Category Archives: Morocco

Week 14 – El Jadida to Ceuta – leaving Morocco

The cisterns at El Jadida

This week – our last week in Morocco – we drove the 500 mile journey from Essaouira to the Spanish border at Ceuta.

In the coming weeks, we have a couple of deadlines looming – a van service and tyre change appointment near Carcassonne and a ferry booking to Sicily – so we didn’t have time to get too diverted from pretty much a straight route up the coast and then eastwards to the border.

There was time though to stop off at El Jadida and see the cisterns where Orson Welles filmed ‘Othello’. We also spent a day and night at the fishing village of Moulay Bousselham, one place we’ve definitely decided is on the list for a return visit some day.

We finally crossed back into Ceuta on 30 December. It was a bit crazy at the border when we got there but nothing like it would be a couple of days later when hundreds of migrants made a mass attempt to scale the fence into Spain.

And the highlights of this week were:



Yes, just the experience of driving in Morocco is a highlight. Stuart who is doing all the driving Pink Tasks or Blue Tasks – division of labour VW-style is really going to miss Moroccan roads.


He has loved the feeling of being in constant jeopardy and the 100% total concentration required at all times.


It’s not that the roads are particularly dangerous, at least in our experience. In the six weeks we’ve travelled in Morocco, we saw just two crashes.  But the near misses, well that’s a different number.


Like this one, for example. We were stuck behind the truck pictured above and couldn’t find a safe place to overtake. So we bided our time and stayed behind him, checking out the Che Guevara illustration on the back and wondering who the one in the stetson was. But then the car behind us decided he was going for it and would take us both at once.


That’s right – he picked his moment just as the truck was coming to a blind bend. We held our breath and watched him, hoping that we wouldn’t see carnage when rounded the corner. We should have had more faith. He was long gone by the time we got there, still holding our cautious position behind Che.


And while Stuart’s focus was fully on the roads, dodging the massive pot holes and the road works that led to diversions with little warning, there’s been plenty to see from the passenger seat..


…cattle herding along the road side


..with the occasional stray


…sheep crossing


…or grazing on the roundabout.


That’s not to say being a passenger was always completely relaxing. Sitting on the left in a right hand drive van facing oncoming traffic driving straight at me – a motorhomer we met called it the ‘suicide seat’ – I’ve felt discomfitingly close to the action.

My adopted strategy when seeing  another Mercedes van with a herd of cattle, sheep or goats on the roof rack hurtling directly towards me was to close my eyes and engage those muscles first discovered at ante-natal classes. After six weeks in Morocco, my core is in excellent shape which is nice.

If there have been any disputes between passenger and driver (other than the daily navigational spats of course), they occurred on the single track tarmac desert roads which were about a car and a half’s width, so only room for one vehicle at a time.

At the edge of the tarmac, there would usually be a six inch drop to rough gravel. “He can move over in his great big 4×4. I’m not putting my van into that”, Stuart would moan while engaging in a game of chicken with every oncoming vehicle.

‘I’m not moving, I’m not moving…’ Stuart in full ‘playing chicken’ mode

Notwithstanding the reference to ‘my’ van, my response as I watched the oncoming truck loom ever closer was: MOVE THE HELL OVER – WE’RE THE FOREIGNERS HERE”  Believe me it had to be said in capital letters to get Stuart off road despite the possible consequences to the suspension of our van.

Overall though, the best time driving in Morocco was when we were going through small towns and villages. They were always so busy with people, selling and buying, eating, drinking coffee, gossiping….all so alive with activity and so completely different from the quiet Spanish and Portuguese towns we’d driven through where it was rush hour if we saw two people on the street at the same time.



And the selling continued outside the towns. On country roadsides we would pass women selling dates or argan oil or mussels. Sometimes we’d stop out of curiosity to see what was on offer today.


And here, we stopped to have a look at this olive pressing operation.


We pulled up, dropped in for a quick look…


…and bought a couple of bottles for the van stocks.


Finally, it was truly striking the number of  times we came across a police checkpoint – usually outside every town but sometimes in the most remote of locations (as when we were fined for speeding in the Atlas Mountains Week 9 – Morocco – Ceuta to Midelt in the Middle Atlas

The second time we were pulled over for apparently speeding, the police officer led Stuart to the squad car with the polite words ‘Sir, come with me please. You have to pay for your mistake’.

Stuart, now battle hardened, immediately asked to see the speed camera and for a receipt. The police officer reflected on the request and decided there would be no fine today.


El Jadida –

The Atlantic coast town of El Jadida is on the tourist trail for these cisterns…


They were used as the atmospheric backdrop for Orson Welles ‘Othello’  and are incredibly photogenic. So that wasn’t the day to visit with no memory card in the camera…still my phone did OK on the happy snap front.



The fishing village of Moulay Bousselham:

We got to the village of Moulay Bousselham at sunset and watched as flocks of black birds and white birds gathered together on the sand bank before roosting for the night.


I expect if Paul McCartney turned up, he’d have been inspired to knock out a tuneful little number before teatime.

Next day as we watched the fishing boats unload their catches.


…we met Hassan who is the local expert on the bird life of the area.


He told us proudly he is mentioned in the Lonely Planet and Rough Guide to Morocco and so gets calls directly from the UK from tourists who want to go out in his boat for a bird watching tour.

Hassan told us the sunset scene was a nightly occurrence and, unusually for two different species, the jackdaws and egrets were friends and would meet every evening on the sandbanks to chat, then when the sun went down would fly off to the nearby forest where they roost together.

Great isn’t it? Plenty there to get Paul’s creative juices flowing. Would have been much better than piano keys.


Like the scenes at Essaouira port, the fishing business here is serious stuff.

Hassan told us the boats go out in pairs so, in the absence of life jackets, they can help each other if one boat gets into difficulty. He told us a couple of months back one boat had been damaged by the waves. The fisherman was rescued but the boat sank. Without equipment to salvage it and no insurance, the fisherman had now left the village. “He’s gone I don’t know where – Portugal I think”.

