2.10 Essaouira, Marrakech, Rabat
The days in Morocco are numbered. Our 90-day visa expires in ten days and until then we not only have to make the long way back across the country to Tangier Med, but also want to visit the three cities of Essaouira, Marrakech and Rabat. After the intensive nature experiences in the High Atlas, in the northern Sahara and now recently at the sea, we are looking forward on the one hand to some change, but are also critical about the melting pot of society, the big air pollution, the noise and the hustle and bustle that these big cities bring with them. Our Unimog is not at all designed for big cities, it is actually specifically designed for nature, off-road and difficult terrain and has proven itself very well for this. Nevertheless, thanks to its modest size - and I really mean that, because compared to the big truck expedition vehicles, the Unimog is really very handy - it allows us to drive even in the middle of the big cities. With the exception of weight restrictions, we of course obey all traffic regulations, but most of them only apply to transport trucks and fortunately not to vehicles in the motorhome category.
So here we are at the gates of Essaouira, the hippie town of the sixties, where Jimi Hendrix, Frank Zapa and Cat Stevens are said to have met from time to time. In the last century Essaouira was supposedly the most important trading town in the country. Today, tourism probably takes precedence over trade. The harbor is busy, but not hectic, although today the fishermen are forced to stay on land because of high waves. At least there is some time to keep the dilapidated cutters in good shape. Many of them look as if they had neither been maintained nor cleaned during the last years. At the market you can find all sorts of fish and seafood and in between every now and then a sleepy fisherman.
From the harbor we go directly behind the city walls into the Medina. Here we soon find our long sought-after carpet for our dining, bedroom and living room in FRAME. It's quite practical to have everything compressed into ten square meters, you don't have to dig so deep into your pockets for the furnishings ;-). Still, I have the feeling that we have overpaid a bit for this tiny carpet. We are already skilled at bargaining, but if you want a piece badly enough, the shrewd dealers will notice, of course, and the negotiations will go correspondingly worse for the buyer. For us, there are three basic rules for successful haggling in Arab markets: First, your first offer should be just a third or at most half of what you are willing to pay, even if this is only a tenth of the dealer's first offer. Second, go up in equal increments with your price as the dealer goes down. And third, leave the store with feigned disappointment, only then will you get the dealer's best offer. With our little rug, we somehow forgot the last step and therefore paid what the diligent salesman asked. No harm done, we like the rug very much and it fits perfectly in our homey FRAME rolling apartment.
You keep coming across small music stores where the sound of the sixties clangs out of the faint speakers. Like a magnet, Essaouira seems to have attracted the unruly youth of the time since the visit of hippie Jimi, who chilled here for a few days shortly before his legendary Woodstock performance. The fact that this visit can still be marketed in this way sixty years later is a little surprising, but it is hard to imagine this port city in Morocco without hippie and music.
Argan products are also an integral part of the local offer. We have also read about this miracle oil and want to supply ourselves accordingly well with it. Whether for the skin, the hair or orally induced, the powers of the argan plant seem to work in many ways and to be applicable in all forms. A real miracle cure. The cooperations of the argan plantations, mostly managed by women, offer more or less the same products here on the market, but at slightly different prices. We finally find the right one for us and after about four hours of zigzagging through the medina, we slowly make our way back to our vehicle, which for once is parked at the roadside.
One hour outside of Essaouira, already in the direction of Marrakech, we stop once again on a campground. For one night we stand here lonely and abandoned in the corner for overlanders, that is completely without electricity, but with plenty of space around us. The group cuddling we leave to the "yogurt cups" on the adjacent plot. ;-)
below: Essaouira, from fishing village to hippie town
The journey now continues on a well-maintained national road towards the east. Today is an ideal travel day. Clouds of fog lie over the land, which must have received plenty of rain here recently. That's good, we think to ourselves. The country has been in a permanent drought since 2015, so every little rain is good for nature.
But what we see now horrifies us deeply. Here, the argan farmers actually tie their goats on the trees, like Christmas decorations and then demand a few dirhams from the tourists, who like to photograph it. How cruel must one be to tie a living creature to a tree for a whole day, so that they can't move an inch. I guess that's what they do here even in the summer, in the heat. These farmers should all be hung from their trees, by the hair or even the feet for such cruelty. We are simply horrified and of course do not make any pictures of this.
