1 Jan 06 (Bob)
De Gata - On the weekend Micael and Ligia took us for a drive to
one of their favorite spots, Cabo De Gata (Cape of the Cat) a
wilderness 'reserve' east of Almeria. We put the reserve
in quotes because parts of it are covered in plastic - these are
illegal farms where the owners pay a small fine whenever the rangers
demand it, otherwise they continue operations as usual. The
salt flats have flamingos, ducks, and a myriad of other waterfowl
and the coastline is pretty. We had a great outing.
New Year's in Aguadulce - We had a quiet
evening with Micael and Ligia, sipping the local bubbly,cava - the
Spanish equivalent to champagne, and popping
party poppers or pseudo-fireworks, while the local kids set off real firecrackers and
rockets outside. Overall our welcome to 2006 was quite
low-key. One of the highlights of our visit has been the
nightly movie at Micael's Cinema as we select our
daily title from our host's 900+ collection of DVDs and VCDs and
settle back with a glass of wine to view the latest from the world
Preparing to go further South - We have
decided to give Morocco a try, so we are almost in cruising mode as
we plan our route, stock up on provisions, decide what spares to
take, and read other people's accounts. We plan to cross the
Mediterranean near Gibraltar, tour Morocco for about 3 weeks and
return in time to visit forlorn Long Passages in Italy
in February. Much of Bob's spare time was occupied getting our
iPaq to talk to its dedicated GPS and soliciting Micael's help in
downloading road and topographic maps of Morocco. These maps, now
that they are calibrated, will be used to track our position as we
explore small villages near the Sahara desert.
Whiling Away The Winter in Southern Spain -
After 2 weeks along the coast, we can see why so many Britons and
Germans escape the cold and snow to bask in the sun of southern
Spain. In the 10 days we have been here it has been sunny
every day and even though the temperatures have dipped into the 40's
at night it is normally near 60 during the day.
Mike in Galle, Sri Lanka back in Business -
When we sailed from Thailand to Sri Lanka in 2003, we landed in
Galle, Sri Lanka and met Mike who, with his brother, runs a small
business helping cruisers with provisions, internet, and tours.
He was very honest and we enjoyed meeting him very much. When
the tsunami hit Galle in 2004, he and his family survived, but his
business suffered severe losses and we were glad to have been able
to provide some assistance to help him get his business going again.
A few weeks ago we received the following email from him:
Hi Bob & Judi,
So how are you? I think you and your family are well.
first of all i would like to thank you to help me after tsunami
effect.now we are rebuild our bussines from your help. now
every thing is o.k.galle habour also now in good condition.so now
you can come to sri lanka again.please kindly pass this message to
your other friends also. marry X'mas & Happy New year to your
Best wishes from mike .
So those cruisers heading to the Red Sea, East Africa or even Chagos,
Galle and Mike are back in business.
8 Jan 06 (Bob)
Yacht Spotting - On our final provisioning run to Gibraltar we
spotted a familiar yacht anchored near the runway, and sure enough
it was Herodotus, our companion in the Indian Ocean and Red
Sea in 2003 and last seen in Turkey. Peter was preparing to
cross the Atlantic to St. Lucia while Susie and Melenion attended to
scholastic matters in Australia. We wished him a Bon Voyage!
Another Week, Another Ferry - By mid-week we were stocked up,
oil changed in the van, and psyched up to tackle a new country.
The Trasmediteranea ferry left at 0800, so we were up at 0615, in a
queue by 0700. At 0801 the ferry crew threw off its lines and
we left with 50 vehicles, on a fast ferry that could have carried
500! Many of our companions were caravans and motor-homes - so
we knew we would not be alone on the highways. The ferry runs
four times per day between Algeciras (across the bay from
Gibraltar) to Ceuta, a Spanish enclave in Morocco slightly
larger than a ferry port.
Check-In To Morocco - In Spain, there are
no road signs leading to Gibraltar until one is about 2 miles away -
presumably Spain would prefer to forget that Britain has a chunk of
their land. In Ceuta it was similar, there were no signs
leading to the border with Morocco; we had to follow our instincts
to find the border crossing. The final km was a desolate,
stretch with high fences to keep the countries at arm's length.
