Tuesday, 26 February 2013

And finally.......

Back to Europe..... (Ferry Friday 1st March)

We've had a week or so at Moulay Bousellhem, getting thoroughly confused about which gulls and terns we could see.

The guidebook says that this campsite is the best place in Morocco to see African Marsh Owls who hunt in pairs over the site at dusk.....not when the Cromptons are here they don't! We've had several attempts to see them but no luck.

Looking down on the campsite from the town
Our Motorhome is parked in front of the bright
red building at the edge of the lagoon

It is a lovely spot but we've had several days of rain and very high winds and there is not a beach to walk the dogs within a comfortable distance (though we did walk them there one day) so they mostly had to make do with running around the campsite chasing tennis balls....maybe they frightened the owls away!
Yesterday, (Monday 25th February) we decided we would take a boat trip on the lagoon with a guide, the wind had died down and the sun returned so I walked up to the cafe where the rough guide says the best guide can be found and arranged the trip and agreed a price. He came to pick us up at 2.30 and we got back at 6pm having seen 30 different species and had a walk to find owls but to no avail, however he has given us the lowdown on where else we might try to find them tomorrow at dusk so we'll try again! I won't list the 30 species here but if anyone wants to know, by all means e-mail me to ask. Suffice it to say some of those we saw were, flamingos, osprey, thousands of avocets and a marsh harrier. Hassan was a very nice guy and extremely knowledgeable. A splendid afternoon.

A long way off but undoubtedly flamingos!

We are already talking about and planning coming back next winter, we have spoken to many others who have been out many times, some of whom said the same as us, took a lot of getting used to but once they had, they were hooked.

So what did we like about Morocco and what will we miss? Not in any particular order.......

  • The weather. Generally speaking we have had sunshine and warm weather for the majority of the time, we are hoping the suntans will not have faded too much by the time we get home.
  • The cost of living. General everyday foodstuffs that can be bought in local shops are cheap. It is much more expensive to shop in the Marjane supermarkets but occasionally, for certain items (e.g.wine and beer which is very expensive here and unobtainable anywhere else) it is essential to have the occasional trek round a supermarket but they are few and far between. Diesel is 8.5 dirhams a litre, that's about 62pence!
  • The bread. Bought fresh every day and available everywhere the Moroccan round loaves are a delight, unsalted, hand made, different textures and max 2 dirhams each (less than 20p)
  • The souks. Despite my initial shock and feeling out of my depth I grew to love shopping for fruit veg and spices on the souks. Again, prices are very low, usually 10 dirhams (about 70p) max for a kilo of whatever you want, you pick up a bowl, (washing up size) and go around the stall mixing whatever you want and then it's weighed all together. Usually the stallholder will throw a couple of extra fruits in, giving you a generous measure.
  • The smells and sounds. There is an all pervading smell in Morocco that I shall miss greatly, it's everywhere, even my hands smell of it, presumably it's in the water, another of those mysteries....it's not unpleasant or rancid, I didn't like it at first but now I will miss it, same as the call to prayer which differs everywhere we go. The one here is very musical and lyrical and thankfully it doesn't go on all night like it has in some places, or if it does I don't hear it. Nigel says he doesn't notice the smell....I've always said he "smells" worse than me...ha ha!
  • The ever changing scenery. From pounding surf on endless beaches on the Atlantic coast, to sand dunes in the desert, the hammada of the stony desert, the oases and palmeries, the High and Anti Atlas mountains, the granite bowl of Tafraoute, the endless argan plantations.......it's been a feast for the senses.
  • Friendly people. Unless we're being harassed to buy something, the majority of the people we have come across have been very friendly and helpful. The children especially always wave as we pass, you'd think they'd tire of it given the thousands of motorhomes here!
  • The sparkling light. Very little air pollution giving clear contrasts for photography and wonderful sunsets

  • The night skies. Again, clear and bright, millions of stars and planets to be seen.
  • The birds. We aren't twitchers by any means but we do like to look for birds that we haven't seen before. Our list of "firsts" this holiday includes: Bulbuls, white crowned wheatear, black wheatear, great grey shrike, sardinian warblers, fan tailed warblers, bald ibis, purple herons, audouins gulls, caspian terns, slender billed gulls, mediterranean gulls, cattle and little egrets. (We've seen egrets before but never in these numbers.)
  • The motorways. Smooth and straight and not busy. Delightful after bouncing around on pot holes for a few weeks!
  • The doughnuts. Nigel says I have to add this! We only found them in two places but they were delicious.
Photograph courtesy of google images

  • The strawberries. Plentiful, sweet and delicious. We've bought kilos of them, never more than 10 dirhams (approx 70p) a kilo.

