After a great evening of drink and the wearing of women’s underwear and silent staring at the star filled night sky with “tinni” in hand we turned in, dawn arrived before too long and the usual scene took place..coffee..toilet..shuffling about..waking up..grunting good mornings..then the usual gymnastics of taking tents down wrapping up and chucking them onto the truck, clambering up after them to secure them with straps, sweat poured from me as I competed the job and sat there on the roof watching the others, it really was hot even at this early hour of 08.00hrs.
I went to the reception and collected money owed, they had to get change from somewhere, it really is a great idea to have a healthy amount of coins and small denominations in Morocco, unlike back home in the UK where we seem to be slipping away from a “real money” society, using a bank card instead to buy almost anything and everything. The others soon came on and we bid farewell from the decent white shirted guy in reception leaving the site going right, down the road to meet up with Deane and Steve a few miles down the road at their swanky hotel….Camping my arse boys!
Deane’s Range Rover had started to develop a fault and needed looking at, Rob had brought his diagnostic pack so promptly plugged it in and started the engine, gripping it he murmured to the engine ” Cough please” The ensuing data and Robs diagnosis confirmed there was a problem developing the best thing at the moment was to keep an eye in it, Morocco didn’t have a wealth of garages at least not out here in the countryside Land Rover or otherwise. We were still heading south and further into the remote and beautiful land. We would be heading into the Atlas Mountains and into the Sahara in a few days, it was getting better and better and was the main reason most of us had come, a hiccup wasnt going to scare us off, there was enough of us to tow Deane if it came to that. I am no expert but was more than willing to get my strap out and take him in tow to wherever, I think this went for everyone. We decided to “bat on” kicking the trucks into life we left the posh forecourt and head off on the thin grey tarmac in a southerly direction.
The start of the Cirque de Jaffar
Deane cruises over the rubble track in the Range Rover
Steve follows behind eating dust in the black Disco
Bringing up the rear for a change Dave Helen and Joe
We hadn’t gone far when Rob indicated a right turn onto a faint track in to the Jebl Ayachi. This was more like it! Before us stood a huge mountain range sandy in colour and lacking in trees and vegetation, much more akin to my imagination of what the country had to offer. I was in a tough English farm vehicle with a sound frame and engine and just thirteen years old, young for a Defender, so had no worries whatsoever about what lay ahead.
Making easy work of the vast sandy plains before the mountains ahead
Dave would be taking a break from the front today as Rob took the lead, they had spent many a night plotting and checking the routes using Garmin and Google Earth. it was collated in his I-Pad which was mounted on his dashboard Dave had similar information on his Navigation equipment especially his GPS and complemented this with his wealth of Land Rovering adventuring experiences, we would be in good hands, all we had to do was keep up and keep one or the other in sight. We now entered the “Cirque de Jaffar” on a well used 4X4 track and of course a road used by the villagers to get from one to the other.
Can you see the faint trail marks we have just come up?
As far as they were concerned it was just an ordinary road to the next village, to us Englishmen though it was a test of our driving skills. You may mock but let me tell you in detail what I saw in front of me as we came around one of the first bends chiseled out of the steep mountain side, the wasnt tarmac across the width either, the edges corroded away to peddle and stone, the road was just one vehicle width and had no safety armco.. just fresh air between truck and oblivion, hundreds of feet below. One such corner had disappeared, two iron poles were braced in place and boulders piled up ans flatter ones used to repair the “road ” surface! We climbed and climbed hugging the sides of steep hills and small mountains, low box was engaged to establish a good grip and the speed was around 30 mph. I couldn’t help keeping an eye out for vehicles coming the other way and wandered about passing paces of which there seemed to be none! Oh well, being at the rear of the group meant I wouldn’t be the first to come up against the problem. The higher we drove the stronger the winds got especially driving through the gorges, the wind blew so hard it slowed our already slow progress. Several corners ahead I saw another vehicle, it was going in the same direction, at a wider part of the road it pulled over to let us pass. When I came to it I was amazed to see it was a German VW Campervan.
Spot the one that’s NOT a Land Rover!