‘Yeah Hassan, all very interesting, but let me tell you about my was this big.”

If we had more time we would have taken a boat trip with Hassan – he is definitely the reason to return to Moulay Bousselham. (If you get there before us, his telephone number is 00 21 2668434110 )

Stuart is also sorry we didn’t have longer in Moulay Bousselham or he would have bought and cooked up some of the wriggling eels poured out in a heap at his feet by the young lad who called to the van selling them. I’m very, very glad I missed his visit.  That’s a bit too much local colour for my blood.

Leaving Morocco –

The final leg of our journey out of Morocco took past Casablanca…evocative in name but not so enticing we wanted to stop…


..and over the King Mohammed VI bridge by-passing Rabat.


We stayed the night in Martil, back in the same campsite we’d stayed in on our first night, and in preparation for our journey across the border from Morocco to Spain the next day, Stuart took all the stuff sacks stored on the van roof and emptied them to check we knew everything inside them.

We didn’t want any surprises when it came to a van search at the Spanish border into Ceuta. When it came to our turn, the search was carried out by a very cuddly, inoffensive looking cocker spaniel who was led into the back of the van by a Guardia Civil officer, padded over our bedding and bags carrying out a brisk sniff test.


Six weeks ago when we were coming through the border into Morocco, we gratefully took assistance from a tout who helped us with the paperwork.

Inching towards the border, we had a different guy make increasingly insistent offers to help us with the forms – telling us in part English/part Spanish/part French that it was very, very important we pay him 10 euro so he  could get us though the border ‘vite’.

We declined. We were in no hurry to leave Morocco. Why would we be? It’s been great.

Week 13 – Christmas in Essaouira


This week we swapped van life for the luxury of an airbnb riad in Essaouira. It was Christmas after all.

My three children Ciara, Conor and Regan flew in on the Easyjet Luton flight to join us for the week and together we managed to get through most of the ‘Must Do’ list of any committed tourist visiting the town. Except the camel ride on the beach…that didn’t quite work out as planned. Nor did we get to a gnaoua music concert – that’s the local Saharan/Arab/Berber blend of music which features in an annual festival in the Essaouira every June. Maybe I will just have to buy the album ‘Gnaoua that’s what I call music’. (Sorry – had to get that one out of the way).

And we also made it to Marrakech for a day with Hicham, our friend from Zagora, as our guide. Stuart stayed behind and spent a fascinating few hours people watching at the port. His photos from the day ( like the one of the pensive fisherman above) are pretty special as you can see further below.

And the highlights of the week were:

Living in the Medina:

Our riad was in the heart of the walled medina, not accessible by cars. Asma who lives next door and looks after the house for the owner led us there through the narrow maze of streets. By day, the medina was a busy, bustling place. By night, until they got used to it, I think my three were a little fazed…


….but wifi turned on their life support machine (Facebook, Snapchat, Spotify in no particular order) so all was right with the world and we were set to tackle the tourist trail.



We went  quad biking along the beach and over the dunes which was good fun though…


… the litter on large parts of the beach was pretty shocking.


On another day we went to a hamman for a full scrub down and massage….sorry I’m afraid there are no photos of that one.

We explored the medina and watched as some of the buildings were demolished…


…and enjoyed the graffiti. This one gives a feminist twist to the berber symbol for a free man.



And we were all definitely up for a camel ride along the beach.

Well who wouldn’t want to spend an hour with this cheerful soul?


We met Khalid and he introduced us to his camels but we weren’t ready. ‘Maybe tomorrow”, I said. (Those were my exact words M’lud – no contractual certainty there at all).


But then a bit later we met Yasin. He offered a cut price for four of us to take an hour long excursion along the beach to the castle made in the sand he said inspired Jimi Hendrix to write the song called – guess what – “Castles Made Of Sand”.  The deal concluded, we agreed to meet him the next day on the beach.

But it didn’t go to plan. Regan was already on Yasin’s camel ready for the off and we were still choosing our mounts when Khalid turned up. He wasn’t happy we were going with a rival and made a vigorous argument that we had agreed a deal with him. He called in support for his cause, was joined by some mates and next thing we were caught in the middle of a heated and very, very angry shouting match with Regan caught in the middle. One guy was pulling her camel to the ground, the other was yanking the poor animal back to his feet.


Our offer to compromise and take two camels each was not good enough – this was a straight stand off between the two men and neither would back down. When Regan was finally able to dismount the camel, we left telling both sides we would now be walking.

And so we never got our camel ride and never saw the castle – unless that rock below happens to be it.


But turns out neither did Jimi as he wrote the song two years before he ever came to Essaouira.



All on board for Marrakech:

When we met Hicham in Zagora – he’s the one who took Stuart fishing in the Sahara Week 11 – M’hamid and the desert road to Amtoudi – I mentioned my plan to take a day trip to Marrakech over Christmas. He offered to travel up and be our guide to the city. I’d been a few years back – it’s a big, crazy city and didn’t really fancy doing the trip without some local knowledge so it was great to have him with us.

We went first to the beautiful Jardins Marjorelle restored by Yves St Laurent.




Then had mint tea on the terrace overlooking El Fna square. dsc_2188

Hicham took us to the restaurant in the market where his family goes. We had cous cous…



..and tagine.


Then it was back to the square to watch dancing…




…and acrobatics…


…and see the food stalls setting up. The one selling snail soup was already up and running…



…but it’s not to everyone’s taste.


 Christmas Day:

It’s not quite decking the halls with boughs of holly but it was the best I could get at Essaouira’s Carrefour.


And as for the Christmas dinner, two chickens took the place of the turkey but the experience of buying them was novel. We went to the market and picked them out of the small flock huddled in a pen in the butcher’s shop. I’m afraid I balked at this bit but Stuart and Conor watched as the butcher held the chicken between his legs. He held the head with one hand. With the other, he drew a sharp knife across its throat.

