- Fatima Al-Fihri- Founder of the Oldest University in the World (hifzanshafiee.wordpress.com)
- Photo of the Week: Overlooking Fes, Morocco (chrystal-clear.com)
Azzeddine at Walila recommended we stay in his home town of Meknes at Riad Sofir. He was kind enough to call ahead and book us a room. Then he drew a map of the town showing where we could safely park the Land Rover and the location of a supermarket so we could stock up on supplies. We should have a Carrefour loyalty card we love the place!
What a gem of a guest house right in the medina! The French owner has converted two medina houses into a single property, one furnished in more traditional style and the other in a modern Moroccan way.
The pool is only 80cm deep but is for splashing in to cool down when life on the roof terrace gets too much. The owner explained it’s her little extravagance. She would love a pool on the roof but WITH the combination of water volume and leakage it’s not going to happen anytime soon.
We stayed in the Merzoug room. This beautiful room had a double bed, en suite and air conditioning, it also had space for two day beds to relax and read on. Simple, stylish and also extremely clean. We were served a drink on arrival which was a cold extremely natural drink. Geri later discovered in the kitchen over a chat with owner that the drink was made from freshly squeezed Moroccan lemons with water added. The lemons are pretty big here, green and not so bitter, we think we can make it ourselves, a lemon juicer is on the list to purchase when we get back to Carrefour.
We spent a quiet day in Meknes chilling and chatting to the owner on the roof terrace of the riad. Checking on camping in the next destination, Fes, to make sure the camp site was still in business. I read some terrible reviews of our intended destination Camping International, I abandoned the guide books and on Google found Diamant Vert. The owner at Riad Safir confirmed it as a great destination.
A newly refurbished water slide park on the outskirts of Fes. The camp site is a bit basic and needs an overhaul, I suspect that’s coming as they have spent a fortune on the new water slides, pools and bungalows. Staying at the camp site covers admission – its outrageous at the equivalent of £5 per day including free access to the slides, pools and the wifi (free in the bungalows) work poolside for us.
We had some breakfast at a patisserie and boulangerie in Chefchaouen. The honey covered cakes had bees crawling all over then which is really off-putting but obviously completely normal in Morocco as one else gave it a second glance.
The roads south are sometimes dual carriage ways but they are often single track with dirt shoulders to allow for over-taking and passing. We didn’t follow the main routes and instead allowed the satnav to take us off the beaten track and through an amazing landscape of small holdings. Every inch of the gentle rolling hills are cultivated but there is little in the way of mechanisation, horses are still used and much of the harvesting can be seen being still done by hand. We stopped off and chatted to some locals out threshing. They were splitting the dried beans from the husks using the horses hooves. The locals allowed us to take pictures and smiled with great pride. One chap came along on horse back just as we were leaving and shouted – “no photos!!!!” He proceeded to walk up to us and asked if we wanted to buy some beers. Always a deal to be done from the Moroccan man’s perspective!
We arrived at Volubilis near Moulay Idriss a little later than expected and rather too hot to explore. During the hottest part of the day the air-conditioning isn’t really up to the job and its better to travel with the windows down, must get it looked at once we get home. There isn’t a camp site near the Roman ruins so we opted for a farmstead. We stayed at Walilaand it was fantastic! It reminded us of a similar place we stayed at in Casablanca in 2010. Not only is it a small working farm but it is run by a Land Rover owning Moroccan called Azzeddine Zayr. Once married but before his children came along he drove from the Netherlands to Cape Town and back up to Morocco. We had the most amazing, simple 3 course meal accompanied by home made bread. Geri found a treasure trove at the back of the house. A raft of wild animals that consisted of - 2 geese, 4 doves, 3 cockerels, 1 hen and 8 baby chickens, 2 African peacocks, 4 ducks, 2 donkeys, 3 dogs and 1 cat. The goose was entertaining to watch. She was sitting on about 8 eggs but being escorted in and out of the shed for food by the gander. Unlike Holly and Belle our hens the hen and cockerels were pretty inhospitable. The doves were snow white and we for very close to them, again, they were more interested in preening and looking good than humouring us. The cat lost half his paw in a trap set in the field beyond the house and had one eye closed due to an infection. We reckoned he was on his way out either that or was overdoing the weight watchers shakes to fit back in that furry coat he once owned.
