day 155 to 161 – Todra Gorge to Ait Benhaddou, Morocco

day 161 – Ouarzazate  to Ait Benhaddou, Morocco

Sunday 12th February 2012.  Before leaving the campsite we had a long chat with Pete and Gill who are travelling around for a few months.  Pete used to own a car accessories business with over 125 employees in the greater Manchester area.  He sold the business when he was 47 and retired to spend time travelling.  Gill gave up her job at a bank and they have been travelling and living the dream for the last 9 years.  They have had some fabulous adventures.  They have driven the length of Africa, toured America and Australia in a motorhome.  They have South America in the planning but are first going to rent a place and spend 6 months in San Francisco. Just shows that there are lots of people out there who do it and don’t just dream it! 

Today was Atlas Film Studio day we had heard it was worth a visit and it was on the way to Ait Benhaddou so we pulled up in excited anticipation outside.  At 50 Dirhams each including our guide it was a worthwhile tour.  The place is getting a bit shabby and its years since it was lasts used but the sets that we saw were awesome and great films like ‘Gladiator’ have had excerpts filmed there.  Jay did a fabulous rendition of Russell Crow’s famous ‘I am Maximus Decimus Meridius, Commander of the armies of the north’ speech in the slave market it was like we were all part of the film! 

I was surprised to learn that it took about 3 weeks to film 3 minutes worth of film.  Apparently the studios have been favoured because of the perfect light that you get in this area of the world but I fear that sadly due to the technological developments in the film industry where most stuff is computer generated the days for big old film studious are numbered.  So if you are planning a visit get there quick before it is all reclaimed by the desert that it backs on too.

After the studious we headed to the Ait Benhaddou Kasbah which according to all the guide books is a must see.  We parked up in the car park at the Kasbah Jay negotiated an overnight tariff with power supply of 30 Dirham (less then £3) so we were well set.  We walked down the main street with the dogs to look for a lunch stop before we took on the mighty Kasbah which was apparently also a location shoot for the film the ‘Gladiator’ .  You reach the Kasbah by running a gauntlet of shops and traders selling miniature versions of what we had come to see in real life among other things then you cross a river using stepping stones all designed to slow your progress so that as many potential guides as possible have chance to approach you with their services.  We had however already made a ‘pact’ not to take a guide this time but to take our lives into our own hands and wander about this wonderful monument at will.  The fascinating thing about Kasbahs is that they are made of mud and they need to be repaired/refurbished continuously and in the case of this one bits hav been added on for films.  Rather like the 20 year old broom story that has had its broom head and broom handle replaced 10 times over that period so how old is the broom and how old is the Kasbah?  The first one was certainly built hundreds of years ago and as is usual for Kasbah’s it guards the main water supply (river) which in the desert is a source of wealth and power.  This Kasbah has no electricity and as we saw when it got dark no street lighting or illumination of any kind so at night it just blends into the desert.  We learnt that the reason buildings in this part of Morocco are mud or desert coloured is because if they were painted white for example due to the power of the suns rays it would be very bad for the eyes.

We climbed to the top of the hill that the Kasbah has been built on to see fabulous views over the surrounding countryside and we met a very nice Welsh couple Andy and Sacha while we were up there.  They are travelling Morocco for 7 weeks and they had paid for a guide so they did us a tour on the way back down and showed us where the ‘Gladiator’ film set had been built.  It turns out Andy is a professional photographer so we learnt something about taking photos too and it didn’t cost us a thing!

We all felt we had earned a cheeky cold beer and as there was a fab bar with a window overlooking the Kasbah we made our way up there.  We obviously have loud voices because another couple we had met at another campsite Roger and Sandy heard us coming up the stairs so it ended up 8 of us having a drink and a chat. Andy and Sacha were travelling independently in a hire car and were booked into a hotel down the road so they ate at the restaurant bar and we headed back to Dave’s Diner for dinner.

