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'98 Trip Around the Mediterranean Sea
Second Leg: Morocco

 

 

Ceuta to Volubilis
Fes
Meski and Merzouga
Todra Gorge
Merrakech

'98 Morocco Map



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Ceuta to Volubilis

 

Sat, June 6, 98. MOROCCO: Ceuta to Volubilis.  

 

 

J.: Africa. This was a completely different world. We panicked. The border crossing was easy. By that time we fixed our CB Radios and we were using them openly even at the border. One of the officials (so he claimed), an extremely “long” gentleman who wore an even longer, white gown, sort of “pajama”, noticed our fancy communication devices and didn’t let us take them into Morocco. We had to deposit both radios on the border. Apart from that, no fees, no hidden charges, no problems! We took the road to Fes through Chefchaouen. Beautiful landscape: mountains, mountains, mountains…  

Beautiful landscape of the Atlas mountains

In Morocco everybody is “your friend”. It was enough to stop in the middle of the city to have few guys around right away that offered their services. Lots of hassle. 

Notice a cup of tea in our "friend's" hand

Few times right in the middle of the road we were offered drugs. Some wanted us to stay at their “campsite.” Moroccans have a lot of imagination: a piece of field turns into a camping ground if only there are some tourists willing to pitch a tent there.

We slept at a regular campsite though (as per Moroccan standards) few kilometers from the ancient site of Volubilis (night Sat/Sun 6/7). There we met a German biker travelling on ’90 Honda Africa Twin with mileage of 140,000 km.

G: At the entrance a very pleasant, elderly “monsieur” approached us. He invited us in French with great courtesy and after showing us our place he asked: “voulez-vous manger quelque choose?” And went on offering us all kinds of fancy dishes.

It was amazing that in this Arab country almost everybody spoke French, even a farmer. Later we were to find out that Moroccans had a great talent for languages and that they spoke more than just Arabic and French. As Canadians,  we were welcomed very warmly in Morocco (as well as in other Arabic countries as we would later find out). The following conversation usually followed: “You American?” (dry tone of voice), “No, we are from Canada.” “O! (warm smile), from Canada! Canada Dry! Canada Dry! Welcome!”

 

Sun, June 7, 98. MOROCCO: Volubilis, Moulay Idriss and drive to Fes.  

 

 

J.: We visited the archeological site. Some facts about it: Best preserved Roman ruins in Morocco. Dates from 2nd and 3rd centuries AD. The site was originally settled by Carthaginians in 3rd century BC. Most attractive feature of Volubilis is the mosaics.

Ancient Roman mosaics

4.5 km from Volubilis there was the town of Moulay Idriss. The town was named after Morocco’s most revered saint, a great-grandson of the Prophet. Moulay Idriss arrived in Volubilis from Baghdad, converted the locals to Islam and established Morocco’s first imperial dynasty. The town is nestled in mountains. Non-Muslims are not allowed to stay overnight. Two bikers brought lots of curiosity in local children.  

In the centre of attention

 

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Fes

 

The drive to Fes was short (100 km). We decided to take an off road short cut, a 30km mountain track. It was steep and rough, all the time on 1st gear going up and down on a very uneven stony surface. We were glad to finally make it to the main road. On the way we could see the real country life there: poor houses, dirty children, hard working peasants. As soon as we arrived in Fes, a hustler appeared on a moped. Driving beside us he started yelling something about a hotel. We stopped. He was trying to persuade us to follow him to a hotel of his choice. Having read the Lonely Planet guidebook (Lord, praise the Lonely Planet!), I insisted on going to a hotel that was recommended by the book. It was Hotel Central. To our surprise the price quoted by the woman at the reception (translated by the hustler) was twice as high as the price quoted by the book. After some explanation it appeared that the expensive room (US $10) had a washroom and the cheap one (US $5), didn’t. We opted for the cheap room (Night Sun/Mon 7/8). A well dressed (white suit, white shirt) man loitering by the hotel helped us find a place for our bikes. The parking attendant was happy to see our new “friend”. Interestingly, we paid him, not the attendant for the parking. All these guys were somehow related.

