Sunday, 19 November 2017

Ouarzazate

Before we head into Ouarzazate we take a drive out to the fortified red-earth city of Aït Ben Haddou, a restored village. Paid for by the close by film studios. A bit of a let down hundreds of tourists crawling all over it like ants. Took a photo and turned around. Not until we'd been accosted by the usual Berber tat seller.
Marie picks up some ear rings, the price is 800Dh. Marie decides she doesn't want them at any price. As we're walking off the price drops like a stone to 150Dh. He just can't grasp the concept that it's nothing to do with the price. We just don't want them. We're just not programmed to deal with this haggling and the (in our minds)  insult that offering ridiculously low prices conveys. I'm sure westerners get used to it, as would we, but even after a month of this we still struggle.
So off to the film stuios. A bit weird to be honest. The first one, Atlas, doesn't seem to have produced much since the early 90's. The sets are remarkably intact, given that they're made of plaster, wood, expanding foam and mud🤔😂
The second one we go to is a bit more impressive, you drive to a castle used for some Game of Thrones episode's. It's pretty impressive, there's some full size trebuchets which look like they could be functional.

Saturday, 11 November 2017

The Sahara

Yay, we made it into the Sahara
More importantly we made it out 😂
Day 1.
Foum Zagid to the dunes Erg Chigaga. I’ve got a couple of tracks imported and we attempt to follow one. The first 45km or so are OK, apart from the bloody corrugated sections (or jigglyshit as it should be called). We then get to the dunes and the track is taking us through the northern section of the dunes. It looks too iffy, too much soft sand so I decide to do a detour. It’s along some of the worst tracks ever, vast expanses of rocks. It’s down to 7 to 10mph max, it seems to go on for ever. In reality it’s 25km. 8 hrs in we get to the dunes😀

We’re a bit knackered and just park up in the first spot we find. Gin and tonic time
No kidding, 3 pints of gin and tonic 🤣

Marie (who knows how) knocks up an amazing vegetable concoction, loads of chilly and smoked paprika, and to finish it off coconut milk. Really good, we're missing spicy food. Weird given that every Souk you walk around there are mountains of colourful spices for sale, but for us, Moroccan food gets a bit bland. It doesn't help that they seem to think tourists only want tagine or brochette. We know for a fact, we've had it, that Moroccan food is so much better than that but it’s sometimes a challenge to find it. It doesn't help that our French is virtually non existent of course.
Anyway after food and G and T's we're feeling very happy and chilled. As soon as it’s dark the light shoe from the stars is simply stunning. The moon hasn't risen and of course zero light pollution means that we can see the milky way in it’s full glory.

Day 2.
We’re hoping for a nice easy drive out, it’s only 59km. I’m trying to follow the same track but the gpx waypoints are too far apart. This combined with the multiple tracks visible in this part of the desert means that it’s very easy to start following the wrong one. So we're constantly back tracking to pick up the track again. So in frustration I give up on that and start navigating by the sun
What could go wrong? It’s only the Sahara 🙄
No, not really. We just follow tracks in OsmAnd, it’s remarkably accurate. Nice easy going, smooth and flat happy days😎
Until. And this sneaks up in me. We’re into soft sand dunes. I haven't prepared for this in that the tyres are only deflated to around 22psi. That’s for driving over rocks and corrugated sections, not this. But we’re committed, no option but to keep going. So, this really isn’t my style, momentum, 3k revs and hope for the best. A packet of crisps stored I a net above Marie opens and showers her in Paprika flavour, all the stuff on the dash is around our feet, who knows wants going on in the back. I just have to keep going until we find some hard ground.

As soon as we do I can stop and figure out where we are. Go back or continue? After a bit of debate we decide to press on. The Sprinter seems happier ASR off in this. I couldn't figure out if it was the drag off the sand or the engine management reducing power in the sections we've just been through, a little disconcerting. Marie claims the front was air borne a couple of time, who knows but I’m a little tense right now!
But we make it out. I’m seriously impressed with the Sprinter. I'm glad of the 493Nm, anything less would have been seriously stressed. The temp gauge didn't budge from 89 to 91C.
Time for a chill and a beer by a pool now. We’ve booked a hotel in Zagora🍻

