Journey to Agadir

Driving west towards the Atlantic coast, with a rugged backdrop of sand and rocks . . . . . . .
. . . when the wind blew the sand swirled, making everything look hazy.
A lorry loaded with hay – the road was wide enough for us to pass, not always the case!

We continued our journey west and stopped at the town of Tiznit, situated on the western side of the Anti Atlas mountains, not far from the Atlantic coast. There were just three other vans (French) staying on the camp site – when we were last there the site was so full we struggled to find a place to park. Morocco was most definitely suffering from lack of tourists.

The Tiznit camp site was just outside the city walls and it was a five minute walk into the souk where the busy streets were lined with little shops. We shuddered when we passed cages of live animals for sale – turkeys, rabbits, pigeons and chickens. The streets were dirty and smelly. We didn’t stay long in Tiznit.

We continued our journey to Agadir where there was a Carrefour supermarket and we were able to stock up with alcoholic supplies for Christmas. We had known the municipal camp site at Agadir would be closed but we were eager to spend a night in the town in order to have a meal at one of the European style restaurants at the Marina. We found a parking spot beside the fish market next to the Marina and offered an unofficial parking fee to the guardian who agreed we could stay overnight. We were confident our truck would be safe whilst we were at the restaurant. The meal was wonderful and, including a bottle of wine, cost ten times the amount we would normally pay for a meal in Morocco.

Woman and baby sleeping rough

Our overnight parking spot was pretty noisy and there was a strong smell of fish in the air. Several dogs slept under the truck and occasionally barked loudly into the dark night. The following morning we noticed a woman and a baby sleeping under a blanket near the truck. Moroccans were used to beggars and regularly gave them a few coins. Someone had given the mother milk for the baby. Tony gave her some money and I gave her a tin of Nivea creme. She was awake and sitting on the wall when we drove away. She gave us a cheery wave goodbye.

We realised that the fish market seagulls had left a bit of a mess on our roof so we had to stop at a fuel station to get a truck wash (£4.50). Our stay at the fish market was proving to be far more expensive than had we stayed at a camp site!

Overnighting next to the Fish Market in Agadir

Tata

The early morning sun lighting up the mountains behind the camp site at Tata

We journeyed west from Foom Zguid to Tata, an old town on the Sahara Plain a thousand metres above sea level in the Jbel Bani mountains. The camp site was popular with long stay visitors, particularly from France. On previous visits to Tata we had found the camp site full with camper vans many of whom would stay for the whole winter. Due to Covid, Morocco had suspended ferries to and from Europe and when we arrived there were less than ten camper vans staying on the site. The weather was beautiful, 25° in the warm sunshine and dropping to 7° overnight.

Pastilla of chicken with salad

One evening we ate pastilla, cooked by the site owner’s wife and delivered to our truck. This was a pie made with a type of filo pastry, a North African speciality. Traditionally they used pigeon but ours was made with chicken and served with Moroccan salad and it was delicious.

We walked into town to do some shopping and were enticed by the smell of baking bread into the local bakery.

The Bakers Shop in Tata

We stayed four nights in Tata and the cost of our stay, including the pastilla supper, was less than £36. You could quite understand why folk from northern Europe with camper vans would find it economical to spend the winter months in Morocco.

My Name Is Miriam

The Anti Atlas Mountains on the Road to Foum Zguid

As we left Ouarzazate we drove south, leaving the High Atlas Mountains to the north. Our route to Foum Zguid (sounds like Foomz-zood) took us across the Anti Atlas Mountains. The road was narrow and climbed to over 1500 metres with rocky landscapes all around us, the colours ranging from dun to bright ochre.


We arrived at Foum Zguid after four hours of travelling, covering a mere 100 miles. We received a warm welcome from our host, Rachid. When we introduced ourselves he heard my name as Miriam and, although we tried to explain that I was Marion, he airily waved away our protestations and declared Miriam was a good Arabic name and continued to call me that during our stay. I recalled I had been mistaken for Miriam on quite a few occasions whilst travelling in Morocco so to save exhaustive explanations I decided to adopt the name Miriam until back in Europe. I quite liked the name – I am a great fan of Ms Margolyse.

🔵 Foum Zguid

We had first visited Rachid’s camp site two years previously and he had cooked us a delicious lemon and chicken tagine so when he offered to deliver supper to the truck that evening, we readily agreed. We had a huge plate of fried chicken with chips and vegetables. We enjoyed the meal very much.

The next day a German couple arrived and warned us not to eat Rachid’s food. They had looked in his kitchen and said it was filthy – they had seen bowls of mouldy food in a cupboard. Suddenly we felt rather nauseous!

