day 141 to 147 Fes to Merzouga (Erg Chebbi), Morocco

day 147 – Merzouga (Erg Chebbi), Morocco

29th January 2012.  We chilled today and agreed with Bari that we would do the day camel tour tomorrow which includes lunch and then a view of the sun setting over the dunes.  We spent the day sitting in the sun reading and relaxing.  We had a little walk in the dunes and I was surprised that the sand is much more ‘stable’ than dunes you experience on the beach at Aberdovey for example.  Am I being naive?  Well it is my first time in the Sahara. 

Awesome view from our campsite

Awesome view from our campsite

 

Another awesome view from our campsite

Another awesome view from our campsite

 

A view from our campsite showing a camel tour

A view from our campsite showing a camel tour

We dressed for dinner and dined in the hotel which had a fabulous all you could eat buffet on.  It feels like we are on holiday!  [Hotel Kasbah Tombouctou, N13 just before Merzouga, N37.137250, W4.727864]

day 146 – Meski to Merzouga (Erg Chebbi), Morocco

28th January 2012.  It had rained heavily in the night and we decided we would leave and head south to Erg Chebbi and the Sahara desert proper.  We sorted some gifts out for Abdul, Mohammed and Idriss which were clothes that I don’t need now that I am half way to being a ‘minimalist’.  I also sorted out an old mobile phone to barter with as we wanted a few things from their shop.

We had our last tea for a while with Idriss and Mohammed and bartered for the things we wanted to buy and after a bit of a drawn out negotiation we all got the deal we were happy with so we are now proud owners of a plastic mat for in front of Christina for when we are parked on sand, two Berber scarves, a Berber light and a Berber compass necklace for Tina.  Its very cheap for Europeans in Morocco for example this campsite with electricity was only 40 Dh (€4) and we believe as responsible tourists we should at least spend some of the savings we make with the local community.

We will miss Mohammed and Idriss they will be off on tour from 20th February over on the Atlantic coast entertaining tourists in the hotels there but I’m sure we will be back.

Rock formations

Rock formations

 

A village on the edge of the Sahara

A village on the edge of the Sahara

We headed south on the N13 which is a great road and almost straight all the way down to Erg Chebbi.  We passed some amazing rock formations, dessert villages and we caught our first glimpse of the dunes from a distance it was an awesome drive. 

Our brief stop in Erfoud

Our brief stop in Erfoud

We planned to stop in Erfoud (on our map) Arfoud (on the road signs) as we had been told it was worth a look around.  The N13 widens right out through the town so it’s easy to park at the side of the road.  Tina was not feeling great with a tummy upset so I popped to the market in town to get some provisions.

Well if you don’t speak French or Arabic then market shopping is a fun and surprising experience.  Surprising because you’re never sure what you will end up with but I managed Ok using my arms and legs. 

The Sahara in the distance

The Sahara in the distance

 

Our first glimse of Erg Chebbi

Our first glimse of Erg Chebbi

 

The road to Erg Chebbi

The road to Erg Chebbi and our campsite

 

The entrance to Kasbah Tombouctou

The entrance to Kasbah Tombouctou

We were that excited about getting to the dunes that we decided to skip the campsite at Erfoud and head straight for ‘Hotel Kasbah Tombouctou’ which was a recommendation from Mohammed. 

There are campsites around Erg Chebbi but I gather that most of the hotels will let you park up and use all of their facilities which is great but then you are really spoilt for choice off-season.  We asked for Bari when we arrived and he showed me around the hotel grounds and facilities.  It is luxury compared to what we have been used too.  We have access to the restaurant, 2 bars, a spa and swimming pool. 

We were able to park Christina with a desert view surrounded by palm trees and overlooking the camels that are going to take us on our tour and all of this for 50 Dh (€5) per night with free Wi-Fi and electricity.  Its heaven, we are staying here for a while! 