Yay, we made it into the Sahara
More importantly we made it out
Day 1.
Foum Zagid to the dunes Erg Chigaga. I’ve got a couple of tracks imported and we attempt to follow one. The first 45km or so are OK, apart from the bloody corrugated sections (or jiggly**** as I call it). We then get to the dunes and the track is taking us through the northern section of the dunes. It looks too iffy, too much soft sand so I decide to do a detour. It’s along some of the worst tracks ever, vast expanses of rocks. It’s down to 7 to 10mph max, it seems to go on for ever. In reality it’s 25km. 8 hrs in we get to the dunes
We’re a bit knackered and just park up in the first spot we find. Gin and tonic time
No kidding, 3 pints of gin and tonic

Marie (who knows how) knocks up an amazing vegetable concoction, loads of chilly and smoked paprika, and to finish it off coconut milk. Really good, we're missing spicy food. Weird given that every Souk you walk around there are mountains of colourful spices for sale, but for us, Moroccan food gets a bit bland. It doesn't help that they seem to think tourists only want tagine or brochette. We know for a fact, we've had it, that Moroccan food is so much better than that but it’s sometimes a challenge to find it. It doesn't help that our French is virtually non existent of course.
Anyway after food and G and T's we're feeling very happy and chilled. As soon as it’s dark the light shoe from the stars is simply stunning. The moon hasn't risen and of course zero light pollution means that we can see the milky way in it’s full glory.

Day 2.
We’re hoping for a nice easy drive out, it’s only 59km. I’m trying to follow the same track but the gpx waypoints are too far apart. This combined with the multiple tracks visible in this part of the desert means that it’s very easy to start following the wrong one. So we're constantly back tracking to pick up the track again. So in frustration I give up on that and start navigating by the sun
What could go wrong? It’s only the Sahara
No, not really. We just follow tracks in OsmAnd, it’s remarkably accurate. Nice easy going, smooth and flat happy days
Until. And this sneaks up in me. We’re into soft sand dunes. I haven't prepared for this in that the tyres are only deflated to around 22psi. That’s for driving over rocks and corrugated sections, not this. But we’re committed, no option but to keep going. So, this really isn’t my style, momentum, 3k revs and hope for the best. A packet of crisps stored I a net above Marie opens and showers her in Paprika flavour, all the stuff on the dash is around our feet, who knows wants going on in the back. I just have to keep going until we find some hard ground.

As soon as we do I can stop and figure out where we are. Go back or continue? After a bit of debate we decide to press on. The Sprinter seems happier ASR off in this. I couldn't figure out if it was the drag off the sand or the engine management reducing power in the sections we've just been through, a little disconcerting. Marie claims the front was air borne a couple of time, who knows but I’m a little tense right now!
But we make it out. I’m seriously impressed with the Sprinter. I'm glad of the 493Nm, anything less would have been seriously stressed. The temp gauge didn't budge from 89 to 91C.
Time for a chill and a beer by a pool now. We’ve booked a hotel in Zagora
Yes the desert requires respect! A tourist died more or less on the route we followed, they had hired a 4x4 and suffered a puncture. For what ever reason they couldn't change it, or maybe the spare was flat. My memory is a little hazy on the details. Anyway they had only taken a few litres of bottled water with them, which of course starts to run out pretty quickly. The husband decides to meet off on foot to try and find help, they’d seen a Nomad tent on their way in. By the time he returns, in only a few hours, his wife has died of heat exhaustion. We had around 30 litres of bottled water and 80 litres in the on board tank (that’s to be avoided if possible, who knows what bugs are in their by now! It doesn't have any uv treatment or filtration)
So for me the desert has a romantic allure, the adventure, solitude, size/scale, the wilderness. But it’s a bit of a love hate thing. It’s physically challenging for sure but that’s eclipsed by the mental challenge. Not to mention the mechanical challenge to your vehicle. Your mind is working at 80% capacity more or less the entire time. Are still on the right route? Am I taking the right line? Listening for any new and unwanted noises from the vehicle, concentrating on the navigation, when the route isn't as you expected running multiple scenarios through your head. Every time you enter a dry river bed or crest a dune you have recalculate everything. Anything that is normal behaviour, I expect to do that by that time, I will follow that route/plan needs to be reassessed. If you have to turn around or do 4mph rather than the expected/calculated 40mph. So be it. We're not programmed to think like that anymore!

