Terrano adventures in Morocco

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Des Smith
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Re: Terrano adventures in Morocco

Post by Des Smith » Mon Oct 15, 2012 4:26 pm

Day 42 – Tuesday 18th September: It has been an incredibly hot and sultry night and sleep has been elusive. Somewhere nearby, a grumpy guard dog has been regularly teased by some of the numerous cats that populate this city, causing him to spend most of the night barking at them in a very cross manner.

Our guide is waiting for us as we emerge from the hotel. It is about half-an-hour before the agreed meeting time and we get the sense that they are very keen not to miss us. We need to go for breakfast and when we get back Ahmed introduces us to our official guide for the morning. His name is Abdul and we get shown his badge too. Clearly, Ahmed is more of a fixer than an actual guide and he farms the work out to his people and takes a percentage. Abdul tells us we will take a couple of ‘Petit Taxis’ to the medina and he has arranged a special rate of 10Dh for each vehicles. This seems quite reasonable and the journey isn’t too scary. The ‘Petit Taxis’ are mostly Red Fiat Unos carrying the battle scars of numerous contretemps with other road-users, and watching them in action is a good way to while away an idle half-hour. We drive past the Royal Palace (even though we have said we didn’t want to go that way) and drive the wrong way through the medina gate to avoid a large coach that has underestimated his width. The oncoming traffic doesn’t seem in the slightest bit fazed.

Abdul starts his tour outside the tanneries. He tells us we can have a two hour tour, after which he can take us to a restaurant where we can buy him lunch and he will fix us up with beer or wine. I don’t recall this being part of the deal. He goes on to tell us he normally takes German tourists around Fes, and apologises for his poor English. Actually, his English is fine and I expect he is fishing for compliments.

The tanneries are a must-see part of any visit to Fes. Louise and I have done this once, but we don’t mind another look and we know what to expect. Every leather shop surrounding the tanneries has a viewing platform, replete with free mint sprigs to provide a more pleasant small than the sharp stench of the ammonia. The animal hides are left in vats containing urine to strip the outer surface of wool or hair and soften the skins. From there, they are moved to the dyeing vats. The process is essentially unchanged from medieval times and the workers, free from H&S regulations, work bare-legged and thigh-deep in the vats. Strangely enough, their life-expectancy is a bit on the low side compared to the rest of the Moroccan population.

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Fes Tanneries

Photos taken, our man Abdul takes us downstairs. You don’t leave the premises without trailing through each of three levels of leather goods of every conceivable type and colour. You are told Moroccan leather is the best in the world and urged to feel how soft it is. You can’t deny the leather is soft and the colours are vibrant, but the prices are not cheap. Simon sees a wallet he might actually like, but doesn’t like the starting price and simply doesn’t want to haggle. This refusal to take part in the ritual causes the shop-owner to lose interest and we migrate downstairs as a big group of tourists arrive from the viewing platform. On the next level, belts, bags, hats and Moroccan slippers are all politely declined. We are finally re-united with Abdul, who takes us to a carpet shop.

A shopping trip is what we didn’t want. We know what happens next. There is a quick spiel about the skill of the carpet weavers and the how long it takes to make a carpet and then a multitude of carpets in a bewildering flurry of colours and patterns are whisked out by the salesman, until the floor is covered. This shop is different, he tells us. Here, there is no need to haggle. The price is set by the government according to the type of weave and you know you won’t be paying too much. Within a couple of minutes, this fixed price has taken a 20% reduction because apparently this is the tourist low season. Needless to say, we have assured our host that we’ve seen many Moroccan carpets before and we really don’t want one. This doesn’t seem to affect the speed with which new samples are displayed. By now, there are two assistants who are rolling up the old carpets and replacing them with new ones. Finally, we have to say quite clearly we don’t want to buy a carpet, making sure to thank our host profusely for his time and effort.

Abdul takes us to see the narrowest street in Fes, which is about two feet wide at its narrowest. The walls of the buildings either side are at least three storeys high, so it is not a great space for those afflicted with claustrophobia. Just as we think we are getting more tour and less shopping, Abdul takes us into a spice shop. Here, the salesman tries to flog us argan oil, black anise, ginseng (aka Moroccan Viagra), mild curry, hot curry, 49-spice mix and novelties like magic lipstick. We finally cave in and buy some curry powder at a vastly inflated price, thinking this will get us out of the shop a bit quicker. In spite of this, he persists in trying to flog us more stuff up to the point we walk out of the door.

We walk towards one of the main streets through the medina and Abdul tells us the tour is finished. It is on the dot of eleven and he asks whether we still want to stay here or come with him to get a taxi back to the hotel. He is a little surprised when we say we want to stay but he shows us where we are on the ‘Lonely Planet’ map and with more than a dash of irony, he wishes us good luck. He clearly doesn’t rate our chances.

We navigate our way back to the tanneries because we want another look from a better position over the dyeing vats. Dodging all the would-be guides we nip up a staircase on the end of a big group and find an ideal viewing-point. We take some more snaps and descend the stairs, but instead of visiting the shops on each level we cause great consternation by going straight down to street level and out into the crowd.

Our DIY tour takes us across the whole medina and we get to see many more souks than on the official tour. The downside is that we are slightly lost and have to resort to asking for directions from a shopkeeper. Eventually we emerge into sunlight and we have found the right gate. We pick up a ‘Petit Taxi’ and get back to our hotel rather more quickly than it took us to get to the medina. Abdul’s special rate of 10Dh per taxi is halved on the return journey, and we are rather pleased to have avoided his original threat to join us for lunch.

We are getting a little tired of the ever-present hustling, so it is a pleasant change when we go out for dinner to a hassle-free restaurant called ‘Mona Lisa’ and get served three huge pizzas that are so big none of us can manage more than half. We all have to take the uneaten portion back to the hotel – it will suffice for lunch on the road tomorrow.

Back in the room, I deploy our secret weapon. We have brought a 5 litre wine-box from France and as we are all getting tired of sugary soft drinks, it makes for a pleasant nightcap.

Day 43 – Wednesday 19th September: I have not been looking forward to exiting Fes. Congestion is something I can cope with, but the traffic here is as mad as a box of frogs and twice as unpredictable. I needn’t have worried. After paying off our ‘Parking Guardian’, we make light work of navigating to the right road for Ifrane. The traffic is light and Simon has donated his off-road satnav which is loaded with a 1:50,000 map of Morocco. It isn’t perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but it is a big improvement on the paper map.

We head south and pass through some very scenic countryside. The farmland gives way to apple orchards as we climb towards the Atlas Mountains. With altitude, the temperature is cooler and as we reach Ifrane, the grass is very green and the houses have very steeply-pitched roofs. The French developed the town as a ski resort, but its main function these days is as a summer retreat for the King and the well-to-do Moroccans. We drive past the King’s palace grounds, and the grass is exceptionally green and beautifully manicured.

From Ifrane, we climb higher still, into the cedar forest which is a nature reserve and is home to a huge population of Barbary apes, one of whom is guarding the road. We almost expect to be asked to pay a toll, but at the last moment, the ape gets up and wanders to the side of the road.

As this cooler temperature is a novel experience, we decide to call a halt and have an early lunch stop. The pizza boxes come out and so do the cameras.

Back on the road, we experience another abrupt change of scenery. At the crest of a rise, the forest disappears, to be replaced with a more barren landscape of pinky-red rock. Judging from the signs, this area gets badly snowbound in winter and barriers at various points suggest the road is routinely closed. Now, however, it is getting rather hot again.

We reach a town called Midelt, where we decide to have a drinks stop. We pull up at a café that already has a French family perched on the terrace and we join them. We are slow to realise that the café is run by the Moroccan equivalent of the Marx Brothers, who heap a thousand welcomes on us. We order drinks (no problem) and bread and salad arrive, but no drinks. We send the food away, but a few minutes later it re-appears. Still no drinks. Our drinks order gets taken again by another waiter, but he gets it wrong and we have to correct it. We wait for a bit longer, more food appears and is sent away, until finally I run out of patience and announce my intention to leave. At this point, and with a thousand more welcomes, the drinks arrive from the café across the street.

