From Vienna back to Morocco.
With Hasna back from Paris there is not much time left as her Schengen visa is about to expire.
Thursday, 11th of May we buy a Mercedes Benz 207 Diesel van, 28 years old for 1,400 Euros, that I have been monitoring on Ebay and that has expired this morning with no bids. It looks ok (no rust/the back door though does not close/had an accident), the engine starts and runs smoothly, all the gears work absolutely fine, The clock shows 264 thousand kilometres. "They can do up to 1 Million, and they love them in Africa" Kevin, the great Irish who we had met in Mauritania and Gambia explained to me. - And Africa is our destination, more specific Bamako, Mali, where we had left the 6 wheeled Land Rover in February, our home.
Out of the garage on Tuesday 16th, rear break cylinders replaced and a rough check states it is safe enough, "but whether you ever get to Africa ... " chief Alex has his doubts... It looses water, oil, ... we reconnect a water hose still in Vienna, an oil pressure hose in Nice, France after having run the engine almost dry, and having paid 12 Euros for a litre of diesel engine oil. They're nuts. In Morocco I would pay 10 Euros for 5 litres. A 600% difference in price is hardly justifiable. Consumers surely have become the most stupid species in Europe and the rest of the Western World.
Wednesday we clean the inside of the van and its "luxurious interior", - it served as a camping-car, has a bed, a fridge, a stove, and storage compartments. We set out this evening, Soon we realise, there is something wrong with the exhaust. Smoke gathers inside the vehicle. - A journey with windows open. Why not. Welding in Morocco would be cheaper then buying a new exhaust in Europe.
We sleep near Wr. Neustadt, just 60 km into a long journey, a deep sleep, realising how lucky we were finding this exact vehicle, at the right time. Our confidence in it would rise daily. It was first registered in 1978, the same year Hasna was born, a good year, 1978.
So it is down via Italy, France and Spain and we meet many friends from the Africa journey. Finally we enter Morocco via Bab Ceuta on 25th of May 2006.
Morocco, the East.
This is what I always wanted to do and failed to do last year.
The Rif, the northern Mediterranean coast, The country bordering Algeria, The Atlas from the other side.
But the first thing we do is have the exhaust welded. In Tetouane. 7 Euros as expected.
In Chefchaouen we clean the vehicle and all items inside, especially below the bed everything has been getting quite smoky black. Touching whatever inside the vehicle has been rendering you black hands and faces - since France.
Chefchaouen in the Rif.
We are back in Africa. In the Rif, Morocco's northern most mountain range. Chefchaouen, the first town is a laid-back shiny-blue painted village nested at the slopes of a Rif mountain. We go for a walk (just some 8km), Hasna's first.
And we discover: "There's Kief (Kif) in the Rif." A lot, and it's not hidden. Everyone is involved in the cultivation or trading of Kief. Entire families, clans and villages including the Immam.
Local farmers make a good living it seems. Left in peace by the police/the state. Rarely anyone comes looking as long as all remains quiet (no violent crimes committed).
As long as they keep dope illegal in Europe these niche producers make a good living. This is what I think. I am pro legalisation of Cannabis and other drugs. (Everyone should get stoned with whatever he wants to get stoned). But surely such a move would almost certainly be no-good for the farmers in the Rif.
Someone had introduced Pakistani Kief, "grows faster and larger and produces a much stronger substance", some guy tells us. "Moroccan Kief you could smoke 12 times a day. Now more and more people show signs of real madness - from the dope."
Well the same happens with a bottle a day instead of a glass.
Or like Mohamed (60) later in Saidia puts it, "all my friends are gone, Hendrix, Joplin, ...", thanks Mohamed is still around, he is just a bit slow in everything he does, his face skin is leathery. An old dark skinned Rasta from Essaouira, a nice guy.
After Chefchaouen we drive long and winding roads with drug dealers chasing us in their Golf GTIs. We don't feel we should stop/discuss, we keep driving a beautiful Rif country, with altitudes up to 1,600m. Pine woods that line our route are thick and healthy, there's lots of rain and snow in winter, good for irrigating all those Kief plantations.
Algerian border country, Oujda, Bouarfar, Fuiguig.
We reach Al-Hociema, then Nador, next to Melilla, which is Spanish, and Saidia, on the Med-coast a stone throw away from the Algerian border. This is quite touristy, "madness in summer". Just business from Algeria has vanished completely. The border has been closed since the mid 90s.
Oujda is another border town, clean, lively, quite a big city and a buzzing Medhina. In stark contrast from what I expected. I expected Texas. Especially its cleanness impresses. And lots of friendly, funny, honest people.
