Features: The Road Back to Meknes
After cooling down at the Centre Cheshire Koutoubia for Thursday afternoon it was time to find a campsite. We offered Lazizia a lift home and in return we received a guided tour of Marrakesh's Medina, pointing out the famous Place Djemaa el-Fna.
Our plan was to have supper in the square, watch the snake charmers and other sites before retiring to bed. What actually happened was; by the time we found a cashpoint it was already getting dark, then we saw a sign for McDonalds, unfortunately we succumbed to the temptation. Big Mac meal and a strawberry milkshake - a little bit of comfort food to make up for our hottest day so far. We sat on the grass outside McDonalds with Chaka, leaving the hoards of Moroccan's to fight over seats, it's a wonder they don't open more. (Out of interest McDonalds supported Leonards Cheshire's 'Visable' awards last year.)
Now 8.30 p.m. and still 40 deg.C in the dark, thoughts turned to bed. At the same roundabout was a sign to camping, 11 km out of town. We set the GPS odometer to zero and headed off into the dark. All the books say never drive at night, believe me DON'T. There were pedestrians, dogs, horse drawn carts, mopeds, van's and taxi's all without lights plus numerous other creatures of the night that we failed to see. At the 9 km point we passed what we thought was the Campsite that we had seen on the way in. Had we not seen it in the daylight I doubt we would have found it in the dark. Another useful thing to remember when travelling 'Never arrive somewhere after dark', we have done it on two occasions so far and been lucky.
We caught the proprietor on the way out just managing to check in and were shown to our spot in the dark as he left. The day had been very long and hard with no real reprieve from the heat. We put mosquito netting across the front windows and left the side doors open with netting across to improve any draft. Then we tried to encourage Chaka to sleep outside on the ground where it was cooler. The engine and transmission lay beneath us, yet effectively still inside the vehicle and at 100 deg.C doing nothing to cool us down. We lay in a pool of sweat, Chaka agitated outside, barking, whining, jumping in and out, pulling down the mosquito net at each attempt. At 5 am it had cooled to 35 deg.C just as the sun began to rise again.
The only reprieve was a pleasant luke warm shower in the morning. No time to breakfast as we had to be at Koutoubia at 9.30.
Armed with the GPS we followed our way back to the memorised waypoint, passing many of the same landmarks, one way streets and narrow arches we found our way.
With no air conditioning the heat inside Bumble was approaching the high 40's even at 10 a.m.
Before leaving Koutoubia I was determined to fix the air conditioning. Armed with a couple of female spade crimps and a blade fuse I set about the bodge. The sun had crept overhead and with three of us in Bumble the temperature was approaching 47 deg. C. Chaka was getting extremely agitated, bouncing off the walls taking all my tools and wire with him. He was expelled until the job was finished. 5 minutes turned to 10 before we were on our way.
Determined to take in the sites that we missed the night before we headed to the Place Djemaa el-Fna. Parking in Morocco is easy, every street has a 'guardian' fighting for your custom. We parked close and walked in by foot in search of shade and refreshment.
Every restaurant touts for your custom and we settled for one with a large amount of shade overlooking the square. Once in place we were confronted by the industrial hair drier. Wind was blowing across the square and into our faces at a steady 45 deg. C. 1 litre of water, two cokes, two coffee's, 2 tarjines and a bucket of water for Chaka, still no reprieve from the heat so we decided to head for the coast.
We were heading for Essaouira and fell foul of the limited scale maps. Heading out of Marrakesh we ended up on a minor road not detailed. After some 30 km, spectacular scenery, mud walled towns and a brief sand storm we merged with a larger road and thought we had pinpointed our location. We had the option of taking a cross country route, but our diesel tanks were low and judging by our recent map experience I didn't want to risk it. Another 10 km and we hit the junction we thought we had been at 20 minutes ago, who knows where our short cut would have ended up. At the first opportunity we filled up with diesel.
Even donkeys and bicycles run on diesel in Morocco!
Back on the road again with the airconditioning at it's lowest setting, Chaka could relax at long last.
As we crested the last hill and were met by a welcoming sea view, the temperatures plummeted, at 28 deg.C we were feeling cold.
The guide books speak of a wind swept wind surfing paradise 12 km south of Essaouira called Sidi Kaouki. Our search for a camp site took us through Diabat, a Berber village which became a legend in the 60's, after a visit by Jimi Hendrix, no sign of that now though.
5 km of dead straight road through scrub and then it abruptly came to end at the seas edge. This was it, Sidi Kauoki, an oasis populated by campervans and windsurfers. The beach was 3 to 4 km long, plenty of space to get lost in.
We stayed here for 4 days to cool off........
.........before returning to Meknes where we had just learnt of a house sitting opportunity in the heart of the medina.