Spread out on the camping table it looked easy. Yes the motorway now extends most of the way, but the 400 miles from Marrakech to Ceuta involved a final twist, crossing of the Riff….again!
The ambitious plan was to do the final run back to Ceuta in one go, overnight near the border and cross next morning. Ray had moved on some hours before the “funsters” left the Marrakech camp. Bidding farewell to A’hammed they followed at around 6am in the morning. The idea being that they [in faster vehicles] would catch up with Ray around Moulay Bousallam, a tiny fishing village just off the motorway on the Atlantic Coast. As it turned out Ray received a phone call, mid-morning, to say the group were making good time and had already passed Rabat, and that he was to carry on and re-group near the border for the planned overnight stop. Worried that they were over-stretching themselves Ray contacted Geo late –afternoon, to be told that they were now nearing the border!!!
Surprised but both pleased and impressed Ray needed to bring forward plans. More phone calls confirmed that they might just make the last ferry out of Ceuta if there was no hold-up’s at the border……so he moved ahead to the exit area, started the paperwork and waited.
Clearly tired the Funsters rumbled into the holding area. The normal chaos that is Moroccan bureaucracy and that at any other time would have been laughed off pushed both Geo and Rory to the limit and tempers nearly cracked [both apologised later]…….. Ray did the “Keep calm and cool” bit and took the brunt, fending off the endless hustlers…..In reality it was in fact a brilliant exit with time in the border area just 15mins or so……but they were tired and a touch stressed…….
Border cleared it was just the short dash to the ferry terminal where it was confirmed that there was just time for a much needed brew before they would be on their way…..
The one hour crossing and time adjustment [Spain was 2 hours ahead] meant that not only was it dark but late as they disembarked. More calls and Ray confirmed that they could return to the tour starting point, Casa Bernardo’s, just a few miles from the port. Was it a second wind or the fact that the bar was open and they had just spent 20 days in Ramadan…….Whatever…….San Miguel’s and tinto’s proceeded a late bedtime and again lifted the spirits to their normal high.………Ray had continued another few hours drive to Alhaurin El Grande were the Funsters had agreed to descend upon myself [Debbie] for dinner, hugs and a farewell next day…….
And so it was…...
The local Guardia were informed that it was not a bunch of fairground workers who had descended on a patch of ground, under a hilltop Moor Castle, but the remnants of yet another Desert Detours tour group. While Rory/Jan and Geo/Pam toured the area on their motor powered bikes Mark and Linda discovered the hard way [on their push bikes] that what goes down inevitably must go up……or at least that is the case in the Spanish “White Village” we call home.
My 11 dogs were put on best behaviour, daughter packed off [not really, she is a pro-singer and had a “gig”] and cook book dug out.
After 20 days of Ramadan and Morocco being a Muslin country anyway I thought……….ROAST PORK, apple pie and as much wine as they could down……So on a mild Spanish evening and into the night the Funsters gathered on our terrace, reminiscing, laughing, and re-calling events. Re-living highlights…..the children on the school visit, overnight under the stars on the dunes, dining with on-looking apes in the forest, the stunning drives over pass and mountains, campfires and not least the people met and friends made ………
Clearly the Desert Detours/MotorhomeFun tour had been an outstanding success……a journey of discovery and adventure…….. may be even, as Pam said, “Life Changing”.
I thought I might end this series of “Blogs” with this…….While downloading Ray’s Lap-Top of tour details, info etc I came across this. Not liked to this tour but none the less apt as this tour had indeed been a “Journey” I risk Ray’s wroth and post…..
Many of us have a “Hero”, maybe someone whom we admire or who have been an inspiration to us. Perhaps not surprisingly one of mine is an extraordinary explorer/traveler (not as expected, by those who think they know me, Pam Anderson or Dolly Parton……..sad I know).
Vowing never to tread the same road twice Ibn Batutta, a Moroccan, was in his early twenty’s when he started an epic journey that during the next 30 or so years was to take him too around 44 Muslim countries. Obviously, his youth distracted him from the initial reason for his travels, the obligatory pilgrimage (Hajj) to Mecca, because on route through Algeria, Tunisia, Egypt and Syria he had already managed to find himself two wives. After spending around 3 years in Mecca and no doubt after gathering a number of offspring the need to get away was overwhelming (know the feeling) and he was off again. This time he either got lost or was being chased……did they have the CSA back then?……Re-visiting Egypt via the length of the Nile he continued down the east coast of Africa, took to the water and visited Malaysia, Cambodia, Sri Lanka, India, Afghan, Iran, Iraq, Turkey…….In fact most of Asia.
Not some wondering waster was our Battuta, during his stay in India he enjoyed the patronage of the Sultan Mohammad Tughlaq, studied law and became a judge (Qadi). Such was his influence that he was later sent, as his ambassador, to China. He gathered great wealth during his roaming, but all was lost in an Indian Ocean shipwreck. His onward journey through Mongolia and Russia was as remarkable as it was eventful with reference to “The land of Darkness”….extreme north?
More wives, 4 in all, and more children drove him ever onward, back to Mecca (7 times in all), then Turkey, Greece, Ukraine and throughout much of Spain. It was here in Granada that news of this remarkable young mans travels and tales began to filter out and he was duly summoned back to Morocco and ordered to document his travels. Some years later, once completed he was off again, this time south crossing the Sahara several times and visiting Chad, Niger, Senegal and the west coast. Some say that recent documents indicate that he crossed the Atlantic, although I’m not so sure about that.
So, one of the most remarkable travellers of all time had completed in access of 75.000 miles, much more than say Marc Polo, yet never gets a mention in geography books. His recently re-discovered extensive text books and documents (Travels-Rahla) have been verified beyond doubt and now provide us with a remarkable insight and history. You will be stunned at the detail. Just a few years ago I had great difficulty in finding any reference to Ibn Battuta on the internet, but now you can easily research his journeys, please do, better late than never.