The front right break piston gets stuck. Oh what a great time we have with Marzouk, Ben Aissa and Ben Younnass, 3 brothers. In their garage we get the breaks working, the back door welded and straightened and the fridge inspected. 6Euros for the fridge, 10 for the door, 10 for the break.
That evening we try to give something back When we go to the Belucci Circus that is currently in town we invite some 50 children to the show. I just cannot enter with Hasna leaving all the children with big eyes outside.
Two days later (3rd of June) we get to Fuiguig, not the end of the world, but the end of Morocco. With the border closed not much is moving here. But internet access is fast, again the town is (like all others in the eastern Moroccan provinces) tidy, clean with good roads and its people really friendly without the harassments so common to some of the more western touristy centres.
And the surrounding desert scenery has fantastic high mountains surpassing the plateau of 1,000 to 1,400m which we have been rolling on since Oujda in the north by another few hundred metres.
A shame is, the border is closed. "It's the problem of the Barbures", bearded men with a misconception of Islam, that kill, and they hide in the Algerian mountains. "This is why Hassan II closed the border." Mohamed (Saidia) had explained us. "But it is the Algerians that demand a visa", a woman on the camping in Fuiguig, because "Mohamed VI said Algerians, soyez bien venus, you are welcome, they don't need visas to come here". But a gendarme "It's the Algerians that have closed the border".
Who knows, to me it is two people, two countries' heads of state that don't manage to talk to each other.
It rains when we commence our long journey back to Marrakech where we were last 9 month ago. It's 900 to 1,000km from Fuiguig to Marrakech.
The Atlas from the other side, Er Rachidia to Imilchil to Beni Mellal.
At Er Rachidia we go north, through the Gorges du Zis to Rich where we turn west into the Atlas mountains following the Ziz. It rains. The road is supposed to be nice/sealed all the way but on-coming drivers report destroyed houses, fallen down walls and lots of water in general. When it rains at this time of the year (unusual) then mountain rivers can swell in minutes and take everything with them.
This evening (4th of June) we reach Amouguer in the Eastern High Atlas, well above 1,000m, where we seek shelter from another torrential down-pouring,
And higher we climb the next day to nearly 2,500m in the Agoudal and Imilchil region. And it keeps raining/snowing on the peaks near-by.
Destruction to villages is limited, but crops suffer. Always planted near the streams at the lowest points in the valleys nourished by a system of carefully outlaid irrigation channels.
We revisit Agoudal (the 5th), which we went to from the South nearly to the date a year ago. Then our welcome here was not very nice. But this is exactly the reason why we want to return. And very warm and inviting those same people are. And many hugs and nice words and a lot of laughter about last year's story is exchanged. Many do remember us, with a big grin, us - stubborn we were had stayed in the wolf's cave.
But for them it was as much a game to play with tourists as it was for us to show that we were not afraid.
But something strange is going on in some childrens' heads here, tourism's worst had its impact. A mad look put on their faces, they run aside the vehicle apparently one in competition with every other one in the strive to extract a pen (stylo), a sweet (bon-bon), 1Dirham, a gift (cadeau) in general.
Continuing the journey it is still rain and sun alternate, but after Imilchil (evening the 5th), the more northern, to the other side, we come the drier it gets.
We leave the Atlas slopes at Beni Mellal, or near it. The next day we turn left towards the Atlas again. Our destination is Ouzoud and its waterfalls. Thousands of olive trees, a touristy place in summer, still quiet at this time of the year, after all the driving of these last couple of days we relax in the natural pools of rocks formed through the centuries.
We explore the depths of the gorge, one little pond and fall after the other the deeper we climb. Occasionally we jump from a cliff or a waterfall down into the cool unknown. And - monkeys we get to see, hordes of monkeys, of a rare species, and they are used to tourists, search their company in the hope for a piece of bread.
In Ouzoud we make a few new friends. Mustapha who has nearly lost his Swatch, Fouad and Mohamed, Moroccans from Belgium. Ben, Chris and Brise 3 French in a Series 3 Land Rover on their way to West Africa. We all happen to find ourselves again at the pont naturel, natural bridge, south of Demnate. Fouad we should meet again in Essaouira, the 3 French men in Marrakech and hopefully later in Mali. Timing the whole thing is the issue.
From left to right: Brise, Chris, Mustapha, Hasna, Mohamed, Fouad, Manfred, Ben.
We leave for Marrakech a few hours later and meet our new French friends - and so many others, some by coincidence, Murad, Tarik and Abdou, stuntmen who work in Ouarzazate, we were there a year ago. As well as Greg the old Irish, converted Muslim, who has been working and living in Ouarzazate for years, we should meet him In Essaouira. As well we meet Michael from France, well planned.
How often a year in how many places can you meet?
A few days later we leave and meet Hasna's family. But this is another story.