Friday 26th January
We leave Tassamine and head to Mergouza. We want to visit the sand dunes in Erg Chebbi which are much higher than Erb Chigiga. The dunes at Erb Chebbi dunes are 150 metres high. Again it’s a straight road all the way. Along the way a group of lads of about 13 line themselves across the road in an attempt to stop us, try stopping 3.85 tons boys good luck with that, they soon scarper when they realise we’re not slowing down or stopping. Next 2 lads on motorbikes are stopped at the side of the road, as we approach one runs across the road holding a yellow bottle, we stop believing he might want a lift to the petrol station, but he wants water! We give him a 5 litre bottle of water which we topped up from the last campsite then he asks if we have any gateaux, no we don’t, he laughs trying his luck and we get on our way. Next two hitchhikers going the other way flag us down, they also want water, so we fill their bottles. We’re not stopping for anyone else.
We get to Mergouza and find the campsite but it’s full to the brim with the French, as we leave we are accosted by a local on a pushbike he wants us to go to his campsite, no matter what we say to him he just won’t bugger off, so we say ok we’ll come to yours. He gets on his bike to show us the way, we overtake him and go to a campsite that’s been recommended Haven Auberge La Chance, we can see this guy chasing after us until we pass through the gates lol.
When we stop we noticed one of the small side panels on Eugene is hanging loose, we must had caught it on something. Keith has a look to find the plastic retaining clip has snapped off, nothing to serious and he’ll see to it later.
The campsite is right on the edge of the dunes, there’s not many campers here and we find a spot near the top of the site overlooking the dunes. It’s fantastic, the light is bouncing off the dunes they look magical. The campsite has a swimming pool it’s not heated and it’s freezing. The host has invited us for a cup of mint tea so he can give us the spiel on the tours into the desert. The tour will take us round the dunes, to the Berber village and to a village of black people to see how they live! We decline the offer of any trips mainly because we’ve already had a good trip, see a village of black people (we’re not understanding this part) and the prices he gave us were extortionate. We also decline the electricity because it’s a plug socket hanging from a twig in the middle of the pitch lol.
We take a walk over the dunes but we’re soon disappointed with the whole thing. It’s been utterly spoilt by the lack of care, noisy quad bikes tearing around, large 4DW tracks marked out through the dunes, the litter, the amount of camels and people it was the total opposite to Erb Chebbi where we’d been a few days before. There are loads concrete water towers and electricity cables laid all over the dunes, I know they need to get the water and power but the way it’s been done is dreadful the cables laid across the sand partially buried. We sit at the top of one of the dunes kicking the edge of a dune watching the sand run down like water, quite intriguing watching the pattern develop, we have a game to see whose sand can get to the bottom first, mine because I give it a bigger kick, lol.
The wind had picked up and with my eye tapped up I don’t want my good eye irritated by the sand, there’s lots of mini dust devils circling around and the sand hurts when it whips your legs and face. Unfortunately by the time we get back to Eugene we realise we’d left the windows open, big mistake everything is covered in sand we don’t have a dyson so it’s here to stay for the duration. It’s only 3pm but it’s so windy and it’s got really cold we have no option but to stay inside.
We hadn’t realised when we’d parked up but we were next to Guido and Geli our German friends, so another quick catch up. Guido had found a dead scorpion which is quite big we take photos of and send it to Hollie telling her it’s for our tea lol.
Saturday 27 January
It was a long night the wind was relentless and we were sure the wind would have stripped the paint off the side of Eugene. The campsite host calls round early with bread, saves us a trip to the shop. Keith manages to fix the loose panel. The wind is still wild so decide to set off to Source Bleue De Meski.
The road is pretty good all the way, a few of the usual divisions around the men working on the road, but what’s new we’re getting used to this now.
We decide against staying in the bigger municipal campsite and opt to stay in the garden of the Auberge De Vieux Ksar. The owner Zaid says we can park in the garden for 30 dhm or 40 with electricity or we can go in the carpark opposite for 20 dhm, there’s already 2 French motorhomes parked there so we opt for the garden. He seems pleasant enough and offers to let us join the French campers on a trip to the Kasbah later this afternoon but we decline his offer of 40dhm per person, we want to go ourselves.
