November 10, 2008

Visa Day in Rabat. Getting up early, we grabbed a quick breakfast and then drove back to the consulate offices that we had scoped out yesterday.

Arriving at the Mauritanian Embassy, we parked and then split up, Kim got in line for the visa application and Don headed down a couple of blocks to the Malian Embassy to find out the procedure for getting their visa. It turned out that they could process our applications the same day, if we could get our passports to them by 2 pm. This would be impossible today as the process for the Mauritanian visas takes overnight. So if we could get our passports back early enough, we could cut our stay in Rabat by a day.

Now we had a day and a half to wait, so we headed back to Salé to try and find the campsite we were looking for two days ago. Maybe we just missed it.

Getting back across Rabat was pretty easy, now that we’ve done it a few times. We stopped off for some groceries, then arrived in Salé. Pretty quickly we found that our first thoughts were correct, the campsite was closed and there were no longer any official camping areas left open in the city. No problem for us, we drove down to the beach where we spied a few vehicles parked near the water, next to some small fishing boats. We found our way down to the boats, picked a clean, level spot and set up camp. We had a few visitors during the day, including a security guard, yet nobody said "no camping". The day was warm and sunny, a perfect laundry day – if there can really be such a thing!

November 11, 2008

Our Mauritanian visas wouldn’t be returned today until close to 3 pm, so we headed into the city to run some errands. We’ve been looking for a new voltage transformer to convert the local electricity from 240 volts to the 120 volts that our electrical system is designed for. With all the rain and cloudy days, our battery capacity has been unable to get back to 100% so we’re hoping that if we can locate a transformer, we can connect to electricity at a campground and give our batteries an extra jolt.

Trying to find such a specialized piece of equipment is not exactly easy, especially when you don’t speak the language fluently. So we stopped at a fancy hotel and asked the concierge for assistance. After he made a couple of phone calls, he wrote down the name and address of a store on a piece of paper for us to give to a taxi driver. Sounds easy, but no, the taxi driver took us for a drive, then stopped and asked for directions, finally arriving at a destination on a different named street that he insisted was correct.

Not to be dismayed, we just started walking around asking shop owners if they could help us out. As luck would have it, about 5 minutes later we found an electrical shop, not the one we were looking for, but one that did have the transformer that we were looking for. Things are looking up, now all we need is an electrical outlet to deep-charge our batteries.

As the time for collecting our passports neared, we returned to the embassy and waited in line for the visa window to reopen. When the door opened, any semblance to an actual line disappeared and people started to push – the scene resembled the view during a rugby match. Somehow, Don managed to position himself just right and was the fourth person in to collect our passports.

Quickly now, we raced down the street to the Mali Embassy, arriving just as they were closing. No, they said, we were too late to get our visas today, but we could leave our passports and come back at noon tomorrow to get the visas.

Another night in Rabat, this one parked in the large quiet lot at the Hilton Hotel. There was even a big park next door that we could walk around to relax.

November 12, 2008

As luck would have it, we realized that during the rush yesterday we had forgotten to request a dual entry visa for Mali. So back again to the embassy, stopping to pick up some pastries as a goodwill gesture to try to speed up the process.

While we waited, we visited the Citadel of Chellah, another site completely enclosed by old city walls. This site had been abandoned during the Twelfth Century after which the subsequent Sultans turned the area into an elaborate burial area for themselves and for mystic marabouts or holy-men. There were even ruins of an early Roman city within the walls, not to mention about fifty cats roaming around.  A big surprise was that on top of nearly every tower, wall or tall tree were nests occupied by storks.

The Citadel of Chellah

Stork nests

We were finally able to collect our passports complete with the necessary visas about 12:30 pm allowing us to resume our journey south. We drove for the remainder of the day, passing through Casablanca and finally arriving at the camping area in Marrakech right at sunset.


November 13, 2008

We suffered a near disaster last night after our arrival. Setting up our new voltage transformer, everything seemed to go just right, then suddenly our inverter – the thing that converts our electricity into 110/120 volts - shut down, seemingly blown out! This would have put the expedition in danger as we wouldn’t have electricity to run our computers, and even worse, none to run our refrigerator.