A surprisingly small amount of blood drained to the floor. He then used a fiercely efficient rotary machine to pluck the feathers before chopping off its head and legs, gutting it and handed it to us. From clucking and pecking birds to ready-to-roast in a matter of minutes.

I think this is the point where I should say that it is a good thing that we see where our food comes from. I think Stuart and Conor felt that way. Actually I’m good with the notion that chicken comes nicely wrapped in cling film, ideally with a handy sachet of tasty sauce.



From the heart:

And here’s a memory I will take with me from Morocco. It’s a particular gesture Hicham did it as our coach pulled into the bus station at Marrakech where he had arranged to meet us. When he first saw us, he smiled and at the same time placed his right hand over his heart.

We saw it again on Christmas morning, We were up on the riad’s roof terrace where we would spend part of most days, enjoying the sunshine, listening to the call to prayer and usually watching two lads across on another terrace as they tended to their pigeons.


We would hear the sound of four short whistles and learnt this was the boy’s signal to the pigeons that he was going to open the coop door and it was their exercise time.



On Christmas Day, we were back on the roof.  The young pigeon trainer heard us and looked over to watch as we exchanged gifts.



Then there it was again – the same gesture as Hicham’s – he gave us a big smile as he placed his right hand across his heart.

I like to think our young pigeon trainer was acknowledging our tradition and wishing us a ‘happy Christmas’. Or maybe he just liked Conor’s new jellaba from Marrakech.

Whatever he meant by it, it was a lovely shared moment across the rooftops of Essaouira.



 Sardines- a serious business

posted by Stuart


Spending some time around the people working in the port of Essaouira I was struck by the intensity of the whole business.



The expressions on their faces as the sardines were moved from the boats and through the dockside showed the importance of these tiny fish.

They provide income to those who work at the port but also to so many locals hovering around the edges looking for their share.



As the crates are being lifted from the holds of the larger fishing boats, a pecking order became apparent. The captain is in charge but the fish were being sold, mainly to the same man, whilst still on the boat, with money changing hands very rapidly.


Much of this is then loaded into vans to leave the harbour but a number of crates are sold to individuals who then wheel them to off to sell from small tables around the harbour or in the medina.



At each stage, a number of those less fortunate take advantage of fish falling from the crates as they are moved around or indeed they help themselves as each crate passes close to them.


There are a number of ladies who collect these one or two at a time and then re-sell them further around the harbour.


Seemingly following an unwritten rule of sharing, none of the fishermen complains.

And then when the day’s business is done, it’s time to relax….





For others, there’s no rest from the task of watching for easy pickings.



And finally…

Our trip is taking us from Morocco to Iceland and we’ve a sticker on the back of the van that says just that.

As we were packing up the van to leave Essaouira, our friend below passed by and hailed Stuart who was on the roof of the van. ‘What’s this about?’ he asked pointing to the sticker.

We thought he was showing a friendly interest but it was more than that. He was tickled by the remarkable coincidence that he and his wife and children have just travelled to Morocco from Iceland. He’s Moroccan. She’s Icelandic and they had just arrived after making the trip in their campervan in just 40 days – a tad quicker than us.

That’s him taking down our details. Hello! It was great to meet you and hopefully we will hear from you.


Christmas is over, Ciara, Conor and Regan are back in slightly and we are looking forward to when Stuart’s two Callum and Mary join us en route in the coming months.

Our road trip starts again next week…


Week 12 – the Amtoudi agadir to Agadir and on to Essaouira



This week we climbed the steep mountain track to see the oldest agadir or granary in Morocco then started the journey northwards to get to Essaouira in time for Christmas. We stopped off at a campsite near Agadir – the well known mass tourism beach resort – and met a very different kind of traveller  to Morocco. They are the ‘snowbirds’ who come here from the colder climates of Northern Europe to sit out the winter and save the pension money otherwise spent on heating bills.

And – much to our delight – we actually saw the famed ‘goat trees’…see pics below.

The Agadir at Amtoudi –

‘Vous-voulez un guide?’ It’s a frequent question in Morocco and we’ve now become adept at the polite but firm refusal. But sometimes it is well worth the dirhams to have someone lead you to the sights.

At Amtoudi, Abdullah led us on a very special tour. dsc_4009-2

It was to the 12th century agadir on the summit of this rocky peak. It’s a fortified granary where centuries ago Berber tribes would retreat to protect themselves, their livestock and their grain from invading tribes.


Apparently it is the oldest and best preserved agadir in North Africa.




We followed Abdullah up the steep path to the top.


The homemade cement on the roof of the buildings – a modern addition – was sort of Christmassy.


These carved out bee hives were impressive.




And from the top, there was a great view of the vegetable gardens of the village of Amtoudi.


It was a fantastic tour though Abdullah could probably see we were slightly underwhelmed by the grand finale when he took us a short drive away and across a desert track to see these engravings…


We gathered from him that they were really, really old, practically prehistoric….thing is they looked as if they’d been helped along with a recent touch up.

The Blue Rocks at Tafroute:

We had heard about the blue rocks at Tafroute in the Anti-Atlas mountains. They were painted by Belgian artist Jean Verame in 1984. He had the king’s permission for the open air art work which apparently involved many tonnes of paint and the assistance of the local fire brigade.

Our journey to see them took us through mountains of red earth…



…which were polka-dotted with trees.


The terracing was impressive.


Then as we came closer to Tafroute, the landscape was like you’d imagine the landscape of a strange planet – it was filled with enormous boulders. Some appeared to hang perilously over houses.


Did Henry Moore ever come to Morocco?


Finally, we reached the dirt track where some of the rocks were blue.


There was already a camper there ahead of us – two young French travellers, one cooking lunch, the other playing his guitar. It was all very peaceful.


After more than 30 years under the Moroccan sun, the blue paint on the rocks is looking a little faded and the graffiti artists have added their signature touch.


