Features: Dar El Hana Cheshire Home, Tangier.
The elegant 'Dar El Hana' fronting the Straits of Gibraltar
Our next port of call was the Cheshire Home in Tangier and after leaving Fes we made for the cooler coastal climate of Rabat and then on up the coast to Asilah where we planned to stay for the night before heading for Tangier the following day. As we drove, we kept glancing into the back of Bumble where Chaka would normally be seen perched on the fridge or with his head out of the side window. It still seemed incomprehensible. We were both trying desperately hard to be practical about it reasoning that it would have been a very long journey and maybe would have been too much to ask of him. But deep down we knew they were empty words and we felt his loss enormously.
Asilah is a small coastal town, 46km South of Tangier and it benefits greatly from a thriving tourist industry. It has become a major holiday destination for both Moroccans and Europeans alike bringing with them wealth and prosperity for the small town. Unfortunately, this also brings people and Asilah in the height of the season is brimming over with them.
We made our way to the camp-site to find a pitch for the night, being the height of Summer, everywhere was packed and we were ushered to the far end of the site where just a few pitches remained. With our Delhi-Belly behind us - excuse the pun! - we headed for the town to sample the local cuisine. We decided upon a small restaurant specialising in Tajine - a traditional Moroccan stew cooked very slowly in a distinctive conical earthenware dish. As we sat at the restaurant, watching people come and go, we realised that the majority were of European extraction and it was true to say that throughout our time in Morocco, this had been a rare occurrence. One of the enchanting aspects to Morocco is the fact that it is still relatively unscathed by commercialism and tourists tend to be back-packers who want to get to know the real Morocco rather than holiday-makers who head for the beach and five star hotels. Asilah was our first real taste of 'changing times' and seemed incongruent with the true Moroccan culture.
We ate the Tajine and made our way through the busy streets back to the camp-site and bed. An hour later, I was still awake, feeling restless and edgy. After a further 30 mins I developed very bad stomach cramps and proceeded to be sick. Without going into all of the gory details, the whole night was spent in a similar vein. Neil and I had eaten exactly the same food for supper and he was fine. I couldn't fathom what it could have been. By 8.00am and with the vomiting still continuing, Neil suddenly leapt from Bumble and ran to the nearest loo keeping his buttocks firmly clenched - if that's possible. E paused a couple of times to compose himself before continuing. Yes, a similar fate had befallen him. The fact that the loo's were absolutely disgusting on the camp-site didn't help matters and we both felt pretty dreadful. Anyone who knows me will also know that I suffer from numerous food allergies however, I rarely get food poisoning or upset stomachs unless they are attributed to my allergies. This little bout however, knocked us both for six and was without a doubt the worst food poisoning I have ever experienced.
We were due at the Cheshire Home in Tangier that morning at 10.30 and despite wanting to curl up and sleep for the rest of the day, we got ourselves together and set off. Neil drove the 46km's to Tangier and full credit to him. I have no idea how he did it. I couldn't even hold my head up let alone drive. We stopped once where Neil got out and leant against the vehicle feeling sick but nothing came forth.
After asking directions twice we pulled up at the gates. Neil was extremely agitated in the front seat, he just couldn't overcome his nauseous state, not able to sit still or get out. He eventually summoned up the energy to enter the home, took four steps forward then swivelled round and jumped in the back door, grabbed the nearest bowl and threw up in the privacy of Bumble.
'Dar El Hana'
The Home was opened in 1961and cares for around 40 physically disabled children and young adults from economically disadvantaged backgrounds, with priority given to orphans. The physical disabilities are as a result of accidents and polio. The Home comprises a classroom, physiotherapy room, a plastic arts workshop, a sports field, a workshop for the repair of wheelchairs and crutches and a small mosque. Numerous activities are encouraged from sewing, embroidery, knitting, leather work, mosaics, copper work and the 'Club El Hana' basket ball club is affiliated to the Royal Sports Federation for people with disabilities. The house itself is called 'Dar-el-Hana' meaning 'House of Peace' and benefits from spectacular views across the Straits of Gibraltar.
We introduced ourselves to Monsieur Abdelhamid Bouzid, the Chairman of the Home who took pity on our rather fragile state and kindly offered us both a bed to rest and collect ourselves before our tour of the Home. After a much needed rest, but still feeling under the weather, we decided to have a good nights sleep and start the tour the following day. We parked Bumble in the driveway and slept soundly.
The following day, we were shown around the Home and introduced to some of the residents. Alot of the residents were away during the Summer staying with family or friends and it was a good time to get the Home ship shape ready for the end of holidays. A troop of French Boy Scouts were there helping to renovate a dormitory and clearing away shrubs for easy wheel-chair access. There was a hive of activity and as the name of the house suggests, an air of peace.
One of the residents who very kindly showed us around the Home
One of the residents was a very gifted artist and his work proudly adorned the walls of the Home and in December 1999, during a visit by the new King, Mohammed V1, he presented the King with one of his paintings. The Royal visit to 'Dar El Hana' marked a new era in the recognition of disabilities in Morocco and we are happy to report that this is continuing today. Disabilities are now on the government agenda.
King Mohammed V1 visiting the Home last year
The artist was also a talented basketball player and we were shown a video of one of their recent matches. The speed and agility of the players, who were all in wheel-chairs, was quite phenomenal. One player was throwing the ball with his one able arm/hand and steering the wheel-chair with his disabled arm which was no more than a stump. They were a superb team.
The artist with his work
With our visit over, we contemplated visiting the Medina of Tangier, but they were all beginning to look a little bit the same and we didn't feel in the right frame of mind to be jostled. With our work in Morocco complete, we headed for the port of Tangier and the short ferry crossing back to Algeciras in Spain.
We arrived at the port of Tangier to be greeted with the usual throng of ticket touts. We found that if you smile politely and drive on, you tend to be left alone. We were directed to our queue to board the ferry by a young guy who also requested our passports. Neil handed them over and as we sat waiting for them to be returned, I suddenly questioned exactly what he needed them for. Passport control was a little further along and I remembered the warnings in the guide books, never to lose sight of your passport. I jumped out of Bumble and raced over to where the man was standing and requested them back. He gave them willingly, stuck a card on the windscreen denoting our ferry and proceeded to await payment for his services. What services I thought. My patience was just about exhausted and I refused point blank telling Neil to drive on. Neil was smack bang in the middle of this little tete a tete and wasn't really sure whether to drive on or slip him a few Dirhams when I wasn't looking. But there was no way I was handing money over for the pleasure of him sticking a card on the windscreen and eventually we drove on. Further along the line, police sniffer dogs were jumping in and out of the boots of cars and there was a far more 'serious' feel to the whole process of leaving Tangier than there was to the relative ease of entering Ceuta. We were pulled over to the side by a very stern looking gentlemen who proceeded to inspect the vehicle. We had heard stories of vehicles being completely taken apart and then left for the owners to reassemble like a Meccano set. We looked on, wincing at every strike of his hammer hoping that Bumble would remain in one piece. I was on the point of saying 'please be gentle' but decided to smile and take a deep breath instead.
It really is pot luck which ferry you get on - the fast ferry taking 35mins or the slow ferry taking two and a half hours - the price being the same for both. Unfortunately, on this occasion, we had pulled the short straw and we settled down for a long trip back to Spain.