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Michele & Richard - Morocco 2009

Between 5th and 28th April 2009 we went on another Impala Adventures trip to Morocco, this was my second time to Morocco and Michele's first so I knew she was in for an interesting trip.

We'd had a training weekend earlier in the year and met up with all the other attendees which included:

Jackie & Graham - That we know from previous trips

Laurence & Russell - A father and son team in a very shiny Defender 90 County with all the bells and whistles.

Melanie & Ian-Roy - A couple driving a Mitsubishi Shogun.

David & Zak - Young friends who's parents had bought them the trip for Xmas (or something like that)

The scene was set for an interesting trip with quite a diverse group.

Here's a day-by-day diary:


Sunday 5th April 2009 - England

The drive to Plymouth went smoothly with the usual worry over every noise and squeak that we could here, expecting to break down at any moment. The newly fitted speakers to give better sound needed backing as the open back meant they were very tinnie, after a bit of fiddling and setting most of the volume to the front speakers a reasonable compromise was achieved, so a bit better sound is now possible or at least a bit louder when driving on the motorway at speed.

There was a constant nagging in the back of my mind whether we should be going to Plymouth or Portsmouth as we were leaving from one and arriving back into the other and didn't want to get them wrong!

We arrived at Plymouth in good time so headed back through town to fill-up, on leaving the petrol station I though we saw David and Zak so gave some enthusiastic waving, wasn't until we were queued up later that I found out it wasn't them. While waiting at traffic lights Neil drove by with his tailgate open, quick phone call to advise him.

The queue for the ferry wasn't too bad but took about an hour to get on. While queueing Neil informed us that Davd and Zak had gone to Portsmouth by mistake, so couldn't have been them we'd seen, needless to say we kept on seeing them until we'd got out of the port, sod's law.

Graham and Jackie were virtually last on after going shopping. Once on we started hearing horror stories about the Bay of Biscay which had been omitted prior getting on the ferry. We managed to meet-up with everyone in the bar where we had a few drinks after which everyone else went for dinner while we had brought our own food expecting the on-board stuff to be a bit restricted.

Thankfully the over-night crossing was smooth so no being sick (unfortunately not the case on the return leg).


Monday 6th April 2009 - Spain

More hanging around on the Ferry on Monday morning until we disembarked at mid-day. The drive out of Santander was slow as we acclimatised again to driving on the right. We travelled with Graham & Jackie and both managed to have a few problems following the Garmin Sat Nav at complex junctions. Eventually we escaped from Santander and headed out on the motorway.

Buro Blanco Camp Site, Spain We wanted to camp near Salamanca so had pre-selected a camp site via the web that had good reviews, El Burro Blanco, we were taking a risk as it took a good hour from the main road to the site and I wasn't 100% sure it would even be open as it was the beginning of the season. Fortunately the site was open but completely empty apart from the owner, facilties were only half open but spotless so all was well. The site is in a woodland setting with marked pitches at different levels.


Tuesday 7th April 2009 - Spain

Miranda del Castanar The village of Miranda del Castanar is visible from the camp site. it's a walled village set on top of a hill. There's a central square as you enter the village and then head into the streets.

Miranda del Castanar streetsAs you can see the streets are very narrow and the buildings overhang, with roofs that are virtually touching. While we walked around there were several cars driving up and down the streets. We did find a small shop down one of the streets and purchased sweets and a few other bits. Just outside the walls was a bakery and we bought some bread and a strange pastie like pie that was bread with a boiled egg complete with shell and meat inside.


Wednesday 8th April 2009 - Spain to Morocco

On the ferry to Tanger On the ferry from Tariffa to Tanger. It's a speedcat and takes about an hour. There's passport control performed on the boat which takes a bit of time but helps to make the trip pass quickly. This part of the trip is the first evidence that you're heading to a Muslim country as we mix with the locals. Getting off the ferry is entertaining as everyone is pushing and shoving, thankfully the 4x4's are at the front of the queue so it's a case of pushing forward and not being intimidated by the van drivers.

