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Camel World  




Travel Diary - 2003
5 January | Senegal
22 January |Gambia
18 January |Guinea
9 February | Mali
22 February | Burkina Faso
3 March | Ghana
19 March | Togo
20 March | Benin
25 March | Niger
12 April | Chad
15 April | Cameroon
16 April | Nigeria
30 April | Congo
24 May | RDC
31 May | Angola
5 June | Namibia
27 June | South Africa
30 August | Lesotho
10 September | Swaziland
9 October | Botswana
17 October | Namibia
19 October |
29 October | Malawi
4 November |Mozambique
16 November | Tanzania
12 December | Rwanda
16 December | RDC
18 December | Uganda
24 December | Kenya

Travel Diary - 2004
9 January | Ethiopia
6 February | Sudan
21 February | Saudi Arabia
23 February | Jordan
3 March | Syria
5 March | Turkey
12 March | Greece
21 March | ...And Home


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17 months, 43 countries, and 2 vehicles


Morocco, Continued

From Rabat we headed towards the High Atlas, via Marrakesh with the metal box and tent successfully mounted on the Camel.

Marrakesh has something of a reputation for hassle, and after Fez we entered town with a little trepidation, however the town has worked hard on getting the touts to toe the line, and we found it to be a refreshing and well developed city; the trouble was that by now we had had enough of cities, so after a single evening of sight-seeing we headed

At last we were able to leave the well beaten tourist traps and take the lesser travelled pistes, weaving through the mountains, past crumbling red mud kasbahs, and villages clinging to the mountainsides. We stopped for the night at an auberge in Telouet where we were able to look around one such crumbling kasbah - this one had been a royal palace as recently as the sixties, but was now slowly dissolving before our very eyes.

The piste continued towards Ait-Benhaddou, at times giving us dramatic views across the valley - which we were trying to avoid dropping the car into as it really was a long way down in places. At one mountain pass we paused for a break and the inevitable tourist trash seller took great pleasure in telling us how some tourist had recently fallen to her death from where we stood.

By the time we rejoined the tarmac it was something of a relief to be on level ground once again. We continued on past Ouarzezate towards the Dades gorge, spending a night in a beautifully placed (but bitterly cold) hotel. We had intended to cross to the East to join the Todra gorge, as the map showed a piste, but we failed miserably to negotiate the rocky terrain, and eventually we had to admit defeat and retrace our tracks back to the gorge entrance.

With time now running out, and Richard waiting somewhere to the South we decided to make as good time as possible South - to be truthful I think that by now we were both chilled to the bone and wanted to get to warmer latitudes, so it was a fast run West to Tan Tan, then Laayoune, and on to Dakhla. Writing this some five month later I remember a blur of places - and many long days of driving well past dusk. There are many pleasant snippets that these pages cannot include in detail - the Italians in two 110 Defenders who were taking well drilling kit to Benin in three weeks - the man and the monkey near Dakhla who proved to be the subject of my favourite photo of the trip - the land rover graveyard - all seemed to pass by in a blur.

Dakhla is an awful place - too hot, too bright, too dusty, with a truly bad camp site - but it has one redeeming asset - a great four star hotel (with a Christmas tree). Throwing caution and budget to the wind I checked us in for Christmas, and on Christmas evening we sat down to tradition English  Christmas pudding with whipped cream - delicious (and it lasted me to Dakar too).

Refreshed once again, we set out for the border, stopping along the way to pick up some drift wood for the evenings camp fire. It was here that I found the famous message in the bottle - it had travelled well over 1000km form Agadir in a couple of months as I later found out via email from the senders who were delighted to hear that it had turned up.

We arrived at the Mauritanian border in the late afternoon, but some minor irregularity with the dates on my paperwork meant that we would have to camp the night there while the Moroccans sorted themselves out. I hate borders - they attract all sort of unsavoury people and given the choice I would have camped back down the road - however Western Sahara in not exactly well policed so we decided to stay by the fly-blown border post for the night. We were joined by Roger and Bernard, two Swissies  who were driving an old Range Rover down to Dakar, and over a glass of whisky we quickly made two good friends, as travellers do; they were to prove very useful travelling companions over the next few days as they had a wealth of experience with the route ahead.


We're Getting a metal box fabricated for the top of the car in Rabat (we've got a lot less storage than in Mandy as Discovery's are designed for merchant bankers' wives who want to look hard on the school run, then we spend a few days freezing our butts off in the High Atlas before rushing south to defrost and hopefully to enter Mauri in 10 days.


Casablanca, 10/12/02

I like Casa – it’s a mass of small highly entrepreneurial shops that actually make things, or at least stock stuff that is useful. It’s far removed from the processed products of Europe – everything here is available in component form which instantly appeals to my DIY sense of possibility.

The Camel is safely parked up in the local Land rover garage, and will stay there until tomorrow evening, at which time I’ll carefully check her for scratches, and get Ahmed to clean her as he still owes me 20 Dirham from my payment last time, when he failed miserably to live up to his commitment.

The main event of the day if you ignore forays into electrical shops to satisfy my solar electricity needs, was a visit to Hassan II mosque, the second largest apparently in the world, and a mightily impressive edifice it is too. Roxana and I almost passed up on the entrance fee which at 100DH a head represented a massive investment on culture that might otherwise be spent on electrical components. The guides however persuaded us that we could pass for students, and we entered with a group of some 50 or so French people who had arrived by coach.