RIP Kath Ricci who set off for the pearly gates 7th December 2021 – our granddaughter’s grandmother.

The Road to Ouarzazate

The Road from Agdz to Ouarzazate – on the right was a sheer drop down to the valley

We were very aware that we were still in the High Atlas Mountains when we drove from Agdz to Ouarzazate (sounds like Wazzer-zat) – the road climbed to 1500 metres and we saw distant peaks that were bright with snow. The road had been cut into the side of the mountain, solid rock on the nearside and a drop to the valley below on the far side. The road resembled a helter skelter and we could see vehicles ahead travelling to and fro far above us – we chose not to look below!

Tony did not relish driving these mountain roads and his natural aversion was not helped when we came across an overloaded lorry travelling in the opposite direction which had lost control on a bend and had crashed into the rocky wall. Both of the lorry’s front wheels had been torn off with the impact and the cab was pointing skyward. Nobody appeared to be badly hurt so we proceeded with caution.

Ouarzazate – an unremarkable town with a backdrop of snow topped mountains

Ouarzazate was a town popular with tourists and surrounded by rugged terrain which provided convincing backdrops for the film industry – most famously “Lawrence of Arabia” and, more recently, “Game of Thrones” was filmed there. Tony was chatting to someone on the camp site who had his leg strapped up from ankle to thigh. He told Tony he worked as a stunt man and five days ago he had fallen from a horse and broken his leg.

Our reason for visiting the town was not to do a tour of the film studios, nor to visit the Museum of the Cinema or even the famous 19th century palace in the Taourirt Kasbah. The reason for our visit was far more mundane – there was a Carrefour supermarket in town which stocked a wide range of European products such as French cheeses and packets of smoked salmon. They also had an alcohol department where booze had to be purchased separately from groceries – I came out triumphantly clutching a bottle of gin!

The steps up to the souk
We chose not to eat in this restaurant

Agdz

Himi trying out our Royal Enfield

We were sorry when the time came to say goodbye to Himi, our host at Palmeraie D’Amezrou in Zagora. He always had a cheeky smile and he readily offered help whenever we needed it. He gave us a lift to the kasbah and arranged for someone to see we got back safely – promising to come and look for us if we weren’t back before dark! He liaised with Ali Nassir at the garage and, as soon as our new door lock arrived, we were there to have it fitted.

Each morning Himi came by with a cheerful greeting, exclaiming how beautiful the day was. Each evening he disappeared into his kitchen and cooked a meal for guests staying on the site. On the Friday morning he announced the day was special for him. Thinking of Friday Prayers I enquired if he went to the mosque on Fridays. He laughed and rubbed his tummy, “Friday we have couscous!”

Ferme Maison Tensift

It was only a couple of hours driving to our next stop, a lovely camp site set in Drâa river valley two miles from the town of Agdz (sounds like Ag-dooz), meaning “resting place”) situated on the old caravan route from Marrakech to Timbuktu.

When we arrived at Ferme Maison Tensift it was deserted and it was clear that they had had no visitors for some weeks. Undeterred we settled ourselves in and a couple of hours later our host, Said, appeared with a beautiful fresh baguette for us.

The area was agricultural and we enjoyed watching a group of women tending their plots. They had an irrigation stand pipe which delivered water into a series of shallow ditches and the women controlled the direction of water by building little dams and making new channels to send the water on to the next plot. After an hour or so the whole area was nicely watered. By that time they had lit a small fire to boil some water and they sat on the ground drinking tea – their laughter competing with the hee-hawing donkey hobbled nearby.

There was a noisy donkey tied up near our truck. Fortunately they took him home at night
Back breaking work – Fatima, Said’s sister

Tea Break

A Visit to the Kasbah

We visited the kasbah at Zagora, constructed over 700 years ago. The dwellings were built of wood, mud and straw and surrounded by a thick wall. There was one entrance and one exit gate, closed at night. Jews and Muslims had lived there together for hundred of years and inside the kasbah was a synagogue as well as a mosque. Today the kasbah was home to twenty five families and was gradually being restored.

Zagora was like many of the larger towns in Morocco, its main street was a modern boulevard with a dual carriageway, wide pavements with roadside trees and fancy street lighting with parks and impressive municipal buildings. But if you walked down any side street things looked much less salubrious and a few streets back there were just narrow unpaved roads.

The Western Sahara: On the inside of the door of our truck we had stickers representing the flags of all the countries we had visited. At Ali Nassir’s our door was open and someone spotted the Western Sahara flag and advised us to remove it. He explained if the police saw it we could get into trouble. Western Sahara was a territory south of Morocco, rich in mineral resources; control of the land was disputed between Morocco and the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic. The sight of that flag could be offensive to people in Morocco. Of course, we removed the flag from our door immediately. Later we noticed that the Western Sahara area of our world map on the side of the truck had been altered using Tippex (children, we assumed). We we able to removed the marks easily.

