Compared to Algeria, Libya or Egypt, today Morocco is definitely the cheaper and easier adventure alternative. Given the difficulties with obtaining tourist visas recently for Algeria, the troubles in Egypt and civil war in Libya, Morocco will without a doubt gain from the others loss. Morocco is simple, easy and has all the major conveniences of just about any European country. In fact picture yourself in a modern metropolis then add olive skin tones, a dash of colour, dirty it up with some foul smelling rubbish, add sand, camels, medinas full of oriental handicrafts and touts, perfumes and spices et voilà, you have Morocco, a kind of wonderland of North Africa.

Nador Ferry

Pascal on the Almeria to Nador Ferry enjoying sunset over the Mediterranean

Back to the Maghreb

At times it feels like we live on a boat. The combined time thus far on the 8 ferry passages is an astounding 62 hours and we still have another, albeit shorter ferry to return to Spain.

Moroccan customs was quite straight forward at Nador. The tardiness of our arrival at 11:45pm meant there were little or no hawkers to annoy us. With the entry cards filled in I went to the passport control to get my passport stamped, directed by several locals. After that I was instructed to enter a small office in the same building to obtain the ‘carte grise’ or Moroccan registration certificate for Francois. At the desk I told them in all honesty that I didn’t have 3rd party insurance (greencard) that was valid for Morocco, this created a little fuss because the insurance broker was not open after 6pm. We were let into the country without insurance but told either to come back the following morning to the port and purchase the insurance or to purchase it in Nador town. The police office said “Talk to no one else about insurance and just go through customs and leave, no one will trouble you.” He was right, a quick check of our passports and we were out of the port and under the amber street lights heading to Nador town centre where we had booked a hotel for the night.

Under the cloak of darkness we navigated our way with surprising precision to hotel Mediterranee one block from the lake and quite close to the centre of Nador and 10km from the port. The desk clerk agreed to allow us to park Francois in the hotel entry foyer so long as I was up by 6am to move Francois back out onto the street so the owner wouldn’t know. I agreed, and set my alarm and then it was off to bed.

The following morning we had breakfast and after a slow start we left Nador around mid-day. But before setting out I felt that it would be better to have 3rd party insurance so we went looking for the only insurer in Nador that would organise a policy to cover us. Just off Ave Mohammed V on Ave Hassan on the lake side of the road was a blue door leading up to the insurance bureau on the 1st floor. If it wasn’t for a street vendor I may never have found the place. The bureau an agency of BCMA was able to provide the insurance valid for 1 month at an exorbitant cost of ~96Euros! More expensive than the whole of europe for the same period incredibly. Well the lesson here is, get your insurance at home, it’ll definitely work out much cheaper.

Chankar Homestay

From Nador to Taza and in direction of Merhraoua we headed south looking for an adventure (as if we weren’t already on one) and well it came knocking as if per chance. As we ascended the twisting road behind Taza up the Middle Atlas mountains we began to feel like we were back in the Maghreb, with mosques, goats, beggars, potholed roads and children selling tubs full of wild berries completing the picture.

Local Kids Selling Wildberries

Local Kids Selling Wildberries

The day was getting late and darkness began to fall a lot sooner than we anticipated. We began scanning around for somewhere to camp. There were a few options but as there were villagers moving their flock of sheep nearby we decided to continue. Not far up the road we came into a small village, called Ain Ouda where we saw a brand new sign saying ‘Gite de Merhraoua’ just off the roadside. No sooner had we stopped, local children ran up to see what we were. Off the bike we asked about the Gite, which is a small house built for local tourism, the children said the owner was coming. Surely enough moments later the owner arrived from across the field to inform us that the Gite was closed and he didn’t have the key. We asked a few more questions. Was there another village with a hotel in the area? Could we camp near the village? The owner said that the nearest hotel was in Taza, back where we came from and that they couldn’t let us camp as they wanted to invite us to stay with them. It was late, we had little or no food, and worst of all it looked like it might just rain, how could we refuse. Evidently we were very thankful and out of a combination of need and politeness we accepted graciously. The local kids didn’t hesitate when I offered them a seat on Francois. The guest room was simple with nothing but a coffee table and some mats on the floor in one corner. This was the only part of the living quarters except the lavatory and entry that we saw. Our host Mr Chankar first served us tea and we sat a talked about his family and his living and the village and politics until his brothers one by one came in to join us after their days work was over. All the conversation was in slow spoken French quite easy for Arja to follow. We were very glad to have a shelter and food for the night and to pass the night with the farmer and his family, it certainly provided insight into how the average family lives in these parts and it isn’t lavishly.

Moroccan Host Family

Our Moroccan host family

From Ain Ouda we continued south over the Jbel Boulblane and in the direction of Douyblane. At Merhraoua we stopped for a drink and to ask for information about the pass Tizi-bou-Zabel at 2400m and whether there was snow or if it was open. We got conflicting information so decided to try anyway and continue to see if the pass is open. On the way there was little or no traffic, only locals on their way to a openair market at 1600m. The Market was quite incredible, full of mountain people who came from far and wide to the gathering to trade produce of various sorts. It was a truly amazing experience as the majority of locals came by foot with their mule or donkey laden with produce. The mountain setting, surrounded by snow-capped peaks and barren ground was right out of a national geographic magazine.

Openair Market

Openair market in the Jebel Mountains of the middle Atlas.

We continued until the fork in the road for the pass which we missed and first headed down the road only realising we missed the turn when the road began to descend faster so we turned back to see if the Tizi-bou-Zabel pass was open. About 500m from the top the road was closed, covered with 50cm of snow, we had no choice but to turn back and follow the road down to Ribat-el-Kheyr then El Menzel and finally Sefou. The scenery of the Jbel Boulblane was reminiscent of the high alpine wilderness of the Himalayas, cold, dry and extremely harsh terrain, incredible that anyone could make a living off the land. It’s not the kind of place where we would want to break down.

In Sefou, tired, cold and hungry we headed straight for the first hotel skipping any tourism, even if it was still early evening. In need of a shower and dry clothes we went about hanging out our wet stuff that we’d washed in Spain but still hadn’t dried. The hotel room was clean but freezing and with no hot water until 7pm and no heating we opted for the warmth of the bed and woollen blankets. A short nap ensued and it was already 8pm, the hot water took a while to come through and thank goodness it did as I was shivering uncontrollably in the icy cold shower. It certainly is a luxury to have a hot shower at any time of day or night and we really did appreciate being warm and clean. So much so that we stayed in our hotel room and cooked dinner ourselves having a quiet night in our icebox with Pascal’s never to be repeated pasta risotto with ‘la vache qui rit’.

Blocked by snow

Where to now? The pass over the Atlas mountains was already closed