Still it was a relaxing place to sit for a few hours, listening to the distant strains of the guitar-strumming Frenchman, hurling pieces of biscuit in a trail closer and closer to our van…


…to try to win the trust of this poor skinny, stray, suspicious dog hanging around the rocks.

Legzira Beach

After what felt like a long time in the desert, we finally reached the coast. We had a typical Moroccan breakfast at Legzira Beach – coffee, freshly squeezed orange juice, fresh bread with a choice of honey, olive oil, cheese and a runny type of peanut butter. Then came the crepes.


Then we went down the beach to see the one arch standing. And please don’t mock the cautious act of jogging through it lest it fall on my head… the partner archway actually crumbled to a heap of rubble just a few months back, destroying part of the area’s main tourist attractions in one unexpected crash. (


Joining us on the beach were the Berber ladies collecting mussels which they smoked by the roadside and sell to passing travellers.

We were flagged down by a couple of them as we drove closer to the beach. The haggling to buy a bag of mussels for 35 dirhams (about 3.50 euros) was good natured and cheerful – one of them cheekily pulled back the brightly covered veil half covering her face to pop one of the mussels in her mouth to prove they were ready-cooked and edible. But no photos allowed alas.



In Agadir  we meet the snowbirds

We’ve met some interesting people on our trip so far. There was the French couple who had been travelling in a campervan around Morocco for a few weeks but were about to move permanently with their two young children to Auraville in India (it sounds like a cult) or the German couple travelling in their self-converted troop carrier truck who were heading to Mauritania or and the young English brother and sister who were over on a short holiday but impressed with their bravado in couch surfing and hitch hiking their way around Morocco.

But this week we met a totally different type of traveller – the snowbirds or pensioners who fly south from Northern Europe and sit out the winter in their camper vans in warmer climes.


Camping Atlantica Parc, close to Agadir, is one of the most popular snowbird destinations. When we stayed for one night on our way to Essaouira, there were nearly 700 vans already there. About 13 of the campers were Brits we were told – the rest were French.


It’s like a little self-contained ex-pat town. The campsite organises entertainment like this flea market in full swing during our stay…




…and even helps the guests get round the 3-month stay limit in Morocco by helping sort the ‘prolongation’ paperwork so the snowbirds can stay the full 6 months on site.

Just about hearing him above the din of Europop music blasting out round the flea market, we spoke to one 76-year old Brit who told us he and his wife have been coming to the campsite for a few years now. ‘We have six months at home in the summer with our children and grandchildren, then come here to sit out the winter, Face Time our children who prefer that we are doing something rather than rotting at home. Why not?”

This week was also eating words time:

On the road we had some sugary snacks to eat – this paper cone of covered peanuts bought from a stall.


But nice and all as it was, we were still hungry. So we pulled up for lunch in Tamanar.


And ordered lunch. The choice was tagine…or tagine…or, em, tagine.


We were serenaded by sound of Irish music…turns out it was a traditional Berber tune…


..but it sounded like something that wouldn’t have been out of place at the traditional Irish music festival we went to this summer. in Feakle, Co. Clare.

And here comes lunch…


…and it was absolutely delicious, the meat (we think goat) falling off the fork it was so tender. Scrap last week’s post, tagine is delicious and could, in fact, be the menu de jour tous les jours bonnet de douche n’est ce pas innit. And most definitely, tastier than next door.


New friends –

On the road from Zagora to Foum Zguid, we stopped just beyond a small village to take some happy snaps of the area. Within minutes, Stuart had made a bunch of new friends.



Then some of them took turns with his camera to take pictures of him with his new mates. Then it switched to selfies with him on their smartphones….he might have gone viral somewhere in the Western Sahara by now.


And I met some lovely women at Amtoudi …their babies are very little, one is 10 months. The shy toddler is two.


Mine…now safely here in Essaouira for Christmas are a little bigger.

Regan, Ciara and Conor on the beach at Essaouira
Regan, Ciara and Conor on the beach at Essaouira

And finally, it’s Christmas….

And that means it is time to pay a guardian 210 dirham to watch over the van  while it sits alone in a vast car park outside the walls of the medina in Essaouira for the week.

Meanwhile, we will be enjoying a week of the luxury that comes with not having to build your bed every night. We are airbnb-ing it in a riad …so catch up next week inshallah and have a wonderful Christmas all.

Love Helen & Stuart

PS – we saw the famed goat trees!!!

Just outside Essaouira, there were fields of argan trees and where there are argan trees, there are goats because they just love argan tree fruit and leaves.


They really like them…


dsc_2101and will go to any lengths – heights – to eat them.


Week 11 – M’hamid and the desert road to Amtoudi


This week we  enjoyed midnight at the oasis when we spent three days relaxing in M’hamid then took a long, long road trip across the desert taking us within 30 miles or so of the Algerian border.

Stuart continued his quest to try catch a fish in every country and, oh yes, we reached peak tagine. That surely must be a point every traveller to Morocco reaches at some stage. We reached it at about three weeks in. I think we did pretty well.

And the highlights this week were:



Salmon Fishing in the Yemen Sahara

Posted by Stuart

The Draa Valley is famous for its palmeries and dates but as we made our way to Agdz and then onwards to Zagora I was surprised to be following a wide and beautifully flowing river down the valley. It looked perfect for casting a fly.

Talking with Hicham, our host at the campsite, he said he was also a keen fisherman and he offered to take us fishing although it wasn’t entirely clear whether there were any fish in the river or if there were, whether he had ever caught any of them.


A 20 minute walk took us through the palmerie and out across the dried up river bed. Finally there it was- hidden in a hollow surrounded by tamarisk bushes, flowing swiftly and looking great for fishing.

Unfortunately it was the colour and consistency of hot chocolate. How the women washing clothes upstream got their whites whiter than white was a mystery and whatever fish were in here would need impressive eyesight if they were to see my flies.