It wasnt one of those rounded ones but a boxy 1980’s T25 variant, canary yellow in colour and occupied by a German couple. What amazed me was that it had ordinary tyres, not huge grabbers or all terrain type tyres. A young Moroccan boy soon came into view and shouted at us gesturing us to slow down holding his hands out for “freebies” I ignored him like the rest and watched him set of running after us. The road now tipped downwards and we picked up a little speed leaving him well behind. After twenty minutes of so we came to a flat piece where the winter rains filled the wide gap in the mountains, we pulled off the track and found a spot between the boulders to brew tea and have lunch. Presently the VW came into view they stopped briefly to say hello before going on up the other side of the mountains, I chewed on bread and watched him as he came back into view several times on their upwards spiral. It wasnt especially dangerous but just very different from what we are used to. We started to pack the stoves away when that little kid appeared in the distance still running and shouting! “Quick let’s get going before he gets to us” someone said. I was getting a bit annoyed at him because everytime I slowed down on the downward corners he caught up and all I could hear was his shouting, I was trying my best to ignore him and concentrate on looking to the front to were the road and fresh air met. We pulled away just as he got to us!I laughed and waved at him before concentrating on the skinny rocky track in front and the journey up the other side carrying on, on our spiral journey upwards.
Chris and Dave in IONA follows Rob and Matt in the Black 90
The yellow VW had made short work of the mountain climb and had now disappeared from view, Im sure he had a Panzer engine installed and the skinny tyres were some kind of top secret Panzer tyres. It was a fantastic drive through the mountains, I stopped often to take a few photos or just to stop stare and take it all in then had to race a bit to catch everyone up, that was a bit exciting here and there but at one point I could smell my brakes so eased off the dash to catch up.
As we made our way to the first village of the day we stopped to hand out gifts we were practically mobbed by the children. I had been told months earlier that 4×4 groups took gifts for the children as they were so poor, things like pens pencils and notepads, apparently children had to provide their own stuff for school. Also footwear, clothing, smokes, food, water and sweets would be asked for. The clothes would be welcomed by the people living in the mountain regions as it gets really cold in the winter. Id been down to our local £1 shop and bought a two dozen pairs of kid sized flip-flops I also bought pencils pens and notebooks. Id been told by one tour operator friend how in recent times they prefered not to do this anymore as the kids were getting a bit much, a story goes that one child actually fell under the wheels of a passing 4×4 and was killed. Another couple I know who went for a long weekend to one of the cities last year said their guide was shoo-ing the begging kids away. Anyway Id gone with the flow of the group and bought two dozen exercise books, fifty assorted pencils a dozen pens and lots of pairs of flip-flops. All this was now in a box on the passenger seat ready to be handed out, but no smokes, sweets or clothes.
Young Dave gets jostled as (older) Dave picks up a boy for the photo
Kids swarmed around the first couple of trucks, young Dave opened the back door of IONA and was promptly jostled by the kids as they pushed forward, more appeared from the village milling around my door pleading for “Stylo” and “bon-bon” I handed out a couple of pen packs, (Id wrapped a pen a pencil and half a dozen coloured pencils in rubber bands, had a fifty of these) Pushing them into the hands of the little girls. as they seemed to be getting pushed to the back, one grown up pushed himself to the front patting his chest saying loudly “Me chef me chef”! (This translates to Im in charge) “Bloody good for you mate” I smiled shoving notebooks into the outstretched arms of the little girls at the back. Eventually we waved goodbye and drove slowly through the village chased by more kids. it was the same reaction through every village only we didn’t stop again we just slowed down and passed a few things out to the kids. Women with little children on their back pleaded for stuff too.
