Cascade d’Ouzoud…. .

After Marrakech, Camping Zebra on the outskirts of Ozoud was the perfect place for a regroup, a relax and a bit of peace and quiet.

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Corner pitch at Camping Zebra in Ouzoud.

The campsite is very well maintained with a cafe and seating area to relax in as well as great views if you can bag a pitch towards the back of the site.

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Views from our pitch………………..until another van took the pitch in front later in the day.

The Cascades d’Ouzoud are Morocco’s highest waterfall and just a fifteen minute walk from the campsite.  At 110 metres high they are pretty impressive and very easily accessible from the town.

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The top of the falls with a new hotel being built in the background.

P1160844.JPGThe town itself sits above the falls and has the usual cafes and touristy shops.  After a breakfast of pancakes and coffee at one of the cafes we had a gander at the falls before taking a footpath which follows the direction of the river downstream on the eastern side for a couple of kilometres.

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Just a chain stops anyone from going over the edge and most people go over it anyway to take pictures.

There are several paths leading down to the river.  As it was still early (before 11 o’clock) most of the cafes and little makeshift shops were still closed or in the process of opening up.

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Taking the path down to the bottom of the waterfall on the east side of the river.

Some were hoping to catch the early birds and already had all their wares out on display. It was a good time to visit.

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Some sellers had set out their wares early.

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Spot the macaque.
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Cafes further down the valley.

P1160873.JPGTowards the end of the footpath where the river converges with another one we acquired a guide.  Aouiss appeared out of the last cafe on the path and asked if we wanted to have a tajine for lunch.  Telling him we had already eaten didn’t deter him as he skipped alongside us giving a running commentary on the area, the river, Berbère life etc.  We didn’t really need a guide but as he indulged me in speaking French even though he could speak English well enough we let him lead us to wherever he intended on leading us knowing that the tour wouldn’t be ‘free’.  I was happy to have a bit of French practice and he did take us to see some rock formations which had been sculpted by the river over millennia which we probably wouldn’t have seen otherwise.

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Some of the rock formations that our guide led us to.

There was a bit of scrambling and climbing to do which posed no problems to our ‘guide’ as he had the agility of a goat whereas we had trouble keeping up.

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After our impromptu tour Aouiss proposed that we cross the river and he’d take us on a tour to a traditional berbère village and then back to see the falls from several different viewpoints before returning to Ouzoud.  As it was going to take a couple of hours I thought we’d better agree a price before we set off.  You’d think that it would be a simple thing to do but it’s easier said than done here.  After a conversation along the lines of ‘money come, money go, you enjoy, I share with you, I am happy to share, we are Bebères, you see, you enjoy, we look, I show you, we see ancient village, is very good, we want to share our culture, all my family are Bebères, we have no frontiers, money is not important, money come, money go, you see good things, we are friends, if after you offer something, I am happy, you are happy, everyone is happy, no problem’ we were no further forward so we just went with it, took off our shoes and made our way across the river.

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Tim was so pleased to have to cross the river.  Not!

Aouiss took off up the hill the other side like a rat up a drainpipe whilst we huffed and puffed trying to keep up.

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The hills are alive……

It was spectacular though and the paths we took weren’t marked on our map and neither was the village that we visited and I still don’t know the name of it as it’s not named on google maps either.

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The traditional Berbere village where we had tea.

It was great to see the traditionally built pisé houses in the village as there wasn’t any development with any of the concrete block style of housing.  We stopped for tea there whilst Aouiss smoked cannabis from a home made pipe and talked to us about how the village had only just had running water installed into the houses in the last seven months.  Before that ladies and children collected water from a tap at the edge of the village.

P1160913.JPGThe king had visited Ouzoud a few years ago and had commissioned the hotel to be built that was in the third picture of this blog post and also for a new mosque for the village that we visited.  The mosque has taken just two years to complete.

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P1160915.JPGDropping down the hill from the village we were introduced to one of the farmers who was busy ploughing one of the little terraces with the help of two donkeys.  Then it was a climb back up to see the falls from afar.

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The village in the background from the other side of the valley.
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Teenage boys were tending their goats and gathering thyme.
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The falls from afar.
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It’s a popular day trip and holiday destination for Moroccans too.