I can assure you that if your mind is cluttered up with 1st world problems this will cleanse your mind. There’s no space for junk 
So it was great to travel through the Sahara, but even better to get out
Naturally if you get used to it that all reduces but this is the 3rd time in 10 years so we’re far from naturals at this. The first 2 times were with a group. Solo is another story🤔😀


Sunday, 5 November 2017

Tata

Not a lot to be said of this place. We don’t like the town at all. Its an army town I think. The campsite is really run down, hardly any of the taps work, toilets don’t flush. The guy on reception is lovely though. I end up ordering a beef tagine off him for later, it’s pretty good but Marie passes on it. She sick of tagine, as am I to be honest. Good night’s sleep apart from the fan sucking in what smells like traffic fumes all night. Who knows what it is.
Drive to Foum Zagid, a bit boring. Flat straight roads which are virtually new and empty. Manage to get 30+mpg out of the Sprinter. You can tell I'm bored, I’m experimenting with engine load and economy in 5th or 6th gear. Conclusion, below 55mph engine load is a lot lower in 5th and economy better. We’ve worn out all the Apple Music on my phone so we’ve moved on to Amazon Prime music😂
I may have mentioned this before, bit the locals down here are so much more easy going and friendly compared to the North or of course Marrakech.

Essouria to Tafroute

It’s very difficult to judge travel times in Morocco so we decide to split the journey and stop somewhere south of Agadir.
The journey is nothing to write home about, it just confirms what we already think of the Atlantic coast. Unless you’re into kite surfing or surfing it’s bland, at times grim.
We stop off at a campsite here:
 Camp Takat
Near P1003
Location: geo:30.253386,-9.585142
It’s extremely well run, immaculate facilities but seriously weird. It’s in the middle of no where, surrounded by scrub land, agricultural land, rubbish and a few poly tunnels. There are a few French motor homes which are obviously here long term. They’ve got all the usual junk. Trailers, quads, cars, bikes, gazebos, fake grass. It’s just beyond our comprehension, it’s got sun and a pool. You’ve got to be desperate for sun to stay here long term.
We eat in the restaurant, a bit weird, just the two of us and a radio playing trance music. Foods good though and some more Meknes wine. Red for a change, Thierry has been feeding us rose for the past few days.
Early start and onward towards Tafroute. The first bit of the drive is dual carriageway. We're in no rush so the cruise is set to 55ish. A one point a Citroen van draws level with us and a happy smiling guy hangs out of the passenger window, he shouting “I have campsite in Tafroute”. He waves some more and they accelerate away.
We turn off at Tiznit and see a couple hitching with Tafroute on a bit of cardboard, what the he’ll we pick them up. She’s Belgium and he’s Egyptian. They’re doing a whistle stop tour of just about everywhere in Morocco in week. Rather them than me! Turns out he’s a genuine Rocket Scientist, working for the European Space agency.
We drop them off in Tafroute and somehow manage to end up sitting next to them at a restaurant for lunch.
Lunch over we head to the Blue Rocks, passing the same couple on the road. They’ve hired bikes to go to the Blue Rocks and are then catching a night bus, some holiday😂
The blue rocks are weird, in a good way. We park up for the night and get to see one of the most incredible sun sets ever. We always snigger at tourists running around taking photos of sun sets, stunning sun sets are two a penny on the Llyn Peninsula, we're not easily impressed.
We don’t actually sleep too well, the silence here is, well deafening. It’s a bit freaky to be honest, but it's been a great stop over.
We head back into town for a coffee and some Wi-Fi. The guy who passed us in the Citroen van spots us. He comes over, all smiles, shaking hands. We didn't even stay on his campsite but he’s talking to us like long lost friends. It’s up lifting interacting with happy easy going peope😊

