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 cafĂ© 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.

Newsletter II  December 2006

We finally left France, though not before visiting Sigean African Reserve, which cost a whopping €22 each.  We first had to establish if there were monkeys in the reserve, as they would have had a wonderful time dismantling and reassembling our motorhome!  Thankfully, there were none, so we decided to take the plunge.  What a surprise to find we were the only people in the park.  No screaming brats, no queues, no hassle from other motorists  …..and no monkeys!  It was worth every cent to have the whole park to ourselves.

The Poos.
A couple of days inside Spain we met Norman and Pauline, “The Poos” due to their vehicle registration POO 100.  They were very nice people, but Mrs Poo could talk and talk and talk a constant stream of inconsequential drivel.  Under duress, we agreed to go out for a Chinese with them and the evening fortuitously started with some strange happenings.  As we were seated and waiting for our meals, an English man came in the restaurant and was unable to take his eyes off Alan.  Apparently, he knew someone who looked just like Alan who owed him a lot of money in the UK.  Satisfied that Alan was not on his wanted list, he settled down and stopped giving us the evil eye.  The meal was lovely, but was tainted by the company.  Mrs Poo just chattered and drivelled on, about what, escapes my memory.  She could even eat and drivel at the same time.  I don’t know how she did it?  I was grateful indeed for the showing of a video about Richard Clayderman’s visit to China, offering stunning views of the Great Wall, and a duet with a really impressive little pianist, a Chinese girl of about 6 years old.  I never realised that Richard Clayderman could be so pleasing to the senses.  I was glad when the evening came to an end and we could retreat back into our truck!

Ayres Rock in Spain!
Just south of Mazeron we chanced upon a very good freecamp.  Apparently it was once a campsite, but got badly damaged during a very bad flash flood, and then abandoned.  We parked up next to some Germans who had been there for 5 days.  
‘No problem.’  They told us.  ‘Police come and go.  No problem.’  Great we thought, as it was a lovely spot right on the beach with concrete standing.  We settled down and sat outside drinking a brew.  We watched as two Guardia Civil motorcyclists came and went.  
‘See, no problem.’ Our German neighbours waived to us.  Breathing a sign of relief we continued our brew.  We then noticed another two Guardia Civil in a car.  They put their hats on before getting out of their car, which meant only one thing, business.  They then proceeded to knock on every camper door and ordered everyone to move.  We had to move and luckily just down the road was a stunning place we dubbed Ayres rock.  There was a very large parking area where we could park and see the sea and the strange sand stone rock formations, one of which looked like a huge Chanterelle mushroom.  They were quite something.


A Nice Spot For Lunch!
Driving further south down the coast we chanced upon a truly idyllic freecamp just south of Aguilas, the sort of freecamp all us hippies dream of.  We had heard about this camp, but had never been able to find it, probably due to not looking in the right direction at the right time.  It was very well concealed from the road, and as we drove on the dirt track towards the well protected cove, it was obvious that this was no ordinary freecamp.  The first vehicle that caught our eyes was a very old tractor and railway trailer.  We also saw a few homebuild motorhomes.  Also, unheard of on any freecamp in Spain, was a breadman!  The Spanish don’t seem to like freecampers, and would never be seen delivering bread to such camps.  The breadman just happened to be there as we arrived, and as we needed some bread for lunch, we thought we would stop just for lunch, as it was only 11 O’Clock.  

Being very nosey, I went and investigated the tractor and trailer.  They belonged to a German couple Uli  and Gitta, who had become sick of everything in Germany and went an bought a 1958 Deutz 2 cylinder air-cooled tractor for €1,500.  Attached to this was an old railway trailer and with a few alterations, was made very homely with a balcony on the front.  They both spoke very good English and Gitta explained to me;
‘We drove all the way from Germany and Uli drives, but “Bulldog” (the tractor) is very slow.  He only goes at 18kph, so I sit on the balcony and shout, “Uli, can’t you make it go faster?  Uli make it go faster.” but poor Uli, he can’t make it go more than 18kph so I squirt him with my water pistol.’   Now you have to imagine Gitta sitting on the balcony with her long shoulder length golden curly hair, shouting and squirting a water pistol at a tall, skinny, long haired, very handsome Led Zepplin look-alike in a very old and very slow tractor, to go faster, followed by a very long queue of frustrated motorists who are unable to pass.  Uli just shrugged his shoulders, with a well there’s nothing I can do about it look!  We had to give it to them, almost 2,000 kms at 18kph in a 48 yr old 20bhp engine, and all on red diesel.  (Up the revolution!) We really liked Uli and Gitta.  They had dared to do something really different.  Uli confessed to us, that they too had only stopped for lunch.  That was 7 weeks ago.  
As we talked, another German arrived on Uli ad Gitta’s patch.
‘Ah, this is Oliver, the Caveman.’ Announced Gitta.  Caveman? What was she talking about?  Apparently, Oliver had cycled from Germany on a soul-shearching mission on his pushbike!  But luck was on his side when he arrived here, as Mica (another lone cyclist from Germany) had vacated some prime real estate property.  A two roomed cave overlooking the cove.  


