Africa Overland Part 2 - Talaru
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Spent the day in Rabat – capital of Morocco. We drove around for about 1/2 an hour looking for the CAR Embassy. When we found it and got the visas under way we wandered down the street to a local cafe. I had my first Moroccan mint tea – what can I say? Hot, sweet and minty but very refreshing. Then, I am ashamed to say, we went into the centre of town, looking for McDonald’s. After only a week on the road we are planning to have our last McDonald’s feast until Cairo- the next Macca’s on our itinerary. In our search we wandered through streets of white-washed houses and maze-like alleyways. The doors were all closed but I could imagine that inside there were gardens and fountains. The smell of spices drifted through the air. There were shops selling a myriad of interesting things from whole sheep carcasses to shoes and jewellery. Everyone seems to live on top of each other here. Our wanderings took us to the edge of town, which luckily happened to be the harbour. Still no sign of McDonald’s, we were fortunate to find a local who could understand English and was able to point us in the right direction. I had a double cheeseburger, fries and Fanta for 36 Dihram, where the exchange rate is 6 DH to the dollar so it was by no means a cheap meal. And as usual, after eating McDonald’s I wished I hadn’t. To wash it down we went into a nearby cafe to have a coffee and at the same time wrote some postcards.


We camped in the woods outside Rabat tonight. It was a nice spot up on a hill overlooking the ocean. I got some shots of the sun going down but I’m not sure how they will turn out. I slept outside, as it was quite warm. At about 3am a dog came racing through the campsite. I was fast asleep but must have sensed it’s presence and automatically woken up. I reacted instinctively and hissed at it. The dog went yelping back into the forest. We also had our first campfire that night. Until now we have been cooking on gas stoves, which from now on will be used as a back up to firewood. It was nice to smell the burning eucalypt wood, just like a BBQ at home. Morocco has a lot of Eucalypt trees, which are native to Australia. The landscape is similar – barren and dry which is perfect for the Eucalypts.


We woke at about 5.30 this morning and went back into Rabat to collect our CAR visas. Most of us went to the local hypermarket to stock up on beer and munchies. Then we drove to Volubilus which is a Roman ruin with some great mosaics. I didn’t go in because you can see most of it from outside, and I am not that interested in Roman ruins anyway. I was looking forward to having an hour to myself away from the group. Instead, I lay on the stone wall surrounding the site and had a rest under an olive tree. I was then interrupted by a Moroccan guy who started to explain to me about massage, and how the olive oil from these trees is good for giving massages. He was OK but Chris, from my group, came up and joined me and the would-be masseur wandered off to pester someone else.


It was then a 1.5 hour drive to Fes. The campground – ‘Camping Diamante Vert’ – was about 5km out of town, and compared to other campsites, we classed it as luxurious. It had a swimming pool, hot showers and clean but smelly toilets. They are only squat toilets but we are used to these now. I do prefer rough camping to established camp grounds, though this place had enough trees to provide good shade from the sun. We had a bit of a big night – finished off the duty free vodka and had a laugh with the regular drinkers of the group.


We went off on a tour of Fes today. First we went to a lookout that had great views of the whole town. It is a very monochrome city – lots of white and sand colours with the odd green roof. Our first stop on the tour was a ceramic factory where we saw pots and mosaics being made. All the artisans worked in dark, musty little rooms but still managed to produce some beautiful work. We went into the medina, which is 16 square kilometres of markets and homes. We stopped at the obligatory tannery to see how leather is treated. The smell was enough to make me puke – it was really bad. In every dark corner there were piles of animal skins and various other remains of the animals,  just lying around. The hides are processed in small rooms with no ventilation. You walk along a dirt floor with piles of stagnant, smelly water just sitting around. My stomach heaved the whole time we were there but I managed to keep my stomach contents in.


They wash the skins in big holes in the ground – like vats that have been dug right out of the floor. They are washed in a mix of calcium and a few other things, then they are coloured using natural dyes. Saffron is for yellow, aubergine for purple, indigo for blue and poppies for red. They then stretch the skins onto frames, which are laid out on the roof. The sun dries the skins and also sets the dye. I was reluctant to go through the building again but made it out without taking a breath.