Note to self: Next time we visit Morocco we will bring far more stuff with us to give away.  The Moroccan people are not starving but they don’t have access to the stuff we take for granted as wages are low.  For example an infant school teacher we met only gets paid the equivalent of about £100 per month.  They can use old mobile phones, old laptops, and memory chips as I guess all these things cost about the same in Morocco as they do in the UK but their incomes are maybe a 10th of ours on average.  They also welcome shoes, jeans and warm clothes as it does get cold there in the winter.  The Belgian couple we met bring dolls and dolls clothes with them and they also had two old bikes to give away. 

How to give:  We were not sure how to treat children and adults with regards to gifts so we did some research by asking the various guides we have had and also a school teacher we met.  This is what we found out.  Never give money or gifts to children when they ask/beg.  This encourages them not to go to school because they think they can survive by begging from tourists also they become abusive towards tourists who don’t give.  The only exception is if they do you a favour or give you a service.  We enquired about schooling as there always seems to be lots of children playing outside in the streets.  We were told that the King wants every single child to be educated (up until recently this apparently was not the case).  It is compulsory that they attend school and that they pray but because there are more children than schools they operate the schools on a two shift system so some children start at 7.30 to 10.30 am then go back 4.30 pm to 7.30pm and the other ‘shift’ does 10.30 to 4.30 pm that’s why it often looks like they are not in school.  If you are not sure then give a donation of useful equipment to the local school and they will do the distribution. 

Begging adults if they look genuinely needy and poor then its good to give them a few Dh but be careful because there are lots of fat rosy cheeked Berber women who have their hands out and also complain if you don’t give enough. Have a pocket of change ready it’s obvious but don’t be pulling out notes and sifting through them in public. The Belgian couple we met only give gifts when they have been helped.  [Hotel Kasbah Tombouctou, N13 just before Merzouga, N37.137250, W4.727864] 

day 145 – Meski, Morocco

27th January 2012.  Mohammed delivered us fresh bread from home which was awesome toasted with butter and honey.  The sun was shining and we did some Uke practice outside and Mohammed and Idriss popped over to see us.  We made them a cup of English tea in return for them making us tea and Idriss had about 4 teaspoons of sugar in it.  Mohammed offered to send his little brother Abdul to take us around the ruined Kasbah.  

The walk along the blue water spring

The walk along the blue water spring

We walked along the fresh clear spring water stream where local women were washing their clothes and by passed fields which were like paddy fields with raised walls until we needed to cross the stream using a bridge made of two felled palm trees. 

The bridge walk

The bridge walk with Abdul looking on

The bridge walk was very amusing – well she thought so because Abdul helped her across and I had to carry Loli across to howls of laughter from Tina.  

The old Kasbah

The old Kasbah

 

View from the old Kasba

View from the old Kasbah

We made it too the Kasbah which was abandoned in1965 by the Touareg tribe of Nomadic people.  Idriss told us that they would travel for 6 months of the year only by night using the stars to navigate and they spent 6 months in the Kasbah which served as protection for them and their goods.

Our first siting of a camel in the desert!

Our first siting of a camel in the desert!

 

The Oasis

The Oasis

The views were fabulous across the oasis to the desert the other side and we saw our first camel this really is a very special place.  The whole oasis is ther because of the water from the Ziz river which splits the desert in two with a bright green gash. 

The 'Belgian' Expedition Home

The 'Belgian' Expedition Home

I did some more ‘motorhome spotting’ and came across a fabulous Belgian registered expedition home that was owned by a lovely Belgian couple and a very vicious sounding black Labrador.  I had a chat to them and the husband Senator told me that he had the motorhome built over 20 years ago and that they had driven over 350,000 kilometres in it.  They had visited all over Africa including Mali, Mauritania, and also Iran, Iraq, Egypt and were planning to ship their motorhome to South Africa in September and then drive all the way back home how inspirational.   

We planned to have a fire in the evening so we gathered sticks and I got our mini portable ‘brazier’ ready and then we went for tea at Mohammed and Idriss’s shop and were treated to an impromptu drum concert and by the time we got out it had been raining and our wood was wet.  Well we all know you can’t light a fire if you wood is wet so we retired inside.