And some things we won't miss........

  • The rubbish.....our first impressions were only too true, the further south we have gone and in the less densely populated areas it is a little better.  We have not got used to it, never will: it still offends us greatly but you kind of learn to accept that this is Morocco and this is how it is. I did challenge some children I saw dropping litter in one town, they picked it up but probably dropped it again as soon as I was gone! Some campsites are relatively clean and bins are numerous and emptied frequently. And in some larger towns we have seen road sweepers frequently. We gave the guardian at Sidi Kaouki a tip as he was always cleaning and brushing up and seemed to take a pride in keeping the place spick and span.
  • The roads and bad drivers. I've already said plenty about this, many of the roads are in a very poor state and very uncomfortable to travel on. Some of the driving we have witnessed has been horrendous and dangerous.
  • The hard sell. Worse in some areas than others but in many places it is impossible to look at anything, less still pick anything up without being press ganged into buying it.
  • Lack of maintenance everywhere. There is an absence of the concept of maintenance everywhere. Piles of rubble greet you on the approach to every hamlet, buildings half finished and abandoned and resorts that are relatively recently  built, probably in the seventies just a shoddy shambles whereas regular maintenance would have kept them much more presentable.
  • Cold plates. We haven't eaten out a great deal but with just one exception when we ate in a "posh" hotel on Christmas Eve with the family, food (that is sometimes only lukewarm itself) is served on cold plates. Not good!

You may be wondering with this tale of woe why we are even considering coming back....well the fors far outweigh the againsts and you only have to look at some of the photos on our previous pages to appreciate why and there is much more to see and discover.

How could we possibly not want more of this......?

Or this.....??

Or this.........???

Or this...........????

Or this.............?????

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

All good things come to an end, just 8 days left.....

Wednesday 20th February

Today we arrived in Moulay Bousselham, a campsite on the edge of a lagoon 188k north of Casablanca. This will be our last campsite before we have an overnighter at Tangier prior to catching the ferry back to Spain.
This is the view from our pitch, (taken with my phone so not a brilliant pic). 

Overlooking the lagoon,
Moulay Bousellham village on the hilltop

But I nearly had fisticuffs with a German couple over it! We arrived and stopped to fill up the water tank and meanwhile walk around to find a pitch we liked. We decided on this one and Nigel said "Stay here and guard it while I go and get the MH." Before he had a chance to do so, a German couple came and looked at it, spoke to each other and made appreciative noises about it so I said in French and then English that my husband was on his way, we had chosen this pitch and he would be here in a minute. The man shrugged and proceeded to pull onto it in his RV. I stood my ground but he just pulled directly up to me and would, it seems, have mown me down had I not moved aside. So I stomped off to tell Nigel who was on his way by now and less than impressed, he said I should have turned my back on him and stayed put. Easy to say when it's not your own skin that's about to be run over by 5 tonnes of metal!
We proceeded to look for another spot and then the German man came over and said he wasn't staying there after all and we could have the spot! So here we are, at the edge of a very birdy lagoon, the sun is shining, though it's much cooler than it has been, and my third tagine is bubbling away. (My second attempt, a couple of weeks ago, was much tastier than the first but there was still a "Je ne sais quoi" missing!)

The  view straight ahead from our windscreen
So, what have we been up to I hear you ask....well maybe one or two of you! The last account we were just leaving Essaouira having met up with Cathy and Nigel I believe. Well, this is only the second campsite we've been to since Sidi Kaouki, we've been "wild camping" since then although at some places we have had to pay a small amount and have a couple of times had access to water. 

