Welcome to Morocco!

Trip Start Sep 11, 2005
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Monday, October 31, 2005

Morocco - we've arrived!
We actually arrived in Ceuta when we got off the ferry which is actually an enclave of Spain and, on advice, went to the supermarket for duty-free (Morocco is quite liberal for alcohol and when you can get Smirnoff and London Dry gin for about 2 a bottle, we'd only regret it... Then drive 3km to the Morocco border: after hearing all kinds of nightmare stories about touts trying to offer their services to get you through the border and vehicle searches, it was amazingly straight forward: forms for us and police check to get passport stamped; form for Bronwen plus vehicle insurance for the month, double checked by the "official" helpers, and drive straight through - the whole thing took about an hour which wasn't bad.
Drive directly to Chefchaouen, on the edge of the Rif Mountains (see first camel!) and to campsite above town. Thanks to Ian and Jane, who turned up in their Landrover 110 on route back to Spain from their tour of Morocco, we learned that Morocco is on GMT, so 2 hours behind what we think it is - (not that time really matters any more!).
It's Ramadan at present meaning that between the hours of sunrise and sunset muslims cannot eat, drink (even water), smoke (a popular thing here, especially the kif which is grown on abundance in the Rif Mountains). Just before sunset a siren echoes around the town and you can see people rushing to get home in time for their supper, Ramadan's first meal of the day, which is traditionally a thick soup of chickpeas and veg. Throughout the night there's a party atmosphere, with everyone making the most of being able to indulge. Apparently the end of Ramadan next week will be a real celebration! Non-muslims are allowed to eat and drink but we'll try to respect it & at least wait until we're back on campsites. Chefchaouen medina is our first experience and beautiful it is - all shades of blue and white painted walls with narrow streets meandering all over, not knowing what you're going to come across around each corner. Jamie's near perfect sense of direction manages not to get us lost - hopefully a good sign for when we get to the bigger medinas of Fes and Marrakesh... We returned to the town for tea - vegetable tajine and chicken couscous for Jamie, washed down of course with sweet mint tea, which every time we've been to a similar place, takes a while to become accustomed to.

Next stop Volubilis: a huge roman town on a different scale to any other I've seen, occupying a massive area with original mosaics still intact. This was a big olive oil producing town and the oil presses are still visible. (Also, to any of you who have seen "The last temptation of Christ", some of the filming took place here).
Went via Moulay Idriss, a very religious town where non-muslims cannot stay after dusk. We drove through at about 5 (45 minutes before dusk) just as Bronwen decided to stall. This seems to be a feature of some LandRovers in hot weather - something Jamie hadn't mentioned to me before, but she restarts after the petrol has cooled down enough (maybe our journey will take a little longer than we originally thought..). Anyway after waiting to cool down, she starts fine and just managed to get out of town before we made history by being the first infidels to spend to night in Moulay Idriss...
Stayed on a bizarre campsite - the proprietor, Abdou, was lovely but seemed to have no idea that toilets and showers need to be kept vaguely usable if people are going to stay. Luckily Jamie found the stopcock so it wasn't too bad. Abdou gave us some post Ramadan sweets and spoonfuls of a nut/spice mixture which, although very tasty, concerned us as to how many mouths the spoon had been in! - time to stop been so squeamish, me thinks! Just like getting used to non-flushing loos (a bucket of water does the job perfectly well) and squatting, not sitting (more hygienic, but my hamstrings have always been too tight since I did gymnastics!) If you're still reading this, we'll move on to Fes...

Apparently biker boys hassle you to take you to a place to stay in Fes. We didn't arrive until 15 mins before dusk (can you see a pattern emerging?) so the roads were quiet with everyone at home ready to break their fast, which was fine, but we had no idea where the campsite was....so, when a biker boy did ask to help us we jumped at the chance to get there before it was too dark. Fine, but we were very short on dirhams and when I showed him my poultry handful of change, he didn't want a tip and I even managed to persuade him that I didn't need the services of his "brother" as a guide in the medina.
When we went to Fes city, we had what can only be described as a less than successful day. We walked to town (6km) hoping to find a bank and change some travellers cheques en route. No banks would do this - only other cash exchange (which we didn't have with us; nor did we take our cirrus or credit cards). So, here's us with about 5 to go to a tourist place. There are 3 parts to Fes: the new "French" town, the old medina and the new medina (by new read 13th Century....) Arrive at the new town and get lost (don't ask someone or they'll want some of our precious money..), no bank will change our traveller's cheque (we have to wait in a queue for 15 minutes at every bank to be told this...), and eventually find the old medina. This is where everyone tells us we'll get lost...but refuse a guide as 1) we don't have the money and 2) after Jamie's successful navigation at the medina in Chefchaouen I'm fully confident). The two main things we want to see (and the easiest): Bou Inania and the ancient Islamic water clock we can't find, but... the places we are told are nigh on impossible are the dyers souk (the streets running with dye used to colour fabric), Place Seffarine and the tanneries, where animal skins are dried, cured and coloured (with natural vegetable dyes, saffron, poppy, mint and the like). It was fascinating and like going back in time seeing everything done so manually. We found a good person who showed us around the tanneries for nothing after showing him how little money I had to my name. So, sprits high, we decide to take a petite taxi the 3km back to the new town, where I understood I would find a bureau de change to cash my traveller's cheque. So, arrive there, get to bank and guess what, it had closed half an ago (Ramadan opening hours you see). Splurge on a coke, as we hadn't drunk anything for about 6 hours and it is VERY hot. Now down to 40 dirham (3). If we walk back to the medina, one of us can go into Bou Inania, take photos and share with the other. So... walk back through the new town, the "new" medina to the old medina. It's 4.30 and Bou Inania closes at 5. We have to walk through the food souk which is very busy with people buying food for the end of the Ramadan day fast approaching - there are channels of blood on the sides of the road dripping from the butchers stalls, fish heads on the floor, peoples buying dates, figs and sweetmeats covered in flies and wasps (again, Claire, stop being so squeamish...), donkeys and horses loaded down walking through and pushing you into the walls (I got my arm head butted by a passing donkey and someone swung 2 live turkeys bound by their feet into me). But NO Bou Inania or clock was to be found and it's now 4.50. Decide we have to swallow our pride and admit defeat. Hey, after all we've still got 40 dirhams to get back to the campsite 9km away before its too dark. The taxi was 20 dirhams, so we're back, happy (ish), frustrated a bit, but so what, we've still got Marrakesh for the city & we can't wait for the countryside in between. We're sitting here enjoying one of the beers we bought in Ceuta, we've still got 20 dirhams (about 1.40) and life's OK!! When, all of a sudden along comes the camp security guard (he visited yesterday evening asking for a non-existent bottle of whisky...). What did he have, but my sunglasses (I wasn't even missing them). They fell out of my pocket when we were in the taxi - the taxi driver (and/or security guard) wants30 dirham for their return..- NO!!) 20 dirham, 1 euro piece and 2 cigarettes (bought for bribing) later we are now officially cash-less and still owe money for the expensive campsite we're in. Looks like I'll be pimping Jamie earlier than I thought....
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