Thursday, 31 January 2013

Tafraoute at last

Wednesday 30th January

Yesterday we arrived at last in Tafraoute, a desert oasis village in the southern Anti Atlas Mountains. Reading the guidebooks and hearing about other peoples' opinion of this area made me really want to come here to experience it for ourselves. 
Scenery en route from Tiznit to Tafraoute
We Left Plage Blanche on Sunday and drove through Guelmim and up the N1 to Tiznit, a different route to the one we took from Tiznit last week. It was a much better road and a very pleasant drive over a mountain pass or two and through interesting scenery.

We thought that Guelmim was a much nicer and livelier town than we were imagining from the description of it in the rough guide. It looks to have benefitted from some money recently, it was teeming with life and the roads had been or were being upgraded. Next time we plan to spend more time here but as the rough guide and the lonely planet guide suggest driving straight through and we had a long journey ahead to reach Tiznit, that is what we did.
It was slightly sobering thought to realise that we are now technically on our way home! At the campsite we met the couple who got stuck in the sand again!

In the jewellery shop in Tiznit
At Tiznit we stopped near the town walls and did a bit of shopping in the little supermarket, we had hoped to camp overnight in the campsite right in the town but it was full so we went to the one a bit further away intending to register to make sure we got in and then come back to look around the medina but by the time we got there we decided to stay put and go back in the morning. 
Huge litter problem,  such a pity
but slightly less than in the north
Pathetic creature,
felt so sorry for him!

Meanwhile, it was time to recharge the dongle. We had bought a recharging card with the dongle last month in Marrakech in case we were in the middle of nowhere when it was time to do so, only it wouldn't work!  So we used the campsite wifi to see if there was a Maroc telecom shop in town where we could go for help. There was! So the next morning we drove back into Tiznit and found the shop. It was heaving! They had a numbered ticket serving system  (like the deli counter in Asda!) we were number 225, currently serving number 201! We were in for a long wait. Anyway, eventually we were seen and to cut a very long story short, we were told that we should not have bought the card as they seldom work and are subject to fraud. Better to go to a teleboutique and ask them to upload more credit directly for us. So that's what we had to do and hey presto, internet till the end of February. We then had our lunch and a look around the medina, Tiznit is a centre for silversmithing and Nigel bought me a matching bracelet and necklace as a memento of our trip and also to celebrate the 41st anniversary of our meeting in 1972, which just happens to be today! We met at The Crown Pub in Horwich at the Monday night folk club (7.30p.m.) while I was on my final teaching practice.

Necklace and bracelet
The drive to Tafraoute was another very scenic one over mountain passes and reasonable roads. The guidebook said we may encounter children with ground squirrels on a piece of string trying to sell them for the pot! We didn't. But we did see one of the little critters scurrying across the road.
Granite Rose!
We arrived on Tuesday and are in a little campsite called Granite Rose. When the evening light gets low it is easy to see why it was named, the town is in a bowl surrounded by high granite cliffs which change from ochre to pink to deep red during the evening....stunning. We looked around the town yesterday and established that there are a number of 4 x 4 trip opportunities which we intend to take advantage of. Also Nigel is keen to ride his bike and do some walking here but as we are here for a week or so we are not rushing about trying to fit everything's too hot for that!

Almond trees in full bloom now, just gorgeous!

So pretty

Looking down on the village

Belle likes the view


Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Motorhome full of sand!

A sneaky shot of
locals buying their supplies
We enjoyed 6 days at Sidi Ifni, it was a pleasant (ish) though windy campsite, facilities were not particularly clean so we used our own. However it was very convenient for dog walking, being right on the beach and also for shopping for supplies. The walk up to town was via a stone staircase, didn't count the steps but it wasn't too onerous and on my first foray I found a pizzeria which we frequented on day 3. Pizza Hut it wasn't but it satisfied the urge!

Sidi Ifnid souk, biggest
cauliflowers we've ever seen!
Being an ex Spanish enclave, we soon found out that the town still operates in Spanish time......a few places were open all day but the majority only came to life in the evening and a very lively place it was then too. We discovered an outlet selling lovely doughnuts, took me right back to childhood holidays on the Isle of Wight and Nigel to his months of working in Aberdeen.
The souk was great, loads and loads of fresh vegetables and fruit, herbs and spices. There was a little concrete square of tiny retail outlets where fresh fish, meat and chickens were sold. I bought some beef and had it minced and two chickens on different days, one of which I took the meat off raw and the other I roasted whole and then froze the cooked meat. 
Difficult to resist the urge to say,
"Shouldn't you be in school?"
So we had a roast chicken dinner one day, sadly lacking in sausage, crispy bacon and stuffing but very enjoyable none the less.