One of the beaches at a 'wild' camping spot

Good news here is that we have wifi, hence my ability to publish another blog. At one deserted car park (well there were a couple of cars when we arrived, but only us after dark) a man came and asked for 40 dirhams, saying he was the guardian. Then later another one came and asked for 20 dirhams, would not go away even though we said we'd already paid. It was annoying but it could have been the difference between him having something to eat that night or not, so we paid up! Not sure who the legitimate one was.

We have mostly been trundling up the Atlantic coast, stopping at places recommended in our guidebook as being tolerant to overnight parking. Dogs have had many long sessions on beaches, Dash has had sore eyes for a few days, we think due to sand and/or seawater ingress. We have bought and applied (much to his annoyance) some eye ointment from a pharmacy and this has helped a lot. He did seem quite miserable for a couple of days.

Beach games

As we have progressed further north the change in the scenery has been dramatic. It was goodbye Argan trees the day we left Essaouira, we did see some flocks of goats right up in the trees feeding but were past too fast to get a photo.

Landscape becoming greener.....
Child labour? He was only about 9!
The countryside became much greener and soon bare land turned into well organised agriculture, fields of crops, mainly carrots and cabbages with many many people working hard in the fields and scarcely any tractors, all hand implements. At the sides of the roads were numerous stalls selling produce, some of the stallholders risking life and limb trying to make you stop and buy.

Ok, we'll wait!

Traffic chaos

Than as we approached Safi, the landscape became very industrial and continued this way really until after Rabat...a nightmare drive that was through the town centre!

Phosphate processing plant in Safi

Just north of Safi we stopped at a lay by to have some lunch and as we were arriving a man pulled up, threw 6 or 8 empty plastic bottles out of his car and sped off. A little further on we saw two guys chucking plastic bags of rubbish over some cliffs. I just cannot comprehend how anyone can think it's ok to do this. We couldn't let the dogs out here, Nigel said he thought it was the venue of the local bottle smashing competition. Many people that we have spoken to who have been coming to Morocco for years say it is getting cleaner but they still have an awful long way to go and it must surely start with educating the younger generation to respect their wonderful environment. A few kilometres further on, we pulled in at another spot, a little less rubbish so the dogs could 'stretch their legs' and we saw these beautiful orchids growing. Such a contrast!

A couple of days motorway driving has been more relaxing, we overnighted last night in Kenitra and I walked into the centre to find some strawberries, I had seen someone arrive at the campsite with a big bag of them so I went on a strawberry hunt and very lovely they were too. 8 dirhams for a kilo (that's about 60p!). Ironically when we got here, a lad came round selling them but we have some left from yesterday. He had raspberries too so I've bought a punnet of those to put with the strawbs.

On the way into Kenitra yesterday, we did a double take as at the side of the road in one particular place were dummies, or parts of dummies...torsos, legs, arms etc. for sale. What on earth is all that about? I thought perhaps they were tailors dummies but Nigel said he thought they were sex shops and maybe they were blow up dolls! He would! Didn't get a good picture but this should give an idea.
Body parts anyone?

School's out!

Also, another amusing anecdote on this particular stretch of road, a mad taxi driver was weaving all over the carriageway, overtaking on the inside and cutting people up. A little further on at a police road block we saw this guy having a real benny at the copper who had pulled him up, he was shouting in his face and gesticulating, so funny. Hope he got a big fine! 

Today's drive from Kenitra to Moulay B was nearly all motorway and there were many many polytunnels stretching away in the distance. We wondered what was growing in them, as we got close to some we could see they were full of banana palms.

View from the windscreen last night as the sun went down

A downside of travelling further north is of course the weather. It's been much cooler the last few days and has even had the temerity to rain a bit. We've had to get the fleeces out and even the paramo gear. Humph, how will we cope back in Europe? We'll soon find out, we have to be on a ferry to Spain on 1st March, only 8 days left! 

The motorhome is booked in for its first service mid March, we have friends to visit in Spain on the way back and "stuff" to leave on the boat and other "stuff" to pick up to take back to the UK, so a busy few weeks to come but best of all we get to see the family again and little Hattie who is now just over 6 months old. :)
Sunset over Merja Zerga lagoon

Friday, 15 February 2013

On the trail of the rare Bald Ibis.....