The moment arrived and casting a fly in a Saharan river was a great if slightly surreal experience. If the water had been clearer then, who knows, maybe a fish would have shown interest in the various flies I tried but it was a great afternoon anyway.

Fly fishing in the Sahara- they should make a film about that.


(The Draa River used to run 680 miles through Morocco to Algeria and then west across the Sahara to the Atlantic. It would appear that, unless there are huge floods not much water gets out of Morocco any more, having been used by those living in the Draa Valley.)

So no fish for dinner but Hicham cooked this magnificent tagine for us- great hospitality.


Three days at the M’hamid Oasis

We checked the weather forecast and the sunniest place in Morocco this week where we could relax for a few days was in M’hamid – an oasis in the Sahara. On the map, it’s where the road network ends and beyond is Sahara desert accessible only by camel or quart quart as we heard 4 x 4’s called.

En route, we stopped for coffee in the small town of Tagounite. A motorbike pulled up and a leather-clad biker dismounted and sat at the next table. We exchanged greetings – the biker was Martine, a French woman who has been living in the area for the past two years.



I showed her the address of the campsite in M’hamid we were aiming for. ‘Follow me – they’re friends of mine’ she said and so we trailed after her for the next 20 km and into the entrance of Hamada Du Draa camping.

Following Martine into the campsite

It was Hassan’s site.


He gave us a very warm welcome and we were happy to accept the offer of tea – more Berber whiskey –  though not his repeated repeated invitations to take a trip to the desert, see the dunes at Erg Chegaga and spend a night in a nomad’s tent. It’s what most travellers do when they come to M’hamid and while it would have been great I’m sure, we felt we’d already experienced the best of the Sahara at Erg Chebbi Week 10 – Morocco’s Sahara Desert, the Gorges and Atlas Film Studios.

We just wanted to do very little other than enjoy the sunshine. Most of the time we had the place to ourselves with the silence of the great Saharan expanse broken only by the excited chatter of 40 King’s University London students. Ok – that was just one one of the night’s when the group of geography students descended on the site as a stopover a trek to the desert.

You don’t see a Brit for ages, then 40 come along at once.

We spent our few days in M’hamid taking walks beyond the palmerie…



….and in the little town, we joined the local men (always only the men) and sipped milky coffee in cafes and watched the world go by. Inside one, the locals were engrossed in the Leicester City v Manchester City game.




So where are the Moroccan women while their men drink coffee? Though sitting on the cafe terrace, we did see some groups of women, clad head to toe in beautifully colourful djellabas and headscarves, pass by as they returned from the mosque, in this rural town the street is still very much an all male domain.



We did some food shopping and we definitely had to try this local speciality…


And here are the camel milk tasting notes.

Smells like milk that’s slightly on the turn…


…tastes like milk that’s slightly on the turn.



Eh, that’s it.


So after a hot milky drink, what next? We watched the camels being put to bed…


…and went back for  the campsite in time for midnight at the oasis. (Do join in if you know the words….)


And our time chilling out at M’hamid in the sunshine gave us time to rethink the route of our trip over the next 10 months.  When  the world looks so good in sunlight, why not stay in the sun?

So we’ve scrapped our original plan to get to Greece for Easter by travelling through northern Italy and down through Croatia. Our new plan is get to the Peloponnese by island hopping from Corsica to Sardinia to Sicily.

But more of that later.

 Visiting the Ksar of Aït-Ben-Haddou:

Up to now, we’ve been spoilt by having virtually every ‘sight’ we’ve seen in Morocco to ourselves. It was a different story at this ksar or fortified village which fans of Game of Thrones will recognise.

Ait-Ben- Haddou was absolutely heaving with other tourists, all on coaches down from Marrakech.



We joined them in picking a trail across the river by stepping stones to get to it.  Immediately we were greeted by Fahid – he is a member of one of the eight or so families still living within the ksar despite the fact it has no electricity.

We agreed a price and set off with him as our guide.


He showed us where Gladiator was filmed.


And showed us the agadir where they stored grain and the ancient streets….and oh yes, the luxury hotel bedrooms.



So that was a surprise …we had a peek into one of the four bedrooms and it was fabulous, decorated in luxury, traditional style with ….well have a look on where a night’s b+b at the Kasbah Tebi is going for 59 quid.

The reviews about the place wax lyrical about the experience of staying overnight where there is no electricity, only candlelight, and how superb the tagine was, the best in Morocco…..aaargh no! Did I mention we’d hit peak tagine? I’m afraid so. Delicious and all as it is, you can have too much of a good thing we’ve decided.

As the Moroccan way of cooking cous cous involves a two-hour process of steaming so all the meat and vegetable flavours are absorbed, the quickest dish to prepare and hence the most often offered to us is tagine.

And the thing is, we’ve now had rather a lot of them, including in this week alone at Hicham’s (as above) and at the Foum Zzuid campsite in the middle of nowhere where Rachid delivered it to our van.



From now on, it’s campervan cooking time, starting with this one….

Pasta sort of puttanesca – recipe to appear in my new cookbook ‘What to eat when you really and I mean really can’t face another tagine”. (Most leading bookstores)

Desert road trip

This was the week when we took our longest road trip, heading across the desert from Zagora to Amtoudi, within 30 miles of the Algerian border in some places.

Morocco’s changing scenery continued to astonish us, with its high snow capped mountains in the distance…


…and sand coloured slopes nearer at hand…


Stopping off to take photos, we were offered little woven baskets of dates. ‘From the palmerai down there’, he told us, pointing to the gorge. We pretended not to see the cardboard boxes they were packaged in originally.




The road stretched out ahead of us. In four hours we passed about four other cars and very few people…


…we drove by the occasional shepherd.



… and watched out for crossing camels…


dsc_1716….or more surprisingly, this sign. From where? we wondered. There was no sign of a village anywhere in the vast stretches of desert.


But then we’d come across a family travelling by cart on the same road.


Or we’d see the tyre by the roadside, a sign we soon learnt was the desert equivalent of a gatepost. Follow the track leading from it and you’d eventually get to a house.