Once at the border we joined the queue, and watched indifferent
officials slowly review passports and application forms and punch
computer keys as they spent 15 minutes on each vehicle (we did see a
few covert bills change hands - that seemed to speed those vehicles'
passage). After 1 1/2 hours we finally cleared and were headed
south along the Moroccan Mediterranean sea, as blue as any we have
seen, with good roads and the occasional marina.
Morocco Countryside -
We passed through Tetouan and turned west, across rolling
green fields to the Tangiers-Casablanca motorway where we turned
south to follow the Atlantic coast-line to Sale, near the
capital of Rabat. Some sights during our first couple of days:
- The roads were good, the fields large and
well-tended, and the traffic was well-behaved.
- In Sale, we stayed at Camping de la
Plage, a 0-star enterprise where the electricity went
off at random and the toilets do not bear describing.
- On the road out of Rabat we passed the Royal
Horse Track, with brightly uniformed guards.
- On day 2 we headed east, passing through
picturesque villages and more well-groomed farmland, reaching
- We stopped for lunch at a roadside
restaurant, and had excellent chicken brochette and warm bread.
Judi succumbed to carpet fever again as we acquired a very
reasonable Moroccan kilim.
- We had GPS coordinates for Camping Agdal,
but could not get any closer than about 1/2 mile due to the city
walls. Fatima, a very friendly Moroccan lady volunteered
to ride with us and show us the convoluted route to a pretty
spot inside the walls. There were 15 other campers already
there - we have no idea how they found it!
One of the largest cities in Morocco, it receives fewer visitors
than the big destinations of Casablanca, Tangiers, and Marrakesh -
but we have found it very interesting. The Medina, or
old city, is a 2 km walk from our site with many sights along the
- High city walls, sometimes double walls.
- The Royal Palace, and colorful gates leading
- Horse-drawn carriages that shuttle families
to and fro.
- Man-drawn wheelbarrows, loaded with sheep for
delivery to families - and piles of hay to keep them happy.
- Fruit and veggie markets with piles of fresh
tomatoes, herbs, carrots, and all manner of good stuff.
- Stalls with carpets, pottery, baskets,
charcoal briquettes, tea pots, hardware, and clothes of all
A French Destination - Around the caravan
park, we note that most license plates sport a big F
- standing for France, apparently the source of most campervan
visitors to Morocco. France was the last colonial master of
Morocco, and so most people in the streets and merchants make their
first greeting in French, before switching to English as they see a
questioning expression on our faces.
And A Lot Of Smiles - We have been
gratified so far by the friendliness of the Moroccans - they wave
hello on the roads, say hello on the streets, and generally have
been welcoming and courteous.
15 Jan 06 (Bob)
Feast of the Sacrifice - In Meknes we were surprised at the
number of sheep being carted around the streets. Finally it dawned
on us that the Feast of the Sacrifice (or Eid Al-Adha), the
yearly Muslim holiday that celebrates Abraham's willingness to
sacrifice his son for the love of God was upon us. All
families who can afford it buy a lamb, slaughter it (at 10 AM in
Morocco) and share the sheep among family, friends, and the poor.
Since we were not part of an extended Moroccan family for the Feast,
we took this day to go look at old rocks - in this case Volubilis,
a southern outpost of the Roman Empire. The city had been
established in pre-Roman times and reminded us of Delos, a
near Mykonos. It reached its peak around 200 AD with a
population of 20,000, in time to be part of the decline of the Roman
Empire. We spent several hours walking through the ruins,
looking at old houses, olive oil presses, mosaics of animals and
Herculean struggles, and finally several stork families who have set
up housekeeping on top of old columns. There is little control
of where tourists are allowed to go, yet house foundations and
exquisite mosaics survive from nearly 1800 years ago.
Azrou & Ifrane -
Meknes we continued south, climbing into the Middle Atlas mountain
range, finding snow (a lot more snow than we expected
in Africa) and more surprises. Near Azrou are dense cedar
forests including the
of Gouraud, reportedly over 800 years old, although we never
actually saw it and have a sneaking suspicion that it may have
fallen on hard times. Ifrane was the biggest surprise,
architecturally. Most of Morocco has concrete block housing or
adobe-like mud houses and are functional and plain. Ifrane is
an Alpine village and ski center with neat cream-colored houses and
A-frame red tiled roofs, wide streets, parks, and a very prosperous
look about it - we wish we had more time to stay and explore it.