[Camping Morocco, page 133, AR-RACHIDIA, Camping Source Bleue de Meski, Meski, Ar-Rachidia from www.vicariousbooks.co.uk].

day 144 – Azrou to Meski, Morocco

26thJanuary 2012.  We passed the famous apes in the Ceder Forest just south of Azrou but there were about three coaches parked up and mounted ‘sellers’ waiting for the tourists so we didn’t stop but we did see the apes!

It was a great drive over the ‘Moyan Atlas’ mountains we had heard they were expecting snow but there were just a few flurry’s but the scenery was not to be missed. 

We made far better progress than we thought we would as the roads were good and clear and the weather was kind so we skipped staying at Midelt and drove on south to Meski and a recommended campsite in an oasis next to the source of a spring.  

We met Mohammed at the campsite who was very friendly and showed us where to park, he brought us a plastic mat to lay in front of Christina and invited us for ‘Berber tea’. 

Tea with Mohammed & Idriss

Tea with Mohammed & Idriss

We had tea in one of the shops that are at the edge of the campsite and we met Mohammed’s uncle Idriss a very fascinating man.  He is a drama school teacher and is a member of a band that has played at the WOMAD festival in England.  He had some fabulous philosophies as we chatted for example “The Europeans you have watches but we Moroccans have time!”  The three most important things in life are “good health, love and patience” when you have all three then you are a rich man.  The shirt that you are buried in has no pockets and the more money you have the more money you want so you work hard and you get one million then you want two million so you work harder then you want three million and you work even harder then you die and your money goes to someone who never has to work again! 

Mohammed showed us a restaurant in the village where we could eat well and we ordered our dinner and went back to eat an hour later.  We had the local speciality which is a tagine of chicken, onions, tomatoes, spices and two eggs.  The meal was fabulous the service was with a smile by Zaid who worked for Alain and Denise who owned the restaurant.  If you do stay at this campsite I would recommend that you go.  Details are: Restaurant Alain & Denise, Ksar Meski Errachidia, email denise-france@laposte.net [Camping Morocco, page 133, AR-RACHIDIA, Camping Source Bleue de Meski, Meski, Ar-Rachidia from www.vicariousbooks.co.uk]. 

day 143 – Azrou, Morocco

25th January 2012.  There was a knock on the door at 9.00 and it was one of the girls that looked after the site delivering a fresh baguette free of charge how fabulous. 

The fab staff at 'Disneyland'

The fab staff at 'Disneyland'

The sun was shining and we had some washing to do so we got that sorted and chilled on the ‘Disneyland’ campsite.  This campsite has had the best facilities so far in Morocco. The toilet block was brand new, showers really clean and hot, the campsite really well laid out and they had rabbits and chickens and geese wandering about with 3 parrots in the office then at about 5.00 pm another knock on the door and they had cooked us dinner.  A lovely pasta dish served up in a Tagine what fabulous hospitality.  [Camping Morocco, page 139, AZROU, Euro Camping, Emirates Tourist Centre, Azrou.  www.camping-morocco.com from www.vicariousbooks.co.uk]. 

day 142 – Fes to Ifrane to Azrou, Morocco

24th January 2012.  We were the only motorhome on the campsite and although we enjoyed our guided tour of Fes with both felt we should move on.  We headed south on the N8 direction Ifrane which is known as the Switzerland of Morocco. 

Snow in Morocco?

Snow in Morocco on the way to Ifrane

We had a fab drive down and sure enough we started to climb and we started to spot snow at the side of the road which was lined with pine trees.  When we reached Ifrane there was snow all around and the houses were all built in the Swiss chalet type style.  The roads and pavements where immaculate and clean and the air was cold but absolutely fresh which was a great change from Fes.  We parked up and wandered through a fabulous park with Loli where there was a lake with ducks and almost out of nowhere came mounted Moroccan sellers on their horses offering us a ride which we politely declined. 

