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!

Heading East to Meknès…. .

It’s hard to believe we have been in Morocco for just over a week now.  It’s been a week filled with many different emotions.  Our travel experiences throughout our lives have mainly been within Europe…………and most of that within the last three years.  Other than the odd city break in a hotel we’ve pretty much always DIY’d it with a tent, caravan or campervan and, for the most part, our holidays involved touring different parts of the UK.  No jet setting holidays for us to far flung destinations such as South East Asia, India, Latin America and the like.  No siree we were far too tight to splash out more than a few hundred pounds at a time for a holiday.  What I’m trying to say is that our experience of other cultures outside Europe is limited.  In fact it is limited outside Western and Northern Europe as we have still to visit Eastern Europe.  That’s on the agenda for season four.  Brexit dependant of course.  We may be forced to visit New Zealand for example if we are restricted on how long we can stay in the EU.  A hardship we’re prepared to look into!

As I mentioned in the last blog post we are in no rush whilst we are here.  We have an open return ticket and we are allowed up to ninety days here.  We have deliberately kept our mileage low between our stops so far really just to be able to find our feet and adapt to whatever situations arise in a more relaxed way.  If you look at our google map on the sidebar of the blog you can see where we have stayed to give you a visual idea of our route thus far.

After leaving Larrache we did a short drive down the coast to Moulay Bousellham renowned for its lagoon, Merdja Zerga (the blue lagoon), covering thirty square kilometres and an important site for migratory birds.

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The harbour at Moulay Bousellham with the campsite behind.

After politely declining several offers to take boat trips on the lagoon we walked along the vast sandy beach before returning through the town back to the campsite.

P1150077.JPGI had a chat with a French chap on the campsite to try to gleen what is the going fair rate for a boat trip as it’s difficult to know.  I’m not used to haggling.  It’s an alien concept to me.  I’m on a steep learning curve.  Talking to others is maybe one way to find out I guess.  One hundred dirham (about €10) was the answer.

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Campsite at Mouray Bousellham.

Kenitra, our next stop, was really just to stop somewhere before heading east towards Meknès.  We made a slight detour to a Decathlon shop on the outskirts of the town not far from the motorway before getting to the campsite. We stopped more out of curiosity than wanting to buy anything.  We were curious to compare the prices to those in Spain or Portugal.  Prices are about on par with Europe and the only difference in what they were selling really was a more conservative range in the ladies swimwear section.

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The ladies swimwear section at a Decathlon.

When I mentioned at the beginning of this blog post that it’s been a week of mixed emotions this was just one example.  On our way there we had passed acres and acres of arable land being ploughed by horses, people working in fields either picking vegetables or spreading manure by hand, swathes of very poor unfinished shanty type housing, cattle and sheep grazing on rubbish strewn wasteland, people just sitting with seemingly no purpose, a small boy of about ten years old darting in and out of the traffic streaming up the slip lane off the motorway selling small bags of peanuts.  Then we arrived at Decathlon which formed part of an out of town retail outlet with a Marjane supermarket, various clothing stores and an electronics shop much like PC world selling the usual football pitch sized TV’s, electronics, computers, coffee machines, phones and such at prices on the same level as Europe.  The difference between those that have and those that have not is staggering.  Seen in real time it’s difficult to get your head around.

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Campsite entrance at Kenitra.

The following morning making our way towards Meknès we approached Sidi Yahya du Gharb, a small town on the RN4, to see that the weekly market was in full swing.  We were able to pull in to a piece of wasteground to park up and have a gander.

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Approach to the town on market day.

We were beckoned over by what we presume was the guardian of the parking and he directed us where to go.  Anywhere you park in Morocco there will always be someone in a high vis vest to direct you where to go and charge you accordingly.  We paid him five dirham (about 40p).

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Milk for sale in recycled bottles.

I’ll let the pictures do the talking (some of the pictures are a bit skewed as Tim was trying to be discreet and took them all from waist height) but what they don’t convey is the noise.  Loudspeakers were blasting everywhere presumably enticing people to their wares.  It sounded more like we were at a horse racing event rather than a market.

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DSC06688The area the market covered was vast and tightly packed in.  Every scrap of space was utilised.

DSC06691.JPGThere must be a strict system for where each seller sets up otherwise it would be complete chaos.

DSC06697.JPGEvery seller is grouped according to what they have to sell.

DSC06698.JPGFruits, vegetables, clothing, tools, household goods, meats etc.

DSC06707.JPGThe fruit and vegetables are just sold by the kilo unless it’s something like avocadoes which are more expensive.

