Ouarzazate to Agadir…. .

The vicinity around Ouarzazate has played host to many a film.  Gladiator, The Last Temptation of Christ, Babel and Alexander the Great amongst others were filmed at Atlas Studios just outside Ouarzazate.  We are by no means film buffs as we hardly ever watch films or TV but we thought it would be a fun place to visit nonetheless.  Well maybe we missed the point but we were completely underwhelmed by the experience.

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Atlas Studios.

We found out later that we could have had a guided tour included in the price of the ticket but that wasn’t mentioned to us when we paid our eighty dirhams each to go in.  Maybe with a guide it might have been brought to life a bit more but after having visited so many ancient sites in Greece and other countries on our travels it was all a bit hammy.

P1160008.JPGI suppose that’s obvious as it’s the set of a film not the real thing but still I found it all a bit bizarre.

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Polystyrene!

You’re free to wander around the site and clamber all over the crumbling sets but in twenty five degree heat I really couldn’t sum up much enthusiasm.

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Some patching up would need to be done before this set could be used again.

The most interesting section for me was the stable area.  There were probably forty or so horses, a couple of donkeys and half a dozen camels there which are presumably used as extras in the films but I’m not sure what they have the opportunity to do in between films.  They all looked bored rigid in their individual stables made for one.  The stables were clean and they had plenty of protection from the heat and plenty of water but I couldn’t see anywhere around that indicated that they ever went out or were exercised at all as there were no paddocks, no hoof prints and no poo to be seen.

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Yeah, and?

After an hour mooching about the different sets we’d had enough and headed for Aït Ben Haddou where we’d get to see another popular film location but this time one which existed before films were even thought of.  The Kasbah of Aït Ben Haddou is one of the largest complexes of packed earth buildings in Morocco.  It’s now a UNESCO World Heritage site and has undergone some restoration.

DSC07522.JPGWe stayed at Kasbah du Jardin, a little campsite behind an Auberge which was a bit rough and ready but after a noisy night of drumming and singing put on for a tour group at the Municipal campsite in Ouarzazate the night before we were glad to have open views and a bit of peace and quiet.

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The campsite behind the Auberge.  There was an area for vans on both sides of the Auberge.  Where we were looked to be fairly newly opened.

Even though Aït Ben Haddou is very touristy we found it fascinating.  We spent a couple of hours early in the morning exploring all the little alleyways around the Kasbah before the bulk of visitors arrived.

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The view back to the campsite from the top of the old town.

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Looking back over the Kasbah.
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Away from the main alleyways we were free to wander around all sorts of nooks and crannies.

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Lawrence of Arabia was filmed here in the 60’s.

We’ve found that Morocco doesn’t really come to life until after about midday so the morning is a good time to explore as even the shopkeepers tend to leave you in peace.  Aït Ben Haddou was an exception though and we did have to politely refuse offers of ‘come, look, just look’ etc etc.

P1160059.JPGI did have quite a long conversation with one chap who invited us in to his shop and I learnt all about his children and what they were up to and his brothers and sisters but he really didn’t have anything I wanted to buy so I had to politely extricate myself before he got the teapot out.

DSC07524.JPGI paused to look at a little carpet with a picture of a camel woven into it just long enough for the shopkeeper to pounce on me.  The trouble was I really liked the little carpet with the picture of the camel woven into it.  It would be perfect in between the cab seats in the van.  Soooo, we started the game of the negotiations.  He started at 1200 dirhams (£100) but I’d already decided that I wasn’t going to pay more than 200 dirhams.  It can be a bit exhausting all this negotiating lark but I really didn’t want to budge on the top price I had in my head as we really didn’t necessarily need another carpet.  After ten minutes we were on our way back to the van for some lunch with the little carpet with the camel woven into it tucked under my arm.  He came down to 200 dirhams when he knew I was definitely going to walk away without it at any other price.  It’s looking more and more like our fitted carpets in the van are going to be thrown out before we leave Morocco.

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Laurence of Arabia – 21st Century style!

En route towards the coast on the N10 we had more carpet negotiations when we stopped in Tazenakht.  We only stopped to pick up some bread and some eggs but as it was market day, which is always fascinating anywhere in Morocco, we had a wander around for an hour or so.  Tazenakht, it turns out, is carpet city.  We had a short tour, in French, at one of the co-operatives after we were invited in.  I’m getting a bit more relaxed about taking up someone’s time now and not buying anything but you know as soon as a shopkeeper starts talking to you that they want you to buy something from them.  After twenty minutes of being shown around and learning a bit about the ladies from different tribes who make carpets etc etc we left empty handed this time.  As Tim always says to me ‘he invited us in, we don’t have to feel any obligation to buy anything, we didn’t ask to have a look’.  Tim has no trouble adhering to this but I find it a bit more difficult in practice!

The N10 from Ouarzazate to Agadir is about 340 kilometres.  The dry arid landscape from Ouarzazate gets greener the further west you travel.

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A goat blockade this time.
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On the N10 between Ouarzazate and Tazenakht.
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The rolling hills here look like they’ve had a giant rake run over them.

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That’s one way to transport mules I suppose.

From carpet land in Tazenakht we reached saffron land at Taliouine.

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Camping Toubkal just outside Taliouine.  Splendid views and a swimming pool big enough for a decent swim.

It is said the best saffron in Morocco is grown here.  Apart from a Saffron Co-operative there wasn’t much else in Taliouine.  We walked into the town on a Friday afternoon past the crumbling Kasbah. 

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The crumbling Kasbah outside Taliouine which is still partly lived in and has been converted into a guesthouse.

Nearly everything was closed but we really enjoyed wandering around the closed up souk to be able to take photos of all the little booths which burst into life on souk day. 

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The empty souk on a Friday afternoon in Taliouine

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The picture is just missing the tumble weed.

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Unusually it was two men doing the washing here.

West of Taliouine we encountered a steady increase in the amount of traffic on the road.

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One of the towns on the way to Taroudant.
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The arid landscape got a bit greener.