Tina & Loli in the park in Ifrane

Tina & Loli in the park in Ifrane

The town was very clean and well kept for Moroccan standards with some very nice looking hotels and bars.  Clearly this is where the well heeled Moroccans come for a day or weekend away.  We also found a Maroc Telecom shop that sold the infamous 3G tinterweb stick so we got one of those for just 200 Dh (€20) for one month unlimited supply of streaming tinterweb access which means we can get back in touch with everyone again.  Although I am finding it rather refreshing and liberating that I don’t use my iPhone here in Morocco as I think I may have been getting addicted to facebook and twitter and that’s not good! 

Not the road to Azrou

Not the road to Azrou

 

Neither was this the road to Azrou

Neither was this the road to Azrou

We drove out of Ifrane very impressed with the oasis of calm and tranquillity past another Palace of the King direction Azrou or at least that’s what we thought.  As we found out about 20 km later we were actually heading for El-Hajeb along a yellow road on the map so we had to turn back and retrace our steps.  However the scenery had been awesome really wild with snow capped mountains in the distance and rugged plains either side of the road punctuated with bunches of sheep and goats with a shepherd, donkeys pulling and carrying ‘stuff’, women wrapped up against the cold and working and men in the familiar ‘roman lying down propped up on one arm peel me a grape position’ which they all seem to adopt all of the time.  Every so often there were little settlements which weren’t even big enough to call villages with dwellings which were just low brick walls with roofs made out of what looked like polythene. I guess they don’t have running water or electricity and its cold – I’ll never complain about being cold at night in Christina again! 

The 'Disneyland' Campsite

The 'Disneyland' Campsite

We got all the way back to Ifrane and managed to find the Azrou road using a process of elimination and came across the ‘Disney’ campsite just before Azrou.  The entrance to the site was really impressive and the security guard was really nice and helpful and we were soon parked up, plugged in and settled for the night.  [Camping Morocco, page 139, AZROU, Euro Camping, Emirates Tourist Centre, Azrou.  www.camping-morocco.com from www.vicariousbooks.co.uk]. 

day 141 – Fes, Morocco

23rd January 2012.  We had decided to ‘order’ our guide from the campsite as this had been recommended and he turned up bang on time at 9.30 to take us on ‘the tour’  his name was Idriss he spoke the good English script that we are realising many guides speak.  They have learnt a script off by heart in about 5 different languages which is in its self impressive but in the case of our guide if you deviated from the script it all got terribly confusing.  The script started with Fes has one million inhabitants and is the spiritual, intellectual and handcraft capital of Morocco.  Spiritual because back in 900 Moulay Idriss a direct descendant of the prophet Mohammed established the first Mosque outside of Mecca in Fes and that was one of the places we were going to visit.  Fes also has the earliest established university and is a seat of learning much older than Oxford as it too dates back to the 900’s.  Fes is also famous for its hand crafts which been passed down from generation to generation and we ere going to get a chance to see some examples.  Fes is actually three cities in one you have the ancient medina dating back to the 900’s you have the old Medina dating back to the 1400’s and the new city which is new.  We drove up to a great vantage point overlooking the Ancient Medina which was a great way to start the tour.

Painted Mini Tagines

Painted Mini Tagines

 

The Paint

The Paint

 

the BIG trip

The Potters

We then drove to the ‘School of Pottery’ and had a guided tour around the longest established pottery in Fes.  It was really interesting for example the apprenticeship takes 10 years to be a fully qualified potter, painter or mosaic cutter. 

A Finished Mosaic

A Finished Mosaic

 

The Mosaic Pieces

The Mosaic Pieces

 

The Mosaic Cutters

The Mosaic Cutters

We were really impressed with the skill level and had no idea what went into a mosaic before.  We were naturally led through an Aladdin’s Cave of a shop after our tour and out of courtesy bought two egg cups which can double as tea light holders much to the amazement of Tina because we are supposed to be ‘minimalist’ and we threw a couple of egg cups out before we left! 