So this morning was spent removing the inverter and taking it apart to see if there were any hidden fuses that had blown. A couple of hours later, no blown fuses found, we reassembled the inverter and – whoa – it was working again! What a relief. We had been making lists of what we could and couldn’t do without the inverter to help us decide if we could continue. Now we don’t have to worry. Time to dance a little jig!!!

After spending the afternoon getting back on track and doing some chores, we hired a taxi to take us into the city. Our destination was the Djemma el Fna. This large plaza right in the heart of the city is the location of the most incredible market/entertainment/food place that we have ever seen.

The Djemma el Fna is a large square or plaza that at night changes from the scene of a small market to one of the liveliest places to be in the city. Picture a large city square mobbed with people, dancers, snake charmers, street entertainers and the sounds of drums banging away by musicians, shouts from vendors, and with the entire scene overshadowed with the smoke from cooking fires billowing from the countless food stalls.

Snails anyone?

Mint tea with a big chunk of sugar

After circling around the scene a couple of times, we chose a food stall selling fresh steamed snails for our sundowners, then picked a restaurant stall for a dinner of lamb kebabs, eggplant, olives with bread and a dipping sauce. After dinner, we wandered around the souks, then ended the evening with a glass of mint tea on a balcony overlooking the Djemma el Fna for a bird’s eye view of the maelstrom below.

Figs, dates and dried fruit for sale

Choosing tonight's dinner

November 14, 2008

Today was mostly a workday. We worked on the computers and had to find a mechanic to work on the front-end of the Fuso. Every 12k miles/20k km the truck needs the equivalent of a front-end alignment to keep our tires from wearing poorly. Today was the day for this service. As things go, it was fairly straightforward to find a tire dealer (Goodyear was shown on our GPS), and once again we found that they were willing to do this service for us. What we once had to pay nearly $200 dollars for in Australia, the dealer here completed for us, professionally and conscientiously, and for a total cost of 80 dirhams – less than $10us.

On our map we found a park nearby that was labeled a "Cyber Park". When we checked it out, we found that the government had set up the park as a wifi zone with free internet access. This is an incredible thing to find anywhere in the world, and here it is available in Morocco, wonderful. This allowed us to catch up on emails and to update the website.

The park was within walking distance of the Medina so we explored the various souks, again getting totally lost, before finding our way back to the Djemma el Fna where we completed the day together with local families, enjoying a snack of typical Moroccan foods – steamed snails, fresh bread with sauces, and a plate of mixed roasted meat.

We were even able to find our way back across the city, during evening rush hour, to our campsite for our final night in Marrakech.

November 15, 2008

In the morning, we did some more chores and then headed for the grocery store. We wanted to make sure that we stocked up on some items before heading into the southern part of Morocco where large towns are pretty much non-existent. We spent almost two hours shopping; the store was huge and had a great selection, it was just difficult to choose. We finally got on the road and headed toward Agadir where we had a recommendation for a campground.

We drove through some nice scenery with the Atlas mountains in the background, and finally reached the campground shortly before sunset. But as luck would have it, the campground was closed due to a private party! However, looking around, we noticed that the site was very rural and just down and across the road was a level, open spot that would be just fine for the night. We parked, pulled out our chairs and enjoyed the sunset.

November 16, 2008

The first thing we commented on to each other in the morning was how quiet it was during the night. Everywhere we have been, be it the US, Europe or Morocco, every night there has been some sort of noise. Either from vehicles on the road, barking dogs or people partying. Last night was absolutely silent and it was wonderful.

This morning, we took our coffee walk along the dirt road and followed it for quite a ways up the valley. We never found a village, but there was a constant stream of people walking in from the main road, looking like they were ready for a celebration. Some of them had drums and we figured there was a party getting ready to happen somewhere, but we didn’t know where.

We got moving pretty early and decided to head into the mountains of the Anti-Atlas (also called by some new friends, the Small Atlas) and visit some Berber villages. The road was paved but windy and very narrow. It was only about 1-1/2 lanes wide so each direction had to pull half way off into the dirt to pass. It meant we had to drive pretty slowly but the other drivers were cautious and courteous and the scenery was spectacular.

