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Thursday, 14 June 2012

Morocco, Part 3

Day 14 – 3/6/12

Prudence or a guardian angel. The drive from Ouarzazate to Zagora was pleasing. The initial part being mountainous (to ~ Agdz) and after that along the Draa river valley. The mountains are really devoid of vegetation and present a barren beauty. The valley was filled with palms and other gardens. The Moroccans are keen/diligent farmers – and very good civil design engineers. The mountain roads are great.

We passed through Zagora with the intention of getting to M’Hamid. We stopped for lunch under the only bit of shade for many kilometres and as we were eating, a Landrover pulled up and the driver got out. He was a mechanic and stopped to give us his card. He looked at our vehicle and noticed a lean to the right (we have had this for some time – really ever since the Opposite Lock air bags failed!). The mechanic shook his head, this was not good. Then he felt underneath and there was some oil. We had noticed this when we came back from the UK and pointed it out to the Toyota garage in Agadir and the MRK folks in Marrakech. But, they did not think it was a big deal. Ray did and the casual mechanic played to this fear. So, we followed the mechanic back to Zagora. Before you could have a cold drink, they had remover the rear springs and the rear end assembly. Avril had gone (been sent?) away to watch the French Open at a café and Ray was thinking... Oh shit, how do I get out of this?? The car is in pieces, I am really going to be taken here. The mechanic did a pressure test and it showed there was a crack in the right hand side of the casing that holds the rear end (differential and axles). It was where the Opposite Lock air bag had failed, distorted and allowed the vehicle to keep banging against the casing (now you can imagine Ray’s ire at this point; not just bloody Opposite Lock but Toyota Agadir and the Marrakech folks).

Mmm, now what. The (wonderful – as we hope it turns out!) mechanics suggested we cut into the crack and weld it. They also suggested we modify the springs to lift the body away from the rear end. Really, we did not have much of an option, but Ray made a quick call back to the Technical Authority (aka, Peter, he of the fridge) in Oz, who confirmed – we really did not have a choice. So the modifications went ahead.

The mechanic transferred Avril to a 4 star riad to spend the afternoon by the pool, under palm trees and bougainvillaea’s, drinking OJs (so she said) and doing some emailing. Ray spent the time in important management tasks – sweltering in the + 46oC heat. After the initial, impressive flurry of activity, the crew settled down to eat a tagine and then went to sleep. Siesta time. Ray sweltered, wondering what was happening. At ~ 18:00, he decided, enough sleep, time to work. Then, more activity. The welder was woken from this sleep (this was an outsourced task, so the mechanics needed to go some distance to wake him). The welder cut into the crack with an angle grinder and then removed some of a sleave that encased the main casing and revealed not just the original circumferential crack but a number of cracks along the casing. So, now what could be done? No, they were sure they could weld the cracks. Ray, who once upon a time did some NDT stuff on pressure vessels and still thinks he has the knowhow, watched critically. The weld prep looked OK and the weld also looked good (clearly without the dye penetration and the nucleonic test kit it was hard to confirm this!). Then the welder added some strengthening bar to the casing – welding it along the casing. This all looked very solid.

In the mean time the junior mechanic and the very junior mechanic were reshaping the leaves from the springs. This involved belting the springs with a sledge hammer on to an old engine block (which was the anvil). They also procured some (new) landcruiser leaves, cut the end of them and added them to the original spring. We now have 10 leaves not the 8 from Old Man Emu. This latter modification added ~ 3” – 4” (for the young ones; 90 mm to 100 mm) to the height at the rear of the vehicle. The idea being to ensure we have no chance of bashing the rear housing again. Mind you, the ride may be a fair bit more bouncy.

When all the mods were done and we (OK, “they”) were about to reassemble, there was a hiccup. The original U bolds holding the springs were badly worn down and the threads badly burred. So, we needed to wait for new bolts – tomorrow; God Willing.

The mechanic drove Ray to the hotel for a shower and a few wonderful cold beers and a nice dinner.

We stayed at the Kasbah Sirocco, Zagora and would you believe it for the 1st time in nearly 10 months, Ray failed to log the coordinates.  