We get settled then head into town. There’s lots of people around and the kids are playing football until they see us. A couple of the kids try their luck wanting us to give them money which is a no but they follow us constantly asking they soon get the message when we ignore them and they head off the way they’d come empty handed. We find a shop to stock up on veg for tea. We get a coffee from the cafe at the front of the campsite, it’s in a good location at the end of town and the bus stop is nearby. We spend the next hour watching the people get off the bus not with bags but sack loads shopping. We have a giggle when this little kid about 6 years old comes charging round the corner on a donkey like he’s riding in a wild west movie, it was so funny.
We decide to take a walk to the Kasbah, it’s on the other side of the gorge and doesn’t look that far. We walk about a mile and see no end to the gorge and sky is turning dark with huge snow clouds and it’s getting cold we’ve come out in shorts and t-shirts, so we call it a day and head back to camp.
We do manage to get some sleep but there’s dogs outside the walls of the garden which are howling non-stop for about 2 hours. We hardly ever see dogs in the day, where do they all come from late evening to early morning, a phenomenon unexplainable. What the hell kicks them off it’s a feature of this trip and one we most certainly can’t wait to hear the last of.
Sunday 28 January
We have a good shower with lots of hot water before we head off to the Kasbah on our pushangs. The gorge is way bigger than we anticipated and we cycle for about 4 miles before we eventually come to the walls. The Kasbah is a type of walled fort with a town inside the walls. The Kasbah looks pretty impressive from the campsite but when we reach it it’s falling down, literary. We don’t know how to get in so scramble over the stone walls which have fallen down. Inside the walls it’s a maze of rooms and corridors. We have to be careful clambering over the stones as we make our way through the ruins a lean on the wall could see it come tumbling down. The whole thing is made from mud, straw and stones, it is very impressive even in this sorry state and in its day would have been magnificent. But it’s such a shame that it’s been left in this condition a few more years of wind and rain and it will be completely lost forever.
We decide not to go back the way we came the end of the gorge must just be round the corner, maybe it’s round the next corner, we give up and end up using our town bikes as mountain bikes as we clamber down the side of the gorge into the valley which results in my tyre bursting. We get to the bottom of the gorge and have absolutely no idea which way we are supposed to be going, we push our bikes through the irrigation channels, over the freshly dug water trenches and through thick planting. We can hear voices so follow the sound. We come to the river where there are about 20 women standing in the freezing water doing their washing. We stop, they stop and we’re all looking at each other, I desperately want to photograph this but with all eyes staring at us if they see me take a photograph they might all want money for the privilege. Keith decides the water is too deep for us to cross, we don’t want to get our feet wet do we, so we turn back. Eventually after an hour we find our way out.
The weather has turned really cold and it looks like it might snow, there’s nothing much to see in the town so we decide to move on. The host is a little annoyed that we’re going and wants us to stay another night, but we tell him we have to go. He now wants 60dhm for the night instead of the 30dhm he told us yesterday, at the end of the day it’s only £5 the showers were good so we pay and leave, but not before he asks if we have anything that we want to sell, mobile phones, shoes or something for his children.
We want to drive to the Todra Gorge so we head to Tinghir. The drive is stunning, good roads and lots of mountains with snow on the tops! We stop for lunch along the road and have a great view of the High Atlas mountain range, it’s stunning but the snow clouds are getting fluffier, darker and we seem to be heading in their direction. As we near the town of Tinghir we are really disappointed to see the amount of rubbish, especially plastic bags and bottles all over the wasteland right up to the entrance of the town which really spoils the look of this absolutely stunning town. The town is nestled deep in the valley, the houses painted light shades of blue and orange mixed with the red mud colour it’s beautiful.
We find the campsite which is at the end of town. Camping Soleil, the only other vehicle here is a small red van. It’s freezing so we put the heating on but the electricity is only 6amp so we can’t have it on full blast so we sit with our blankets on to watch a film and get settled for the night. I wake up about 2am and take a look outside it’s been snowing heavily and the trees and ground are covered in about 4 inches of snow, I’m quite excited about the snow, but Keith isn’t.