Oh, this was made possible by us buying and fitting a Moroccan gas cylinder while in Sidi Ifni, one of our two British cylinders became empty so we decided to be safe we should buy another cylinder. Up to now I have been using the gas sparingly, not using the oven but as we now have plenty and will not run out, the cooking can be a little more adventurous, even made a loaf today!
Successful loaf attempt

We did have an afternoon out in the MH from Sidi Ifni, we read about a beach 10k further north that was worth a visit so we set off in the afternoon in the hope of some good sunset pics. Dogs had a very enjoyable time as ever but had a bit of a fight over a stone they both wanted. First time they've ever fallen out really, I have to admit it was Belle's fault! She was relentlessly bullying Dash  who was having a good time digging up his stone and he got fed up and had a go at her. Nigel had to pull them apart, full on teeth gnashing and growling!

Legzira Plage, 10k North of Sidi
Well worth waiting on the beach for sunset!

The weather at Sidi Ifni was not as good as in recent weeks, it even had the temerity to rain the first day we were there! It was a bit cooler too with some clouds and quite windy. With the weather forecast promising more sunshine at the weekend, we set off for a wild campsite at Plage Blanche, another 150k down the coast.

Black top,  just on and on and on!
On the way here, when we turned off the main road towards the coast, the road stretched straight ahead like a long black ribbon as far into the distance as we could see. When Nigel pulled up, I had anticipated what was turn for a driving lesson! So I drove us the next 30k to the coast and was very pleased with myself. Apart from a few metres in a Scottish campsite, this is the first time I have sat behind the wheel. I was pleased to have an opportunity to drive and was even complimented!

The campsite guidebook says that although there are no facilities here, children bring bread in the morning. I mentioned this to some people who were parked next to us before we left the last place and are on their 12th motorhome trip here. They said the loaves were like cartwheels, hard enough to drive on! We tried one here the first day....our informants were right, hence the home made loaf today!

Hmm, bit of a bad hair day, methinks!
The beach here is quite a walk away approx a kilometre, we are parked at the top of some cliffs/dunes and to reach the sea it is necessary to walk down the dunes, along a riverbank and through the end of a lagoon but oh boy, it was worth it, literally miles and miles of beach in both directions. The dogs had a ball! Coming back they were persuaded to swim in the freshwater lagoon to get the salt off them, well Dash needed no persuasion. Trouble was we then had to walk back up the sand dunes so they were covered in sand again by the time we got back but at least they weren't salty.

We were going to just have two nights here but as the weather wasn't brilliant and tomorrow's forecast was better and also as we still had enough water left, we decided to have a third night. It's been much warmer today, with just a slight breeze so it's been a very pleasant sitting outside reading day! Nigel had a brief recce on his bike but was bored so he came back after half an hour, I walked the dogs but avoided the beach today.

We're up there somewhere.....
Oh yes, there we are, fifth from the right.
This is the lagoon we had to wade
 across to get to the beach

There is no internet access here, the dongle doesn't work but my phone has a very patchy signal, enough to establish that there is snow in abundance in the UK and especially in Bolton. Hopefully we'll be able to catch up with news from home at out next campsite. We are heading back to Tiznit tomorrow and then to Tafraoute for a week or so.

Saturday, 19 January 2013

Half way point, fewer than 6 weeks left :(

Saturday 19th January 2013

How much more of this can we take?

Yesterday was just over the half way point of our trip....6 weeks yesterday we must be on a ferry back to Spain having had our allotted 90 days in Morocco without a visa. We find it surreal to realize that we, the at first reluctant ones who weren't really sure if we could hack it and (I'll admit this now!) oh so nearly turned round and headed back to Spain on day 3, are still here in Morocco heading south, while all of our fellow tour companions are either already home, back in Europe or heading that way. We are also talking about and making plans for coming back next year which shows how much we have grown accustomed to Morocco. Marrakech still haunts me with its tantalizing sights, smells and sounds....I'll never forget my time there.

We have just had 6 nights at Sidi-Ouassai, the first few of which were getting Nigel over his second bout of food poisoning in three days. We think it was caused by some frozen fish which we had bought in the supermarket, the rest has now been thrown away! While we were at Ouassai campsite, a French couple invited me to share a taxi with them to a local souk which was a fantastic experience, the range and quality of fruit, vegetables and spices were awesome but it was difficult to persuade the stallholders that I only wanted small quantities of things, the locals buying kilos or sackfuls at a time. Unfortunately I had no camera with me, having dropped my blackberry in a bucket of laundry water the day before otherwise I would have tried to capture the moment. At one point I saw some ladies behind a curtain handling some revolting looking brown gunge, it was fascinating and they were quite happy for me to watch and very friendly, they were extracting argan oil. I do intend to buy some before we leave but would prefer to buy a sealed bottle rather than a used olive oil or water bottle.
Tesco Value veg?
I did however buy a large quantity of fruit and vegetables, some preserved lemons, some almonds and ras el hanout (spice mix). The fruit and vegetables cost less than the equivalent of £3! I wonder how much they would have cost in Sainsbury's?

