamped and checked and handed in our slips or immigration paper that Carlos had kindly given us with our tickets. Nick had to temporarily import the Bongo so armed with passport and all vehicle docs and forms he spoke to a customs officer who came and looked briefly at the van and sent Nick off to the Police office someway across the new port buildings for a rubber stamp on a piece of paper. Nick also managed to buy some insurance for a month for £80 and drew some cash from a nearby ATM. I had time to watch the comings and goings which were very entertaining. Some of the vans of the locals were so heavily packed that they could hardly move. The custom officers only wanted a quick look in the car boots and ignored the huge bundles under canvas on the roofs. The phrase “everything but the kitchen sink” sprung to mind especially when I spotted one van with 7 bicycles in disrepair and 4 double drainer sinks aloft!!!

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The next morning started wet and windy and continued windy all day. We headed south along the coast by-passing Rabbat the capital. The country side is green and water logged in places. Men and women are tending herds of sheep and cows on the roadside and folks are harvesting grass and loading small carts pulled by smaller donkeys. Everyone seems busy. But …..there are plastic bags and rubbish everywhere blowing about in the wind.

A litre of diesel is 76p!!..yes 76 pence!!….Happy days!!

The centre of Casablanca was exciting !!It was serious cut and thrust which Nick really enjoys. Lane chopping, pot holes, mopeds, pedestrians, donkey carts you name it, it was there. Large glitzy hotels alongside small shanty shacks, plush expensive cars fighting for space with donkey carts… its all contrasts.

The campsites so far have been very shabby and not particularly clean but are well used by the constant flow off French campervans heading in all directions.

We have visited the walled towns in the Medina in Casablance and Essaouia, (the windiest city in Moroc and it blew a hoolie.) We have travelled inland to smaller towns and eaten the local couscous and tagines of vegetables and meat. We have bought fresh bread and bananas from carts on dusty roadsides but its still a bit of a culture shock when you see the beggars in the streets and old men looking after a few skinny sheep on the roadside. The drainage system is almost non existent but you can tell from 5 miles away where the next village is before seeing it.

We are now having a few laid back days near the main surfing area of Taghazout a few miles north of Agadir. We have called in on Tom, one of Daniels school friends, and have enjoyed the freshest fish ever as we watch the latest catch being dismembered. The weather is changing and they are hoping for the first rain in about 8 months. No wonder everything is so parched and dry.

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Zagora, Morocco. 9th March 2013

As promised the long awaited rain arrived with thunder bolts and lightening “Very, very frightening!!” The Bongo was surrounded in muddy pools and the sea turned stewed tea colour where the soil had been washed down off the hillsides. We didn’t venture far during the 3 days of rain but decided that as soon as it stopped we would head further south along the coast to Sidi Ifni, an old decaying Spanish town. The surfing beach was strewn with rubbish and the camp site was dirty and run down but full of large French camper vans.

We realised that we had seen enough of the beaches and needed to explore the interior so headed to Tiznit , an old walled medina town to the west of the Anti Atlas mountains. We almost stopped to explore but felt the need to continue further having been stationary for almost a week. We were not disappointed. The narrow, single lane with two way traffic road took us through some wonderful scenery. The rain had bought to life the barren land which now had hints of green and white blossom in the trees. The roadside cacti had red fruit and bushes yellow flowers. The rock formations were amazing. And when we eventually arrived in Tafroute we were surrounded by huge red granite rock formations, some hanging dangerously above houses and roads.

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Tafroute town was one of the nicest we have visited so far and the local markets on the dusty rubble street over the river bridge gave us a chance to explore and chat to the locals. This is definitely a place to spend a week or so as in the surrounding mountains are ancient cave paintings and many walks but we are now limited with time and only have 2 weeks left to play with. As we had had such a lovely drive we decided to treat ourselves to a sizzling hot vegetable omelette served in a tagine dish…delicious.

From Taroudant we passed through the saffron growing area of Taliouine and towards the mountains where we had our fist view of the snow capped Atlas mountains. The valley road was so flat we expected to see Tina Turner or Mel Gibson chasing across the plains in “Mad Max” mode. Soon the Bongo was climbing into the foothills again never missing a beat. The automatic gear box saved Nick from performing endless gear changes and the small compact van could pass oncoming vehicles without having to pull off the road at regular intervals. Tour buses hurtle along these twisty roads so I am sure all passengers are armed with sick bags as even in the van I felt a bit queasy at times.

