I had travelled to Morocco before, so I thought I knew what to expect, but there is big difference between coming through the border on foot with a local, and coming through without a French or Arabic word in your vocabulary, in a big Land Rover. The first major problem was in trying to determine who was actually an official working in the port, or who was a local guy in a high vis jacket, trying to con you out of a few Dirham by holding your documents hostage. After a few hours, many intimidating people sticking their head in the window and demanding god knows what from us and several departments, stamps and signatures, we were through the gates and into Africa.
The driving was a bit of a shock to the system early on, but the magnitude and presence of the Land Rover helped, and we pushed through, not stopping in Tangier as originally planned, but rather to find a campsite nearby to regroup and break ourselves in gently, after all, we are never in a hurry. Unfortunately, we were so consumed with navigation and driving that I didn’t manage to break the camera out that day or the couple that followed. I remember Dee remarking as we got out of the car “How can that 1 mile stretch of water mean such a difference in cultures”, but I think it is this that makes Morocco such a popular destination, because of its proximity to Europe, a local guy told me, the country has fought to keep its sense of identity, something it has managed very well indeed. The first couple of days were really just spent finding our feet, getting used to the driving conditions, learning to spot someone looking to make a little cash, with a genuinely friendly and interesting person and really just trying to stay out of trouble. But after the initial shock had worn off and Dee had heard the Prayer call over a city for the first time, we settled right in and couldn’t have felt safer.
So, after driving through the surprisingly verdant Mediterranean coastal mountains, the first city stop was Fes. Fes is the perfect city to ease yourself into Moroccan culture, tourist friendly, but not as westernised as Marrakech, and set in what I learned is the worlds biggest Medina (walled city), you could explore its winding little streets for hours, and then spend twice that trying to find your way back. We did all of the classic tourist attractions, took a tour of the tanneries and pottery workshops, walked around the old castles, shopped in the Medina. Had a great time and broke the last barrier into Dee feeling comfortable in the country. Exhausted from a long day’s exploring in the intense heat, we retired to our great campsite, which is near a local park, and it was great watching the hundreds of children play music and games nearby.
A few shots From Fes
After Fes, we were feeling confident, and it was time to get off the beaten track and into the Atlas. The roads from Fes to Midelt are best summed up by this picture. Long, isolated, and barren.
After a night in a lovely campsite outside of Midelt, it was off to try and tackle the MH1, a 300km track over old Bedouin Caravan trails through the high Atlas, including the infamous Cirque Du Jaffar; a steep, winding descent into a valley floor.
The tracks started off great, driving at about 25-30mph, beautiful views and friendly shepherds along the way.
It wasn’t until we reached the Cirque itself that I realised the difference between full on off roading in the wilds of Morocco, and Green-laning in the UK. It’s not that the terrain is particularly difficult, simply that if you mess up driving there and the drop actually doesn’t kill you, help will take quite a while to arrive. Worse than the 200 ft drop and narrow track, was the camber, which nicely rolled my top heavy land rover towards the drop.
Two and a half hours later and literally shaking, we made it to the bottom. Far from taking a well deserved break, we had a nearly flat tyre, hissing air. Knowing that I only had perhaps 5 minutes to find flat ground.