2.4 Stormy start in Africa
It's Saturday, the third weekend of Advent and indeed we wake up today once again with sunshine. It promises to be a great day and a milestone in our adventure trip to Morocco. Today the morning routine works especially well and quickly, so that we are already on the way to the ferry port of Algeciras before nine o'clock. We aim for the 10:30 AM ferry.
If for some reason we don't reach it, there is a backup at at 2 PM. Even later there are possibilities to cross the strait of Gibraltar with the chosen AML line, but then we would certainly not make it in the daylight to a reasonable place to spend the night. Of course everything runs smoothly. We over-punctual Swiss are even the very first to go through the AML gate for the second morning ferry. But "first in" could also mean "last out". This ferry, as it turns out, is not a RORO type, but you drive there backwards onto the ferry, then drive forward back down again. Driving backwards is still not one of my favorite disciplines. Especially here on the ferry, where you have to squeeze between the truck and the ferry wall with the rear view mirrors folded in. But even that works out perfectly in the end, thanks to the helper!
We enjoy the harbor atmosphere and the crossing to the fullest. Shortly before we dock in Tangier Med, there's a little increased swell at the end. And already we roll onto African soil. We have made it. Stop! There was one other thing. Oh yes, the border. We were instructed to make sure that we also have the border certificate for our vehicle, otherwise there could be problems when we leave the country. The port area of Tanger Med is so insanely large that we suddenly become unsure whether one of these control gates was already the real border. After what feels like two kilometers up and down in front of the impressive ferry scenery, we finally drive onto a small multi-lane border traffic jam. Unmistakably, this is the customs! They ask for our QR code. We don't have it. We were supposed to get it on the ferry. A short back and forth and the nice in civilian dressed chief customs officer hands us a tiny piece of paper with a QR code. "Keep it until you leave the country" is the recommendation. Without having to open any of the doors of our FRAME, we have now entered Morocco. My God, how I miss my drone now. I wish I had! But no, we might feel better later if we don't have this potential spy device with us ;-)
The first kilometers on African soil feel somehow special. But very soon we get used to the new sight. Thanks to the many rains of the last few days, it is not quite as dry here as it probably is in this area. Everywhere green sprouts from the loamy soil. We are amazed at pretty much everything here. Worse roads, many men with the warm cap robes and always great views of the Mediterranean Sea. We drive past Ceuta towards the southeast. The police presence on the roads is astonishingly high and for us it takes a lot of getting used to. Every few kilometers a roadblock and vehicle checks. Obviously, they are not for us, because we are always waved through quickly. Is this only here because of the many refugees who want to come to Europe via the Spanish enclave of Ceuta? We will find out in the course of the journey.
Our destination for the day is a lonely campsite at the Asmir reservoir. The drive to this solitude leads over rough terrain with many puddles of water. Oh how we are always glad that we are not on the road with an ordinary camper van. Since the axles would probably have given up on the first day Morocco.
We reach our destination shortly before the sunny Saturday comes to an end. A violent thunderstorm and squalls sweep over us and let our cabin yet again really rock. In the meantime we have complete confidence that our car is standing on solid wheels and that there is no chance of it tipping over. Somehow, however, we feel at night like in a baby carriage, with which Mother Nature just dances joyfully.
Sometimes rain, sometimes sun and almost always stormy wind
Our first stop in Morocco is Chefchaouen, known as the blue pearl. However, we do not want to visit this city under any circumstances in bad weather and therefore wait patiently until the stormy low pressure system, which has kept Morocco and the Iberian Peninsula in check for days, passes. On the third day of waiting at the reservoir we get impatient and drive back to the coast, further southeast, where the weathermen promise some weather improvement. We find a place to stay with Ahmed, directly on the beach and at the end of the village of Oued Laou. The change of facade feels good and indeed the sun shows up here now and then.
The changing weather does not stop at Ahmed's place neither
Farm idyll with generous culinary gifts from our host
Even the fishermen prefer to take care of the shore work in this weather.
Center image: Deployment of the squid traps
We have been on the continent for almost a week now, and yet we are only about 100 kilometers from the landing site. We enjoy the "drive-free" time just as much as the driving, but still the urge for new adventures and discoveries is growing in us. According to the weather forecast, the end of the bad weather has been predicted for days on the fourth Sunday of Advent. So on this Sunday at the latest we want to explore the blue pearl. After three days in the caring hands of Ahmed, we finally drive up into the mountains. Chefchaouen is located at about 600 meters above sea level and can be reached from the north on a new two-lane road that is well lit at night. This infrastructure suggests a huge tourist rush during the high season. Today we drive up here completely solo to the campground above the blue city. Already on Saturday afternoon, the last clouds of the stubborn stormy low finally disappear and we make our way down to the city.
