Friday, February 24, 2012

Under the Moroccan Sun

We arrived in El Jadida, about 100kms south of Casablanca, still on the Atlantic coast, and found the camp without any trouble. Unfortunately, the facilities are really in a bad state, and won’t even improve with the Kate Loughton scrub and clean. I’m leaving a trail of clean showers and toilets in my wake, but these ones are beyond even me. Fortunately we can be completely self-contained when needed.

The Cysterne, El Jadida
This town is known for a small Portuguese Medina. It was a little dilapidated, but had a wonderful Cisterne that was the town’s water supply during its heyday in 16th and 17th century. Funnily, after the Portuguese left, it was undiscovered for 200 years. It was really worth the visit.

We hit the markets and bought fresh juicy dates, fat, ripe strawberries, fresh walnuts, sultanas, cous cous and merguez sausages. We felt quite pleased with ourselves, being the only ‘etranger’ in the place. Everyone is very friendly with many people simply saying “bienvenue en Maroc” and sweet young girls with fresh faces singing out “Bonjour Madame” and touching you on the elbow. We don’t feel hassled at all.

For lunch, we splashed out on a 6 euro seafood platter!! Really delicious meal, even without a beer. Most restaurants are ‘dry’.

The weather is getting a little warmer everyday. We haven’t had the heater on at night at all since we’ve been in Morocco. The sun is still shining and the max temp is probably about 22-23 degrees.

After El Jadida, we spent the night in Safi. The Medina here is even more ‘low key’ but not so interesting. On we went towards Essaouira.
Safi Medina - see what I mean?

There seems to be only one road rule in Morocco “Insha’Allah”, this applies to cars, trucks, donkey carts, pony carts, push carts, bicycles, scooters, mopeds, tractors, pedestrians, prams, dogs, cows, sheep and goats. Lawrence just ploughs on through admirably. I close my eyes.

We seem to create a reaction wherever we go, with lots of bystanders, especially young boys herding their goats on the side of the motorway, waving at us, smiling. I feel like the Queen.
The Coast Road

The police are everywhere, splendidly turned out in white leather belts, white leather holsters and white leather handbags. They loiter on roundabouts and motorways and wave their arms frantically; we have no idea why.

Our camp just south of Essaouira is really lovely, with CLEAN toilets and showers. Everyone is really friendly and of course interested in our vehicle. For once, we are not a novelty as there are quite a few large and slightly odd vehicles here, so we don’t’ stand out quite so much.
Now - that IS Mad!!

The beach is very close to our camp, and we walked about 2 hours along it today, and met very few people and only one donkey.

Our Local Beach 

Shopping here is a breeze. You just sit in the sun reading a magazine, and the shopping comes to you. Bread, veges, fruit, and fish – marvellous! Dinner is delivered to your door for about 10 euros.

Next stop Marrakech and LUXURY!!! – before we head to the desert and God knows what…

Of all the Gin Joints in all the Towns…

... in all the world, we had to go to Casablanca. We had 2 very good reasons to go there despite all the warnings.

Firstly, how can you resist the 2nd largest mosque in the world, with the world’s tallest Minaret, that we infidels can actually enter? Secondly there’s THAT movie which, disappointingly, was filmed entirely in Hollywood.

Inside Mosquee Hassan 11

Anyway, how can you come to Morocco for 6 weeks and not see it, especially as we were more or less driving right past? So, yes, everybody was absolutely correct in that it is a dump, but most towns we’ve seen could be classified as dumps, except maybe Tangier, which seems to have dragged itself out of the garbage, mostly.

The extraordinary exterior
The Hassan II Mosque however, makes Casablanca worth the visit. Built on reclaimed land, it comprises 20,000 square metres internally, and is astoundingly beautiful. I couldn’t imagine that a building so large could be so lovely. The Minaret, at 200 metres can be seen from most of the city. Finished in 1993, it only took 6 years to complete, employing 10,000 skilled artisans working around the clock, using traditional methods. The result is magical.