 It was definitely overload day.  Overloaded lorries.  Overloaded vans.  Overloaded tractors.  Overloaded motorcycles.  Overloaded bikes. Overloaded carts.  Overloaded donkeys and overloaded ladies.  We saw more overloaded forms of transport in one afternoon than we’d seen in the past two weeks. 

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P1160138.JPGOn the outskirts of nearly every town we drive through there is a police checkpoint where you need to slow down and stop if asked to by the local gendarme.  To date we haven’t been stopped but I just wonder what they are checking for.  I presume vehicle insurance is a thing here but I’m not sure about an equivalent of an MOT as most vehicles fall into the over thirty years old category and are frequently falling to bits and overloaded with people.  We’ve seen some of the old Mercedes taxis carrying about nine people.  Overloading a vehicle doesn’t seem to be a problem here but maybe not having the right paperwork is.  I don’t know?! 

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Here’s one for you Dad, a Renault 12 estate spotted outside Taliouine.  We’ve seen so many Renaut 12 saloons but this was the first estate.

Whilst on our way to Taroudant, where we’d planned to stay at a little campsite a couple of kilometres from the town, I spotted a new campsite on the park4night app that had recently opened that had really good reviews, had a restaurant, a pool and a washing machine and was alongside the N10 so easy to just pull into for the night.  It was, in fact excellent, definitely to a European standard, with individually marked out bays separated by flowerbeds.  Sorry I forgot to take a photo!  The restaurant, it turned out, was next door at the service station but we had an excellent meal there in the shaded garden area which cost just under £10 for the two of us. 

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If all service station cafes served food like this for under £10 maybe we’d stop at them.

Breakfast the next morning of omelettes, coffee and a banana smoothie was less than £5. It’s a shame the campsite is right next to the busy road as it was really noisy with traffic and didn’t turn out to be as relaxing as we’d hoped.  Instead of staying another night and getting a bus into Taroudant, which is famous for its red-brown crenellated walls, we decided to drive in and park for a couple of hours just outside the walls for a look see before heading to the coast at Agadir. 

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Part of the pisé walls around Taroudant.

Seeing as I’ve already bought two small carpets for the van and it’s looking increasingly like we’ll go the whole hog and replace our ageing fitted carpets with Moroccan ones I was all ready to make another purchase for the kitchen area.  After measuring up we set off into the medina within the walls.  Going from the calm of our parking spot outside the city walls through one of the gates to the medina was like going into another world again.  Donkeys, carts, mopeds, tuk tuks, car, vans and……………………people, so many people.  Workshops spill out onto the pavements.  If there’s a workshop repairing mopeds or bikes there’s usually a cluster of men gathered round something that’s being taken to bits or put back together.  The workshops, whether for mechanics, carpentry, metal or whatever are just full of stuff.  There seems to be no order and how they find anything is beyond me.  But it is all totally absorbing as well and creates so many questions that pop into my head all the time. What’s this, What’s that or Why this or Why that or How on earth…………?  It can be exhausting mentally as my little brain is on the go all the time. 

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The walls inside.

We spent an hour aimlessly wandering about taking it all in before we decided it was about time we found the souk so I could peruse the carpets.  Well after half an hour, and with the help of Maps.Me, we eventually found one of the two souks but it must have been the wrong one because all that was on sale was some western style clothing, a lot of plastic and fruit and veg.  Meh.  By that time it was pushing thirty degrees and I’d peaked so didn’t have it in me to find the other souk which sells, amongst other things, leather goods and carpets.  Even if we’d found it I wouldn’t have had the energy for the whole bargaining thing so walked back to the van and got on the road to Agadir.  The carpet in the kitchen lives to fight another day! 

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There is a lot of building going on all over Morocco but not much ever gets completely finished.  

Onwards then to Agadir.

تصبح على خير!


The Dadès and Todra gorges… .

There’s nothing I like more than rocky landscapes and gorges and you get two for the price of one with the Dadès and Todra gorges in between Ouarzazate and Tinghir along the N10.  After scorching weather in Ouarzazate we were looking forward to cooling down a bit on higher ground. When we turned off the N10 onto the R704 into the Dadès valley the weather started to look a bit grim.  The drive was spectacular though through the red rocky Kasbah strewn landscape.

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Driving through the Dadès valley.

We’d planned to get as far as Camping Auberge de la Montagne which was about thirty or so kilometres up through the valley.  The further up through the valley we got the wind appeared and then it started to rain.

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Higher up it started to rain.

We’d passed numerous French vans coming back down through the valley and started to wonder if they knew something that we didn’t.  Was there mega rainfall forecast?  The only weather forecast I look at is what is presented to me out of the van window so I didn’t have a clue.  We pressed on anyway as it is a good road and just hoped for the best.  The last part before getting to the campsite was the most spectacular and you’ll often see pictures of it in guidebooks.  The road zig zags up the hillside through the gorge with the view of a spectacularly located hotel within your sights.  Even in the rain it was superb.  Once up and over the hill it was just a few kilometres of wiggly road and a quick squeeze through a narrow bit to get to the campsite set behind a small guest house.

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The last bit before the campsite was narrower with an overhanging rock but fine to drive.

What a setting.  After temperatures pushing thirty degrees in Ouazazate it was a shock to step out of the van into rain and single digit degrees.  Whilst checking in at reception I asked if it was possible to get to the top of the Todra gorge without having to backtrack down to the main road again.  The Dadès and Todra gorges rise up into the High Atlas and are linked by the P7104.  I had hoped we’d be able to go up through the Dadès gorge along the R704 then swing a right onto the P7104 for forty kilometres or so to the village of Tamtattouchte where we could then swing another right to take us down through the Todra gorge. I didn’t really believe it would be possible in a motorhome as this is Morocco after all but I do like to dream a bit. The receptionist gave me a pained expression and advised that it probably isn’t doable without a 4×4 especially with the rain.  Tim had already decided that he’d quite like to live to fight another day and that we wouldn’t be going any further anyway so it was immaterial really.