Essouria 2

So we’re having a sort of holiday within a holiday, staying at Villa Grenadine. A lovely secluded oasis, with a pool to slobb next to for a few days.
First things first though. Food. Into Essouria and to the fish shacks next to the harbour. They don’t have names, just numbers. You choose your fish from the ice counter and it’s BBQ’ed. Has to be lobster and sea bream. Not sure what it’s called here, doroda maybe. It’s not super cheap, we're in touristville and if you walked around the back of the shacks you’d never eat  fish again, but so what it’s tasty and fun.
Essouria is a very easy place to just wonder around, no hassle, pedestrians only (mostly) and basically a pretty old town.
Our hosts at Villa Grenadine are lovely, a bit of a language barrier. They only speak French and our French is virtually non existent. But Thierry forces us to drink wine at every opportunity, so that helps. He’s French and his Moroccan wife Hakima cooks some wonderful dinners. Thierry is always pointing out that tourists are just fed brockettes and tagine in Morocco, but not for us!
He’s a real character, one of a very select few to have completed a Camel Trophy, a real petrol head who's built and raced  numerous off road racers. With some world wide success, in Europe and America.
He’s got a very sick Nissan Pathfinder, he thinks bad fuel in Dakla. So I offer to try and use my scanner (which I have for the Sprinter) to try and read the fault codes. So off we go to his mechanic.
Umm 8 engine fault codes
13 transmission fault codes
3 airbag fault codes
3 airbag fault codes
Where the hell do you start with all that.
I feel like a bit of a fraudster, I’m of no help at all tbh but he’s very grateful. The battery dies so we have to swap the battery off his Toyota Land Cruiser. His mechanic is apparently the best around but doesn't even have a battery charger, Morocco!! Without a decent battery the scanner won’t communicate with the engine ecu, so that’s it really.
Anyway as a thank you he wants to take me on an off road adventure in his Toyota. It’s his side of the business in villa Grenadine. I can’t say no and on the morning of the trip he’s up and positively buoyant, whistling and skipping around. He obviously loves this stuff. His Toyota is a great advert, it takes some serious abuse. It creaks, squeals, knocks and bangs like and old knacker but just goes!
A few more touristy trips into Essouria, some great food at a beach bar called Ocean Vagabonds. This is by far the best quality food we’ve had on this trip, including Europe. It’s not cheap, or Moroccan. French/international but extremely good, we’re happy.

Saturday, 28 October 2017

Essouria 😊

We like Essouria, we were here as a family 10 years ago. It's bigger, due to development, but essentially the same. It's a very easy place to be a tourist. So yes OK that does mean it's touristy but still in a low key good way. I'm sure prices are inflated and even a guy in one of the shops commented on how bad the pound was. It's around 12Dh, down from 15Dh.
We went back, possibly to the exact same fish shack that we went to 10 years ago, for lunch. Of course it had to be lobster😀 and sea bream. I think they call it dorado. 10 years ago 6 of us ate a banquet for, I think, £30. Today, despite some half hearted haggling on my part it was £40 ish for the 2 of us🤔😐
It was still good though. Nearly as good as Aberdaron lobster and chips😂 that's less than £20 for two and we take our own wine😊



Wednesday, 25 October 2017

Marrakech

We've been in full on tourist mode the last few days in Marrakech, staying here:
Camping le Relais de Marrakech
Location: geo:31.707504,-7.989528

It’s maybe our favourite campsite so for on this trip, the only one close being Pelinos in Portugal. A great, chilled vide here. Well apart from the French motorhomers across from us who have faces like smacked arses. There was a French guy next to us, on his own, apart from his dog. The dog was a 6 month puppy which barked occasionally. No big deal and I don’t like dogs on campsites. Anyway the smacked arse couple complained to the management and he had to move to the far corner. Miserable gits😑

We met another French guy, absolutely barking mad. But in a good way, he shared with us the fact that as he was 70 something his “snake” was getting tired but listening to Whitney Houston helped😂

So the tourist stuff.
Slobbing by the pool, which we have all to our selves at times. Eating and drinking too much and doing the tourist stuff in Marrakech.
Eating Moroccan street food in the central square. Fun and reasonably tasty but nothing compared to Asian street food.
Wandering around the Souk until the hassle gets too much. Marie makes the mistake of engaging with some of them. I just nod, smile and say non merci, if I’m going to be a miserable ignorant person I figure it’s best if they think I’m French🤔
Back into Marrakech this morning for breakfast, which is ridiculously huge, all for about £2.50 each. A horse and carriage ride (We really are in full on tourist mode) manage to haggle it down from 600Dh to 250Dh. Who knows if this is the right amount  but it’s OK. Some of it interesting/Fun some weird, why take us around the hotel district to point out different chain hotels!?
Had a shave and a haircut, this has turned into some sort of tradition now, I’ve had them in multiple places. Portugal was the best and most professional, Thailand the most fun.
Lunch at Marrakech Henna Art Cafe. Owned by an American woman who came on holiday here 3 years ago and stayed. It supports a local charity and I can really recommend it. It’s down a side street of the main square. 5 minutes or 2 hours depending on how easily accosted you are. Having said that even though we’re only a few hundred metres away from the main square it feels like a completely different city. No hard sell hassle nonsense.

Off to Essouria tomorrow.