Can you see the little boy by the wall on the right? Narrow streets meant a slow speed and a good look out
That evening around the camp after seeing what I saw today I thought about the idea of handing out stuff to kids. It didn’t really sit well with me. Let me share.. We were a group of six trucks driving along a popular and established 4×4 route. It was August so how many 4×4 groups can you imagine had come this way from the UK, France, Scandinavia, Holland, Germany, in fact from all over Europe and not just this year either? The first couple of villages would have had more stationary than bloody WOOLWORTHS and STAPLES combined and were probably selling it to others who didn’t live quite so close to the road, it’s no wonder that little kid ran halfway down the mountain after us! I figured my truck must have been a Golden Goose in their eyes. I was accused of being cynical and a bit harsh in my opinion, but having worked where I have for years I tend to see through the gloss and make my mind up quicker than ordinary good folk, One day for example I saw a lad at the side of a very dusty empty stretch of nothingness waving an empty water bottle at us, he accept a full bottle of water hide it then wave the empty bottle at the next truck for another one, on another day saw a man accept a smoke from a truck in front of me, he shielded it in his left palm then behind his back as I came along he asked me for one. At one of our stops we had a 10yr old pointing at his bare feet with puppy dog eyes, minutes down the road I saw the same youth peddling a bike and he had trainers on his feet! I think the people watched the trails for any approaching 4X4’s knowing it would probably be tourists and would all have something for them, on the trails we would spot kids far away running as fast as they could to intercept us on the road, and all had hands outstretched. Sometimes they seemed to appear out of nowhere, we’d stop for a break and within a couple of minutes a child would appear then another then another, it was quite amusing for the first few days. One time we stopped to eat at a cafe and parked the trucks on some waste land, when we came out a grubby bloke with half his teeth missing came to us with hand out wanting 10 dirhems for car parking!! This happened twice. You can guess my answer when he tried his luck with me. I saw one kid brandishing a curved knife in one village, another kid tossed stones towards the grill and headlights as I drove past, maybe trying to cause radiator or headlight damage, to get me to stop perhaps? Which most tried by waving their hands in a “slow down” motion which I did at first thinking perhaps they had animals on the road up ahead but as I slowed to stop they started to beg, with the now customary gestures..sucking on thumb = food or water.. tugging at shirt= clothes.. pointing at bare feet= shoes or flip-flops.. smoking motion= cigarettes..writing motion or shouting Stylo stylo= pencils etc. By the end of the trip practically everyone became of the same opinion, It wasnt just the kids either, when buying stuff or ( god forbid) just browsing, the shopkeepers asked (in a low voice) “Do you have whiskey?” It turn out that the cheapest shyte from ALDI was as good a bargaining tool here in Morocco than flipping gold! My conclusion was that I was driving a Golden Goose not a Land Rover Defender! I have to say it wasnt like that everywhere, just mainly on the trails, we were actually left alone in the smaller towns and the more affluent areas and it was non existent in the north of the country.
Poor…or not poor?
We drove further down the mountains on the trail beginning to leave the barren mountains behind leaving behind too the plastic sheeted rickety shacks occupied by the boy shepherds and boy farmers, (when they weren’t running after us!) I couldn’t figure if this was just day shelters or summer long dwellings? It certainly looked a harsh existence. However down in the village of square one story mud houses almost every one of them had a satellite dish on the roof! This repeated itself throughout the rural regions. I would have loved to have gone into some of those houses for a look at just what they actually possessed, maybe they weren’t as poor as they made out? I was never to find out.
Somewhere in the Jaffar
Steve and Deane, looking good after another night in a hotel!
We climbed up again and over the next ridgeline where the road actually became tarmac and my grip of the steering wheel relaxed a bit. No rubble dust of boulders underfoot for a while, it was a quieter ride for a while! It was so peaceful up here Rob pulled us over for half an hour. It was a magnificent place to stop! It was breathtaking and something to absord. So many different colours of the rock, the usual hunt for fossils took place as Dave Matt Helen and Chris went off exploring into the rocks. I watched and was amused as they walked slowly with hunched backs staring at the ground. They did this a lot, it was like ritual. I enjoyed looking at the views, opening all my senses to take as much in as I could and of course I took some photos but it was very bright and I wasnt sure how they would turn out as the sun beat down and the blue sky stretched from corner to corner, it just seemed to go on forever. Our planet is really vast and appeals to me more when there’s not many people around! Have I the makings of a hermit I wonder?… In the last village as well as handing out more notebooks and pencils I gave one old woman the shirt of my back! It was on the passenger seat and she kept pointing at it, I figured she’d done with schooling so I handed it to her, she stuffed it inside her blouse “Merci Merci” she said. Id love to see the face of the next person she encounters on the road when they see she is wearing a shirt emblazoned with a .50 calibre machine gun and the words “For when you want to reach out and touch someone”
The author minus his fave T shirt….soft lad!
The views in the Jaffar are just breathtaking!
Robs “wild camping” toilet pose
Der Tank Komander Sharp.. General Drysdale..LRDG person D Moulds!!
Steve negotiates around a washed out road!
Once back on the floor of the valleys we would find our path nearly washed away by ther winter rains, the now dry river beds are sometimes 50 metres wide such is the force of the water it needs more room…and takes it! If its passable they have left it,because it will only happen again next winter. The first one was a huge surpise as we came around the corner! If we needed proof that the washed out road was OK then proof came around the next corner when we came up behind the first of several vans with all kinds of cargo aboard, it certainly put the state of the road into prospective!! See below for the very same van, I just had to take a photo!
