Terrano adventures in Morocco

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Des Smith
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Terrano adventures in Morocco

Post by Des Smith » Tue Sep 11, 2012 12:54 pm

Introduction

This is an occasional log of our overland adventures with an ageing Nissan Terrano and a much younger Yamaha Tenere. Besides me, there are two other co-conspirators; my better half, Louise, and a very old friend, Simon. He will join the story later, riding his Tenere. He thinks we are his support vehicle and we think he is our means of summoning help when the Terrano breaks down. Only time will show who is right…

The initial idea was hatched sometime after Louise and I made our first trip to Morocco with a travel company called ‘Explore’ who provided a whistle-stop tour of the south of the country in Land Rover 110s. The roads were inviting and the pistes and wadis even more so. It was also very attractive biking country and when I told Simon about our plans, he seemed keen to tag along. Louise and I went back to Morocco four years later on a different itinerary and this strengthened our resolve to make the overland expedition a reality.

The execution was more problematic – to avoid complete meltdown in the summer heat, we really needed to travel in late spring or early autumn. Unfortunately, these times of year are not consistent with the constraints of the educational calendar and to turn the plan into reality, we had to hand in our notice and take the plunge. Quite a daunting prospect when everyone else is desperately trying to hang on to their jobs. Simon works offshore on a surveying vessel and gets five weeks on, five weeks off, so the idea was to synchronise the trip with his onshore leave dates.

To prove his intent and commitment to the plan, he bought his Tenere in April, especially for the trip, choosing to leave his hefty BMW 1150GS in the garage.

I bought the Terrano in May, took it out on the trail in Wiltshire and managed to get two punctures, at which point I discovered there was no jack. Or wheelbrace. Lesson one in offroading is about planning and preparation. In fact, virtually all the lessons seem to have involved a learning curve related to preparation, but more of that later.

I shan’t embarrass myself any further with the details of the damage, suffice to say the AA were involved and I needed to replace one completely shredded tyre. Since I intended to put brand-new tyres on all four corners, this wasn’t such a shock to the system but it certainly woke me up to the consequences of going poorly equipped.

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Terrano looking towards Devizes

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Two down and no jack - Simon admires the damage


So the Terrano went into my local garage for a full service and check over and finally emerged with some welding and a multitude of replaced bits and pieces that the previous owners had routinely abused or ignored. It also got a new MOT. The old one wasn’t due until 3rd October, but since I had worked up a sizeable bill, the gaffer at the garage felt sorry for me and did it for nothing. That doesn’t happen very often.

That left me with a few small jobs to do to the bodywork and start to stow the important kit, like the new bottle jack and a 22mm socket on a long bar, as well as all the other spares and consumables we might need. I didn’t bother trying to get the pair of breathalysers that the French have suddenly insisted is mandatory and it seems they have issued a grace period as these kits appear to be in short supply.

We had one final session of administration to book hotels and the ferry to Ceuta and finalise the planning on the route before Simon disappeared offshore again. He will get a ferry to Santander and ride down to Algeciras where we will meet up. In the meantime, Louise and I will have driven down to our little house in the Pyrenees to do some decorating and catch up with friends. From there, we will then drive through Spain to our rendezvous in Algeciras.

From Ceuta, our trip will take us in a big clockwise sweep through Morocco, starting from the border crossing at Bab Sebta and taking in Chefchaouen, Volubilis and Fes, then on down toward the desert and Erg Chebbi. From there we’ll go on to Zagora and Tamegroute using desert piste, spend some time desert camping and then on up the Draa valley, down to Taliouine and round to the Atlantic Coast at Essaouira. From there, we’ll head North towards Rabat, before cutting across to Tetouan and on back to Ceuta. It runs out at a shade under 1700 miles, to which we will add the French and Spanish miles. I reckon on a total of around 5000 miles. That is ‘The Plan’, which as most people know, never survives contact with the real world. We shall see…

Leg 1: London to the Pyrenees


Day 1 – Wednesday 8th August: It is early in the morning, dull and overcast and weather-wise, altogether the right send-off for this expedition. Last night we took two hours to load the Terrano up with a huge collection of miscellany, some destined for Morocco, but quite a bit of stuff which is essential clutter for our little house in France. At the time, I was questioning the wisdom of buying a short-wheelbase Terrano, but we did finally shoehorn all the stuff in and secure it reasonably well.

We manage to avoid any Olympics congestion on the way out of London, although there were some predicted. The email alerts Transport for London have sent out during the Olympics have made everyone scared to venture anywhere for fear of being caught in a massive traffic jam. We now realise it was all a bit of a hype. In any event, we hit the de-restricted section of the A3 and it starts to rain. Who cares? We have an appointment with MV Normandie and nothing is going to spoil the anticipation of rolling up that ramp.

Predictably, as we dock at Ouistreham, the sun is already shining and we get a reasonable wiggle on without breaking any records. The Terrano bimbles along quite happily at 60mph, and will reach 80mph eventually, but is obviously punching a big hole in the air and makes a bit of a racket at that speed. That alone is a good enough reason to avoid the Autoroute; the delightful French countryside is another. We reach the Premiere Classe hotel at Le Mans in good time and enjoy the evening sunshine sitting on a café terrace. Over a beer we reminisce fondly about the miserable English summer.