Beach to ourselves on the way to the lagoon

Nigel had a tense moment one day when after deciding to take his bike off the bike rack and go and scout out the bird reserve, he found he had not tightened up his seat post and had lost an all important nut and washer through vibration on the journey. However, we had started chatting to some other British birdwatchers who had arrived the day before and luckily, Derek saved the day by finding suitable replacements in his toolkit. We had wondered if we could take the motorhome to the reserve when we left Ouassai so Nigel went on his bike to see if there was a wild camping possibility.....NO was the answer. So the day before we left we took a picnic (well marmalade butties and satsumas) in our rucksacks and set off along the beach, the alternative and more direct route. After a couple of hours we reached the end of the lagoon and within a few seconds, the guardian came scurrying along. We were content to just sit and watch but he stayed and stayed and I was eventually glad he did because he pointed out a little owl to me, sitting atop a ruined building that I wouldn't otherwise have noticed. We saw cormorants, grey and purple herons, Audouins gulls, crested larks, serins and terns. But sadly, no bald ibis, they were apparently feeding another 4k along the coast and having already walked that distance with the same to return, we didn't want to add another 8k to our walk. Everyone here who helps, talks, guides you expects to be tipped. I only had a few dirhams on me, the change from buying bread that morning, probably about 30p but I offered it to the guardian and he seemed chuffed to bits and went off back to his little hut. Belle and Dash were suitably tired that evening after 5 hours on the beach. (So were we!)
Ipsi the whippet, our neighbour.
We had a new neighbour the day before we left, a French lady solo motorhomer from Savoie, her companion, a beautiful male brindle whippet called Ipsi!

Sidi Ifni Campsite...a little crowded!
We are directly above the C of campsite
almost hidden by the grassy bank.
Yesterday we set off for Sidi Ifni, a former Spanish enclave further south on the Atlantic coast. The campsite is right on the beach but it is crowded. Anyone reading this who was on our tour and hasn't been here, it's the campsite featured on the back of the Vicarious guidebook. We didn't arrive till quite late in the afternoon so all we had time to do was get set up and have something to eat. We had stopped in Tiznit on the way, a very nice town and had lunch in a roadside cafe.

Tiznit Centre Ville

Interesting topiary

Rows and rows of square cut trees lining the roads

As we were getting sorted out I suddenly realized that I recognised the British couple in the motorhome behind ours. They had travelled more or less in tandem with us while we were on the Desert Detours tour, we first met them in Chefchaouen (day 2) and many of our stops thereafter. They caused great hilarity at one point by pulling in just to say hello at one of our stops but misjudging the depth of the sand and getting thoroughly stuck. They had to pay a local to tow them out with a 4 x 4.It turns out they are now travelling with a couple who have a barge moored in Auxonne, near ours and who introduced themselves to Nigel while I was back in the UK. Mutual boating friends of ours had told Bob to look out for the owners of Liberte who were touring round Morocco in a Pilote motorhome. Lo and behold, he turned up at the same campsite as Nigel at New Year and now, three weeks later we have met them again. Small world!

On the way yesterday we had the usual mixture of good and bad road surfaces, some were simply dire!


Even more dire

Hmmm, that's better but for how long?

We saw a variety of flora and fauna along the way including turtles in Ouassai and the predominant flora as well as the argan trees were prickly pear, these are often used as field boundaries, I wouldn't like to try climbing over them!

Someone having a bad hair day?
No, carrying a load of thyme on her head.
Turtles on the rocks in the ouadi.
Prickly pears and argan trees

We looked at the weather forecast online and were dismayed to find out that showers are forecast for this weekend....bit of a shock after 5 weeks of wall to wall sunshine!

Oh no, a cloud in the the weather changing?

Accordingly we woke up to grey skies this morning but I don't expect any sympathy in view of current weather conditions in the UK....Mandy and Bill, I have seen your snowblower video on fb but not got a good enough connection to play it!

This afternoon I had a walk up into town and a wander round the market. Just bought some vegetables and oranges. Got back just before it hammered down with rain. Good timing!

Sidi Ifni fruit and veg market

Sunday, 13 January 2013

Sand, surf and birds.

Saturday 12th January

We survived the night at the services. During the night, Nigel was up and down a lot as he had slept for much of the day. He said the car park completely filled with HGVs overnight and they all started moving off about 6am. 