Goats and sheep AND children on top. Lord only knows what is inside??
In the early afternoon Deane’s Range Rover began to struggle so we pulled over to let Rob have a look, Rob brought his diagnostic equipment so could pinpoint any faults, IONA was stuffed with various spare parts, fan belts and the like for simple common breakdown repairs. But Deane’s truck was showing something else, it was something to do with the fuel not getting to where it should be, especially when we were at height. Kids appeared again first one then two then ten! They stood off at first but began to come closer and pester us for smokes and sweets it was prudent in my opinion to keep an eye on them as one or two truck door where open and folk were busy around Deane and Rob waiting to help if they could. Eventually the kids overstepped the line and were told firmly to go away by several of us, even the more laid back characters amongst us were getting agitated with them. We pushed on for a few more miles at a very slow space, I saw the 10-year-old lad with no shoes on now riding his bike and wearing trainers, I really hoped the others noticed him.. We stopped again as Deane could coax it no further and Steve got their special towing bar prepared! By the river a group of old women stood and watched us, one or two kids came to my truck. FINALLY one engaged me in conversation and wanted nothing in return. He looked a nice boy with John Travolta with a hair style from the movie “Grease” but with no grease. Morocco is very tolerant about gay men too Im told, we saw plenty I can say. As we chatted I answered his questions about England and English things as a steady stream of youths came in our direction from a village two or three fields away, the old ladies and their bairns came over to say hello too I was eating nuts and the little ones wanted some too, I gave a handful to each of them, they were quite funny, the oldest kept blowing me kisses. “Oh my god I’ve met my match here I thought”! I have to admit I replied in kind and everyone laughed. I would have loved to have taken some photos of everybody but they would have got upset, I tried a few times during the adventure to be frowned at or finger wagged. Steve and Deane had by now fitted their towing bar and we were ready to move again, Steve’s Discovery would pull the Range Rover to our destination. I said bye to the young boy and his pal, the old girls waved and the naughty one blew me more kisses! We moved off slowly leaving the crowd behind. Going at this slow speed allowed me to look longer at the people working the fields. Men were tending the donkeys and loading them with the freshly cut crop, we were driving in a valley which was well irrigated, there were some small fields with lush green crop, it looked just like long grass from where I was sitting, they collected it and stacked it on the donkeys, two huge baskets hung either side of them.
A lovely splash of green in the desert colours of the day
All along the valley I saw similar work going off, when folk stopped to look at us I stuck my arm out and waved, quite a few waved back at us. Some were sat in groups eating and drinking and chatting, it looked like whole families where in the fields..including the family donkey! I think these animals are worth a small fortune in these parts serving as truck, taxi and family runabout. For once I didn’t see the usual dash towards the road and await a handout. It was just the odd couple of kids in the villages, some even rode the back of my truck through the village. I saw a youngster run behind me then disappear, at the end of the village she re-appeared running and laughing behind me before disappearing up a street, I have a step at the rear bumper and a ladder bolted to the rear of my truck, I was at the back of our small convoy so nobody saw them. But Im pretty sure this happened a couple of times, on this occasion we were traveling so slow I wasnt overly concerned, I just laughed and waved them away.
Ill get off at the next stop mister!
On we went, the miles going by slowly as this valley went on forever. It was quite beautiful. Dave pulled over up ahead and drove into the grounds of a large fort, at least that’s what it looked like from here at the back.
As christened by Rob…The Bates Motel
The decadence of the Bates Motel was overwhelming!
Private Moulds takes first watch, keeping a keen lookout for the dreaded “Fuzzi Wuzzies” they can turn you into a woman at the stroke of a blade!
Dave’s truck sits in disguise….