In the afternoon we took a bus to the medina. Our “well dressed friend” accompanied us. He insisted that he would show us all the secret places and that without his help we would get lost right away. It took really strong words to get rid of him. Well, we got lost right away. A maze of narrow streets was so complicated that even the guidebook didn’t contain all the streets. But that’s what makes a visit to the medina so exciting—to find the way out.  

In the evening we had a really good and fulfilling meal in a local restaurant: couscous (a bowl of steamed semolina topped with a meat and vegetable sauce), tajine (meat and vegetable stew) and of course Moroccan tea. I loved it. Greg didn't. 

 

 

Mon, June 8, 98. MOROCCO: Fes and drive to Meski.  

 

 

J.: In the morning, we took more time to see interesting places in Fes:

·        Bab Bou Jeloud.   

Bab Bou Jeloud (built in 1913)

·        Medersa Bou Inania. [Built between 1350 and 1357.] For few dirhams we climbed the roof and saw the city and the Atlas Mountains.   

Fine stucco and woodwork on Medersa Bou Inania, Fes

·        Tanneries.  

Tanneries: few centuries back  More tanneries

G: Before we left, we said goodbye to our “well dressed friend” who to our surprise was still “well dressed.” Well, it is just that his dress was not so clean any more. I guess he did not change. He insisted on giving him a pack of cigarettes for his “friendship,” so I, the kindhearted person, gave him one of my DuMorriere gift packs. 

 

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Meski and Merzouga

 

J.: The drive to Meski was nice, especially driving through the Gorge du Ziz. It got hot: near 40 C. Driving in leathers was OK, until we had to stop on the red light or to ask for directions. There were three colours in Morocco desert areas: blue sky, red/brown landscape including houses, and occasional green tress, oases or valleys. We truly enjoyed the ride. For me most impressive was the vastness of the desert and half-desert. 

Infinity

The last part of the drive was tricky. We drove at night. There was lots of bicycle and donkey riders with no lights on the main road, which was not lit either.

First impression of Meski was astonishing: tall palm trees, sand and dry hot air, a perfect small oasis. 

Meski campsite

Right on our arrival we were surrounded by “friends” who wanted to sell us “stuff”. There were “friends” even in the toilet. Every time you went there they would accompany you inside! For what?

The night (Mon/Tue 8/9) was pleasant, warm and very dry. The next day we found out that the site was situated on the Ziz River. There was a natural swimming pool at the campsite with the water coming out of the rock into the pool. 

Natural swimming pool in Meski

Ziz River with its line of palm trees was right beside. All around there was a desert plateau.

 

Tue, June 9, 98. MOROCCO: Meski, Gorge du Ziz, Red Dunes.  

 

 

J.: The next morning we began the day bargaining with the local merchants. Greg accepted an invitation for breakfast from a merchant. It was so obvious that later on it would be very difficult not to buy anything. We got caught in a Moroccan trap: cup of tea. Eventually we both bought handmade knives. We paid for them with money plus an old T-shirt, pair of socks and a lock. It took about 2 hours to finalize the deal. It was an interesting experience.  

Bergaining

It was hot and dry all day. Around noon we took a ride to the desert. We came back around 9 p.m. The plan was to reach Merzouga, but we didn’t get there.

G: However, we got to the red dunes of Erg Chebbi. 

Erg Chebbi

It was incredible. A sea or rather hills of pure sand and it was all red. Awesome. We goofed around for awhile, 

Sand...

took a couple of pictures, talked to a very nice Tuareg man in a blue shash who just happen to be there (!?) 

Friendly Tuareg

and decided to head back in order to be back at the camp before dark. We were driving after dark anyway.

J.: Dune riding was fun. You’d have to control your movements all the time, and work with gears precisely. The surface was very uneven. The bikes passed the test very well. It was the best day of the trip so far.

We spent the night Tue/Wed 9/10 on the same camp in Meski. Greg cooked a soup. Our “friends” kept bothering us.