If you are looking for a professional wedding photographer in the Cardiff area have a look at www.alsphotography.co.uk Andy does some fabulous landscape photos from their extensive travels too.  [Camping Morocco, page 179, AIT BENHADDOU, Parking in front of Hotel la Kasbah 40002 from www.vicariousbooks.co.uk].

day 160 – Zagore  to Ouarzazate, Morocco

Saturday 11th February 2012.  We managed to get ourselves organised by quite a respectable hour and headed off in convoy to the famous sign in town that Jay had scouted out.  Apparently Michael Palin has been here in Zagore and was filmed next to the 52 days to Timbuktu sign so we decided to get a few photos too.

We headed back north through the fabulous Draa Valley to Ouarzazate stopping for lunch at a fab look out point on the way.

We reached the French/German stronghold of a campsite at Ouarzazate in the early afternoon and discovered that we were parked next to a couple of Brits (Pete and Gill) who we had met very briefly at the campsite in Zagore. They are a fascinating and inspirational couple more details later.

We needed more supplies so Jay, Ju and I walked into town in search for a certain super market which apparently sold beer.  As I write this I feel like it sounds like we are all alcohol dependant but its strange how much you want something when you are not supposed to have it.  Or is that just me!  After a long walk we did find the supermarket which did yield some very decent food and beer too.  It is quite a rigmarole to purchase alcohol in Morocco in a Supermarket.  They have ‘the guardian of the beer’ who is usually large, grumpy and aggressive looking and after looking you up and down reluctantly consents to letting you chose your beer from shelves which range in pricing regardless of the brand of beer that’s stored on the shelf.  Jay and I went for the 15 Dirham shelf and excitedly waited until we got back to the campsite to compare what brand of beer we had ended up with.

We bought some chicken on the way back from the market which is a slight challenge because Moroccans like their chickens freshly killed and plucked so its hard to find a ‘dead’ chicken.  However we did find one pre-killed version and got it chopped up and bagged to go.

Jay and Ju did the honors for dinner and we had a splendid SpagBol at Dave the Diner accompanied by our very special beers.  [Camping Morocco, page 111, OUARZAZATE, Camping Municipal Ouarzazate, 45000 Ouarzazate from www.vicariousbooks.co.uk].

day 159 – Zagore, Morocco

Friday 10th February 2012.  Feeling a little worse for wear and I blame Jay he lead me astray!

Jay and I took Loli and Charlie for a walk in the Palmerie which was a real adventure because we soon got lost and one palm tree starts to look much like another.  We did eventually make it back to the campsite with a pair of very muddy dogs. Strangest incident of the dya was when loli lierally ran ‘through’ Charlie it was almost as if she didn’t see him and hse left him sprawled on the floor.  I wonder if her eyes are deteriorating with her age.

We registered our intent with Abdula to eat at the campsite restaurant which also advertises live music every night.  We wrapped up watm and ate really well and when we had finished our meal the musicians arrived.  The star of the show was a big guy playing a Moroccan Sitar accompanied by Abdula and his mates on numerous drums.  It was a really fun evening and if I can get to grips with the technology you should be able to listen to a bit here.  [Camping Morocco, page 116, ZAGORA, Camping Prends ton Temps, BP167 Zagora 45900, www.prendstontemps.com from www.vicariousbooks.co.uk].