We walked the streets of the Medina – winding alleyways which seem to go in every direction but at the same time, nowhere at all. Apparently you need a guide just to get you out of there. Next on the agenda was the carpet factory. A few people spent between US$200-500 on a carpet. Some of the carpets were nice but I couldn’t be bothered. After the carpet experience we went for lunch in a local restaurant. I ordered a dish called ‘kofta aux oeufs’, which was basically mini meatballs in a tomato sauce with shreds of boiled egg sprinkled on top. We also had a selection of Moroccan salads and some great bread. You get a large round of white bread and a small round of rough, grainy bread. It cost us about 150 Dh each which was really expensive but we were all so hungry no one cared about the cost. For this trip we do our own cooking, so  most people are not adventurous enough to try cooking local dishes – probably because we don’t know how to cook them. So it is nice to get out and try local cuisine when we can.


I have seen in a few shops these pointy toed leather slippers, which are worn by all the Moroccan men and most of the women. I hope to be able to get a pair as a unique souvenir. After lunch we went to a rug factory. It was explained that women make the carpets (flowery and colourful patterns) and men make the rugs, which are more subdued, and geometric.


I learned another interesting fact. I had noticed that a lot of women have these blue, geometric line tattoos on their faces. The patterns are tribal markings performed by the Berber people and they tell strangers which tribe the women are from. If they do not get their tattoo they cannot marry a man outside their tribe. And if they do get the tattoo they cannot speak to anyone who is not a direct relative. The tattoo tells the man what tribe the woman is from. Sounds like women drew the short straw either way. After going to the post office we went back to camp and had a swim. Now I am sitting by the fire waiting for dinner, which is smelling pretty good.


Me, on the outskirts of Fes

Tannery, Fes



We are on our way out of Fes at the moment. We were due to leave at 8am but were delayed for an hour because one of the group lost her passport. Luckily she eventually remembered that she had left it at the bank, when changing money the day before. It was still there so after lots of crying and hysterics by the passport owner, we were off once again.


Yesterday (5/9) started off as a lazy day. We woke late and had a leisurely breakfast. Then I rearrangedmy bags to sort out the dirty clothes for washing. A man at the camp quoted us 10 Dh per item to wash for us, so we washed our small things and left the big things to him. I then lay down on my camp bed under a tree and dozed until lunchtime. After lunch Pat and I caught the local bus into town (2 Dh each). We had to do some things for Dave, our driver, and in-between jobs we sat in a cafe on a nice shady street, having cool drinks. We caught up with a few of the others in the Post Office and spent the next half hour wandering around looking for the bus stop. Eventually we gave up and caught a taxi back to the camp site. As we arrived, Dave was driving the truck out to go to the supermarket, so we jumped in, glad for the opportunity to stock upon munchies.


After shopping we went to a Hammam. It was a men’s and women’s hammam and about 6 of us girls went in together. It cost us 25Dh each for a wash and massage. We were told to strip down to our underpants, and then we were led through some small rooms to a big tiled room. There were two large pools of water, one scaldingly hot and one cold. We had to sit on the floor while these two old women filled about 12 buckets. One by one we had our hair washed and then we had to lay on the floor so they could wash our bodies. It was very warm and steamy, and there were a few local women in there as well. We didn’t cause as much of a stir as I thought we would, being a group of foreigners, invading a small local hammam.


Even though it was an interesting experience I don’t think we got our monies’ worth. They seemed to want to rush us out of there as quickly as possible. The old woman who did the washing wore only underpants, and had a badly hunched back. Her breasts just hung down, almost to her waist. After the hammam I felt very relaxed – probably more from the heat than the massage.


We had spaghetti for dinner that night. I then went off to bed early – about 9.30 which is quite early for me. I must have had a bad dream because I woke myself up screaming at about 3am. I don’t remember what was going through my mind, but when I woke I had a very strong feeling of disorientation. I had no idea where I was. I yelled out to Pat “Where am I?” (I had woken her too). She simply replied “Somewhere outside Fes”, and that must have been enough because I went back to sleep right away. Tres weird!!



