Deep in the Moroccan Sahara bordering Algiers

Monday, 14 January 2013

Newsletter III January 2006 Morocco.

We have finally reached sunny Morocco!  All that hard work for Alan building the truck, we have finally made it, without any problems.  Our first real stopping point is Taghazoute, a small town just 6km north of Agadir, on the Atlantic Coast of Morocco. En-route we saw some goats in the Argon trees just outside Agadir.  The goats climb, nimbly footed up in the trees to eat the foliage and nuts. 

Alas, the huge freecamp is no more, the land having been bought by an American for development, so we were forced to stay on the campsite, which is like the freecamp, but with a water tap and a perimeter fence.  The campsite is fairly busy, but apparently it gets hideously busy in January. I made a bird feeder for our little spot, from an old water container and put some bread and biscuits for the birds to feed.  I quickly attracted some Bulbuls, the Middle Eastern Nightingale with a beautiful song.  The biggest problem here on the campsite is the French, who seem to think they still own Morocco!  The Moroccans don’t have a good word to say about them, and the French with this attitude seem to make enemies very easily, caused in part by their greed over how much pitch they are entitled to claim.  They all like to claim 4 times their allotted space, marked by deep trenches, flag poles and fencing.  One Frenchman even took delivery of €50 worth of boulders, so doubly ensuring no one parks anywhere near his pitch.  Can you imagine campers getting away with digging deep trenches and defacing English campsites?  It is somewhat unnerving walking past these trenches, as we are half expecting some irate Frenchman to bob up from his trench brandishing a sub-machine gun ensuring that we keep our distance from his little temporary patch of Morocco.  They are quite mad really.  We have however made some new friends, and met up with old ones, and seen some more interesting homebuilds.  A UK plated ex-Russian made, UK army 6L TD  EVERYBODY loves “Guano” our truck.  We have to keep giving guided tours of the inside.  Should start charging people, shouldn’t I?   …..might pay for some of the trip!

Our Moroccan Family.
Finally we met with our Moroccan family, Mohammed and his wife Radia and little 4yr old daughter Selma.  We had been collecting items of use for the family all through the summer months, and it was nice to finally hand them over.  The computer, a sewing machine and a lot of clothes and toys for children.  We knew that Mohammed would give the clothes to the poorer children in Radia’s village.  This year we have been invited to go and stay in Radia’s home village for the New Year celebrations, high up in the Anti-Atlas Mountains, just north of Tata.  So a couple of days later we set off.  The road down south was stunningly beautiful, and clung around the striated mountains and down into gorges.  The scenery was all semi arid rock desert, with few trees and shrubs and no grass. Geologically it appeared to have had a violent past with the different layers pushed into patterned eruptions.  The road peeked at 2320M, then down into a plateau.  Radia’s village Imi-n ‘Tatelt was along an 8km piste road, which ran along a dry river bed.  The track was mostly good condition, but in parts was a bit tricky and rough, but Guano coped brilliantly being a rugged truck.    At the small village of 200 houses, which are homes to about 6,000 people, we were met by the reception committee, a large group of men and children, and we were ushered into Radia’s family home.  The house was large, even by European standards and was made from a combination of cement covered breeze blocks and mud and daub with wooden roofing.  The family was large, and included grandparents, uncles and their wives and children and even cousins and their immediate families.  We were given a very warm welcome and taken to the men’s room.  Women and men dined and mixed separately, but as a European female I was allowed to flit between the two.  The rooms were sparse and simple, with typical Middle Eastern type carpets on the floor, encircled with cushions.  You sat on the floor as there was no furniture and the walls were bare and unpainted.  In the evenings we would all share thick blankets over our legs, as there was no heating.  Moroccan tea was made, which involves boiling a kettle in the room on a small camping gas ring, and the sweet green tea is poured into small glasses.  Tea making is a man’s job, and fetching and the carrying is the duty of the adolescent male of the family, in this case Radia’s younger brother.  Then came an unending list of cooked meals and nibbles, Tarjine, (conical Moroccan cooking pot) home baked bread to dip in local honey, almond nut butter, Berber butter, Argon oil, and jam.  No sooner than we had finished one meal, then another was brought to our table.  After the first day we both thought we were going to explode.  In between meals, we were shown around the house, which not only housed the family, but attached to an open-to-the-stars courtyard, a cow, some sheep, chickens and a couple of goats.  In the back room lived the family transport, a lovely white mule. In the middle of the courtyard was a well, the family’s only source of water.  The oven was an iron bowl dropped into a mud and daub corner of an open room, fuelled by wood and scrub found in the mountains.  All the floors were compacted mud, and doors were ancient weathered wood.  It was like stepping back into the stone-age.  Yet a mere 6 months ago, the villager’s lives were transformed by the coming of electricity!  (I jest not) They now had electric lights and satellite TV but no telephones.  Mobile phones don’t work either as there is no mast for miles.   The family were so friendly and made us feel as if we were one of them.  As a treat, were taken for an afternoon picnic to a local palmery, about 3kms away down the river bed.  My mode of transport was the family mule.  WHAT A FABULOUS TREAT!  She was about 20 years old and had no name, and quite able to carry me and the picnic in two side bags, more food of Tarjine, bread, fruit, tea (with all the cooker and kettles) and nuts.  She was exceptionally well trained and was a dream to steer and stop.  She walked over the bouldered river bed with ease, whilst all the men walked.    