So, other than the obvious, what was it about this then young man that made him, for me anyway, a hero and source of continued inspiration? Many years ago, sitting around a small fire in deepest Sahara, I listened through the night ‘til dawn as a couple of our Tuareg guides whispered in awe his story. Looking across to my high-tech travel machine I could but only feel humbled. For his journey had reached places I would only ever dream about, had taken place over 700 years ago and on foot.
I vow to lay a flower, but as yet final resting place unknown.
Magical, magnificent, a festival of Berber folklore, plus much more. That is how the Fantasia at Chez Ali is described in the brochure. In reality it can be an over whelming clash of music and costume, sound and colour, pageant and parade. A show for the tourists who consider themselves worthy of better and above it all, or just a great evening of fun. What can’t be denied are the magnificent settings, sheer organisation and spectacle?
Originated from the Rif, the Fantasia is an ancient war ceremony which consist of opposing groups of horsemen; each represents the best riders of its tribe. The climax of the display being a full charge of horses with riders standing high in the saddle, rifles held aloft and a simultaneous, thunderous weapon discharge. But before the arena display, there are dancers, musicians, acrobats, and magicians who ply their skills with genuine enthusiasm…..all this while the “guests” dine on a 5 course feast under huge opulent tents.
Over the years, Fantasia’s renown has spread and tours world wide…….But today it was to be the highpoint of the Funsters visit to Marrakech. Again the mini-bus collected all from the campsite and slipped into the night….Yes. this was to be a late one. Located on the outskirts of the city you will find Chez Ali after a maze of tracks, by-ways and past dimly lit villages. Finally, through pillars of fire you find yourself on open ground heading towards a distant neon and smoke…...Between an alley of mounted Berbers and through a great archway you pass before trumpets wail and drums beat……..Welcome to the Fantasia!
Did the crowds turn up to see the festival or had they heard that the Funsters were in town…….either way neither were not to be disappointed. Linda promptly jumped on a camel, topped with a sort of throne affair, and paraded around the arena. Cameras flashed and the audience cheered…….Who was this strange women? The dismissive wave from the wrist! Royalty surely?
Jan gave a display of belly dancing, much to the approval of the experts and audience alike…..Rumour has it that Geo did a turn or two with one of the dance troupes……As has been throughout the tour the Funsters lived up to their name approaching all with an open and enthusiastic mind.
The evening drew to a close with the Sultan and his favourite soaring over the heads of the crowds on their flying carpet, followed by a brief but none the less spectacular firework display.
It was an evening worthy of the Thousand and One Nights theme and a splendid one to draw the tour to a near close. Ahead was just the coastal motorway drive back to mainland Spain……..But these were the Funsters, so there had to be more………..
It was probably with mixed feelings that the traders of the Great Souk watched the “Funsters” exit through one of the Babs [gates] and step back into the “Middle World” that is Marrakech. Yes, like the exotic Camel Trains of the past they were over-loaded and like the ancient traders they had left their victims with a bitter sweet taste and numbness……..Never under-estimate a “Funster” on a shopping mission. Linda had acquired the role of chief negotiator for the purchases a position she relished and excelled at. How it worked was that you picked your item, asked the starting price, smiled politely and then let Linda off her head………It worked 99% of the time. Forget the 50% final price……Linda introduced battered and pushed before finally introducing them to the concept of “Loss-Leader”. I said it worked 99% of the time. The 1% was when a stunned and shocked shop keeper kicked her out of the premises and told her not to come back….......She just smiled and brought the purchases needed next door.
But it was not all shop, shop, shop…….Time was found for evening visits to Place Jemaa el Fna [square of the Dead], Yves Saint Laurent gardens, Carriage tours and much more. Mark, Rory and Geo found an Italian ice-cream parlor where you could experience, in the 90deg heat, that near death phenomenon known as “Brain Freeze”. All, by now over Targined and Cous-Cous’d out used the Pizza restaurant next door.
The extended stay at the Marrakech camp site also aloud much needed lay-ins, afternoon siesta’s and some people watching…….Pam noticed that the German males in the camp, and there were quite a few, spent a lot of time walking around in undersized “Speedo’s”…….This was not a fact noticed by anyone else at the time.
Sadly Marrakech also marked the last significant location the “funsters” were to stay in Morocco. The next day or so was to be spent on the route out and into Spain. Maps were laid out and timetables discussed. With the newly opened Marra-Casa motorway section just a few kilometres from the camp site and further motorway most of the way thereafter, it was decided that perhaps an early start [6.00 am] and a one hit drive was the best option…….
But there was one more night and the night was young………the “funsters” had tickets for the Chaz Ali Fantasia………..
More on this later ..............
Pammy, Bless her is an expert at delivering the one line classic ..........
Centries of sandaled footsteps, mules, donkeys hooves, creaking wheels, trolleys and carts had worn the cobbles uneven. Missing slabs together with later additions of drain covers and repairs had made the surface treacherous. Cardboard cartons, crates, plastic chairs and the odd pile of rags [or was that a begger sleeping] lined the edges. A trickle of water, origins unknown, wound its way down the centre. In other words, a typical back alley in the Marrakech Medina.
Pammy stood in front of a twirling display carousel that 20 years ago had seen better days, admiring herself in the cracked mirror. Mirror, Mirror on the wall............ No, this had the making of a corker. Geo looked bored, having done the "I don't do shopping" bit. Linda tried to describe a type of wicker basket she was looking for to an elderly man. He did not even work at the electrical stall she was standing at. Jan spotted more material and had fallen into a broad Gloustershire accent that left the trader wide eyed and bewildered.
A scooter rider wound his way through the mid morning throngs, waving to a friend and crashing into a cyclist creating a tangled screaming mass on the ground.
Pammy selected another pair of sunglasses, adjusted them for height and angle and tilted her head from side to side.