Getting the car through customs is always fun, there are forms to be filled out which local guide's do for you by taking away your registration document and then coming back after a few minutes with it filled in, they then want payment. You must hold out on paying for as long as possible as they will keep coming back. There's also a hierarchy so you may need to pay the bosses as well. I think it cost us about 10 euros to get through this time.

Once through customs there's the job of changing money at the banks which are on the right, it's just a case of handing over your Euros and getting Dirhams back, make sure you keep the receipt as it may be needed when changing the money back on exiting.

After that we're off and out of the port, unfortunately the port leads out into a large double-roundabout style affair and is pretty busy and confusing. So again it's just a case of confidence and after a quick right then left and right again we're heading out of Tanger. The road out is very busy and we keep the speed down which means we're holding traffic up, it's a 2 lane-road so we can pull to the right but there tends to be vehicles stopped in the right lane so we needed to keep pulling out. All good fun if you like driving in busy, hectic and pretty random traffic.

Laurence and Russell passing us on the road SouthThere was a long drive from Tanger south towards Casablanca. It's a fast motorway with quite a few toll booths, the service stations are frequent and western style, usually attended though. Here Laurence and Russell in their pretty much brand new 90 overtake us, fully loaded and dragging a bit on the back-end.

Cattle truck with heads tied down on the top deckThis is a pretty common sight, there's two levels to the truck and the cattle on top are in an open top section. Their heads are actually tied down which looks pretty uncomfortable.

Satellite dishes galoreThere's no shortage of satellite dishes in Morocco, doesn't seem to matter how wealthy they are there will always be a satellite dish. It would seem the houses get built layer by layer each layer being occupied and then extended upwards as required at a later date. Not sure about building regulations so wouldn't want to get too high up.

Marrakech or CasablancaTwo landmark cities to choose from Marrakech to the left and Casblanca to the right, for this trip we didn't go to either on the way down as we were heading further south along the coast. We stayed in a hotel south of Casablanca for the first evening, the hotel was pretty empty with just a couple of other guests in. As ever the hotel was a bit tired and had seen better days. This was the first time we were all together for a meal and started to get to know each other. There was a bit of work getting the Sat Navs updated as some routing wasn't working properly but by the end of the evening everyones GPS had the routes on.


Thursday 9th April 2009 - Heading South

Driving along cost with cattle, goats and sheepAnother day driving south along roads, we're off the motorway and using minor roads. Once off the motorway we start to see the locals herding their livestock along the side of the road, they don't worry too much about the traffic.

Stopped for lunchStopped for lunch next to an old World War 2 post of some sort, we couldn't quite work out what it was originally for although it looked like some sort of lookout post. It was now used to hold cattle and they turned up after a while. We'd been looking for somewhere suitable to stop and when we did Russell & Laurance and David & Zak joined us.

Overlooking EssouariaOur destination for the evening was Essouaria on the coast and here we're stopped at a vantage point. We're also holding as there was a problem with the accommodation for the evening. Apparently the hotel had only booked one room rather than the actual number we needed so couldn't accommodate us. Neil and the team quickly re-arranged an alternate in the centre of the town.

Hotel in EssouariaAfter a short wait we were told to carry on and we'd be met and directed to the new hotel. As the hotel was inside the old city walls we were directed to a car park with the usual randomly organised attendants giving directions and then changing their minds and moving us to another space. Our luggage was unloaded and porters with barrows took the baggage, as usual we're always a bit wary at these points, leaving our vehicles in an open car park and baggage disappearing off with a porter. But as usual we needn't worry everything works like clockwork with the baggage turning up at the hotel (right) and guardians looking after the vehicles all night. The hotel was what I assume to be a standard layout with an open central courtyard and rooms around the edge. Our room wasn't too salubrious but it was functional, some on the ground floor had the company of chickens in the morning!

Essouaria is a reasonably large coastal town and here you see the hustle and bustle of the town centre. We were a bit of the beaten track for tourists so it was mostly locals selling day-to-day items.

