Friday, 4 December 2015

The Desert, Morocco

This would be our fifth week since leaving the UK. Time really has flown by and it certainly doesn't feel like it's been that long. The days and nights go so quickly, but I suppose it's like the saying goes, 'time flies when you are having fun!'

Well we headed off towards the desert and the unknown. It certainly wasn't as we expected with all kinds of different terrains awaiting us, not just sand as I naively expect. We drove up a large hill that gave us a beautiful view of where we had come from. Beautiful colours and shades of brown as far as the eye could see until we arrived in a town called Mhamid el-Ghizlane where we would meet the end of the road as you saw it on the map. Here is where we would venture in-land and experience the forever changing rewards Morocco was to through at us once again. 

Since we had left Marrakech we had not come across a supermarket and we were starting to worry about our food levels, well particularly lunch foods. We still have our rashons box which would come as a relief that night. We looked for shops in the town of Mhamid as we drove through, and decided to press on as we were getting waved down by every man, woman, child, donkey and camel trying to sell us all names of things and to part with our money. Children particularly wanting pens, then asking for Bon-bons(sweets) once they realised we had no pens. Rob mentioned that he had heard that children aren't able to attend school if they did not have a pen, so this was an important piece of kit to have. 

These small towns offered little hole in the wall shops where you could find random things like tea, out of date passata, sometimes Coca-Cola or very unhealthy looking luminous orange drinks (Rob's favourite of course, lol!), flat breads (which Moroccans pretty much have with every meal), different grains in sacks and some other strange bits that you couldn't really do anything with. Often we would come across stalls that sold fruit and vegetables, however you had to choose carefully and decide who had the fresher range. Driving down south and further into the hot desert meant that these stalls were becoming less and less. We had realised we should have stocked up in Marrakech, definitely a learning curve for the future. Stock up on the more luxurious things like cheese, yogurt, biscuits, wraps, etc. when we can!!

We didn't have to drive far before we came to our first small dunes. Well this only meant one thing...  we had to stop the cars and jump out to run on the dunes and feel the sand between our toes. This was something Charles and I were particularly over excited about and acted like little school children running around like crazies. Cat and Rob looked at us with bewilderment and puzzled by our behaviour, but Cat soon joined in and we were in heaven. Rob still had his trainers on, so in my eyes he  was missing out on great fun!

The boys decided to let down their tyres so our journey through the sand would be a little easier going. This would increase the surface area where the tyres met the sand and therefore decreasing our chances of getting stuck in the dunes. (That's the theory anyway!)
While the guys were doing that a man slowly walked past with camels on tow. Where had this man come from? There was nothing in front of us? We were getting used to seeing people walking for miles in the middle of nowhere, but still puzzled as to where they had come from and where they were going.

After the tyres were set, it was time for some dune bashing and the guys did marvellously without getting too stuck. It was soon time to have some lunch so we found a tree where we could have some shelter from the heat of the sun. Once we got out the car we realised that actually there was quite a strong chilly breeze so eating our lunch in the sun was just the ticket. The breeze blew the sand over the dunes and created a beautiful white spray over the mounds. Quite a beautiful sight, but it did mean we had a crunchy lunch.

We were back in the cars and said goodbye to the dunes and hello to a vast open plain where there was nothing for as far as the eye could see. We drove for hours without seeing any hint of life, and then there was this tree in the middle of the plain. A very random, lone tree. It certainly does baffle the mind! But the boys were having a blast as we could get up to some crazy speeds with no road in sight as they zigzagged next to each other and driving wherever they wanted. The gigantic mass of land was our playground. We had music blasting, wind in our hair, with the sun beating down as we left behind big dust clouds. 

Eventually we had come to the end of this magnificent plain and found a dirt road that brought us to a sign that had a very unusual name for a camp site... Twat Camp! Of course this called for a photo moment!

Well we ignored the sign as we would do some free wild camping that night and found a suitable place under the stars in the middle of no where. We had a visitor that walked for miles to come see us. Such a strange man as the conversation went as follows:
Us: Bon jour
Him: Bon jour, ça va
Us: Wee ça va
He then guestured for a cigarette, and as we had none. He turned around and walked back into the vast desert. We were all shocked! How random!? Such a long walk, to just turn around and walk back.

We set up camp, had our rashons and would enjoy fiddling with the camera settings while enjoying watching the stars, satellites and shooting stars. We were shocked to see the moon had lit up the desert and we almost had no need to use our lights. There was utter silence as nothing was around. We had gotten used to hearing cats fighting through the night, dogs barking till the sun came up and cockerels cockle doodling at all hours of the night. Our first night camping in the wilderness would be interesting. Rob was waking up ever half an hour to any hint of a noise or rustle; the wind picked up throughout the night, so the tents were flapping and keeping Rob awake. It soon died down and we were able to get some shut eye. It was exciting and thrilling; and not nearly as scary as I thought it would be.

We packed up camp as usual and continued into the desert that changed between sandy and hard rocky terrain that certainly felt as though the cars were taking a beating. We had to join some of the dirt roads that had been created from people who had ventured into these parts in months before us to try avoid some of the large rocks and boulders. Most of these roads were corigated, so it was certainly a bumpy road. We reached some sand dunes again and with that a big relief as it was smooth once again. We couldn't resist again and had to pull over for some fun in the dunes. We ran up one side and jumped to see who could land the furthest on the other side of the peak. Rob still had his shoes on and was missing out on the fun.
For miles we drove in the sand until Charles eventually got stuck... Twice! But we all got stuck in and with our spades we tried prizing out the sand under his tyres. Frustrating work this, as the light fluffy sand would fall into the holes we created. Eventually it was the sand ladders that did the job! They worked a treat! 