It was the "funsters" second visit to the Medina, they had ventured in the evening before on a recce after completing the epic Tizi n Tichka drive.
The arranged mini bus had picked all the "funsters" up from the outside of town campsite, and then driven them into town. When we say driven, it was more like a ride in a vehicle on an emergency call out. The headlights flashing, horn blaring, the driver rammed the luxury Merc. through the chaotic traffice whilst maintaining a constant conversation on his mobile phone!
Pammy decided that they did not suit and went for another pair .........
Traffic watching in Marrakech perhaps demonstrates best the paradox of this ancient and fabulous city. Gleaming Limo's run the quantlet along side aged vehicles battered almost shapeless. Fume belting trucks nearly as old as the city itself ignore straining mules pulling crates, sacks and bales. Tourists in mud covered 4X4's clearly regretting the incursion, look lost and confused. A blinged up Hummer pulls up alongside, behind the tints the Armani suit sits in chilled air, tapping the mahogany seals with diamonds and gold on each finger.
Pammy discards the common Ray bans, having spotted the Christian Dior's ............
Ray gives the "funsters" an orientation talk. Place Jemaa el Fna [square of the dead], beyond the tacky souk and behind that the "real" souk, banks over there, coffee Argana just there, follow the smell for the horse drawn carriages, behind you the Great Mosque, under that we meet in 2 hours...... Errrrr, where are the toilets, some one asks!
The milky rimmed Christian Dior's clash with Pammy's recently acquired sun tan. Perhaps the Yves Saint Laurent will look better, she thinks...........
My best price is 700 dirham. Linda dismisses the offer with a flick of the finger. "100 dirham, or shove it". "500 dirham, I have children". "100 dirham, or you will never have any more". Ok, ok, you are a hard woman I will make a loss". Linda adds another item to her already bulging shopping trolley.
Yves Saint Lanrent's are near perfect. But wait, there are more Christian Dior's on the top of the rack ...............
Ray slips into "Sweeny Todd's", at least that is the name he gave the barber many years ago. They hug and pass welcomes and enquire after distant and never met family members. On the floor Ray thinks he recognises the remains of his locks from his last visit back in May! Sweeny snips the hair and prepares to attack, totally ignoring Ray's detailed instructions. The misty mirror reflects nothing which is almost covered in photos of family. There is even one of Sweeny and Ray taken in the shop entrance when both were MUCH younger. Fluorescence tube is still humming, but the loosely hung ceiling fan has now gone. Ray wonders did it finally fall gruesomely claiming a victim.
Yes, gold Christian Dior's, embossed, large lens, right colour, right frame. There may well do thinks Pammy.............
Linda takes one look at Ray and declares "F.....sake". Ray said he had abandoned his Taliban look for the winter. Linda said he now resembles a !!!!!!!!! [Being a family forum I cannot say].
Pammy it seems has settled at last for the perfect sunglasses .............
Marrakech never shuts, it slows a touch, but never shuts.... The traffic is a little lighter but that could be that Ramadan is holding the population in check. Our mini bus driver is now more relaxed, perhaps he has eaten.
The truck stop next to the campsite is over flowing, but silent. The "funsters" peer out of the windows deep in throught. I think Marrakech has captured yet more hearts and minds.
Ali sits at the back of the ram shackled shop, we assume it is Ali, the shop front sign says "Ali's Baz". [The 'aar' has long since been obliterated by pigeon Sh ....]. His great nose wears a pair of spectacles modelled from the thick end of a coca cola bottle. No matter, he stares blankly at the soundless TV screen showing the blizzard scene from "Snowman"! Under his djellabah, from the front of which you can tell he recently had chicken and cous cous, pokes a pair of brand new Niki air soled trainers. His son restocks the shelves of DVD's showing films that have not yet made the cinema let alone disks.
Pammy ....... "How do you tell if these Christian Dior's are fake or real".......... Ray, pointing to the tacky cardboard sign which shows 30 dirham ...... The clue, Pammy, is in the price!!!!!
More to come ........... Hope to catch you later....
You do not talk about Marrakech. You live it. From the very first moment you see the immense oasis of palm trees, crowned by the grandiose wall of the Atlas mountains in the background, your passions should be aroused by Marrakech. The red city, its profile indented against the pure blue of the sky. The dominating Koutoubia Mosque and its minaret marks a frontier between theold and the new Marrakech. Far from ignoring each other, they are complementary universes, and communicate in an atmosphere of celebration. People of many ethnic influences can be seen in the streets of Marrakech, who,alongside many Europeans and Americans, make up a population united by love for this captivating city. The magnificent residences of the Medina, the palaces of the palm grove, and the houses built of earth, with their terraced roofs open to the sky, creative buildings revealing their owners and architects profound attachment to Marrakech.
On passing through the rampart gates between the modern city and the medina, from the world of today to that of yesterday, Marrakech stays with you for life. Bicycles, motorcycles, carriages and ordinary pedestrains invade the streets and sidewalks.
At night, another life begins for Marrakech. Taking in the cool breeze, acrobats,musicians and dancers perform by the light of fires, and moonlight reveals many silhouettes. Marrakech, transient travellers waiting for their coach at dawn are among the attentive spectators of these artists of the night. The Marrakechis, who adore music and poetry, take great pleasure in watching the performers combine their talents with the accompanying music.
Wat a souk! What a bazaar! These exclamations, which, for better or worse have made their way into many of the world's languages, often give an impression of Marrakech which does not correspond to the extremely neat reality of its bazaars, the babouches, belts, wool, leather, fabrics and caftans are arranged so meticulously that you would hesitate to upset such a display! You can touch the velvety surface of a leather slipper, feel the delicacy of a fabric, smell the tart odour of dyed wool, or even take part in the dreaded by most English, A carpet auction!!!!!