 

All in all we were with Aouiss for three hours and we’d really enjoyed the walk which turned out to be a good work out trailing behind in his wake.  We stopped a few hundred metres from the campsite where our guide turned to us and asked if we had enjoyed the tour.  When we said we had he said ‘ok, then we are all happy with €40’.  Eh?  €40?  Where did that come from?  What happened to ‘we are happy if you offer something at the end?’  Mmm, it seemed we were at cross purposes.  Basing the price on our tour of Fèz which lasted six hours and included transport to and from the campsite and cost us €35, ten percent of which probably has to go to the campsite because the guide has exclusive access to the campers, I had thought €20 would have been more than a fair price for a three hour impromptu tour on foot.  In the end we agreed on €20 and he went away with a few clothes that we had left from our bag of stuff.  It hadn’t been an unpleasant exchange at the end and he wasn’t in the least bit threatening but I did feel a little disappointed with the way he’d gone about it especially as we had tried to agree a set price before the tour proper had started.  Still, we were still happy that we’d seen some of the countryside and a bit of village life that we wouldn’t otherwise have seen.

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When we saw how busy it was at the falls in the afternoon after our walk we decided to have a look at the falls from the other side of the river in the early morning.  A path, lined with cafes and shops, zigzags down the hill to the bottom of the falls.

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You don’t realise there are so many until you walk down through them all.  It was sad to see a fair bit of litter around and it all had a bit of a shabby look to it.  The shopkeepers try to keep their areas clean and tidy and litter free and even sweep the earth in some cases.

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Freshly swept earth in front of the cafe at the bottom of the falls.

Bearing in mind the access is limited and things can only be brought in and out by foot or by hoof it would be great if people took their litter away with them.

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Bread delivery.

Everyone has pockets or a bag and it would be an easy thing to do.  Hey-ho.

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Our guide had told us there are two troupes of Macaque’s.  One troupe hang around near the top of the falls awaiting food from humans and the other troupe keep to themselves and feed on the olives and acorns.

P1160969.JPGOur intention after Ouzoud had been to head back to the coast north of Casablanca to follow the Atlantic back to Tanger Med but as we didn’t fancy any more large cities we decided to go up the middle via Azrou and Meknès again.

Chefchaouen in the Rif mountains is in our sights before heading back to Spain.

ⴰⵔ ⵜⵉⵎⵍⵉⵍⵉⵜ!

Marrakech…. .

Nine weeks ago we would never have even considered driving into central Marrakech to spend a couple of nights at a guarded car park just outside the medina walls.  When I suggested it to Tim I never expected him to shrug and say ‘yep, no problem’.  All the campsites are between ten and fifteen kilometres outside the city and, unless we wanted to do a bit of a dog leg, we would have had to drive almost into the city anyway.  The closest guarded parking is within spitting distance of the Katoubia Mosque and just a five or ten minute walk to the famous Place Jemaa el-Fna.  The drawback is that it’s busy with cars coming and going every hour of the day.  The park4night app indicated another car parking area just a little further away just outside the city walls which looked and sounded less busy.  We got there without incident.  The traffic builds up at around the six kilometre mark outside the city but wasn’t as horrendous as we’d imagined.

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The build up of traffic on the way into the city.

It was about midday so not the busiest time of day but it is a bit of a free for all especially at traffic lights where petit taxis will creep up the inside in the cycle lane to get to the front of the queue.  Oh, and there’ll be scooters, mopeds and bikes galore filling up any spare gap to be filled.  We had two incidents of a moped pulling alongside at the traffic lights with the rider trying to engage Tim in a bit of chit chat.  We knew they were trying to get us to follow them to a campsite and charge us for their services as we’d read about such events on the Ourtour blog.  It happened on our way out of Fèz too.  After being ignored for a few minutes they turned around and rode off into the oncoming traffic.

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Outside the walls of the city just getting close to our parking spot.

Once at the parking we paid our fifty dirhams a night (£4.00) and settled in on the tarmac.  There was plenty of space so we didn’t have cars coming and going past us all day.

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Our park up spot a fifteen minute walk from the centre of Marrakech.

It goes without saying it was noisy as it’s adjacent to four lanes of traffic but it was a five minute walk to a Carrefour supermarket and still only a fifteen minute walk to where the action is. Perfect for a night or two.

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Three French vans had coralled themselves into a semi circle and had all the tables and chairs out!

Our plans for Marrakech were just to wander aimlessly.  In other words we had no plans for Marrakech.  We weren’t in the market for buying any more carpets and had no plans to start in on any negotiating for pottery, jewellery, ornaments, metalwork, leather, basketry, fabric, drums, clothing, spices or anything else that Marrakech is famous for.  No, we were all shopped out after our last lengthy carpet negotiations.