day 158 – Agdz to Zagore, Morocco

Thursday 9th February 2012.  We had a tour of the Kasbah with Gale who is the French wife of the Moroccan guy who’s family owns the Kasbah. They run the campsite and tours of the Kasbah to raise money for the up keep and renovation of the Kasbah and its grounds.  We walked through the gardens and although the small walled fields seem to be a bed of weeds to me it turns out there is actually a complete system irrigation system for making the most of the soil and more importantly the water available.  This is also a big ‘date’ area and we learnt that there are 100’s of different types of dates ranging in price from a few Dirham per kilo to 100’s of Dirham per kilo.  Unfortunately we didn’t find out how to tell the difference between the cheap and the expensive ones and apparently the only way to know is to taste them but where do you start?  We also learnt that it takes a very long time to grow a palm tree.  From a seed the palm tree takes 4 years to grow its roots and during this time there is no sign of life above the surface. The Kasbah has been owned by Gale’s husband’s family for 100’s of years and to own a Kasbah you need to be a ‘Lord’ so the family was seriously well connected.  This is a great story to demonstrate the result of in-decision; apparently Gales’s husbands grandfather died at a time of political reform when the ‘Lord-domes’ were being broken up and wealth redistributed.  However the King of Morocco was willing to grant ownership of the land to the next lord, but during an audience with the king his three sons couldn’t decide who it should be. The King told them to go away and come back when they had decided which of them would be the new Lord but unfortunately the then King of Morocco died before they had decided and as a result they lost all the family’s land which had at one time stretched 20 km in one direction and 30 km in the other.  Luckily they retained the one Kasbah and grounds which is now the family home.  In the past it used to house over 200 family members but now just a few of the remaining family members eek a living from the grounds.

After a cheeky Mint tea with Gale and her husband we headed south direction Zagore via the local souk.  The souk or market was just outside of town on the left after crossing the bridge over the river and it was a hive of activity.  Apparently people come from miles around to trade goods and there were literally hundreds of people milling around along with goats, sheep and donkeys.  They were selling some fascinating stuff.  The Moroccans’ really know about recycling because nothing goes to waste.  Its amazing to see the things that they can craft from old tyres, oil barrels and plastic bottles.

We left the souk and had a spectacular drive along the awesome Vallee du Draa to Zagora and our campsite.

Abdula gave us a warm welcome and invited us for a mint tea not before he had pointed out with an extremely concerned look on his face that Christina had a problem with her rear suspension.  Apparently what she needed was some additional leaf springs and I was in luck because Abdula’s cousin was a mechanic and had such a thing in stock and could fit them for me.  How lucky am I?  I have to say I really love the way the Moroccans are always trying to sell you something.  They don’t sit around waiting for hand outs (not that they would get any from the state) they take matters into there own hands.  As Jay noted they are all running their very own small business.

After our cheeky mint tea and filling in the necessary paperwork Julie, Jay and I popped into town on the hunt for alcohol!  We did find a supermarket which wasn’t that ‘super’ especially as it didn’t sell alcohol but luckily for us Jay in his best French which is really good found out that the local hotel across the road had a bar.  So we sneaked over to the hotel and at reception were directed left and right and behind a screen to a very seedy looking bar which was packed with the local men folk who it appears had ‘forgotten’ that they aren’t supposed to drink beer because each table that they sat at was piled high with empty beer bottles.  We ordered 3 cheeky cans of beer at 16 Dirham each (about £1.50) which was also what the locals were paying.  It made me wonder how the locals can afford it when you think the average wage is between €100 and €200 per month.  It wasn’t the most comfortable place to relax and have a drink as most of the men were smoking and staring at us or was it Julie they were looking at, or was it our imagination?  After we had downed our beer we enquired about a ‘carry out’ and were able to buy a couple of bottles of red wine for 65 Dirham each (about £6) which we concealed very carefully about our persons so we wouldn’t get embarrassed about or obvious alcohol dependency.

We went to the ‘butchers’ which is a term I would use very loosely its more like some guy selling meat on the corner of the street.  With Jays help we got some nice chunks of what looked like beef hacked off the carcass that was hanging up over the counter.  Its fascinating the way the Moroccans keep and present their meat.  There is no doubt its very fresh but they hang the sides of meat above the counters rather like large three dimensional fly papers and  no one seems to bat an eyelid.

