A hop, skip and a jump across France and Spain…. .

Some days don’t always turn out how you expect them to.  On leaving the chateâu our plan had been to get south of Bordeaux for our first stop.  Unfortunately, the sat nav seemed to be having an ‘off’ day.  After lack of use over several months during the summer I was thinking she was a tad rusty.  She just didn’t want to take us the way I thought she should be taking us.  And she was being really stubborn about it by trying to get us back to where she wanted us to go after I’d over ruled her.  Again.  And again.  And again.  So anyway, after a diversion following a road closure and what seemed like forever we arrived in Cognac well short of our intended first stop.

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Cognac.

Still, Cognac isn’t the worst place we could have ended up in and the aire is just a few metres from the river.  I had thought the quickest route to get us south of Bordeaux avoiding tolls would be via Niort but the sat nav was trying to take us via Poitiers.  On hindsight I should have kept my nose out really and left her to get on with it.  Long story short, and though it pains me to admit it, I think her route via Poitiers would have been better.  Ah well.  I didn’t admit that to Tim until a few days later.  It was baking hot when we arrived in Cognac though so we enjoyed a stroll around the town in the evening.

The following day we did manage to get south of Bordeaux and arrived in the seaside town of Capbreton just before a massive storm.  The sky had been looking ominous for several hours and the heavens opened just as we got parked up at the intermarche.

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It’s not all sunshine and roses you know.

We’d been to Capbreton last year and, as it’s just a short detour from the motorway, it made an ideal stop for the night.  The aire (read: carpark) is directly behind the beach, has electric hook up, water and services and a bread van that visits in the mornings.  €10 a night is all they ask.

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At least the storm blew over for an evenig stroll on the beach at Capbreton.

Fortunately, the aire is fairly sheltered behind the dunes as it lashed down nearly all night.

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The rain came again for most of the night and the next morning though.

Faced with more rain in the morning we were on the road early heading for San Sebastián just over the border into Spain.  The aire in San Sabastián is easy to get to, cheap, quiet and a fifteen minute walk from the seafront.  After visiting for the first time last year we really love it.

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Beach art at San Sebastian.

The town has a really nice vibe to it and we were happy to pass the evening sampling various different Pinxtos, the Basque regions answer to Tapas, in one of the bars.

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Pinxtos (they look fab but in reality they’re a bit too salty and greasy for me).

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img_20191015_173055382_mpEven though we only do about four hours or so of driving per day when we are on the move it does feel like enough.  Having nearly three weeks to get to where we need to be in Southern Portugal we do have time to linger so after four days of driving we pitched up at a campsite twenty kilometres outside Burgos close to a via verde (cycle route on a disused railway) which looked interesting. Tim could swap the driving seat for the saddle for a day.  I’m sure he was thrilled.  No excuses now we have the magic of electric bikes.  Alas, electric bikes don’t shelter you from the rain.  And it was raining again in the morning.  The via verde would have to wait for another time. 

We are both fair weather cyclists.  I don’t mind walking in the rain but I hate cycling in the rain.  We like to think we are quite the ‘outdoorsy’ kind of couple but, in truth, we are quite the ‘indoorsy’ kind of couple when it comes to inclement weather.  We were southern softies before we started our trip and now we are even worse.  We don’t venture out unless it’s dry and at least twenty degrees!  It can be a bit of a hindrance as we have shied away from countries where the temperature is likely to drop into single digits.  I’m looking at you Norway. 

So anyway, the bikes didn’t see the light of day and we were back on the road again heading for Salamanca. 

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Salamanca.

It never ceases to amaze me how inexpensive public transport seems to be everywhere except the UK.  We pitched up for a couple of nights at Don Quijote campsite several kilometres to the east of Salamanca and took the bus into town. At €2.90 return each it was a bargain. 

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Part of the University.

There is a cycleway from the campsite into the city but dodgy weather and the thought in the back of our heads that the bikes might disappear in a large city put paid to that idea.  It’s always in the back of my mind that our bikes are likely to be stolen when left for a few hours in a large city but it doesn’t usually put us off leaving them.  However, knowing that we will be spending four months in Portugal in one place in a couple of weeks time with the bikes as our only form of transport did make me feel a bit precious about them.  It was either that or the fact that I’ve been reading several things about the ‘law of attraction’ recently that made me think if I keep thinking that the bikes are going to be stolen then they probably will be! 

