On the road again… travels through Morocco.

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Who needs a shop when you can park on the side of a major road and display your wares for all to see.

 

 

 

This Citroen SM passed our group while we were trying to catch a glimpse of the elusive apes that live in the forest alongside this highway.

Released in 1970, it was the world’s fastest front-wheel-drive car, with a top speed of 225kmh.

Celebrity owners of versions of the Citroën SM supercar included composer John Barry, Bill Wyman of the Rolling Stones, motorcycle racer Mike Hailwood, and Russian President Leonid Brezhnev.

This vehicle, with its diplomatic crew, was a participant in a timed rally that would end the day in Chefchaouen. The following morning I chatted with a British driver and her crew before they set off on the next stage of their journey.

There were 50 cars, each containing a navigator and driver (both diplomats in Morocco at a conference) and they had to complete distances in a set time. Arrive too early and you lose points and the same occurs if you are late. The rally is designed to allow the participants to keep to the speed limit and enjoy the country at the same time.

Did you know? A Citroën was the first car to cross the Sahara in 1923!

 

 

 

We had seen signs warning motorists about apes crossing the road while travelling to Chefchaouen, and eventually, we were able to spend time with a small troop that came out of the forest to see if we had food that we were willing to part with. I have to say that these apes were more respectful when trying to acquire food from us, rather than the Vervet monkeys in South Africa who can often be aggressive.

To be honest we had stopped to take pictures of the remaining patches of snow when they appeared from the foliage. And yes, believe it or not, it DOES snow in Morocco.

The Barbary macaque, also known as the Barbary ape, is a species native to the Atlas Mountains of Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco, along with a small introduced population in Gibraltar.

Today, these apes are mainly found north of the Sahara in Africa, with an estimated population of 1,500–3,500 in Algeria and around 8,000–9,000 in Morocco. These countries are home to the last enclaves of this endangered species.

 

 

 

Need a toilet off a desert highway? Then here it is.

If I had our tour host correctly, it is part of a system that is possibly connected to the Khettara, a traditional irrigation system used in the Middle East, Central Asia, and North Africa for some 2500 years. The winding underground tunnels rely on gravity, collecting groundwater upstream at a higher elevation and sending it downstream where the water table is lower.

Secreted behind this mini-dune were several toilet stalls that could be accessed by passing tourists (and I assume locals as well) who were ‘caught short’ and in need of a comfort stop.

In the distance one can see The High Atlas Mountains that extend some 2,500km across northwestern Africa, spanning Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia, separating the Atlantic and Mediterranean coastline from the Sahara Desert.

 

 

 

Water, hand sanitiser and solar panels…what more can a tired traveller require?

The upside of this toilet stop was the fact that there was no shop to buy souvenirs at! So it was off the coach, to the toilet and return to the coach…possibly the fastest turnaround time of the tour.

In retrospect, I remember that there were fossil sellers, but their wares were too expensive for our group.

 

 

 

An artesian well at Fezra near Merzouga Desert

This was one of several working wells, also known as a Khettara, that dotted a section of the road we travelled on.

They are part of ancient underground water channels designed to transport water down slopes without active pumping. Most wells involve digging a vertical shaft downward until it reaches the water table, and then hauling or pumping the water up to the surface.

An impressive 300 km network of Khettara was excavated in the Tafilalt basin beginning in the late 14th century. Some of these tap into the aquifer at the base of mountains along the western margin of the oasis.

 

 

 

Hi ho, Hi ho…

Have hoe will travel?

Just one of many workers we saw who used the main roads to get from one place to another.

 

 

 

Just one of the many Berber villages that we drove past. It might look like a film set but is most certainly not.

 

 

 

“Hey, Ali Baba”… This Berber seemed happy to see me.

It seemed that my beard was seen as a sign of age and therefore worthy of respect.

At the beginning of the tour, I found it somewhat disconcerting, but by the end of our trip, I claimed ‘Ali Baba’ discounts when bartering. Honestly, it did not always work, but it did give both the relevant vendor and me a laugh.

 

 

 

Brightly coloured cloth is out for sale along the highway. Bright colours seem to be standard in Morocco. From tiles to tableware, the splashes of colour are eye-catching.