Ten miles to the northeast are several lakes; we had lunch on Lac
Aqua where the local horsemen tried to entice us,
unsuccessfully, to gallop around the lake with them.
Midelt and a Berber Lunch - After crossing
the pass at 7000' the highway dropped to the plain between the
Middle and High Atlas where our goal for the day was the Timnay
Inter-Cultures Tourist Centre (aka caravan park). It was nice
but a little lonely at this time of year - we were the only
customers, quite a change from Meknes where there were 25-30 campers
each night. We decided to take an excursion around the
Cirque de Jaffar to experience:
- 3 hours of riding in a LandCruiser
through dry river beds, up steep tracks, and along canyon edges.
- A lunch stop with a Berber family who shared
their home; conversation was difficult as we speak no Berber and
little French - but we managed to communicate the basics.
- 3 hours of walking in mud and snow through a
spectacular canyon very much like King's Canyon in Australia.
Typical Berber home
Untypical fancy house
Berber family where we had lunch
Horse pen along the circuit
Said - our guide on the circuit
The Atlas - The center of Morocco features
three mountain ranges: the High Atlas, Middle Atlas, and Anti Atlas,
with plateaus between them - check the map above. They peak at
around 3700 meters (12,200') with barren rocky landscapes with
passes at around 2200 meters (7000') and occasional stand of cedars.
The Berber people (indigenous inhabitants of Morocco) often sport
facial tattoos, on forehead, nose, or chin, to correspond with the
mountain of their birth. We have crossed the Middle and High
Atlas and will tackle the Anti Atlas on our planned drive to
Coincidences(?) - We were crossing the High
Atlas on our way to Camping Tissirt, reportedly a nice spot in an
oasis, and at an overlook with a great view we decided to stop at an overlook for a photo op:
- In a conversation with a local, Rashid
who spoke very good English,
asked for a ride since we were going his way. We
agreed, although it has been our practice to NOT pick up
- Along the way, Rashid guided us through
Errachidia while telling us he operated a
tourist lodge near the Sahara, and also knew the manager of
Camping Tissirt, Hassan.
- 100 km later we again pulled over to take
more photos and Rashid spotted Hassan at the rest area, also
viewing the spectacular scenes of miles of the Ziz Valley.
- Hassan volunteered to lead us to Camping
Tissirt, a short 2 km away
- This has turned into a stroke of good luck
since our engine started leaking water and Hassan knew a local
mechanic who has come to the caravan park to diagnose the
problem and make repairs (see below).
Ziz Valley - We are currently encamped in
the Ziz Valley, a 1000' deep valley carved into the dry plateau by
the Ziz river. The valley bottom is thick with date palms and
houses whereas the plateau above is dry and rocky. The caravan
park is at the edge of this oasis, with palms all about us and
excellent shade in the summer.
Just Like Cruising - Cruising is often
described as Waiting for parts in Exotic Places - at
the moment our 'land-cruising' feels similar. The mechanic
confirmed our fear that the problem was our water pump - the
bearings were shot and it was leaking water and anti-freeze.
It took him 3 hours of convoluted effort to remove the old one - and
being Sunday, there was no replacement to be had in the area (we are
20 miles from the nearest towns). But he worked by the problem
and by 8 PM had located a Fiat pump in a town about 110 miles away,
so Monday would be devoted to picking it up and hopefully we will be
able to move by Tuesday. At the moment we are sleeping at an
angle with limited battery power - but it could have been much worse
- we could have been in Erg Chebbi with the Sahara all around us and
the nearest city 150 miles away!
22 Jan 06 (Bob)
Wait For Weather -
is the expression cruisers use while waiting for good
weather to move from place to place. In this case it was our
van repair that waited. By Monday afternoon the mechanics had
arrived with the sparkling new water pump - just at the same time as
the rain! They soldiered on for an hour or so, but finally the
cold rain and failing light became too much and they gave up and
called it a day. It rained all night and the next morning
brought the snow - so we were surrounded by deep mud and our
mechanic friends did not return until late Tuesday afternoon to
finish the job. By 5 PM all bits and pieces were back in place
and tested - no squirting water this time!