The village was split with the dry river bed running through the middle.  Every year around November, the river bed becomes a raging torrent of rain water, the result of a mere 12 to 24 hours of rain.  It then rages for about 3 or 4 days, during which moving from one side of the village to the other, and even driving the 8 kms of piste road into or out of the village, is impossible.  The piste track is washed away and has to be remade.   We were invited to the other side of the village to meet a Shepherd, Abdul.  He looked ancient and under nourished, with a slight frame covered with weathered skin, but Abdul was full of life and very animated and obviously of strong constitution. His house was simple in the same way Radia’s family’s house was, and he busied himself making tea for us as we sat around on the floor.  He tended to 200 sheep and goats and the shepherds took grazing the mountains in turn.  Some trips he would stay in the mountains for 20 days wandering more than 30kms away from the village, living under the stars and in caves.  Abdul didn't speak any English, so my Arabic proved most useful.  I asked him what dangers he faced. He told me, rabid foxes were a problem, especially when they came close to the villages and near children, who all knew to keep away or get up a tree. (Rabies is a problem in Morocco)  His biggest problem were Golden Eagles, who could pick their prey high in the sky, then swoop down and take in seconds a lamb or kid.  Abdul also used to tend to 100 bee hives, but a couple of years ago Morocco had a locust plague and the government sprayed the locusts with some strong chemicals, which not only killed the locusts, but all 100 of his bee hives.  He received no compensation from the government.  He also receives no old age pension.  There is no old age pension in Morocco, the elders are kept in their old age by their family, hence the large houses and family units.  
‘What do you do for food and water?’ I asked.  He was now fully involved in the tea making ceremony which was at a critical point of sugar quantity.  The sugar rocks of varying uneven shapes and sizes were kept in an ancient box.  The whole affair had been bought into the room by one of the boys of the family.  The old shepherd rummaged around in the sugar lumps, weighing up which combinations would produce just the right amount of sweetness.  The toothless shepherd liked his tea sweet, as two more hefty lumps were plopped into the tea pot.  Yes, this was a man’s job.  A woman could not have weighed such difficult combinations out in her head, and got it just right!
‘My wife brings me what I need.’ He told me. His wife was even smaller than him but a little better covered and like Abdul, full of life.  I had trouble envisaging her tiny frame scrambling up the harsh terrain, with all the tea making paraphernalia, Tarjine, small gas cooker, water etc.  I could imagine myself doing such a task, pack on my back, scrambling over mountains, down through ravines, warding off rabid jackals, and swooping Golden Eagles only to find I had forgotten the matches!  It was an unforgiving land, and there was no room for soft Western sentimentality.   Survival of the fittest were the winners here.   On our way from the village and down towards Tata and Tan Tan, we saw many wild camels and asses.  We also saw many Berber nomads, still living in the same manner they have for centuries, in large wool tents, in the middle of nowhere, tending their livestock for incomes.  In fact, these fiercely independent people, the Ait ‘Atta were the only people in Morocco, who refused to let the French rule them.  They refused to speak French or to follow their rules.  The French infuriated by this, tried all ways to rule them, but never won.  The Ait ‘Atta have stayed independent until today.