How times have changed, I remember when driver and navigator were in constant tension on long trips in hot cars (mam and dad you know who you are). Now it’s the iPhone and the TomTom app and the driver is the navigator and it’s no harder than finding your way around the UK. Men still don’t ask directions and woman still can’t read maps so the Michelin map is for emergency use only or for checking a spelling – many towns have several spellings (French and Arabic) and many aren’t in the TomTom.
The toll-road from the border at Ceuta (Sebta) to Tetouan is a great stretch of tarmac and as good as anywhere, however, elsewhere is will cost you more than 10p to drive it! We only stopped in Tetouan to get some cash from the ATM and then ploughed on to the blue washed hillside town of Chefchaouen. We headed up through town to the well signposted hilltop campsite - Camping Azilan.
Another Defender arrived conveying a middle-aged French couple around Morocco for a month, Chefchaouen was also their day one stop they had come over to Morocco that morning. Their 2005 had just developed an annoying fault – the car alarm sounds for 20 seconds every time they start the engine. I did Google the fault but couldn’t find anything helpful for them. I did look enviously at the drawers they had fitted in the load bay. So far this is the one modification I didn’t do that would have been helpful. Taking the grey euro-stack boxes out of the back every time we camp is easy but it would be nice not to have to do it.
The myway roof tent works really well with zip down flaps on all 4 sides allowing a cooling draft no matter which way the wind is blowing. Getting the car on flat enough ground isn’t as hard as I had worried either. The two stoves we have bought with us both work well and making tea or frying some chorizo for a salad is easy.
The camp site offers hot showers for a small extra fee (a few pence) but I opted for the cold. How bad could it be Geri and I wondered?It was mountain stream cold! Removing the travel grime was an invigorating 10 minutes of yelping and running through the stinging cold water. I could have recorded the next out of Africa animal sounds album and had a No 1 hit!
So many horror stories, so much worry, I am sure it is these guide-book nightmares that put people off taking their car or Land Rover to Morocco. Our reality was very different. We drove towards Algeciras and stopped at the many ticket shops on the highway. We even got the chap to log onto the Morocco customers website and print out our car importation paperwork and filled in our Moroccan landing cards, I never got around to doing this back in England as it wasn’t an essential task. The other non-essential task I had avoided was actually getting insurance for the Land Rover, as you can get 3rd party cover in Morocco I had procrastinated. I had decided not to bother trying because so many of the guides declared it was impossible now to get a UK car insurance firm to issue a green card for Morocco. WRONG! I contacted Aviva and added Morocco for 3 weeks. I also got around to telling them about all the modifications to the truck, they happily added them all. So now we could board the ferry with all our paperwork and insurance sorted before we crossed the border. We opted to cross Algeciras to Ceuta on the 35 minute fast catamaran crossing. The only stress we encountered was not being able to find our way back to the port after deciding we had enough time to grab some lunch before the 2pm crossing. Ah, we (I in any event) panicked for nothing as we loaded with ease at 1.45. At the other end we rolled off into a little piece of North Africa that is still Spain – why do they complain about Gibraltar then? We drove over the border into Morocco and had our passports and car importation documentation stamped we were on our way in under 10 minutes. We decided to take a short drive on our first day in Morocco to the campsite at Chefchaouen.
After a very relaxing 24 hour crossing with Brittany Ferries we arrived rested at Santander. We knew the trip south was about 10 hours so decided to break it up by heading to a camp site some of the way down, but aiming to get there before it got dark – the joy of camping by head torch, not. With no real sense of Spanish trafic volumes and somewhere at the back of my mind a memory of something I read telling me to avoid Madrid we took a westerly route rather than due south. Given the traffic we encountered, as close to zero as makes no difference, perhaps i was dreaming and its Paris that one must avoid. We headed to www.campingcubillas.com just outside Palencia, a little run down and right on the main road but in the perfect geographical location. The traffic volume and noise can be heard into the night, that’s just the reality of camping near a motorway.
And so to Gibraltar
We were up and away by 7.30am and passed Valladolid, Salamanca and Plasencia before stopping for lunch at Cáceres. This is a beautiful UNESCO World Heritage site with a historic old town and town walls. Then on past Mérida, Zafra and Sevilla before arriving at Gibraltar. Well almost. We can see the rock but decided to stay in Spain at La Linea overnight before heading to Morocco in the morning – sureuropa. What a lovely campsite just on the beach, no traffic just the noise of the sea to put us to sleep. Sunny and 28 degrees yesterday. The Defender is turning heads everywhere we go, Geri thinks they are looking at her….shhhhhh.