And stopping for a cup of tea, we met Abdullah. He’d come from a nearby village and wanted to get to the  nearest town to go to the mosque. We were delighted to oblige.




Bird of the week –

It’s almost Christmassy don’t you think this tree of roosting egrets, captured at our campsite in Tata?




And finally, unfortunate news….

Stuart’s nomination for Wildlife Photographer of the Year is in jeopardy as the judges discover he never gets out of  his van.

Stuart – maintaining a safe distance.


…but luckily this snap of him shopping in the Western Saharan town of Akka means he’s still a contender for  ‘most unlikely product placement’  for Irish supermarket chain Supervalu.



Now this is a photo which can only be viewed by those of a robust disposition.

It’s most definitely not one to view if you are reading this while eating a sandwich at your desk.


Ok – here it is. The fly paper in our van after a few days in the Sahara. Disgusting n’est ce pas? (Our pidgin French is coming on wonderfully here in Maroc.)


Week 10 – Morocco’s Sahara Desert, the Gorges and Atlas Film Studios


This week we travelled south to Erg Chebbi to see desert landscape straight out of  the Arabian Nights, complete with huge golden sand dunes, palm trees, camels and nomads.

Heading north again we drove through the spectacular Todra and Dades gorges. Then it was time for Hollywood-style make believe, or Wadi-wood as our pun-loving guide dubbed the Atlas Film Studios in  Ouarzazate where we followed the trail of screen greats like Sir Ben Kingsley, Michael Douglas and, eh, Jeremy Clarkson.

And the highlights this week:

The Desert at Erg Chebbi:

Erg Chebbi is the yellow bit (ringed in red) near the border with Algeria. The orange line marks the route we drove to get there.


We were staying at the Kasbah Tombouctou in Merzouga – not actually in this luxury hotel – but parked round the back facing the dunes where we watched the camels being led back from desert treks.


And we sheltered from the Sahara sun in the shade of the palm trees…


There was just one other van there – it was the first one we’d seen from the UK since Chefcheoun. Since then we’ve either been the only ones in the campsite or there have been one or two German motorhomes. A French travel agent based in the desert told us her compatriots – usually the biggest tourist market for Morocco – have stayed away this year. “They have how do you say ‘peur’,” she told us.


We introduced ourselves to its owners  Gill and Chris who are also on a big motorhome adventure and are blogging about it at

We had a coffee, joined them for dinner that night and agreed to pair up  for a 1,500 dirham 4×4 journey into the Sahara.


Going by camel would be too uncomfortable we decided. But the 4×4 wasn’t exactly a smooth ride.



Our driver glided and swooped and swerved over what looked and felt like a sea of golden waves and alarmingly steep sandy breakers. We’ve filmed it on a Go Pro camera – except we haven’t yet worked out how to upload it to this blog. That treat awaits.


It was initially thrilling….then CRASH. Our jeep had powered up the steep side of a dune but our driver hadn’t anticipated the sheer drop on the other side. The back wheels slammed down into the sand jolting the three of us into the back seat up against the roof.

In the shocked silence that followed, we gingerly felt whether we’d suffered any damage and our driver was shaken enough by the incident to pull up and untangle the knotted  – and so far unused  – seat belts. Safely strapped up we set off again to explore the amazing dunes of Erg Chebbi at a more sedate pace.


We stopped for tea at one of the desert camps where you can stay overnight for a sleepover with the nomads.


And we set back for camp to the light of a Saharan sunset.


Of course, we had to take the mandatory sunset selfie complete with rictus grins.



Meeting people:

We’ve met some great people this week  – locals and fellow travellers.

Just outside Ar Rachidia, we stayed at the Camping Source Bleue de Meski which is nestled in a palmerai. It was a very tranquil setting.


On the campsite grounds which is part of a local co-op, we could see the Berber women each day arriving to do their laundry in the spring waters which flowed through the palmerai.


Mohammed – who runs one of the shops in the co-op within the campsite – looked after us very well as he did the other travellers.

He invited us each day for tea – Berber whiskey he called it – and to his house for tagine on two of the nights we stayed. (To see how he made it, check out the photos on the blog’s Campervan Cooking/Food and Beer On The Road page).


And each evening he gathered camp guests round the fire to chat. While we are just about able to make ourselves understood in Morocco with our school French, he chatted with everyone while switching easily between English, French, Spanish and Geman.


And after the food, around the fire, there was music from Mohammed and Sofiane.


Cynics that we are, we kept waiting for the sales pitch from him. When it eventually came, in a subtle ‘would you like to see some crafts made by my sister?’, we had already resolved that we were going to buy a rug for the van  from him to repay the fantastic hospitality.

And so the negotiations began. It was a two day affair and in the tradition of Moroccan haggling involved outrageous opening bids from both sides. There followed a series of  further ridiculous counter offers and then – having seen me earlier in the day knitting  (actually it was unpicking stitches ), a shameless attempt at flattery. Surely I – also a craftswoman – should know and understand very well  the many hours of delicate work which went into such rugs, he implored.

Softened by this comparison between my botched intarsia (the new knitting term I’ve learnt on this trip) and the fine, silken stitches of Berber maidens, we reached a deal.


And here it is:


One new rug for Molly in return for a certain number of dirhams + a bottle of Single Malt Whisky which had been packed  specifically for bargaining purposes.

And no, we are not saying how much we paid for fear it will be met with cries of ‘You woz robbed!’. We’ve taken the view that in all transactions the real price is whatever we were happy to pay. That way we won’t suffer any angst over whether we could have bought it cheaper elsewhere.

The date seller – Near the village of Meski, we went for a walk through the palmerai where we were overtaken by sheep being herded back home.




Beyond the palms, where there was just rocky desert terrain, Hassan cycled up to us and invited us to see his house.


We bought some dates from him.


It was all done in smiles and gestures – our Berber is pretty atrocious.