Apparently, the French family also arrived for drinks but were persuaded to have some lunch. We are all treated to the head comedian firing up the deep fat fryer on the pavement to complete their order with some frites. No matter that it appears to be a little late. The French family appear to be more than a little bit bemused, or perhaps it was just great entertainment for them. We ask for the bill and instead of a fixed price we have to barter the cost of our drinks down from 50Dhs to a more realistic 20Dhs. With another thousand welcomes ringing in our ears, we leave, wondering quite how the French family will settle their bill.

From Midelt, we head across what has now become stony desert or hammada and begin to climb up a series of impressive hairpin bends. This rocky upland is the starting point of the Gorges de Ziz. The river has carved a huge channel deep into the rock, and when the water level is higher, the blue-green of the river contrasts beautifully with the arid browns of the gorge. Today, the river reflects the grey of the overcast sky and it is a little disappointing. We stop long enough to take photos and journey on to another viewpoint. A little further down the road at the Barrage Hassan Adakhil, the water level is higher and we get some better pictures.

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Entering the Ziz valley

Our overnight stop is scheduled at Er-Rachidia and we have chosen a hotel from the ‘Lonely Planet’. Unfortunately it is closed and has been for some time, and as we roll up and discover this, we are immediately approached by two locals who know a great hotel in town. We are slowly realising that most Moroccans possess an extremely sensitive tourist radar adept at converting any encounter into a potential to earn money.

In the absence of any other accommodation leads, we outline our requirements and after a quick phone call, presumably to arrange a mutually-agreed commission, they take us to a suitable hotel. However, from their point of view, that is not the end of the matter, and as we step out to get some dinner, they are wait to talk to us and organise the rest of our trip to Morocco. I explain with as much diplomacy as I can muster that we want to organise our own trip and while their help to find a hotel is much appreciated, that is as far as it goes. They accept this in reasonably good grace, but, like our guide in Fes, clearly seem to think we have made the wrong decision. However, I know where the hotel with a bar is located, and we make a beeline for it and enjoy a few bottles of ‘Flag’. At 25Dhs for a 25cl bottle, it’s not the cheapest beer I’ve had, but it was nicely chilled.

Day 44 – Thursday 20th September: We see no signs of our aspiring travel consultants and check the vehicles over before loading them up. Today we plan to travel the last part of our journey into the desert area. The edge of the Sahara reaches eastern Morocco across the Algerian border and is a popular tourist destination called Erg Chebbi. It boasts the classic sand dunes most people imagine the desert to be and the area has spawned a string of auberges along the edge of the dunes, together with a ready supply of camels, 4x4s and quad bikes.

From Er-Rachidia, the road south takes us through the rest of the Ziz valley. The sun is out today and the temperature is climbing. We reach the top end of a dramatic gorge filled with green palmeries and feel obliged to turn around and drive back to the summit to take photos and admire the scene from a Berber tent café.

The road follows the Ziz river, which in turn provides essential water for the string of villages along the route. Eventually, the valley walls give way to flat, featureless hammada fringed with distant jebels. Sitting in the middle of this desolation is Erfoud, which has a bit of a wild-west feel about it, complete with a multitude of horse-drawn carts and a ramshackle high street, which is only half-completed. Unfortunately, my half of the carriageway is part-asphalt, part-dirt and littered with numerous potholes and raised manhole covers. It is work-in-progress and a complete dog’s dinner. We drive at what I consider to be a safe speed which encourages some of the more enterprising locals to offer their services as guides.

Safely through Erfoud, we drive through more hammada and arrive in Rissani. In this town, the most popular mode of transport is the bicycle. Simon says it reminds him of Holland. The road-sense on display varies from poor to appalling and is coming from all sides. No-one here has any chance of passing their cycling proficiency test and I do not relish the idea of dealing with the consequences of a close encounter. I finally breathe a sigh of relief as we reach the palmeries that fringe the far side of the town and the kamakazi push-bikers thin out.

We are now on our last leg, heading south toward Merzouga and the in far distance, we see the rolling profile of the golden-pink dunes of the Sahara shimmering in the heat haze. We have been told the Auberge de Sud is a good place to stay and when we see a painted board pointing east across the hammada, we turn off the road and I engage 4WD for the first time since those Pyrenean mountain tracks.

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Off road to Erg Chebbi

I soon discover that the surface of a desert piste tends to develop a series of hard rib-like ripples which creates a bone-jarring ride. Apparently, these structures are caused by countless 4x4s, but I am unable to figure out how this might happen. The alternative to a chronic vibro-massage is to go off-piste, but this depends on the surface. There are some very large stones dotted about and hitting these at speed doesn’t bear thinking about. We pick and choose – the softest ride also raises the biggest dust-trail, and Simon is already dropping back to avoid asphyxiation.

As we reach the dunes, we have to head north and the sand makes for a much more comfortable ride. The Terrano squirms a bit but manages to feel quite sure-footed and this kind of driving is quite enjoyable. Simon’s experience is less happy. While he was riding the piste with ease, he is now struggling to keep a fully-laden bike upright.

We arrive at the Auberge de Sud. Its title must be derived from a general notion of ‘southness’ since its actual location is at the northern end of Erg Chebbi. It is just after midday and getting very hot. We have also developed quite a thirst and our bottled water is close to the right temperature for a nice cup of tea. We enter the reception and the contrast is remarkable – cool, dark and tastefully decorated with vaguely authentic artefacts.

Top tip to all considering a trip like this – if you intend to travel 40kms across the desert to an isolated place, contact them beforehand to check they have accommodation available. The guy on reception apologises – he has no rooms as there is a large party arriving in the evening which has wiped out all the accommodation. He offers us the alternative of a night in the berber tents he has at the back of the auberge. He invites us to stay for lunch while we make up our minds and this turns out to be a cunning ploy. The food is excellent, the water is chilled and there is a large swimming pool close by. The alternative is some more piste-bashing to another auberges and as the temperature continues to climb, this really doesn’t appeal.

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Erg Chebbi

We take full advantage of the pool and relax in the shade. In the early evening, we set off on foot into the dunes to climb to a vantage point to watch the sunset. We decline the camel-train. Bitter experience with these ‘ships of the desert’ are that they are uncomfortable and grumpy. Although it involves a bit more effort, you get a better feel for the desert on foot. Our timing is near-perfect and we reach the highest dune a few minutes before sunset and take the mandatory photos.

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Erg Chebbi sunset

When we return to the auberge, we find a fleet of Toyota Landcruisers outside, signalling the arrival of the large party. The animated conversation from within suggests they are all Norwegian and the mood of the auberge has changed from a cozy little club to a full-on hotel. The staff are all rigged out in blue Tuareg jellabas and turbans and are doing their best to create an authentic desert experience. After a eat-all-you-can buffet dinner, they pull out the drums and try to put on some after-dinner entertainment. The Norwegians must be tired as they are not known as party-poopers. Virtually all of them bomb-burst away to their rooms for an early night. Perhaps the non-availability of alcohol has something to do with it.

We retreat to our desert camp, pull up three stools and three mugs and take solace in the wine box. Happily, both it and the ambient temperature has cooled sufficiently to be enjoyable. We turn in when the lights go out and for once the night is pleasantly cool. A good sleep was had by all.

Day 45 – Friday 21st September: Today we are driving to Zagora and a substantial part of the way is off-road. I am not looking forward to it and worry about the possibility of punctures and breakdowns. I console myself in the fact that I have covered most of the obvious contingencies.

Simon and I spend half an hour checking over our vehicles. All the fluids are in the right places and right quantities, but I find that my battery has started migrating – presumably the effect of bouncing around on the piste. I ratchet it down a little tighter.