Tina turned our meat into a fab curry for dinner which we ate in Dave’s Diner accompanied by copious amounts of the red wine that we had just bought.  In fact I think we drank ALL the red wine we had just bought and finished off a box of white wine too.  This rendered Jay and I seriously under the influence (I blame the fact that I hadn’t had a drink for weeks) but our conversation deteriorated and I know it did because Julie videoed us discussing our brilliant money making scheme of how we were going to become goat traders and buy a goat in a low cost goat area and add value like adding a kettle and transporting it to a high cost goat area to sell and make a killing in profit.  As I write it, it sounds really stupid but you had to be there to appreciate how funny Jay and I thought it was.  [Camping Morocco, page 116, ZAGORA, Camping Prends ton Temps, BP167 Zagora 45900, www.prendstontemps.com from www.vicariousbooks.co.uk].

day 157 Ouarzazate to Agdz, Morocco

Wednesday 8th February 2012.  We were planning to head south to Agdz today on our way to Zagora but first we were going to pop into town to see the Kasbah but more importantly to deal with the Catastrophic kettle Saga! Very often in life you don’t realize how important something is until you don’t have it.  Well we now have personal experience of that because we lost the complete use of our kettle.  It all started when Tina dropped our stove top kettle and it broke.  No problem we though we can use the electric kettle as we have mostly been on hook uop.   Next thing we know the electric kettle packs up well Ju and Jay being the generous couple they are lent us their gab looking kettle which we boiled dry and literally melted I just don’t understand whats happening in our kettle world.  It was all very inconvieneient and embarrassing so my priority was to buy two new kettles.  the scenery on the drive over the hills was again awesome.  We stopped at a recommended campsite right in the grounds of an old Kasbah it was quite full with the French brigade who seemed to expand as we pulled up to park.  We eventually found a couple of parking spots.  I spotted another Expedition Motorhome, it was a German registered Bi-Mobile so I popped over for a chat to the owners.  Peter was a lovely guy and gave me a full tour of his fabulous van.  The Germans really do think of everything.  His motorhome was built on a 4 wheel drive Mercedes Sprinter and it had everything you could wish for to drive the length of Africa or across the silk road to China.  He had considered selling it for a meager €95,000 last year but then changed his mind and decided to keep it.  I gave him a card just in case he decided to sell it again.  A service that the campsite offered was a tagine in the van so we ordered one to be brought along to Dave’s Diner and ate in Moroccan style. [Camping Morocco, page 114, AGDZ, Camping Kasbah de la Palmeraie, BP23, 45050 Agdz, www.casbah-caidali.net from www.vicariousbooks.co.uk].

156 – Dades Gorge to Ouarzazate, Morocco

Tuesday 7th February 2012.  We headed back down the gorge and stopped off at some amazing rock formations that we had spotted on the way up.  We parked up and took a walk along the river to get a better look.  Apparently they are known as the ‘hills of human bodies’ and if you use your imagination they could be!

The drive to Ouarzazate was very picturesque with the snow topped Atlas mountains in the background.  The campsite at Ouarzazate was the usual French/German stronghold but the Brits found a space never the less although we were surprised that it was so full.

We chilled in the afternoon then ate a dinner of bangers and mash in style in Dave’s Diner with Ju and Jay.  [Camping Morocco, page 111, OUARZAZATE, Camping Municipal Ouarzazate, 45000 Ouarzazate from www.vicariousbooks.co.uk].

day 155 – Todra Gorge to Dades Gorge, Morocco

Monday 6th February 2012.  Dades Gorge day and we were really looking forward to it.  We did wonder how Christina and Dave would cope with the switchback bends but they were wide enough to park up and have a picnic on so no problem.  We followed Dave up and Tina got some fab photos on the drive.  We stopped at the top at a restaurant with a great view over the road where Tina took the compulsory photo of the road after giving me a heart attack by standing on a chair right at the edge of the wall to get the best shot.  We tucked into a tagine of chicken, mixed vegetables with eggs which was the only meal on the menu followed by a cheeky mint tea.

Jay had been consulting his Rough Guide and found a recommendation for a hotel where you could park in the car park for free and this hotel had an open fire which was what finally seduced us.  We parked up as the sun went down behind the gorge walls and we were looking forward to a ‘warm’ dinner at the hotel.

We had a fab meal at a table very close to the fire but moved in even closer when the other guests had left so we could finish our cheeky bottle of red wine in the warmth of the fire.  [Car park, Hotel La Kasbah de la Vallee, Dades Gorge, N31.52107, W5.92985]

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