Features: The Road to Marrakesh

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Friday 30th June was spent in Meknes trying to repair the air-conditioning. Traced down to a blown fuse buried deep behind the battery. Once out, not only had the fuse blown but the inline fuse holder totally melted. Luckily I had bought a spare in Javea; I also took the opportunity to reposition the fuse where it was more accessible if this was to become a regular occurrence. Before the day was over a little sightseeing in Meknes.

Moulay Ismail Mausoleum, a founder of Meknes.


On Saturday 1st June, having had 3 days of persistent heat, 36 deg. C in the shade, we took the coast road towards Marrakesh on Mike's advice, not without having a special Tulip Cafe breakfast first.

We had spoken to the Koutoubia Cheshire Home in Marrakesh and arranged to arrive on Thursday morning, and so had five days to amble down the coast.

Our first stop was Sale, just North of Rabat, Morocco's capital, and our first introduction to a campsite.

sale campsite

Advertised as on the beach, what do you expect for Dr 55 (£3.75) per night? Insulated from the beach by a row of apartments and shops, the toilets were of the squat hole in the ground variety without the luxury of flushing and the showers, well I dare not investigate further! The usual 'guardian', a pack of stray dogs and the odd cat.

We walked along the beach for a way then headed into Sale centre in search of the Souk and Medina. Despite the fact that we had hit the coast and temperatures were cooler, Chaka had a sit down demo so we took refuge in a Café to watch the world go by for a while. Chairs in all Morrocan Cafes face the road, the first time I looked through the door I thought everybody was watching TV, then I realised they were watching me.

Befriended by our neighbour, whose intentions were unclear, he slagged off the campsite, told us not to buy souvenirs here but to head further south to Essaouira where things were cheaper, the place more pleasant and Jimi Hendrix had visited. Advice we noted before carrying on our way.

On Sunday we visited Rabat, marvelled at all the people who flocked down to the river, like a scene on the Ghangi's. An uninspiring place but seats of administration have their own agenda.

The next three days were spent sampling the delights of the Atlantic coast Mohammedia, Cassablanca (couldn't find Sam to play it again), Tamaris Plage(our first Moroccan 'Speciale' beer), El Jadida (mixed fish platter and our second beers - we are developing a taste for it) and Oualidia where we were promised lagoon swimming.

From Rabat we chose the scenic route inland slightly and through some impressive gorges. At the peak we took a slight detour from the tarmac to a shady spot amongst the sparse trees. Chaka was let off the lead and promptly cocked his leg on every tree in sight before returning to Bumble and digging the usual cool hole underneath to lie in. It's best to evacuate the vaccinity while this ritual is being performed as in the dry earth he produces clouds of dust at all angles.

Our first opportunity to use our Aussie Bush Kettle, kindly sent to me by my cousin Natasha and Richard after their recent yearlong trip round Australia. These highly efficient kettles allow you to burn a minimum amount of combustible material - twigs, leaves, paper, even camel dung, and produce four cups of boiling water in about 4 minutes. The fire is laid underneath with a chimney up through the middle surrounded by a water jacket - maximum surface area for heat transfer. We are still perfecting the art. The instructions suggest that you boil four loads before using for drinking water. I collected a small pile of twigs as instructed, placed them under the Bush Kettle, lit the twigs and pushed a load of leaves down the chimney. Success, within a short time the kettle was boiling.

bush kettle

I was sat in Bumble while Sue lifted the kettle off to empty the first load, I panicked as the naked flame threatened to ignite the surrounding dry tinder and starting barking orders at Sue - not there, don't do that, quick etc. She promptly finished the task in hand and marched off to find a quiet log, followed closely by Chaka.

I had remarked that morning on how well we had been getting on. - need I say more!

I carried on with boiling two more loads and made the tea as a peace offering.

Just before El Jadida we stumbled across long white sandy beaches where we took the opportunity for a rest and walk down to the sea. Still trying to encourage Chaka to cool off and swim in the sea I was paddling around up to my knees doing my best impersonations of Barbara Woodhouse, but to no avail, the waves are too frightening. In the meantime a group of young children had gathered to watch the scene. Suddenly they caught Chaka's attention, there was a split second when time stood still and the realisation of what was about to happen dawned on everyone. The children turned and ran screaming, Chaka in the middle of playtime and off the lead thought this was a great game, his selective hearing kicked in and he was now deaf to all but screaming kids. Most of the children managed to disperse except for one poor girl who was running round in circles waiving her arms. This was a game Chaka enjoyed. Failing to attract his attention I tried to get the girl to run back to me, success, with Chaka in close pursuit I managed to grab him. The girl ran and screamed all the way back to her friends. We quickly left before anymore damage could be done.

We had driven down to the sand dunes and I engaged low ratio with diff. lock to get us out safely. After 10 yards there was a huge clunk from somewhere rear, which shook the vehicle. I stopped, got out to inspect the damage, no visible sign, I tentatively drove forward, and all seemed well. That evening I had another look round but there was no sign of anything.

On the road to Oualidia we were to fall fowl of Sue's map reading/directions, finally opting for a compass heading West to find the coast again that we were meant to be following. This took us off the beaten track along miles of single carriageway through the fields until we eventually hit the tomato plantations on the coast. Eventually we pulled into the town of Oualidia to buy some provisions. Sue got out and was immediately surrounded by hoards of children all carrying baskets, which we later discovered contained bread, desperately trying to make a sale. They also surrounded the car but soon moved away when Chaka popped his head out of the window, the parking 'guardian' saw that they didn't come back. We were directed down the hill to the famous lagoon. Clunk, clunk, judder, clunk, judder - I put the gearbox in neutral and coasted to the bottom. I put the gearbox back into drive to park - clunk, judder, clunk, judder, grind and that was that no forward motion in any gear. My other Land Rover did this to me last year when the output shaft from the automatic gearbox sheared giving no drive to the transfer box. Visions of trying to take gearboxes apart in the sand and hitching rides back to the Land Rover agent in Casablanca were flashing through my mind.