We head off before 9am and use another piste to get to the road. As Simon can ride the ripples more easily, we wave him on and he is waiting for us at the road. The contrast once we start driving on tarmac is stunning. Even bad surfaces feel like a feather bed in comparison to the piste. After Rissani, we head foe Mecissi and pass through yet more breath-taking scenery and the largest herd of camels we have ever seen. They are spread far and wide across the hammada; about 150-200 animals all apparently under the care of a couple of herders who are following the road.

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The road to Mecissi

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Hundreds of Camels

We are looking for a piste to Tissimoumane just before Mecissi which is marked on the map but fails to appear on the satnav. There are no obvious signs off the road and we stop at a petrol station to gas up and ask for advice. The attendant tells us it is about 12kms further up the road but that it is very difficult. This is not what I wanted to hear. On the map the route looks simple, and I have programmed in all the relevant GPS coordinates, so in principle the navigation should be straightforward. The absence of any piste is worrying. We decide to follow the main road towards Alnif, the next town, and if nothing obvious turns up, we will revert to our ‘easy’ option.

Nothing does show up. The satnav and the map disagree on everything and the chances are that any of the unmarked pistes we find will only take us as far as some tiny settlement. Local knowledge is everything and we have none, so we decide to head through Alnif, on to Taghbalte and then follow the marked piste to Zagora. It is about 60kms long and both the satnav and the map agree that it exists.

At Taghbalte, we stop in the shade of some buildings to have a final discussion about whether to proceed. This is a mistake, as our arrival is clearly the most exciting event this year. Hordes of children arrive to beg sweets and money, so we move further down the road. We have a little more time to talk, before the enthusiastic vanguard of another horde of children appear, running down the road. I have neither the time nor the inclination to win hearts and minds and fire up the Terrano before the little horrors arrive in sufficient numbers. We reach the outskirts of the town, and it becomes apparent that a major road-building project is underway to extend the road we are on all the way to Zagora. As we pick up the piste, it becomes clear that this has become the service road for the new road. The embankment has been built up, graded and compacted, but no road surface has been laid. The road has been barred at the beginning of the works but is a tempting alternative to the piste. We see a Moroccan in a Dacia Logan get on to the new road, so we follow him as far as another barrier of rubble, where we are forced to drive down the embankment to regain the piste. Our Moroccan friend tries once more to reach the new road and beaches his car on the lip of the embankment. Unperturbed, he gets his passenger to give him a shove and somehow gets it up. We have one more try and have to use low ratio to get up the embankment. Another 500 metres and we find another rubble barrier. Getting down from here involves physically moving some nasty-looking boulders out of our way before we can pick our way across the hammada to the piste. We decide that discretion is the better part of valour; the piste is slow and rough but it has less potential for disaster. Remarkably, the Dacia has survived and its driver has reached the piste in front of us. He is setting a cracking pace and is leaving a huge rooster tail of dust in his wake. I feel some sympathy for his suspension and wonder how he can maintain that speed without losing a mouthful of fillings. About 8kms further down the piste we pass him. He has pulled off to chat to a local who appears to be sheltering in a storm culvert under the new road.

We have now got my GPS showing the distance and heading to our waypoint at Tizi-n-Tafilalet and although we are referring to the map and the satnav, the compass pointer is somehow more comforting. The piste continues to follow the new road, although sometimes it veers away as we climb up a gentle slope up into the valley pass between two jebels. Just short of Tizi-n-Tafilalet we stop for some water and a chat. We appear to be in the middle of nowhere, but a small child appears, running in our direction from a single storey mud and straw house, cunningly camouflaged in a dip in the hammada. Amazingly, he doesn’t want sweets or money, he just wants to say hello, so we exchange courtesies.

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On the piste to Tizi-n-Tafilalet

After Tizi-n-Tafilalet, the wind gets stronger, blowing the sand and dust around and creating localised sandstorms. The piste gets a little more ragged and when we hit the dust storms, the visibility drops to a few metres – enough to pick out the piste, but not much more. When the wind drops, visibility improves, but it is a salutary lesson in desert travelling.

According to the GPS, we have another 30 kms to travel to Zagora and at the speed we have been doing since Taghbalte, that will take another two hours. We decide that Simon should push on ahead and out of my dust trail as he can stand up on his footpegs and travel faster across the bumpy piste. After a few more minutes, the piste meets the new road and a sign points to Zagora. Although there is no tarmac, the graded roadbed allows much higher speeds and we are doing 50mph in relative comfort. Within 15 minutes we are on tarmac and five minutes after that, we have reached Zagora.

It has been hot and thirsty work, so we pull up next to a shop to buy some drinks and immediately attract attention. We are already aware that Zagora has more than its fair share of hustlers, but nevertheless, it is still irritating. Our most persistent tout rides up on a scooter and is very keen to service my Terrano and Simon’s bike. He will change our air filters and our oil. He is about 18 and the state of his scooter is not a great advert for his maintenance skills. We both tell him ‘no’ in many different ways, but this does not discourage him and he tails us all the way to the other side of town before giving up.

We are following directions to a Riad called ‘Noble Savage’ a few kms out of town which we picked to avoid the hassle of Zagora. It is delightful but rather more expensive than our Time Out guidebook led us to believe. The cost is more than adequately compensated for by the warm welcome and discreet attention we receive from the owners and in stark contrast to the aggravation we have had today. Over welcome drinks and after-dinner coffee, we chat to the owners in a mixture of French and German. It appears that most of their customers are Germans but does not explain why they start a sentence in French and finish it in German.

Overfed, we retire to bed and I reflect on the day’s events. The Terrano has done well and seems largely intact after a very hard day’s drive. I am happy we chose the ‘easy’ option, but it was clearly anything but easy. The alternate route doesn’t even bear thinking about and I am happy to have dodged that particular bullet.

Day 46 – Saturday 22nd September: We have a very comprehensive ‘Noble Savage’ breakfast and our hosts spare no effort to ensure we are completely stuffed before we set off into the desert again. Both bike and car get a good mechanical and fluids check and it is clear that the dust has got everywhere; we can expect more of the same today. Today we plan to drive down to Tinfou to look at the dunes there, before heading off-road again to seek out a desert camp. We stop off in Zagora to buy two day’s worth of water and fuel. At the petrol station we again attract a local shopkeeper touting for business. I am quite brusque. I am buying diesel because I need it and I don’t need his scarves, wooden camels or fossils. He seems a tad offended but it has the desired effect.

We drive on through Tamegroute and the tarmac on the road to Tinfou literally shrinks to a single track. The only problem is that the road is quite busy and two-way so when vehicles travelling towards one another meet, they play a game of chicken to see who will blink first and veer off on to the hard shoulder. With a 4WD, this is quite easy and the suspension can cope quite well. The main dilemma is choosing where to get back on to the tarmac. My faithful tail-gunner is also having a game of his own. He sits a few metres behind my offside, and when I have to break right, he appears suddenly to the oncoming driver, who loses his nerve and has to take to the hard shoulder. This strikes me as a slightly dangerous but very laudable way to score the equaliser in our game of chicken.

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Tinfou Dunes

Tinfou is a tourist attraction – it is a complete but solitary sand dune that has somehow migrated across the hammada and come to rest at its present site. No-one seems to know why it doesn’t disperse, but it has been a boon for the local entrepreneurs. A hotel has been built 300 metres away and a reasonable selection of camels and their owners are available for hire to traipse around the locality.

Not surprisingly, no sooner have we arrived, than a couple of them arrive to tempt us to avail ourselves of their services. With dogged persistence they continue to offer and we continue to decline until a minibus arrives containing more likely looking punters. Our chums decamp to greet them with a thousand welcomes and within a minute, two tourists are perched on top of their camels, and wander off for a spin round Tinfou.

Free from local assistance, we use the time to take a few pictures of the dunes. Simon hides on the shady side of the Terrano. Wearing full biking gear in temperatures of 40 degrees is a sweaty business, and it is barely 10am.