Oliver, the Troglodyte invited us back to his cave.  It was quite a climb up a steep and slippery slope and I had visions of my self on life-support before reaching the top.  Just before the entrance to the cave was a very narrow precipice, but the view from his window seat was well worth the huffing and puffing to get to it.  Oliver explained.
‘Mica had the cave before me, and she didn’t do anything to it.  Sand was coming in half way up the walls, and into the bedroom.  There was nothing in here but sand.  I first had to take all the sand out and I built everything from materials I have found around the cave.’  Oliver’s home improvements were a sight to behold.  He had made a sunken bamboo window bench affording a view of the whole cove and all the campers, Mediterranean sunsets included.   A matching legged bench, and a re-claimed wooden table, with matching wooden work station incorporating bamboo bowl holders, and to finish off, a strong bamboo broom and bamboo rattan type shower screen which was fixed out on the precipice.  He even boasted running water over the kitchen sink by means of a hanging water bag, with pipe and tap.  Covering the floor was a blue tarpaulin decorated with a Lidal bag as a central feature.  Along the sides of the front room were shelves built from bamboo and oddments of wood.  In the bedroom he had raised the floor with old pallets on which stood his inner anti-mosquito tent, minus the weather cover.    Oliver was understandably proud of his creations, and liked nothing more than to sit and contemplate his beautiful view and his life.  He said;
‘Friends call me and ask, “What are you doing?” I tell them that I am thinking.  “Thinking.  What are you thinking about?”  I tell them, I am thinking about life.  When is enough, enough?  How much is too much?  How much do I really need to make me happy? But they don’t understand.  They tell me that I cannot possibly be thinking all day and that too much thinking is not good.  Of course I disagree with them.  All my thinking is making me very happy and is helping me to understand life.  Back in Germany I had no time for thinking, only working and sleeping.’ 
Oliver was a Dog Trainer in Germany, and had a little import export business.  He was glad he left everything and came on this trip.  
Oliver had been industrious to the extreme, so much so it all looked like something out of Journal Les Troglodytie Masion et Jardin!  As much as Oliver hated the system and wanted to be free of it, there he was furiously re-building it all around himself!  We sat wondering if he noticed what he was doing.  He too had also been there about 7 weeks.  He too only came for lunch!  He asked us if we had met the Czech family.  The Czech family we were told were a family that came here every year through the winter months.  They were a mother and father, Petr and Simona and their 8 children!  Their van was only a standard 6 berth motorhome with a little 2.5D engine.  It took me a while to fathom how on earth 10 people managed to sleep in a 6 berth motorhome.


Did they sleep in shifts?  Or was their motorhome like a Tardis? In fact I still haven’t fathomed it out.   Petr was a real rebel and hated the Czech system.  He lived in the summer months on his own land near the German border in a national park.  His home was an arrangement of 3 railway trailers (like Uli’s) around which he had built an arrangement of shelters and add-ons, all totally illegal of course, but Petr is determined to keep his house.  The authorities have tried unsuccessfully to make him take it down, but he has always managed to stay one step ahead of them.  He confided to me;
‘I am from Prague and studied computer programming at university back in the 80’s.  I met Simona at university and we both didn’t like the way the system was developing, telling us how to live our lives and how to bring our children up.  (they only had two children then)  So I tried to change the system and ended up a political prisoner.  Enough was enough, so we bought some land and I built my house, took my children out of school to home educate them and gave up my job.  We live off my 2 acre plot of land, with goats and chickens and vegetables.  We have a good life, but not good enough for the authorities, who have been trying to make me send my children to school and pull down my home.  My way of life has caused a lot of controversy in Czech Republic.  People say that I have a good degree and I should be working, but the only money I have is my Child Benefit.  Together with our self sufficiency, it is enough to manage on.  We need very little.’  He smiled as I looked at photos of his construction back in Czech Republic which looked a little like the film set for the Lord of the Rings, ‘For example, it is OK to build anything if it is for a film.  So when the authorities came round last time to try and make me take my home down, I just told them that the construction was for a film.  They told me that the film was taking a long time to be made.  I just told them that the film company was experiencing financial difficulties and that they would resume filming as soon as possible.  They left me alone because they don’t know how to deal with me.’  He stood chuckling to himself.   He then gave me a tip.  ‘The more laws that are made, the more loopholes can be found, because the people that pass the laws simply don’t know what they are doing.’  I’m not sure that I needed any such encouragement but it was so nice to talk to someone who had a different from the “norm” point of view.  All of Petr’s 8 children were very well behaved and they all had some skill or other.  The eldest boy of 16 yrs was a brilliant fisherman.  He would get up early of his own accord and with his homemade rod of bamboo and twine, he would head down to the sea and catch, moray eels, and other fish that the family could eat.  
Petr told me proudly, ‘You know my son often sits next to other campers who have very expensive equipment, but they never catch anything.  My son always brings back a good catch.’
The eldest daughter of 18 yrs, was very good with the other children, the youngest of which was 2 yrs.  She was also a good bread maker and a music teacher and taught the other children to play violin and accordion.  She could often be seen on the beach giving the other children music lessons.  They played typical gypsy type music, which I really like.  I had such respect for Petr and his family, for they expected nothing, and were a very close family and were coping well under such negative views of others.  They didn’t judge others, but just wanted to be left alone to live their lives.  Petr, I salute you. 

That’s all for this month’s news. Love to you all, Cindy & Alan XXXXX
We are of course now in Morocco and shall be heading down to the Paris – Dakar Rally in January.  It will be our first time at the rally and is something we are both looking forward to seeing. Weather is fabulous!

Some other news; The Truck With No Name, now has a name. “GUANO” due to the condition in which it was found, covered in pigeon shit.  Incidentally, Guano is going swimmingly.  No problems at all and he is coping well with everything we ask it to do.  We had cause for celebration the other day, as we managed to squeeze a whopping 18mpg out of it!    Diesel in Morocco is about 47p per L.