The goatherd

On the way to the Todra gorge, we saw these black specks on the mountainside. We pulled over to have a proper look.




It was a huge flock of goats, being herded down the mountain path by a goatherd who used judiciously aimed stones and occasional high-pitched shrieks to keep his animals together and on the move.

Stuart aimed his camera and took a few shots. The goatherd saw and bounded down the mountain and across the river towards us. As he approached the van, we braced ourselves to be bawled out. But no, he walked towards us grinning broadly with his hand extended.

‘Dirhams?” he asked. Absolutely and damm right to ask Sir – we were very happy to pay him for his image and much relieved he wasn’t insulted by us snap happy tourists.


Before leaving, he pointed at Stuart’s shoes. He wanted them too. Stuart was having none of it. They cost him  forty quid on mail order from the Guardian and are his pride and joy.

A few more dirhams was given as substitute and so off he went back to his flock, hopefully satisfied with the transaction.


Hooray for Wadi-Wood:

“And see on my phone, this is Jeremy and James, they are standing right here in this spot and see, those are their tyre marks …”

We went to visit the Atlas Film Studios in Ouzarzate where our guide Fahid showed Stuart  You Tube footage from the new series of Top Gear – part of which was filmed on location at the studios.

It is the same Egyptian set used in a host of ancient world epics including Lawrence of Arabia, Gladiator, Game of Thrones and, according to Fahid,  about six films featuring Sir Ben Kingsley.

‘Oh Sir Ben was wonderful, just one or two takes necessary, then back to the bar for a beer…” he recalled fondly.



When the studios are being used for film production, Fahid’s day job is as cameraman. Otherwise he acts as guide to the tourists and he was very, very keen on encouraging cheesey poses. ‘Walk like an Egyptian’, he asked. I gave it my best shot.


‘Act like a pharaoh’, he said to Stuart. Typecasting again.



And just when you start believing you are back by the banks of the Nile, you see behind the scenes…


….aaah, the silver screen dream is shattered.

The Todra gorge and the Dades Gorge:

I think it was mentioned before in this blog that both Stuart and I are not too keen on heights. Well, the day we tackled the Todra Gorge and the Dades Gorge was in the nature of aversion therapy.

Steep climbs, hairpin bends, tiny barrier walls with campervan-shaped gaps in them…it was unnerving.






But the spectacular views and the strong coffee at this man’s cafe made it worthwhile.


And this was the week we also used our our wild camping shower for the first time:

Moroccan campsites have been a bit patchy so far.

Great with the hospitality – free bread delivered to the van door in the mornings in some cases – but some had truly terrible shower and toilet facilities. Either there was only a trickle of cold water or the guardian minding the shower wasn’t around to open it up (lucky for us as it turned out).

So it was time to unpack our portable shower kit Into The Wild (camp shower)and in the last week, it has more than paid for its passage and place in our limited storage space.

That’s Stuart in there…


…but not even the passing sheep can see him.


Eating out in Morocco:

The choice of dish offered to us in Morocco so far has been limited to either tagine or cous cous and two weeks in, we haven’t tired of either.

This lamb tagine served with prunes was particularly tasty. And you may note the bottle of red wine in the photo…while most of the places we’ve eaten in so far have not served any alcohol, this restaurant at the Timnay Inter-Cultural Complexe Touristique in Midelt did. Speaking for myself, I was quite pleased to see it on the menu.

That evening Stuart maintained a virtuous abstinence though has since been sampling Moroccan beers. Flag and Casablanca will be featuring in his Beer picture Gallery soon to be unveiled on the blog.


And here is the bird of the week and some random photos to finish …


A shrike - most likely - spotted on our walk near Meski
A shrike – most likely – spotted on our walk near Meski



Moroccan roads challenging? Pah! I can drive ’em with my eyes closed.


Transporting goats on the roof rack – a typical sight on the roads




Week 9 – Morocco – Ceuta to Midelt in the Middle Atlas

This week, our first in Morocco, has really felt like we are on an adventure. We travelled 500 miles south to Midelt on a route that took us up to 7,500 feet through the Middle Atlas mountains

And (voice chokes with pride),  Molly was fined for speeding. What a contrast to those tales of woe about whether our poor old van could actually make it up another mountain!

And the highlights of Morocco so far:

Actually getting here:

Following the trail and advice of other campervanners, we went to this travel agency tucked away on an industrial estate in Algeciras  and handed over 200 euro for an open return ferry ticket from Spain to Morocco.


We spent the night before our departure wild camping in a massive car park around the corner from the Algeciras branch of Lidl. There were a handful of other motorhomes already there (none from the UK) so it felt safe.

Next morning we made our way through Algeciras commuter traffic to the port.


To get to Morocco from Spain, the choice is to travel from Algeciras to either Tanger or Ceuta. We opted for Ceuta because the crossing is shorter – just 35 minutes – and we thought that it might be an easier introduction to Africa than the hustle and bustle of a big city like Tanger.

We weren’t long driving on port territory when  we met our first challenge. Two men stepped out on to the road in front of us and  gestured vigorously to pull into the lay-by.

Stuart weighed it up and kept on driving,  Neither of the men were in uniform. There was no official looking car in the lay-by. Presumably these were the guys referred to in the notice we’d seen at the agency warning about fraudsters who hang around the port, preying on vulnerable travellers. So what was their game if we had pulled over? A payment to be allowed move off or worse?

Then it was time to board and here was the next challenge. We were directed to reverse backwards onto the catamaran. Under pressure to keep moving, this was, of course, the perfect time to stall, at the top of the ramp with a battalion of Spanish police, also travelling to Ceuta, as our amused audience.


After a smooth crossing by comfortable catamaran we had arrived…in Spain. Ceuta is Spain’s Gibraltar and this small corner at the top of Africa is still Spanish territory.

We followed the signposts to the border with Morocco.



…and within 20 minutes had joined the queue of cars and stream of people waiting at customs to be let through the border.