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The walk into town.
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Koutoubia Mosque.

The question is how do you manage not to buy anything in a city like Marrakech where you have to weave your way past the most tenacious sellers in the world?  I took the lead from Tim.  Ignore everyone.  It may not be the politest way to go about things but it does work.  Tim is a past master at it.  He finds it much easier than I do as I at least like to smile and say no thank you.

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Camel and baby a few minutes walk from where we were parked.

Walking around the souks before midday also helps as it takes a while for Morocco to wake up in the mornings and most sellers look a bit dazed before eleven o’clock.

P1160778.JPGPlace Jemaa el-Fna, a large open area, is the nerve centre of Marrakech and has been declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.  The different souks radiate north and east from it.  Our guide book describes how, up to the 19th Century, criminals on death row, were beheaded, their heads pickled and suspended from the city gates.   Sometimes up to as many as forty five per day.  Now the area serves as a market in the mornings selling plants, nuts, confectionary and freshly squeezed fruits.  From late afternoon things change.  Street food stalls are quickly set up with their charcoal grills of billowing smoke.

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Place Jemaa el-Fna during the day before it gets busy.
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The juice sellers at the Place Jemaa el-Fna.  

There’ll be snake charmers, monkey tamers, musicians, story tellers drawing in the crowds.  We had a wander around in the early evening on our first day in Marrakech.  Call me a party pooper but I really didn’t like it.  Chained monkeys performing for photographs, snakes being manhandled here there and everywhere, a few caged reptiles for sale, henna tattooists touting for business, smoke, fumes from mopeds, noise and crowds of people.

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Hand carts for hire (I presume) out side the main souk.

We had planned before our visit to have a meal or coffee on one of the cafe roof terraces above the square so we could have an unencumbered eyeball at all that was going on but in the end we really didn’t fancy it.

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Some of the restaurant terraces overlooking Place Jemaa el-Fna.

The following morning we had a very relaxed few hours wandering round all the different souks without any hassle.

P1160788.JPGIt’s not easy to find your way in any of the souks and we did find ourselves in residential areas or at dead ends quite a few times.

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Moroccan men take their personal grooming seriously and there are thousands of tiny barbers shops with just a chair or two inside.

We probably missed some of the souks as I don’t remember seeing basketry, wool or silk but it didn’t matter as there are plenty of other things to be distracted by.

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The most interesting for us is always the metalworking souks where blacksmiths work standing in a hole up to their thighs whilst doing something or other with metal in a furnace alongside.  Everything spills out onto the street and iron is bashed and hammered into shape or welded with all the sparks flying over everyone going past.

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You could find all sorts in this area outside the main walls of the city.

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P1160807 (1).JPGEven though Marrakech is a bit mad and crowded we didn’t feel at all unsafe though. When we got lost people pointed us in the right direction and we didn’t pick up any extra baggage in the form of someone trying to take us on a tour.  We received far less attention than we’d imagined.

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Another market outside the walls.

P1160804By the time we got back to the van we felt like we had lungs full of lead though as the mopeds, motorbikes and scooters still drive right through the narrow alleyways of the souks.  The covered souks were the worst and full of fumes.  It all adds to the experience and as a one-off visit its ok but I’m grateful I don’t have to work day in and day out in those conditions.

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Dubious animal transport.

We found the souks of Fès much more fascinating as they had a real medieval feel and we felt like we’d stepped back in time.  Any form of motorised traffic is banned in the main souks of Fès so it’s much better for the lungs as well.

There’s much more to see in Marrakech but after an evening and a day we were happy to escape back to calmer places.  All in all doing Marrakech is a right of passage on any visit to Morocco but I can’t say we would be rushing back.

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Sunrise on the RN8 heading east out of Marrakech.

The Cascades d’Ouzoud a one hundred and fifty kilometre drive east beckoned.

ⴰⵔ ⵜⵓⴼⴰⵜ!

Agadir to Essaouira…. .

The first one hundred kilometres of the R105 from Tafraoute back to the coast at Agadir was pretty jaw dropping.

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The fortified village of Tioulit.

Epic mountain scenery interspersed with small work a day villages, shepherds tending their flocks, the odd donkey, ladies working patches of scrubby land, distant villages clinging to hillsides, little traffic and lots of bends.  It’s a good road but slow going.

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Villages blend in to the scenery.

Once down onto the flatter plains nearer to the coast the traffic and chaos built up again.

