8 November 2002
Hiya all, are you ready for the next update ?
Please excuse the grammar and spelling - most keyboards here are French or Arabic and we are writing this on the fly in a bit of a hurry.
After Gibralta we headed for Al-Giciras (almost certainly spelt wrong) where we caught a fast ferry to to the Spanish town of Ceuta. There were a couple of sections of the ferry roped off with armed guards keeping an eye on what we assume were illegal immigrants being returned to Marocco. We stocked up on supplies and booze before heading through the border into Marocco.
The border crossing was interesting and took about an hour. We sat almost silently watching Richard, our driver, going from window to window without getting any entry stamps. We watched a small van heading into Marocco being unloaded - we had no idea it was possible to get so much into one van. The border crossing is on the coast - we saw people swimming around the border pushing thier belongings in bags in front of them, with the police walking along the beach with them waiting for them to come ashore or drown.
We then drove down to Rabat which is the capital. There is not a lot there but we need to get some more visas. We get our first taste of a Maroccan city, complete with ancient "medina" or walled city. At the camp site in Rabat (actually in Sale just across the river) we find two other overland trucks making the same journey. One seems to be german and we don't have any real contact with them; the other is also british - their truck is called "Bog Rat". That night one of our group, Brian, has his toilet roll mysteriously vanish while he is contemplating. We later find out that it was the Bog Rat crew so we rename them "Bog Roll".
From Rabat we headed to Meknes and the Roman ruins at Voloubilis. It's quite a large site, but has not been restored very well and most of the interesting stuff has been sent to the museum at Rabat. When we park the truck in the car park a coach load of American tourists gather round to take photos of us. In general we seem to be as much of an attraction to the locals as their country is to us. Pretty much everyone waves to us as we go past, especially now that it is hotter and we have the tarp off at the front of the truck. There is generally someone sitting on the roof unless we are going through a town or police checkpoint.
After Volubilis we head into Fes which is one of the oldest cities. They have a medina here too but this is a real maze - we would be lost almost immediately if we weren't following a guide. He takes takes us everywhere. We have lunch at a carpet making co-operative, followed by the hard sell, which we manage to resist. After that we go to a blanket shop where we see a wonderful blue and yellow blanket that we can't resist. We don't do a very good job of bargaining but still manage to get them down from 850 dirham to 600 (about 40 quid). It has been very useful on the cold nights sleeping in the atlas mountains.
The next destination after Fes is the Todra gorge which is the other side of the High Atlas mountains. We head over a pass at almost 2000m. At this point several of us come down with our first stomache upsets, bowel movements take over as the dominant topic of conversation over dinner. We bump into Bog Roll and the germans again. Debs took the opportunity to buy a couple of the long head scarves that the berbers wear in the desert, and we have been shown how to wrap them around our heads so that only our eyes are exposed. We are finding them useful already. Richard, the driver, has been shown how to tie his in a special way that keeps his dreadlocks covered.
We now head for Marrakesh via Ouarzazate, crossing back over the high Atlas. Marrakesh is pretty much as expected - more touristy than Fes, but the market in the main square is amazing. Ramadan has started and the locals can't eat from dawn to dusk so as night falls they all head there for a slap up. There is also plenty of entertainment from acrobats to snake charmers, as well as the local lunatics. The market kept going most of the night - it only seemed to wind up at 5am when the first of the four daily calls to prayer sounded. We have been getting used to these recently. Four times a day and loud enough to ensure that no-one in the city misses it. Ben has taken it on himself to buy a bunch of call to prayer mosque shaped alarm clocks so we won't miss it when we head out of the muslem countries.
Tomorrow we will be heading south again via Essouiria along the coast to Western Sahara. We will be going in convoy with Bog Roll when we reach the Sahara as they have a 4 wheel drive truck and we can pull each other out if we get stuck. No idea when we will find the next internet access or warm showers. We will be stopping at the hypermarket on the way out of town to top up our "dry stores" so we know that we won't starve no matter how scarse food gets along the way, although we will have to find room amongst the beer, loo-roll and Berber carpets.
The group is getting along well. Most of them are in their twentys, with a few of us thirty somethings and three in their fourties/fifties. The girls have all bonded - it feels like a school trip sometimes, except that we are getting through a lot of beer. Every time we stop for supplies we are dry within a week. We have had a couple of minor rebellions against the driver & crew, but majority rule tends to win, and everyone is normally quite relaxed. We have half a dozen Aussies, half a dozen Kiwis, four Americans and the rest of us are Poms. The Americans aren't allowed into Sudan and will have to fly from Chad to Ethiopia.
We haven't seen too many creepy-crawleys yet, just a few cockroaches in our hotel room last night and the snake charmers in the market square. We have also managed to get off quite lightly with the mosquitos as well. Debs did get one bite above her eye one morning and looked a bit scarey for a couple of days. We are on our third film (so about 100 photos which is not too bad) but have also got two hours of video. Quite a lot of the video is from a group dinner, Maroccan style, that we had in Fes with traditional entertainment - acrobats and belly dancers.
For those of you worrying about Steve cooking for the group, Adrian and Claire who are also in my group seem to know what they are doing. I just skivvy for them and help out where I can. We had a fine time in a local market in Fes buying food. A mixture of English, French and sign language got us through.
We are keeping a log of mileage and the GPS locations of our camp-sites. We found out today that we are going to have to get vias for Zimbabwe; we will probably sort that out in one of the commonwealth countries. We are also going to be avoiding the Ivory Coast.
Debs is getting darker by the day, and Steve is starting to get a bit of colour too, although a lot of his tan was scrubbed off yesterday in a Maroccan "Hammam" - bath and massage. It was just dirt after all.
We miss you all and will be in touch again when we can.
Debs & Steve
[PS - we are still hungry for news from home, however trivial.]