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Camping Auberge de la Montagne.  We were joined later by a French van.

Anyway, we got up early the following day to walk the route we’d driven to be able to take it all in.  The rain had cleared and we were back to clear sunny skies.

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The view back down the valley.

Unlike countries in Europe there aren’t many signed walking routes in Morocco as leisure isn’t very high up on the agenda for ninety nine percent of the people as they need to work so our options for walking have generally been through the palmeries, along stony unsigned tracks, across rocky landscapes or along the roads.

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The hotel at the top has quite a nice view!

It didn’t really matter here though as there was little traffic and the views were magnificent.

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Looking back over the ziggy zaggy bit from the garden of the hotel.

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The hotel blends in pretty well.

We could see little figures down below us on the craggy cliffs gathering herbs or tending their goats.  On the way back we were approached by a little boy of about seven who was with I presume his sister looking after a flock of goats.  It was another of those uncomfortable what is the best thing to do moments as he was asking us for money.  When we said no he indicated that we could take photos of him (presumably for a payment) but that felt even worse for me.  They were quite clearly desperately poor and have next to nothing.  Again, it was one of those situations that you very rarely have to wrestle emotionally with in Northern Europe and throws up so many questions without any clear answers.

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For livestock, stores or people?  Not sure.
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The narrow section before the campsite looking better on a sunny day.

Driving back down through the gorge we stopped for the night at the parking area at the side of the road of the little cafe run by Hamou and Aicha. It was listed on the Park4night app. It’s free to park overnight and they don’t ask you to buy anything but are happy if you do.

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We ordered a meal for the evening and Hamou came out to get us when it was ready.  They were so welcoming and showed us upstairs to a brightly coloured room next to their kitchen with a view of the rocks beyond.  Aicha served our meal complete with her baby strapped to her back :).  What a great experience.

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Our meal overlooking ‘des doigts du singes’.

It’s definitely worth stopping for a walk in this area as the rock formations known locally as ‘canyon des doigts du singes’ (canyon of the monkeys fingers) are just bizarre.

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P1150903.JPGI’ve never seen anything quite like them before.

 

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P1150912.JPGThere look to be a few footpaths here for walking and a small campsite with great views across to the rocks opposite where we would maybe spend a few nights if we were to come again.

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Camping Pattes de Singes – we didn’t stay there but would stay if we visited again as the views were superb.

To get to the Todra gorge then we backtracked down to the N10 as far as Tinghir turning off left onto the RN12 up through the valley.

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Through the Todra valley.
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A wooly blockade.

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Another layby – another purchase.  Yes, I know I look completely redic but the seller insisted on dressing me up and taking a photo even after I’d agreed to buy something (just the turquoise headscarf).  Tim had sloped off by this point.

We picked out Camping Atlas as a good spot to spend a couple of nights as it was about six kilometres short of the narrow and very touristy bit of the gorge.  It was a really good choice.  Set behind a small hotel it has room for about ten vans, has a pool, washing machine and excellent showers.

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Camping Auberge Atlas.

We took a walk up to the gorge through the palmeries but without the maps.me app to guide us we would never have found the route.

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A walk through the palmeries.

P1150951.JPGAs it was we abandoned it halfway and walked the rest along the road as it became a bit tedious trying to find the route all the time.  Our guide book advises that the best time to visit the gorge is in the morning when the rays of sunshine break through the three hundred metre high cliffs on either side.

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The approach to the gorge.

It’s probably nice and quiet then too.  We got there at about three in the afternoon and I can’t deny it is spectacular but every man and his dog was there to see it with us.

P1150965.JPGAs it is so accessible there’s room for several coaches and tour buses that can park up in the gorge making it really popular.

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The following day (which was supposed to be a day of repose but I changed my mind) we took a cycle up through the gorge heading for Tamtattouchte village about twenty six kilometres away.

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A whole lot of no-one after the narrow section.

Once through the popular thin bit of the gorge we practically had the whole place to ourselves.  What a great bike ride.

P1150974.JPGAfter two hours of climbing we stopped at the top of a steep slow climb about five kilometres short of Tamtattouchte village and called it a day as we were both a bit done in.

P1150981.JPGAfter a quick snack we flew back freewheeling most of the way not having realised on the way up what a steady gradient it had been.

P1150983.JPG The following morning we backtracked to Ouarzazate to spend the night before heading to Aït Ben Haddou for a look at the Kasbah.

نتلقاو!

Onwards to Zagora and through the Drâa valley to Ouarzazate…. .

The drive across the wide open arid plains from Merzouga towards Zagora and beyond to Ouarzazate was very relaxed.

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The road to Zagora.

Granted, I’m not the one that did the drive but with little traffic on the road and just a few small towns to negotiate it seemed alright to me!

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I know I keep putting these pictures in but it’s just to show how vast it is and how traffic free in between towns.

We were waylaid on the way to Zagora for a couple of nights at Camping Serdra which is found after a six kilometre drive along a very good track off the main N12.

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The piste to Camping Serdrar.

Apart from a small village nearby the nearest town was sixteen kilometres away.  Considering it is in the middle of nowhere it’s a really popular site particularly with some of the French that tow quad bikes or dune buggies behind their vans.  I can see why as the site is pristine (for Morocco), tea is served on arrival, it has two washing machines, unlimited hot water and the facilities block is spotless.

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Camping Serdrar.

We weren’t complaining but I still find it a little unsettling to plug in, quaff tea, put a load of washing on and soak up the sun after having driven past ladies walking along the edge of the roadside carrying heavy loads of some sort of plant on their backs, some of whom waved at us to stop indicating that they wanted some food.  Likewise as we drove along the piste to and from the campsite children came running alongside waving wanting us to stop to give them something.  Even though we’ve bought things that perhaps we don’t really need from sellers along the road we haven’t given anything to anyone who has been begging.  It is difficult to know what is the best thing to do but if all the vans stopped outside the campsite to give something to the children would they then skip school to spend their days lining the road to the campsite?

