3 - Morocco/Mauritania

22/02/2013 15:32

This is the 3rd part of a series of 5, covering the period from January 2011 to March 2013


My wif Ann in her webside "www.vrolijksontrek.com" tells a very detailed story about our expedition to Morocco, acompanied by a series of illustrating pictures.

In this blog entry I would like to let my pictures (a pretty large series) do the talking to give you a general impression of the country and the "feel" of it.

 October 2011

After we had driven off the ferry I was a little disorientated. We drove off in the wrong direction and once we found our feet, so to say, things got better. After we had passed the customs, we had our first glimpse of the desert. A desert, by the way, with quite a lot of activity, villages and farms. It was Eid, the celebration of the end of a month of fasting (only during daytime), or Ramadan. It was because of this feast we were invited at a number of occasions to enter a home and eat and drink - and smoke dagga. It was mainly because of the way these invitations were made, (sometimes from a car parked along the roadside or driving next to us with a foursome of smarmy men shouting and gesticulating) that made me wary. The idea of sitting in a strange home and getting utterly relaxed with the help of a drug, harmless as it may be, did not appeal to me.

So we drove on. We had followed a route slightly inland and to the east. Eventually we reached the Mediterranean cost again and we found a quiet camping. Here we stayed one or two days. Although the winter had passed, it was still chilly and it would take a while before we really started to get warm weather.

I´m not going to make this a long story. I can´t remember a lot of details in Morocco and Mauritania 2 years ago, to be honest. We were in the desert; it was hot and, most of the time, deserted. We loved it. The heat, the remote places without any sign of civilization anywhere, the quietness and freedom. I do remember trying to get over a mountain range to the south and being told the first time to go back, because the road was blocked. It was a couple of pack-mule drivers with their animals we met, coming from the direction we had planned to take. When we agreed to turn round and go back to where we came from, we must have frightened the animals, because they bolted. One of the drivers got the business end of a mule´s rear leg crashing against his head and had to be taken to a doctor in a nearby village for stitches. 

That night I tasted cous-cous for the first time and gladly noted there were no sheep´s eyes part of the meal as I always had thought they would be.

The second time we tried to get over the mountain range we got bogged in the snow at 2400m and had to make a perilous U-turn on the narrow track. The next attempt ended when water, deep and fast-flowing over the road barred us - and much heavier vehicles than our Toyota - from proceeding along that road and the fourth time it was snow again that stopped us. At long last we came through and ended up in Zagora where we found a nice, shady camping with, amongst others, facilities to wash our sheets, which made Ann happy.

We also had some very able mechanics here taking the rattle out of our exhaust (that must have been the 3rd or 4th time someone attempted to solve the problem) but once again, the principle problem was not solved. The exhaust was mounted as a inert part of the engine, secured to the chassis of the car. No provision was made to facilitate the absorption of engine-vibration. Every attempt therefore, that time and those later on, even the last and most drastic improvement in Poland, did not solve the problem of rattling completely. But eventually it will be sorted out! 

The next thing I remember is driving over an enormous expance of desert where nothing grows, more or less parallel to the shoreline with a low row of stony hills on our left. I wanted to get on the other side of the hills where we can camp out of sight from the road. When I think no-one sees us I turn off the road and follow what could have been the tracks of a truck. Then, to my amazement I notice a boy on a bicycle, steering with one hand and holding a tray in the other, trying to keep up with us. Because I don´t want him to break his neck on the stony hillside, I stop and we have a look at what he has to offer: fruit of the area, so to say. The tray holds a number of beautifully polished objects with a fossilized seashell  embedded in the stone. Unfortunately we can´t buy any of them, because what could we do with them? But we make the boy happy by getting him, together with his bicycle, to pose for the camera and part with good cheers. Afterwards we agree we met with a very enterprising little entrepreneur!

Next day we followed the road south, I don´t know for how long, but eventually we crossed the border into Mauritania and later the railway line. To our left the road runs along the railway line to the east; to the right we drive into the capital (!) of Mauritania: Nouakchott. A sprawling single story conglomeration of mud huts, stone dwellings, canvas - and plastic sheets flapping in the wind with numerous cars whipping up the dust, endless rows of little shops, car parts and repair shops and a hot, shadeless camping. It did have facilities though and although very quiet, we met a young French couple as well. It was a pretty nice place to be for a couple of days.

I like Mauritania better than Morocco. Although lacking big exotic towns like Marrakech, Rabat, CasaBlanca and others, it has that feeling that, without a GPS, you could easily get lost in the desert. A few times we almost did, actually.

From Nouakchott we started off by looking for the indicated track along the railway. We missed the turn-off, trekked a few kilometers through the sand and got bogged down. Stayed the night near the spot where it happened and found the road the next day, badly overblown with sand. Só bad we really had problems following the tracks. Near the end we veered north over the railway to the second biggest single rock on earth after Ayers rock in Australia.

I must admit I wasn´t all that impressed: single or not, it´s still a rock. But there were sculptures made by modern-day artists that were worth the trip. Once again, we stayed the night and arrived next day at Bab Sahara, the small but shady and well-appointed camping at Atar where Just (a Hollander) waves the scepter together with his (German) wife. Just has outspoken opinions: he hates the Telegraaf (a Dutch daily with mainly sensationalized local news) and has no respect for dif-locks etc, because deflated tyres is the answer to everything.

We also met up with Martin and Eva we had met before who were on their way to Mali. The first attempt almost ended in failure and they had to return to camp. After the second time they departed we never saw them again and, what with the trouble in Mali, we hope they are doing well.

With Bab Sahara as our base camp, we made a seven day trip deep into the desert to see an old volcano site (never erupted) and remains of a French fortress with rock paintings nearby. We crossed large fields of stone, sometimes smooth and sometimes with sharp edges that cost us two tyres. We also visited a village nearby where some kind of festival was going to be held with camel races etc, but that fell flat due to a bad storm that made it impossible to erect tents and have a ball.

You know the song “join the navy and see the world; what did we see? We saw the sea”. Well, we saw the desert. And we loved it. More than exotic towns and leather factories, old walled towns with a myriad of  narrow, cobbled and covered allies flanked by thousands of shops all cramped with more stock the owners can hope to sell in a hundred years. We loved the cobble-strewn dry riverbeds, the waving sand-dunes and rocky outcrops where camping is an exquisite experience, the far . . far away horizons, the fleeing foxes and the way we were able to get out of trouble all by ourselves without the help of anybody (most of the time). There are a lot of other places we haven´t seen, but if I knew in advance those places were not interesting, I´d go to Mauritania again; it´s wonderful!

In begin May 2012 we started out direction Kazakstan and the other “stans” for a trip that held many very pleasant surprises!