We head back towards Zagora. If we were hard-core off-roaders, we would carry on further south to M’Hamid where the road ends and drive off into the hammada. We, however, are happy to stick to the nursery slopes and turn west along the N12. This road takes us up a huge wadi in the direction of Tata and just past what purports to be an airport, the road turns into a rough graded road bed. It is part of the same road development we followed yesterday, but the surface is a more like piste and bounces us around. When we leave the track to drive on the softer sand, it makes life very difficult for Simon. I am keen to get off the lumpy shards of rock, so we compromise and pick our way through the hard packed sand and gravel of the wadi floor. It is not predictable and we take it in turns to experience extreme angst. We hit a few dead-ends, where we drive into a river-bed, and then through bands of soft sand alternating with great boulder-strewn rock fields. I don’t want to smash the steering or bury the axles and Simon doesn’t want to buckle his wheel or fall off, so we scout around until we find a piste which other vehicles have used. We are trying to reach the edge of the valley where there is more vegetation and shade, but it also seems likely there will be settlements there. We see a large Acacia tree in the near distance and head for that instead.

The tree gives and amazing amount of shade, but in spite of this, nothing can disguise the fact that it is just before noon and we have arrived at our camp rather early. Nothing is said, but no-one seems to have the will to struggle further off-piste and staying on the piste will just take us further up the wadi where there is just more of the same as we have here. I rig up an awning, deploy the camp chairs and brew up. This is the first proper cup of tea we have all had in over a week and even though the milk is powdered the PG Tips has the desired effect and we all feel a little more relaxed.

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Desert Camp

This doesn’t last long – the wind picks up and begins gusting very hard. At various points across the wadi, dust-devils appear. We are being stoic up to the point that a gust rips an eyelet out of the awning, at which point we decide to take it down and consider taking shelter. Happily no full scale dust-storm materialises and the wind backs off. We settle down again and while away the afternoon reading and chatting.

The wadi is a remarkably busy place. A few old vehicles drive by and some people wander up to see us. They are after cigarettes and water. We brought spare water bottles with us, filled with tap water and are happy to share this. We can’t help with the cigarettes, and they seem genuinely surprised that none of us smoke. Later in the afternoon three boys wander out from the thorn bushes and say hello. They then sit down near us and just watch us. This was supposed to be our ‘wilderness day’ and it is not turning out the way we had planned; we feel more like the local attraction. Our mistake may have been to have given them some boiled sweets. They begin muttering about ‘gateau’ which would suggest they are wildly over-estimating our capacity for luxury items. I would be very happy with a bottle of cold water. Just when we think they will never go, they leave. Being the suspicious type, I wonder whether they have gone to get their friends.

The shadows get longer and I reckon it is safe to pitch the tent. I pick a suitably spot in the lee of some thorn bushes and move the Terrano to create a windbreak as it is still gusting a bit. It isn’t great but it is better than nothing. Simon moves his bike and just as we have put up the tent and are considering cooking up some grub, our little friends re-appear complete with three more friends and a herd of goats.

We are guests in what is clearly their playground, but I do wish they could choose another bit of the desert and leave us alone. We think about bribery again and dole out the last of the boiled sweets in the hope that if they see the bag is empty, they will go home. No such luck. Now they want water and finish off the ‘hospitality’ water after which they use the bottle as an improvised football. The match seems to go on for ever but finally ends in tears. As darkness descends we suggest they really ought to go home, but they don’t take the hint and climb all over the Acacia tree. At one point all six are swinging from the branches and one is at the very top. It is lucky we have moved the car and our kit to our pitch. If one of them falls out of the tree, it won’t be on my car.

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Moroccan kids in an Acacia tree

Amazingly, none of them has an accident and once they come down out of the tree, Louise asks them nicely to leave us alone. Simon underscores the request in ‘bad cop’ fashion by chasing one of them a long way into the bushes and after a while the get the message and disappear into the gloom.

I prepare a two-course evening meal in little silver bags. They don’t take much heating as they have been sitting in the sun for hours, but you have to go through the motions. By the time we eat, it is in moonlight, which is possibly the best time to consume boil-in-a-bag meals. We decide that longer spoon handles would be a significant step forward in eating enjoyment. The wine has also suffered in the heat and is still considerably above room temperature. It cools down considerably once it is in the mug, but you need to wait for 15 minutes, and this creates a dilemma.

Sitting in the sun all day is a tiring business and we prepare for bedtime under the stars. Simon has opted not to put up his tent. He has rolled out his sleeping bag and roll-mat next to his bike for his night under the stars. Louise and I climb into the tent, but in spite of a relatively cool breeze, it is a hot night and hard to get to sleep. A little while later, I wake up to the sound of the wind howling and the tent flapping. I tie back the flaps and check all is OK with Simon, but he is snoring loudly and oblivious to it all. Eventually I get back to sleep.
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Re: Terrano adventures in Morocco

Post by Caffiend » Mon Oct 15, 2012 5:36 pm

Des Smith wrote: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:
Ah, but this leaves us with just the correct amount of suspense: evidently you all ended the road trip in one piece, but did the Terrano? - will keep tuning in to find out ;P

Thanks again for sharing
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Re: Terrano adventures in Morocco

Post by Defender110 » Mon Oct 15, 2012 8:20 pm

''Moroccan kids in an Acacia tree'' What a fantastic picture!
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Re: Terrano adventures in Morocco

Post by Des Smith » Thu Oct 25, 2012 8:59 pm

Day 47 – Sunday 23rd September: We get up quite early and make a brew. We want to get away before we get any more visitors, so the tent is packed and all the kit stowed before breakfast. The wind has put a lot of dust in the air and the sky is a yellow haze, backlit by the obscured sun.

We navigate the various tracks back towards the graded roadbed and clatter along until we finally reach tarmac and within a few minutes we are through Zagora and en route for the Draa valley. Normally the valley is very scenic, replete with palmeries and oases, but as with our journey through the Ziz valley, the weather is drab. The dust hangs in the air and everything looks beige, but as we travel further west, the sky clears and turns blue.

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In the Draa Valley en route to Agdz

We are doing well for time and when we stop for coffee at Agdz, we agree to push further than the planned overnight stop at Talaouine. We leave the Draa valley, heading south from Agdz and the road is quite empty, allowing us to push on at a reasonable pace. The road surface is quite good, but here and there are unexpected dodgy patches of missing tarmac, leading to sudden braking or direction changes or a combination of the two.

We reach a T-junction and turn west into what looks like an alien landscape set from ‘Star Wars’ and a road surface from hell. There are deep potholes everywhere and the road is cluttered with tipper lorries and French camper vans. The tippers are there because they are shifting whatever is being excavated in this area and they are probably the cause of the damage to the road. The digging has created the weird landscape which is accentuated by the industrial buildings and machinery that are clustered around the quarry sites. We are now tippy-toeing at slow speed around the worst of the potholes; quite what the ride is like in a camper van doesn’t bear thinking about. Let’s just say I am very pleased to be driving a 4x4!

The road surface improves and we begin climbing hairpins over a pass and then back down into Talaouine. We stop for lunch and agree this is not a very happening place. It is the starting point for big treks up to the 10,000 foot Jebel Siroua, but apart from this, there isn’t much to see or do. We decide to drive on to Taroudannt as it comes recommended and we will nibble another 75 miles off the longish drive we have tomorrow.

As we hit the road again, Louise begins trawling the ‘Lonely Planet’ recommendations for hotels. We decide the £400 a night ‘Gazelle D’Or’ is not really our cup of tea and aim instead to find the somewhat humbler Hotel Saadien. It is in the medina, which will make navigation quite interesting, but its real selling point is secure parking. Translated, this means we can avoid any ‘Guardiens de Voiture’. When we get there, the skies have changed from dusty to dark and cloudy, and it looks like rain might be imminent. We finally track down the hotel and park up. The hotel is basic but clean. It doesn’t seem to be very keen on providing hot water, but this is an ongoing feature of some Moroccan accommodation and with the temperature still in the 30s, it isn’t really an issue.