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Terrano in Le Mans

Day 2 – Thursday 9th August: What with the early start yesterday and the extra hour, not to mention a bottle of red wine, today starts somewhat belatedly. The Premiere Classe ‘eat all you want’ breakfast demands an extra coffee and by the time we hit the road, it is a few minutes before eleven. Still, it is sunny and getting rather warm.

Today we need to push on as far south as we can go. We start badly by getting stuck behind a tractor travelling at 25 km/h down the Mulsanne Straight. The irony is not lost on me; on other days it might annoy me, but my sense of humour is intact and I ask Louise to take a photo.

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The tractor leads at the end of Mulsanne straight

Gradually the kilometres pile up and the temperature increases. Today is really warm. Hot, even. We whizz through Tours, Chateauroux, Limoges and Brive La Gaillarde and decide to stop off at a camp site we have used once before, on the main road 20kms short of Cahors. Unfortunately, when we arrive, the site is full. This was not in the plan and we forge on, remembering to stop of at a Leclerc long enough to buy some more wine.

Soon afterwards, we see a sign for a campsite and we turn of the main road up a wiggly D-road. Roadside signs in France can be devious to a point just short of outright dishonesty and I absolutely hate the ones which tell you the distance to your intended destination in minutes. (Since when has distance been measured in units of time? It is absurd and makes me cross.) After a kilometre we see another sign for the campsite that tells us it is 15 minutes away and we agree this is probably too far off the beaten track. We turn around and return to the main road and trundle towards Caussade, when we see another sign for a campsite bereft of any kind of proximity indications. Happily, it is only a couple of kms, but the reception is closed for the evening. By now, I am quite grumpy and decide that if there is a free pitch, we will seize it, possession being nine-tenths of the law. We can sort it out in the morning.

The light is fading fast and I pitch the tent while Louise cooks up some grub. I decide to have a quick check under the bonnet and to my horror discover a liberal application of engine oil everywhere. This is quite worrying as the pre-existing oil leak was supposedly fixed. The dip-stick reveals there is plenty of oil in the engine. In fact, probably a bit too much. I conclude this newly-liberated lubricant may have been rejected by the engine, but wonder why not via the more usual route.

Day 3 – Friday 10th August: I fire up breakfast and then try to clean up the oily mess under the bonnet. Having slept on it, I will carry on and watch the oil warning lights carefully. With an excess of oil in the sump, it is hard to imagine the engine will seize. In spite of yesterday’s high temperature (it hit 39°C in the afternoon) the engine ran consistently cool and sounds as sweet as any diesel can sound. However, this is not a firm foundation for confidence as I am virtually ignorant of all things diesel. They might as well be alien spacecraft technology for all the experience I have.

I try to sound confident when I tell Louise about what I have deduced, but omit to tell her these deductions carry the caveat of complete ignorance of diesel engines. Instead, I offer her the opportunity to drive today. She hasn’t driven on the continent before and was waiting for some less busy roads before she committed herself to the experience.

We break camp and before departing I visit the reception to pay for our pitch. They seem cool about our late arrival and presumption in taking a pitch. It is only later when I check the bill that I realise we have paid for electricity we didn’t use. We could very easily have left without paying, but honesty is the best policy, and this exercise in rectitude has cost an extra 3½ euros. (Note to self, should have checked the bill.)

Louise drives with increasing confidence and I begin to enjoy being a passenger. The route will take us to Albi through the Aveyron valley and some truly stunning scenery which until today I have only been able to admire in snatches from behind the wheel. Unfortunately, the rigours of driving a 4WD through narrow village streets are intimidating for Louise, especially when confronted with oncoming traffic. I explain that smaller vehicles generally get out of the way of a 4WD but this does not seem to provide too much by way of reassurance. So we concentrate on driving the route and I pay less attention to the scenery. Except that I spot my first BX (it was a white Mk 2) of the trip just outside Albi.

As Albi could potentially present some tricky driving situations, we swap seats and as luck would have it, we shoot through the town and plot a course for Castres. The route from Mazamet through the Montagne Noire, Carcassonne, and on to the gorge near Axat is amongst the most delightful drives anywhere in France and I never tire of it. It is quite warm again (38°C), but I think we are acclimatising well. The sun-roof is the closest we have to air-con and although the tilt works, the motor bogs down when trying to haul the sun-roof back. Consequently, ventilation has to be supplemented by having the front windows down, making conversation and music a trifle difficult, so we just enjoy the view.

After Axat, we are on the home stretch; down the Fenouillèdes valley, right at Estagel and climbing across the watershed into the Têt valley and west into the shadow of Canigou. We arrive at Estoher, somewhat hot and weary, and put the kettle on.

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Terrano on the D25

A little later I raise the bonnet and find more oil, but less than yesterday. The dipstick shows the level still a little above maximum and the engine has not shown any signs of distress. I feel a little more convinced in my diagnosis and briefly consider calling the garage to discuss. I check my watch and because of the hour’s difference, I can just catch them. It rings briefly and then goes to the answerphone, which I know won’t give me any answers, in spite of its name. I give up on that idea and open a nice bottle of Gaillac.