DSC06725.JPGFill up a bowl with whatever you want, give it to the seller for weighing, if it doesn’t come to a round kilo then put some more into the bowl until it does.

DSC06728.JPGI had a kilo mix of carrots, courgettes and cabbage which cost five dirham (about 40p).

DSC06732.JPGLeaving the market through the busy town we passed a lot of new development in various stages of completion again in stark contrast to the hustle and bustle of the market.

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Leaving the town.
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Some sort of military establishment on the outskirts of the town.

Once away from the next couple of towns the landscape opened up into rolling green hills not unlike you would see in some parts of the UK.

We wanted to stop at Volubilis, the most important archaeological site in Morocco.

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The vast site of Volubilis.

It dates back to the 3rd century BC and the site covers 400 000 square metres.  We could have been back in Greece.

P1150103.JPGWe spent a couple of peaceful hours strolling round the site and enjoyed hearing all the birdsong after the noise at the market.

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DSC06757.JPGWe then based ourselves for three nights at Camping Zerhoun Belleview in between Moulay Idriss and Meknès so we could visit both towns on separate days.

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Mint tea served in the morning at Camping Zerhoun Belleview.

The campsites so far have been, in our opinion, absolutely fine.  They’re not to European standards and the facilities blocks are dated but all but one site has had hot water for a shower so we’re not complaining.  We are thankful that we can come here at this time of year and find open campsites as a base to explore from and retreat to after a day out.

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It’s the most attractive site we’ve stayed on so far.

We took the bus into Meknès (5 dirhams each way) for our first exploration to a larger city.  Half an hour on the bus and we were right where we needed to be in the centre of the town.

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Bab Mansour gate built at the beginning of the 18th century, and completed in 1732 by Moulay Abdallah, son of Sultan Moulay Ismail to be the grand entrance to the city.

During the reign of Moulay Ismaϊl, which began in 1672, Meknès first rose to the rank of Imperial City.  The sultan built gates, mosques, ramparts and palaces.

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Bab Berdaine gate built in the 17th Century.

Throughout his reign he robbed from the ruins of Volubilis and the Palais el-Badi in Marrakech.  It is now one of the largest cities in Morocco with over one million inhabitants.

P1150163.JPGAgain, I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves. We explored the medina and souks, the Dae el-Kebira quarter and then had a walk around the ramparts surrounding the royal complex.

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DSC06818.JPGSince this was our first outing to a large city in Morocco we didn’t know what to expect in terms of being approached by touts, faux guides, sellers and so on but in contrast to what we had been expecting we had a completely hassle free and enjoyable wander.

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Making charcoal………I think.

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Time for refreshment as it was probably in the mid twenties.

For the past week we have had nothing but kindness shown to us by the Moroccan people.  There were three examples in Meknès.  Tim needed to print off a letter to sign and post back to the UK.  On first arriving we stumbled across numerous little booths with photocopying machines and printers serving the people who needed to get papers organised for the nearby court house.  We asked a lady if she would print a few pages off for us from a memory stick, which she did and when asked how much we owed her she just smiled and said there was no charge.

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Mattress making.

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DSC06867.JPGThen in the post office the guard took the letter, stuck it down more securely with glue and unlocked the door for us when we tried to exit from the wrong end of the post office.  All with a big smile.

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Pick a key……any key.

DSC06881.JPGThirdly whilst haphazardly strolling around the medina we came across the tannery when a chap beckoned us in.  We thought he was going to just let us take a picture of the tanks and maybe ask for a payment for doing so but he took us on a tour of the whole site and explained, in French, the entire process of how the hide ends up on the soles of shoes in Italy.

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Our tour round the tannery.
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Our very kind and informative guide.

Having been warned about being lured into such situations as these and then a payment demanded at the end we were a little wary but our gut instincts told us that this chap was genuine.  And so it proved to be.

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Coo hides!
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I was glad I had shoes on…………Tim had sandles on!

DSC06906.JPGHe did take us into one area and showed us some sheep skins but didn’t ask if we wanted to buy anything.

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The square tanks are for cow hides and the round ones for sheep and goats hides.

After spending half an hour with us he took us back to the entrance and explained how to get back to Place El-Hedime, the main square.

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The site itself is like a building site.

He would have let us go without asking for anything.  I offered him fifty dirhams which he gratefully accepted, we all shook hands with smiles all round and we went on our way.  All in all a fantastic experience.

The following day we took the bus in the opposite direction to Moulay Idriss, a hill top town not far from the ruins of Volubilis.  From afar it looks like any hillside town in Spain.