We make the mistake of asking at reception whether the hotel has a bar, and when we get a negative response, a young chap appears from the lounge, tells us he works at the hotel, and can find us a nice restaurant and a beer. He walks us the long way round the souks and eventually takes us to two restaurants, neither of which serve beer. (This isn’t a surprise as you never see anyone with alcohol in public.) Instead, we opt for a meal followed by a drink at a nearby hotel bar. We find the inner courtyard of the hotel full of Moroccan men who are very enthusiastic about their lager. Some are falling over with enthusiasm! We buy a round of Flag Pils and find ourselves somewhere to sit. We get more than the odd look but although the place is a bit seedy, it is essentially no different to most pubs back home. To reinforce this, they call ‘Last Orders’ and there is a distinct rush towards the bar, while the most enthusiastic are offered a discreet top tip and quietly encouraged towards the door.

We try to find our way back to our hotel by retracing our steps through the souks, but this goes wrong somewhere and we finally have to admit we are lost. In theory, this is a small medina and we can’t be far from the hotel. We come across a gendarme and assume he must know his way around, so we ask him to direct us to our hotel. He is clueless and probably doesn’t understand our version of French, so we are about to give up when a chap standing nearby say he knows where it is and offers to guide us home. The journey is a maze of backstreets which we have never seen before and I begin to think he has misunderstood the name of the hotel when we pop out on to the right street. We thank him, but before we can give him a tip, he gives a cheery wave and disappears into the night. What a strange country this is!

Day 48 – Monday 24th September: It rained in the night and the streets are damp and slippery. Simon is not happy as knobbly tyres and greasy roads are not natural allies. As we leave the hotel to load up our vehicles, it starts to rain again in big fat drops, and Simon gets glummer. When we set out, the road looks and feels like an ice-rink, but by the time we are out of Taroudannt, there is no more rain and the ambient temperature and the traffic has started to dry out the road surface.

The skies stay grey and overcast, but the rain holds off and we make good time to Agadir, where all the traffic seems to be going. Louise is once again using the satnav to verify our untrustworthy German map and we navigate our way through the mayhem with some enthusiastic use of the horn, which seems to be compulsory.

Our first sight of the Atlantic is not very picturesque. We see it beyond the port, looking for all the world like the English Channel in winter. Leaving Agadir, the traffic thins out and we climb up on to the cliff-top road and head towards Cap Rhir. The N1 takes us through some wild and desolate-looking country and the grey overcast gives it an even bleaker aspect. Anyone who has seen the Cornish coast in winter will have a good idea of what I mean.

Even so, we keep up a reasonable pace until we turn inland and start to climb through the coastal fringe of the High Atlas. There is more traffic now, and a lot of it is quite slow, so we decide to pull over and re-fuel from our jerry-cans. We have been carrying spare fuel for the desert part of our trip but we don’t really need a reserve any more; there is no point in lugging the extra weight around so it is time to put it in the tank.

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Fuel stop

As we head north, we start to come across Argan trees. This tree produces the Argan nut which is ground down to make the Argan oil that the cosmetics industry love to add to their age-defying products. The tree is also extremely attractive to goats. This leads to the bizarre sight of goats climbing trees. We see several trees full of goats and stop to take a photo. I look in the rear view mirror and see the shepherd wandering up. You know what’s going to happen next. When he figures out who the driver is, he knocks on the window and holds his hand out. Okay, they are his goats, but should he really get money because they like to dine in trees? I figure a couple of dirhams won’t be missed and he wanders off, apparently happy. But a minute later, he is back.

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Goats in the Argan tree

I have watched the whole thing unfold in the mirror. Generally, Simon is not easily impressed by cheap stunts, but these goats have obviously made their mark. In a rush of blood to the head, he gives the shepherd 10 dirhams, whose eyes light up. You can see the cogs going round as he shuffles back to the Terrano and he clearly thinks he can squeeze more cash out of me. He is out of luck. The ‘outstretched hand’ routine is wearing a bit thin and I point out that earning 12 dirhams for doing nothing is not a bad earner and furthermore, I haven’t even taken a picture. This message is delivered in English so it is unlikely that he gets the message, but I don’t really care. On we go.

The final part of the journey to Essaouira is a typical Moroccan single-carriageway road with numerous hills and hairpins, cluttered with more slow-moving traffic. It raises one question; how can so many apparently unroadworthy vehicles find themselves on one bit of road? Is this a conspiracy? Have I omitted to pay a special empty road ‘charge’? Take this as a typical example. We are behind a Renault 12 (approximate vintage, 1975 at a guess) which is belching black smoke and clearly ready for the crusher. The whole back end has been shunted at some point and the damage has been hammered back into a vague approximation of the right shape. This repair hasn’t included fixing the boot latch, and the boot-lid is flapping up and down as the car struggles uphill, in imminent danger of being overtaken by its own smog trail. When we overtake, I see in the rear-view mirror that it is equipped with only one headlight and there is a gaping hole in the wing where the offside headlight should be. I am amazed that vehicles like this can drive through police roadblocks without any apparent concern, but perhaps the simple truth is that Morocco has no systematic way to check that vehicles are roadworthy. I have been trying to ignore the ramifications but this is not painting a very comforting picture. No MOT system, no insurance checks… Hmm, next time I visit, I think I will bring a Hummer!

We arrive in Essaouira without a drama and quickly find a place to park, which predictably has a parking guardian. We tell him we won’t be very long and there’s no need to watch the car. He is a little confused and before he can summon enough English to say anything, we scarper. At the entrance to the main gate to Essaouira’s medina a few touts try persuade us to arrange our accommodation with them. We tell them we have already booked, but the truth is, we don’t want their help. Once inside the medina, the vibe is more relaxed and any hassle disappears. We locate a riad recommended on Trip Advisor, tucked away near the back wall of the medina and it is spot-on but a little expensive. Louise manages to haggle a lower price and Simon and I return to the vehicles to move them closer to the riad. We have worked out a routine to confuse the parking parasites. He goes one way and I go the other, which seems to work. Unfortunately, when we park up at our new car park, another chap pops up and demands payment. I tell him we will only pay him on departure. It is payment by results – if our vehicles are all present and correct when we leave, he gets paid. This doesn’t go down well, but there isn’t a whole lot he can do about it. We retrieve our personal kit and lug it to the riad.

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Essaouira sunset

We take a leisurely stroll around the medina, have a very late lunch and after more exploration we go to the square closest to the port to take the obligatory sunset pictures. We briefly consider going for a beer. There is a hotel advertising its bar prices, and however tempting the prospect of a drink might be, the attraction diminishes when we see the price. At 40dhs for a 25cl bottle, the price translates to £6.75 a pint! Even compared to London prices, that’s more than twice the going rate and definitely not worth the effort. We call it a day!


Day 49 – Tuesday 25th September: It has turned sunny again and we have a very pleasant breakfast on the roof terrace. The temperature has dropped significantly to around 25°C and given the oven-like conditions we have endured since we arrived in Morocco, this is more like a summer’s day in the UK.

We do the whole tourist thing; a bimble round the port and then a walk along the length of the beach as far as the river mouth. We get several offers to take a horse or a camel ride but these are declined without a problem. The reason is simple – there are so many tourists who are keen to take every opportunity on offer, there’s not much point wasting effort on those who don’t want to play.

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Essaouira beach

I see yet another Renault 4 which has had some ‘work’ and feel obliged to take a photo for posterity. Since our journey north from the desert, we have come across quite a few R4s which have been tweaked by Moroccan boy racers. Some have been quite tastefully restored while others have shown varying degrees of excess, but none have been quite as radical as this one, which has been chopped and welded into a beach buggy of sorts. I’m not sure whether to laugh or cry.

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Renault 4 beach buggy

Back in the medina, we have lunch at a Tex-Mex café called ‘La Cantina’ run by some ex-pats from Yorkshire. The grub is great but life is full of small pleasures and the words ‘Pot of English Tea’ on the menu looks even better. It may seem a little odd to follow a fajita or a chilli with a cup of tea, but it’s amazing how much you miss a decent brew and how good it tastes when you finally get one!