Day 7 – Tuesday 14th August: Today we drive into Prades for supplies. It is another hot morning and I press the button to tilt the sun-roof but push it the wrong way. The motor grinds and lo and behold, the sun-roof disappears into its recess. It has suddenly decided to start working. Hooray! This is greeted with cautious optimism as a worthwhile step forward in motoring enjoyment. Later on, I lubricate any rusty bits to ensure this upward trajectory in efficiency continues.

Day 13 – Monday 20th August: Time for some sight-seeing. We have spent quite a lot of the previous week bogged down in domestic chores and decorating. I have found a builder to assist with the more tricky jobs that need trade skills but I can plod on with the simpler stuff. Louise has been helping out with the painting, doing all the cooking and throwing her bow at her violin, which has attracted some appreciation from the locals.

We drive up the winding road that is the N116 to Mont Louis and explore the Cerdagne plateau. We check out the solar furnace at Odeillo. It is an impressive piece of technology, boast an array of mirrors which track the sun and reflect the rays back to a parabolic mirror, which in turn focuses them to a chamber which contains the solar furnace. It never really cracked the commercial application of solar energy, but remains a research centre and museum. From there we drive down to Llivia, a Spanish enclave in France. This strange anomaly is a hangover from the Treaty that moved the Franco-Spanish border south into the Pyrenees.

After lunch we head back up to Mont Louis and wander around Vauban’s fortress, still home to a French Army training base. I spot a BX Ourane and feel obliged to take a picture. On the way back down the Têt valley, the clouds gather and dump lots of rain on us in a short space of time. Apparently, it is the only the third time it has rained since the beginning of May. Typically, it is over in half-an-hour and the sun comes out again.

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BX Ourane Turbo at Mont Louis

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BX TRD Turbo at Col de Mantet

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Py, home for XM spares

Day 14 – Tuesday 21st August: Most of today was spent painting a ceiling, so to relieve the tedium, we decide to do some exploring with the Terrano. It is, after all, a 4WD, and there are plenty of pistes around here open to vehicles.

We take the local 1:25,000 map and drive out of the village straight up to a piste on the ridge. Remembering my first off-road experience in Wiltshire, I check my tools are handy and exercise caution once we hit the dirt. I now follow the maxim “Four-Wheel Drivers do it slowly” and although the piste is pretty bumpy, we encounter no problems. We meet up with the main track up to the summit of Canigou and drive down into Villerach and on to Prades for some dinner. We have covered about 8kms off-road, so it is a modest drive.

Day 16 – Thursday 23rd August: Yesterday was spent decorating (yawn). Today we need some supplies and to avoid cabin fever, we decide to go shopping. Rather worryingly, a puddle of diesel has appeared under the back axle of the Terrano. I have a poke round, and find a single drip rather than a full-on leak in progress. The tank is still full, so we carry on with the planned trip and decide to keep a careful eye on the leak until I can investigate further. Rather strangely, the leak disappears.

Day 25 – Saturday 1st September: Yesterday we drove up to Marialles, which is up about 7kms of piste and very bumpy. The diesel leak has re-appeared and confirms my suspicions that it is mainly due to bouncy off-roading. The prime suspects are the joints between the fuel-lines and the rubber fuel hoses to the tank. I open up the inspection hatch and feel my way along the hoses. Sure enough, the return line is wet with diesel at the joint. I remove the rubber hose, and find the fuel line end is cracking and splayed and looks like the chief suspect. As a bodge, I cut off the worst 3mm of hose, and replace it in reverse, using a new jubilee clip for the joint with the fuel-line. I run the engine and everything looks good.

Day 27 – Monday 3rd September: Today we decide to drive up to the Black Lakes. This is another seriously bumpy bit of driving up a track with some quite steep section. The drops are quite sheer and Louise doesn’t like them very much. By the time we reach the limit of driveable road and park up, I check the back of the Terrano and the tell-tale drip has returned. I am now pretty sure the leak is more than just the join between the rubber hose and fuel-line and suspicion now turns on to the fuel line itself. We get home safely and I begin the search for a reliable garage.

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Black lakes 3 Sept 2012

Day 32 – Saturday 8th September: Yesterday I picked up the Terrano from Garage Gaby, who have done exactly the kind of repair I was expecting. Mr Gaby has amputated the fuel lines where they are sound and replaced both the lines with rubber fuel hoses. It looks like a nice clean job and so far not a drip of diesel to be seen. In its place, has appeared a water leak! Happily, this was just water from the hose between the radiator and the expansion tank. In all our travels, the battery has come slightly loose and propelled its plastic battery tray towards the belts, which have gradually worn their way through the hose. I have tightened everything very firmly down and applied a first-aid dressing the pipe so it won’t dump water. On Monday I can find a car-parts shop and buy a new hose. Big sigh of relief, overlaid with the thought “what next?” We head for Algeciras on Thursday. I hope I have more trouble-free motoring over the next month than I have had over the last!
Last edited by Des Smith on Tue Sep 11, 2012 1:24 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Terrano adventures in Morocco