It seems we wouldn’t make the campsite of choice tonight it was still a good few miles ahead and the sun was beginning to drop, it was a strain too on the Disco pulling tons of broken Range Rover so it was decided we’d try to stay here at the hotel, maybe set up camp in the grounds? Oh so it was a hotel was it and not a fort! The ground was hard rubble but we could kick the largest rocks away and clear enough ground for our tents. Nobody had appeared at the gate so we drove straight in and began to look around, I took a stroll around the back maybe someone was there, but all I found was a yapping dog in its closed enclosure. Some of the guys ventured inside as the big doors were open, still nobody came out to see us , it actually looked unfurnished, I wondered if maybe it was abandoned? Suddenly I heard voices and walked back to the main foyer to find Dave talking with a chap on the steps, Chris was there too as most Moroccans do speak French and Chris, though rusty spoke it too so a deal was sought. Naturally the man asked far too much and we all made our way back to the trucks, Super Mario and his pal suddenly produced a good deal including evening meal! I say Super Mario coz he reminded me of him, though without the fat belly. They went to sort out the rooms and couple more chaps arrived who also looked like Mario with the little black tash under big noses and baseball caps. Dave was given a room upstairs. He had Helen and the lad Joe with him so I guess this was a family room, we all went onto the roof for a look around, it was flat with a small glass roof in the middle, the four turrets were like sheds or out-houses and had equipment in one, some electrics in another and junk in the other two. We looked across at the village across the road, it was a chess board of reddish-brown single story square building with a little dirty satellite dish on practically every building. I saw just one vehicle it was one of those reddish pink 1970’s lorry’s. The wall on our roof was about three-foot high was made from dried mud with a sloping reed topping and a handful of mud to keep the reeds in place, best described I guess as similar to canes from the veg garden used to hold up tall plants? The five foot high perimeter wall around the hotel was built exactly the same, I presume the hotel itself was more substantial and had bricks in it somewhere? Eventually Mario No1 and Mario No 2 finished pulling furniture around declaring the rooms OK, they sorted keys for the rooms and showed us to them. Dave and Helen an Joe were upstairs, fathers and sons shared, I bunked with Deane and Steve in a three bedder, we chucked our clothes bags on the cool tiled floor into the corners, it was en-suite and had a bathroom door! We had a shower room too, the beds were more than fine if not rustic. I thought it was just fine and quite clean and dry. Even the one single bare light bulb. Very basic rooms but just fine. Dinner would be in a couple of hours, Mario No 3 had scooted out on the moped to collect some chickens. We fussed around the trucks Deane and Rob discussed the pump problem in-depth and about possible options..but they both came to the same conclusion, it just couldn’t be fixed with what we had so the best and only option was to get recovered to the nearest city and a Land Rover dealership. Using the recently purchased insurance / recovery package Deane began to make arrangements over the phone. Someone was to pick up his dying truck and take him to a Land Rover dealer. With the wheels of that process started and the solemn promise from Mario No 2 to return first thing in the morning to help Deane finalize recovery arrangement with the appointed garage guys. This was good for Deane’s truck but bad for me, I was to lose prospective drinking buddies again! Those two would be heading for the red lights…sorry I mean bright of Marrakech in the morning and for how long God only knows! It was a bit of a depressing state but nothing could be done. Even the often thrown skit of “You should have bought a fooking Defender” sounded a bit shallow even though it was fooking true!! Steve brightened the mood by producing bottles of wine from deep inside the black Disco, Chairs were scraped together and we settled on the veranda in the evening heat, the sun was very red now and beginning to settle over the distant golden hills. Mario No 3 returned on his moped with a bundle of stuff for our evening meal, bottles and cans were consumed, the bottles would be for after. “You should have bought a fooking Defender mate” Hah ha ha ha! Mario No 1 appeared at the door to say dinner was ready so we all trooped inside to the large room, inside was a long padded bench that lined the wall we shuffled in between it and a huge low table this slowly filled up with food, chicken was the meat cooked in tureens with lots of hot veg and tasty stock, cheeses, and fruits followed, tea, honey tea mint tea complemented the food and that round frisbee bread that goes rock hard within 24 hours. All the Mario’s went to and fro with more food. I have to say the prepared food was always very nice tonight and was no exception. Morocco has a fairly relaxed attitude to visitors drinking alcohol so long as it’s not flaunted in front of them. But they don’t serve or sell it officially. Once finished eating we returned to the veranda to carry on with our not so secret drinking. Mario No 2 joined us as we took the rise out of each other as only boys do. I cant remember what was said..anyway Im claiming the 5th amendment! The hotel was pretty lively now and continued until well after midnight when we began to retire to our rooms. Mario No 2 seemed a bit unsteady, he claimed to be Ok and said he only lived over there in the village, he said he would be back early to help Deane. The hotel has been christened “The Bates Motel” due to its first impression on us. On saying that Id still recommend it, Its run by Mario’s 1 through to 4 and its on the R703 just north of the Todra Gorge in the town of Agoudal which is just south of the Atlas Mountains.