An oasis

At one point we came upon a vehicle ahead of us driving half off the pavement like he wanted us to pass. As soon as we got close however, he sped up, moved completely onto the pavement and hurried away. A few minutes later, we came around a curve just in time to see the car sliding sideways into a ditch on the left side of the road and start to roll. Flinging dirt everywhere, we watched in horror as the car flipped over and landed on its tires, perpendicular to the road. We pulled over as quickly as we could and started to exit the vehicle. Just as we were about to get out, we saw the driver miraculously climb out the driver’s window and start running down the road in the opposite direction from us toward someone walking down the road. We don’t know if he was afraid the car would catch fire or what, but he was definitely distraught and appeared uninjured. The car, also surprisingly, appeared mostly unscathed as well. All the windows were even still intact.

At that moment a couple of other vehicles arrived and stopped. Since the driver appeared uninjured and there were others about who could speak the language, we decided we were unneeded. We continued on our way, a little rattled, passing the driver as he ran into a compound down the road.

What was so interesting about driving this road, was that every few miles there would be an ancient walled city, either in ruins or still in use. Some of them were just spectacular and we found ourselves stopping constantly to take photos. Another interesting aspect of the area is this is where the tree-climbing goats reside. This is no joke. Goats in this area have been trained to climb Argon trees, which are a species of olive. The goats eat the hard outer layer of the olive and leave the seed containing Argon oil behind. Argon oil is very expensive and the method of obtaining it unique. We were fortunate enough to actually come across a goatherd and his goats high up in the trees. It was extremely interesting to see.

Tree climbing goats

At the end of the day, we finally arrived at the Painted Rocks – an area of large boulders that have been painted by Belgian artist Jean Verame in 1984 together with a crew from the Moroccan fire department. The rocks are somewhat faded now, but originally they were a bright blue, a lighter blue, pink, orange, green and (we think) black. The area is remote and very beautiful with its red earth, green trees and huge boulders. We spent the night parked in this gorgeous, quiet area and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.

November 17, 2008

We hiked around the area again in the morning under a broken cloud cover. Just as we got moving down the road, the rain started up. This is the first rain we’ve seen in a while, so I guess we can’t complain. The day stayed overcast until we started our final descent out of the Anti-Atlas and down to the flat lands. We covered a lot of non-descript ground and finished our day, after a long police stop (where they copied down all kinds of information including our parents names) at the beach at El Ouatia (also known as Tan Tan Plage). Tan Tan is the first city of the Saharan Provinces, so I guess we can say that we’ve arrived in the Sahara!



November 18, 2008

We took our time this morning and did some chores. We hit the road and traveled through what can only be described as the beginning of the Sahara Desert. We passed scrub brush and dunes on the left while looking out over cliffs to the Atlantic Ocean. We kept passing signs indicating that there were camels possible, but didn’t see any.

We stopped at one Oude (wash or arroyo) that had water coming from inland and meeting up with the ocean. There were about a dozen camper vans parked there, presumably all European, probably mostly French. Since it was early in the day, we decided to continue on to a lagoon we had been told about. Along the way, we spotted something interesting on the horizon. Could it be? Yes it could! It was a herd of camels strolling alongside the road! We stopped and took some photos and enjoyed this most Saharan of experiences.


Arriving at the lagoon, we found a lovely parking area with a great view of, among other birds, flamingoes. Unfortunately we also found a very nice military official who insisted that we needed a permit if we wanted to spend the night. We could spend all day no problem, but if we wanted to spend the night, we needed the permit which was available in the town we had passed through about 18mi (30km) earlier.

Oh well, time to find a different spot. We continued down the coast looking for a nice spot to spend the night. We passed lots of fishing camps and areas that were too close to the road. At last, we found an area below the road that was wide enough between the road and the beach to get out of earshot of the truck sounds and actually dropped us mostly out of sight of the road. Since there was a bit of soft sand we engaged 4-wheel drive and just cruised to our camp spot.

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