Post by mat_fenwick » Tue Sep 11, 2012 1:09 pm

Excellent write up - keep it coming! With pictures if possible?
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Re: Terrano adventures in Morocco

Post by Des Smith » Tue Sep 11, 2012 1:26 pm

mat_fenwick wrote:Excellent write up - keep it coming! With pictures if possible?
Mat, your wish is my command! Piccies edited in. It will go quiet for a bit now as I don't know when I'll get back online. 8)
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Re: Terrano adventures in Morocco

Post by Dollywobbler » Tue Sep 11, 2012 2:57 pm

Excellent. Have fun! The furthest I've been in my Terrano (well, Maverick) is Snowdonia so far.

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Re: Terrano adventures in Morocco

Post by Philip Chidlow » Tue Sep 11, 2012 5:05 pm

Great reading. Thanks. Looking forward to reading more!
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Re: Terrano adventures in Morocco

Post by Defender110 » Tue Sep 11, 2012 5:58 pm

How did the Terrano change from all black to tacky Japanese two-tone? :? :wink:
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Re: Terrano adventures in Morocco

Post by Tim Leech » Tue Sep 11, 2012 6:09 pm

Quite like the two tone look tbh!
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Re: Terrano adventures in Morocco

Post by citsncycles » Tue Sep 11, 2012 11:15 pm

Great adventure - If I ever won the lottery I'd be off round the world in the ambulance!
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Re: Terrano adventures in Morocco

Post by Des Smith » Tue Oct 09, 2012 4:41 pm

Defender110 wrote:How did the Terrano change from all black to tacky Japanese two-tone? :? :wink:
Three Wilco cans of silver spray and a lot of masking tape. Don't look too close! :wink:
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Leg 2: The Pyrenees to Algeciras

Post by Des Smith » Tue Oct 09, 2012 4:44 pm

Leg 2: The Pyrenees to Algeciras

Day 37 – Thursday 13th September:
We loaded the Terrano after a leisurely breakfast. This is a luxury we can afford today as our planned journey from Estoher to Lake Caspe is only about 200 miles. The weather is still quite windy (it has been like this for the last few days and rather untypical for September in this part of the Pyrenees).

I have checked all the tyre pressures and fluids and there are no leaks today. Hurrah! Off we go, and as soon as we get into the Têt valley we hit a fearsome headwind and see big grey clouds on the horizon. Even though the sun is shining, there are a few big splashes of rain on the windscreen. Quite surreal.

We are following the N116 up to Mont Louis and the Cerdagne plateau. The road is notorious for rolling road blocks created by lorries and petrol tankers en route to Andorra. Today there are two tankers in convoy which are slowing things down a bit. Fully laden, they are managing about 30mph, and a significant tail back is building up. Happily we are number four in the queue, so that when we reach the first of only two sections of dual carriageway, we successfully pass both vehicles. It is like ‘Wacky Races’ as everyone in the tailback charges for the ever-diminishing gap between the leading tanker and the end of the crawler lane. Most of them fully realise it is another 10kms of ever tighter bends and steeper gradients until the next overtaking opportunity and don’t want to spend those kilometres staring at the Hazchem signage on the back of a tanker. It is the height of irony that so much fuel is being burned off by these drivers in an effort to overtake the fuel they will need to get back down the mountain.

We reach Mont Louis and drop down into the Cerdagne plateau, which looks picture-postcard pretty in the sunshine. Somehow, the grey clouds have dispersed east and as we cross the border at Puigcerda, compared to the French side, the roads in the Spanish Pyrenees are almost completely empty. It is almost 30 years since I last drove here and the roads are so much better. The Pyrenees never fail to impress with stunning scenery and the pace is leisurely so we can soak up the atmosphere. With all the angst of the leaky fuel lines, I have almost forgotten to enjoy the driving!

We have picked up the C14 towards Lleida and as the mountains disappear behind us, we look for somewhere to stop and eat our picnic lunch. One thing the Spanish don’t incorporate into their road system is the option to stop. There is a dearth of lay-bys or picnic spots so a redundant bit of old road has to suffice. As I deploy the folding chairs, I realise it is now really rather warm, as if someone has re-wound the calendar to July; blue sky, a few cotton-wool clouds and a fierce sun. The landscape is all beige and brown and I have a feeling that I will shortly see Peter O’Toole charging across the skyline and tilting at windmills.

As we skirt Lleida, a high overcast obscures the sun and the wind picks up again. We leave the scenic route and join the A-2 autovia. This is the main route from North-Eastern Spain to Madrid and it full of traffic, most of it heavy and articulated. The road is badly in need of re-surfacing and with a strong side-wind, overtaking is full of thrills. Frankly the landscape in this part of Spain is ugly – huge chunks of the hills have been reduced by open-cast mining and the overall effect is almost lunar.

We turn off the A-2 on to the N211 and head south into the flooded valleys of the Ebro. This area is part of a Hydro-Electric Power project which has created a series of lakes – our campsite lies on the shore of one of these – Lake Caspe. The scenery remains stark but the more obvious human exploitation disappears. When we arrive at our campsite, it is quite remote and forms part of a larger water sports complex.