Zagora

The Boss

We called into Ali Nassir’s, a mechanic in Zagora who repaired 4 x 4 vehicles. Our pull-out ladder platform had got itself stuck under the chassis – they managed to release it and found a loose nut was snagging the mechanism. They re-attached an external locker door and they also found a couple of broken fittings whilst inspecting under the truck. Places that needed lubrication were greased and the work took five hours. We enjoyed hanging around at Ali’s with its hustle and bustle and with the opportunity of swapping stories with other travelling Europeans having work done on their vehicles. Ali had to order a new door lock to replace the one damaged in France when we had the attempted break-in. He would phone Himi at the camp site to let us know when the lock arrived from Casablanca.

Whilst waiting at Ali’s Tony took the opportunity to get his hair cut. I needed mine cut too so, after Tony was done, the barber escorted me to a ladies’ hairdresser five minutes walk away – mine cost £5 with a tip. We also wanted to revisit a little spice shop in one of the back streets of Zagora. We couldn’t remember exactly where it was so someone was sent to guide us. We bought cumin, sweet paprika and “res el hanout” a spice mixture Tony used, plus a supply of cosmetic argon oil for me. When we returned to the camp site that evening Himi had already heard about our haircuts and that we had we visited the spice shop. Glad we hadn’t been doing anything naughty!

Morocco was a demographically young country with 42% of its population under 25. Many of the Moroccans we met had four or five children and the generation above had twice that number. At about 1pm on school days we noticed that the streets of Zagora filled with hordes of satchel bearing youngsters, filling the pavements and spilling out into the road. More youngsters were riding bicycles, two or three abreast on the already busy roads. We were surprised to see so many children and were told that school children were divided into two groups – one lot went to school in the morning and the other group attended in the afternoons and it was changeover time between 1 and 2 pm.

Entrance to Himi’s Camp Site – a ten minute drive from the centre of Zagora
Guests could stay in a bedroom under canvas
We found a shady corner for the truck under the date palms

Through the Wilderness to Zagora

We drove towards Zagora, sixty miles to the south east. There was very little traffic on the highway, we travelled through barren landscapes with just the occasional herd of camels to keep us company. We saw areas where water courses had flooded across the road due to the recent rain. The road margins were occasionally damaged but the road was passable and we reached Zagora after three hours travelling.

The Road Tazzarine to Zagora
Camping Auberge Palmeraie D’Amezrou 

It was a pleasure to come back to the camp site where we always stayed when visiting Zagora. It was owned by Himi and his family. He greeted us with a big smile and a tray of tea and we arranged to have dinner in his restaurant that evening – salad, lamb chops, chips and a bottle of Moroccan red wine. It was an extravagant meal compared with our usual fare and oh! so enjoyable. The wine cost £10 and the food another £20.

Himi sat with us for ten seconds while this photo was taken, then he went off to cook our lamp chops
We were here 🔵 in Zagora

And Then It Rained . . .

After the rain everything looked greener and the sand dunes felt more solid, less sandy underfoot

I suppose we didn’t really expect it to rain in the Sahara and we were sorely challenged when we had a whole day of much-needed precipitation. The dust and sand underfoot mutated into a gloopy mess that squelched up over our shoes and eventually turned into a thick pad of compacted mud beneath our soles. When it dried it resembled concrete and had to be carefully chipped off the bottom of our shoes. Our door mat and steps were covered in debris and the truck was filthy inside as well as out. We called in at an adjacent hotel for coffee (and to discover their wifi password) and we left an embarrassing trail of muddy footprints as we crossed their tiled Reception area.

The next day we stopped for a coffee at a fuel station and had a truck wash – 15 minutes with a pressure hose, cost £4

Erg Chebbi

Our errant washing line – back in action at Erg Chebbi

We drove south from Meski to the Sahara Desert and stopped near the Algerian border by the dunes at Erg Chebbi. The town of Merzouga was the local tourist centre where you could take a 4×4 tour of the area or a camel ride into the desert to spend the night at a Berber encampment and watch the sun rise over the dunes. Or you could hire a dune buggy and noisily travel up to the top of the highest dune, 150 metres above the rocky desert floor and watch the sunset.

Tony tending the fire ready for the lamb chops

Us? We chose to sit by our fire at the end of the day and watch the visitors climb up the dunes, looking like scurrying black ants against the rich ochre of the sand. Later, when our fire was reduced to embers, we would cook lamb chops for our supper.

Moonrise
Erg Chebbi
Sunset Camel Ride