August 31, 2004 GMT
2004 - Morrocco part deux

So here I am again in a hot country sitting in a dark sweaty internet cafe!!! Last time I wrote we were in Todra Gorge, so that seems as good a place as any to start.......I can't check what I wrote last time because this computer is soooo slow, but hopefully I won't repeat anything!

Todra Gorge, as its name suggests is a gorge! It is pretty amazing though, very narrow and extremely steep. We stayed on the roof of an Auberge at the mouth of the gorge and the stars were stunning.....we even saw a shooting star on our first night..aaah!

The gorge was packed out with Morroccan tourists as it is a popular destination for weddings and holidays. Unfortunatley they leave their litter everywhere, which is a shame because it spoils such a beautiful place, but no-one seems to notice the piles of plastic bags and bottles. The gorge has a river source within it and so we were able to fill up our drinking water for free (it is my Yorkshire blood.......something for free always makes me happy!). After two nights we decided we needed some beach time, so we made our way to the coast. We parted company with our travelling companion Gary, as he was meeting his girlfriend in Marrakesh. He is a great bloke and it was fun travelling with him, but to be honest we were glad to see the back of him because his bike was much better than ours AND he had aluminium panniers!!!




We made it Essouira on the Atlantic coast in 1 day, by-passing Marrakesh. We decided on the beach over a busy city, but we will definately pay a visit to Marrakesh on our return trip! The road took us through the High Atlas and yet more amazing scenery on the winding mountain roads. Mountain roads obviously are a great place for the Morrocan truck drivers to practise their driving skills and Paul and I came face to face with these 'skills' in the form of an articulated lorry overtaking on a hairpin bend! The last couple of hundred Kms to the coast were like driving through Chernobyl. It looks as if there was a nuclear explosion between Marrakesh and the West coast, leaving only oil tankers and of course, plastic bottles in its wake!
Essouira was a great seaside town with a lovely Medina and huge beach. It is a popular destination for wind surfing and kite surfing and once you arrive it is clear why..... We spent two days being whipped by sand from the beach in a force 9 gale, but being British we maintained our position on the beach throughout this adversity and burnt to a crisp.......well that is what holidays are about isn' t it! Our tent suffered a fatal blow during the gale and is now being held together with gaffer tape! Still, it is great for wind surfing!

With rested bottoms and burnt shoulders we decided to leave Essouria and make our way slowly up the coast to Casablanca so we could get our Mauritanian visas. With the hurricane on our backs we rode north along the coast, which is gorgeous. Huge cliffs and long, white, deserted beaches. We made a pit stop at a hotel, who let us camp in their grounds and arrived in Casablanca. Incidentally this hotel sold beer, a bit of a novelty for us! You can get alcohol in Morrocco, but we havn't really sought it out and consequently we have become total lightweights in the last 3 weeks!!!!! 3 beers and we were hammered!

Casablanca was the first big Morroccan city we had visited and it looked a lot like I expected a big Morroccan city to look!!! We stayed in the Municipal campsite, which we found by a pure stroke of luck and even more unbeleivably, it was around the corner from the Mauritanian embassy! Our good fortune continued the next day when we got our Visas with no problems......obviously it was overcast, but that is only to be expected, you can't have everything!

With our first visas burning a hole in our flesh-coloured security bum bags, we decided to make the trip South to Mauritania. We stopped the first night in the beach town, Sidi Ifni on the south western coast of Morrocco. We did about 600kms riding that day and I thought I was going to have to have my undies surgically removed from my butt! We passed through Agadir, playing Russian Roulette at the stop streets and roundabouts, and arrived in Sidi Ifni in the evening and started to search for a camp site. The first one was on the beach and it said it was a campsite on the sign, but inside it had all the attributes of a refugee camp! We tried a few hotels and after getting the prices decided it would be a good experience to camp after all !!! We found a nice spot on the sand and got off the this exact moment there was a huge crack of thunder and the heavens was tipping down! The campsite became a mud bath in minutes and to make things worse the rain is muddy because the wind picks up sand from the Sahara, so we (and our tent) were getting soaked and the water was brown.......nice! I put our wet, mud brown bedding into the wet mud brown tent and we decided to go for a meal to cheer us up. It worked and after a morrocan Tajine (stew), a couple of Fanta Orange and a change of clothes we both felt much better!

I am sure Sidi Ifni is a great place, but a combination of sore bottoms, tired heads and poo-brown rain meant we upped sticks early the next morning! We were heading for the Western Sahara. This foms the southern part of Morrocco, but is disputed territory that wishes to be independent. We had read about a nice campsite in Layounne on the Atlantic coast and so headed for there....apparently it had clean tiolets and showers so I was quite excited!

The ride through the Western Sahara was unbeleivable. The road follows the coast very closely all the way to Mauritania, so it feels like you are tracing the edge of the African continent and there is nothing there, literally nothing, just desert and camels and a road! Often the hot wind would blow in from the desert and make it quite dark and cloudy, then in an instant it would clear and we were hit by a freezing wind from the sea. We ate our lunch with a backdrop of sand dunes rolling into the sea, which was beautiful.

Because of the situation in the Western Sahara we had entered the land of Police road blocks! It seems the Morroccan authorities have an unhealthy fascination with professions and this was all we had to declare! Luckily being an insurance saleswoman and computer man seemed to be good enough to get us through (......this was all I could say in French), so although tiresome these frequent stops were harmless. We arrived at the campsite in Layounne in good time and spent the day enjoying the clean hot showers and the nearby waterfall in an Oasis! We decided to sleep out under the stars as it was pretty windy for our injured tent. At about 1am it started to rain (freak weather for the Saraha......or so we keep being told!), so we admitted defeat and pitched our crooked tent !!!!

The next day we looked around Layounne and tried to work out the best way of getting from the Morroccan border to the capital of Mauritania, Nouakchott. There were 3 options: take the beach piste south, which you really need a guide for if you don't have GPS or a 4x4; take the iron Ore train east, inland and pick up a road south to Nouakchott: take the truck piste south, where they are building a new road. We favoured the new road:truck piste option as it sounded the least sandy and quickest. The next day all our prayers were answered when we met a French couple with 2 young children in a 4x4, who were moving to Mauritania. They were meeting a Mauritanian friend at the border who was going to guide them down the truck piste to Nouakchott and they were happy to let us follow.......perfect. And so we carried on South the the border with Mauritania......

Posted by Paul Jenkins at August 31, 2004 02:53 PM GMT

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