Yves Saint Laurent, another person who fell in love with Marrakech, opens up his Majorelle's garden to the visitor. The painter Jacques Majorelle loved Morocco and Marrakech so much that he lived here up until his death in 1952. He composed his house as if it were a painting, transfigured by his genius for colour. Meet up with Souini, the famous snake charmer, and his cobras.
The outdoor restaurant stands of the Place Jemaa El Fna [Place of the Dead] set up around 5pm. Lit by the brightest white bulbs run by the chubby silver covered Gaz bottle, chefs in their whites, and rows and rows of food stalls, freshly squeezed orange juice stalls and much much more .........
A thousand and one flavours.
Digest, I shall be back later ............... Debbie.
Offering just a mere murmur Mark and Linda's Burstner was first around the bend, followed by the lazy rumble [engine, not belly] from Rory and Jan's Detroit Diesel Damon. Geo and Pammy, Lyndon and Emma's throbbing V8's took up the rear as they added a welcomed financial boost to the Moroccan economy via ZIZ National Fuel Company.
Ray who had been waiting and negotiating with a trader by the roadside fired up the Unimog and bounced back onto the road behind them a few hundred yards beyond he knew they would all be temporarily and mentally stalled at the sight that would open before them.......Like a coiled black Cobra shiny tarmac turned and twisted far below and like the snake the Tizi n Tichka pass could be just as deadly.
They had not rushed their departure from Ouarzazate, leaving the early morning roads to the buses and trucks making their way fully laden from Marrakech. But now the roads were quite under what was already a hot and cloudless blue sky.
Ray had led the "funsters" up the first part of the crossing/pass before pulling over and trying again to secure a deal on some particular item he has been trying to buy over the last few years. This time it seems he has been successful in completing his purchase but will not say what it is other than I will like it ......[Probably the Yamaha "Grisly" Quad that he insists I need and has been pestering me to buy for ages!]
Before the HIGH crossing/pass the lower Tizi is just as stunning through dusty pungent villages at which few other than locals would linger, passing tiny fields snatched from an otherwise baron earth. Passing by forgotten Marabouts [Holy men tombs/shrins] and crumbling Kasbahs. Tizi n Tichka is a place of endless cliches from alternate high and low roads Ray kept the "funsters" in view as they paused time and time again for photo stops.
Lunch was a roadside affair overlooking a deep and seamlessly valley far below, tiny specs that were shepherds tending flocks, women working fields and children playing, all going about their parallel lives. So very different from our own. Ray joined the "funsters" who were staring over the edge! Linda, never lost for words, opened her mouth but nothing came out, she just shook her head. Geo said, "bloody awesome" and strolled off. Rory commented that he had driven all over America and had recently returned from Asia, but had never seen the likes of this.
The Tizi n Tichka pass is a modern road built to connect Marrakech to the desert regions of the south east. Highest point is 2260m, the pass winding its way over the High Atlas Mountains with spectacular views, valleys below, villages perched precariously on the edges of deep chasms. In the winter months it can be covered in snow creating a magical sight if you are likely enough to catch it, as the pass does close to traffic due to snow.
Ray emptied the contents of a water bottle over his head and climbed the steps back into the Unimog cab. Engine fired and gears sorted he slipped back onto the road. A'hammid pressed CD/Play on the Panasonic and a hypnotic Koran chant filled the air. Marrakech was just a dark line in the distance as they descended the Atlas.
"Funsters" now visible in the huge truck mirrors, carbon against steel screamed in protest, over pressured air tanks popped and sighed, suspension and rubber squelched. Over the last bend/descent and yet another remarkable scene unveils itself, the lunar landscape of the Atlas and the desert beyond, obliterating memories of the dense woods and green fields we have just left behind.
Tizi n Tichka pass successfully driven and had again failed to take any prisoners ........Mmmmmmmm.. Strange yet appealing life in the office for Desert Detours staff.
Tomorrow, Miraculous Marrakech, city of seven religious patrons, which knows how to join the day to the night, the desert to the mountain and the sand to the snow .......... Until then..........
Debbie. [phewwwww I feel like Ive been on this tour] ............
The old man sat by the Road contemplating its surface, not unlike the packed gravel plains in the desert, only this was a light grey colour that he could not remember seeing in the desert. Of course it looked solid, substantial, it had a slight camber ....quite pleasing.
He had been taking some camels from Ait Herbil to Fam El Hisn for grazing and had literally stumbled on the Road...he had heard about it of course, but it still came as quite a surprise...he had never seen anything quite so out of place......He pondered for a while. Not long ago you could not walk more than an hour in this desert without coming across a herd of camel, and when it rained the sand turned green with tall grass. Yes, he thought, those were the days.....quite strange, foreigners putting a grey line from one horizon to another....He should not have been surprised, he had been watching its approach for some time. But as it thundered past, the huge truck scared his camels....terrified they scattered in all directions....No problem, they would of course come back...they always did.
This was nearly fifteen years ago and it had been not long after that that things started to go really wrong for his family. The desert died, no water, no food for the camels. He had to watch them die. It was when his favourite riding camel died that he thought about moving to live by the Road.... Live by a Road, what a strange thing to do, after all what is a Road. There was some foreigners, food being given to the people on the Road......not that he liked the idea of living off foreigners food. Still he had not felt quite right about living by the Road in the first place.....Why Not.
Before the Road everything went from north to south, the way of the wells...So why had the foreigners changed all that by putting their Road east to west. But his sons said it was all right and not to be so old fashioned, so it must be OK. The milk, powdered, and the grain the foreigners trucks brought was fine and the silly things like batteries and radios were nice to have. But ohm he did miss the desert now and again he would take himself off for a few days and wonder around, like the good old days. But it was not quite the same without his favourite riding camel. And he so missed the camps, the smell of the herds, the camels rustling in the night, the silence, even the long marches....Yes, he did so much miss the desert. Maybe, he thought I could move back. But my sons would not come. They liked living by the Road. They had good lives by the Road now......