Avril driving – not sure of the distance either. It was hot and the beer to inviting to remember all the statistics.

Day 15 – 4/6/12

We had a great nights sleep in the a/c. After a leisurely breakfast and some Skype, Ray caught a moped taxi to the garage and Avril remained at the hotel to do some more emailing (or relaxing?) at the poolside garden. When Ray got to the garage the vehicle was basically finished; but the closing out takes a little time, even in Morocco. After a “test drive”, Ray asked for the hand brake to be adjusted – being a perfectionist the mechanic removed the whole assemble, cleaned it thoroughly and reassembled. Ray then asked for the bill. Ah, they did not yet have time to work it out, could he go and pick up Avril & come back. No worries. Ray was bracing himself for the “payment negotiation”. When we got back to the garage the bill was still not prepared, but a quick calculation was done and the amount presented. There was no need for a negotiation. The amount was well within the authorised upper limit. Wonderful, so different to some other parts of Africa. Many, many thanks to Ali and his team. Turned out they are very well known, supporting a lot of motor rallies, TV crews, travel writers etc. How lucky – we could have been in the middle of nowhere and the casing failed leaving us with a big problem. Many thanks. +212 (0) 661 775 480.

We then drove to M’Hamid, and the drive was a little disappointing compared to the superb scenery of the previous days. Maybe we are getting a bit spoiled.

We then started to drive the M6 route in C. Scotts Sahara guide book and camped in the “middle of nowhere”.

Avril driving; 212 km; 6 hrs; N 300 24’ 50.0’’ W 0040 59’ 39.2’’

Day 16 – 5/6/12
We were treated to a magnificent  moon rise last night; a huge orange/red moon rising behind some distant hills. Then in the morning a great, crimson, sunrise.

We continued on with the M6 route and finished at Taouz, where the tar started. The route is interesting, without being spectacular. The initial ~ 60 km is very rocky and we had to drive very slowly to preserve our tyres. There was one difficult sand section; C. Scott said not to deflate, but we needed to deflate and Avril (Avril drives when the sand gets a bit sticky, so Ray can dig and put the sand plates in place – ever the gentleman!) had to take a run up on a few occasions to crest some small dunes with + 2’ (that is ~ 600mm for the young uns) vertical step at the top. Otherwise it was slow going all the way. At one point (before the sand!!) we got bogged in a small sandy section of the track. There was an auberg nearby (Auberg Dinosaur) and the owner came out to lend a hand. He pointed out that the front wheels had not been locked for 4WD (OK, that is Rays responsibility, his bad).

We had some tea with the owner of the Auberg and chatted for a bit. At the end, in true desert fashion, he refused any payment. So nice.

The C. Scott book is probably a bit aged; the distances did not match our odometer and a lot of the markers were missing. There are a lot of cafes and Auberges along the way, so it must be a very popular route when it is not in the mid 40oC. The route may appeal to folks who like a bit of a 4WD challenge or overlanders giving their vehicle a shake down before proceeding south. Maybe we have been spoilt with our time in Egypt, but we did not find the scenery all that stunning.

We saw the edge of the Erg Chebbi near Merzouga and were impressed with the dunes; wonderful colour, high and with good shape. We then drove back to Ouarzazate. The drive after the piste was not all that interesting. There was a green bit on the Michelin map around Dades, but we found nothing all that interesting – just + 45 km of built up area that required a very slow speed.

We camped back at the Municipal Campground. We looked around, but did not find anything else.

Ray driving; 505 km; 11hrs

Day 17 – 6/6/12

After a very sleepless night, due to the wedding celebrations over the campsite boundary, we drove back to Marrakech. The return was as stunning as the outward journey. We booked into the Ourika campground again. Avril stayed at the site pool whilst Ray went back to MRK to collect a tyre rim that was being repaired and fit a couple of new tyres. Again, the logistics failed and the tyres were not there. The rim had not been repaired, but a dash to the repair shop and 4 hours later we had a (fingers crossed) good as new rim.

