Our camping ground in Tangier is fantastic. It’s new and is equipped with all mod cons, even a clothesline. However, I write, “still expensive though. It cost a total of $2.80 a night.” The weather has improved, and we take the opportunity to thoroughly wash our bods and smelly clothes. Then it’s time to check out the Tangier medina, bartering and buying all sorts of stuff – leather pouffes, brass trinkets and plates, kaftans and jellabas.
We are over awed at the selection. Vendors in the market do the hard sell and try to take us for whatever they can get. But we are skinflints and drive a hard bargain – at least we think that’s the case. We generally do the ‘walk away’ and most times get the call back “Okay come, come, you can have.” Which probably means we pay too much.
Talking about money – the currency in Morocco is the dirham. They don’t exchange Australian dollars, so like in Spain and Portugal, we use other currencies (guilders and Deutsch marks) for the exchange. Down the track we run out of foreign cash, and in desperation, message the Bank of England in London to send us £500, which takes a while to come through, so we must lie in wait.
After a couple of nights, we are on the move again heading south along the coast. The ambient temperature is climbing – after two months of freezing conditions, we are delighted to have lots of vitamin D come our way.
Play it Sam
One of the all-time greatest movies is Casablanca. Rick says to Sam the piano player – “You played it for her, you can play it for me.” Time has certainly gone by since Bogie uttered those words, so I can’t believe we are here in the present, soaking up the atmosphere of this well-known city. This follows our disappointment during a short time in the capital, Rabat. In my words, “Rabat is a hole.” To be fair, we only drove through. We’ll be back later to have a more thorough look.
On our way to Casablanca, we are forced off the road by motorbike cops, to let King Hassan II pass by. He ruled the country from 1961 until his death in 1999. The Hassan II Mosque here has the highest minaret in the world – 60 floors or 210m and can accommodate 100,000 worshippers. Fascinating! Non-Muslims can enter the mosque. There are only two mosques in Morocco which allow that. This one and another in Meknes, which we will get to in a few days.
A night of horror
We give a lift to a couple of French hitchhikers, Patrick and Annie, and spend three nights with them in our Casablanca campground, and free beach camping 550km south, near the tourist resort of Agadir. Michael writes:
This is our last beach camp night in Agadir, Patrick helps cook some fish over an open fire. A nice healthy meal is enjoyed by all and washed down with some local wine.
Agadir is very touristy. It was devastated in 1960 by a 5.6 magnitude earthquake that killed up to 15,000 people, about a third of the population at the time. It has been rebuilt and is very modern. The beach is sandy and wide and has a promenade with lots of vibe.
Unfortunately, our last night was ruined by Michael being woken by the sound of a knife slicing through the tent in the early morning hours.
They hear the patter of footsteps running away. Dana yells out to confirm the incident – “Our tent is cut.” There is no response from the Frenchies because they translated Dana’s words as – in our tent is a cat. Haha, so no big deal for them, eh?
Dana and Michael spend the rest of the night keeping watch with their weapons in hand – a spade and a torch.
The drive to Marrakesh from Agadir is spectacular with snow-capped Atlas Mountains to the west. The terrain is rugged and the road windy. The bright sunny day enhances the beauty of the landscape.
In Marrakesh, Jemaa el-Fna is the famous square, established over 1000 years ago. We arrive on the day of the king’s annual festive day and are gobsmacked. The place is filled with thousands of people – singers, dancers, snake charmers, witch doctors, healers and ragmen (rags sown together as clothes). We sneak photos but must pay if caught.
It’s bartering overload today – for rugs, leather goods, trinkets, bags, capes and hats. I buy some goulimine beads (Moroccan love beads favoured by hippies in the 1960s) and a leather lace to make a necklace. I still have it!
At many shops we are invited in for mint tea (sugar laden, hot weak black tea served in a glass container) and usually sit on pouffes around a large, engraved brass tray table. The vendor goes all out to sell to you. We end up with so much stuff, so we get a rickety carriage ride back to our campground.
Our journey continues west to Meknes and Fez through bush country not unlike Australia’s. We visit the fabulous mosque in Meknes. There is a huge and impressive gateway into the medina. We wander through and soak up the wonderful and exciting vibe. It’s the medinas that have the most interesting people and activities. Inside seems to be full of men smoking hookahs.
Join me next time when I’ll tell you about our adventures in Algeria, including being caught free camping in a military zone and driving through a doozey of a sandstorm in the Sahara Desert.
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