Just then the old man's daughter came out of the house, toward the lean to under which he lay on a raised dais, and passed him a bowl of milk. "Would you like tea now Father", she asked. "No later" he replied, "The sun is not yet down".
Just then a peugeot full of passengers passed by at high speed. The old man watched as it disappeared with the Road. As his daughter turned to go back into the house, he lay back down. "Yes things have changed. So much comes up the Road, but so much does down, never to come back. Yes, things are definitely changing. The Road is strong now".
Yes, the ways of Allah, he quietly thought to himself, can be quite strange sometimes.
"I really miss it already", for quite sometime Pammy had been lying back in her reclining chair quietly contemplating. "What", asked Geo, "the Desert, I really love the desert". Ray smiled to himself Pammy's whimsical comment was in total contrast to the ones some hours earlier when he over heard her expletives when she received an electric shock from Geo's newly purchased pedestal fan that cost a fiver! Roy Chubby Brown would have blushed...
It was after midnight, about 12.30 and most of the "funsters" were still awake sitting out under what looked like a full moon, the night was still young. Ray thought it a good idea to phone me again at about 3.30am [my time in Spain], informing me his tyre was flat, like what was I supposed to do. Becky, [our daughter] heard the phone ring and had got out of bed, half asleep I passed her the phone and with that stepped back onto one of our four Westies, who was startled and sprung into defence attack mode starting a fight, on top of that Becky thought it was a good time to tell her Dad that the engine on her scooter exploded that evening ........ Ray hung up ..........
The mini bus arrived on time and the "funsters" left with A'hammid for their day's tour of the Atlas Film Studios and Ait Benhaddou Kasbah. Ray remained behind to deal with the tyre repair. This in itself turned into an epic story that seems to be a big factor in Ray's life. The highlight this time was when the huge Unimog tyre and rim got totally wedged in the back of the tyre fitters Peugeot 205...........
The Atlas Studios received a mixed reception but was in general ok. While all enjoyed Ait Benhaddou Kasbah. Some dined in the cafe terrace which offered panoramic views, a couple wandered around the Kasbahs lower section whilst Mark and Rory climbed to the top of the ruins where again stunning views of the surrounding palmeraies and beyond the unforgiving Desert. [Ait Benhaddou Kasbah is one of the most exotic and best preserved Kasbahs in the Atlas region. This is hardly surprising since it has had money poured into it as a result of being used for scenes in as many as 20 films, Lawrence of Arabia and Jesus of Nazareth. Much of the village was rebuilt for the filming of the latter. Its fame lives on].
Returning to camp late afternoon most collapsed in the 90 degrees heat. Geo continued with his digital film editing, now over 2000 images stored. Jan made a start on the quilt of many patterns, while Matthew and Joe [Emma's children] whizzed around the empty campsite on a borrowed bicycle, where did they get their energy from in this heat.
Time to eat. Linda checked out the kitchens in La Phoenix restaurant just outside of Ouarzazate and declared it more than fit for the preparation of food for human consumption. So that was not the reason for Pammy spending most of the night on the porcelain. But there was another clue .... Pammy said, "who drunk all the wine" ........ Geo said, "You did" !!! The "funsters" declared the meal "best so far" AGAIN .............
A'hammid was dropped back at the camp by yet another cousin in a Land Cruiser and also a dreadlocked Rasta in a Ranger, complete with Marley sounds and the sound system working at one level .........HIGH.
I have had a little time with Ray away to clear the office, and I came across some notes and adapted words Ray has used on various projects some years ago, he will probably go mad but as this blog is a sort of "journey along roads" the following is slightly appropriate ...... Read this if you feel inclined later when I will continue and catch up with the "funsters" in MARRAKECH.....
At the end of a lush valley full of palms and mud brick villages hemmed in by barren, craggy mountains is the magnificent sight of Todra Gorge, some 300 metres high but only 10 metres wide at its narrowest point, with a crystal clear river running through it best caught in the morning when the sun penetrates to the bottom of the gorge. Todra suspended in another age, following yet another different rhythm of life.
Along the road which goes through the gorge of the Dades River are rocks of varying range of red and purple colours. The arable land is cultivated down to its tiniest parcel, mountain gardens made up of different varieties of almond trees, olive trees, walnut trees, and poplars. The palm groves of the valley contains many little gardens, which supply families with the vegetables they need. The earth houses, with their thick walls, signify the pre saharan region. At the foot of the steep Todra Gorge, the town of Tineghir was once an important stopping place for caravans laden with spices and gold. It remains important today, filled with commercial travellers and tourists.
The somewhat potholed road snakes up in a leisurely fashion inside the wide walls of the gorge. On the way plenty of greenery is on display, mostly figs. Some of the rock formations are truly bizarre, resembling globules of molten wax dribbling down the side of a candle.
Rory's bike bracket, the one he crunched getting onto the ferry in the UK and finished off boarding the ferry for Morocco was ready for collection from the bush mechanic at 8am this morning. When we say bush mechanic, better described the repair as one undertaken by an unsupervised team of YTS students on Ecstasy!!! But the hovering oil covered Moroccan looked dead chuffed with his efforts and it seemed such a shame to spoil his day! Anyway, it took nothing more than a few blows with the hammer a couple of weld flashes and just 200 Dirham [15 pounds] and all was well, we hoped.
While this was going on the "funsters" headed to the nearby Todra Gorge, visited anything the gorge is majestic but early morning converging 700 foot high cliffs, shifting sunlight together with echo sounds of the rushing river over polished rocks is just magic. Yet another tour highlight.