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Moulay Idriss from below.

Up close it doesn’t.

DSC06951.JPGIt’s a pilgrimage centre as the tomb of Idriss Ben Abdullah Ben Hassan Ben Ali, the great-great grandson of the prophet Mohammed is entombed here.  The town is apparently an alternative to Mecca in Morocco for those unable to make the ultimate pilgrimage. For that reason various souvenir items associated with pilgrimage are on sale.

DSC06940.JPGAfter a quick lap of the central square area we headed up the hill to climb the rocky ground for a view of the town from above.

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Tim spotted this guy and his friend making their way up the hill to find some shade.

We couldn’t have timed it more perfectly as the call to prayer rang out just as we found a suitable rock to have a sit down on.  Everything fell quiet and we sat and observed the scene below us.  Not everyone stops what they are doing or whips out a travel prayer mat and points it in the direction of Mecca but it does go quiet.  Not absolutely silent but almost.

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View from the road at the other side of the town.

We consulted our trusty Maps.Me app and decided we’d prefer to take a walk down around the bottom of the town as the countryside is superb and reminiscent of the Alpujarras in Spain.  Some of the pictures show the contrast with a typical Spanish hill top town.  Most notably the rubbish.  I’m not criticising it’s just an observation.  I suspect far more gets recycled here than in the UK as, from what we’ve seen at the markets, almost anything is for sale.

P1150191.JPGThe road at the bottom of the hill ran out and became a mule track through housing and a few olive processing plants finally bringing us back into the town at the other end of the main square.  We stood for half an hour waiting for the bus and just watched the scene around us before retreating to the campsite for a much needed cup of tea.

Haggling is a way of life in Morocco and even at the campsites sellers come offering their wares.  From what we’ve read we were led to believe that certain items such as branded clothing, old electronic items and phones are in demand and can be exchanged for goods.  We had gathered together lots of items ready should such a situation arise. We put it to the test yesterday morning when a chap we’d seen the day before came with his knitware to show us.  We really liked the hats he was selling so I explained to him that as we live in the van full time we can only buy something if we get rid of something and would he be interested in an exchange.  We laid out our wares for him to peruse at his leisure.

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Let the haggling commence!

We wanted the two hats and he was very happy to do a deal.  He definitely wanted an old Samsung phone and a rechargeable razor so we agreed on those for the two hats.  But he was also really taken with the Sony MP3 player and so we exchanged that for another hat.  And then he quite liked the Berghaus fleece……….and then my old walking shoes…………and then Tim’s old Rab jacket with the broken zip……..and of course he’d need some headphones for the MP3 player!  I gave him the fleece, the shoes and a pair of headphones as a gift but Tim drew the line at the jacket.  Tim would have been a bit more ruthless than me but these were all items we would have donated to a charity in the UK or would have ended up in landfill and we were both more than happy. He was a lovely chap and went away very happy indeed.

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Two happy bunnies.

Today we’ve moved on to Camping Diamant Vert to see what Fès brings.

الله يمسك علي خير !

Morocco bound…. .

So, after my quick flit back to the UK for a few days two weeks ago our plan had always been to crack on and get over to Morocco.  After nearly three years on the road in Europe we are keen to experience a new continent and a different culture.  Our departure was a bit later than planned as I felt a bit rough with a cold I’d picked up and wanted to get over that before we travelled down to the port at Algiceras to buy our tickets.  After a few days of recuperation for me we were more than ready to leave Mikki’s place and start the next chapter in our adventures.

Thanks largely to Julie and Jason at Ourtour.co.uk who have travelled Morocco twice in their motorhome, have oodles of information on their blog and have also written a couple of books about their travels we felt forewarned and forearmed for the off.  I’ve also perused theworldisourlobstereuropebycampervandogtraveller and other blogs as well.

We stayed overnight on the unofficial motorhome aire at in Algeciras surrounded by French Camping Caristes, purchased our tickets and stocked up on last minute essentials at the Mercadona and Lidl before taking the early eight o’clock ferry to Tanger Med.

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The recommended agency by motorhomers to buy your ferry tickets from.  It’s around the corner from Carrefour in Algeciras.
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Woop!  Ready to go!