- We awoke Monday morning to heavy white stuff dropping from the
sky - here in Africa, in the desert!!! A local told us this
was the first time in 45 years it had snowed here - we are not sure
whether to be honored at the opportunity to witness it or not.
The snow melted within a few hours, but left deep mud in the caravan
park, and when we left on Wednesday we got stuck, and had to have a
tractor tow us up a steep hill to the highway.
Scammed - While in Erfoud we got caught in
a typical tourist scam - a youth snuck an old bicycle under our
front fender, out of view of the driver's seat, and when we pulled
away from the curb we ran over the bike. This caused the
youth and all of his buddies to raise hell and claim severe damage,
although I could see minor damage to the frame - probably old.
We negotiated a payment and went on our way, hopefully wiser and
more cautious, but it took the luster off of the friendly image of
Into the Sahara - Our goal for the week has
been Erg Chebbi, large red sand dunes on the NW edge of the Sahara -
and we made it mid-afternoon on Wednesday. The dunes are
stunning and we are parked within a few hundred feet of them - with
a camel herd between us and the hills. We have settled into Auberge
Tombouctou, a nice resort with some flat space for camper-vans.
We are parked outside of a toilet block, with power cords run
through a window plugged into the shaver outlet. We are planning a
camel trip into the dunes and a couple of days of relaxation before
28 Jan 06 (Bob)
so far - Three weeks into our tour of Morocco we feel we are on
the home stretch. After a week in the desert we have returned to
civilization in Marrakech, one of the ancient capitals of Morocco
and city with a beehive of activity. We have crossed
the Middle Atlas and High Atlas twice, driven through
bright sunshine, driving rain, and slippery snow and are looking
forward to a dry and peaceful drive to Ceuta next week and a smooth
crossing of the Straits to Spain.
Overnight in a Berber tent -
We had to do it - spend a night in the desert that is. We
hired a guide,
climbed onto a pair of camels and headed out into the sand dunes.
We followed well-used tracks for 2 hours to a small oasis, and
settled into a c-o-l-d tent. No chance of getting lost on this
trip, but it was fun and within 20 minutes of leaving our van we ere
surrounded by dunes, and needed tracks to know where to go.
Only two other visitors were at the camp (young couple from Miami).
The evening went quickly as we shared a bottle of wine, ate typical
Moroccan fare prepared by our guides, and joined with them on the
drums (they tried to get us to dance but no joy there). Early
the next day we re-traced our tracks, polished off breakfast and
enjoyed a hot shower. Only downside was a TOTAL lack of toilet
facilities at the camp - we made do as the nomads did in nature's
Todra and Dades Canyons -
After nearly a week in the desert we pulled up stakes and turned
north to a pair of canyons that have been carved out of the south
sides of the High Atlas mountains. Although they do not rival
the Grand Canyon, both canyons have high cliffs, magnificent
geological landscapes, and narrow roads that follow the rivers that
Marrakech - We had deliberately decided to
explore the countryside and desert rather than the big cities, but
decided to make an exception with Marrakesh - we would live in the
bowels of the city for 3 days! Picture this:
city center with snake charmers, fortune tellers, strolling
musicians, and aromatic nightly food stalls.
- Pedestrians, bicycles, motorcycles, donkey
carts, horse-drawn carriages, taxis, and wheelbarrows competing
for space in crowded, narrow streets with rarely an angry word
- Narrow alleys packed with leather bags,
spices, brass plates, ceramic pots, bright bolts of cloth, walls
of slippers, Arab robes, fine woodwork, jewelry, and antiques -
a bazaar to rival Istanbul's Grand Bazaar.
provides a snapshot of daily life in Marrakesh. We stayed at
the Riad Magi, a small hotel/pension a few steps from the
bazaar with 6 rooms, but only a few customers this time of the year.
We used the central location to visit the nearby Marrakesh museum, a
beautiful old palace as well as walk to the new town. Our
spirits were 'dampened' each day by rain, but it is still an