Today's drive to Ouarzazate was a 100 or so miles, but on arrow straight roads across the great open plains before disappearing into the distance. It is again different and real RV/motorhome driving. Clearing the plains and passing Dades Gorge [visited on our next tour], we dopped into the "Valley of a Thousand Kasbahs". Towering mud pink, castle like buildings set on river banks and hilltops beneath the base of the High Atlas. The name says it all.
Then onto Rose Valley. Fields of rose bushes, which bloom earlier in the year suppling their pungent material to the great perfume houses of the world. Road side stalls selling all manner of products, rose water, perfumes, soaps, creams, etc etc. The wives of course had a great time bartering. It was about that time that I got a call from Ray, so I digress a little ... Those reading this blog know that the "funsters" hit Morocco in perfect time for Ramadan. No problem with that, it has affected the "funsters" in practical terms very little. In fact all agree it has been an amazing insight and eye opening experience. But for Ray there has been the added problem of travelling with A'hammid [DD staff member]. Respect and praticality Ray decided that an attempt at Ramadan, or at least 80% would be appropriate, just the odd sip of water and the discreet date or two during daylight hours..... Right, the weight has fallen off him, plummeting from a straight 16 stones to around 15 stones 10 ounces!!!!! In what, 14 days .......Mmmm, clearly not the alternative to Weight Watchers I think. The other problem is that the diet of dates has had the predictable effect as did the misreading on the packet of Imodium Plus. It said, take 2 .... How does that read, take 4 followed by another 2, 3 hours later. I will leave you with this thought!
The campsite at Ouarzazate was empty so plenty of choice as to where to finally park. There followed a briefing that mostly considered the possibility of re stocking the "funsters" dangerously low wine, beer and spirit levels. In a Muslim country during Ramadan! But no problems for DD, after a few phone calls a supply were found. Several hours later the now foraging "funster" party returned, bulging bags and even a shopping trolley in tow.
Geo also purchased an impressive pedestal Fan for a fiver, probably to assit the draft coming in through the gap around his window screen [more about that later], and Jan brought a few more yards of material.
Its just 6.30 in the evening and the 80 degrees temperature is being fanned by a pleasant breeze, most have opted for various versions of stable British cuisine whilst others are joining Ray and A'hammid in town for an evening meal.
Tomorrow brings with it the Hire of a Mini Bus which will be heading for the famous Atlas Film Studios, [Lawrence of Arabia, Gladiator, Life of Brian, etc. etc.] where we have been told that the new major Walt Disney blockbuster Prince of Persia closed filming only today.
Then onward for a tour of the World Heritage Kasbah Ait Benhaddou, then return to Ouarzazate for an evening meal at the infamous Italian/Moroccan Restaurant, "Phoenix".
I may be a little late with the next posting, as today sees me become the 'roady' for our daughter, as she has a 'gig' for a charity function, and this normally means arrival home time for me will be around 3.00 3.30 in the morning. So, will catch you later, and thanks so much for the comments, they have been passed onto the "funsters" and of course Ray ..............
The last night in the sahara ended to the percussive sounds of drums and castanets under the black starry sky the palpitating rhythm seems to get inside your head and play with the imagination.........
Standing on a nearby dune she cut a lonely figure, it was the last of the three mornings at Erg Chebbi and although we were covered by blue sky I could feel the makings of a possible blow, [sand storm which can blot out daylight in an instant] in the air. Staring into the endless seas of wind patterned sand, Pammy said "I have decided that I like the desert I am really going to miss it". For a moment I thought I saw a tear ........
A forward scout in support land rovers the day before had established a better route out to the main road then the one we arrived on. The track smooth enough for the Unimog to slip through her 16 gears to belt ahead taking position for some superb RV and motorhome pictures crossing the open desert with the dunes a distant backdrop. Satisfied and smiling faces popped onto the tarmac. Geo's window screen [more on that later!!] remained attached to the vehicle.
With the desert now behind we headed west towards the unmistakable outline of the High Atlas horizon, Todra Gorge our destination.
The reason for the lack of flies at the dunes [always a pest here] became clear as they had gathered for a conference at the market in Tinjdad. All gave the open meat section a miss! Stock of eggs, vegetables, fruit, bread and water was taken on board.
The planned early arrival at our next campsite was met with predictable motorhome behaviour [I love em, honest], as the "funsters" crossed the camp entrance Linda and Jan leapt out, bags under each arm. Yes, I had informed them about the laundry room available at this camp. Then there was the other phenomenon, give a motorhome driver an empty campsite and they get confused and disorientated unable to stop for more than a second or so, or decide on a suitable pitch, in the confusion Mark left the handbrake off as he examined a potential [second or was that the 3rd] spot! Linda's subtle cry saw Mark leap behind the wheel with a "SHUT UP" ......... Like I say, luv em.
Rory's mangled bike carrier was sent off in a taxi for repair, while Geo continued his role as photographer co ordinator, his laptop now containing some several thousand images. Pammy continued with the portable washing machine and her hoover was hovering!! Lyndon joined the kids in the pool.
Tomorrow its the run into the Gorge proper, one of Morocco's most magnificent natural sights.
Till then ..............
At first it was just a spec on the distant dunes, a little later you were able to make the outline of riders on a long camel train led by two blue men, Tuareg's, desert nomads, on foot. It was still early morning as they slipped into camp. We had set up yards from the Old Fort and camel compound at Auberge du Sud, Erg Chebbi. "I will never walk again" Linda said. Emma resembled Quosimodo as she dismounted her grumpy ship of the desert. Pammy said "if she had not been a virgin before she was NOT now"! But to the men [and women] it was agreed that it was a totally fantastic experience.
The "funsters" had done a 15 hour over night camel trek to witness the Sun Set and the Sun Rise from no better place than the massive dunes near Merzouga. A tented Tuareg camp greeted their arrival where the over night supplies were unpacked from the loaded camels and support quad bike before a meal [yet another, best so far] was cooked in a huge cannibal style pot.