The novelty of Agadir drew us in as did the promise of the sale of beer at a supermarket just off the ring road.  Alcohol was indeed on sale in a separate room at the side of the supermarket behind an iron shutter with a gold curtain pulled across it.  If Tim had a tail to wag it would have been wagging.

The campsite at Agadir didn’t disappoint and has definitely earned its many one and two star reviews.  We had been warned so we weren’t complaining.

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Municipal campsite at Agadir.  Electricity didn’t work and there was no water in  the showers.

It’s a municipal campsite just a short walk from the seafront and next door to some newish holiday apartments so I’m guessing it’s just not being maintained as it will eventually be sold off for a new holiday complex.  It felt safe though and was fine for a night.

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The pool area.

Although the beach front didn’t really feel like the same Morocco we’ve been seeing it also didn’t feel like being in Europe either as there aren’t any really high rise buildings. The highest reach maybe four or five floors.

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The seafront of Agadir.

We had a very enjoyable stroll along the length of the seafront and back before heading further up the coast.

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P1160648 (1).JPGIt’s really not developed at all in between Agadir and Essaouira and was a pleasant drive.

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The N1 between Agadir and Essaouira.
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Ladies doing something with shellfish.  A few children held up bags of them along the roadside trying to sell them.

As there isn’t a campsite at Essaouira we stopped twenty kilometres short at Sidi Kaouki, a low key surfy type of place.

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Camping Soleil at Sidi Kaouki.  60 dirhams a night including electric although it’s really only strong enough to run the lights and fridge.  40 dirhams to use the washing machine. Unfinished holiday houses behind obscure the view of the beach.
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Camping Le Kaouki Beach next door – has a cafe and looks flashier but doesn’t get great reviews.  I think it’s 95 dirhams a night.

We spent a couple of days relaxing there before taking the bus into Essaouira.

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Sidi Kaouki beach.

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P1160672 (1).JPGAs the ‘regular’ bus failed to show up we decided to take the mini bus instead.  We’ve seen these old mini buses all over Morocco but it was our first time using one.  Once we were on the driver shouted at someone to get out of his seat to let me sit down.  His needs looked greater than mine though so I indicated that I was happy to stand.  You have to shut your eyes to any aspects of health and safety in Morocco and the mini bus is no different.  By the time we’d picked up people on the way I’d counted twenty eight people on the bus.  If you counted children on laps and on the floor squeezed between seats it was probably more.

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Mini buses are a vital form of transport for the locals.

A conductor operates the sliding door and takes your fare.  Ten dirhams each (80p).  Frequently the sliding door is left open to let a little air in.  Once the mini bus gets busier the conductor will indicate where he wants someone to stand.  Luggage is put under seats or on laps to make the best use of the available space.  There are no bus stops.  The driver just beeps his horn to let people know he’s coming to give them a chance to indicate whether or not they want to get on.  It’s not much different to getting on the tube in London at rush hour.

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Outside the medina in Essaouira.

Essaouira is touristy but fab.  It’s an eighteenth century military port that has a shabby chic charm about it.

P1160683.JPGIt has everything to make a good day out.  A bustling medina, ramparts, a long sandy beach and a fishing port.

DSC07574.JPGAs nothing really gets going in Morroco before the afternoon the medina was a pleasure to stroll around without any hassle except for the occasional ‘come look inside’.

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Thuya wood, a dense hardwood, is grown in abundance in the regionand is used to make coffee tables, caskets, statues, boxes, and jewellery.
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The drum maker.

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P1160695.JPGAfter lunch we mooched down to the fishing port.  It was without doubt the most interesting fishing port we have seen so far.  It’s also pongy, noisy and crowded.

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From the 18th century forty percent of Atlantic sea traffic passed through Essaouira.  It was once one of Morocco’s largest sardine ports.

DSC07555We watched in morbid fascination as four sharks were manhandled out of one of the little fishing boats and onto a handcart.

P1160718.JPGIt took four men to lift each one.  The only time I’ve seen anything quite like it is on an episode of Extreme Fishing with Robson Green.

DSC07563.JPGFurther along the quay a trawler was being unloaded.  A lorry full of ice had just arrived and been dumped onto the quayside.

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Ice delivery.

P1160747.JPGWe’ve never seen such a hive of activity on a fishing boat before.  Normally you’d see maybe up to three men unloading fish that has already been kept frozen on board.  Here there were up to twenty men on the boat loading trays and dozens more on the quayside.