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I should send this photo in to the MMM magazine!

Whilst at Camping Serdrar we didn’t do much of anything but we did take a walk up to the top of one of the nearby hills just to soak up the vastness of it all and were rewarded by seeing a bit of wildlife.

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I thought this was a bird when it flew past me but the way it landed wasn’t like a bird.  It must be some sort of grasshopper thing but it was huuuge.
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Not sure what this one is either but it was doing a good job at blending in.

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We were just on the point of breaking out the emergency tin of spaghetti hoops when our food order arrived an hour late!

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One of the towns on the way to Zagora.
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See, no traffic again.

 

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Camping Sinibad in Zagora.
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A walk through the palmeries from the campsite.

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The view from the top of Jbel Zagora.

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Zagora.
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52 days to Timouctou…….by camel of course.

The road from Zagora to Ouzazate takes you right through the Drâa valley and up and over the Tizi-n-Tiniffift pass (1,660m) from where you get a first glimpse of the foothills of the High Atlas mountains in the distance.

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The route between Zagora and Agdz.

 

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It’s Kasbah Kountry.

We stopped for the night at Agdz to break up the drive from Zagora to Ouazazate, a busy bustling little town full of life.

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Camping Kasbah Palmeraie at Agdz.  Note we now have Morocco on our map, albeit a homemade Morocco as our stickers only cover Europe!

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Traditional bricks drying out in the sun.
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You can take a tour around the Kasbah next to the campsite which is in the process of being slowly restored.
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It was just a short tour as the chap that normally does the tours was away.

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The village outside the Kasbah is no longer lived in.
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The route between Agdz and Ouzazate over the Tizi-n-Tiniffift pass.

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In Ouzazate we bought another carpet!  I hadn’t intended on buying anything but we were invited in for a look.  The trouble is I really like the stuff that is sold here and we had been toying with replacing the fitted carpets in the van.  We’re onto our second set now and they need replacing again.  Some people would question why we even have carpets in the van in such a small space but, for me, it’s non negotiable.  I like a bit of carpet underfoot.  We had talked about trying to get some made up whilst we are here but why would I want beige acrylic carpets again when I can have some mats made out of camel wool which are much more attractive, can be washed and are easier to fling out of the van when it needs a sweep out?  So anyway we started in on the negotiations for a small carpet.  The seller said that as he liked us he would give us ‘a brother price’.  Mmm Hmm.  Ok.  1300 dirham was his opening gambit.  Way too much for us.  I made a cheeky offer of 300.  After much sucking of teeth and discussions about the fact we didn’t really need the carpet and blah blah blah he eventually came down to 600.

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Carpet negotiations again.

I offered 350 and apologised saying we were just too far apart to come to an agreed price and made for the door.  I really believed I’d offered a price below one that he could make a profit on but no sooner than you could say Inshallah the carpet was in a bag and thrust under Tims arm. So much for ‘a brother price’ then!  Yes it’s beige but I have pushed the boat out this time as it does have a bit of colour in it.

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Camping Municipal Ouzazate.

Not far from the campsite in Ouzazate we spotted a little shack with smoke billowing out the roof and a queue of two or three people outside.  Three ladies were inside.  One was making dough and moulding it into flatbread, one was stoking a homemade bread oven in the corner and the third was sorting out the bread as it came out.  At three dirham each it was the best bread we’ve had since we’ve been here and made an excellent base for a pizza.

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We ate most of the first loaf on the way back to the van.
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Domino’s eat your heart out.  We did have to blow some of Tims coveted stash of cheddar though and I had to cut it down a bit to fit it in the oven.
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The restored Kasbah in Ouzazate.
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A very sleepy market at 4.00pm in Ouzazate.

It was just too hot in Ouzazate to stay more than one night (I know it’s a hard life) so we moved on up towards the Dadès gorge to cool off for a bit.

بسلامه!

The dunes of Erg Chebbi…. .

Vast. Arid. Open. Landscapes.  That’s how I would describe the bits in between the towns on our way to the dunes of Erg Chebbi on the edge of the Sahara desert.  It was an easy drive.  Not as dramatic as the Ziz gorge but with a few unusual things to keep us entertained along the way like camels and Renault 4’s.

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Grazing camels on the route to Merzouga.

Our visit to Erg Chebbi had coincided with the annual 4L trophy, a rally across the desert.  The catch is you can only take part if you are a) student and b) you have a Renault 4.

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Renault 4’s everywhere.

As many as fifteen hundred cars take part each year driving the 6000km from France all loaded up with school supplies to deliver to schools in the desert region.  Ah, what a bit of nostalgia it was for us to see them all.  We had a Renault 4 many years ago and even though you could see the road through the rusty holes in the front footwells and through the wheel arches in the boot and it broke down a lot we have always had a soft spot for them.

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More Renault 4’s in Merzouga.

We were spoilt for choice with campsites at Mezouga and most of them get good reviews.

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Camping Auberge La Chance 4km outside Merzouga.

We split our time between Auberge La Chance where we could park up right next to the dunes and Auberge Gazelle Bleu which is right next to one of the higher dunes.  We had planned on walking up to the top of the higher ones so being close to them made more sense.

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Downtown Merzouga.

The whole area around Mezouga seems to rely on tourism now that the lead mines have closed and it is very popular.  Camels lounge outside the campsites and hotels.

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Camels await their riders.

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The pisé walls of the buildings made of earth, stone and crushed up palm trees.

 

 

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Sparrows nest in the rooftops.
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A cycle around Merzouga.
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You’ll see shops like these all over Morocco.
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More camels.

4×4’s, motorbikes, dune buggies and quad bikes whizz back and forth through the town and across the dunes.  One of the things that you can do which costs you nothing is to get up early to see the sunrise over the dunes.  Obviously Tim would have preferred a lie in but we aren’t in the desert every day of the week so it had to be done.

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Sunrise………..we’d been waiting an hour because I’d got the timing wrong!