The Circus Comes to Tan Tan.
Our next stop was Tan Tan, a border-like town on the Atlantic Coast in the south.   Every year the Paris-Dakar Rally comes to Tan Tan and creates quite a stir.  It was our third visit to Morocco, and our first visit to the Circus.  The Circus always used the airport for a pit-stop, to rest and service and repair their vehicles.  It was a perfect place for ease of flying in parts and crew for the duration of the performance.  We arrived two days before and set up with loads of other motorhomers just outside the airport grounds, lining the road into the airport.  The airport was on a high plateau, from which you could see a wonderful view of Tan Tan town down below.  It wasn’t a busy airport with a mere one landing every fortnight, but the Circus was to make it into a hive of activity.  As the planes carrying organisers, crew, press and provisions started landing, the motorhomes started piling in and space, all 2 square kilometres of it was at a premium.  We had a good spot, but realised that as more campers piled in, our place beside our truck on which was our mat, was being used as a major road, so we turned our truck around and blocked the way.  Of course we didn’t block any way in particular, campers were quite able to drive the other way around us and if they went back onto the road, they could get to the other side of us much easier than scrambling past us.  So we settled down and hoisted the pirate flag high above Guano, just to let others know that we were not to be trifled with.  Anyway, three French campers turned up, (three couples) and immediately demanded that we move our truck so that they could get to the other side.  We told them that it was a freecamp, and we were not moving for them.  Not happy with this, they went and rallied support from other French campers, and quickly swelled their numbers to 30 people (24 of which it had nothing to do with), who all came and demanded that we move for them.  We refused.  They started shouting.  (All they had to do was reverse back three or four campers and drive around a different way, but that wouldn't have been much fun.)  Alan got a little upset and went for a walk, leaving me to deal with it.  They then went and found two army men to come and tell me to move.  I still refused to move.  They then went and found a policeman to tell me to move.  I still refused to move.  They then went and found a policeman with pips on his lapel to tell me to move.  I still refused to move, but spoke to all of the officials in Arabic, who seemed to not want to push me to do anything.  They then went and found what looked like the District Commissioner (three metal rosettes on his shoulders) to come and talk to me.  We had quite a conversation in Arabic, during which I smiled to him sweetly and he called me “Habibti” my darling!  …….you guessed it, I still refused to move.  The French by this time were beside themselves.  How dare a foreigner in “their” Morocco refuse to do as they demand?  The French were used to getting their own way in everything in Morocco, but they hadn’t bargained on meeting a very stubborn English woman desperate for a revolution.  Thirty irate French hopping about, against one feisty English woman.  It was just too much for them.  They couldn’t cope with the fact that I never once lost my cool, never swore, and for the officials, was a pleasure to talk with.  Alan then sent a text to an English friend of ours (travelling with two others) to come and give assistance.  The return text read “Troops on way have fought a few look for our dust trail coming fast” Then two hours later, two Germans, and a Dutchman stepped in.  They had seen enough and had come to my defence.  They demanded that the police and the French leave me alone, that it was a freecamp and we could park where we wanted, and if the French wanted to get to the other side of me, they should just simply drive around another way.  No sooner than that was sorted, our backup (a motley crew of home builds, one of them Bob who looks like a member Hells Angel and drives a big Dodge called Purple Haze)  arrived and blazed a trail through the camp and parked up beside us.  I was triumphant and went and sat down on our steps.  From that moment, the Chief of Police and his minions always gave me a heart felt reception and took time to ask how I was.  I don’t think the French liked me speaking Arabic.  It created too much attention from the officials in my favour.  Never mind, the next day, something else happened to me that they didn’t like either.  

The rally was beginning to gather pace, and all the organisers and crew were wearing some very nice official clothing.  As we walked around the set, I asked about 15 different people for a Paris-Dakar t-shirt, but no one wanted to give/sell me one. It seems they were like gold dust.  So our back-up crew and us went and sat in the airport café for a coffee, where I confidently told everyone that I wasn’t worried as a t-shirt would present its self today.  We all walked back to our campers to wait for the rally vehicles to arrive.  As we sat beside the road, three people in rally t-shirts were directed to us.  They wanted to know if we were the owners of the pirate flag.  They introduced themselves as private crew of a plane for the rally, and that one of them, a German, saw our pirate flag on landing and felt he had to have it, and would I be willing to swap an official issue Paris-Dakar t-shirt for it?  Alan started bargaining with them and managed to make a deal.  Flag for t-shirt and official issue cap.  They also threw in 3 cans of beer for us.  The French were not amused seeing me being hunted and given a lovely new t-shirt and cap and 3 cans of beer.  I think some of the English were not amused either, as they had also been trying hard to get a t-shirt since they had arrived a couple of days ago.  We then stood and watched the rally vehicles arrive, to the eruption of cheers from the campers, first the big support trucks,  from Europe and some from Japan and USA hooting their horns and flashing their lights, then the rally contestants, some battered and bruised and some with obvious engine trouble.  Watching the cars roll in, we couldn’t help thinking that with all the high-tec back up team and rally vehicles bristling with electronics, it had somewhat taken the edge off the rally.  Ordinary cars were not to be seen, only specially designed and adapted ones for off road use, and only special motorcycles.  I think the rally back in 1979 was originally for any vehicle, now it is only for those specialised vehicles, and the £1,000’s needed for the funding.  For this reason the rally has been nick-named “The Circus.”

We are now south of Tan Tan and working our way down to Dakhla, a further 500 miles down south.  Apparently there is a beautiful lagoon there and a huge freecamp.

Love to you all and keep in touch.

Love Cindy & Alan XXXXXXXXXXX

Next newsletter; Purple Haze Tours. One the road into the deep south near the Mauritanian border.

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