We headed to a large lake which was indicated on the map called Barrage Irike. Well we arrived and found ourselves still driving; on our satnav, our little Homor satnav character was walking in water. Yes this lake was a brown, sandy, dusty plain. No water in sight! Quite a cool feeling driving on the river bed, while noticing the floor had a crust over it that was cracking in the harsh sun. 

Unfortunately Cat started feeling like her dreaded travellers bug was making a reappearance. So we decided we should head for a town where we could make use of camping facilities and get to a pharmacy. This turned out just great as we were able to get some food in one of these holes in the walls to stock up our empty fridges. We would stay in Foum-Zguid and Tata the next couple of nights and if all went well some more wild camping the next.

We started nearing Western Sahara and with this all the police checks we had seen in Morocco that didn't bat an eyelid at us, was now intensely interested in our travels. And one police check after another they wanted to see our Fiche's. These were documents we had prepared in England with all our details on like a copy of our passports, personal info, Daisy's details and finally our country entry details. We had prepared about 25 of these each... I certainly underestimated how many police checkpoints there would be. After giving out about 15each in Morocco alone, we hadn't even reached Western Sahara yet. We needed to find a town with a photocopier and fast! We were being asked to show these as we entered and exited a town. Sometimes these checkpoints were even a few feet away from each other. But the police officers were extremely friendly and just wanted to find out about our travels. Some of them even made fun of us as we can only speak one language... Cheeky buggers! But I suppose they have a point!?

We arrived into Laayoune and this is where we would try find a photo copier. We pulled into the only campsite and the owner would direct us to the nearest one. Well, he said it would be 7km up the road. So we headed in that direction, but as much as we had experienced of Western Sahara already, there was NOTHING!!! Only a scattered array of houses... So we headed into town. We saw a post office and would try our luck there. Cat and I went in while the boys stayed in the cars. The gentlemen said he would print 10 for us for free. When I said we would need way more than that, possibly even 100copies each that we would be happy to pay for. But he was adoment that he did not want money from us, so we settled for 50each. He quickly hurried us into his office where he closed the door and slyly called for someone to fetch paper. This was obviously something he shouldn't be doing, but wanted to help us out. We were extremely thankful and sorry at the same time as we watched him run out of paper... again... Then ink.... Then the power going, twice! We learned he was 33years old and had a wife and young boy who was going to visit London in 2016, and so we told him a little about ourselves too and enjoyed our broken conversation switching between French and English. 
Then, very unexpectantly, he started crying. This grown man who was incredibly well dressed and obviously was someone senior in the office was crying in front of us. He asked us why we thought he was being so helpful at no cost (remember, Morrocans do nothing for free). This of course was a rhetorical question and therefore would continue. He mentioned sadly about the shootings in Paris by Muslim terrorists and said how he was Muslim, but as he was crying, he couldn't continue trying to explain his emotions, so we assured him that we did not think of him that way. He was trying to say that all Muslims are not terrorists and thought that all Europeans believed this. This got more and more awkward so we sat in silence while he dried up his tears. After getting all our photo copies we shook his hand in thanks and left a bit shocked and overwhelmed by what had just happened. 
It's sad to think how people that were using his faith causing such chaos around the world would effect the good people, like him, so profoundly! 

So we headed back to the campsite, where we had made friends and would play with the local dogs and of course, would get ready for the next few days of incredibly boring driving! Western Sahara was flat with nothing in sight besides sand, small bushes, lorries and police checks. We wanted to get to the border first thing in the morning as we weren't sure how long the border crossing would take. We drove and drove with no campsites in sight. Eventually we arrived at a hotel and asked if they wouldn't mind us camping in their car park. They were extremely helpful with a guard during the night for our safety. Perfect! So we would stay for dinner as compensation which was brilliant as the place turned into the local sports "bar"... Where the men would drink coffee and tea and watch the soccer. 

We made sure to fill up with Diesel before making our way to the border as we had heard fuel is crazy expensive in Maurintania compared to the £0.60 a litre in Morocco and £0.40 a litre in Western Sahara. We had spent 4 weeks in Morocco and loved every second of it, but we were itching to move on  and see more of Africa.  

In the morning we got to the border of Western Sahara and No Mans Land as they call it. Our first overland African border and we were obviously sticking out like sore thumbs as we had all sorts of people hassling us to help with the procedures. No, we would do it on our own and we managed just fine! As awful as it sounds!!!! I soon learnt that fluttering my eyelids at the officials and smiling like a dumb helpless girl would help with the progress...
We had our passports stamped, our car checked (particularly for drugs as they used a very cute black Labrador that was having the time of its life wagging his tail profusely), the vehicle's paperwork done and of course the waiting. But soon we were on our way into No Mans Land.
This area that belonged to no one was scattered with rubbish, car wrecks, and dirt roads that were created from what looked like the vaste number of lorries passing through. We were followed by fixers trying their luck in their dilapidated Mercedes. We still were having non of it. Then there was one guy that came up to us, that seemed to know all about our travels and said he was told to meet us here by our friends in Marrakech, Patrick. Patrick had called the fixer and had arranged for him to be there to help us. Out of courtesy for their help in Marrakech we felt obliged to use him, however feeling very unhappy about it. For what it's worth though, he did manage to get the job done and organised for all our passports, vehicle insurance and other regulations to be done and stamped. All this for a very pricey fee. $50 for vehicle insurance, $50 for the vehicle entry fee and $50 for his services. Ouch!!!
We had our car checked again by a very stern looking military officer as he went through every box in search for alcohol... To our surprise he did not check the fridge. But we had no alcohol anyway and the last place we had a drink was in Marrakech... The poor boys continue talking and dreaming of a cold one! 
4 hours later we were in Maurintania!

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