I’d read on some travel blogs about camel treks into the desert where you can spend the night sleeping under the stars in a Berber tent, wake up to the sunrise in the morning before riding back to your hotel just in time for a slap up breakfast.

P1150570.JPGI have to admit I quite fancied the idea.  When we made our trek into the dunes to see the sunrise we could see a few of the desert camps not so far away.  Unfortunately, seeing them so close to civilisation kind of shattered the romantic image I had in my head about the whole thing.  They weren’t Berber tents either they were like those white marquee type tents you see outside gardens centres.  I decided there and then that the €120 it would have cost for us to go on the trip would be better spent elsewhere.  I’d rather sleep in my own bed than a marquee.  I think Tim was just relieved he wouldn’t have to get on a camel.  To be fair I haven’t seen inside the marquees and they may be totally sumptuous inside in a Harry Potteresque kind of way but I wasn’t prepared to find out.

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Remains of camel.

Instead we teamed up with a Swedish couple and took a tour in a 4×4 around the desert.  Ahmed, our guide was a bit of a wheeling dealing cheeky chappy but he did keep us entertained.  He spends half the year in Spain wheeling and dealing in all things Moroccan where his family now live and half the year in Morocco doing tours.  Like our guide, Wafi, in Fèz his English was really good but I still found it exhausting keeping up with his stories and lost the thread of them sometimes.

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We saw the Renault 4’s again whilst on our 4×4 tour.

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P1150625.JPGNo matter we enjoyed the tour, the highlight of which was having tea with a Berber family and seeing their simple spotless traditional home.

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The traditional Berber home.

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Ahmed, our guide, is on the right.

The tour took us on the dirt tracks around the edge of the sand dunes not across them and there are a lot of new villages and schools being created presumably because of the increase in tourism.

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Remains of a village abandoned after the lead mines closed down.
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A visit to hear some traditional music…….
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……in very pleasant surroundings.

We ended the tour back at the campsite/hotel where we had lunch with our Swedish companions Sonny and Ula.

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The finale to our tour, a Berber Pizza (kind of like a meaty flat pasty type thing), with our Swedish companions.

Now they were an interesting couple.  They are in their mid seventies now but they sold up in Sweden fifteen years ago to spend their lives sailing around various different seas dividing their time between marinas in the winter and the open sea in the summer. After selling the boat a couple of years ago they backpacked around some other far flung destinations before buying a motorhome to live and travel in.  Fifteen years!  It knocks our nearly three years into a cocked hat.  Still, we’ve still got time.  Inshallah.  I’ve overheard quite a few French say that here……Oui blah blah blah blah blah…….inshallah…..oui blah blah blah blah blah.

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The view from the very nice roof terrace at Camping Gazelle Bleu where free pancakes and bread were deliverd to your camper door in the morning.

We’ve hardly seen any other British vans in Morocco so far but like buses two came along at once when we decamped on the second night in Mezouga to Camping Gazelle Bleu.  We spent a great evening with John and Julie and Peter and Carmel who were all also on their first trip to Morocco. 

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Carmel, Julie, John, Peter and Tim enjoying the sunset on the roof terrace with Julie’s homemade victoria sponge!

Most fortuitously for us it was Julies birthday and she had made a Victoria Sponge in celebration which we were more than happy to help scoff on the terrace overlooking the dunes.  Tim played Happy Birthday for Julie and we were all Happy Campers. 

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Sunset on the dunes.
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Our walk up to the top the following day.
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Views from the top.
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Overlooking Mizouga and our van!

P1150696.JPGAfter three nights on the edge of the desert it was time to head west towards Zagora.

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The road to Zagora.

الله يمسك علي خير!

Through the Ziz Gorge to the desert…. .

The N13 out of Azrou takes you right down to the 150m high dunes of Erg Chebbi at Mezouga on the edge of the Sahara desert and close to the Algerian border.  

p1150386It’s about 380km door to door and took us almost a week. It’s a good road and pretty quiet for the most part but there is a lot to waylay you en route.

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The road is long…………………………….

We’re finding that anything between 80km to 120km driving per day, which generally takes between two and three hours, is enough anyway and there are campsites conveniently placed along the route.  

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Shepherds tend their flocks in the valleys.

Leaving Azrou the landscape becomes more arid and opens up into vast vistas of volcanic rock, palmeries and gorges.

p1150406The N13 goes right through the Ziz gorge with views of the High Atlas mountains in the distance.

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Typical village en route.

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It’s not always easy to pull over to take pictures so some of these are taken whilst driving.

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The sights go from this……..
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……..to this within a few kilometres.
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That’s a lot of weight!
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The road was really good and plenty wide enough.

We did stop at a viewpoint above the Wadi Ziz but you do have to run the gauntlet of a smiling Berber appearing from thin air with a tray of fossils for your perusal.  

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Ziz Gorge.

I politely declined the first chaps wares but on the second viewpoint I came back to the van with a camel made out of the leaves of a palm tree (I think). To his credit Tim didn’t say a word but ‘the look’ said it all. Anyway, I quite like my camel but it has suffered in the heat of the last three days and looks like it has a broken neck.

p1150449We stopped for a night at Camping Jurassique just off the main road where our Swiss neighbours pointed out the footpath across the road which gets you to the top of the gorge.  

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Camping Jurassique in the Ziz Gorge.
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Self catering also available.
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A walk along the dry riverbed.

If they hadn’t mentioned it we probably wouldn’t have realised it was there. It only took about an hour and the views from the top were magnificent.

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The views from the top of the gorge were amazing.

Beyond the town of Er-Rachidia the landscape becomes greener and more lush with palmeries and small villages lining the valley flanked by the red volcanic rock of the gorge.

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Further along the N13 the palmeries start appearing.

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En route to Aoufous village.

We’d intended just to stop for one night at Camping Hakkou a few kilometres from the small village of Aoufous but we had such a warm welcome from the Berber brothers that own it as well as all our French neighbours that we ended up staying three nights.  We were but the lone Brits amongst about a dozen French vans.