The afternoon is devoted to diary updates on the roof terrace of the riad, followed by a bask in the sunshine. All very relaxing, which is just as well, because tomorrow we are back on the road as we head north to Rabat. This will be the final leg of our Moroccan journey.
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Re: Terrano adventures in Morocco

Post by Des Smith » Tue Nov 13, 2012 10:58 am

Day 50 – Wednesday 26th September: We have a splendid breakfast on the roof terrace and then pack up and check out. Predictably, the parking guardians spot us loading up and approach us for their money. We offer them 20dh at the standard rate of 10dhs a night, which causes some consternation as they were hoping for 60dhs per vehicle. We point out this is highway robbery and tell them that 20dhs is all they are getting. Cue some seriously irritable noises as we drive off, destination Rabat.

The weather is sunny to start with, but as we drive to El-Jadida, the clouds thicken and there is a hint of rain on the horizon. We make good time; the road is a quiet single carriageway road and progress is swift. Everything changes as we reach Casablanca. The road surface is poor, apparently the result of the heavy traffic, which seems to be mostly overladen lorries and 4x4 pick-ups.

Bizarrely, Casablanca has no by-pass, so we have to drive through the middle – a daunting prospect made worse by extensive roadworks and temporary signs. In spite of careful navigation, we end up heading to Rabat on the motorway. This was not the plan, but it does allow us to make up time and make another discovery about this topsy-turvy country. Running low on gas, we stop at a service station for a ‘splash and dash’ but discover the cheapest fuel yet.

As we drive into Rabat, it is early evening and the rush-hour is in full swing. The navigation is going well and we are two blocks away from our intended hotel, when I notice Simon is no longer visible in my rear-view mirror. At first, I assume he is stuck at the traffic lights, but when he doesn’t appear, I hop out and walk back to investigate. I find him surrounded by 20 or 30 people all shouting and gesticulating energetically. I wade in to find out what is going on. Apparently, an old guy has tried to cross the road and walked into Simon’s bike. His shirt has been caught in the handlebar guard and in the process two buttons have popped off. He is otherwise unharmed, but appears to want to exact vengeance on the infidel. This has all the makings of a major diplomatic incident - Simon is at the eye of the storm and as he can’t speak Arabic, most of the discussion seems to be between his victim and his supporters on one side, and an opposing camp of seemingly rational bystanders who think it is all a storm in a teacup. This does not prevent them perpetuating the storm with some passionate remonstration.

By now, everyone wants a policeman to appear. The victim wants Simon banged up, Simon wants someone official to quieten things down and the crowd just want to see who wins. Unfortunately, the police have other things to contend with, as there is a bad-tempered crowd of demonstrators in the next street trying to make a point about something and they are edging ever closer to our little drama. Not sure what their beef is, but things are obviously getting serious; the riot police arrive as we watch.

A friendly local takes me to a small police office and we talk to a policeman to let him know we have a problem. He is very phlegmatic about it and assures me he will find someone to come and deal with the situation. I go back and wait with Simon. The shouting has diminished and Mr Two-Buttons is resolutely hanging on to Simon’s handlebars while chain-smoking his way through a packet of Gitanes. He hasn’t got many left, and I reckon once he has finished the pack, his resolve will crumble.

Happily, we don’t have to wait that long. The cavalry arrive in the form of a plain-clothes policeman who disperses the crowd with a few well-chosen words that may or may not contain threats. Finally, we are left with Mr Two-Buttons, who gives a statement which doesn’t impress the policeman. He tells him to push off and tells Simon he needs to go to the station to give a statement. This is a formality – As Simon’s French is not up to official statements, they need an English-speaking copper to translate.

I finally return to the Terrano. The demonstrators have also dispersed and we can now navigate the last two hundred metres to the hotel without further incident. We check in and book a room for Simon, who turns up a little later. After all this conflict, I am struck by the irony of our chosen hotel. It is ‘Hotel La Paix’, situated on Gaza Street. We grab a pizza and over a little contraband wine, we reflect that sometimes the day doesn’t quite turn out like you’d hoped.

Day 51 – Thursday 27th September: It is wet and miserable today and we are happy this is a short run up the coast to Larache. Getting out of Rabat is remarkably straightforward and we make good time. To reduce Simon’s stress levels and keep him away from errant pedestrians, we opt to use the motorway. We drive the 80-odd miles in splendid isolation, seeing only a handful of cars and lorries for the whole of the journey. There is an unusual feature of Moroccan motorways – plenty of hitch-hikers thumbing a lift from the hard shoulder and apparently tolerated by the police, along with unroadworthy cars and overloaded lorries.

We arrive in Larache before lunch and eventually track down a recommended hotel. There is no hassle here, which is quite a relief, and we can get to the hotel without being hijacked by entrepreneurial locals. We dump our luggage and head out for Lixus, which has the privilege of being the southernmost Roman settlement in the empire. It should be easy to find, but we manage to drive past it three times before we realise where it is. We are given an official guide, who is apparently provided for the health & safety of visitors. He says little as his English is non-existent, but is remarkably grateful for a 20dh tip.

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Lixus Roman ruins

We go back to Larache for a late lunch and plan the rest of the day. Back at the hotel, we notice that we have air-con for the first time, but ironically, it isn’t warm enough to need it. We wander around the Spanish colonial buildings in the Place de la Liberation and admire the Christmas lights, which appear to be a permanent fixture. The lack of hustling allows us to feel more relaxed, and we can check out menus without interference before choosing a suitable restaurant for dinner.

This is a ‘Last Supper’ as Simon has decided to take the motorway to Ceuta, where he has booked a hotel. With the weather turning wet, he wants to minimise the misery of slippery roads. Louise and I are driving the scenic route through the Rif Mountains via Tetaoun. We aim to stay at Martil tomorrow and head across the border crossing in the morning. We may get to hook up with Simon on the ferry, but if the outward journey is anything to go by, he will end up on an earlier ferry than us.

Day 52 – Friday 28th September: I wake up to the sound of rainwater running down the drainpipe. I peer round the curtain and see leaden skies above and puddles on the ground. It is strange to think that a few days ago we were sweating buckets in temperatures over 40°C and now it is 20 degrees cooler and the sun is obscured by a thick layer of damp overcast. It looks like Simon’s decision to use the motorway was a wise one.

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Larache departure

We have a café au lait and a pain au chocolat at the Café Valencia, before checking out of the hotel and loading up. We both have less than 100 miles to cover today, but the weather isn’t getting any better, so we take a final photo and hit the road. At the motorway junction, we say our goodbyes and turn off to follow the N1 while Simon disappears up the motorway.

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Melon stall on the road to Tetouan

Our route takes us through countryside dotted with melon fields and up into the Rif Mountains. The road is a bit rough in places but we make good time and within an hour we hit the wide boulevard that loops around Tetaoun and on to the former pirate port of Martil.

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Martil Beach

No ‘Jolly Rogers’ here – just a rather quiet beach resort that looks rather forlorn. The summer season has finished and the place looks deserted. We check into a cheap hotel and for the first time in Morocco, there are no parking guardians. I take the opportunity to do a little bit of vehicle maintenance. The oil is topped up for the first time this trip. I also check for a blown tail light, which Simon told me was out yesterday. When I get the unit out, I find the bulb is fine but the wiring is a shambles. A previous owner has tapped the tow hitch socket into the wiring to provide electrics for a trailer. Suffice to say, it was not a good job, and I have to bodge a solution until I can deploy a soldering iron. Not impressed.

We are a few kilometres short of the end of our Moroccan leg, and while I don’t want to count any chickens, the Terrano has performed remarkably well through the extremes of temperature and demands on the suspension. The engine always starts first turn of the key and in spite of some hard driving and high ambient temperatures, the temperature gauge has never registered more than one-third on the scale. Moroccan fuel is allegedly inferior but apart from the belch of black smoke, the engine has munched Arabic diesel without complaint. Just to be on the safe side, I will bung in some additive when I get back to France to give the injectors a bit of a de-coke.