To us the colours might seem over the top, however, in reflection, why do we choose such a subdued palette for ourselves? Clothes, cars, interior design and even the exteriors of buildings are awash in neutral tones.

Perhaps we should step out of our comfort zone back home and see what our neighbours say if we paint our house a brilliant peacock green and blue?

 

 

 

We found this along a section of road we travelled along as we drove from our overnight stay in the Merzouga desert to Ksar Ait Ben Haddou, where we would spend a night, before heading off to our penultimate stop at Essaouira.

Each section is manned by a salesperson/ people prepared to barter as there is not much foot traffic to keep them busy. I bought a jacket for 1/3 of the asking price, as the vendor had not sold any that morning. And for the detractors who say that we should NOT barter, at the end of the transaction, we smiled and shook hands. Vendors know where their profit margins are and will not sell below that.

 

 

 

Columbia River Gorge with the outdoor market. and not a scene from the TV series ‘Sons of Anarchy’.

Several companies conduct motorcycle tours of Morocco. I met up with a British group at one of our comfort/shopping breaks and they were having a great time. I should imagine a commitment in time as well as a being a competent rider are prerequisite for joining a tour of this nature. This was an on-road tour and from what I experienced in the coach, the roads are in excellent condition.

 

 

 

Going home after school?

He did extend a hand as he walked past with a question in Arabic, which I presumed to be asking for money. It was a half-hearted interaction and he wandered off when he realized that his plea was not going to meet with a positive response.

Morocco’s two official languages are Arabic and Amazigh, but virtually all Moroccans speak and understand French, while Spanish is widespread in northern and southern Morocco.

I also found that many of the people I interacted with spoke English, even if it was basic.

 

 

 

How the locals move themselves and their goods. I have to comment that the water was as clear as I have ever seen.

I did not try to taste it, but it was flowing swiftly, which is normally a good sign that it can be used. Perhaps by the locals who are used to mountain water.

 

 

 

Silverware as well as pewter on the side of the road. And that meant that the coach stopped so that wares could be examined and purchased.

Many pieces of Moroccan jewellery are not stamped, but the lack of hallmarks does not mean that silver is of poor quality. It simply means that the jewel was made by an independent craftsman who may not have paid too many taxes.

Morocco has an ancient tradition of artisanal jewellery and craftsmanship that extends into our modern era. Jewellery is one of the most prized possessions Moroccan women own. The traditional art of making genuine Moroccan jewellery can be attributed, for the most part, to Morocco’s early Jewish population.

 

 

 

Ksar Ait Ben Haddou as seen from the balcony of a coffee shop in the town. We did not feel like scaling the heights, so chose instead to visit the coffee shop and a couple of antique shops where we were the only customers, so had the full attention of the shop owner.

At the shop where my wife purchased the most beautiful antique hamsa, we did find some extremely old silverware, but the owner was honest enough to tell us that it was extremely expensive and well outside what he presumed (correctly) to be our budget.

BTW: Did you notice the Europes Storks on their nest?

 

 

 

Atlas Studios is located 5 kilometres west of the city of Ouarzazate in Morocco. Measured by acreage, it is the world’s largest film studio. Most of the property lies in the nearby desert and mountains.

Several films were made here or in the surrounding area, including Asterix, Kingdom of Heaven, Gladiator, Lawrence of Arabia, The Last Temptation of Christ, The Man Who Would Be King, Kundun, The Mummy Returns and Game of Thrones (Season 3).

 

 

 

Like father, like son…

Our driver, Murad, is on the right and his Dad is on the left. His Dad had a stall along this stretch of road, a fact we only discovered once we had completed our shopping.

 

 

 

This was the company we utilized for our tour.

There were issues along the way, but nothing that could not be resolved on the spot. It did give value for money and if Morocco is a bucket list destination then the tour host, Linda, will give you that in spades.

As I have said many times before, if you go with no expectations then you cannot be disappointed. All my wife and I require is a comfortable bed, reasonable connectivity, hot water(most of the time) and a breakfast that sets us up for the day. On this trip, we almost had a full house of requirements. Those that were lacking, we accommodated and smiled. Making it all part of the overall experience and adventure.

 

 

 

 

Travel is the proud winner of this prestigious award from the digital British lifestyle magazine Luxlife. The award is in the category Best Travel & Experiences Blog 2024 – South Africa

 

 

 

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