We book in at the reception and find that the receptionist speaks far better English than I do Spanish, which is a relief. We have a free choice as to where to pitch our tent, and select a plot in between dozens of Dutch and Austrian campervans that have taken over the site. There is only one other tent, and that has several rooms. The facilities are superbly clean and justify the 20 Euros a night. Unfortunately, we simply haven’t got time to use the swimming pool or the water sports facilities, which is probably what attracts the longer term campervans. What does amaze us is the level of luxury now attained when ‘on the road’ – several satellite dishes were meticulously arrayed on the site to ensure uninterrupted reception of television. Together with fridges, cookers, and virtually every other home comfort, the phrase ‘everything but the kitchen sink’ has long since lost its context. Sorry, but this is not my idea of a road trip.

Anyway, tomorrow is a longer leg, so I am pleased to report that there were no nasty surprises under the bonnet when I checked tonight. Hopefully, we can look forward to more of the same tomorrow.

Day 38 – Friday 14th September:
We make a reasonable start – wheels roll at 10 am and Louise is driving. The weather is promising; the wind that made yesterday afternoon so awkward has died down, the sky is clear and the sun is shining. The roads are quite empty and we make good progress to Alcaniz where we fuel up and swap driving.

To start with, the vistas open out into semi-desert landscapes with tiny villages dotted in the nooks and crannies of the rocky outcrops. As the sun climbs higher into the sky and the temperature soars, the idea of using this area as a location for a Western is not fanciful.

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On the Road through Spain 14 Sept 2012

The Terrano burbled along without a hitch across this cross-country route and the driving is relaxed. However, we have many miles to cover today, and from necessity, the route includes a long stretch of autovia down to Madrid. It is our old friend, the A-2, although in somewhat better condition than at Lleida, it still boasts a lot of artics and as we head through Guadalajara towards Madrid, the congestion increases significantly. We intended to make a lunch stop at a service station, but end up having to divert off the main road for lunch in a Lidl car park and more fuel at the ubiquitous Repsol filling stations.

This is a prudent move – we need to be switched on and ready to cope with the Madrid ring roads. With impeccable timing we arrive at rush-hour and manage to accurately navigate our way around the inner ring road and back out on the A-4 towards Aranjuez. Some inspired map-reading and sign-spotting by Louise gets the job done without any errors, which is just as well. The roads are as congested as London’s and driving through the traffic draws heavily on that experience. I rely on clear indication and a big vehicle to telegraph my intent to the other road users and this seems to work.

It is still a long drive – a little short of 160 congested miles later, we swing off the autovia at Km 257 and head towards the campsite at Santa Elena. Officially it is Camping Despenaperros, but with our poor Spanish has quickly become subverted into ‘Camping Desperados’ which seems entirely appropriate, since we are desperate for both a rest and a beer. The site seems great, and as we found yesterday, inhabited by campervans rather than tents. The tent goes up in double quick time and we retire to a deserted bar where the world looks a lot rosier over the rim of a cold San Miguel. It’s not quite ‘Ice Cold In Alex’ but the satisfaction of a big drive is always worth celebrating - We have totalled 445 miles today at a respectable average speed of 50mph.

Day 39 – Saturday 15th September:
We have options on two routes today. Our Spanish road atlas dates from 2003 and many of the road numbers have changed. I had planned to go south and pick up the Costa del Sol route, while Louise has plotted another route which doglegs around the mountains and drops into Algeciras from Jerez. We know there is a new road, but it isn’t on our map. In the end, we decide that serendipity rules and drive on down the A-4 until we see a sign. The sign says ‘Algeciras’ and ‘A-44’ and is also in Arabic. This seems like a good indication of success and we follow it.

The road takes us through an arid landscape inhabited by red earth and olive groves until we glimpse the misty outline of the Sierra Nevada on the horizon. Spain now looks more like part of North Africa than Europe, and this sparks a discussion about plate tectonics. I amaze myself with how much I can remember after all these years. Alfred Wegener, Gondwanaland, spreading plates and subduction zones all get a mention, although the lesson would have benefited from better preparation.

As we climb through the mountains and then drop down into Malaga, the scenery changes from awesome to tawdry. The Costa del Sol in all its tacky glory blots the Mediterranean coast for miles. I regale Louise with Eric Idle’s Python character ‘Mr Smoke-Too-Much’, in which he rants about package holidays – never was a point so well made!

The driving experience along this bit of road is equally dismal. A dual-carriageway with a limit of 80kph has slip roads that require drivers to join from a standing start at a give-way sign. To find a gap in the traffic and achieve 80kph is a forlorn hope, so drivers throw themselves at the mercy of the oncoming traffic with reckless abandon. Louise notices that one of these slip roads is from the car hire terminal in Marbella. Imagine picking up your LHD hire car on your first day in Spain and trying to get your holiday off to a good start… The inside lane is made even more hazardous as ‘bendy-buses’ just pull out into the traffic after disgorging their load of sun-scorched humanity. The best tactic seems to involve keeping to the outside lane while keeping an eagle-eye out for the multitude of signs which try to fool you into taking the ‘peaje’ or toll road. Of course we could have avoided all this misery by using the autopista, but that is less money to spend on beer.