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Museum of Art  Nouveau and Art Deco.

IMG_20191018_113048929_HDR.jpgSalamanca is worth a visit.  It’s quite compact and easy to navigate and explore on foot.  Most of the interesting bits are traffic free giving it a big tick from me.

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The Cathedral.

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Casa de las Conchas – House of the shells.  A symbol of the Order of  Santiago.

The 18th Century square is ‘wow’ inducing even with a book festival being set up in the middle of it. 

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The impressive Plaza Mayor.

IMG_20191018_124802083_HDR.jpgWe stopped in at Cáceres for the night before heading for the border into Portugal. 

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Cáceres

Oh it’s attractive enough but I thought we would be seeing a bit of drama with ‘hanging houses’ perched on rocky outcrops which I’d read about sometime in the dark and distant past.  Obviously if I’d done some research before we arrived I would have realised I’d mixed it up with Cuenca.  Ah well, it’s an easy mistake to make……….maybe. 

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IMG_20191020_121102271_HDR.jpgAnyway, Portugal was on our radar and couldn’t be ignored any longer. 

Hasta luego! 

Time passes très vite at the chateâu…. .

It’s always a risk going somewhere or doing something a second time if you’ve enjoyed your first experience of it.  There’s always the risk that the second time around doesn’t really match up to your expectations or what you were hoping for.  Some things are worth seeing or doing once but you wouldn’t necessarily want to do them again.   We’ve enjoyed all the Helpx’s we have done (some more than others) and they were all worth doing but there are just a few that we have ever considered going back to.  One of them was Donkey HQ in Portugal which we went back to in December last year and another was Chateau de Jalesnes where we are now.

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Helpxing with the donkey’s, Portugal 2018.

There have been rewards and frustrations with all the Helpx’s we have done so far.  I think we have stayed with seven different hosts and, other than Donkey HQ where we stayed two months, we have spent between three and four weeks at a time with a host.

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Helpxing on Jan and Dave’s smallholding in the UK, 2016.

Helpx involves staying with a host (generally a couple or a family) and doing, on average, four hours a day in exchange for accommodation and food.  The types of opportunities you can apply for range from helping out on farms, smallholdings, B&B’s, backpacker’s hostels, summer camps, language exchanges and the like.  They all vary and what the host expect varies as well although they are all supposed to follow the guidelines outlined on the Helpx website.

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The Dairy Farm, Germany 2017.

Generally you live with the host in their home although some hosts provide separate accommodation.  As you can imagine living with other people in their home can be challenging sometimes especially when you are on the mature side like us!  Despite the challenges though we’ve always laughed our way through them and we would still say that all the Helpx opportunities we have done have been worth doing, we’ve learnt loads and we’ve been able to have a go at things that we would never be employed to do without some experience.  I mean no-one was ever going to pay us to be let loose with forty four alpacas without some sort of certificate in Alpaca care were they?

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The Alpacas, Germany 2017.

So, after that rambling introduction, was coming back to Chateau de Jalesnes a second time and committing to staying nearly four week’s worth it?  Absolutely.  I think we can say we have enjoyed our time here more the second time around.  The balance between work and free time has been spot on.

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Free time for a bit of relaxation.

After the wedding the first weekend we were here, when it was all a bit manic, things quietened down considerably as the season came to a close.  The guests have been few but there is still work to be done but it’s not been all go at the chateau.  I mean, it’s not a holiday, you do have to work every day but our hosts, Jenny and David, are exceptional and have just left us to get on with things at our own pace.

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Alex, our Brazilian helper mowing in the rain with great panache.

There’s always something to do either inside or outside. After the wedding guests had left all the beds needed making.  Fortunately, there are a couple of ladies who come in to clean the apartments after an event so we just needed to make the beds.  It was a lot of beds but we had quite a good system going and managed pretty well.

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Who would have thought Tim would be making beds?

Thank the Lord for fitted sheets and whoever invented duvets with slits in the top corners to yank the top of the duvet through is a genius.

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Ta Dah!

We’ve had plenty of free time to ‘do our own thing’ and have had access to the chateau car for trips out.

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Saumur chateau.

I have to confess we’ve not been out a great deal as generally the weather has been poor but also we have been happy to potter about with our own interests during our free time.

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Cafe culture was more enticing than Saumur chateau though.

We’ve frequented one of the local bars in the village a couple of times and were made to feel really welcome.