P1160739.JPGBarbecues were on the go grilling, nets were being repaired, seagulls were swarming, cats, cats and more cats were everywhere.

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DSC07599.JPGSo did we buy anything?

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The Squala du port (sea bastions) in the south of the town.

No, we’d don’t really do fish!

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View towards the medina from the port.

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Cafes selling grilled fish outside the port.

We saw the number two bus back to Sidi Kaouki idling just outside the medina walls so made a mad dash to get on it.  Standing room only.  As it turned out there was no rush.  The bus driver was nowhere to be seen.  Half an hour we waited before the bus left.  Gradually every spare space was filled with people and luggage.  One rotund lady decided she wanted to be in the middle of the bus next to a friend so shoved everyone out of the way in her attempt to get there.  Then she decided she needed some more shopping so elbowed her way off again.  Armed with milk and orange juice she jabbed her way to the middle again.  Three times she got off and back on again in that half hour.  Finally she settled in for the journey by budging up a lady sitting in a seat with her two children.  I’ve got to give it to her she was a lady who knew exactly what she wanted and managed to get at least a cheek on the seat.  I’m sure it wouldn’t have been so comical if we had to do the journey every day.  At seven dirhams each (56p) it was as cheap as chips.  It took over an hour though as it makes detours to the airport and other little villages.

P1160765.JPG Tim did enjoy some of his beer stash at the end of it. 

Marrakesh next.

بسلامه!

The Aït Mansour gorge…. .

A photo post today of the Aït Mansour gorge.

P1160557.JPG We weren’t the only ones on the way there that day.

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It’s just a thirty kilometre detour south of Tafraoute.

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Along good mostly single track road but with plenty of room pullover onto piste to pass other vehicles.

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Fortunately you don’t see much traffic.

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It was well worth the detour.

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Palmeries line the bottom of the valley.

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You can stay overnight in the parking area for twenty dirhams.

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After the parking area the road gets narrower.

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Because there’s hardly any traffic its a pleasant walk.

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The frogs are noisy.

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Very noisy.

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The views are spectacular.

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A small community live and work here.

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Tourism is starting to make its mark.

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A cafe or two have opened up.

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New and old together.

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What a place.

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Back in Tafraoute.

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We tried another of the three campsites before heading back to the coast.

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Super!

مسا لخير!

The Anti Atlas mountain town of Tafraoute…. .

So, we’ve taken up residence at Camping Granite Rose just outside Tafraoute, a small town set in the spectacular scenery of the Anti Atlas mountains.

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Camping Granite Rose, Tafraoute.  
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To cope with the number of Motorhomers coming to Tafraoute the Mayor of the town has given permission for vans to stay in the palmeries at a cost of 20 dirham a night.
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Whilst its appealing it’s also taken away a lot of business from the three campsites already established and there must be a detrimental environmental impact on the palmeries.

We’ve been here for a week now and could probably stay another if there wasn’t so much to see in Morocco before our ninety day visa runs out.

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The scenic drive from Tiznit to Tafraoute.

The town itself is fairly compact, busy, bustling and has everything you need but it’s the surrounding countryside that is so appealing here.

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Nearer to Tafraoute the road went into single track tarmac but plenty of room to pass other vehicles.

It’s a popular area for climbers but there are plenty of opportunities for walking and cycling which could keep you entertained for a week or two no problem.

P1160368.JPGThe town is touristy but as the town serves as an administrative centre for a large surrounding area it still fulfils the needs of the wider population.

P1160373.JPGBabouches (traditional leather shoes) are the main speciality here with lots of little stalls making and selling them.  One of our guidebooks even mentions the BTT (babouche tout terrain) which are go anywhere footwear with an extra thick sole to cope with the rocky terrain here.

P1160372.JPGOn our first sortie into town we were approached a Berber on a moped grinning from ear to ear.  We can spot a carpet seller a mile off now.  As we were still in the market for a new carpet for the kitchen area we allowed ourselves to be led to his shop around the corner.  And so it was that the carpet show commenced whilst tea was served.  We settled in for the long haul.  I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve explained that we are looking for something petite as we are living an odd kind of life.  Our smiling seller, who said he treats finding the right carpet as a sport, was not deterred.  He layed out carpet after carpet after carpet at our feet.  All too big.  We continued to smile, he continued on his quest.  Finally he came up with something.  I quite liked it but we were still unsure if it would fit or if it would look right.  No problem.  Our seller suggested we take it with us to try out and to come back the next day to talk about prices and to bring with us anything we might have to barter as well.  Even though the Moroccan’s treat selling as an Olympic sport they are also very trusting.  So, we took it back to the van to try on so to speak.  Nope, it wasn’t right.  We went back the next day then armed with the carpet and a motley assortment of unwanted items like clothes, phones and electrical equipment.