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Camping Hakkou.
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It was soup night the day we arrived.  Traditional Moroccan harira soup for 15 dirhams each (bring your own bowl and spoon) followed by some music played by Ahmed and his brothers.
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The next morning we bought bread, warm fresh pancakes and brioche type buns brought to the campsite by a chap on his moped.

We took a stroll through the palmeries to the village to get some supplies from the souk which is open three days a week. As I mentioned in the last blog post we didn’t take any pictures this time.  It was just a small souk set right in the village. Again, all the sellers are grouped together by what they have on offer. Wandering down one alley we came across the row of butchers shops. You’ll definitely see things in technicolour here.  Throughout Europe we have seen different types of meats, some with the recognisable parts of the animal still attached. Rabbits and game birds in France. Whole suckling pig in Portugal and Spain. Whole pig’s trotters in Germany. A horse’s head (no fur or eyes) in a market in Athens. I’ve been slowly acclimatised to seeing things that you wouldn’t see at the local butchers or supermarket in the UK. I wasn’t particularly fazed then when we went past one butcher with a cow hanging up outside. It had been skinned but the hide was on the pavement in front of the shop. Alongside the hide the complete head (fur and eyes still in situ) sat upside down with the tongue hanging out.  If you wanted some shin of beef the hoofs and fur presumably come with it as four upright legs were neatly arranged beside the upside down head. The me of three years ago would have been a tad freaked out by such a sight but I’ve had to ‘man-up’ (woman-up?) a bit throughout our travels. I’m not sure what you would do with a whole head of cow as I don’t ever recall seeing a recipe which involves one. I must google it.

We got back to the campsite just at the right time as the owner had invited the whole campsite to share a meal at his parents house in the village. One of the French ladies explained to me that it was the seventh day of mourning after the death of a family member. On the seventh day family and friends are invited to share a meal.  At least I think that was what was happening. My French wasn’t sufficient to process everything that she said to me.

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The remains of the Ksar in the village nearby.

Anyway, it was a privilege to be invited and really gave us an insight into Berber family life. The houses in the village generally have tiny windows covered with iron shutters and are surrounded by high walls as protection from the heat so you never really get an idea of what is beyond. We were shown through a spotless, attractive, light and airy courtyard before all settling down on cushions lining the walls of a large room with one high window. We hadn’t taken a camera as we hadn’t envisaged being able to take photos but the brothers were happy for pictures to be taken inside the room where we were eating. We just had Tims phone so the photos aren’t great.  

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One of our French neighbours being shown the proper way to prepare the tea!

Tea was served by Ahmed and his wife and his children came to greet everyone. It was a long drawn out affair with I think six rounds of tea. Big rocks of sugar go into each pot so four glasses were enough for me.

The food was served on low tables with about eight people sharing one dish. Mutton and couscous were followed by roast chicken served with bread and then oranges and bananas for desert.

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Mutton served with couscous and some sort of berry I think it was.

We weren’t sure what was going on outside as we weren’t invited to that part but there was a lot of singing by the ladies and when we left there must have been thirty or more ladies sitting in the courtyard area.

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Roast chicken with olives and bread.

When we left I tried to say to Ahmed, in my abysmal French, that we had probably received a warmer welcome to Morocco than Prince Harry and Meghan had but I think it got lost in translation!  We thoroughly enjoyed our extraordinary afternoon and it was another unplanned and unexpected event to add to our ever growing list of highlights of our trip.

After three nights it was time to move on to the desert.  After a quick shin up to the top of the gorge outside the campsite to admire the view we said goodbye to our very warm and generous hosts and our French neighbours and headed down to the Mizouga.

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A nomad family living in the valley a few hundred metres from the campsite.  A French lady told me that the little girl attends the local school in the village.
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The view from the top of the gorge.
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Driving through the palmerie to get back to the main road.

تصبح على خير!

 

 

Across the Middle Atlas…. .

Euro Camping Emirates, a few kilometres outside Azrou in the Middle Atlas region, seems to be better known in motorhoming circles as Camping Walt Disney.  There were a handful of vans staying but judging by its size it must get pretty busy in peak season.

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Euro Camping Emirates, Azrou.

It was a very comfortable and relaxing place to spend a few nights and at eighty dirham a night with electric (about £6.50), a free baguette delivered to the door in the morning and a fabulous yurt come tent for Tim to play in we could have stayed longer.

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Not a bad place to while away an hour or two.

You don’t need to be in a hurry here.  The seventy six kilometre drive from the campsite in Fèz to Azrou along the N8 took us a couple of hours.  The roads we have encountered so far have been really good but it can be slow particularly when winding up long climbs behind heavily laden lorries going at twenty kilometres an hour.  Fortunately, we have the luxury of time and prefer to regularly pull in along the way to let other vehicles pass us anyway.  There’s plenty to see and ponder on whilst trundling along.  People working in the fields, roadside stalls selling fruit, ceramics or fossils, laden donkeys, stray dogs, waving children, police check points seemingly at every village, snow topped peaks, housing ranging from that which wouldn’t look out of place in a gentile French village to basic shelters made from any resources available and everything in between.  It’s a fascinating country.

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Driving through Ifrane on the way to Azrou we felt like we’d just been transported back to France.
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Just outside Ifrane.

There are plenty of excursions to be had around Azrou for hiking and biking but as it was market day on the Tuesday we walked the few kilometres to the town to have a gander.

Surprisingly it wasn’t particularly busy and we were able to freely wander around unencumbered.

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Feed for livestock.

P1150339.JPGAgain, unless we asked the seller first, the pictures were all taken discreetly from waist height to give a general sense of the scene and so as not to cause offence so some are a bit wonky.

DSC07136.JPGIt’s tricky with the whole photo thing here.  I want to be sensitive to the people and culture by not taking pictures of anyone directly unless I’ve asked them first but with so many people about it’s not an easy thing to do.

DSC07128.JPGEverything is so fascinating here it’s hard not to want to share it visually whilst also trying to remain mindful of not intruding on people’s privacy.  In fact, yesterday we went to a small souk in a little town and decided not to take a camera.  Consequently, we had a much more enjoyable and relaxed eyeball at all that was going on.  I’ll just have to describe something of what we saw in the next blog post.