A smooth ride at last, no pot holes!
The good thing about staying in a motorway service area overnight is that they sell croissants!
As Nigel was feeling better we both had them for breakfast and then got going toward Agadir. The other good thing was that we wouldn't now have to stop there but could carry on to a site further down the coast recommended by Pete and Sandra who had been on the tour with us.

Remote hillside habitations photographed
 from the motorway
The journey over the end of the Atlas was again very interesting scenically, we drove through argan plantations where the soil was very rich and fertile. As we approached and went past Agadir we both noticed that the roadside verges were much less litter strewn than other areas of Morocco we have been through. I suppose this is because it is a busy and profitable tourist area so it is kept cleaner to make a better impression. There were many garden centres on the outskirts of Agadir too, I noticed.

Thyme being harvested, we could smell it as we passed
Before too long we arrived at Sidi-Ouassai Campsite which is on the beach and on the edge of a nature reserve. There is a lagoon close by where we shall hopefully see some interesting birds, but for today we were content to give the dogs a couple of leisurely runs on the beach which they loved and in between sit and enjoy the sunshine. 

Sunday 13th January

Another day by the coast with the sounds of huge waves crashing onto the beach. Not a cloud in the sky today and it was warm, warm, warm as we heard about the predicted snowfall in the UK. Stay safe everyone x

Mooching about on the beach

Having a break from chasing each other

Dog walking, reading and relaxing again were the order of the day. Dogs had a long run on the beach this morning and were very tired for the rest of the day as was Nigel who is feeling much better now. I stayed to do some 'domestics' this morning and was glad I did as I was alerted as I was changing the bedding by  a bird call I didn't recognise and had good views from the window of a Moussier's redstart.

Moussier's redstart, endemic to this area
Isn't he pretty?
(picture from google, I'm afraid!)

Thankfully, one came back this afternoon so Nigel got to see it too, not sure he believed me when I told him what I'd seen.
Tomorrow we will try to get to the lagoon and hope to see some bald ibises which are certainly not pretty but are now critically endangered, there being only about 500 of them left in Morocco.

Oh, that's if we (and they) haven't blown away in the night, it's blowing a hoolie here as they say in Stow and we are rocking all over the show!

Friday, 11 January 2013

Off to the coast......or maybe not!

Thursday 10th January 2013

After five relaxing nights, we left Camping Zebra for the coast near Agadir. We decided it was too far to do in a day so as Marrakech was about midway and we knew where the campsite was we headed back there. Annoyingly I meant to buy some olive oil at Ouzoud before we left but forgot....doh!
The road out of Ouzoud,
only just wide enough for our vehicle!
Through ever changing scenery and  over dubious road surfaces we went back to Marrakech via a very scenic route, recommended by the Dutch owners of the campsite. Twists and turns, hairpin bends, gorges and fords and two 15 ton bridges later we arrived at a main road and eventually completed our trip on a motorway...bliss!

Morocco is a country of such extremes, you can be in the back of beyond with donkeys pulling laden carts along pot holed roads, mud huts all around you and then suddenly the road surface changes as you enter a town and there are plush modern buildings, street lighting and in the particular town I am thinking of  where we joined the motorway, a spectacular fountain on a roundabout (unfortunately I wasn't quick enough with the camera!) Not all towns are like this by any means. Often we have found that the road surface deteriorates as you enter the town, presumably because the road maintenance is left to local communities as opposed to being paid for nationally. 

So we had a quick trip to the supermarket on the way back and then I made a stupendous (though I say so myself!) fish curry and home made naan breads.
Washing day in the Ouzoud

Goat traffic jam
Thismorning we set off towards Agadir on the motorway again. It really is a nice change to be making swift progress.......we thought. However, Nigel started to feel sick at about mid day after an hour or so driving so we pulled into the next convenient service area and he had an alka zeltzer and a sleep and an immodium for another little problem any talk of which would be too much information! We set off again as he 
felt a bit better but we only made it to the next services about another 50k 
and we're still here. He has been very poorly and is now sleeping it off. He's had half a cup of tea and asked me to boil some eggs but he's not eaten them yet. Can't be the fish curry because I'm fine. Poor dogs have had to put up with a few walks around the car park today. 

A bit different today!
Here they are soaking up the ambience at Camping Zebra
Oh, they came in very useful today. As I was walking around the service station, there were a group of children pestering some people in cars and asking for money. As soon as they saw me they came over asking me for things, money, pens, chocolate. I said, "Attention, les cheins sont tres dangeureux!" (which of course, they're not) at which point they all scarpered, squealing as they went. We expected they'd be round the motorhome begging but I think they saw me come back so they have kept a wide berth! Sounds mean but if you give them anything at all they keep pestering and won't leave you alone. One little girl asked for chips when we were eating on the square in Marrakech. I was about to give her some when the stall holder sent her packing.

Pleasant scenery en route back to Marrakech

More stunning scenery