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Off for my early morning business meeting armed with the carpet and other sundry items to trade.

After breaking it to our seller that the carpet wasn’t right the whole saga started again.  He still couldn’t find anything that was just right even after suggesting he could cut one in half.  No problem.  He walked us to the other side of town to peruse his brother’s carpets!  I’d have given up on us long ago but the Moroccans are made of sterner stuff.

We had the same problem.  Everything was too long.  Out of all the ones he showed us there was just one I thought would look right but it was fifty or sixty centimetres too long.  No problem. It could be cut to the size we want.  I have to say it pained me to think that they were just going to chop a bit off this handmade carpet that had probably taken weeks to make.  But, a sale is a sale.

The husband of the lady who’d made the carpet was brought in to peruse our bag of ‘stuff’ and to take over the negotiating.  The price he started out with and the price we offered were poles apart.  We upped our offer and threw in a couple of old phones.  He dropped his price.  We sucked our teeth.  He left alone us ‘to chat’.  We upped our offer and threw in some shirts, trousers and a fleece.  He came down a bit more on his price.  We sucked our teeth some more.  He left us alone again ‘to chat’.  More clothes were added to the pile and we upped our offer just a tad.  Finally, after what seemed forever, we gave our final offer and reached an agreement.  We came away five hundred dirhams and a bag of clothes lighter but we were happy.  I was glad I didn’t have to see his wife’s face when he went upstairs to ask her to cut the carpet she’d spent weeks labouring over into two pieces and then let her know ‘oh, and by the way, they are coming back at 5.00pm this afternoon to pick up both ends’.  Are we happy with it?  Oh, yes.  Is it beige?  Of course.

 

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Beige, yes, but there is some colour in there.
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Variations on a theme of beige and a riot of colour going on with the little carpet with the camel woven into it upfront!  

I don’t think I could furnish a house with Moroccan carpets as it would just be too exhausting.

But, HA-LAY-LOO-YAA, we have now thrown out our old carpets.  Yay!  Tim put them next to the bin outside the campsite.  They’d disappeared within an hour so the old down duvet that we haven’t used for two years went next to the bin as well.  That disappeared too.

Apart from carpet buying we’ve made the most of the excellent weather we’ve had here by getting out and about on foot and by bike.  We had an excellent walk over to the Vallée des Ameln (Valley of Almonds) and came back over some spectacular high plateaus and rocky paths to the campsite.

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The path descending into the Valley of Almonds.
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The view from the valley floor.
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Some restoration going on in one of the villages.
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The path led us right through a farm manufacturing kids.
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Comig back up our of the valley with stupendous views behind.

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A small visllage on the road between Tiznit and Tafraoute

I had made a minor error with the map which added another four kilometres to our already eighteen kilometre walk which Tim forgave me for…………..eventually.

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The village five kilometres south of Tafraoute on the Tiznit road was worth a detour.

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P1160537.JPGWe cycled out to see Napoleons Hat and the Painted Rocks.

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Le Chapeau de Napoleon,
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Aguerd Oudad village on the other side of Napoleans Hat.

‘Les Pierres Bleu’ was a huge art project created by Belgian landscape artist Jean Vérame in the mid eighties.

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The last few kilometres to the Painted Rocks.

Tons of litres of blue, red and purple paint were used to cover four different areas of rocks.  It looks a bit surreal from a distance but up close it all looks less appealing as the paint has faded and most of the rocks are covered in graffiti.

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They look better from a distance.

P1160445.JPGThe views from the area though are immense and well worth the cycle ride to get to them.

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On the way back to Tafraoute.

I took a bike ride out to have a look at some of the small Berber villages nestled on the southern slopes of Jbel el Kest in the Vallée des Ameln.

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Tasga Ntodm village on the slopes of Jbel el Kest.

It was nice to see some of the old housing being restored.

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P1160493.JPGI vaguely remembered reading something about ‘la tête du lion’, a natural rock formation that looks like the head of a lion.  Seeing on my map that it was fairly close to where I’d parked the bike I thought I’d go in search of it.  Whilst on route I was lucky enough to spot a wild boar.  It saw me as soon as I saw it so it shot off before I even had time to think about whipping the camera out.  I wasn’t even aware there were any wild boar in Morocco with it being a pork product free country.  I climbed up the rough rocky path for an hour or so but still couldn’t see anything that resembled a lion’s head.