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When in France…………..
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Challenging the locals to a game of darts.

Tim went along to a local band a couple of times and was made to feel really welcome and I think they were a bit disappointed he wasn’t in the area longer.  I’m not sure Tim was too disappointed though!

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The local band.

We’ve been invited at least twice a week to eat with Jenny and David, our hosts, and Tim has been able to play at a couple of them.

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An evening with our hosts.
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An impromtu ‘Summertime’ from the brides Mum on the last night they were at the chateau.
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Not a bad view.

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Homemade Lamingtons – an Austalian sponge cake rolled in chocolate and coconut.
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A fish and chip night at an English owned bar at one of the nearby villages.

It suits us here as the volunteers are housed in an outbuilding in the garden of the chateau which is affectionately known as the ‘Hi-De-Hi’.

img_20191008_185309960_hdr Anyone middle aged living in the UK will understand why.

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The Hi-De-Hi cast from the 1980’s comedy series.

We’ve shared the Hi-De-Hi with Alex from Brazil and Jigmy from the U.S. who have both been considerate house mates.

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Alex just before he left with his homemade bag made from rope and clingfilm!
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Jigmy.

We are given a weekly allowance each to buy food at the local supermarket and we can just shop for whatever we want and put it on the Chateau tab.

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Tim. Super U. 2019
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Tim. The same Super U. 2016!

We all shopped separately and cooked for ourselves which suited me as on other Helpx’s I’ve ended up doing a fair amount of cooking which takes quite a lot of time and can be a bit tedious if all I really wanted was a sandwich.

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A baguette and cheese does us for lunch.

All the people who had worked at the chateau throughout the season were invited to a lunch as a thank you for all their hard work.

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Retrieving the chairs from a cave in the moat.

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Jenny supervising the caterers!
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The big clean up after.
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Pretty in pink.

The Hi-De-Hi was in need of a freshen up so we were tasked with doing just that.  Now, decorating wouldn’t normally be my kind of fun activity but as the weather had been pretty grim since the wedding guests had left I was quite happy to have an indoor project that would keep us going for several days.

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Painting the Hi-De-Hi.

We’ve managed to get the walls and ceilings done in the three bedrooms, the living room, kitchen and bathroom and we’ll leave all the window frames and doors to the next Helpxer’s.

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Voila!
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Room with a view.

So our time here Helpxing at Chateau de Jalesnes has come to an end and it’s time to hit the road again.

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We hadn’t realised there was a donkey at the neighbours next door until a couple of days ago.  Doh!

Thank you to Jenny and David for hosting us again and being such great hosts.  We’ve been here almost four weeks and it really only feels like two but we’re ready for the next chapter in our travels.

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Au revoir.

We’ve decided not to dilly dally in France for too long so we are heading  towards San Sebastian in Northern Spain as it feels like time for a new country and culture.  We spent a few days in San Sebastian about the same time last year but it had turned really really really cold so we’re hoping this time we can experience it with a bit of sunshine and warmth.

Here’s hoping.

À bientôt!

Escape to the Château… .

So, we’ve been in France more than a week already.  The time has shot past.  We love France as it is sooooo motorhome friendly.  We had a couple of days of relaxation before we were due to arrive at our next Helpx.  We headed straight for the Pays de la Loire region as that is the area we’ll be volunteering in until the middle of October.  We parked up in a little aire just a stones throw from the river Mayenne in the little village of Grez-Neuville just twenty kilometres north west of Angers.

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A free aire by the river in Grez-Neuville.

The aire was free, the sun was out and with a cycle path along the river in either direction it was the perfect place to wind down after our few months working at the campsite.

 

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View round the corner from the aire.

We have visited the  Pays de la Loire region several times over the years and really like it.  Away from the cities it’s a tranquil place to be.

 

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Grez-Neuville.

We took a leisurely bike ride north along the river in the direction of Château-Gontier.

 

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Bikes are well catered for.  There were even charging points for electric bikes.

Within minutes of starting our cycle we were waylaid by these guys.

 

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http://www.savonnerie-lait-anesse.fr

Oh, how happy was I to get some hands on donkey time again.  There must have been about twenty or so of them.  The couple that own them make and sell soaps, shampoo and cremes from the milk of the donkeys.

 

IMG_20190917_113618957_HDR.jpgWe first came across this breed of donkey, les baudet du Poitou, when we were visiting the Ile de Ré in 2016.  They are an endangered breed and the couple, when they created their business, chose the Piotou to help to save the breed.