 


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Todra Gorge

 

Wed, June 10, 98. MOROCCO: Gorge du Ziz, Todra Gorge, Road to Ouarzazate  

 

 

J.: We said farewell to our “friends” in the morning and drove to Todra Gorge. Life in this area is focused around the river. 

Plateau around the Ziz River

Above the gorge there is nothing but sand and rock: the desert. There is plenty of life in the heart of the valley however.  

 

Todra Gorge was amazing. 

Fun terrain

The narrowest place of the Todra Gorge was 300 metres high and 10 meters wide.

300 metres high

The road was rough: a track across a stream. 

Across a stream

First few passes were easy. The last one was deceptive. I checked the creek before attempting. Unfortunately, I didn’t really go where I was supposed to and as a result I fell. 

On the ground

We decided to turn around, but I had to go through the same creek again and I fell again. No damage, of course—an off-road bike. For the fall, I blamed the tires but really it was just lack of experience. Greg was doing fine. He didn’t even fall once. We met two German bikers.

We bought a shush (blue turban). The shush is used for protection against sun and sand in the desert. There was an old man on a jackass. He was posing there for pictures and collecting money (maybe his only source of income).  

Buying a shush

We reached Ouarzazate in the evening and stayed there for the night Wed/Thu 10/11 at a campsite (US$ 1.50 a person).


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Merrakech

 

Thu, June 11, 98. MOROCCO: Road to Tichka Pass, Marrakech.  

 

 

J.: The next morning we set off to Marrakech. We stopped for a short break on the shoulder. After a few minutes, three young girls showed up. They were carrying crops. We were trying to communicate with them, but they were really scared. Who knows, maybe we were the first foreigners they’d talked to. 

Peasant girls

We reached the Tichka Pass. Again, we were “attacked” by merchants. Eventually I bought a stone (pyrite) for 10 dirhams. The starting price was 300! I bargained! Greg got a stone in exchange for a contraceptive he just happened to have. Good deal! 

The road from the Tichka Pass to Marrakech was very picturesque.

G: It was the high Atlas and there was no end to numerous turns and twists. 

Turns and twists below

Being in the mountains was a great relief from the constant heat of the desert. I think the temperature dropped to 25C. We reached Marrakech around noon, walked around the city and had some food in a local joint.

J.: We tried to make some money by displaying our bikes ;-) among jugglers, storytellers, snake charmers, 

Snakes

magicians, acrobats and other lunatics at famous Place Djemaa el-Fna but we were not offered any dirhams. However, some tourists found our presence interesting and started taking pictures. We did some shopping. Another example of good bargaining: the price for a T-shirt was 120, we bought 2 for 75.

Almost everyday the only food we ate was water or Fanta and bread. This is what the temperature does to you. It is possible to catch a cold in high temperatures. This is what happened to Greg. I guess he got dehydrated. 

We spent the night Thu/Fri 11/12 at a campsite near Rabat.

 

Fri, June 12, 98. MOROCCO: Road to Ceuta, Ferry to Algeziras, Drive to Torremolinos  

 

 

G.: We took the only Moroccan paid highway, which ran along the ocean. The face wind was so incredibly strong that we felt like we were little toy riders tossed left and right at every blow of a “monster”.

J.: In Morocco (and all other Arab countries except Libya and Syria) we were withdrawing cash from ATM machines. We were also surprised by a number of gas stations accepting credit cards. 

Gas station in Morocco

We calculated our expenses and spent all leftover cash. At the tollbooth, the officer demanded more than we had. So we offered him French, Spanish, US funds. He didn’t want to accept either and told us to go back when we entered the highway (200 km!). Finally, we talked to the cops and they persuaded the toll attendant to let us through. Later on we came across a dead horse hit probably by a truck and left to rot.

On the border in Ceuta we got our CB Radios back, took ferry to Algeciras (which leaves Ceuta every ˝ hour), and kept driving until we reached Torremolinos (near Malaga), around midnight.

G: It was a relief to be back on the “old continent” considering that I had a high temperature and felt really miserable. It was pleasantly warm, not hot anymore. That is what I needed.


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To continue the story, click Europe 2 or go back to Mediterranean Trip.