Soon we reach the outskirts of Marrakech. After Bucharest and Budapest, this is once again a big city drive with our truck, which makes my adrenaline rise a bit. My co-pilot actively helps me not to overlook any danger, any traffic sign and especially any pedestrians. The hustle and bustle in the direction of the city center increases with every kilometer and our destination is the Koutoubia parking lot in the heart of Marrakech. Most overlanders meet in this city at the campsite Le Relais de Marrakech. However, this is located twelve kilometers further north outside the city with all the corresponding disadvantages of transport to the center. The Koutoubia campsite is a three-minute walk (!) to the gate of the medina at Jamaa el Fna Square. Not only is it fantastically central, it's also fantastically quiet between a cemetery and a vacant lot. Although the hustle and bustle of Marrakech are only a few hundred meters away, we hear only birdsong in the morning. We can hardly believe it.
above: colorful hustle and bustle on the Jamaa el Fna Square
below: small stores well sorted and nicely presented
A short refreshment and rest at our new stand and off we go into the hustle and bustle. Brigitte has been here before, 40 years ago. Will she recognize this city? Of course, not too much has changed in the medina of Marrakech. That is precisely the charm of such an old town. Everything is just as it was many years ago, hundreds of years ago, one is tempted to say. But IT and souvenir stores have not stopped here either. After the fantastic soccer world championship of the Moroccans I notice in particular the many sports jersey stores. Well sorted are the stores of the same products all together. That makes the search for a certain commodity obviously easier. There are endless alternatives for any product which is always a haggling opportunity.
It is a motley of colors, shapes, sounds and smells. The numerous cats make sure that the smells don't go bad. The bustle in the alleys is many times greater than the day before in Essaouira. Here in Marrakech, they also speed through on motorcycles. There is no space for them, but somehow they always manage to get through unscathed. Since the said James Bond movie probably even a little faster than before. One learns from the idols ;-)
We would rather not have seen the snake charmers and monkey sellers here, otherwise the medina of Marrakech is really a great memorable experience.
below: from young to old, Marrakech lives!
We spend the first evening in a trendy local jazz bar and are amazed that we have finally arrived back in the 21st century, as we know it from Switzerland. The second evening we are allowed to spend in the luxurious "Villa des Orangers". Our acquaintance from Fez has given us this hotelier contact. Hotel director Paul Compagnon welcomes us to the aperitif and shows us his very tastefully decorated traditional hotel. With a superb dinner we let this eventful day come to an end. Fortunately it is only a stone's throw back to our campsite, we are already looking forward to the chirping of the birds in the coming morning.
Today it is time to say goodbye again. We always find it more relaxing to drive out of big cities than to drive in. At least that's how the driver feels. The unknown becomes the known and the traffic flows steadily. Leaving the city in a northerly direction, we pass the Relais de Marrakesh campsite. My God we are glad, we have decided for the city pitch. We could gladly do without these distances and the dense traffic.
We do the drive to Rabat in two days. Despite the faster toll roads, it would have been a bit too much in one day. So we finally find time to wash our FRAME from top to bottom. Actually I prefer to do such care work myself. Our sweetheart doesn't like the high pressure cleaning in all places. Maybe it is a bit ticklish in certain places. But once I've finished the roof and the solar panels, the employee takes over the spray gun and doesn't let it out of his hands. The good man cleans our adventure truck from sand, salt and road dirt, so that he probably reaches an unprecedented combat weight, so much dirt flows down the gutter.
On the onward journey to our intended destination for the day south of Settal, it starts to rain lightly. Well you can imagine how our freshly washed baby looked again until the evening. Not a pretty sight, but at least we are sure that it is now neither salt from the sea nor sand from the Sahara.
Rain is a blessing for Morocco. The area here is now extraordinarily green, yes so green that we can hardly believe our eyes to see such a thing here. The contrast to the dryness in the south of the Atlas Mountains is enormous. We see it emblematic for our whole trip, a contrast-rich, versatile, exciting country. It offers something for everyone and always something great (except the goats on the trees).