The other truly beautiful building is the colonial French Cathedral.  Built in a ‘neo-moorish’ art deco style, you’d think the blend of seemingly incongruent architectural styles would be hideous, however it is quite enchanting. Sadly it is in a state of decline. We climbed the tower, which has become a pigeonnier, the steps coated thickly in pigeon poo. It’s a crime that the Catholic Church allows these amazing buildings to get to this state.

The Medina in Casablanca was awful - dirty, unpaved, smelly and uninviting, as was the rest of the city that we saw. I think they were laying a new tram track throughout the city centre, but hard to tell, as it looked more like they were tearing it up.

2 days ago we spent the day in Rabat, the capital of Morocco. Expecting the worst, we were pleasantly surprised. We were greeted at the station by gangs of football fans, but there was no aggro and no hooliganism, rather they were singing! Singing in tune! - with lovely voices and big smiles, just out to have a great time.
Chellah ruins with storks on the minaret

Although basically a charmless city, Rabat did have a lovely, small, clean Kasbah with wonderful pastries!! Further highlights were the massive & unfinished mosque, and the wonderful ‘Chellah Ruins”.  The Chellah was built in the 8th century, abandoned in the 12thth century and taken over by storks in the 21st.

Lawrence went shopping – see photo for result…
Tired of choosing an outfit each day, Lawrence turns to Islam.

We are camped north up the coast from Casablanca, and will head south towards El Jadida tomorrow. Apparently things get a little nicer and cleaner around there. So far we have not been really taken with Morocco in general, apart from a few lovely exceptions.

This post written several days ago, but have only just figured out how to use our internet connection!!! More to follow soon.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Mogging around Morocco

Our arrival in Morocco was completely uneventful, apart from meeting some lovely hippies. Customs were uninterested in us, so the sherry stash is in tact – Allah be praised.

Tangier was an intriguing city with the usual blend of old and new. We ventured to the Medina and got shanghaied by Abdul, an unofficial guide. It’s funny how you read about these things happening and you think it’ll never happen to you – but alas we were on a tour of the Kasbah before we realised it!! Abdul was very knowledgeable with a great sense of humour, His english was really very good and of course he knew every street, every doorway, and everybody in the Kasbah, so we had a great fun morning with him. Happy to part with 10 euros for his time.
The infamous Abdul

The catch was (there always is one), we got left at a restaurant for lunch and got comprehensively ripped off. The food was good but about 3 times the price one should pay. Oh well, lesson learned.

Trying to lose Abdul in the Kasbah

Next stop, a small town called Asilah. We camped in a parking area by the beach that has a guardienne, who charges 50 dirham and a shot of gin. The Medina has been restored beautifully and a delight to wander around, the newer parts of town not so lovely.
Lovely Asilah Medina

100 kms down the road, still on the Atlantic coast is a town called Moulay Bousselham, renowned for it’s bird watching. The town is a dump – literally. It looks like someone decided to build a town on a rubbish tip and forget to get rid of the garbage. It’s quite foul. Our camping spot by the lagoon however, is clean and comfortable. I simply take my cleaning products to the showers and give them a going over before entering. Islamic cleanliness only extends to the body apparently – not anything else.
Thinking of trading in the Mog

We went a bird watching boat trip on the lagoon which was OK, but all those damn gulls look the same to me. Lawrence had a great time and I enjoyed the sun. As I type he’s out in the cold looking for owls, whilst I’m having a quiet sherry in the warmth.
Fishing for Eels in the Lagoon

The restaurant here does home delivery!! Tagine delivered to your Mog door, what a treat, and tonight we can have wine with dinner. Had a few days off the alcohol after over indulging in Spain.

Off towards Rabat…

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Lazy, Hazy, Crazy Days of Winter

Sadly, we leave Spain tomorrow morning. We’ve been in the country for about 3 months and have enjoyed amazing weather, even though the rest of Europe seems to be freezing. It’s hard to drag ourselves away from the decadent life here. We’ve really taken to the whole ‘campervan’ lifestyle.