Finally, we leave the hotels and beaches behind and glimpse the outline of Gibraltar in the mist. As we cut inland and skirt behind ‘The Rock’ we can’t help but notice that it hasn’t appeared on any road signs. Finally, we see one sign and that is it. Within a few minutes we are in Algeciras and quickly find our hotel, which we have booked opposite the dock entrance. Unfortunately, we now have to waste 17 Euros of our beer money on secure parking for the night.

No sooner have we shuffled our luggage into our sixth-floor penthouse suite, but Simon rolls up on his Tenere, looking quite hot and bothered. Well he is wearing a ridiculous amount of clothes on a hot day. Apart from the heat, his journey through Spain has been uneventful and he is keen to sample a glass or two of beer.

The Terrano has now covered nearly 2600 miles since London and has handled the three-day run to Algeciras superbly. There is a small oil drip from the sump, but no diesel leaks or any other signs of impending doom. Tomorrow we go to Africa!
Last edited by Des Smith on Tue Oct 09, 2012 5:00 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Leg 3: Morocco

Post by Des Smith » Tue Oct 09, 2012 4:54 pm

Leg 3: Morocco

Day 40 – Sunday 16th September: Up at 6.30 and retrieve the Terrano and the Tenere from the secure parking. The ferry we have booked is the 0930 to Ceuta, so we have allowed for an advised check-in time of 90 minutes, only to find it takes five. The carefully-planned, non-transferable departure is unilaterally rescheduled for an 8am sailing instead.

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We assemble at the ferry terminal

We are in the company of two other vehicles when we are waved on to the ferry, which has also taken on a handful of foot passengers. It resembles a cross-channel ferry in November - definitely running under-capacity! Still, mustn’t grumble, as the early departure has other rewards. It is still pre-dawn when the ferry casts off, and as it noses its way out of the harbour, we get the spectacle of an awesome sunrise which silhouettes Gibraltar and more than compensates for an early start.

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Gibraltar sunrise

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North Africa in mist

Our first views of North Africa are the Rif Mountains poking up from a rolling sea-mist. In a few minutes, the ferry reaches Ceuta, and we roll off the boat and straight out of the docks. Ceuta is a Spanish enclave in Morocco and we are technically still in Europe until we reach the Moroccan border crossing. We gas up with duty-free diesel (90p a litre) and then head to the border. Leaving Spain is simple but getting into Morocco is a bureaucratic ordeal which is apparently simplified by official ‘helpers’ who will fill in your paperwork in return for a substantial tip. This can be avoided but you end up being sidelined in the process. By the time we reach the exit gate we have had three separate checks of vehicle documents and passports, but no-one in officialdom seems remotely bothered that I still don’t have any valid vehicle insurance. I had seen some online posts about the laid back attitude to insurance, and it seems to be quite true.

Once out of the border area, we drive through boulevards lined with pretty blue-and-white buildings. This is the resort of M’diq, and it contrasts delightfully with the Costa del Sol. The Spanish use this part of Morocco as a handy holiday destination when their country gets over-run with Brits, Dutch and Germans. It was also once part of Spanish Morocco and the locals speak in their own patois of Spanish to any Europeans they see.

We head for Tetouan, which is on our route, with the aim of finding an insurance agent that sells Green card Insurance, whose office is opposite the Cinema Espagnol. Needless to say, we get lost driving round the medina and give it up as a bad job. Finding our way back on to the right road for Chefchaouen involves another hour chasing down misleading road signs. We are using a recommended German map but it isn’t as accurate as it should be. The road to Chefchaouen looks like it loops around the north of the town – in fact it cuts south. Finally we head off into the Rif Mountains. It is still only 11am (we are now on Moroccan time which is the same as BST) and the temperature is well up in the 30s. We make our first photo-stop to drop out of a convoy headed by a slow lorry. There seem to be quite a few of these on this road! Simon is very hot – he is wearing a proper riding jacket and trousers which work OK when there is a breeze, but tend to become a personal sauna at slow speeds. He also regrets not bringing his Camelbak. Oops! In the car, we can swig from our water bottles, but Simon has to wait until we stop before he can take on water.

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First stop in the Rif Mountains

We get going again, taking care to drop ourselves back in the traffic a long way behind the latest convoy. When we reach it, most of the following cars have passed the lorry, and we manage to get past with comparative ease. A few kms further on and we find the reason for all the lorries – there is a major engineering project which looks like some hydro-electric barrage. From here, the road is empty and is a pleasure to drive.

Our first glimpse of Chefchaouen is a white cluster of houses halfway up a mountain basking in the sunshine. We have a hotel in mind, shortlisted from the ‘Lonely Planet’ guide but finding it proves to be a bit of an uphill struggle. We are all getting a little hot and bothered until a helpful local points us in the right direction. We arrive at the Hotel Rif and take a look at the rooms – they are basic but clean and the proprietor is charming and helpful. He helps me park the Terrano in a space that is no more than two feet longer than the car without mishap. We are introduced to our ‘Parking Guardian’ who will watch over our vehicles to ensure nothing unfortunate will happen to them. This, of course, will require a small consideration!

