Africa Overland Part 3 - Talaru
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Africa Overland Part 3

AFRICA OVERLAND - PART 3

SUNDAY 8TH SEPTEMBER


Most of today was taken up with driving. Our only real stop was at Ait Benhaddou, just outside Ouarzazate. Ait is a popular location for movies. It is basically a ruined fortress town situated on a hill. Rumour has it that movies like Lawrence of Arabia and Indiana jones had scenes shot here. The city is made from red mud, with houses seemingly built on top of each other. We walked around the city for an hour or so and were invited into a house. Although most of the town is a crumbling ruin, some parts are still inhabited. Although the house was simple it had magnificent views out over the stream and to the plains beyond.

 

We drove some more and eventually chose a campsite for the night. We couldn’t have tried any harder to find the windiest site in Morocco. It took about 10 of us to erect the cook tent, at the same time trying to shield our faces from the biting sand. The wind didn’t stop all night and luckily I was on cook’s helper duty so got to sleep in the cook tent. A few people’s tents fell down and most of the group gathered around or under the truck to sleep that night.

Ait Benhaddou

The wind had died down by morning and we left fairly early in order to arrive at Marrakesh at a decent hour. We drove up into the High Atlas – it is a very barren landscape interspersed every so often by valley or groves of green palms, or fields of lush growth. It was really slow going up through the mountains. The roads are very steep and winding. We had a good view since we were sitting in the cab – it was a bit hair raising at times . We stopped a few times that day to look for food but the only produce being sold was apples, onions and goat meat. Eventually we found a few other things so we could make an interesting meal.

We arrived at Marrakesh by 3pm to find the worst campsite in town! Pity it was also the only campsite in town. My advice for Marrakesh is pay for a budget hotel – it is not usually more than a camp and is far superior.

 

We had to go out and buy more food so took the opportunity to explore town. We managed to find one chicken and some fruit and vegetables and also stocked up the bar – 5 crates of beer, 4 crates of soft drink and 12 rolls of toilet paper. That night I cooked a chicken casserole with tomatoes, olives and peppers. For dessert we had fresh fruit and yogurt flavoured with honey and cinnamon. Everyone seemed quite pleased with the meal. I was really tired and fell asleep at midnight.

 

TUESDAY 10TH SEPTEMBER


Had a free day in Marrakesh today. It was a lazy start and we left the campsite at noon. I ended up having to hang out everyone’s washing since the washing guy managed to clean the clothes but then just dumped it at the camp without hanging it out.

 

After that some of us walked into the medina, which took about 40 minutes. The souk is located behind the famous square – Djema El Fna. The entrance to the souk is flanked by 60 or so orange juice stands. You can have a glass of fresh squeezed juice for 2 Dihram. In the same area are carts that offer dates, nuts and figs. Also in Djema Al Fna are all manner of exotic people – snake charmers, herbalists, and fortunetellers. The snake charmers play these trumpets that sound like a high-pitched clarinet. The sound is very evocative of the East. I didn’t get too close since I had been told that if you watch for too long without paying you can get a snake thrown at you.

 

We went for lunch in a restaurant that was on the edge of the souk, but upstairs. It offered great views of the square and it’s happenings and the food was good as well. I had ‘omelette aux fines herbes’ and a salad, which isn’t really traditional Moroccan food but certainly different to what I would eat at home.

 

After lunch we ventured into the souk, and after a short time spent avoiding hustlers we went back to camp, promising to return at night when there would be more crowds and hopefully fewer hustlers. After dinner we caught a horse cart back to the square and went straight to the juice stalls. A few of us then entered the winding streets of the souk and walked past rows and rows of shops and stalls. The most common produce for sale is dates, clothes, shoes and wood/brassware. I bought a pair of Moroccan ‘baboushes’ which are black leather slippers with a long pointed toe to them. They cost 120Dh so I am not sure if it was a bargain but I don’t mind – I’ll probably never own another pair.

On the way back out of the souk I found myself in the old slave market, where there are some jewelry shops. I bought a silver Tuareg cross. It is intricately carved and apparently is used as navigational aids by the desert people. My cross (and really, it’s not at all shaped like a cross) showed the South Star, or what we know as the Southern Cross here in Australia. I thought it was appropriate since the Southern Cross is on our national flag. I was sure to make it home, eventually. The cross cost 150Dh and its Tuareg name is ‘Bagzame’ after the tribe that uses this particular cross. I also bought bags of dates and almonds and a block of ‘seseme’, which are sesame seeds mixed with honey to form a sticky but very tasty sweet. We hailed a carriage and headed back to the camp. As a lark I was handed the reins and ended up driving most of the way home. The driver told us that the horse was named ‘Co Co Minuet’ which apparently translates into ‘small cooking pot’. Not sure of the accuracy of the translation but the point was that the horse will end up in a pot when he retires. We avoided being pulled over by a policeman. We had 7 people in the carriage and apparently the law allows only 6 people. I ended up sleeping in the truck that night since I forgot to take out the legs for my camp bed, and could not access them by the time we got home. I could have slept anywhere being as tired as I was.