Chefchaouen, the Blue Pearl
Today is the 17th of December. A day that will go down in Moroccan history, because today is Morocco's last game at the World Cup in Qatar. Whether they win or lose it is almost irrelevant. The Moroccans are THE surprise team of this World Cup. The surprise series started on the day of our crossing to Morocco. So we are their lucky charms from Switzerland, so to speak. On this memorable Saturday they win rather unexpectedly against Portugal. After an undeserved elimination against France, they now play Croatia for the last time today, for the third place of this memorable soccer world championship. The streets of Chefchaouen are empty from 4 PM on. Wherever there is a working television, Moroccans cluster behind it, head to head. The less fortunate stare unflinchingly at their cell phones while sitting in front of their stores, or at least listen to the football reporter. Doing business is out of the question in these hours. Never mind, we enjoy the empty alleys and the opportunity to get the blue pearl in front of the lens without any tourists. If you want to know why everything in Chefchaouen is so fascinatingly blue, take a look at our short video.
After ten days of rain and especially storms, hopefully just as many days of sunshine and warmth will follow. At least the weather forecasts look very positive again at the moment, which drives us to plan the Atlas crossing not on the fastest, but the most adventurous way. The Tizi n Ait Imi and the Tizi n Fougani should be the ones. Two three-thousand-meter passes that are among the most spectacular and adventurous Atlas crossings in Morocco. This plan motivates us on the following day to drive 200 kilometers to the gates of Fes. This royal city, the second largest city in Morocco, is our hub for the crossing of the High Atlas. The way there leads us over main traffic axes to the south, where we first make camp for the night in a lunar landscape around the Sidi Chahed reservoir. As so often, when we like it in a magical place, we take a rest day. Resting, however, does not only mean to relax, but also to take care of all the things we are not able to do in our daily travel routine. After this long period of adverse weather, we have to do some work outside and underneath the vehicle again. Checking the equipment, taking care of the bikes, solar panels and spare wheel, etc.
Morning mood in red
Here at Sidi Chahed we stand about a hundred meters above the designated Park4Night overnight campsite. A wonderful platform that cannot be done without Unimog. Once again we enjoy the privilege of standing where others can only look up longingly. At the same time we are perplexed that this lake is still as good as empty despite the long rain period. There is at least another 20 meters of water missing. So the water shortage doesn't seem to be banished yet. Two weeks of rain obviously do not fill a reservoir. Lesson learned yet again.
After relaxation, it's time for some excitement again. We plunge into the medina of Fes for a day. We are forewarned that one inevitably gets lost in this jumble of narrow streets. Let's see how we cope.
The Blue Gate serves as the entrance to the medina. We get dropped off by a cab chartered from the street. In Morocco, one also shares a small cab with other customers. Whenever a seat is free, the cab driver tries to catch customers waving at the roadside. So new customers join us again and again on the approximately eleven kilometers from the campsite in the south to the medina in the north of Fes.
Equipped with photo and video camera, we plunge into the fray and let ourselves drift. The best orientation is probably the gradient, because the starting point at the Blue Gate seems to be at the very top of this historic center. We inevitably feel transported back to the 14th century. At least when we are not standing in front of a telecom or souvenir store. Fes was the capital of Morocco for a long time. It was only in 1912 that it was transferred to today's Rabat. However, Fes is still considered the cultural and spiritual capital today.
In one of the numerous stores with fascinating handicrafts of the Moroccan Atlas and desert tribes Brigitte admires a huge clinker of stones, silver and chains. Estimated weight, several kilos. I wonder if this is camel ornaments, she asks the shopkeeper. "No, no," he waves it off and laughs heartily. "This is meant as a dowry for the bride. The bigger this piece, the richer the groom." Like the wedding dress in our country, such a showpiece is worn only once in a lifetime, at the wedding day. Probably only for a few minutes, otherwise the delicate bride probably runs the risk of collapsing under the weight.
Narrow streets, narrow stores
The narrow streets are very pleasant at this time of year, that is, little filled. Nevertheless, we do not miss a little breather on one of the imposing roof terraces restaurants. Looking at the medina from up here, I can't help but think of the James Bond movie where they chase him across the rooftops of such an old town. Life up here is so much quieter and more relaxed than down in the busy alleys. We enjoy a traditional Moroccan mint tea, the warmth and the privilege of being here.