As we edged slowly towards the passport control booth, Mohammed and his mate popped their heads through the van window. Had we filled in all the right forms? Could they check for us please?

First we were unsure whether they were working for customs and this was a triage operation to speed up movement over the border. They certainly seemed matey with the customs guys. But we had been warned to be on our guard for touts hanging around the frontier offering to help travellers with paperwork which was apparently quite straightforward.

Whatever, we decided we liked Mohammed and his mate. They were chatty and friendly and it was worth the handful of euros we paid them to help us navigate the green and white forms to get us and van painlessly over the border.

We were finally in Morocco, greeted at first by sunshine…



then the rain started…and didn’t stop for our first week.


And straightaway, it felt different. No longer were we driving through quiet villages like we’d seen in Spain and Portugal where we kept asking each other ‘where is everybody?’

Everywhere we passed was teeming.


On the roads which are generally good, bar the occasional surprise pot hole, there’s a continual stream of Mercedes trucks carrying improbable loads…the new ships of the desert we decided.


…and donkeys everywhere..


and plenty of sheep, always with their shepherd close by….


…and everywhere people walking along the roadsides…



…no matter how isolated the place like this road through the Middle Atlas mountains. There was always someone on the move.


And it was here making our way through the mountains that we were done for speeding. We had just passed through the snow barrier – lucky as it happened because we heard it closed a few hours later.


And rattling along the roads at 46 mph, we met the speed police. Turns out the limit was 38 mph so that was a 150 dirham fine for us (about 15 sterling).

Stuart paying his dues to the Moroccan police – as snapped through the rear view mirror.

And here are some of the places we visited in our first week:

The blue town of Chefchaouen:

We read that the old town of Chefchaouen was first painted blue back in the 15th century. The Jewish refugees who settled there after fleeing from the Spanish inquisition chose it to mirror the colour of the sky and remind them of the power of God.

The tradition lives on and as we drove towards the town, we could see the splashes of blue in the distance.

dsc_3284-2Up close, it is was pretty photogenic, even in the pouring rain.


dsc_3307-2But we were just minutes into the medina when I was persuaded by a friendly local that we should come see ‘his’ factory carpet shop outside the old town walls. I could feel Stuart’s eyes boring holes into my back as we followed our new friend away from the medina. How could I fall for this again?

The thing is we’d been through it all in Marrakesh a few years back. Then we had been engaged in conversation by an elderly teacher of Islam – as he told us – who led us to meet Tuareg tribesmen from the desert. They were in town ‘just that day’  to sell their wares, our new friend told us, but these so-called ‘blue men’  (because of their coloured robes) were too shy to go where the tourists went and stayed at the edge of town. He would bring us to them.

Of course, we jumped at this unique opportunity and could scarcely hide the smug expressions on our faces as we passed fellow tourists. Unlike them, we were off to see the ‘real’ Marrakesh.

Actually, no we weren’t. Our ‘blue man’ turned out to be the affluent owner of a very large carpet shop and the only link to Tuareg was the brand on his 4×4 jeep.  ‘Stitched up like a kipper’, Stuart breathed to me as we were led in for the ritual mint tea and a very lengthy sales pitch where there was only one certain conclusion. We would be leaving with some hefty purchases – two enormous bedspreads in that instance.


And despite this experience, just minutes into our walk round Chefcheouan,  I had unaccountably found myself agreeing to accompany our new friend to a carpet shop.

‘Relax Max’ the salesman said to Stuart who was looking seriously unamused at the prospect of sitting through a sales pitch. We’d no space in the van for any more stuff and at this early stage of our trip no appetite for accumulating souvenirs.

‘Don’t or no sale, we will keep smiling’, the salesman reassured us as he poured out the mint tea.


And he was true to his word…Stuart stuck steadfastly to the line ‘we’ve no space, maybe next time’ and when we eventually left empty-handed, they were still smiling.

Back in the medina, we stocked up on bread and cakes…

dsc_3298-2and oranges…



…and vegetables, though we couldn’t work out what the yellow ones on the left are. (Suggestions anyone?)


But first we had lunch…tagine with chicken piled high with caramelised onions.


The Medina in Meknes:

Idriss engaged us in conversation as soon as we ventured into the medina in the city of Meknes- a city of 350,000 people. But battle-scarred from our experience in Chefchaeoun, we made it clear from the off we didn’t have long in the town and all we wanted was lunch.


Idriss promised us he would bring us somewhere good. He led us through the narrow winding streets of the medina…

dsc_1204-2, to this cafe where we watched our lunch being prepared. It was lamb minced up with herbs, barbecued and sprinkled with cumin, paprika and chilli.




It was delicious.


And of course, after such a good meal, we felt honour-bound to accompany Idriss to ‘his family business’ – this silversmith’s shop where I did some Christmas shopping.



On the road to Meknes, we had stopped off to visit the Roman ruins at Volubilis. Only relatively recently excavated, it was once a Roman city the size of 80 football pitches.






We went to the town built by the French in the 1930’s as a hill-station for the colonial families living in Morocco during their protectorate from 1912-1955.

Curiously, while the French are long gone, the Moroccans have maintained the town’s ski resort style architecture. It was quite a bizarre place..





But it was where our bird of the week was spotted…perched on top of the restaurant chimney pot.



And the pastry shops were good.



And in our first week, we’ve seen dramatic changes in landscape:

We went to the cedar forests of Giroud near Azrou.


This is the oldest tree there – 700 years apparently.


The cedar forest is a popular place for Moroccan families (and us tourists) as it is the home for hundreds of macaque monkeys who all gather at the roadways in waiting to be fed.





And after leaving the cedar forests and Ifrane, we headed south. We drove past pastures…


and acres and acres of tilled fields…


up into the Middle Atlas mountains where at nearly 7,000 feet, the scenery was Alpine.






And once over the mountains, it wasn’t long before we were in desert landscape…




with the High Atlas mountains in the distance. That’s next week’s challenge.