Later mats were laid out for the night which the "funsters" will spend under the stars, if it was not for the wine glasses in hands most would have been mistaken for a colourful nomad tribe, men and women in their flowing djellabas and traditional head scarves.
The day before, we left Source Bleu de Meski around 9am for the 60 mile drive to the Sahara proper. A brief stop at the "fossil factory" and ancient market of Rissani [a hot and dusty town which sits on the edge of the desert. In a sense, this is the end of the road, where it peters out into the hot nothingness of stone and sand that stretches out to the south] for more supplies and it was then off road pistes to the Dunes. The pistes can be and were rough winding across rough, black hammada.
5 or so miles into the piste and Rory was reminded that he had only put a few of the required retaining screws back in place when he last refitted the overhead TV, Jan caught it before landing on laps. Mmmmmm TV refitting in the Sahara!!
The contents of Pammy's draws [the cupboard type] dumped their contents covering the RV floor as they slide open. Geo cursed the day light yet again that appeared between his window screen and frame [more about that later]!!! A vent clip or two fell from the Burstner of Mark and Linda's motorhome. If anything happened to Lyndon and Emma's vehicle he didn't notice!!!!
The whole run on the piste went surprisingly well until we actually reached the camp, when a confusion between the universal "give it power" and UK's own motor homers "stop", "signal", resulted in Geo getting bogged. Absolutely not his fault, I would stress. The Unimog support vehicle was called and took up recovery station but was not needed as a combination of light foot and gears, plus some shovel work soon saw him free.
Driving across open desert into the unknown will always be a tense and nervous experience and all agreed like those that have been before it was worth it and the highlight of the adventure so far..........
From the Atlantic coast of Africa, the Sahara stretches, three thousand miles wide and a thousand deep. This huge desert is a mysterious and unfinished place, a trial run in landscape architecture where a few basis designs of sand, gravel and mountains are used repeatedly and stretched to their limits. The mountains are uncompromisingly severe, the sand dunes have a regularity unknown elsewhere in nature, the gravel plains are oceanic in scale, flat and unchanging for days of travel. In the open desert there is too much sky, oppressively stretching from horizon to flat horizon, while in the sandstone canyons there is almost none at all. Here, without the protective shield of soil to hide the evidence of the past, the history of the landscape and the forces that made it are on show!
One more night will be spent with the wonders of the natural landscape before a drive back out of the desert over the pistes before the "funsters" meet up with the MIGHTY TODRA GORGE.
Thanks for your comments so far. Dont know about Debbie the Blog, just dont tell Ray Brisey!!
"Bennie the Rug", known as the 'rug' as he can and does supply any size, colour and price! Endless rolls of any colour plastic for the outside carpet offered at just 2.00 pounds per meter!! Compare that the next time you visit a motorhome show. To others, Bennie is also known as Bennie Marjane [Marjane a large supermarket chain], as he can source and supply anything, but to DD he is just Bennie, entertainments manager! A real character, we met when he was a young boy now a grown man.
I/we are awoken by the day starting with many wailings, this time not from the local Mosques but from the Mosque alarm clocks that were purchased by the "funsters" back in Meknes. The alarms had been set, not to ring out with the sound of bells, but set to call out several verses of the Koran!!!
While Geo and Lyndon remained behind at camp to refit Geos window screen [more about that later], the rest followed Bennie the Rug for a tour of Meski village, where they visited the central well, olive press, the Mosque and several homes of the locals. Best of all they joined the children in the tiny infant/junior school for a couple of lessons. The "funsters" were taught how to count 1 to 10 in Arabic.
A'hammid [our staff member] father prepared and cooked the "funsters" their evening meal, consisting of Harrira [tradional soup] made up of lamb, tomatoes, celery, onions, parsley, coriander, ginger,cinnamon, cumin, paprika and much more, prepared two to three hours before serving, followed by Beef kebabs. Most agreed it was the best meal so far.
Returning to the RV encampment most of the "funsters" laid back in their reclining chairs beneath the starry sky late into the night, no sound of chatter at this moment in time, as I look around this scene combined with the silence and feeling of isolation that creates an intense feeling of mystery, the darkness stealing swifly out from the nearby desert, I find myself thinking, I have chosen a far from restful lifestyle preferring to look upon these tours as adventures, the physical and mental demands of which are more than balanced by the knowledge that for many people of my age, the days of such adventures could soon be over. Hoping that the "funsters" have discovered an entirely new part of the world and fallen in love with it, I, like the "funsters" take myself off to bed.
Tomorrow, into the unknown Sahara ......
Thanks for your comments people, catch you later, Debbie.
4.30am in the morning and the dying embers of the forest campfire give out the only light, the drop in the nights temperature [60's] was a welcomed break for the previous days heat. The Oasis calls. The "funsters" manoeuvre there way through the high plains along twisting gorges taking in the panorama of Moroccan history which is visable at a glance. This Anti Atlas range is the barrier separating the desert expanses of the Sahara from the fertile plains of the surrounding valleys.
Source Bleu de Meski is next on the agenda, Meski is an oasis that is a popular attraction for both locals and visitors. The pools at Source Bleu were constructed by Foreign Legionnaires. Locals from the nearby village often come to the waters for their daily water supply. The whole area is divided into two different sections. Most visit the first pool, as it is in this first bathing area where the original source of the water can be found. The water comes from a river that runs through the mountain above the pools, and enters into Source Bleu through a hole in the wall of the mountain.
The massive palm trees shade the water, and the local women in their colourful traditional dress, transform the pools into a perfect picture moment. Local legends say that the pools increase the fertility, young girls come to bathe in the waters in hopes to increase their chances of falling pregnant easily. So watch out lady "funsters"!
Arriving at Source Bleu de Meski, Geo stretches, fantastic drive, the best I have even done! With the magnificent desert landscape surrounding them it waits patiently for their arrival. First, the "funsters" overnight at Meski, the oasis of tall palm trees, shady rest spots and cool waters.