We have clocked up 1700 miles in Morocco and we are 4300 miles down the road from London. There’s another 900 miles of Spain before we get back to Estoher but the most demanding part of the journey is over.
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The Return Leg

Post by Des Smith » Tue Nov 13, 2012 1:51 pm

Day 53 – Saturday 29th September: We get up quite early and grab a coffee before heading off to the border. It is still grey and dull, but at least the rain is holding off. We get through the checkpoint in a quarter of an hour and then drive on to Ceuta and catch the next ferry to Algeciras. As expected, we don’t see Simon. He will be an hour or so ahead of us.

When we get off the ferry, we have to wait while every car is searched by sniffer dogs. The car in front of us seems to get the dogs excited and the occupants quickly produce a plastic bag which the customs guys take away. No fuss, arrests or paperwork, just confiscation and then the car is waved through. The dogs and their handlers don’t even look at us, which is simultaneously a relief and a disappointment.

Once we get out of the docks, we head out north towards Jerez. We are going to avoid the Costa del Sol and the crazy coast road. It starts to rain. There isn’t much traffic and although we have to do some minor roads, we keep good time. By late afternoon, the weather has improved and with it our spirits. We are going back to the ‘Desperados’ campsite and we are looking forward to a San Miguel or two. We get there, pitch the tent and cook up some grub. I get a text from Simon, saying he got soaked and then a second, saying his ferry has been cancelled because Brittany Ferries’ workers were on strike. He is not happy.

We are also encountering local difficulties, although not quite as serious as Simon’s problems. The beer part of the plan has to be postponed as, rather inconsiderately, the bar is closed. This is not good news, but at least we can resort to the last of the contraband wine before retiring to our tent for a well-earned rest.

Unfortunately, the night’s rest is less than complete – the air mattress springs a leak and sneakily lowers us on to the cold and stony ground. We wake up to this catastrophe some time around 3am. The discomfort is compounded by rapidly plunging temperature.

Day 54 – Sunday 30th September: A unanimous decision is made over breakfast. We won’t be camping tonight! The weather today is bright and sunny and our spirits rise as we warm up and get back on the road. Madrid’s orbital motorway system is despatched with contempt and we are soon on the N-2 heading north. We stop just past Zaragoza and check into a hotel. The room is great but the only food available is overpriced and less than appetising. We resort to pastries and a bag of nuts but we finally manage to have a couple of ales. Hooray!

Day 55 – Monday 1st October: A funny thing happened at breakfast! We went down to the cafeteria and watched the truck drivers having their breakfast, accompanied by a glass of beer. This appears to be quite acceptable as every one of the truckers were doing it. We stick to coffee – in my world, beer is reserved as a reward at the end of the day. Top tip, next time you see a Spanish truck heading your way, it is worth remembering they have started the day with a cerveza or two.

We have a mere 250 miles to cover to Estoher and as we work our way north, the magnificent sight of the Pyrenees come into view. The journey is nearly uneventful – we have a puzzled quarter of an hour trying to find a road that we were driving on just disappears and morphs into another one. Eventually, we figure out that said road has been sneakily re-routed from an unsigned road junction.

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On the road in Spain

As the mountains get bigger, we also notice that they are snow-capped. The rain we had in Morocco arrived in the Pyrenees as the first snow of winter. Scary! Before we realise it, we reach the French border at Bourg-Madame and find ourselves barrelling along through the Cerdagne. We pause briefly at Mont Louis. The snow-capped scenery demands a photo and I also snap a rather weathered Terrano. An hour later, we are back at Estoher, and the kettle is on…

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Snow on the Pyrenees

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Scarred old battle bus at Mont Louis

Days 56 to 70: We spent this the first few days sorting out the usual post-holiday chores – the washing machine saw a bit of action and I took the Terrano for a long session in the jet wash. We still had a few more things on our ‘to do’ list. We wanted to climb to the summit of Mont Canigou before the weather broke. The Terrano got a bit of beasting driving up the piste to the Col de Cortalets where we parked up and started to climb. We saw some spectacular scenery and got with 100m of the summit when the cloud came down and we had to retreat.

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Mountain view from Canigou

We also walked up to St Michel-de-Canigou. This restored abbey has become an iconic image of the area and we got to take our own version of the picture.

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St Martin du Canigou

Day 71 – Wednesday 17th October: Today we put the shutters up in the house and reluctantly turned the Terrano north. The route is simply the reverse of our outward journey. As ever, the drive to Cahors is a delight, but I have never seen it in autumn as the leaves are changing colours. It is glorious! We aimed to get as far as Brive-la-Gaillarde and although there is a bit of a panic as darkness falls, we manage to locate our well-hidden Formule1.

Day 72 – Thursday 18th October: Having made a good start yesterday, we capitalise on it and push on. The weather starts bright but the forecast is for rain. We amaze ourselves by navigating successfully around Tours and then spoil it all by missing the inner peripherique around Le Mans and end up ploughing through the town centre which is in the middle of a road re-development. Progress is predictably slow.

We decide that we should really stop, otherwise we will be at Le Havre a day early, so we use our newly-acquired Formule1 guide to find a hotel in Alençon. By now, the predicted rain has arrived and we are again playing hotel hide-and-seek in the gathering gloom. French signage has always confused me and today I confirm this by driving around the whole centre commerciale before finally tracking down the Formule1.

We go back into Alençon to eat and have a chance to admire the town’s trademark topiary – square trees. I first came through the town in 1980 and saw these strange trees and they are still doing it, so top marks for idiosyncrasy.

Day 73 – Friday 19th October: It is raining persistently as we head off for Le Havre. We have the choice of two toll bridges or a long detour inland, and we decide to take the middle option and go for the cheaper Pont de Tancarville. We arrive in Le Havre about five hours early, which allows us a reasonable amount of time to buy some more wine, have some lunch and fill up with cheap French diesel. We still arrive at the LD Lines terminal with loads of time to spare but on the plus side, we end up near the front. It is a bonus until we realise that we have a stern-loading boat and end up being boxed in by the later arrivals. Happily, I have developed quite a philosophical approach to minor setbacks such as this and when we reach Portsmouth, I cope quite admirably.

I distract myself from the wait by reminding myself to drive on the left. After ten weeks abroad, the right hand-side of the road feels completely normal and the left seems a bit odd. I need not worry. Within a mile or two it doesn’t feel so strange and we are soon home. Even though it’s gone midnight, we are both in need of a brew.

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Des Smith
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Simon's Journey Back

Post by Des Smith » Tue Nov 13, 2012 1:56 pm

Simon’s Journey Back

Simon caught the 9.30 ferry to Algeciras and had quite an eventful trip home. He hit a lot of rain as soon as he got off the boat and got very wet and soggy. He called it a day at Cordoba and once he had checked into a hotel, he checked his emails and found one from Brittany Ferries telling him their workers were on strike and his ferry from Bilbao was cancelled and that he should use the cross-channel ferries from Calais to get home. The following day, he rode 588 miles into France and stopped for the night in Bayonne. The following day he rode all the way to Calais (another 632 miles) and caught the 0030 ferry to Dover and got home to Wiltshire at 4am. He rode a total of 1390 miles in under two days.

In his own words:

“I was not very impressed when I got the mail and replied that I would be making a claim from Brittany for extra fuel and accommodation, Calais was where I headed as Brittany had said that the return leg could be used on a P and O crossing from there. They did reply saying that they will refund the return leg fare and add £200 expenses which I suppose is not too bad.