Monday 29th January
By the morning it’s clear we won’t be able to go anywhere today, so we have a duvet day and stay in bed until 11am. It’s too cold for a shower or even a wash for that matter. We notice that most of the trees in the campsite have either snapped in half or or bending over with the weight of the snow, glad we didn’t park under the trees. We wrap up warm and take a walk outside the campsite to see if we can buy any bread. Some locals tell us we have to walk 2km if we want bread, we’ll do without. Some of the local kids are outside playing in the snow, no coats, crocs on their feet without any socks they must be freezing.
We head back to the campsite and decide to have something to eat in the restaurant. They’ve got a log fire going and the guy from the red van is in there. We all introduce ourselves he’s Dutch, speaks English and like us he had hoped to move on today but decided against it. We sit chatting for a couple of hours and have lunch together. We spend the rest of the afternoon sitting in Eugene reading and we watched another film, thank goodness Glenn downloaded loads of films for us.
Tuesday 30 January
We decide the snow has melted enough for us to move on, and it was warm enough for us to brave having a shower. Before we leave the campsite I help myself to some oranges growing on the site, they’re a little sour but mixed with hot water will be a great source of vitamin C to ward off any colds we might pick up.
We head up the road to the Todra Gorge. We’re not sure what to expect but the police are at the entrance to the gorge and not the only vehicle allowed through was a tractor which we assume was being used as a snow plough. We wrap up warm, hats, scarves and gloves because it’s started to snow again and take a walk up the gorge. There are bus loads of visitors mainly excited Japanese tourists doing all sorts of poses for their photos and making quite a bit of noise which echos through the gorge. We were quite underwhelmed by the gorge, we’ve been to other gorges which in our opinion are more spectacular, but we walk along for about half an hour until the snow gets to heavy and we have to go back to Eugene. We are surprised that we’ve been able to park for so long without a fluorescent guardian appearing wanting payment this is a first for us.
We head off back towards Tinghir and head to the Dades Gorge, we’re not sure if we can drive to the top of the gorge because of the snow but we’ll make our mind up when we get nearer. The drive is good not to much traffic and the road is generally in good condition. There are spectacular mountains on both sides covered with snow with the villages nestled in between. Because everything is wet the houses look fantastic the colours brighter, the mountains redder and the palmaries greener, it’s stunning and the photos taken through a wet and dirty windscreen just doesn’t do it justice.
The climb up the Dades gorge is a steep climb, hairpin bends, tiny barrier walls with small campervan-shaped gaps in them…it was unnerving, the snow was piled high on either side of the road, not cleared enough for 2 vehicles to pass let along Eugene and something else, but oh yes we turned wide into the hairpin just as a taxi came hurtling round the bend in the opposite direction. The taxi pulled over to its own side of the road and we were pushed over towards the pile of snow with our heavy rear wheels spinning on the ice foot to the floor and breath we mange to get round. Keith’s not sure he wants to go any further, well if you can turn this big boy round here go for it, but I’ll just jump out and walk back down.
At the top we consider our options; the road does go on further but descends and then deteriorates and instead of going on much further we decide that we’ll stop for a coffee at the restaurant and head back down. We’re are able to turn around in the road, we can’t use the empty carpark because the snow is too deep. The restaurant overlooks the pass and is in a prime position with tables peering over the edge with spectacular views. Unfortunately the restaurant is closed and we’re the only ones here. We understand that someone is usually at the restaurant to take a photo of your motorhome coming up the valley, but never mind we’ve also heard the coffee is also expensive so we’ve saved a few quid. The trip down was just as nerve racking, but we had a van in front so it helped to clear the way for us.
One of the good things about Morocco is the quite spectacular and at times stunning landscapes we have passed through and this weeks travels have been no exception, absolutely stunning.