We’ve also taken to Spanish Sunday lunch in a big way. It’s such a tradition here with families of 3-4 generations getting together for lunch in the sun. We love sitting and people watching, and the kids are great. They engage with the older generation in such a natural way that we seem to have lost in Australia to some extent. I also just adore the old ladies with their perfectly coiffed hair, like they’d just walked out of the salon.
One Last Lunch

More Mog Makeover
Our camp at El Puerto de Santa Maria has been so lovely, the month has rushed by. We had intended to stay here a week. However, we have stocked up on sherry and hidden it all in the secret cupboard, which hopefully the customs people won’t find.
Storks at Church

I’m not sure if the truck will attract or repel them, but we’ve been warned to have a stash of 5 euro notes available for all tricky situations.

We arrive in Tangier Med and will spend the 1st 2 nights in a camp that has been recommended on the coast just south of Tangier. We then head south along the Atlantic coast towards Rabat and Casablanca. We are still undecided as to whether to visit Casablanca as everyone says it’s a real dump, but still there’s THAT movie…

We should arrive in Marrakech about Feb 23 and will spend 5 nights in luxury in a Riad. We’ll be desperate for a hot shower by then.

Not sure when the next blog will be as internet access might be very patchy. Stay tuned…

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Little Britain

We're back from our 2 night sojourn to Gibraltar, it really is a small piece of England, more British than the Queen.

We parked our hire car on the Spanish side and walked across the border, with no customs or passport control to speak of. We then had to walk across the airport runway to get into town, they simply close it off when a plane is landing or taking off!!!
Crossing the runway - duck for low flying planes.

First afternoon we simply wandered about the town to get our bearings. Not difficult in a place this size – population 29,000 approximately. It was strange hearing so many English accents, with a weird dialect of Spanish thrown in.

I was still craving chilli so we went to a restaurant promising green thai curry prawns. The waiter was an American who understood my need for chilli and had to beat up the chef to put chillies in the curry for us. The result was delicious.
The Rock of Gibraltar

Next morning we hiked up ‘the Rock’ - not for us a sissy chairlift, or God forbid, a mini bus. We unfortunately coincided with a cruise ship in town along with 4000 of the gold sandal brigade.  We left them behind by hiking up a steep path to the second peak, abandoning the idea of sharing the main peak with them.
View from the Rock

The views are breathtaking and of course you can see across to the jagged coastline of North Africa. Morocco beckons, we will get there eventually, just a bit behind schedule. Aah! - the luxury of time.
Views to Morocco

We also spent a bit time wandering in the tunnels that were built during the siege of 1793 – bloody amazing…

Lunch in the sun beckoned, however we walked all the way down to town. Lawrence refused to take the bus even the last kilometre – and the bus is free. First time I’ve seen a Scotsman refuse something for nothing.
C'est dur la vie

Still craving chilli we sought out an Indian restaurant for dinner – I knew there had to be one somewhere, being English. We had a fabulous and very spicy Lamb Madras, really hit the spot. Will keep me going till Morocco.

We are now back in our camp in El Puerto and finally the weather has beaten us back indoors. The sun is still shining, but we are getting blasted by a cruel wind from the north-east. You may have seen that Europe is having a big freeze, which is not affecting us that much, apart from this icy wind. Should be back to idyllic conditions again on Monday, so they say…

Anyway, you demanding blog readers, you have been very slack of late with the blog comments. All give and no take. Has the blog become that boring??? I'm sorry there hasn't been disasters to write funny stories about. A word of encouragement now and then is appreciated – end of rant.

Lawrence is now doing DIY. He has finally come to terms with the fact that I'm a confirmed water snob and is installing a water purification system – yippee!!! I think I’ve finished my refurbishing for now, will post photos shortly.