Koran School, Fes

Koran School, Fes

 

The Mosque, Fes

The Mosque, Fes - first one in Morocco

 

The Tomb Of Moulay Idriss

The Tomb Of Moulay Idriss

We then went into the Ancient Medina where we visited the Koran School which was awesome, the Mosque only from the outside, the tomb of Moulay Idriss descendant of Mohammed and the old wood museum housed in a building that has been completely and tactfully renovated with the Kings personal money.  The best bit was the terrace on the roof where we sat and hat a cheeky mint tea in the sun overlooking the rooftops of the Medina. 

The Tannery, Fes

The Tannery, Fes

 

Drying Skins

Drying Skins at the Tannery

Next stop was the tannery which Fes is famous for and we got to take pictures of the tanning process and then again we had the ‘option’ to buy some of the leather goods manufactured there.  Tina was genuinely interested in a handbag which before battering was going to be 4,300 Dh (€430) until we bartered and then it became 2,800 Dh (still €280) to which we laughed out load and said we were going.  I think that they think that ‘Europeans’ have al lot more money to spend than we really have.  It was a bag which was worth maximum €40 which is what you would pay in the UK.  

The Carpet Factory

The Carpet Factory

Next stop was the carpet factory where we watched in awe at the speed that the women who hand knot the carpets worked.  The carpet factory was housed in a traditional Fes Medina house which was amazingly spacious with 4 floors and a terrace that you could see over the whole Medina and an indoor courtyard which they sat Tina and I in, made us a Mint tea and then started the ‘Carpet Sales Presentation’.  The presentation was brilliant I loved it! You can learn so much about sales from the Moroccans ad they have been doing it this way for centuries.  The way it works is they will start laying carpets down on the floor in front of you of all colours, designs and sizes made from wool, cashmere and silk.  I must say the quality is excellent and some of the designs especially now we have seen how they are hand woven and that a large carpet can take one year to complete were awe inspiring.  So you end up with a huge pile of carpets in front of you and they have gone to a lot of effort to explain each one and lay it down at your feet.  Then they get you to tell them which ones you don’t like and which ones you would like to put to one side to have another look.  So you end up with a smaller pile, then they get you to say which colour you like best always assuring you along the way that the price they are going to offer you will be so good you will probably have two!  I’m not saying the carpets weren’t worth the prices but we cant fit one in the motorhome and we don’t right now have a house to have them shipped too so we finished our tea, explained that English people never made decisions on the spot and left. 

Next stop was the herbalist who gave us the tour including a couple of Berber ladies who were cracking open the Argan nuts and extracting the oil by hand.  Again all really fascinating, then came the sales presentation which again was good and this time we bought some Argan Body Oil after a drawn out barter with the intervention of Idriss our guide who had got fed up of listening to the backwards and forwards and just told them to give it us for the price we wanted so we could get on with the tour. 

Next stop was lunch at a really nice restaurant where we had a fab tagine each and then on to the silk weaving and a shop which housed a loom where we got to watch the cloth being woven on the hand loom which I’ll have you know we can still do in the UK with ‘Harris Tweed’ for example. 

Twin Turbans

Twin Turbans

We got some good video and then had fun being fitted with turbans in preparation for our visit to the desert.  Tina was interested in getting some lose fitting ‘air-conditioned’ trousers and we were going to buy a couple of pairs except that although we had a fab barter their expectations were so high that we left with nothing.  I’m actually not sure now as it happened to us three times if we are being really tight or have lost touch with prices or that the traders of Fes just think we ‘Europeans’ have so much money we will pay anything.  For example the trousers Tina wanted you would pay £20 for in the UK maximum and they wanted £45.  

That was the last stop on the tour and Idriss drove us back to the campsite where we handed over our 300Dh (€30) which was worth every penny because we had seen some fabulous sights, yes we had been sold too but we had also learnt a lot from seeing the hand crafts first hand.  [Camping Morocco, page 51, FES, Camping International de Fes, Routede Sefrou, Fes from www.vicariousbooks.co.uk].

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