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 theworldisourlobster, europebycamper, vandogtraveller 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
We had expected hordes of people within the medina walls but other than a few tourists all was calm.
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.
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.
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.
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.
That 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.
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.
The fishermen had not long landed their catch and the quay was alive with activity.
The steep and narrow alleys of the medina were quiet and great to stroll around taking it all in.
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.
Everything is such a vibrant colour and everywhere you look there is something new to take in.
So that’s it for our first few days in Morocco.
It’s early days but we’re enjoying the experience so far.