I had no drive in any gear, just a grinding - best we check into the campsite as we are in for a long stay. After having a few minutes to reflect I tried low ratio - success we had forward drive. We cruised into the campsite at 2000 rpm, turbo whining at a steady 10 mph. Whilst Sue checked in and completed the formalities I thought some more, engaged high ratio again - bingo it worked. Thankfully it had just jumped out of gear between high and low ratio in the transfer box. I have been keeping an eye on the levers and cables since.

The campsite was pleasant, plenty of shade and obviously preparing for a busy August. Although only a couple of rows were full the facilities were bursting we people. We took a walk along the beach, around the lagoon, Chaka pulled towards any screaming child so we headed for a more remote part of the beach where the big Atlantic rollers break before letting him off the lead.

Oualidia is famous for fish so Sue went in search of the fishermen for Sardines and a bit of Moroccan haggling. None were to be found so she settled on mussels although just as she was handing over the 15Drs (£1.00) another man appeared saying he could get her some. Too late, the mussels deal had been struck. While Sue cooked I walked into town to find some electrical cable and plugs. Our second battery holds no more than 5 minutes charge so when we are stationary we have no music, no pump, no light, no power for the laptop, no nothing! Campsites charge a minimal Dr 10 (£0.66) for electricity so it seemed sensible to fabricate a lead. After an hour searching around the sites of Oualidia I came back with a bag of bits from which I hoped to create a power hook-up lead. I opened the socket to find all the connections were soldered, it was getting late and dark, no time to get all the tools out.

We had a very pleasant meal of mussels, unfortunately wine and beer proved to be a little more elusive. A fact that was becoming clearer by the day.

We awoke the next day to an ant infestation, which transpired to be one of Sue's pet hates. They were everywhere, the walls, ceiling, floor, door, fridge. Sue dashed off to the shop to buy some ant powder. She returned in minutes with an aerosol can of ant napalm and was returning for 2 more in the bat of an eye. When the clouds of ant napalm had settled there was a seen of devastation - this battle was called Ant Hill. Now came the clearing up operation. Bemused by Sue's fastidious mopping up I went in search of our Achilles heal, I had believed that we were immune from such attacks being 4 foot off the ground and careful about food. A rouge ant patrol had chanced up the awning guy rope, stumbled across the awning, through the gap at the top of the door, across the ceiling, down the wall and into the fridge where there was nothing of any worth open. What an opportunist - 'never before have so many died for so little'. Our planned 9 am departure was now 10.30, I had to draw the line at taking the fridge apart to clean out the debris, we were already late.

A short drive down the coast to Safi before turning inland to Marrakesh. As we drove on Sue appeared to become more agitated, grabbing the GPS, scrutinising the map again and again - did she have ants in her pants? After about 20 km we hit a sign to El Jadida, the direction from whence we came - oops, hard about and back to Safi to find the correct road where we had our first 'road-rage-incident'.

A bus decided to overtake us just as we were preparing to overtake a donkey and cart. This manoeuvre nearly sent us into the back of the cart, which I managed to swerve round at the last minute. I let the air horns rip as we passed the bus less than 100m down the road at the bus stop. At the next roundabout I was in the left lane preparing to turn left (remember we are driving on the right) when the bus comes screaming down the inside, cuts left across the front of us, this sent our wheels bumping over the edge of the roundabout as I was forced to go over as opposed to round it. With this the bus driver was happy and left us alone.

200m down the dual carriageway a small van pulls out from the left across the traffic and straight into the fast lane infront of us still indicating left. We had to swerve into the slow lane to avoid going into the back of him. This completely took him by surprise because as we passed he was about to edge into the slow lane, totally unaware of our existence. He chased us up the road to the next set of lights where we endured a hail of Arabic obscenities, to which we politely smiled and carried on our way.

We stopped a couple of times to phone ahead but there seemed to be a problem with the line. Our directions in Marrakech were vague, head for the Province Sidi Usossef where you will find signs to the Centre Cheshire Koutoubia. The closer inland we went the hotter it got, on with the air-conditioning. Five minutes later a funny burning smell, pop, the aircon was no more. With the windows open all the air was sucked out of the engine past our faces to the outside, something to dp with the peculiar aeordynamics of a brick/Bumble! Chaka was beside himself. We did about 3 laps of the centre of Marrakesh, each time heading for the Royal Palace then going south to Ban Ali the gate where we believed the area was. Again we drove Bumble up one way streets in the medina, dead ends, what I am sure were pedestrian only and arches just big enough to scrape through. Temperatures inside were reaching 47 deg. C.

It is a true adage that men will not ask for directions but rely on their own in-built GPS. Sue on the other hand believes in the old adage, if in doubt ask a policeman and seizing her opportunity she leapt out and did just that. Sure enough within seconds we were back on track and eventually arrived at Province Sidi Usossef. I phoned Lazizia for final directions, straight there, I marked it on the GPS so we could find it again (just in case Sue couldn't find a policeman).

We exploded from Bumble only to find it equally as hot outside, with the wind blowing round the corner it was like standing in front of a giant hairdryer. Standing in the midday sun, 42 deg. C - 'only mad dogs and Englishmen!'

Lazizia came to our rescue, inviting us into the relative cool shade of the Koutoubia Cheshire Home.

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