Remove ads

Introducing the LemonFools Personal Finance Calculators

Into The Sahara

Holiday Ideas & Foreign Travel
TaurusTheBull
Posts: 29
Joined: November 4th, 2016, 11:41 pm
Been thanked: 86 times

Into The Sahara

#113730

Postby TaurusTheBull » January 27th, 2018, 7:59 pm

Hi,

A city of pink walls and orange trees, artisans and derbs, riads and mosques. Marrakech makes a nice escape from wintry Blighty.

First impressions, though, were poor. A faded entry stamp in the back of my passport, several taxi hustlers, and the policeman who I asked to direct me to Guemassa Avenue, 500 metres from the airport, mumbled "I cannot remember".

This is North Africa, and I'd come to expect this attitude from my first visit, long ago. Officials and touts are best avoided. I shrugged it off and walked into the city, about an hour.

Djema El Fna is the square at the centre of the Old Town. During the day it is replete with water sellers, snake charmers, men with barbary apes in tow, souvenir hawkers and beggars. As the sun sets it is taken over by a hotch-potch of hard-sell foodstalls, magicians, musicians, dancers, story-tellers and purveyors of traditional medicine.

There are many places to stay, suitable to most budgets. I chose a hostel set in a riad or traditional Moroccan house, with a simple front door leading to a courtyard, around which rooms were located on several floors. In winter dorms in such places go for £5-8 per night (£1 = 12.4 dirhams in Djema El Fna).

Unfortunately, on my second night there, the playful one-eyed kitten mysteriously chose to base-jump two floors down, landing on the carpet next to some startled guests. Fortunately, she only suffered a bruised nose, but definitely used up another of her lives.

One morning I headed to the tanneries. These are well-known tourist traps set deep in the medina, and although difficult to find, the closer one gets the more hustlers appear, wanting money to show the way.

Feigning disinterest, and replying "Pass" every time I was asked where I was from, I managed to locate the tanneries myself. Smelly but interesting, these are where sheep, goat, cow and camel hides are treated for weeks in foul-looking pits. It's a tough job in nasty conditions.

Alcohol is highly taxed in Morocco, though Carrefour do sell some cheap Moroccan red wines. Notwithstanding such relative hedonism, the main staples are thick soup, beans, bread, mint tea and argan oil, as well as couscous and tagines.

Marrakech has myriad derbs or alleyways, museums, mosques, parks and horse-drawn caleches, but after a few days the constant badgering of hawkers in and around Djema El Fna wears rather thin. "Hello my friend" becomes an invitation to walk on...

It was time to leave.

Essaouira is as white as Marrakech is pink, and is amongst the rarest of place names, containing every vowel. It's an old Berber fishing port three hours west of Marrakech, with a Medina that today caters as much for tourists as locals. Sandy beaches stretch to the north and south, but the rocky offshore outcrop that dubiously inspired Jimi Hendrix's "Spanish Castle Magic" is noticeably underwhelming.

Dating from early Roman times, and formerly known as Mogador, the city was run by Portuguese and French before much of what we see today grew in the mid-18th century, when King Mohammed III instructed French military architect Thédore Cornut to design the city.

Though touristy, Essaouira is a good deal less frenetic than Marrakesh, with it's winding derbs, city walls and gates, fishy harbour, long sandy beach and omnipresent cats.

I walked to the end of the long promenade and stuck my thumb out. Three lifts, four hours and 200 km later, I was dropped off in Taghazout, the surfing village about 15 km north of Agadir.

It's not difficult getting lifts, the friendly locals that stop restoring a sense of balance in a country where surly aggression too often comes to the fore. Arabic and French are the dominant languages, so my drivers had to suffer my faltering franglais.

Taghazoute is a small village that was long ago hijacked by western surfers. The waves were up when I arrived, with a dozen wetsuits visible at Anchor Point, and plenty off the sandy beach. It's a nice spot, but I was looking for something a bit more Moroccan, where camels aren't just there to carry tourists. So after two nights, it was south again.

The 0720 local bus to Agadir was slightly delayed at Aourir when the driver physically ejected a lippy local, much to the amusement of many. This is Morocco.

Agadir is dull, but has a lovely big market, en route to the CTM bus terminal. I took a bus 120 km south to the old town of Tiznit, and from there hitched along the coast, past Aglou Plage, to the small town of Mirleft.

Mirleft is another town frequented by more independent westerners, due to it's four wild beaches, with crashing Atlantic waves. It's quiet in January, not a swimmer or surfer in sight, but plenty of campervans in one of the beach car parks. An old French fort overlooks the town.

I was offered a 100 MAD (£8) apartment above "Chouchou Superette" when I was merely asking directions. This is Morocco. I stayed..

Two days later I caught a share taxi 34 km to Sidi Ifni, a blue-and-white fishing port with a nice stretch of sand. I found a room at the quaint Hotel Suerte Loca.

Here some of the rues are still calles, thanks to the episodic Spanish rule of this region since the 16th century. Ifni was a Spanish enclave north of Spanish Sahara, much built in Art Deco style. It was handed back to Morocco in 1969, six years before the infamous Green March that resulted, eventually, in Morocco's annexation of Spanish (now Western) Sahara.

This is campervan heaven, a cheap winter escape for Europeans. I counted over eighty in the three seafront parks.

On the cusp of leaving, I changed my mind and checked into the 35 MAD Hotel Ifni, after checking the bedsheets. I came with my own sheet sleeping bag, a handy backstop.