We drive around Casablanca, since it is actually neither recommended nor appreciated by anyone. Casa, as the locals call it, seems to have the most beautiful and largest mosque in the country, but otherwise not really enough to offer. That fits exactly into our now somewhat tighter schedule. In Rabat, however, we definitely want to visit Lucia, a long-time acquaintance that we have maintained since our stay of several years in Mongolia. Also in Rabat we have chosen again a city parking lot. In Marrakech we really pulled the joker, hopefully this will also be the case for the capital Rabat.
The pitch is actually also just at the gates of the medina, is not quite as quiet, but we feel well cared for. On the arrival day there is still a small walk to the sea and past the probably largest city cemetery, which I have ever seen. On a length of one kilometer the dead souls look directly to the sea. In our world, expensive apartments would have been built here long ago, because the view and the proximity to the city are probably priceless. Here people still have priority, even the dead. They rest in peace and will certainly not be forgotten so quickly in this most central location.
The following day Lucia shows us "her" Rabat. Of course, in the past fourteen years, since Ulan Bator, a lot of topics of conversation had accumulated. So we linger for a while on a tea house terrace with a view over the city walls. In any case, we get a good impression of this government city despite the much too short stay. Rabat is a great showcase city, but has - unfortunately - not much in common with the rest of Morocco. Clean and organized, well-kept but also controlled we feel life here. Driving past the palace, we make out about 500 employees. Royal Police, military, security services, gardeners, the royal street cleaners, etc. and that on a single side along the palace. One reckons up. Then there is also the "insignificant" interior for administration. Simply unbelievable, how many people work here directly - or indirectly - for his Royal Highness.
After a final walk across the medina, we declare our Morocco adventure officially over. Do not worry, we have, after Morocco still a very long return trip, via Portugal, northern Spain, the wine regions of France and the long-awaited Jura to discover. A return trip blog will probably still be published.
Above: The medina of Rabat, comparatively quiet and tranquil.
Below: View from the Kasbah of the Oudayas, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The very last two days in Morocco are dedicated solely to the return trip to the port. Once again, we prefer to divide the remaining 300 kilometers into two driving days. Firstly, we want to get on a midday ferry and secondly, we absolutely have to fill our two tanks with cheap diesel again. Interestingly, the weather here in the north changes again from humid to very wet. We arrived in Africa in stormy weather and it seems that we will leave this continent in real sour weather. But we are happy that at least the north got some water this winter. In pouring rain we are heading for the modern harbor in Tanger Med. Fortunately we can choose the time of our ferry and decide for the 14 o'clock departure to Algeciras. So there is enough time for the customs procedure. At the immigration everything went like clockwork. Interestingly, as we have also read and now expected accordingly, the vehicle is also scanned on departure. So our FRAME is put through its paces, or rather x-rayed. Why at the exit? Actually, only the explanation with the refugees makes sense, in which case the whole thing would have to be financed and maintained by the Spaniards or the EU, of course. In fact, we come upon a huge X-ray table, along with three other vehicles. An ultra-modern screening truck passes the departing passengers at walking pace. In less than two minutes, the spit is over. We're clean, no refugee hidden in the fridge or under the car. But wait! Someone hasn't done his job yet. Rex, the police dog, is standing soaking wet in front of our car and his master thinks he wants to get inside our living box. Does that have to be? Is there any suspicion or is he simply interested in what it looks like in such an expedition vehicle? I am not in the mood to argue with customs. I cooperate. But the dog has to get in there himself and the ship's ladder I offer him doesn't seem to serve him. I think I've already won the bet, when Rexi takes a running start and actually manages the one meter twenty in one go. Well, with a little help from his master, because he can't get his hind legs up on his own. The customs officer dutifully puts on his overshoes, but the sniffer dog slaps his wet paws at will on our (still) unscratched ship's floor and drools all over the kitchen. Against all expectations neither the scanner, nor the customs officer nor Rex found anything suspicious. We are allowed on the ferry and now leave this beautiful country with a laughing eye! Morocco is - not only - a paradise for overlanders, so multifaceted, so exciting and so hospitable. Morocco, we will definitely come back!
Next Blog 2.11 Return trip along the Atlantic coast