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Chefchaouen parking

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View from Hotel Rif

Chefchaouen is a delightful place with white and blue-painted houses built into the hillside. Wherever you go, it is either up or downhill. The town was a Riffian stronghold closed to foreigners until 1920, when the Spanish took it by force. They stayed until Moroccan independence in 1956.

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Chefchaouen street

We go for a wander through the medina, which is allegedly an easy intro to medina navigation. This is probably because everything is on a hill, and if you went uphill to go in, you go downhill to get out. In the main square everyone is out, touting lunch menus for their cafes. We need to get some Moroccan dirhams, so we find the nearest exchange and cash up some of our euros. I’m then approached by a dodgy-looking type who wants to sell me some ‘kif’. I decline politely and he goes away. This place was a favourite with dopehead backpackers in the 60s and the area is prime cannabis-growing territory, so the approach is not a surprise.

We grab some lunch and come to terms with the idea that there won’t be much cold beer on the menu. Having been to Morocco before, Louise knows that, as a veggie, her food options will be limited. Like the French, the Moroccan menu starts with meat and ends with fish. Anything with only vegetables in it is either an oversight by the chef or food for people who can’t afford meat.

The early start, combined with the heat of the day, is setting us up for that Spanish custom, the siesta. On the pretext that we need to re-organise our kit, we return to the hotel for a few zeds. In the evening, refreshed after a shower, we head back into the medina for a meal. At Restaurant Aladdin we sample the recommended pastilla and tajines. The pastilla is a kind of meat pie while the tajines are slow-cooked stews made from a wide range of ingredients. The restaurant is veggie-friendly and Louise gets a nice vegetable tajine. We eat our dinner on an open balcony overlooking the medina square – quite splendid!

The night was very hot and punctuated by various bursts of activity at different times. At about 1am, the Chefchaouen grand prix appears to take place as an unreasonably large number of cars roar past the hotel in quick succession. Everything goes quiet until 4am, when the cock-crowing starts. This wakes up the local dog population who join in, followed at 5am by the call to prayer. Exhausted by all this activity, the whole town goes quiet until 7am, when normal people wake up.

Day 41 – Monday 17th September: Early start, in spite of the noisy interruptions last night. We have a huge breakfast at 8am, settle our hotel bill and load the vehicles. Our parking guardian is paid off (10Dh each – about 80p) and he reciprocates by helping me out of my minute parking space. We trundle down the hill and on to the N13 – destination Volubilis, roman ruins.

The road is lumpy and twisty, clinging to the side of a valley dotted with stunted trees. Other traffic is quite light and in spite of the surface, the road is pleasantly easy to drive; we admire the scenery and get the occasional smell of mint wafting in through the open window.

One of the features of travelling in Morocco is frequent Police roadblocks. They don’t seem to be looking for anything in particular and wave everyone through, but there is usually one driver having a meaningful discussion at the side of the road. As the valley flattens out, the fields get bigger and resemble wheat fields in the UK. With the help of irrigation, this area is very fertile – the crops have been harvested and we see large tracts of stubble or freshly-ploughed fields. In other corners there are olive groves.

The road straightens out and I see a police roadblock up ahead, so I slow down expecting to be waved through. Unfortunately, this road block has a radar gun which has clocked me at 77km/h, which would have been okay on an 80km/h road, but apparently this bit is only 60km/h. The gendarme has also pulled the car behind me, but not Simon, who was between us. Needless to say we were all travelling at the same speed.

My ‘Carte Gris’ is requested, so I hand over the nearest equivalent, which is my logbook. The gendarme is a little confused and unhappy by this and it takes him some time to decipher the V5C to complete his paperwork. A little while later, I am 300Dh poorer (around £24) and according to my souvenir receipt, I appear to be Irish. I have no intention of making an issue of this and take my leave before anyone mentions insurance.

Although Simon has escaped a speeding fine, he has had to wait a little further up the road in the midday heat, and has quickly become the target for hordes of little children begging for sweets. We hit the road again, and I pay particular attention to all of the speed limit signs. Half an hour later we get to Volubilis and park up. As we walk to the site entrance, a chap runs up and says the parking charge is 10 dirhams. This quickly turns out to be a ‘parking guardian’. I ask to see his ID – he has none, so I ask him to turn round - He has a Hi-Vis vest on and I want to read what is on the back. I half-expect it to say ‘Balfour Beatty’ rather than ‘Volubilis Parking Security Services’ but rather disappointingly it says nothing. I tell him I will pay him when we leave. If my car is still there, undamaged, he can claim his security levy. He reluctantly agrees to this, but really hasn’t got an option.

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Basilica at Volubilis

Volubilis is on a rolling open plain and the temperature is now up in the low 40s. It is like an oven. Louise and I have been here before, so we can show Simon the best bits. He likes Roman history and there are some extensive mosaics that are worth seeing in addition to a triumphal arch and a basilica. The heat finally drives us into the shelter of a café serving cold drinks, where we recover.