Apart from having to drive up a ramp and then reverse into position on the deck all went very smoothly and efficiently getting on to the ferry.  Far more efficiently than the experience we had last year getting the ferry from Dubrovnic to Bari.  I was expecting a bit of a scrum at the other end but Tanger Med is a modern port and it helped that we were the only ferry in at the time.  We had about fifteen minutes to wait whilst our passports and V5 documents were taken from us, checked and returned and then we were almost good to go.  After a quick sniff around the rear lockers of the van by one of the dog team who was more interested in having a chew on a pair of dumbbells in there we were heading off out of the port.   We stopped at the line of ATM’s and money exchanges before leaving the port though to pick up some cash to add to the six hundred dirham’s we’d bought from our friends Di and Chris who had travelled to Morocco last year.

As this is our first time in Morocco we thought we’d break ourselves in gently to the Moroccan experience and so we hopped onto the motorway bypassing Tangiers and headed for the little seaside town of Assilah about eighty or so kilometres from the port.

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Assilah’s ramparts built by the Portuguese in the 15th century.

It’s a popular spot for a first stopover with a couple of campsites and a guarded parking area.  We’re using Campercontact, searchforsites, park4night apps and the Camping Du Maroc guide loaned to us by our friends to find suitable places to stay.

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Camping As Saada, Assilah.

After settling in at As Saada campsite in Assilah we ventured out to the nearby Telcom Maroc shop to buy a sim card for our Huawei Mifi device.  We had to wait for an hour and ten minutes before getting served which gave me some time to work out what I was going to say in French when we finally got to the head of the queue.  Fortunately it’s a take a ticket with a number on system like you do at the deli section at Tesco’s so you can at least sit down whilst you wait and then ponder on the reason why someone with a higher number than you got served before you.  Still, we had the time to wait.  Of course when we finally did get served I blurted out my much rehearsed first line in French and the salesperson immediately switched to English.  Is it that obvious?  Yes.  Obviously.  Anyway we came out with a sim with 10gb of data valid for a month for 100 dirham (£8.15).

A ten minute walk from the campsite and we were into the old town of Assilah.

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Bab Ihoumer gate to the medina.

Surrounded by ramparts built by the Portuguese in the fifteenth century which drop down to a sandy beach it’s a warren of white and blue houses reflecting the former Portuguese influence. It was all very clean and more surprisingly very quiet.

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Inside the medina.

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Lots of the little workshops were closed.

We had expected hordes of people within the medina walls but other than a few tourists all was calm.

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Carpets…………obvs!

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This could be Portugal.

The town hosts an international summer arts festival and it’s certainly a colourful place with many of the murals on the walls painted during the festival.

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Colourful murals adorn the walls inside the medina.

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Tim finds some music on the first day!

Outside the medina walls it’s all a bit more earthy with small shops lining the streets and fruit sellers spreading out their wares across the pavements, roads and alleyways.  Piles of clothing, shoes, electrical items, phone chargers, tools and things we would consider in Europe to be worthless are all there to buy. It was all fascinating and an assault on the senses but not overwhelming. A good first introduction I think.

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Outside the walls of the medina.  

We knew we were somewhere different the following morning when we were woken up in the early morning by the call to prayer.  We weren’t sure what time it was as we were having a dispute as to whether Morocco is in line with Greenwich Mean Time and therefore the same time as the UK or whether it’s GMT+1 as in the same time as Spain.  You’d think we would have known really but as we don’t have any pressing engagements at the moment it’s not really necessary to know the time.  I’d been confused by the internet as when I looked it up it said Morocco is GMT+1 but our guide book said it was GMT.  Tim had also consulted Google and got conflicting information.  I was adamant it was GMT+1.  He was adamant it was GMT.  I’m ashamed to say it took us a couple of days to figure it out.  I mean we could have just asked someone but that would make us look a bit dim.  Anyway, in the end the mystery was solved by Mr Google who reliably informed us that Morocco had scrapped GMT in favour of GMT+1 last October.  Tim had already messed up the times of when the England v France match of the Six Nations was on so he wasn’t too happy anyway and then the wifi was too weak to get a consistent picture so that was the end of that.

 

Next up on our ‘ease us in gently to Morocco’ was the port town of Larache further down the coast.

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Larache camping.  We recived a very warm and enthusiastic welcome from the guardian!

Safely installed at the campsite six kilometres outside the town we walked the kilometre down to the Marjane supermarket to have a peruse before flagging down a ‘petit taxi’ to get us into the old town.

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The only thing different about the Marjane supermarket really was the spice and pasta/couscous/ selections.

P1150034.JPGThat was an interesting journey.  The driver spoke a little bit of French and he pointed out some of the landmarks as we sped into town at breakneck speed.

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Fixing a price before getting in!