All "funsters" make a recce on foot, as the entrance into Source Bleu is narrow, twisty and combined with the straddling palm trees, can cause some head scratching. With a final nod of the heads Lyndon is volunteered as the first to enter the camp. Hooked down mirrors jammed awnings and many cries of, a little to the left, no, now to the right ...... the palm trees won!!! Another short discussion and the best option was for Lyndon to now reverse his way out.
With the RVs now settled above the oasis on the spectacular open plains overlooking the crumbling walls and ruins of the local Kasbah was perhaps a little better offering clear views of a stunning sun set and a short walk to the superb toilets and showers located at the nearby cafe and DD Moroccan office. The evening was spent discussing the past days travels and wait for it ..... remedies for up set stomachs and their cause, whilst over head in the black night skies, satellites and shooting stars parade a show for the "funsters".
With the Guardian arriving [although not needed] to cast his eyes over the RVs for the duration of the night the "funsters" discuss whether he should be given Geo's unpredictable collapsing camping chair, on checking Rays Public Liability Insurance they thought perhaps not! With a peaceful nights sleep calling, tomorrow will offer a tour of the Kasbah, more shopping for those that wish, and the meeting of the infamous "Bennie the Rug" ...........
As I rattle on, trying to put together Rays scribbles of the tour day account of events etc entered into the DD log I suddenly find myself thinking ........ I wonder if this is being read .............. Hope so, catch you later, from me who is keeping the chair warm at the desk ............
Climbing higher along the plateaus leaving Meknes behind them clear blue skies overhead make the views even more breathtaking, the eye can see some 25km allowing the "funsters" to take in the High Atlas Mountains in the distance. Many stops are made on route for views and the cameras are working overtime. Emma comments, whow, I have never seen anything like it!
Dropping down off the plateaus and picking up the road, the "funsters" make their way into the village of Azrou, Azrou meaning 'rock' and has none of the hallmarks of a tourist trap. The green tiled rooftops are in total contrast to the rest of Morocco. Primarily a Berber village cheerful, hassle free and full of life, surrounded by pine and cedar forests where the "funsters" will wilderness camp for the night. A visit to the market which is a lively affair to restock on meat, fresh fish for those that want it, vegetables, bread and whatever else takes the "funsters" fancy. Mark casts his expert eye over the meat stalls, where purchases of sirloins and fillet steaks are made. Several kilos of steak is purchased for just 100 dirham [15 dirham to the sterling pound]. Mark informs all that in the UK this amount of steak would cost between 50/60 pounds! All shopping down, we all make our way a short distance drive to the Cedar Forest surrounded by the Middle Atlas range of mountains.
Green oaks give way to holm oaks on both sides of the road, tall, mature trees covered so thickly with leaves that the forest floor lies dark and cool beneath. Although patches of sunlight filter through, the impression is one of mysterious half light. High above, the unmistakable outline of magnificent Atlas Cedars rising out of the lesser trees around them.
A mule and its guide disturb the stillness and silence, delivering to the camp firewood for the nights campfire. A little later a shepherd passes between the RVs followed by his mixed herd of sheep, goats, donkeys and dogs, Jan looking on saying this is just incredible, and the shepherd tips his head in acknowledgement and continues on his way into the forest.
Suddenly our eyes catch movement, a troupe of some 20/30 Babary Apes [one of the best known Old World monkey species], babys on the backs of their mothers, along with dads and chief Barbary's walking on all fours, some standing to examine up the trunks of trees, circle the RVs. They seem in a good mood, and continue on their way up into the trees that shelter us and watch closely our movements from above.
Preparations for dinner commences, Ray and A'hammid prepare their table and commence chopping vegetables and steak for the evening tagine. Turning their backs for a second to chat to others, half a dozen monkeys descend upon the table clearing the lot, all vegetables and steak.
A'hammid, now feeling very hungry after the days fasting, makes chase with Rays butchers knife in one hand and picking up stones with the other ..... no chance ..... all thieves sit amongst the tree tops enjoying their steal, whilst Ray and A'hammid start again to prepare the tagine with less provisions!!
Eating over, campfire roaring, all sit back under the black night sky littered with millions of stars, taking in another days events, words are muttered, unbelievable, amazing ....... Diversity is just one aspect that is common to the different dimensions that is Morocco ........
A longer drive takes place for the next day, all be it approx. 200km, seeing the "funsters" arrive at Meski an Oasis situated on the edge of the Sahara desert .....
Hope you will join me again ........ Debbie.
With the pulse of Morocco beating fast and strong the group make their drive along the plateaus where they head for Volubulis, a Roman provincial capital which has the best preserved ancient Roman ruins in Morocco.
All is well, the only notable vehicle point at this moment in time is that Rory managed to put 30 litres of unleaded fuel into his diesel running RV, not his fault! The pump was clearly marked diesel but delivered unleaded. This was balanced out with a mix of both and it was evident from the continuing drive that Rory now has the fastest RV in Morocco!
Arrival at Volubulis. Here the "funsters" visited the Roman ruins where they viewed stunning mosaics [such as the chariot of Amphitrite, among others] which have been left in situ. All enjoyed.
A short drive into the first of the over night wilderness camping. BBQ's emerged and a night took place in typical "funster" fashion, camp fire, food, talk, laughter, wine and more wine. The group slipped into the early hours before shutting down. Comment, "wilderness camping, what most buy their motorhomes for, but very few get to experience it, fantastic, what it's all about"!
As the funsters make their way to their beds a spectacular electric storm emerges, bright flashes throwing the black night sky into white streaks of light, all heads turned upwards. No rain emerged.
Next, the short hop to Meknes, situated on a plateau overlooking the river of Bou Iferkane the eyes cannot help but be attracted by its sheer grandeur, lets wait and see .......... Catch you later ...............