I have to find our ‘car park guardian’ to pay him off, but rather bizarrely he cuts up rough when Simon declines to pay him an extra 10Dhs. This is a liberty and when he insists that I should pay, I refuse and tell him to take it up with Simon, who has already made tracks for the exit. He is not a happy bunny, but to be honest, I have very little sympathy.

The plan now is to drive to Fes via a minor road which the Reise Know-How map shows starting at the town of Moulay Idriss. On the ground, it does not exist. We explore several possibilities and finally curse the forum posts which recommended this map. Our only known route is back over the Col de Zaggota pass close to where I picked up my speeding ticket and then south to Fes. Unhappily, we get stuck behind a massively overloaded hay lorry travelling oh-so-slowly up to the pass. At the junction he has a 50-50 choice and, consistent with our run of luck, he turns right. We follow, reluctantly and as we are now heading downhill, slightly faster, before we finally find a reasonably safe place to overtake.

The rest of the run down to Fes is uneventful. The rounded hills look like blisters in the heat; here and there we pass improvised shelters shading recumbent locals trying to sell their little pile of fruit to passing travellers. Not a great way to make a living.

We have already figured out where our intended hotel is; Louise is using the Lonely Planet street plan of Fes in conjunction with the map and we negotiate the approaches to the Ville Nouvelle with amazing accuracy. We have to fob off a tout on a scooter, who takes our rejection badly. It seems that he and many like him pick up foreign-registered vehicles and offer their services as ‘official’ guides. Those who accept get taken to a hotel where the guide gets a commission for bringing in the business.

The main streets of the Ville Nouvelle are busy and the curse of urban navigation, the one-way street, means we have to drive in ever-decreasing circles until we can find our way into the road where our chosen hotel is located. As soon as we park up, three would-be ‘guides’ appear, offering to help us find a hotel. I assure them we already have a booking at the Hotel Amor and head for the reception. This is a high-risk strategy on my part – if the hotel is full, we are going to look very foolish, but for once today, we get a lucky break. However, the receptionist ratchets up the tension by taking a ridiculous amount of time to check whether there are vacancies. This seems like a simple piece of information for someone working on a reception desk to possess, and we are left wandering why it seems so difficult. Magnanimously, I suggest he is minding the desk while the regular receptionist is otherwise engaged.

Simon and I brave the streets again, with a view to moving our vehicles closer to the hotel. We are once more picked off by our new friends who want to help us park our vehicles and look after them overnight. We are getting used to this routine by now. Even though we may not want ‘parking guardians’ we will get them. Similarly, even if you can manage parallel parking, you will be given a very public display of assistance. This morning, I really did need help squeezing out of a tiny space. Now I don’t. If I wasn’t quite so hot and bothered, this whole game of charades might have been more amusing.

Finally, we are picked off by a new face. His name is Ahmed. No really! He has a badge to prove he is a genuine tourist guide in Fes, and offers to arrange a tour round the medina. We explain we have done it before and the price drops. We really wanted to spend time in the medina on our own and finally compromise on a short guided tour to get us started, after which we would do our own thing. This is not considered terribly wise, but as some business is better than no business, we agree to meet after breakfast.
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Re: Terrano adventures in Morocco

Post by saintjamesy89 » Tue Oct 09, 2012 9:16 pm

Gosh, what a fab write up! I can imagine (with the help of pictures) just what you're experiencing, and I'm rather jealous. I'd love to do something of this sort, either in Italy or France/Spain - not brave enough to do Africa yet! Keep on with the fab postings and pictures!
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Re: Leg 2: The Pyrenees to Algeciras

Post by mat_fenwick » Tue Oct 09, 2012 9:33 pm

..that_
Des Smith wrote:Imagine picking up your LHD hire car on your first day in Spain and trying to get your holiday off to a good start…
Been there, done that! Only the second time I'd ever driven a LHD vehicle too.
‘Parking Guardian’ who will watch over our vehicles to ensure nothing unfortunate will happen to them. This, of course, will require a small consideration!
No doubt the very same 'guardian' is the one that owners of none guarded vehicles need protection from!

I feel for Simon on the bike - I've never tried a Camelbak on the motorbike but have experienced the difficulty (probably in less extreme temperatures) in keeping my water supply cool...I suppose if you have a 12V fridge in the Terrano you could keep some supplies in that.
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Re: Terrano adventures in Morocco

Post by Caffiend » Tue Oct 09, 2012 9:40 pm

Great journal - and fabulous pictures, particularly the Gibraltar sunrise and N Africa in the mist ... what a road trip. Hope the Terrano continues to behave and really look forward to the next instalment. Thanks for posting :)
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Re: Terrano adventures in Morocco

Post by Des Smith » Mon Oct 15, 2012 4:18 pm

Caffiend wrote:...really look forward to the next instalment.
Tis a pleasure. Actually in France now, but I handwrote the journal and have been typing it up between bottles of wine. All very dangerous! :wink:

What you have to do it pretend it is still happening. Hopefully I can catch up with myself by next week when I should be back in the UK. Anyway, here's the next instalment...
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