Alleyways and a sign for Riad Squizzi!As the town is walled eveything is built up with alleyways joining the different streets and areas. We spotted this sign for 'Riad Squizzi' and wondered if that would be the result of staying there, not very well named. The rubbish in the streets is pretty typical and it can smell quite ripe in places.

Dinner in a local restaurantWe found a nice restaurant that didn't look too touristy and had the usual tagine which was very good. The mint tea is heavily sugared and Michele won't touch the stuff as you can pretty much feel your teeth rotting as you drink it. Zak and David joined us here and wouldn't touch the Moroccan stuff so had something like Pasta.


Friday 10th April 2009 - Along the Atlantic Coast

Stopped for lunchAfter breakfast we checked out and had our luggage carted back to our vehicles, porter suitably tipped and car still intact. We had a bit of fun getting out of Essouaria, getting slightly lost trying to find our way to the coastal road that would take us further south. In this photo we've stopped for lunch at a fishing spot and a bit further along their are locals fishing. The Atlantic was quite rough as there was a strong wind blowing that was to bug us for quite a bit of the trip.

It's not broken yetWe did the first bit of track driving today, still following the coast South. Of course as soon as we get off road and go through a village we're following behind Graham at a little distance and we spot kids throwing stones at Graham's Discovery. The kids stop throwing stones when they see us and gather round our vehicle, we had one jump on the back step (you must always lock the doors that you're not sat in and especially the back door). After a while they gave up chasing us and started throwing stones, it's pretty typical practice and you get it the worst if there's been a few vehicles through already and you're the last.

In the evening we stayed in a nice coastal hotel, if not a little tired, it was pretty windy still.

Saturday 11th April 2009 - Beach & Track Driving

Running repairsMorning preparations for a full day off-road, greasing was the order of the day and Graham had developed a knocking (or some noise or other) that needed investigation. Said had joined us and was traveling with Neil for the rest of the off-road section of the trip to provide mechanical assistance. David & Zak's Suzuki had been off to have extra strengthening added to their leaf springs as it was overloaded.

Stuck on the pebble beachWe headed off still going south along the coast, there was a quick stop in a small town for fuel and a coffee. I think Ian-Roy had a haircut as well. Out of the town we moved briefly onto the beach and drove along it. Here we learnt not to drive along pebble beaches that are at all inclined as you will slide down them. In this photo the green Range Rover is stuck and heading towards the ocean, Neil's Range Rover is moving forward to winch the stricken vehicle up onto the sandy section.

Beached shipA bit further along the beach and we came across this beached ship which you can clearly see on Google Maps.


Sunday 12th April 2009 - Coastal Track Heading Further South

Noise investigationWe camped at a camp site near an old abandoned fort, the site was just bare land but there was a toilet/shower block where the facilities sort of worked. There was also a hotel and restaurant and some elected to stay in the hotel and have dinner, we camped and had our camping food as we'd stayed in hotels for the last few nights and were desperate to do some camping. We did join the others for drinks afterwards though. The wind was still raging and at about 2am I'd had enough of the outer sheet flapping around and took it off which was a feat in the dark, still reasonably merry, with a gale blowing and the roof-tent being a couple of meters off the ground. My Defender had developed a knocking when the weight shifted so Said had a look to see if he could identify the problem. Unfortunately he didn't manage it and the knocking continued for the duration of the trip (and the next year or so).

Rough AtlanticThe wind was still pretty strong and you can see how rough the sea was and the spray in the air. We followed tracks along the coast towards our camp site for the evening.

Wild Camp next to beachWe camped pretty early, the tracks had been good and we'd had quite a pace on. The camp site was right on the coast but sheltered behind a small hill. There was a local fishermans hut on the opposite side where they spent a long time shelling something that they'd fished. This was Laurence and Russell's first camp with all their new gear so we sat and watched them put their tent up without any major mis-hap.


Monday 13th April 2009 - Beach Driving and Heading East

Camels as far as the eye can seeOur last day heading south along the coast, here we found camels everywhere. We eventually dropped down from the cliff top to the beach where Rob & Lucy were holding to make sure we all made it onto the beach okay and had a long drive and met up with Neil. It was at this point that I heard the creaking coming from one of the rear-wheels with a failing wheel bearing. We pressed on and eventualy turned in land up a dried up river bed.

Attack of the goatsWe stopped for lunch and were caught up by Russell & Laurence and David & Zak. There was a cliff behind us and hundreds of goats appeared, it looked as though they were coming down, a few did, but in the end they disappeared off, we didn't see the goat herder though.

Camped in river bedWe were told to camp at one of the waypoints and had a debate over the best place, needless to say we didn't choose the right place as Neil camped up in the dunes leaving us to our own devices in the river bed. Melanie and Ian-Roy also camped in their own space as they always do (on the left in this photo). Said swapped my bearing out here


Tuesday 14th April 2009 - East to Tata

Hillside villageNot many photos from today so I suspect we were getting tired. We headed out from the coast inland towards Tata where we had a hotel booked for the evening. When we reached Tata we found the petrol station didn't have any fuel and there was a strike by lorry drivers going on. The fuel problem was to plague us for the next few days. The hotel was nice with separate chalet style rooms, although they were all twins (or at least that's what we got). There was a swimming pool that Melanie jumped straight in. Cold beer that I jumped straight into. The food was standard hotel fare and not very good but we had come to expect this from the hotels, it was pretty much always tagine and for us that meant vegtarian tagine which is usually pretty bland.


Wednesday 15th April 2009 - Into the Desert

Looking for fuelIn the morning we all headed into Tata for a look around and possibly buy some fresh fruit and veg. There was still no sign of any diesel so we all headed off without filling up. There was a small cascade that we stopped at and got mobbed by kids demanding bonbons and stilos. Michele made the mistake of getting some pens out and they swarmed all around her grabbing at the pens and they were gone in seconds. We then saw the older kids breaking half the pens up. We didn't make that mistake again. In this photo we've already driven through the town once and are going back through again looking for the petrol station which turned out to be a hole-in-the-wall style with a handwritten sign and no diesel, there was petrol though so Zak and David were OK.

Desert camp site, river bed still dampWe eventually turned off the road and headed into the desert to get to our camp for the evening. We arrived early as we were going to have dune driving practice after camping. There was a pool of water that had just about dried up with fish in, these fish were moved to a much bigger pool which would give them a bit longer. This was the first sign we got of how wet the desert was and this persisted throughout the trip with wet sections where the sand was dry on the top but wet underneath.


Thursday 16th April 2009 - Desert Driving

DesertWe're now completely off-road and headed off following a mostly dried out river up-stream, working our way left and right of the river where it flowed to find the best route. Travelling without following tracks can be taxing trying to find a way through the changing terrain. Other times where it flattens out we can get speed up on the flat surfaces. This was a good full-days driving in the desert but it was more hills and changing scrub land rather than sand dunes that we were to get to the next day.

Eroded hillsRob & Lucy were opening the route and when we got close to the camping point we started to look for them. The roadboks are very specific so we navigated to an exact GPS position but they weren't there. We assumed they were probably out looking for a camp site. After a few minutes we decided to try and find somewhere suitable for a coffee while we waited so headed off and found an oasis and have coffee there. When we returned the camp site had been found and we were given instruction on where to go.

We had a good camp fire this evening with everyone sat around chatting and drinking. After a while Said jumped up ran around the fire with his shoe off and beat the ground, it turned out he'd spotted a Camel Spider which he killed and tossed on the fire. We immediately lifted our feet off the ground wary now that these were around. About 10 minutes later another one turns up and starts running around, this time Neil manages to stop Said killing it and we watch it being chased round with a light, they run very quickly and eventually it ran off into the desert. Michele was more than a little stressed and wanted carrying back to the tent.


Friday 17th April 2009 - Desert Driving

Desert camp in the morningFirst thing in the morning having breakfast, our tent is down already as it gets hot very quickly and messing about with tents in the heat isn' tmuch fun. Another day of desert driving with the terrain getting sandier and dunes starting to appear.

Well in the desertThis well was one of our waypoints and surprisingly the water is only a meter or two below the surface. We also passed by part of the old Dakar route where the route markers are still visible where a JCB has been used to pile sand up so there's a big hole behind the marker that you need to be careful of, although they're mostly becoming filled in as time passes.

Small dunes with tracksWe stopped for lunch at an agreed point and watched Laurence & Russell and Zak & David drive by without stopping. About 20 minutes later we heard that they were stuck in a bog as the sand was so wet. Neil went off to recover them and asked us to head north out of the desert and drive round the wet patch. We worked out way North and tried to keep our speed up on bits that looked damp. We reached the track at a military check-point that we'd been told to avoid, so we halted at the stop sign and waited, the guard station was up a hill and a guard came out and waved us on.

Sunset photoThe track came to a small village where we paused and a couple of local children came out so we gave them pens and paper as it didn't look like we were going to be mobbed. Driving further on we came to a village and I realised that I'd not locked the back door as the stone throwing and chasing game started. As the kids were running along I saw one of them grab for the ladder which would put him on the back step, I knew that if he got the door open everything would be out and they'd be over it like ants and it would all disappear. So I radioed Graham not to slow down and put my foot down and I saw the kid fly out the other side of the Defender. Must remember to keep that back-door locked.

Desert campIt has been a couple of days since Tata and we've still got no fuel, we're running on fumes by the end of the day but make it to camp. Neil turns up with the vehicles that were stuck and then heads off to a nearby town to pick-up diesel that he's arranged for us, he doesn't arrive back until very late.


Saturday 18th April 2009 - Big Dunes

Refuelling in he desertIn the morning Neil had returned with the diesel and it was dished out to great relief, although I did keep saying that I fancied a couple of days stuck in the desert with no fuel to add to the adventure story. Today was to be big dune driving day so we were to make our way to a meeting point along sand tracks where we would then go into the big dunes in convoy so Neil could find a suitable route and some big dunes that we could drive up and down.

Big dunesThe day was hot and we'd managed to lose the wind, the sand was getting to the point where it was too hot to walk on bare foot. There was a couple of hours driving in the dunes culminating in a big dune that we had to drive up, stop at the top just as the vehicle tipped over (not too soon otherwise you'd have to reverse all the way down again) and then drive down the other side.

CelebrationsHere we celebrate the end of the dune driving before heading back out on the route to head to the hotel for the evening.

Find your way throughThis part of the route involved find our way through the dunes working our way from point to point. You can see the scale of the problem that we needed to work our way through.

Hotel AzalayThe Hotel Kasbah Azalay is a great relief after 3 nights in the desert and is a definite oasis for us where we can clean the dust off with a hot shower and then relax with a cool beer. We all gathered for a drink and the dinner and recounted the escapades of the last few days. It's also a slightly sad stage as we know we're heading home from here on.


Sunday 19th April 2009 - Rest Day at Hotel Kasbah Azalay

Camel parkingWe'd a rest day in the hotel so could relax, Graham was desparate to go and get some fuel as we'd only got a small amount in the desert. So we headed off to the nearest petrol station which was a good 15 miles away. Thankfully the petrol station had diesel and we filled up and Graham could relax.

Bono villageAfter getting fuel we took a trip out to a local village that is mostly deserted with only a few families still living there. As soon as we arrived we were accosted by kids wanting to show us around which we agreed to (no choice really), unfortunately they didn't show us much of the village other than a few derelict houses and their vegetable patches. We were invited into their house for tea and to meet their family. Fortunately there was a girl visiting the family that spoke good English so we were able to find out about the village and their lives.

Derelict part of Bono villageThe house was courtyard style open to the sky in the centre with rooms around the outside. Not surprsingly there was a flat screen TV with satellite but what was surprising was that they were showing the British TV series Hotel Babylon dubbed into arabic. They made tea for us and we were horrified (again) by the huge lump of sugar that was deposited into the tea pot and we drank the tea politely but all worrying for our teeth. After about 20 minutes we thanked them for their hospitality and left them to watch 'Hotel Babylon' in arabic, not sure how the story lines would really translate for these people! As we left the kids escorted us back to our vehicles and we knew what was coming. We gave them some money, pens and stomach medicines as one of the elderly relatives was complaining about stomach upset, the kids understood that this was for their parents (at least we think they did).

We returned to the hotel for another meal and this time we were the only residents and the staff put on some entertainment after the meal.


Monday 20th April 2009 - heading North Over Atlas Mountains

Mountains heading northToday we head North at a pace to make Marrakech by the evening. We have to cross the Atlas Mountains on a mountain pass road, here we can see the mountains in the distance as we approach them. Once over the top the terrain becomes much greener on the North side of the mountains.

Helping with petrolOn the downward side we came across some motorcyclists that had ran out of petrol, we couldn't help but David & Zak were just behind us so we flagged them down and they provided the necessary fuel. The drive into Marrakech was as manic as ever but at least we weren't staying in the centre this time. We went into Marrakech on a bus which is a scary experience, had a look around the Medina and had dinner. The return trip was by taxi and unfortunately I ended up in the front for a roller coaster scary ride back to the hotel. We had a few drinks in Graham and Jackie's room as a farewell as Jackie was heading back to England and Graham was going to continue on his own.


Tuesday 21st April 2009 - Day In Marrakech

Henna tattoos in MarrakechWe had another rest day in Marrakech so we took the bus back into the centre. Michele had a henna tattoo, well two actually not that she wanted two. We got completely fleeced on the price and found out that black henna is a bit dodgy but thankfully Michele didn't have a reaction. Next time we agree the price beforehand. We had another walk around the medina which was much more relaxed during the day.

Vegan Earth Cafe, MarrakechOn the way to Marrakech we'd seen signs written on the rocks for a Vegan Earth Cafe so decided to try and find it. In the end we asked a local who happily guided us to it and we tipped him well for his assistance. The food was great and the atmosphere very relaxed. We made it back to the hotel by bus which was an achievement and could have ended up anywhere really.

Marrakech Medina by nightIn the evening we returned to the Medina by bus again as we'd agreed to meet up with everyone for a final meal before we all started to go our own ways on our trips back home. The food was good and after dinner the restaurant had a belly dancer which Graham happily obliged by dancing with.


Wednesday 22nd April 2009 - Heading North to Tanger and Spain

Definitely tired now as I've not photos from this day at all.

We left Marrakech with a long drive to Tanger the aim being to get across to Spain by the evening and camp near Tariffa. There weren't any problems with the drive back although when in Tanger we did have a hitch hiker on the back step until I pulled over and he got off to find some one else to ride with.

Getting out of Morocco is slightly easier than getting in, firstly the Dirhams need changing back to Euro's which is done at the same place they were changed on the way in. Then it's through passport and customs, again we get hassled by the porters for money when they've done absolutely nothing this time so we really begrudge giving them anythin but they can get quite agressive so it's easier to give them something just to get rid of them.

The ferry is loaded in the usual random style and we're heading back to Europe.

There's a definite relief as we get to Spain not to have to worry about being fleeced (so much) and not having to tip everyone and their dog, this doesn't last long though as we just get fleeced in a different way as the camp site is about 23 euros for one night! But they have great showers which are much appreciated after a long day driving and we can sit comfortably around our camp and eat and drink happy in the knowledge we've completed another adventure.


Friday 23rd April 2009 - Spain To Portugal

Phillipa and SaraFrom Tariffa we headed west towards Portugal as we had arranged to meet up with Joao and Zizi that we'd met on the 2006 trip and Joao had set-up a Portugal off-road trip in 2007. Not sure Sara really liked the tartex that we'd brought for Zizi after she developed a liking for it on the 2006 trip.


Saturday 24th April 2009 - Portugal Rest Day

Graham headed off the next morning to drive North to get a ferry and we stayed on for a couple of days to recover and have a rest. Joao and Zizi live right opposite the beach, their house is in the center of this photo. So there's lots of walking along the cliffs and beach. We had a good couple of days here and as ever Zizi inisted on cooking lovely meals for us.