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Haircuts.
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Irons (?) heated in a fire for therapy…….I think!
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Running repairs.
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Sheep, cattle and goats at the livestock section.
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No pens or cages here, the sheep are grouped together a dozen or so at a time and tethered together.
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It’s effective but I’m not sure about the welfare of the animals although they didn’t appear to be distressed.

Several eateries surrounded the livestock selling area so we took the plunge at one of them.  A couple of hunks of beef (don’t ask me which part but maybe legs) were hanging up outside and a barbecue was on the go.

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Beef?  Leg?  Not sure.

After settling on a quarter kilo to be hacked off the leg of beef (if it was a leg) we watched as it was then put through a mincer with some onion, spices and extra fat.  The resulting lump was then shaped into smaller pieces and put on the barbecue.

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Our lump of beef being prepared to go into the mincer.

We relaxed at one of the tables awaiting our food whilst contemplating the cow and calf tethered to a lamppost grazing on the scrubby ground a few metres beyond the entrance to the food stall.  The food arrived accompanied by two flying saucers of bread and it was exceedingly good.

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It did beat any burger we’ve had in the UK!

French isn’t as widely spoken at the markets but the sellers will just show you in coins or notes what you need to pay.  When we came to pay for our food the canny chap showed us a 100 dirham note (about €10).  Eh?  It was double what we thought it would be and I can’t believe the locals would be paying that much.  We considered quibbling but in the end paid up, put it down to experience and made a note to agree a price before eating next time.  The rule of thumb that we’ve read is that you barter for most things but food, drink, supermarkets, fuel, campsites etc are all a fixed price.

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Azrou is surrounded by cedar forests, home to some Barbary apes.  One of the areas that they can be seen is about five kilometres from the campsite and as we needed some exercise we decided to walk.  One of the great things about being here is that many people smile and say a bonjour on passing or maybe wave.  We were passed by a tuk-tuk on the way up the hill to the cedar forest and the driver turned and gave us a cheery wave.  On arriving a few hundred metres from the parking area there was our grinning tuk-tuk chap clutching bags of peanuts to buy to feed to the apes.  Tim and I have clashed a few times since we’ve been here on what to buy and what not to buy.  I proceeded to buy a bag of peanuts for five dirham knowing Tim was not amused.  Our ensuing conversation went something like this.

Tim: What did you buy those for?

Me:  Because they were 5 dirham, he’s a nice chap and he’s just trying to make a living.

Tim: But should you be encouraging the monkeys by feeding them?

Me: I’ve no intention of feeding them to the monkeys.

Tim:  What was the point of buying them then?

Me:  To support the guy selling them.  And anyway is it any different than going to Longleat (Safari park in the UK) and buying something off one of the stalls there to feed the giraffes or whatever?

Tim:  Yes, but you wouldn’t buy anything from something like that in the UK.

Me:  I know, but that’s not the point Longleat is a big business but the chap back there was just trying to make enough to feed his family.

Tim:  But you can’t buy everything.

Jane:  I know that but I’ve decided that if someone has a service to offer or something to sell that’s only a small amount then I’ll consider spending or buying even if I don’t really need or want what they are offering.

Tim:  Hurumpf.

Silence for a few kilometres.

Tim:  I could do with some food…….we should have brought some with us.

Me:  Well, the only thing we’ve got is the peanuts you don’t think I should have bought!

We ate the peanuts then on the way back down to the campsite after walking for an hour or so in the forest and they went down a treat.  We saw the apes just beyond the parking area contentedly eating whatever was offered to them but there was not one ape to be seen beyond that.  Consequently we have no photos of them as we walked back to the campsite a different way without passing the parking area again.

À la procahine!

بسلامه!

A step back in time in Fèz…. .

Fèz is the oldest of Morocco’s imperial cities and a UNESCO World Heritage site.  It’s the third largest city, a religious place and felt to be the religious capital of Morocco.  There are a couple of campsites to the south of Fèz and we based ourselves for two nights at Camping Diamant Vert about eight kilometres from the centre and not far from the motorway.  It’s a fairly large site with a swish swanky reception area, restaurant, bungalows to rent and a camping area further down the hill.  At 120 dirham a night (about £10) it is the most expensive site we have stayed on so far but not expensive by European standards.  The shower block was all clean and tidy but the showers were cold.  Meh, you can’t have it all.

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Camping Diamant Vert.

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Uncharacteristically for us we decided to visit Fèz accompanied by a guide.  It’s not something we normally do as we generally like to just do our own thing and not traipse around following in the wake of a gaggle of people.  From what I’d read, the vast network of alleys and lanes in the old town can be difficult to navigate, easy to get lost in and you might find yourself fending off faux guides trying to offer their services.  The campsite is in contact with a number of official guides at set prices which makes life a bit easier but is probably not the cheapest way to do it.  Presumably the campsite takes a percentage of the tour fee for giving the guide access to the campers.  Wafi approached me whilst I was using the wifi in the reception area to offer us a tour.  There was no hard sell he just spoke to us in the evening and explained what the tour would involve and then left us to mull it over and let him know in the morning if we wanted a tour that afternoon.  The guys at Our Tour had used him last year and recommended him so we felt we’d be in safe hands.  The fee of 350 dirham (about £28) was indeed a fixed price and included all the transport to and from the campsite.

After a taxi had picked us up from the site, taken us to see the entrance to Royal Palace, a vantage point above the city and a short tour of a traditional ceramic makers we met up with Wafi close to the Medina.

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Gates to the Royal Palace which is closed to the public.

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Viewpoint towards the old town.

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The workers are paid by ‘piece’ work.

 

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It will take one month to finish this piece.
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The finished articles.
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The gift shop.  They will ship anything back home for you via DHL!