Alleyway in Essaouira

WEDNESDAY 11TH SEPTEMBER

 

We packed up camp in Marrakesh and drove towards the coast. I am currently at As-Sawirah (known by most people as Essaouira) which is a lovely old town . It typifies what I expect a true Arab town looks like – with whitewashed houses and cool, winding streets. There is none of the grime and crowds of the cities and there is a nice cool breeze from the ocean. Being dad’s birthday today I wandered the streets to find a post office where I could phone him. It turned out to be the most frustrating experience so far on the trip. I went to the ‘teleboutique’ and asked if I could make a reverse charge call. The lady said to go to the post office. So I went there and all the phone booths outside had been damaged and didn’t have phones in them. I went into the post office and was told to try next door. So I went next door and was told that it is not possible to make a reverse charge call between Morocco and Australia. I had to buy a phone card and then I could make a call. I had to buy the phone card in the post office, so I went back in there and they told me that they had run out. On the way back to the town square I found a teleboutique where I paid 100Dh and got 2-3 minutes to wish my dad a happy birthday.

 

After lunch we went off wandering the streets. It really is a nice place with the old whitewashed buildings and little alleyways twisting off in all directions. We went to the fish market and they have an eating area where you can buy fresh fish, just caught that morning, and have it cooked while you wait on a little brazier. As part of the deal you also get flat bread and salad.  I had already eaten, though wished I hadn’t, so wandered around for another hour or so until I eventually reached the spice market. There were people sitting around with their goods displayed on rugs spread on the ground. There were all manner of weird and wonderful things on display. Most were dried herbs and spices, none of which I recognised, but the smell was great.

 

We left Essaouira and drove 30 minutes north to a known campground. The camp in Essaouira is just a barren plot of land with a wall around it. Instead we camped in the dunes near the beach. We collected wood and built up a huge fire and someone managed to cook Hungarian Goulash for dinner. We had spent half an hour before dinner rescuing some French guys who had managed to bog their Kombi Van in the sand. I camped out and laid on my bed staring up at millions of stars. The weather was cool and I slept well.

Spice Market in Essaouira

THURSDAY 12TH SEPTEMBER

 


Drove to Agadir today. It wasn’t a long drive, about 1 hour, and we arrived at lunchtime. It is a nice drive along the coast – winding roads carved into the hillside. The sky and the ocean are clear blue – no clouds at all. On our way to Agadir we saw the tree climbing goats. I had seen them on a postcard but thought it was a trick. But sure enough, there were goats galore standing in these straggly trees by the side of the road. I’m not sure why they climb but I suspect that their little herders scare them up there, so that they can make money from tourists who take photos. Maybe the trees offer the only edible vegetation for miles. To exit the tree they leap out, or just drop down, like lemmings going over a cliff.

 

Arriving in Agadir from Essaouira is like getting to the moon after time on Earth. The quaint Arab houses are replaced by resorts and high rise hotels. The camp ground was quite good but the ground was hard and it was deathly hot. I wandered into town and bought a few trinkets at the market, in between coffees at a café. Went back to camp and got changed for dinner. We went to a Moroccan restaurant called El Poncho. I had a selection of Moroccan salads and chicken with lemons and olives. We also drank a fair bit so a few of us were a bit drunk by the end of the night. I ended up in bed at about 1am only to be up again at 6am so we could get an early start. I had a pretty severe headache when I woke up so had some asprin for breakfast.

 

FRIDAY 13TH SEPTEMBER

 

Had a long day of driving today. We needed to make up some distance so we could get to Dakhla in time to join the convoy into Mauritania. We camped on the edge of a cliff that perched above the Atlantic Ocean. It was a nice spot and we watched a magnificent sunset – a huge bright orange ball shimmering on the horizon. There was no moon tonight but there were millions of stars. I slept outside just so I could lay there and stare at them. I woke up in the morning with a fine layer of dew on my sleeping bag – but I was snug all night just the same.

Atlantic Ocean Sunset – Coast of Morocco/Western Sahara

SATURDAY 14TH SEPTEMBER


Drove to Layounne which is one of the major towns in what used to be called Spanish Sahara, now known as Western Sahara. It is now a part of Morocco but this is in dispute I believe – why, I am not sure. There is nothing there and I cannot understand why, around the world, countries fight over barren empty land. There must be some threat of trouble as there are police check points every half hour or so along the main road. They are usually very friendly – only once we were asked to show our passports but in the end the guards lost interest and we never showed them.

Got to Layounne around 11.30am and went off to find the post office (it was closed, being a Saturday) and then went to find a hammam. It was really hot and dusty so in the end we caught a taxi which took us a further 400 meters to the hammam. It was a fairly basic hammam and was very crowded. Either way it was great to have a wash. It was a very hot hammam and I was sweating by the end of it, but this was remedied by a few minutes outside in the hot, dry wind.

As I write we are camped by the ocean again. It is a really windy spot and I had trouble getting the tent up. I think I’ll sleep in tonight since I can see a few storms on the horizon.

It’s interesting to see how the group has developed over the last 3 weeks. There are definite cliques forming – no sleezes or prats luckily. I get along well with most of the guys and the women have formed their little groups with whom I interact more from courtesy than interest. Well, can’t expect to click with everyone. I do get along well with one of the women but I think I have little in common with the others – they are a bit too conservative. I hope the divisions don’t become too great since we all have to live with each other for the next 14 weeks.

In the truck today, I kept falling asleep. Each time I woke up I found my shoelaces tied together, or my shoe was tied to the rubbish bin or my day pack. It was a good laugh. I’ve been plotting my revenge ever since. Lately I have been feeling very tired and have slept a lot on the truck. Well, it is hot and the days are long and boring. There’s not too much else that we can do.

Playing soccer in Dakhla