Avril driving; 264 km; 4 hrs’

Day 18 – 7/6/12

We drove to just north of Casablanca to a city called Mohammadia and checked into the Said Camping site. The camp site is family run & clean, but very basic. A good 4 lane highway made sure it was a swift journey, however the campground was a bit hard to find so we only arrived in the mid afternoon. This meant we could not visit the mosque in Cassa in the afternoon.

Instead, we elected to try and watch Sam Stosur’s semi-final from Roland Garros. We decided to pitch camp and take a taxi into town. The farce that followed made Fawlty Towers look like a serious documentary. Farce does not explain fully the efforts to find somewhere to watch the match. Initially we were taken to the railway station. This did not immediately come to mind as a place to have a bite & watch sport. We tried explaining that we wanted to watch tennis on the television in a café.  Now, silly us, the French for Television is Television, and we thought we could just use the English, Television.  So, a number of people were asked and various directions obtained and we drove further and further from the more modern areas of the city. Some folks assured us they could speak English and explain what was needed. Eventually we drove through the industrial area to a golf club, where apparently they have some tennis courts. No, we were not even dressed for tennis. At this point we gave up. Ray’s view of tennis was not enhanced by this wanton waste of his time.

We then asked to go to the office of the telephone provider as the iPad had stopped carrying data. This involved a drive through some of the seedier areas of town and then driving through a very narrow fresh produce market, in fact so narrow that we could not get through and had to reverse (this involved shifting some of the produce carts) and drive out again. AND, we could not get the telecommunications  issue resolved. Seems that paying for a telephone service in Africa does not necessarily indicate that you will have any coverage.

So we decided that we would not be able to see the tennis nor have internet. What we did have of course was the almost certain debate on money when we got back to the camp ground.

We need to mention a difficulty that has come up. With the rear end of the car being 3’ – 4’ higher, Ray is now vertically challenged in erecting the tent. He needs to stand on tip toes to complete the task. Still, brave and a gentleman to the end, he has not accepted Avrils offer to assist!

To compensate we went to a local restaurant on the beachfront and had paella. Not nearly as good as Olga’s but pretty good after missing out for 10 months.

Ray driving; 271 km; 4 hrs; N 330 43’ 54.1’’ W 0070 20’ 21.6’’

Day 19 – 8/6/12

We took a train into Casablanca. In the ticket queue we met a very nice chap who had been a journalist in the UK for 20 years, so had excellent English. He assisted us in buying the tickets and gettingus off at the correct stop. He also negotiated to get us a taxi to the old part of Cassa. Then, when he had left, the taxi driver offered to take us on a city tour – which  was great.

We found Cassablanca to be a pleasant city, at least the areas we visited. We initially went to the old and new Sultans palaces. Nearby at Quartier Habous we bought some delicious pastries and had breakfast at a café.

We went to the usual places, the corniche, catholic cathedral, the Mausoleum of Mohammed V etc.  .

The main objective of our visit was the Sultan HassanII Mosque. Set into the ocean on a man- made island and with the tallest minaret in the world, it is a fantastic building. Unfortunately there was a mix up with the tour times (they were one hour later than the brochure) so Avril went on the tour and Ray waited to tell the taxi to come back an hour later.

Day 20 – 9/6/12

We had a very short drive to Rabat. There did not seem to be any camping so we booked into Riad de la belle etole in Sale. The accommodation was good, but dinner at the riad was expensive and average.

We took the tram into Rabat and toured the typical sights; Tower of Hassan, Mausoleum of the father (Hassan 2?) and grandfather of the current king, the Medina (we had a tagine lunch), a walk along the beach and the Kasbah.

The guide books generally run down Casablanca and say Rabat is better. We thought the reverse, Casablanca seemed to be cleaner and have more character. But, we would probably suggest that neither is really worth the diversion unless you happen to be driving past & “aimless” i.e. have spare time.

Today we stopped out malaria tablets – after 10 months!.