Monday 11th February

We ended up staying at Tafraoute until Friday so that was a 10 night stay! It was such a nice spot it was hard to tear ourselves away. Also, the mood swings of the proprietor, Omar were highly entertaining, one minute he was ranting and raving at motorhome owners who didn't want the pitch he suggested, the next he was coming round handing out biscuits, as nice as pie. Carry on like that and you'll have a stroke or a heart attack before you're 40, Omar!

Friday morning we got away quite early for us, 9.30ish, and headed off in the direction of Agadir along the R105.

As usual, Tom Tom was wildly inaccurate in the time it anticipated the journey to take. The scenery was spectacular, the road never more than one and a half vehicles wide, often just one with staggering drops into the valley below. Thankfully it wasn't very busy.

Traffic Jam

We stopped for lunch just above this kasbah, middle of nowhere, extremely remote but as per usual, within a couple of minutes a Berber guy appeared and went to eat his lunch under a nearby argan tree.

Tioulit Kasbah

Later on we had a couple of hold ups caused by sheep and goats on the road, the goatherd's solution is to throw rocks at them to get them to move!

Eventually as we approached Agadir the traffic became increasingly heavy, we weren't too comfortable at this point!

Another Traffic Jam!

A large shopping spree in Marjane followed including a small quantity of alcohol and then we carried on to a wild camping spot that we had been told about in Taghazoute, arriving just before dark, where we spent just one night. The dogs just loved being able to run on the beach again.

Next spot was Imsouane where we were hoping to see some Ibis but they weren't co-operating. It was a lovely spot but access was challenging. Again we were held up by goats on the little bridge we had to turn round on. We thought we could hear distant birds of prey at one point...how wrong we were, turned out to be this lot!
She had 10 puppies!

We had an enjoyable stroll around Imsouane point, hoping to see some bald Ibis but not succeeding.

Imsouane Point

After our one night stay there, we drove back up to the main road and headed for our next destination, Sidi Kaouki. This is where Nigel stayed for a week while I was in the UK over New Year. It is indeed a very nice campsite, we're staying for a few nights before heading to Essaouira which is only 40k further north. Nigel decided we would eat tonight at the local restaurant where others who were here with him had recommended Vietnamese Crispy rolls. 

It really is a restaurant! Bizarre looking place!
He had eaten here with them but the night he joined them was the Vietnamese chef's day off so he was looking forward to trying them and I was looking forward to not having to cook and wash up! So after our dog walk on the beach we both had a shower and wandered along to the restaurant, climbed up to the terrace overlooking the beach, thinking this is suspiciously quiet. Then someone came and told us it was closed for refurbishment!

So very disappointed we wandered back to the motorhome where Nigel made us an omelette and I got to wash up..........again!

It seems you can buy a lot of produce direct from this site, a man came round with little sweet pastries last night and said “I'll be back in the morning with fish.” Indeed he was, we said “No thank you,” then he offered something else which I didn't understand and he then proceeded to open a sack and pull out an octopus!
Another emphatic “No” was issued, much to his amusement.

The wind picked up considerably after our first night here, we've had a few days of being sandblasted and rocked about, still warm but not too pleasant but still, can't complain!

On the beach one day we met a very nice dog, Belle went running up to her like a long lost friend and Nigel said they had befriended her when they were here at New Year. Dash who can be a bit feisty, even tolerated her joining in our walk. She came right back to our pitch with us so we gave her some food and she curled up and stayed with us till we went inside. I named her Layla, don't know why, it just seemed to suit her. You can see why people do attempt to take dogs back with them illegally. She has a lovely nature, looked well cared for and well fed. It is obvious that many bitches have had a litter (or many) of pups but Layla must be quite young as she showed no signs of having had pups.

Layla, lovely Moroccan dog we had to leave behind!
Sitting outside reading yesterday, I was suddenly aware of movement at my feet, a tortoise came strolling along munching little yellow flowers in its path. Another smaller one came on our pitch thismorning, how on earth they don't get driven over I can't imagine!

Layla was on the sleeping bag curled up,
she got up when I reached for my camera...boo!