Without being there yourself it’s hard for me to describe the sheer scale and intricacy of the Mosque – it was built in only a few years using skills that had first to be revived among the artisan population of Morocco. Details of the thousands of labourers and millions of tonnes of material were skilfully relayed to the group by an excellent guide by the name of Fatima whose French was far better than mine, hence my vague knowledge of the finer intricacies of the construction. This wasn’t a drawback for me at all as I was busy enjoying the grandeur of the building itself, which is something that easily transcends language.

The marble floor was, I hope, heated from below. I say hope because as we entered we naturally removed our footwear. Now I know there’s a lot of rubbish spoken about the French, and I’m sure that they aren’t really the lowest consumers of soap per capita in the developed world, but I promise you that the only thing less pleasant than the smell of 100 French feet was the thought that the reason you had just stepped onto a warm patch of marble was because it had recently been occupied  and gently warmed by said feet. Regardless of the truth, the tour became a cunning game of manoeuvre and counter manoeuvre as, in a direct reversal of the practice of skilled hunters, we attempted to keep upwind of the herd.

As anybody who has more than a passing knowledge of Islam will know, washing is an integral part of the ritual of prayer, and it’s a ritual which appeals to me greatly. In Christianity there are a number of parallels along this theme, but for some reason personal hygiene was a largely neglected theme until Victorian times, when it was thought necessary to introduce the concept that cleanliness is next to godliness, except, it appears, in France.

Thus what is evidently a poorly tacked on addition in Christianity is in Islam a fundamental part of the ritual of prayer, and the facilities for bathing in the mosque were suitably befitting of such a regal edifice. Hassan II mosque provides not only the ornate marble fountains for pre-prayer ablutions, but also more practical taps and troughs for use on non ceremonial occasions, but the piece de resistance is a phenomenal complex of traditional baths, or ahmmam beneath the mosque complex itself, which were unfortunately not yet in use. Roxana and I fell in love with the scale and ambience of these rooms, and immediately determined to set up a complex of ahmmams on our return to Europe. The French, however, merely seemed bemused by the whole concept, and so we left them and ascended into the clean fresh air of Casablanca.


Fez, 05/12/02

The drive south from Chefchouen to Fez offers two possibilities – to the West lies the easy route of through Ouezzane, while to the East the mountainous road through Ketama, the hash capital of Morocco, beckons.

Needless to say I took the less well travelled path, and I’d recommend this route to anybody with an adventurous disposition or a love of hashish.

What I remember best about the drive were the changes of scenery, the massive outcrops of rock piercing the pains and valleys, but above all the four hundred and twenty six men and boys who selflessly flung themselves in front of the Camel in some strangely suicidal ritual of hare Kari and hashish salesmanship.

Everybody, and I really mean everybody, except curiously the women, was at it; old men, pubescent goat herds, even kiddies gesturing from their mothers’ backs. It seems that in the Rif Mountains you learn to sell hash at about the same time as walking begins to appeal. And the sales technique involved a cunning combination of timing and bravado where the adept hurls himself at an approaching car at exactly the same time as the narrow oncoming lane is blocked by an van packed to twice it’s height with live chickens, goats, or something else that’s likely to make you, probably for the first time in your life, wonder what happens when a solids land rover hits a flimsy van full of livestock, and weather the emergency services, if any, in the area are trained to treat the livestock or the humans first (or in a particularly bad accident whether they are even trained to tell them apart),

It was only by the grace of god that we arrived at Fez unscathed, and I began to understand why travel plans are in the Arab world are always qualified with Imsh’Allah – if Allah wills it….

Along the way, as travellers do, we bumped into a Brit by the name of Carl who was on a large BMW trial bike with an unfeasible amount of laundry. We turned our meet into a brief lunch stop in a lay by, where we tried at first to keep our food out of sight of the passing locals (we were still in Ramadan), until inevitably, after three minutes our lay by was invaded by a succession of ever more hopeful hashish salesman. Why they persist so escapes me – do they not realise that we had already had two hundred and thirteen people already offer their wares to us, and that we would also meet another two hundred and thirteen people with the same ideal on our continuing journey? Why couldn’t somebody offer us something useful, like say, hot-dogs or a good back massage? At least the hassle was well mannered, and we were able to set off without anything more serious that a few offers to come home and see carpet factories…

And so it was that we arrived in Fez, circled the city four times, and eventually found the campsite. It was a barren campsite, and until Carl joined us about an hour later (he got ‘lost’) it was only us, a French couple, and a dog that adopted us for the night.

Perhaps the ominously cold weather was an omen to our experiences in Fez, and it had to be said that the city is a favourite with many; however our experiences were less than pleasant. 


Tetouan was a great introduction to the medina, and Chefchouen was fantastic - but the altitude meant we were getting cold at night (even me, snug in my roof tent under my duvet with my three pillows). Fez was probably great but after getting hassled by touts we left earlier than planned for a tour of the Rif, where all the hashish comes from, and where everybody above the age of six is a dealer...

The scenery was amazing especially as we entered the Moyen Atlas range, and the people were almost all really friendly; the poverty up in the mountains is pretty sobering, but I'm sure it's nothing compared to what we'll see later.

From Kenifra we drove down to Casablanca through increasingly affluent countryside - Casa is a big dirty city but strangely enough I'm loving it as it has loads of small shops packed with interesting crap. The truck turned up at the same time as us - we're quickly getting to know loads of people who are on the same route.