Colorful store displays
Sweets and water at almost every corner
Experience craftsmanship up close
Fes is also known for its leather goods and a visit to a traditional tannery is simply not to be missed. Rather by chance we discover the entrance to a multi-storey leather store. The owner immediately directs us to his roof terrace to show us the tanner's craft from above. The famous smells of the pigeon shit used for tanning are, thank God, limited in this cool season. Nevertheless, we wouldn't want to exchange places with the tanners who are standing down there up to their waists in the colorful basins. I learn: camel leather is for bags and the more supple goatskin for clothing. Whereby in Morocco it is exclusively dromedaries and not camels. One remembers the second primary class biology, respectively zoology: One hump equals dromedary, two humps equals camel ;-)
My wife remains steadfast despite the huge offer of great leather goods and buys nothing today. For me, however, there is later a beautiful brown leather belt, because we can't leave Fes without a souvenir.
Despite all the warnings, we find our way out of the medina in the evening without any help and sit down hungrily in a small riad to finally taste the good Moroccan cuisine. Allegedly, this neat little restaurant has just been eaten empty by the Americans. Soup and pastilla remain. Good for an appetizer, but it does not satisfy our hunger. A few meters further we find a great 5-star hotel, which should "give us the rest". His friendly German hotel director can not conjure up a place for us in his crowded restaurant, but he kindly takes us personally back to the city center, so that we can better get a cab.
Actually, this blog should have ended in Fes, if there had not been this probably most eventful night of our Morocco trip. After a strenuous stage of over 200 kilometers from Fes in the direction of the High Atlas, we are once again at one of the numerous reservoirs (see above). We are just enjoying the sunset, the silence and the fresh air, which we missed so much in the big city. It is already semi-dark, there it knocks at the door and a nice Moroccan in company introduces himself as an auxiliary sheriff of the local police. He politely informs us that we should not spend the night here for reasons that are not really understandable. I explain to him that at this hour of dawning darkness I unfortunately no longer feel able to safely master the narrow slope with the very precarious holes at the watercourses. For safety reasons we do not want to drive at night and to find a new place to stand at this time after sunset inevitably leads to a longer drive in the dark. The young man shows understanding for our concerns and quickly abandons his plan. Barely an hour later, however, the Royal Gendarmerie with blue lights is standing in front of our Unimog. Now there are two policemen in uniform and one in civilian clothes, who try to remove us from here with three year old stories of drunken maniacs. While one policeman is clearly trying to push through an order from his superior, the other sympathizes strongly with us and also immediately becomes a follower of our Instagram. For me, however, the risk of hitting one of these holes in the dark is much greater than that anything else could really happen to us here. In addition, the story of the one simply sounds implausible before the gestures of the second gendarme agreeing with us. After we both have exchanged our arguments for the umpteenth time, the gentlemen start to talk on the phone. They talk on the phone and talk on the phone and finally allow me to return to my "chambers". Without a sound they finally leave. We think we have already won the battle and fall dead tired into bed. Shortly before midnight, a loud engine noise wakes us up and gives us the feeling that the matter is not yet over. Four blue light vehicles and altogether twelve men crew of the royal gendarmerie stand before our FRAME. Of all people, the ringleader, a relatively young, good-looking Moroccan, is the only one without a uniform. Without a doubt, he is the top man here and calls the shots. He stands in front of me in his long coat, legs apart, puffing on his cigarette. Even without horse and colt he reminds me strongly of Clint Eastwood in "Once Upon a Time in the West". Of course, I quickly recognized the situation, but first I had to make sure for a few minutes that I'm really not dreaming all this. I try to get used to the idea that my first ride in the dark would actually be via this precarious path up to the country road. Brigitte agrees. We won't get out of this story otherwise.
Still halfway in our pajamas, we throw ourselves behind the wheel and reluctantly start the engines. For such night work in an emergency we have specially installed floodlights on the roof rack. Today we switch them on for the first time in real darkness and are amazed how stark the night becomes day. Escorted by the Gendarmerie Royale, we drive in a blue light convoy almost 20 kilometers to their headquarters. There we are allowed to freely choose a place to spend the night. Not knowing where exactly we have arrived, we go to bed for the second time and wake up the next morning actually in front of the gates of the military quarters, which are located right next to the royal police. Probably we have never slept so sheltered in Morocco as in this night. As unpleasant as the situation may look, the officers were always extremely friendly and were actually just following the orders of their superiors, which from a tourist's point of view do not necessarily have to be comprehensible. In any case, we are grateful that this adventure also had such a positive end. Now I think we have definitely arrived in Africa.
Fell asleep overlooking the Oum Er-Rbia. Woke up in front of the gates of the military quarters.
Next Blog: 2.5 Adventurous crossing of the High Atlas Mountains