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The bonus of being small is the Bongo can fit in tiny spaces between the “Palaces on wheels” as we found at the municipal camp ground in Ouarzazate where the temperature had risen to 30+ deg in the day but dropped to duvet temperature by night. At Ouarzazate we declined the offer of touring one of the many film studio sets where films such as Jewel of the Nile, Gladiator, Alexander the Great and Kingdom of Heaven were made, but I am sure we have seen a lot of the landscape before.

We are now camped in a quiet, palm tree filled courtyard site on the edge of Zagora appropriately named “Oasis Palmier” where my hand washing has dried within 2 hours, the toilets are clean and soap is provided at the basins and the best of all….they have Loo roll!!!! A real Oasis!! Tomorrow, we are heading towards Merzouga to the 50km mounds of sand called Erg Chebbi ,where we may swap the Bongo for a camel for a few hours.

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Editorial note: That was the last we heard from them, except for a brief email that said

“We have just rigged up a makeshift sun shade to attach to the side of the Bongo as its 50deg and we are running from shade to shade. Keep warm.x”

 

18th March, Chef Chaouen, Rif Mountains, Morocco

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From the tranquillity of the camp site in Zagora we headed out to the moonscape scenery of the desert. The Bongo took to the piste,( rocky,sandy tracks,) as though it was made for this type of terrain. The rock formations became smooth and layered into rounded hills and were filled with all types of treasures such as fossils and crystals. We stopped off the desolate track for a picnic and found fossils and quarts without having to search for them. The occasional roadside stalls were heaving with rocks and crystals of all shapes and sizes but why buy when you can pick your own?

The terracotta colours gradually faded into golden sand with the occasional dark layers of black coal. There was some evidence of mining in various areas all we had to do was look for a dust storm. The disappointing part was that near villages the children would come out and stand in front of the van asking for money or presents. Again it is difficult to decide what you should do. Do you give up to high way robbery or try to ignore the situation. No one has a real answer.

We eventually arrived at Merzouga a dusty village at the foot af the enormous sand dune Erg Chebbi. By the time we had parked the van we were offered sweet mint tea and several tour options from 4×4 trips churning up the dunes to 2 day camel trips sleeping in Berba tents in the dunes. We opted for the half hour ride to the dunes to watch the sun set and then ride home. That was plenty for us both but Nick suffered after the 1st half hour. I am not sure which hurt most his back or legs but he was brave and remounted for the ride back for a lovely Tagine dinner and local Berbers entertaining us with music and drums.

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After 3 days the weather began to change. It had been hot 40deg by day and cold at night with wonderful clear skies so we could star gaze, but the wind was increasing. On our drive north toward Goulmima we could hardly see the track as the sand was blowing fiercely across the desert.

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The air was hot ,dry and very dusty…not good for the sinus! We found a camp site and had a wander around the dusty town looking at all the tiny shops and stalls. This town had 2 Motor cycle shops selling the Docker cargo carrying tricycles that are used all over the country, one step up from a donkey!!

The next day we had clear views of the snow capped High Atlas mountains and the temperature had dropped to 19 deg!! The roads were twisty and winding through the mountains and the country side became much greener when we got to the Middle (Moyan) atlas mountains. And then we discovered Disney land in the shape of Camping International at Azrou. The campsite was so out of place it was surreal but the showers were the best in Morocco so I was happy. We took comfy seats above the toilet block and watched the sunset over the mountains in the crisp cool evening.

Fez medina was great fun. We managed to take a red petite taxi from close to the site to the entrance to the Medina(Walled city). Guides told us it was dangerous without them but we had a great time wandering about getting lost and chatting with the locals. A stop off for an energy giving sugared mint tea, gave us the opportunity to chat with nearby store holders and watch the world and tourists go by. A Lunch of bread and soup above the stalls of the silver and copper beaters was entertaining if not deafening. It’s always good to watch a real skilled worker and there are skilled craftsmen on every corner.