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It was worth the hours climb for the views alone.

After consulting google for a picture of it I was pretty certain I was looking at the right thing but it still looked nothing like the pictures on google images.  Thirty minutes later after having scrambled up this and that rock for a view from a different angle I admitted defeat and thought the images on google had been taken at a different time of day or had been photo shopped.

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You can vagely see a lions head…………I think.

Back on the bike and back to the main road through the valley I glanced to my left across to the hillside and there it was.  In all its glory.  Doh!  Unbeknown to me it was in full view on my ride towards the valley.  In fact it can be seen from the campsite.  Oh, how I laughed!

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Tada………..La tête du lion.
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Handsome.
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There he is again through the palms.

Anyway, onwards to the Aït Mansour gorge thirty kilometres away.

The Atlantic coast South of Agadir…. .

All roads heading into the deep South begin at Agadir.  That’s what our guidebook told us.  We just wanted to visit the supermarket.  We just can’t seem to shake off our western habits.  You can take us out of Europe but you can’t take Europe out of us.  Oh, but then maybe you can with Brexit.  Anyway, after three weeks of not being able to drive a trolley Tim was getting withdrawal symptoms.  As per usual it was a shock to get back to a large city again.  Traffic, people, donkeys, carts, mopeds, tuk tuks, vans, lorries everywhere.

We swung into a large parking area behind the Marjane supermarket on the outskirts of Agadir just relieved to have got there.  We’d already decided we weren’t going to stop in Agadir as the only campsite there gets the worst reviews we’ve seen so far.  Out of thirty five reviews on the Park4night App only three were above two stars.  So, we gave it a miss preferring to head further south to a campsite at Sidi Ouassay right behind a beach and close to the Souss Massa National Park.

We did get waylaid by a bustling market just across the road from where we’d parked.  We’ve been to quite a few markets now and all are fascinating in their own way.  Part of this market was a bit like a giant carboot sale except it looked like most of the sellers were camped there permanently and didn’t have any transport save for the odd donkey parked up.  There must have been over a hundred sellers spread out across an area the size of a football pitch or two.  Nearly everything that was for sale was laid out on tarpaulins on the ground.  Everything was second, or third, or fourth or tenth hand and piled in no particular order.  Backs of old television sets, old fridges and electrical items, broken tablets, phones, nuts and bolts, broken taps, odd wheels, loos, more TV remote controls than you can shake a stick at, piles of clothing, shoes in pairs and some alone, trinkets………..in short just a mass of stuff.  Things we see no value in have value here.  Next to the giant car boot sale there were several very narrow alleyways lined with a ramshackle assortment of shops made out of corrugated iron and recycled materials selling timber, mattresses, furniture, metal, tools, bikes, old mopeds and household goods, all of them in tall, dark, narrow, cramped spaces.  We didn’t see the seafront in Agadir with its hotels, modern buildings and open spaces but it’s hard to imagine an area so different yet so close to the market we were wandering around.  It gives you much to think about.

After the hustle and bustle of Agadir and a seemingly unending ribbon of buildings lining the RN1 heading south the small coastal village of Sidi Ouassay was like a ghost town.

I’m not sure if it is a holiday destination during the summer but it’s really the first place we have been to that didn’t seem to be lived in or alive with people.

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Sleepy Sidi Ouassay.

Just a couple of small shops and plenty of unfinished apartments.

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The road to the campsite.

Maybe the money ran out.  The campsite, though, was right behind the beach and had a really good sized swimming pool so we stayed four nights for a regroup and a bit of down time.

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Sidi Ouassay Campsite.

The Souss Massa National Park is nearby and we were very fortunate to see seventy or so Bald Ibis whilst taking a walk along the beach to Sidi Rabat.

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Bald Ibis.

The Bald Ibis is a threatened species and Morocco is apparently home to half the world’s population.

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The beach at Sidi Rabat an hours walk from Sidi Ouassay.
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Lots of little fishermens caves line the coast.
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This one had been made into a little cafe.
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Blowholes along the coast heading south from Sidi Oussay.

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Moving further south again we headed inland for an overnight stop at Tiznit.  The municipal camp site just outside the towns walls seems to be full from November to the end of February predominantly with French camping caristes but when we arrived there were plenty of spaces available.

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Municipal campsite at Tiznit.
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The walls surrounding the medina are being restored and there’s lots of work still going on.

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There’s always something interesting to see.

P1160345.JPGQuite a few of the French motorhomes appeared to be spending the winter at the site but although the town is nice enough an overnight stop was enough for us before heading back to the coast to walk along the beach at Legzira to have a look at its infamous rock arch.

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Camping Erkounte Park midway between Mirleft and Sidi Ifni.  The campsite has a good cafe and great facilities but the nearest town is 10km away.
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The beach below the campsite was deserted but none too clean.
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Fishermens huts a twenty minute walk from the campsite.
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The natural rock arch on Legzira beach.

P1160251.JPGI have to be honest we weren’t feeling the love for the coast as much as where we had been inland.  After having driven through such vast, arid, rocky landscapes for over a month the coast left us feeling a bit flat.  Admittedly if I’d been at work for several weeks or months and was then just transplanted to the southern Morocco coast I’d have definitely been pretty happy to be there.  As it was it was just OK! After an overnight stop in the previously Spanish enclave of Sidi Ifni it was time to head inland again.

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Camping Gran Canaria at Sidi Ifni.  You’re spoilt for choice in Sidi Ifni for campsites.  This one was not far from the seafront and the showers were relly good.
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Sidi Ifni, once a Spanish enclave, is a colourful mixture of restored and well kept buildings alongside half built or crumbling ones.
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Above the seafront.
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Place Hassan II (also known as Plaza de Espana) surrounded by some art deco kind of buildings.

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We saw thousands of these types of pick up trucks in Greece and nick named them ‘olive mobiles’ as they always seemed to be piled high with olives but in Morocco they are ‘anything goes mobiles’.
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It stressed me out a bit when this one overtook us – one erratic move by the driver would have been fatal for the cow and calf:(
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The sunday market at Sidi Ifni.

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I’m sure the shopkeeper knows where everythig is if you ask him if he has something you specifically want…………or maybe not?

P1160288.JPGWithin a few miles of leaving the coast the landscape became much more interesting.  We were back to rolling hills, open landscapes and the wind had also whipped itself up.  The shiny new surfaced road towards Geulmine gave way to roadworks and some sections of piste which made for an interesting drive.

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Roadworks on the N12 towards Guelmin.

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P1160301.JPGWe stopped north of Geulmine at Camping La Vallée which is reached after a two kilometre drive of piste.

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The piste towards Camping de la Vallee at Abaynou, north of Guelmin.

It’s set in a valley ( suppose the name gives that away), very quiet, has a bar serving alcohol and we were very happy to be there! When I say a bar serving alcohol it is really just a room where the French owner seems to chat to the French camping caristes over a Pastis or two.  We felt like we’d just gate crashed a private party when we went into the bar at about eight in the evening.  The several French camping caristes sitting together deep in discussion fell silent as soon as we walked in.  Awkward.  After we gave a wave, a bonjour and a comment ςa va which they returned they resumed their conversation.  They don’t see many Anglais around these ‘ere parts it seems.  Fifteen minutes later they all left followed shortly after by the owner.  Having not seen a bar or in fact any alcohol in a public place for six weeks we were left ALONE in the bar surrounded by a different assortment of spirits.  It was tempting but we drained our complementary glass of red wine and decamped back to the van. 

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Spotted these guys when on a walk up through the valley……desert squirrels?

P1160313.JPGGuelmine used to be an important trading post on the caravan route from the eleventh to the nineteenth centuries. 

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The wind was whipping up the sand for a couple of days so now the van is covered in a fine layer of orange inside and out!

Now it’s known for the camel souk held every Saturday. We’d wanted to visit the souk but as we hadn’t spent as much time on the coast as originally planned we didn’t want to hang around in Guelmine for several days. 

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Guelmin.

After a visit to the Marjane supermarket on the outskirts of Guelmine and an overnight stop at the infamous family run Camping Tinnougba where a very warm welcome is assured we headed back to Tiznit for another night. 

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Camping Tinnougba at Bouizakarne.
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It was market day when we drove through Lakhsas on the way back to Tiznit.

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It was buzzing in the town………………..95% men though.
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The wifi area at the Municpal campsite in Tiznit.
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The purpose built petanque area on the campsite.  The circles for the serve (or whatever you call it in petanque) were old bicycle tyres.  Genius.

Onwards then to Tafraoute, a small town set in the heart of the valley of the Anti Atlas.   

مسا لخير!                     

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!