I was glad I had a seatbelt as I was in the front but what Tim thought was his seatbelt in the back was in fact just a piece of trim hanging from the door.  It was quite amusing to hear our driver cursing and shouting expletives at other drivers poor driving skills when he was making exactly the same manoeuvres himself.  At 7 dirham (0.57p) for the six kilometre trip it was both entertaining and dirt cheap though so worth it.

Larache it turned out was more fascinating than Assilah.  Far less touristy.

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Below the medina at Larache.

The fishermen had not long landed their catch and the quay was alive with activity.

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The fish market.

The steep and narrow alleys of the medina were quiet and great to stroll around taking it all in.

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Inside the walls of the Medina at Larache.

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Again very quiet.

Little tiny workshops lined the alleyways with men working in almost darkness on whatever trade they plied be it shoe repair, clothing alterations, sewing, tool repairs etc etc.

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Lots of the little workshops were closed.
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I would have loved to take some pictures of the workshops but felt it would be too rude.

Everything is such a vibrant colour and everywhere you look there is something new to take in.

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More colourful murals.

So that’s it for our first few days in Morocco.

It’s early days but we’re enjoying the experience so far.

نتلقاو !

 

We’ve said our goodbyes to Donkey HQ…. .

Ok, so the last time I updated the blog Christmas was upon us.

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Watching ‘White Christmas’ on Christmas Eve.  What can I say?  It’s a tradition for Tim!

I seem to have lost six weeks somewhere.

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Christmas Day picnic on Amoreira beach.

Where it went I couldn’t say.

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A trip to the circus at Monchique with our friends Di and Chris.

But there is no denying that it has gone.

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A very low key New Years Eve in Portimao.

Christmas and New Year are but a distant memory and we are now firmly into February.

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I’m going to do a short post today.

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One of many swims in December and January.

It has to be short.

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Tim found some new musical friends in Aljezur.

If I don’t get a post out today and breathe some life back into this blog it may well expire before my eyes.

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There’s nothing like a good roll to start the day off right.

It’s difficult to write a blog post after a gap of being incommunicado.

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Okami, Mel, Falco, Emil, Luna and Flor swapping news after a coupe of weeks apart.

My memory and attention span are limited.

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Flor and Luna returning to donkey HQ after a little holiday with a Dutch family who live in the hills nearby.

The previous weeks at Donkey HQ passed by so quickly it is hard to believe we spent eight weeks there.

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Xiquito ready to carry the packed lunches for a two hour trek.

We said a sad goodbye to our host and our charges over a week ago after experiencing many great days with them under warm sunny skies.

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Time for some relaxation on a two hour trek.

And some not so warm sunny mornings.

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It went down to below zero overnight for most of January but the days were into the twenties.

We’ve taken treks and trips.

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Kali loaded up with the recycling.

Some have worked out…………………..some haven’t!

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Tim loaded up with the recycling after Kali refused to go further than the Donkey HQ perimeter!  I think the writing was on the wall in the previous picture.

Jojo and Filipa, two young inexperienced donkeys, made a successful day trip to the beach under the guiding hooves of Xiquito.

 

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A days trek to the beach with Xiquito, Filipa and Jojo. (A training day for Filipa and Jojo who are young and have much to learn).

There really is never a dull moment when looking after them.

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Trekking through Rogil village on the way to the sea.  It took Jojo (middle one) a while to pluck up the courage to go over the pedestrian crossing – the stripes fazed him for a bit!

They all have their own personalities, friendships and foibles and it does take time to get the measure of their individual ways.

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It was a sixteen kilometre round trip.  The young ones had to cope with marauding cows, barking dogs, cars, lorries, traffic lights, bridges, a busy road and a river crossing.

It’s been a great learning experience though and I hope to be able to spend more time with donkeys in the future.

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Taking a well earned break on our days trek.

Of all the animals we have looked after on our travels (cats, dogs, sheep, alpacas, pigs, cows) donkeys are definitely my firm favourite.

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The donkeys relaxed whilst we went down onto the beach.

It’s not all been donkeys though.

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Vale dos Homens beach.

We hired a car for three weeks and made the most of the beaches on the wild Atlantic coast.

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The coast at Carrepeteira.

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We captured the lunar eclipse at the beach at four o’clock in the morning.

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The total lunar eclipse seen from the Atlantic coast of Portugal on 21st January 2019.

And then it was time to get back on the road.

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Praia da Marinha beach.

Tim spent the last week or so back at Mikki’s campsite on the Algarve whilst I made a fleeting visit back to the UK to see my parents.

But tomorrow it’s time for pastures new.

We will miss Portugal.

But Spain awaits.

Até qualquer dia!