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Modern France today…….a machine replaces the boulangerie:(

Anyway, as the title of this blog post hints at we are back at Chateau de Jalesnes for a few weeks.

 

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Château de Jalesnes.

 

Some of the long term readers may remember we spent a few weeks here in May 2016.  It was the second Helpx of our trip and we’ve been meaning to come back again but have never quite fitted it in.  Well, now we are back and we are really pleased to be here.  It’s like we have never been away.

 

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The view out back!

There have been some further improvements and the chateau now has about seventeen apartments and is becoming established as a popular wedding venue.  A couple of years ago it was featured on the Channel 4 series ‘Escape to the Chateau’.

 

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It was wedding fever over the weekend.

We were fortunate to be a part of the last wedding of this season over the weekend.  An English couple commandeered the whole chateau for the weekend with just over one hundred guests.

 

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All my own work!

The chateau can accommodate fifty or so guests so some were staying in the local area.  It was a lot of work.

 

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The tables only took about five hours to set up.

Rooms to prepare, lawns to mow, bars to be set up, chairs and tables to be put out blah blah blah.

 

 

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The jumbo bath with a view in the Clock Tower.

Alex (a helper from Brazil) and Tim manned the bar on Friday and Saturday night.

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It’s the first time Tim has ever done barwork!

Everything went according to plan and it was great to be involved.  A three minute deluge of rain in between the cheeses and the dessert where everyone got soaked didn’t seem to matter and I expect everyone will remember it for a long time to come!

 

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Here comes the bride.

We finally got into bed at 4.00am on the Saturday night.  It’s the latest I’d been to bed in a couple of decades that’s for sure!

À bientôt!

 

 

 

Voila……..finally…….an update….

Ha. Le. Lul. Jah.

So, I’ve finally sat myself down, given myself a stern talking to and got on with writing a blog post.  To say the blog has been neglected in recent months is an understatement.  When we arrived back in Spain from Morocco, urm, five months ago I had decided to have a break from the blog for a couple of weeks or so.  Mmm.   Oh, it’s been in the back of my mind all along.  Way back.  But I’ve never quite managed to update it.  Until now.  I should have known myself really.  Give myself and inch……

So, what’s been happening chez Bonvanageblog?

Well, first and foremost we are well into season four of our midlife crisis decision to turn our lives upside down and try something new.  I will write something fairly soon on our thoughts after three and a half years of living differently.  It would be a stretch too far to expect that in this blog post though.  Instead, I’ll get us up to speed on what we have been up to, where we are now and what our plans are going forward.

After spending nearly three months in Morocco we landed back in Algeciras, Spain and of course headed straight for Gib.  The pull of pork pies and fish and chips was just too much to ignore.  It felt both bizarre and freeing to be back in Europe.  Bizarre to be back to all things familiar and freeing to know I could wander around by myself without attracting any attention.

Our final stop at Chefchaouen before we left Morocco brought it home to me that I take my freedom to roam at will, on my own, wherever I want in Europe for granted.   Admittedly Chefchaouen was the only place in Morocco where I felt a little uncomfortable but looking back it was the only place really other than a bike ride that I’d gone out on my own without Tim.

Women out alone in Morocco are not really a thing or part of the culture so being back in Spain felt a bit liberating for me.  Tim just had his eyes on the pork pies!  Gib did let us down on the fish and chip front though.  Batter the texture of inner soles.  Soo disappointing.

The Cabo de Gata National Park, east of Almeria, is somewhere we’ve been meaning to visit for ages so we headed there from Gib with the intention of exploring the whole area for a few weeks.  We didn’t spare the horses and took the quickest route along the E15 to get there.  What we saw along the route is all a blur in my memory until we got into the province of Almeria.

Plastic greenhouses.  As far as the eye can see.  We knew they would be there as we’d been told about them from other travellers.  But.  It is vast.  Just vast.  Vaster than vast.  So vast you can barely take it in.  One hundred and sixty five square miles of them.  Whole towns are swallowed up by them.

Here are a few images from Google to give you an idea if you’ve never seen them before.

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Plastic Greenhouses as far as the eye can see.

And an article here if you’re interested.  The Cabo de Gata is a protected area but that pesky plastic has edged right up to the boundary.