I had no maps of France with me so I was in the hands of Emily [his satnav] for the journey, I instructed her to use motorways but not toll roads so I didn't use any Peage or motorways in Spain that charged. I think that she took me a pretty reasonable way; I think I followed more or less the same route as you for the first bit across Spain. I went from Cordoba up to Madrid then headed for Zaragoza but I turned off before there and cut up towards Pamplona and then across Pyrenees to Bayonne. Second day, from Bayonne to Bordeaux, Poitiers, Tours, Chartres, Rouen and Calais. I was going to stop at Rouen but tried two hotels and they were both full so I decided to push on to Calais and see what happened and there they got me straight on the midnight ferry. All in all not too bad but I was pretty cold by the time I had finished the UK bit from Dover to Calne and just dumped the luggage and went to bed.”
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Re: Terrano adventures in Morocco

Post by mat_fenwick » Tue Nov 13, 2012 3:43 pm

Thanks for that Des, it's the kind of thing I'd like to do some day too. Do you have a (very) rough feel for the cost (excluding stocks of wine and souvenir shopping)?

And respect to Simon - 1400 miles on a bike in two days is not my idea of fun!
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Re: Terrano adventures in Morocco

Post by Des Smith » Tue Nov 13, 2012 6:35 pm

Oh Matt, that is a question I can't easily answer without wanting to cry!

The Terrano is up for sale as I write so whatever I make will defray approximately £2800 I spent buying her and doing all the prep and repairs.

The fuel came out at around £1000 across 6500 miles and accommodation and food in Spain and Morocco came out at £900 for two. Ferries to France and Morocco come out to about £500 and you can add another £130 for accommodation across France.

So that adds up to.... :shock: £5330 between the two of us, less whatever the Terrano makes. Not exactly a cheap fortnight in the sun but definitely worth every penny.
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Re: Terrano adventures in Morocco

Post by Des Smith » Thu Nov 22, 2012 10:55 am

The Terrano is now sold. I was sorry to see her go but it was all part of the plan. I got £80 less than I paid for her in May, but that ignores the fact that I spent three times as much again on tyres, servicing, repairs and bits!
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Re: Terrano adventures in Morocco and around

Post by Des Smith » Wed Sep 10, 2014 4:26 pm

Okay, so not the same Terrano, but it's successor, and a more sedate trundle down to the Pyrenees...

This is the second summer run this particular example has done. Last year's effort was completely free from dramas and we chalked up 2250 miles on the round trip. This time, we clocked an extra 30 miles, possibly by driving around the Cite d'Europe complex trying to find the way in and out without ending up in a queue for Le Shuttle (That would not have been a good idea, since we had only just arrived in France).

Since I bought this example in June 2013 with a barely run-in 48k miles on the clock, I've added another 6000 miles, most of which have been spent on the wrong side of the round. She's very solid underneath, and to keep things that way, I got Chevronics to dinotrol her. She spends most of her time on the road with occasional forays up Pyrenean mountain tracks and on MOD training areas.

The return to the UK last week was going supremely well until just past Loches, when the rear window started getting smeared with what turned out to be diesel. Initially I couldn't figure it out and it wasn't clear where the diesel was coming from. I'd hit an unmarked ramp rather hard and I was wondering whether I might have cracked the return fuel line. There wasn't anything obvious under the bonnet, so we carried on to our overnight stop at Chartres. By then it was clearly getting worse and obviously needed further investigation, so the following morning I had another look under the bonnet, this time with the engine running. Lo and behold, diesel leaking out of a ruptured rubber blanking grommet on the rear injector, which I bound up tightly with insulating tape which staunched the flow to a dribble until I could find a garage. The mechanic dropped what he was doing and using a bit of ingenuity came up with a suitable replacement. He didn't want any payment and seemed more than happy to have helped us on our way, so I bunged him 10 euros for a drink - Result for both of us.
Last edited by Des Smith on Thu Sep 25, 2014 11:58 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Terrano adventures in Morocco

Post by Mike E (uk) » Fri Sep 12, 2014 4:01 pm

look forward to the trip photos,,
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Re: Terrano adventures in Morocco

Post by Des Smith » Thu Sep 25, 2014 11:53 pm

So to keep Mike happy, I've picked the best photos that keep the narrative going and don't bore the pants off people and here they are. Most of the photos are from the area around Mont Canigou, which is about 40km west of Perpignan. The Pyrenees hit the coast on the French-Spanish border and its all rather pretty. These parts are fairly well known to us but when we see things from a new angle, we're still inclined to whip out the camera..

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This is Vinca reservoir - the Canadair fire-fighter planes come along and scoop up water when they are tackling forest fires in the summer.

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Same location but looking south-west across the reservoir towards Canigou, which totally dominates the area and begs to have its picture taken.

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Marcevol - a small abbey tucked away on the ridge above Vinca. Lovely in summer, but ***king bleak in winter, I imagine. 'Twas somewhat windy, (although it doesn't look it) but still rather hot, so the Terrano's lurking in the shade!

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Les Orgues D'Ille with the obligatory Canigou as a backdrop. These weirdly-eroded rock pinnacles are most spectacular from this angle, rather than from the valley - So few of the tourists who pay good money to oggle from close-up realise that they can see this for free.


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Here's the Terrano blocking the view to Spain across the Tech Valley...

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It's a matter of pride that I drive the Terrano off-road when I can (sometimes Louise finds this hard to stomache, especially when she's next to a steep drop). There are loads of forestry pistes for the sapeur pompiers to access any fires and a lot of them are open to vehicles, so if you're minded to, you can spend all day travelling off-road.

The scenery is far better from higher up on the forestry tracks, so time for some more gratuitous Mont Canigou pictures...

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The east face of Canigou...

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And the same view but on full zoom.

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Homeward bound - Two pics of Axat gorge that show why driving here is such a pleasure (Louise took them because she thought I would better employed steering the car!) Axat lies between Quillan and Estagel, so it's quite likely CCC2015 will be driving along this road.

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Pitching up at a campsite, North of Cahors. Note bottle of wine ready to deploy! On a road trip, this is the best part of the day. I did enjoy it, which is just as well as the next day was grim - the leak-off blanking plug on the rear injector had perished and decided to give up the struggle. I knew there was a fuel leak but couldn't figure it out and I drove around 100 miles distributing a fine mist of diesel in my wake. I sussed it out the next morning by running the engine and looking for a leak. (funny old thing, the fuel doesn't leak when the engine isn't running - doh!) I bodged a fix with some insulating tape (moderately successful but not perfect) until I found a friendly French spanner man. I worked out from my fuel consumption stats that I must have lost about 10 litres of fuel.

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For the maritime fanatics, here's a photo of MS Rodin arriving at Calais. (I had a lot of time on my hands)

There we go, hope you enjoyed them. No BX pictures, unfortunately, but I saw some great Citroens. On the way down, somewhere north of Rouen, we passed a mint SM which was quite exciting. On the way back, we saw a maroon DS Decapotable fuelling up in a petrol station and the couple that were in it had stepped straight out of a 60s advert. While I was manfully ignoring the diesel leak on the run to Chartres, I also clocked a Traction Avant resprayed in metallic brown and gold with a trailer on which was a vintage motorbike wearing a matching paint job. Couldn't identify the bike, but I imagine the ensemble will have upset a lot of purists on both sides of the divide.

I spotted about half a dozen BXs en route but only one Mk 1 in rather good nick. The Mk 2s ranged from complete sheds to a very nice late turbo. Intriguingly, I saw no CXs, and the more I thought about it, the more I realised that I had no recollection of ever having seen a CX in France. Hmm!
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Re: Terrano adventures in Morocco

Post by Philip Chidlow » Fri Sep 26, 2014 10:18 am

Excellent pics. Thanks! We will be going along the Estagel/Quillan route, yes. And... One of the options for the 'day off' whilst we're at Quillan is a shortish round trip: Quillan > Axat > Espezel > Ax-les-Thermes (lunch) > (almost but not quite into) Foix > Chateau de Montsegur and back to Quillan... so even more inspired now :)
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Re: Terrano adventures in Morocco

Post by Tinkley » Tue Sep 30, 2014 9:30 am

Nice shots and tale Des. One look at the Vinca reservoir and I could tell you it is windy - those are serious gusts hitting that water! Getting close to the point when one does not go out racing (dinghy) in it!. When you see the spindrift flying up over the beaches/London embankment wall/lakeside trees etc one starts to doubt the wisdom of venturing forth onto the water..... :wink: