I spent most of the night getting in and out of the truck with the shits so I was feeling pretty rough when we drove down to the port to catch the ferry. We had a bit of a run-in with an officious wop customs jerk and ended up missing the 9:30 sailing by 2 minutes so we parked up to wait for the 1:00 PM sailing.
Once on board the ferry, we found a comfy seat each and settled in. The crossing of the Straits of Gibraltar was quite rough but not too bad and no-one was seasick. It was pouring with rain and blowing a strong wind as we crossed the fabled straits, with long lines of container ships passing us on their way out into the Atlantic. The Rock¹ passed with just the merest glimpse through the murk then we were into the quiet waters of Algeciras Bay. We had arrived in Europe, and Africa was once again a distant continent: a part of our memories.
Customs were minimal as we disembarked and we drove up the Costa del Sol, now wet and dismal, its hordes of package tourists long gone and the resorts closed and shuttered.
¹The Rock of Gibraltar ² The Costa del Sol is, famously, a destination for English holidaymakers: somewhat tacky and often lampooned,
After a cold shower we packed up our gear and checked out of the hotel. amidst a mumble of complaining about not having another day in Fes (the malcontents were still…well, malcontented!), we drove out of the old city and headed north on the final leg of our journey through Africa.
The road wound up to the top of a range of hills giving a magnificent view out over Fes and the surrounding country. The day was fine and warm and the land was green and fertile under a clear blue sky.
It took all day to drive up to Ceuta¹ at the northernmost tip of Africa, with a few stops along the way for coffee and lunch. At about 4:30, we came over a rise and in front of us was the sea! The Mediterranean rolled calmly into the bay at M’dik-Fnideq, a small town about 20 KM from the border. We spent most of our remaining dirhams on a tooled leather belt for Brian².
We reached the border between Morocco and Spanish North Africa at 6:00, went through the Moroccan side without any trouble, and then stood in the cold wind at the Spanish side, watching Footrot Flats³, of all things, dubbed into Spanish, on a small TV inside the border guard’s hut!
They put a drug dog through the truck (the look of abject terror on the face of Skip, a hardened pot-head, was priceless!) but it found nothing and we were free to go.
We drove into Ceuta and found a campsite on the hill overlooking the sea but most of us slept in the truck as we couldn’t be bothered putting up our tents.
¹Ceuta is an 18 square kilometre enclave of Spanish territory on the northern tip of Morocco (and thus, by definition, on the northernmost tip of Africa) opposite the Spanish city of Cadiz, 14 kilometres away on the other shore of the Straits of Gibraltar. ²Linda’s stepfather. ³ An iconic New Zealand animated movie about a sheepdog and his adventures on his master’s farm: Footrot Flats. NB I carried a stuffed Dog (the sheepdog in the original cartoon strip and the movie is simply called “Dog.”) throughout our world travels.
After cold showers, Pete, Rob, Linda and I went out for a walk to change money and find the post office. After a run-in with one of the many wog dick-heads wanting to be our “official guide”, in which Rob smacked one around the head after he said “fuck off” to her, we found a bank and the PO then returned to the hotel.
Our real official guide, a guy called Good-one (!) was there and me, Mike, Scotty, Sale and Linda headed off in the truck for a tour of the city.
First stop was the Jewish Cemetary where the city’s large Jewish population bury their dead in tombs above ground. Across the road from there we looked at the magnificent gateway to the Royal Palace with its huge brass and copper doors set with mosaic tile patterns.
We then drove up to the hilltop lookout above the city where we had a magnificent view over Fez which was founded in the 9th century as a university teaching Islam and mathematics. The university, which we would visit later, is still teaching today and is the oldest working university in the world.
We entered the Medina via an arched gate and passed into another world. Steep, narrow cobblestoned passage, hemmed in by white-washed walls, led us deep into the mysterious walled city. We looked into a bakery where people bring their flat, round loaves of bread to be baked, and into a hotel/stable where traders from out of town can stay and house their horses or mules. Amongst the motley group of skinny and mis-treated horses, a sore-covered, skin-and-bone horse lay dying amid the rotting hay and evil-smelling mud. An apalling and pathetic sight.
As we walked deeper into the city, through tunnels and small sqwuares, a tell-tale smell told us we were nearing the dye-pits. A dark corridor led us to a courtyrad where men wearing only shorts worked up to their knees in a series of concrete pits, stamping animal hides in brightly-coloured and foul-smelling liquids. We ascended a set of timbe stairs to a rooftop balcony where we looked down on the pits where 80 or so men worked knee-deep in the pits, kneading and tramping the leather.
We bought raisins and nougat in the nearby bazaar and stopped to look through the oldest part of the university, now disused and empty.
Good-one left us for an hour in the government-run carpet shop where the friendly and jovial salesmen soon turned sour and tight-lipped when they realised that we weren’t interested in buying any of their carpets. Good-one himself was fairly sour as he led us back to the truck as his commission had disappeared!
Linda and I had lunch at a small cafe – a lovely meal of salad and tahine vegetables, then spent the rest of the day lounging around at the hotel.
The whole day was spent driving the 350 KM to Fes. The landscape changed from flat and fertile irrigated plains to rolling hills then to a high range of hills where the temperature dropped to 2° or 3° and it started to drizzle.
We arrived in Fez around 6:30, long after dark, and booked into the Plaza Hotel, not as fancy as the name implies, but comfortable and clean for 20 dirhams.
We had a rip-off hamburger for tea followed by a hot chocolate and cakes at a patisserie.
We got up at about 8:00 and I went down to the restaurant for the usual breakfast of toast, jam and coffee while Linda had a shower. We packed up our stuff and left it in the room and went downstairs to pay the bill. The luggage didn’t have to be out until 12:00.