We spend the night at Camping Skoura Amadil. There’s a few vans here but the place is like a mud bath from the recent rain and snow. The host Abdullah shows us where to park where the ground is firmer. Abdullah invites us to join him for tea in the restaurant which we accept. His English is as good as our French and he’s a really happy chap makes jokes (which we don’t quite understand) and he laughs all the time. He’s really excited to show us the swimming pool, it’s not cold for you he says, oh we think it is as Keith dips his fingers in they come out with icicles on them. He tries to sell us a tour with him as the guide. Skoura has some pretty impressive Kasbah’s he tells us but we’ll think about it. But each time he says something Keith and I have a conversation to work out what he is saying. He asks our names, Keith, he rolls about laughing and makes a smoking action, obviously thinks Keith is called cannabis and every time he says Kieth he rolls about laughing. Then the conversation gets a bit wired with both sides miss understanding what the other is saying. He tells us about the Allah ‘you know’ he says, yes we say ‘god’ ‘no’ he repeats looking at us strangely. After 5 minutes of hand gestures and more words we finally understand he’s talking about Hamman (which is like a bath, your skin gets scrubbed, then you get in a cold bath, then a hot room and finally a massage), but in the confusion we’ve nearly booked ourselves in for one tomorrow. Errr No!
Wednesday 31 January
We leave to head to Ouarzazate which is about an hour along the road. Ouarzazate is known as the “door of the desert” and is perched on the edge of the Sahara Desert just south of the High Atlas Mountain. We paid a visit to the Atlas Film Studio which was built in 1983 and is the largest film studio in the world, covering more than 322,000 square feet of desert and mountains and is located just outside Ouarzazate. Ouarzazate has served as a shooting location for Alexander the Great, Black Hawk Down, Kingdom of Heaven, Babel, The Mummy (1999), Star Wars (1977), The Living Daylights (1987), Martin Scorsese’s Kundun (1997), and many others, including Ridley Scott’s epic Gladiator (2000), starring Russell Crowe, and Body of Lies (2008) also starring Russell Crowe along with Leonardo DiCapri. We saw the Tibetan monastery used in the film Kundun, an airplane from The Jewel In The Nile, the bus from Prison Break season 5. The tour was 100dhm (£8) for the two of us with an English guide, if your a film buff like Keith you might consider it a good tour and well worth the money, but I was surprised by the state of disrepair of the sets. I’m not really a film person and not sure what I was expecting but having visited Universal Film Studios in Los Angeles a few years ago the Altas Film Studios was a world away from that.
We are camping at Camping Municipal Ouarzazate it’s a nice site although the showers in the new block are out of action there’s plenty of room. We take a walk up town and settle for a pizza in a local cafe. We order two pizzas and a plate of fries, not sure where the translation went wrong but no fries and I get mashed potatoes on my pizza?
We walk around part of the old town which is behind the Kasbar. The streets are narrow and houses very old made of mud and straw. We get accused by a local seller and before we know it we’re in his shop. The shop was full of spices, mixes of herbs and natural oils. The shop smells amazing and he gets us to sniff all the spices, herbs, creams, perfumes and whatever else was lurking in some of the jars. I make it clear we’re not buying anything, he seems ok with this until it’s time to leave when he tries to sell me 100 grames of cinnamon, I know I like cinnamon but what the heck am I going to do with 100 grames. In the end I settle for 30 grames for 15 dhm (£1.05) but he’s not satisfied with that and tries selling me curry power, peppermint, mint tea, we have to practically leave the shop with him still trying.
Ouarzazate is a big town the new and the old mixed together. The streets are busy with the usual cars, buses, trucks and donkeys all weaving their way around parked vehicles and pedestrians walking across the road. We watched in horror as a 4 year old boy on his own unsupervised and clearly on-one watching him cross 4 lanes of traffic whilst he was wearing roller skates I nearly had a heart attack when I looked up and saw him, then only 10 minutes later he appeared with his shoes on and run across the same 4 lanes of traffic running out behind a parked car, I couldn’t look, luckily for him this time luck was on his side as he skipped off along the pavement on the other side of the road without a care in the world.
Thanks for checking in
A la perchoine
Shirena and Keith