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We are now in the Rif Mountains south of Tangier enjoying the fresh if not damp air. There is a certain herbal aroma hanging in the air and if you stand still for more than a minute someone wants to help you relax and sleep well. They are persistent but we are tougher than them. The very steep hike to the Medina was worth it as entered the old town which is painted in pale blues. There are many tiny alleys and dead ends with open doors containing carpets for us to view. The hike back was breath taking!!

We are closer to the ferry to Algeciras and hot showers, flushing loos and breakfast cereal is getting closer!! WE have mostly enjoyed our time here in Morocco although there are several things that can irritate. It is worth exploring as the culture is so different to ours in Europe and is almost on the doorstep. The camper van experience has been a revelation and something we have both enjoyed…but we won’t be giving up the motorcycling yet!!!!

Easter Sunday 31st March, Castell de Ferro, Costa del Sol Spain.

Our last day in Morocco and we were greeted with a cheery “Good Morning” from the man dangling a rather large packet of something herbal over the fence near the van!!! So this is the Riff Valley we have all heard about!

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It was quite a dull drizzly day with some wonderful low rainbows as we drove down to the fertile area north of the Riff Mountains. We followed the coast road to Tetouen towards Sebta , the Spanish port by the huge rock not dissimilar to Gibraltar. High rise holiday apartments were being built facing the sea and to the rear were vast dirty rubble strewn plots filled with rubbish, quite an eye sore. The road from Sebta to Tanger Med port was awful! Huge pot holes and places where the roads had collapsed, meandering through the hills. We arrived at Tangier Med where smiling gofers told us that the office was now closed for lunch.. ..come back at 2pm. At 2pm we joined the queue to have our tickets and passports checked and told to go to the checkpoint where all vehicles were being x-rayed by an enormous moving machine whilst we stood behind a fence. Once cleared we joined the queue for the 4pm ferry which eventually left at 6:22pm! In spite of the wind the crossing was remarkable smooth and we could soon see the Spanish coastline.

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On disembarking we joined yet another queue to leave the port. It appeared that the security checks were being carried out under a work to rule type of situation which kept other passengers longer than really necessary. We seemed to get through quickly compared to others so it was straight to Lidl’s car park and the nearby Mc Donalds (To keep Nick happy).

Lidl’s in Algiceras seems to encourage over night campervan parking so we joined 20+ other vans for a very wet over night stop.

We has covered 2300 miles in Morocco and apart from a speeding ticket, 74kph in a 60kph costing 300 dh £24 somewhere remote in the middle of the desert, we had no problems and will return again armed with more loo roll and baby wipes.

We found a quiet campsite near Estapona where everywhere was so clean and tidy. The showers where hot and I made use of the facilities by stringing 2 lines of washing out which dried within and hour or so in the warm sunshine…….and rest! The 15 min stroll to the beach gave us lovely views of Gibraltar and the mountains of Morocco, so near yet so very different in many ways.

We moved further along the coast to Fuengirola where we spoiled our selves with a real “All day breakfast” with real bacon, wonderful! We walked the long promenade and sat in coffee shops watching the world go by in the sunshine whilst more snow is forecast at home.

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3 years ago we spent several months in Ronda and had promised to return to catch up with friends we had met during our stay. It was great to see Gema and Jose again. We had a morning with Jose who speaks little English but strangely the conversation flows naturally. He took us to his friends bar where we were treated to Tapas speciality of the house, a mix of salads, meats, cheese, fish with bread and olives, all wonderfully tasty. Gema sent us on our way with some special Easter biscuits dusted with sugar…naughty but nice.

The week long Easter processions had begun and we watched one slowly pass through the town. Dressed in their black long robes and klu klux klan type headgear with scores of stong men hidden under the huge ornate statues that are carried through the town . Throughout the Easter week these processions happen daily from one church at a time. The most unsettling group is of the silent order from the old town which walk quietly, except for the dragging of the chains round their ankles, through the middle of the night. Quite a spectacular to experience.(They woke me up in a cold sweat when were staying in the flat with the dragging of chains across the cobble streets)

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As Ronda is high in the hills it was also cold and wet so after a couple of days we headed south and arrived in a small coastal village near Motril called Castell de Ferro. Most of the few people staying on this quiet site, filled with plants and shrubs, are locals here for the Easter break. The village is small and within a day you are on nodding terms with many locals so we have spent our Easter weekend here in the sun thinking of you back home.

Till next time
Lesley and Nick