Yesterday (Friday) was a long day of driving. We stopped in a town in the mid-Atlas and did some food shopping. Then we continued on until we found a place by the road to stop for lunch. This place was colonised by ‘Barbary Monkeys’. Basically  they look like your every-day monkey. We reached an altitude of just over 1900m during our drive through the mountains. It is a very barren landscape, like the terrain of the Egyptian desert. The ground is very dry and rocky, and every now and then a village will seem to pop up from the ground. Most of the houses blend with the earth since they are made from mud bricks, but some are painted a salmon pink colour.


Our campsite on this night was a big open plain – flanked on both sides by mountains. It was a lunar-like landscape and I would not have been surprised if a space ship landed to camp next to us. The mountains rise very sharply up from the ground, and the distance to them from our camp was very deceptive to the naked eye. What looks to be quite close is actually 2-3 km away. I realised this when we saw some small, white dots moving along in the distance. They were a herd of goats, and seeing them walking along the base of the mountains put everything into perspective for me.


I decided to sleep out that night, but when it started to rain I moved my bed under the trailer. Bruce was sleeping nearby and his snoring kept me awake. After managing to get about 1 hour of sleep the rain increased to a torrent, so I gave up and went back to the tent.

Campsite – High Atlas Mountains

Enjoying space and freedom in the High Atlas Mountains

Today, after our night on the plain, we continued on a picturesque drive through the mountains. We stopped for shopping in a local village – and a few of us gathered in a cafe for the usual cafe-au-lait. We arrived at Todra Gorge at about 1pm today. In contrast to the surrounding landscape, the Gorge is a valley of palm trees and houses, clinging close to the gorge, and therefore close to water.


Our night at the Gorge turned out to be very eventful. After arriving, some of the group went for a walk up the Gorge. The rest of us stayed at the truck and attempted some cleaning and I had a short snooze, since I was very tired after getting only 4 hours of sleep the night before. My sleep did not last long and I was woken by a fierce wind that had seemingly come from nowhere. As it turned out, a sand storm was racing down the Gorge and I was woken by the initial winds. I was amazed at how suddenly the wind appeared, and soon it was a howling mass of sand. We managed to get the sides of the truck down, but not before a large amount of sand and dirt covered everything. A few items of clothing flew out of the truck, and the inside of the truck resembled a movie scene on Bewitched, where clothes and plates were flying around everywhere. The wind died down and a few seconds later torrential rain hit us. So now, everything that was covered in sand was now caked in sand. It seemed to last for quite a while and all we could do was stay in the truck and wait out the storm.


When the storm finally abated and the sky was blue once more, we did a cursory tidy of the truck, retrieved lost clothing and headed up to the showers. Some other members of the group were caught in the Gorge when the storm hit and had to take cover as best they could. They arrived back at the truck looking very disheveled. After our showers we put on our ‘fancy’ clothes (ie: anything that was clean and free of sand) and went to the restaurant for a traditional Moroccan meal.


After dinner we moved out to the Berber Tent. Located on a balcony above the creek, which was now flowing from the recent rains, the Berber Tent is just that. It covers a large area and and has benches built in around the sides. There were also tables and chairs scattered around, for those who were not inclined to laze back like a Berber Sheikh. The benches are covered with cushions and the roof is a large piece of woven cloth, somewhat like a sail, draped across posts. In a way it was like a big marquee with open sides. We sat around drinking and talking until about 2am. When it was time for sleep I wandered, carrying my sleeping bag, up the stairs to the dormitories. I could not find a bed, since the rooms were full, so I went back to the Berber Tent and laid my sleeping bag and pillow out on the cushions. A few other members of the group eventually joined me and soon we fell asleep to the sound of the stream below.


We woke early the next morning and continued our Berber Sheikh behaviour. The waiters brought us coffee and we laid back on our cushions, still encased in sleeping bags, sipping our drinks and smoking cigarettes. It was a very decadent morning, compared with the standards we were used to. Once the cooks rose we wandered over to the truck for breakfast and more coffee, before commencing another day of driving.

Hotel at Todra Gorge

Berber Tent – my bedroom for the night at Todra Gorge