We woke at 3am, jumped into our car packed with a makeshift tent, enough water to survive a week, tools, spades and digestive biscuits - just in case hunger strikes! We drove down in the dark to the port of Algeciras (Spain) to check in for our boat two hours early as advised! Apart from a few shady characters - no one else was there including the staff that were supposed to be checking us in! Anyway about 15 minutes after our ferry was due to leave the staff turned up and we drive aboard. Our crossing lasts an hour and a half with the sun rising beautifully behind the rock of Gibraltar as we do so making up for the lost hours of sleep!
We arrive at the Port of Ceuta (the Spanish enclave to the north of Morocco) and drive on a mile or so before reaching the Moroccan border. Here the fun begins! We were warned about the bureaucracy at the border where you have to get your passport stamps and import the car and were advised to slip a five euro note to a kind man to help us through less stressfully. After sourcing a trustworthy looking gentleman in the huge crowd we gave him a tip and he offered us help - he advised us to drive down the queue further and we could go from there. We never saw him again but for another fifteen euros we found two other men (who generally were very helpful) and after nearly an hour of paperwork, a young driver crashing straight into the side of our car and about fifteen different police offices checking and re checking our papers on the twenty five meters to the border gates - we were finally in Morocco!
The first 50km of our journey were not so inspiring. Commercial towns and dumps of rubbish the size of many football pitches lined the roads with litter spread like a multi coloured carpet for miles around - and the smell! Had I picked the wrong route? I'm sure the book said this road was amazing!
After leaving the 30km of toll dual carriageway we entered onto a more 'modest' road that along with the amount of lorries and vans overloaded with cargo and people doing no more then 25km an hour and far less up hills - I suddenly wondered how long our 460km journey to Meknes would take!
With the time going back an hour we were doing well for time and decided to stop off in Chefchaouen for lunch as planned. This is an amazing little market town high up in the mountains that lined our route. We entered the maze of streets painted in beautiful shades of blue and were soon picked out of the crowds by an English speaking Moroccan and taken to visit his factory. I knew this wasn't going to be a quick visit but after being sat down in his sun sheltered den of (many many) carpets and being welcomed with some surprisingly delicious mint tea we looked with much interest at the amazing craftsmanship and stories behind these rugs. After an hour and £150 spent on a rug bargained down from £480 (who knows if that's a good deal but it is beautiful) we headed off in the 38 degree heat back to our car and decided to drive on a little further to find lunch as the road ahead was still long (very long!)
The town of Chefchouen, Morocco.
We descended back down the mountain to the road ahead and everything was different! I don't know if the morning roads are more busy or if we had just reached the end of the rat run but we proceeded onto a much quieter road and the landscape we realised after our refreshment was beautiful. The road snaked through the countryside alongside the meandering rivers that leave the Atlas Mountains. At first these rivers were empty but as we headed south they became like bright blue veins in the hard parched land. We drove through mountains and Gorges then through vast plains. We stopped for petrol in the middle of nowhere, worried this may be our only chance and satisfied our hunger at the same time with a Tagine they were selling on the roadside next door. It was the best lamb dish I have tasted and this morning I look forward to finding something similar for lunch along our journey too!
Images from the road from Tetouan to Chefchouen, Morocco.
We carried on through the breath taking landscape of vastness followed by a small roadside market town then opening out again into huge farming landscapes before the process repeats again! The fields are farmed by men, women and donkeys and the odd tractor with a plough but with little logical strategy and no idea yet of the benefit of ploughing in a straight line! Instead these furrows meander as hectically as the rivers! I think modern machinery is still quite new here - it also seems to take at least five people to drive each tractor - or maybe they just find them too lonely in comparison to their traditional techniques?
We finally reach Meknes at 5pm. We freshened up with some mint tea and a dunk in our rooftop pool (accompanied by baby tortoises) and went off to explore the Medina.
Meknes has 25km of sandy coloured walls around the Medina that glowed like gold at sunset. We explored the many tiny streets selling vegetables, meats, threads and beautiful silks before taking a seat at a cafe in the main square for dinner and a fruit juice. We sat here and watched the whole world enter the square with people playing music and crowds surrounding magicians before heading back to our calm hotel in the middle of the medina for some well earned sleep!
Today I think is going to be the most exciting day! As long as our car remains in tact on the crazy street we abandoned it on last night!
Bye for now!
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