You enter a different world ...
... when you pass the Spanish/Moroccan border. "Nowhere in the world is the GDP per capita differential of two neighbouring countries as big as it is between Spain and Morocco." explained Daniel's father Jose to me.
This is what I have come for. The new, the unknown. On the 9th of March I leave the continent, but not Spain. In Ceuta I spend the night on a big parking facing the Mediterranean Sea. Is it Africa, or Europe? The night is quiet, not cold for the first time. Must be Africa.
On the 10th I cross the border to Morocco. Formalities are a no-event. I have to buy insurance for the vehicle. An Equivalent of 160Euros for the next 3 month, a bargain!? There go my last Euros.
They don't check my vehicle, don't want to look inside or see anything else. There I am. In Morocco.
I head south. In Tetouan I buy a Moroccan sim-card for the mobile. Easier and cheaper then in France or Spain, who charge a lot for the card without giving you much credit. Competition, as an expression of capitalism seems to work better in Morocco, then lets say in France (4 providers, 1 price: 30Euros, 5Euros credit,. price fixing!?). Or is it that capitalisme works solely for big corps to the disadvantage of the consumer in Europe? Then its justification is questionable.
I give a ride to a couple of people on my way. Somewhere on the road to Rabat I stop for lunch. Grilled minced meat skewers and bread, plus some mint tea (not 20Dirhams, 2Euros). Via Rabat, where I stop for a black coffee (4Dirhams, 40cents) and get cash from a machine (works), I reach Mohamedia that evening. The campsite, 30Dirhams, 3Euros, I am the only guest. Happy having come down that far and happy about what I have seen I cook spaghetti and open a bottle of Rioja. I work on the computer until I fall asleep.
11th morning, I buy bread sold from the boot of a car just outside the campsite. It smells delicious, it is still hot. 1Dirham (10cents)the piece that would be enough for me for breakfast. Ok I have two then. That should get me through the day with the cheese and sausage I am still carrying from Spain.
I drive further south to meet Michael, a friend from Austria. I have not even bought a map from Morocco yet. So it is the GPS we rely on. Michael has sent me his entire way point's database. We are supposed to meet as close to his Ait-Ourir way point as possible. Easily I make it via Marrakech to Ait-Ourir which is just 40km further to the south-east. I make it to as near as 200m to his Ait-Ourir way point. It is 5 in the afternoon. We did not specify a time. So, lets wait, I think while thinking how stupid our way of meeting is, to rely on a technique we both do not know much about.
5 minutes later Michael parks his BMW right next to me. The technique works, the timing is sheer coincidence and the joy is great and real. We check into the terrace/garden of a hotel/restaurant, licensed it is. Some beers we have and a lot of news is exchanged. We have made it, have met, and will spend approximately 2 weeks together. Be both crash in the back of my vehicle on the parking of the hotel (its free).
The first day driving around leads us straight south to the mountains of the High Atlas. On bad roads (but this is what we are looking for and it is a good way of escaping the tour buses from Marrakech) past snow-covered mountains we make it to Asni and later to Amizmiz.
At the end of day we search for a night camp and find le gite d'Aznag (gite is French for b&b) somewhere between Tiferouine and Aguergour. I am happy with what I have achieved with the Land Rover today. So is Michael although he has had many days of off-road experience already before meeting me.
Le gite d'Aznag
Situated on the top of a mountain this site is popular with paragliders. A formidable group of some 11 open-minded spirits (that includes Michael and myself) has gathers for the evening.
Tea and dinner is being served. We all sit on the floor on pillows, blankets are being handed out. It is still cold up here at an altitude of 1.233m. Everyone tells his/her story. Francoise, Renault, Lorry, Robert, Stefan, Philippe, Olivier, Pascale and Patrick.
Aznag tells his. How he came to open up the "gite". My French did not get all of it then. But ... he has worked in France (and) in a mine, became seriously ill and was living on a pension.
Back in his hometown someone (a paraglider) one day asked him why there was no "gite" (b&b) or other place to spend the night a get a bite to eat. He investigated what the concept of gite was and opened one himself. Nowadays he is famous and respected in his village and amongst parapentistes.
Bike talk with Pascal and Lorry. Who wins the argument?
Our friends the parapentistes
Next morning after breakfast we go where the paragliders go for take off.
The wind is not great yet, but the spirit good.
Somehow this is something I have always wanted to do. I like the concept of not having to walk down after climbing a mountain. And a parapente would fit on my roof gallery.....
Leaving the parapente folk we go straight to Marrakech to relax from the action of driving around for a day and a half.
Having been here in 1994 I can say Marrakech has changed. The hassle we had then with youngsters who wanted or tried to be your guide has disappeared completely.
It is very relaxed indeed these days. There are reasons for the change. One is the general wealth increase due to tourism. Also is there a law in place making harassing tourists an offence and a government that wants and promotes tourism.
Mike and I enjoy wondering round the Medina and eating on the Jemaa-el-Fna, the big, all dominating square, in the evening, basically we do what tourists do. That's good for now.
But I want to come back for more and maybe stay for a month!? Towns are good for working, reading, studying and discover hidden places and to connect to its people. And it takes a while to connect. Marrakech just seems right for that.