It was just Wafi and us for the tour.  No waving flags or umbrellas to follow.  Ideal.  We started at the tanneries.  After our inpromptu tour of the tannery in Meknès and having seen pictures of the famous Fèz tanneries it was the place I most wanted to see.  It didn’t disappoint.

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The tanneries were worth seeing.

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Donkeys bring in the hides.

DSC07062.JPGAfter the ceramics and then the tanneries we quickly surmised that as part of our tour we would be taken to a selection of sellers in the different souks, have a short tour and then be left to peruse their wares in the hope that we might buy something.  I was OK with it though as we were warmly welcomed, it was all good fun and there was no hard sell at all.

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Bread oven.

We did the tour on a Sunday afternoon and it was surprisingly quiet.  The medina itself is quite simply incredible.  Just amazing.  It defies belief.

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DSC07078.JPGAny historical fiction I’ve read set in the middle ages from authors such as C J Sansom, Ken Follet, Alison Weir, Phillippa Gregory, Hilary Mantel etc give me a sense of what life might have been like in the olden days.  The medina’s of Fèz just bring those images to life (if you ignore the mobile phones in hand).

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There are something like 9000 alleyways in the old town .

 

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Just large enough for a horse and cart.
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A program of restoration is slowly going on.

Even though it was quiet (by usual standards) when we visited it was still all noise, craftsmen working cheek by jowl in cramped workshops, crumbling grimy walls and doors, secret alleyways, mosques, donkeys, horses, carts, hand carts, chickens awaiting their fate.  The sense of community must be like no other.  I can’t really do it justice in words.  You’d have to go and experience it for yourself.

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Copper makers.
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The chap in the workshop in front of the fire has worked there for forty four years starting as a young boy!

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More restoration.

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Call me Lawrence!

The penultimate stop on our tour was to a carpet seller.  Of course it was.  We came out after thirty minutes having purchased a traditional Berber blanket.  We paid £34 for it.  Am I happy with what we paid for the blanket, was it a fair price?  As I mentioned in my last blog post the concept of bartering is an alien one for me.  I really don’t know what a fair price for something is here.  We’re used to a different buying experience.  I mean, picture the scene.  You walk into, let’s say, Carpetright in the UK.

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Carpetright, Tunbridge Wells, UK.

You’re immediately immersed in beige.  Nobody acknowledges you.  Alone, you peruse the different samples of fifty shades of beige.  Still nobody acknowledges your presence.  After a while you beckon over an assistant.   They come over with a weak smile.  You ask about a couple of samples you are interested in.  They tell you that the darker beige one is more expensive because it is sixty per cent wool whereas the other shade of beige you are looking at is made of acrylic.  That’s all they can tell you about it.  You decide to splash out on the more expensive one as it’s currently on sale at 25% off and you think you can get away with keeping the underlay you already have.  You give the assistant the measurements, a calculator is whipped out to confirm the price, you go to the till, pay by credit card, confirm a date for fitting, say thank you and leave the shop.  Mission accomplished.

Compare that to the buying experience we had in Fèz.  We’d been greeted with huge smiles and warm welcomes, exchanged names, been immersed in a beautiful environment within an historic mansion house, had thirty minutes undivided attention from the seller whilst he and his able assistant laid out numerous carpets and blankets in different styles, colours and  materials at our feet.  We sat in comfort whilst sipping mint tea.  We’ve learnt a little bit about where the different carpets have been made and what materials are used.  We’ve been shown how the loom works that some of the carpets and blankets are made on.  We’ve all smiled, chatted, bantered, shaken hands, paid in cash.   In short, we’ve had the full carpet experience.

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Mint tea sans sucre.

 

 

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The full carpet experience.

So, in answer to my question above, am I happy with what we paid for the blanket, was it a fair price?  To me, absolutely.  I have zero idea of what the going rate is in these parts.  What an experienced buyer would have paid.  It matters not to me.  Our beige blanket is worth every bit of the £34 we paid for it.  Beige?  BEIGE? Yeah well, old habits die hard!

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Making the wedding paraphanalia……..it was the only place that we saw plywood being used.
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The mosques within the medina must be havens of peace and quiet away from the scrum outside.  Non muslims are not allowed to enter but Wafi encouraged us to take a picture through the door.

It was dark by the time we left the medina and Wafi left us perched on a wall to watch the world go by whilst he went to retrieve his car to take us back to the campsite.  We were more than happy to wait the fifteen minutes for our lift to arrive just to experience a Moroccan city by night.  People everywhere, donkeys and carts trotting past, cars, mopeds, tuk-tuks all tooting,  u-turning, stopping, overtaking, undertaking, cutting up, here there and everywhere.  To our uninitiated eyes it was complete chaos.  Once in the car our guide speeded us through the melée.  Tim sat bemused in the front as our guide changed from a softly spoken, kind, gentle person to a maniac behind the steering wheel.  I was loving it in the back.  Don’t bother with Alton Towers just get a taxi at rush hour in Fèz.  It’s far cheaper!

Our tour lasted six hours door to door and we thought it was informative, fascinating and money well spent.  We would certainly have enjoyed an aimless wander by ourselves but definitely wouldn’t have got as much out of it.  I would recommend Wafi although I did struggle to get the gist of what he was saying at times.  He seemed to me to be talking in riddles about religion, marriage, relationships and so on.  He wasn’t deliberately setting out to confuse but maybe his use of language and choice of words was not the style I’m used to.  Also there is so much to see, hear and smell that it’s difficult to concentrate anyway.  Tim looked to be taking it all in but when I discreetly asked him ‘did you get that?’ he said he’d already switched off some time ago.  So it wasn’t just me.

 

 

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Wafi telling one of his stories to a bemused Tim.

Fèz is an incredible place to immerse yourself.  You could spend weeks there and still only scratch the surface.  We had debated about whether to stay another night and have a wander around the city by ourselves but in the end decided to move on.

We’re eighty kilometres south now at Azrou, a small town in the heart of the Middle Atlas mountains.  The temperature has dropped to three degrees.  It’s just started to snow.

Still, that Berber blanket should come in handy!

Bsslama!