Pete, Rob, Linda and I walked up the street to the place where where the line of horses and carriages stood and negotiated with a driver to hire his carriage for an hour at a cost of 40 dirhams.
The route took us through the old part of the city along narrow streets and lanes leading to the ruins of the Emir’s Palace. We paid 20 dirhams to go in an look around in what was really only a huge courtyard surrounded by high walls with an orange grove in two sunken gardens.
From the old palace, we went round to the Emir’s new palace – high stone walls again and a studded door set between two stone pillars – then through the botanic gardens (dry and dusty) before returning to the centre of town. We had a row with the drive over how long we had been away and ended up paying him 60 dirhams for the trip.
Linda and I had a quick lunch at a corner cafe then grabbed our luggage from the hotel and boarded the truck at about 12:30. All of the free-loaders [ie the members of the trip wh, dis-satisfied with the way the trip was being run had wandered off on their own and who now had a very holier-than-thou attitude] were back and there were a lot of snide comments being handed around, by Skip in particular, about how much of a drag it was to be “stuck back in the truck.” For our part, those of us who had stayed with the truck considered ourselves to have had a great time without the others and their constant complaining!
We drove out of Marrakech into the country, heading north and spent the afternoon driving through and ever-changing landscape: sometimes brown and barren, sometimes productive and fertile with complicated systems of raised concrete channels for carrying water for irrigation.
About 3:30, we stopped for a coffee at a roadside cafe then a bit later on, we turned off the main road and climbed a steep, winding road over a range of hills and down into a valley at the head of which was a campsite beside a set of waterfalls called The Cascades. Unfortunately, the road to the falls was washed out so we turned back and made camp on a hillside at dusk.
After a comfortable and restful night, Linda and I got up at about 8:00 and went down to the restaurant for a yummy breakfast of toast, jam and coffee then went back up to our room where we spent a couple of hours sorting out our souvenirs and re-packing our packs.
About 11:30 we walked over to the market to begin our exploration of its dim and mysterious reaches. We entered one of the passageways and the hassling began. “Come and see my shop”, “cheap price” and all the other lines we have come to know in the markets of Africa. We went into a shop selling wood and brass items and bought a cedar-root domino set for 150 Dirhams (£12) then, later on, after a trip to a bank to change more money Linda bought her sought-after leather backpack for $US32. I also bought a belt for 20 Dirhams.
Deeper and deeper we wandered into the maze of narrow passageways past shops selling brass, leather, woood, jewellery, spices, fruit musical instruments and general goods. We found the section where craftsmen were making the goods we had seen for sale: blacksmiths, wood-workers, a guitar-maker, leather-workers and tin-smiths.
After a few hours, of constant hassling from vendors we were sick of the market and found a way out onto a back street which led to a roof-top cafe where we had a hot chocolate and a pastry.
We had dinner that night with Scotty, Mike, Rob, Pete and bloke called Sale who is another Kumuka driver, and whom we are taking back to London with us, at a small cafe.
We were up before the sun reached the peaks surrounding the alpine meadow in which the Cafe d’Atlas stood and packed up our stuff while the little man (we never did find out his name!) cooked us omelettes with cheese, and coffee for breakfast.
The icy wind was still howling down off the peaks, rattling the windows of the hut and shaking the bare branches of the walnut tree outside.
We paid the bill, which came to 127 Dirhams¹ all up then left the little man in his little cafe in that windswept alpine basin and drove off down the steep, winding road. The views were magnificent, with brown, eroded hills cut by deep gorges, with high, snow-capped peaks above.
The wind continued to blast off the tops, making it damn cold when we stopped for photos or to look at little craft shops beside the road. As well as pottery and polished stones, the shops all sold beautiful examples of geodes: amethyst, calcite, agate and other minerals found in these hills. Some of the larger geodes had been painted bright green or orange to make ordinary quartz look like something more exotic. Mike had found out about this scam to his cost the previous day, having bought what he thought was a geode of amethyst only to find that the purple colour of the crystals rubbed off to reveal palin quartz beneath!
As we neared the bottom of the valley, the individual crops growing there could be made out. vegetables, olives & walnuts were growing in the fertile soil at the foot of the pine-clad hills, and many small villages dotted the roadside. As always, the snowy mountains made a backdrop to the quiet and peaceful valley farms.
We stopped mid-morning for coffee at a cafe overlooking a wide, tree-clad valley then dropped down the last few miles of the High Atlas and out onto the plains near Marrakech.
We drove into the city through olive groves and orange tree orchards and found the Hotel de Foucauld, a palace of a place compared to the tents we have lived in over the last 3 1/2 months! The room Linda and I were in had a bath/shower, a SIT DOWN DUNNY² and 2 comfy beds. Two large wooden door opened onto a small balcony overlooking a park.
We settled in to all that opulent luxury for a while, then Rob, Pete, Linda and I walked over to the market. We had a fresh orange juice in the square outside the market, then entered the dim and exciting labyrinth of passages and streets that make up the Old Town of Marrakech, a place that has attracted travellers for decades.
Every new turn produced two more paths to choose from and from every door the merchants, some of them old and cheerful, others cunning and devious-looking younger men, called us to look at their wares.
It was too much to take in so we went and had a hot chocolate at a rooftop cafe with a view out over the central Market Square.
Later in the evening, we returned to the square to eat at the food stalls and have our pockets picked by vagabond kids.³ I bought a small set of Moroccan drums off a kid for £2-00.
¹The Moroccan unit of currency is the Dirham. ² DUNNY is Australian slang for a toilet. ³I thwacked an urchin that had its grubby little hand in Linda’s pocket.