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.

P1150076.JPG
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.

P1150079.JPG
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.

IMG_20190212_111632415.jpg
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.

P1150081.JPG
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.

P1150085.JPG
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).

P1150086.JPG
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.

DSC06687.JPG

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.

P1150088.JPG
Leaving the town.
P1150090.JPG
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.

P1150100.JPG
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.

DSC06755.JPG

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.

DSC06781.JPG
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.

P1150133.JPG
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.

P1150138.JPG
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.

P1150152.JPG
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.

DSC06785.JPG

DSC06791.JPG

DSC06795.JPG

DSC06814.JPG

DSC06817.JPG

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.

DSC06824

DSC06826.JPG
Making charcoal………I think.

DSC06828

DSC06833.JPG

DSC06838.JPG

DSC06843.JPG

DSC06846.JPG

DSC06853.JPG
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.

DSC06857.JPG
Mattress making.

DSC06862.JPG

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.

DSC06878
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.

DSC06884.JPG
Our tour round the tannery.
DSC06889.JPG
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.

DSC06890.JPG

DSC06898.JPG
Coo hides!
DSC06900.JPG
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.

DSC06907.JPG

DSC06913.JPG

P1150155.JPG
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.

DSC06921.JPG
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.

P1150171.JPG
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.

DSC06957
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.

P1150188.JPG
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.

DSC06934.JPG
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.

DSC06932.JPG
Two happy bunnies.

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

الله يمسك علي خير !