Layla slept on our doormat last night, she had gone by the morning but came back to visit us again in the afternoon. Thankfully overnight the wind dropped and the day we had decided to leave (Valentine's day!) dawned calm and still. Just as we were preparing to depart, Nigel spotted a flock of Ibis overhead so we watched them and saw where they were heading and left the campsite in the direction they had flown in and we could see them perched on some roofs about 500 metres away. We assumed they would be the common glossy ones but no, when we got close we realised we had come across a flock of 20 or so of the very rare bald ibis. They are really ugly but we were so pleased to have seen them.

Endangered Bald Ibis

Not the prettiest of birds by any means
except to another Bald Ibis

We set off then for Essaouira, only an hour or so's drive away where we were planning to meet up with a couple of barge owners who Nigel has “met” on the DBA forum, and who are seeking some winter sun. The campsite was full so we wild camped in a car park by the beach and arranged by text to meet Cathy and Nigel at 6.30 in the town. Meeting up was straightforward and we all hit it off well and had a lovely meal at a restaurant they had already eaten in. The only downside was the live music was so loud, having a conversation was difficult! We invited Cathy and Nigel to the boat in the summer and they seem keen to join us.

Freshly squeezed orange juice???

Today we moved on to a spot on the coast further north and had a lovely time on the beach with the dogs in the afternoon, Dash spent the whole time running in and out of the surf and digging for stones and Belle chased a tennis ball for hours. Two tired pooches!

Two weeks today and we'll be back in Europe!

Around Essaouira harbour

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Painted rocks .... why????

Tuesday 5th February

Still at Tafraoute, we're not planning to leave until Thursday so that will be 9 nights in one spot, a record for this trip!
Tafraoute's painted rocks

Originally painted by a Belgian artist in 1984

We've been going out on foot and in the motorhome and we've really enjoyed this area.  It's especially appealing at the moment as all the almond trees are now in full bloom, different varieties, some white, some pink and different densities of flowers.

Napolean's Hat
We had a ride on Sunday to the painted rocks, a tourist attraction that you used only to be able to get to by 4 by 4 or on foot or bike. However, we had intelligence from the motorhomers who rescued Nigel and his flat tyres that the road had been improved and the piste was now suitable for motorhomes. So we went and were to be honest slightly underwhelmed.  Can't really understand the point but anyway, we saw them and also saw the strange rock outcrop which locals call Napolean's hat.

We stopped in town on the way back to get new inner tubes for Nigel's bike, however the bike shop was closed so we were forced to go across the road for a doughnut and coffee, would have been rude not to! 

Omar's chicken tagine
We walked back into town yesterday and got the replacement inner tubes and they were duly fitted in the afternoon. The dogs came with us for the walk. No doughnuts today! We had however booked a chicken tagine from the campsite proprietor and this arrived in all its bubbling and steaming splendour at 6.30. It was far to much for one night, so that's tomorrow night's tea taken care of too!
More almond trees!
En route to the gorge

Rather a windy road today!
Ait Mansour gorge

Today we went off to the Ait Mansour Gorge which is a huge 10k long palmerie. We snaked up and up single track roads, hairpin after hairpin, some of them very tight and steep. the majority of the slopes on the way up were arid and dry, just very occasional flocks of goats or sheep looking for a meagre meal. Suddenly we reached the top and the vista opened up into a flat topped landscape dotted with the most beautiful almond trees and occasional hamlets of pink walled homes with a mosque in the centre. Eventually we started to wind downwards again, steeply until we came into the gorge proper and  the palmerie where five or six other motorhomes were parked. Nigel set off on his bike and I took the dogs for a walk and was thrilled to see three eagles soaring above the gorge which was very beautiful and atmoshpheric. The photos just don't do it justice.

Sadly, I had just got back from my walk, had been back less than 10 minutes when I saw Nigel pushing his bike back.......yes.......more punctures of 2 of the new inner tubes. A "discombobulation" between inner tubes and tyres apparently as he found out as suspected that the valves had come away from the tubes, so that's his biking over for this holiday! :( 

On the way back we climbed up out of the gorge and then stopped at the side of the road before the descent into Tafraoute to wait for the sunset. 

Sunset from on high

The photographer capturing the moment

Huge herd of goats crossing the road
 and heading down the hillside

Today I have been to the souk again just for a look really and a few bits of fruit and vegetables. It was as always fascinating to see and I especially wondered what these local ladies found so appealing.....turned out to be second hand handbags!

Grabbing a bargain