Avril driving; 69 km; 2.5 hrs; N 340 02’ 10.6’’ W 0060 49’ 32.2’’

Day 21 – 10/6/12

We had a leisurely breakfast and then drove to Chefchaouen, a “tourist” town in the Riff Mountains. The initial part of the drive is through agricultural country and it is harvest time. So we passed quite a number of combine harvesters, tractors and other machinery. There is a mixture of old and new. We also saw people gathering bales of hay with a horse and cart.

The mountain drive is very scenic and reminded us of the European side of the Mediterranean.  It is not as spectacular as the Atlas mountains but a few times the road went along a valley and there is a dramatic mountain at the head of the valley, making a “postcard” picture. And, the weather was not too hot, so conditions were OK for photography.

After we got to Chefchaouen  we took some time to find the Azilan Campground, which is far up a mountain side and gives great views across a valley to the opposite side. After making camp, we took a long and slow walk into town – by this time the temperature was up to 39oC. We managed to find a patisserie with the French Open showing on a TV, but much to Avri’ls chagrin, rain stopped play after we had watched for ~ 20 min.

Ray driving; 249 km; 4 hrs; N 350 10’ 32.7’’ W 0050 16’ 00.8’’

Day 22 – 11/6/12

After a sleep in and a long chat with some folks in the campground, we went for a drive around the Riff Mountains. The scenery is fantastic and the road provided some wonderful vistas.

It was market day in one of the towns we passed through. Being mountainous, the market was spread along the road, effectively blocking the road. Like most markets in Africa it is a mix of cheap Chinese imported sandals and thongs (flip/flops for the non Aussies), sort of trash & treasure and some fruit and veg. But the occasion seems to bring out the joy in people, so there is lots of noise and activity etc.

Another aspect of the drive is the offers of hashish. Apparently this area is one of the world centres for the weed. We did not see any fields, however along the road, in the shadows there were often men standing, looking a bit out of place. When they saw a tourist they would wave and whistle. We did not stop to investigate!

When we got back from the drive we went into town to watch England and France draw in a European Cup soccer match.

Avril driving; 178 km; 5 hrs; Back at Chefchaouen,  Azilan Campground. The camping facilities are clean and work, if a little aged.

Day 23 – 12/6/12

In the evening a young couple, Leigh and Rebecca from Eltham, Melbourne, Australia (!!!!) came over to say hello.  They are travelling around Europe in a van and decided to hop over to Morocco. So, we spent ages (for us oldies anyway – went to bed at midnight) chatting to them. It was great to chat to folks with whom we have a shared background. Importantly, Leigh is a Bombers supporter – so there was no tribal feud. After the late night we made a late start to the day and chatted to Leigh and Rebecca again.

We had a leisurely drive to Martil on the beach near Tetoaun. The drive was interesting but not as spectacular as the previous days. We then went for a drive along the Mediterranean coast of Morocco and marvelled at how blue the water was. The road has been cut into steep hillsides along the sea shore and gives wonderful views of the mountains in the background, sea promontories etc.

In the evening we went for a walk along the corniche (promenaded!).

We stayed at the Alboustane campground, which is a bit dismal and badly in need of a good clean and some maintenance.  

Ray driving; 156km; 8 hrs; N 350 37’ 44.2’’ W 0050 16’ 37.04’’

Day 24 – 13/6/12

We rose early, had breakfast on the corniche and then drove directly to the Spanish enclave of Ceuta. Immigration and customs formalities were completed quickly and with little fuss.

Of course, no hint of a bribe.

Morocco Summary

Morocco is a no hassle country. There are no security issues, though the police stops can get a bit monotonous. For tourists there is good infrastructure, hotels, campgrounds etc.

The roads are of a high standard and well maintained. The scenery is stunning, the food is delicious and the people are very friendly. From a European perspective, it is a very low cost destination. For us it was a good transition to Europe.

We rated it the easiest country so far. RSA may have more consumer and western “stuff”, but Morocco has the advantage of having no security issues.

Michelin Map: distances are sometimes wrong. 6/10. Lonely Planet Morocco: very hard to use on a Kindle. 6/10. Travel guide Morocco: designed for a Kindle and brief and to the point: 8/10.

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