We arrived in the pretty whitewashed town of San Jose not really feeling the love for the area.  In truth, we were a bit travelled out after Morocco and needed a bit of downtime.  We stayed on two different aires for a couple of weeks.  And did……………nothing.  Rien.  Nada.  We just didn’t have the enthusiasm.  Travel is tiring and we’d peaked in Morocco.  Our heads were back in the UK even though we had another three weeks left in Spain.  It’s hard to shake that feeling when it arrives so we just accept it.  Instead we enjoyed the sunshine, did a few easy walks here and there and not much else.

We found our mojo again taking a week or so to drive up through Spain following more or less the same route as 2017. Ubeda, Toledo, Avila, Palencia.   Each day provides a different landscape.  Olives.  Prairies.  Mountains.   The roads are toll free and quiet.  It was all stress free.  Well it was until we got a text to say our ferry from Santander had been cancelled.  Oh joy.

The ferry had something wrong with it and was going to be out of action for a couple of weeks so revised plans were drawn up.  If we still wanted to travel back from Spain we would have had to wait a week which would have been a bit inconvenient as we’d already planned our itinerary back in the UK seeing family, friends and dentists etc.  So, we hoofed it up through France in a couple of jumps and came back to Portsmouth via Caen.

With family and friends and appointments done we headed back down to Lanyon Holiday Park in Cornwall at the beginning of June to help out during their busiest months.

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Arrival day, basking in sunshine.

We slotted back in as if we’d never been away.

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Tim was happy to get back to the boys toys.

img_20190608_131237456_hdrThe weather didn’t let us down.  June was cold, July was not bad and August was hideous until the bank holiday.  The same as last year really!

What did make our lives much easier this year were our bikes.  Our bikes are no longer just bikes.  They are e-bikes.  Ah, what a difference they’ve made to us this summer.  We’d ummed and ahhed about going electric for several months looking at all the different options.  Do we sell ours?  Buy electric specific bikes?   Get ours adapted?  Long story short we had our existing ones adapted and they are just Fab.  With a capital F.  Fab.

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An overnight trip to see friends near lands end.  

They’ve made such a difference to our time in Cornwall and I can’t wait to get them out in Europe.

Plans for this year?  Well, we’re currently sitting at the ferry port in Plymouth awaiting the ferry for France.  We’ll be spending at least a month in France.  We’re going back to one of the places we volunteered at in 2016.  Then………. Portugal.  It’s going to be an experimental year this year.  We’re going to spend four months in Aljezur, Portugal from the beginning of November.  We’ll be renting a house there to see how staying put for the bulk of the winter works out.

After that?

We’re not sure.

We’ll have to see what the Boris Brexit Brings.

Laters!

 

 

Chefchaouen…the blue city…. .

We had planned to head to Casablanca on the Atlantic coast after we left Ouzoud but we changed our minds the night before we left.  As much as it would have been nice to see the Grand Mosque and art deco buildings of Casablanca we really didn’t fancy another city break.  As we wanted to see Chefchaouen in the Rif mountains in the North before we ended our tour of Morocco we went straight up the middle via Azrou and Mèknes.  It’s about a 550 kilometre drive so we chopped it up with a couple of stops in between.

We back tracked to Azrou stopping for a couple of nights at Camping Emirates and visited the weekly market again which, under wall to wall sunshine, was twice as busy and mad as the first time we visited.

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Camping Emirates, Azrou.

We had another mooch about in Mèknes finding, this time, an even more ancient souk area which reminded us of some parts of Fèz.  We stayed again at Camping Bellevue north of Mèknes where Tim did another deal with the hat seller.  A pair of boots for another knitted hat this time.  You can never have too many woolly hats.

So the N13 then led us through the Rif mountains to Chefchaouen.     It was raining.  As it often does in lumpy areas.  We couldn’t complain though as it was the first real rain we’d had in over ten weeks in the country.  Coming back to the north felt different.  It almost felt like we’d just arrived in the country and were experiencing the culture shock we’d experienced on our first few days in Morocco all those weeks ago.  I don’t know, it’s hard to put my finger on why we felt as if we’d just arrived in the country.  It could have just been down to the weather.  The landscape is certainly a spectacularly lush, green area with a variety of different mountainous landscapes.  It’s predominantly an agricultural area and is well known for its production of cannabis which grows really well on the hillsides in the region.  It’s illegal of course but it’s a staple form of income for local families in an otherwise very poor area.  Maybe it was just that we saw more donkeys per square metre than anywhere else in Morocco!

The only campsite in Chefchaouen is right at the top of the town and it’s advisable not to follow your satnav to get there.  It’s a municipal campsite more like an aire really.  There are small places to camp under the trees on the hillside but anything bigger than a VW van needs to park on the flat bit which fills up by the end of the day with everyone squeezing in where they can.

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The municipal campsite at Chefchouen…….before it got busy later in the day.

It’s popular because Chefchaouen is popular and it’s just a five minute walk to the top end of the medina.

P1170054.JPGChefchaouen…………known as the blue city……………oh yes, it’s definitely blue.

P1170053.JPGWhy?  No idea!  I had to consult google for the answer.  There seems to be no definitive answer.

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Blue was introduced by early Jewish settlers as it represents the sky and reminds people of heaven and God.

P1160990.JPGBlue keeps mosquitos away.

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Blue helps keep homes cool.

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Blue represents the colour of the Mediterranean sea.

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Blue looks nice.

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Blue attracts tourists.

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In truth it’s probably a mish mosh of all of the above.

P1170007.JPGWhatever the reason it appealing.

P1170021.JPGEven though it is really touristy it has a really nice feel to it within the medina.

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It’s more relaxed than other medina’s largely I think because its set on a steep hillside with plenty of steps making it inaccessible to mopeds, bikes and handcarts which makes it feel much quieter and calmer.

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P1170057.JPGWe spent three nights chilling in Chefchaouen as it looked a good place to do a bit of walking.  Unfortunately, Tim had the onset of a migraine (it was probably seeing all that blue) so I left him in peace and decided to take a walk up to the summit Jbel el Kelaa, the hill behind the campsite, as there seemed to be a good track leading directly from the campsite to the top and then back down the other side.  I think the writing was on the wall that it wasn’t one of my best ideas as soon as I’d left the campsite.  A young guy lounging on the wall opposite the campsite tried to get my attention just as I started my walk.  I waved but carried on.  He went off into the trees but appeared again a few hundred metres further on up the track.  He tried to get me into a conversation with the usual patter.  Allemagne? Hollondaise?  Francaise? Blah, blah.  I ignored him and he eventually gave up and sloped off backed towards the campsite.  After passing the local rubbish dump a kilometre into the walk the views opened up across the landscape and were superb.

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The views towards the north.

Several cars had passed me as the track is driveable but a couple of kilometres further on after I’d gone past a couple of houses I began to feel a bit ill at ease.     Four young men were trailing in my wake a couple of hundred metres behind.  I tried to not let it disconcert me as they may well have just been walking to the next village a few kilometres away.  A bit further on though two young men were coming down the track towards me and one of them started to chat to me.  I wasn’t going to be drawn in.  Again, he left me alone after a minute or so but I still had the four behind. Fortunately I spotted two lady shepherds tending their flock of goats a few hundred metres away so I made my way towards them, sat down on a rock close by and pondered my situation.  It’s the first time I’d felt ill at ease in Morocco but then, other than my cycle and walk at Tafraout, Tim and I had gone everywhere together.  We were also in cannabis country where money can be made selling it to tourists.  Tim had been asked twice if he wanted to buy cannabis on the first day we were there.  Whatever their intentions were I decided to give up on my quest for the summit and marched back down the hill to the campsite in a ‘don’t even think about messing with me’ kind of way.  Even then I was approached twice!

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We had van envy when our German neighbours arrived.  They’d not long started an eighteen month tour of Africa.

So after Chafchouen the pull of fish and chips and a bumper pack of Morrisons pork pie’s from good old Gib was just too much to put off any longer.  We had a night in Martil (could have been in Spain) on the coast before heading to Tanger Med for the ferry.

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Campsite on the coast at Martil.

As we had an open return ticket there was no need to book.  We just presented our ticket at the Trasmediterranea office at the port and were issued boarding passes for the next ferry leaving.  We’d hoped to be on time for the ten o’clock ferry but it took a bit longer than anticipated getting to the port from Martil.  We drove onto the ferry after the various checkpoints and an x-ray of the van at eleven o’clock.  I’m not sure if it was the ten o’clock ferry or the one o’clock as we left at twelve o’clock!

So, that ended our first tour of Morocco.

Eleven weeks.  2607 Miles.

A very successful trip me thinks.

Adiós!

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!