I jumped on a local bus for the 10 km ride back towards Mirleft, alighting at the turnoff for iconic Legzira Beach, with it's famous red conglomeratic sea arch.

Sidi Ifni has a large open-air market cum car boot sale at weekends, a veritable hive of activity, especially as Sunday evening approaches and people bag their goodies for the week.

It was time to move on. My CTM bus went inland 45 km from Ifni to the regional centre of Guilmeme, and thence rejoined the main N1, going another 130 km south, across hammada or stony desert, to the town of Tan Tan, with it's entrance statue of two white camels.

Tan Tan makes a good break before the long trip south, though it's a quiet place. In 1999 the so-called 'Venus of Tan Tan' was unearthed, a human-shaped figurine reputed to be over 300,000 years old. Anthropologists are sceptical as to whether Homo Erectus had the mental capacity to create 'art', so it could just be a geofact, or coincidental geological phenomenom...

I walked out to the edge of town next morning and had my details taken by the police. I handed them a pre-written fiche, or form, with my passport details and so on. This was the first of several security checks, as the now seamless border with Western Sahara lies south of Tan Tan.

I hitched a lift very quickly, in what later turned out to be an unofficial taxi. That was fine, though, as the drive down to Laayoune was over 300 km, and I paid 100 MAD, about 8 quid. The bus is 140 MAD but leaves in the afternoon or evening, and I wanted to see as much of the landscape as possible.

The N1 is in good condition, and after reaching the coast at Tan Tan Plage, follows the cliffs south, with occasional people fishing, not to mention the few campervans that make it this far south, clustered around empty beaches.

Camel road signs appear, the hammada starts to develop small dunes in places, and in the lagoons flamingos lurk. Tarfaya is the tiny town 100 km north of Laayoune, known as Villa Bens under the Spanish, and from which a passenger ferry is mooted to soon ply the four hours over to Fuerteventura in the Canaries.

Finally, the pink city of Laayoune hove into view, along with my second security check. It's the strangest city. As, effectively, the capital of Africa's last colony, it seems more like a big village of 217,000 people.

Everything and everyone moves around slowly and peaceably, the orange street lights are subdued, children and cats play quietly in the evening streets. Although it's hard to think of anything to do in Laayoune, it's the sort of place where doing nothing seems entirely normal...

Western Sahara does Morocco no favours. In return for fish and a bit of phosphate mining, fuel and desalinated water are heavily subsidised. There are nearly as many Moroccan security personnel as native Sahrawis.

Six berms or sand bars were built in the 1980s to deter Polisario insurgents. They are now based in southern Algeria since the area of Western Sahara on the other side of the berms is largely inhospitable desert.

I found a 50 MAD hotel and spent the next day wandering around Laayoune. Place Mechouar, the main square, was under renovation, but looks pleasant enough from outside the wires, with it's date palms and bougainvillea.

I found no souvenir shops and saw no other tourists, but there were many UN vehicles, no doubt contributing to the high-end hotel prices. Local people over sixty generally speak some Spanish, as they were adults in 1975 when Franco died and Spain gave up it's colony. There is a nice spot down by the non-flowing Saguia el Hamra river where flamingos and other waders gather.

I hitched a ride 20 km down to Laayoune Port, the driver kindly showing me around the nearby beach town of Foum el Ouid, with it's one hotel and no campervans. Then I caught a share taxi 170 km south to Bougdour, a dusty coastal town with no redeeming features after the two ostriches at the entrance gate. The scenery is scrubby and largely barren, but camels can occasionally be seen south of Laayoune.

Avoiding a night in Boujdour, I took the 4 pm Supratours bus 345 km down to Dakhla, taking five hours, including a food stop and three security checks (I was the only person checked each time). The scenery is uninspiring, stony desert with thin scrub, mostly within sight of the sea, but with cliffs preventing beach views.

Arriving after dark is disorientating in any new place, but Dakhla was doubly so. This isolated southern outpost of 70,000 people, known as Villa Cisneros under Spanish rule, is the only real tourist resort in Western Sahara, attracting foreign windsurfing and parasailing enthusiasts, although in my two days I saw no other foreigners.

It's built on a windswept peninsula, with the port on an island linked by a bridge. When I arrived the cafes were full of men watching Barcelona v Espanyol in the Copa del Rey. The fact that each of half a dozen hotels I located was full presented me with a problem.

After fish, chips, bread and sauce (at just over a quid, what's not to like?), I found a clean, tiled, covered alley and settled down for an uncomfortable night, my head resting on my backpack. Security isn't a big issue in this region: not only are tourists covered by the WS security situation, but throughout Morocco locals can get in big trouble if harm comes to tourists.

Before midnight a chap came along and gave me some cardboard to lie on, plus some bread, salad and a can of Sprite! I told him, in French, that I couldn't get a room, and that money wasn't a problem. Not only did he insist that I take the food, but he returned ten minutes later with a blanket and pillow, which afforded me rather a good night's sleep...

As there was no sign of my Good Samaritan in the morning, I checked into a cheap hotel with his goods, hoping to return them, but to no avail. My mysterious friend had turned an unpleasant inconvenience into a fond memory that I'll long remember.

After my fruitless nocturnal wanderings, Dahkla by day was an absolute breeze, figuratively and literally. By mid-morning the combined effect of the January sun and wind felt luxuriant.

There's not a lot to see in Dakhla, but I found the location, the weather and the people to be memorable. It's a joy to see lively evening markets and children playing on the promenade, as if the town wasn't hundreds of miles from anywhere...

Morocco was interesting, part of a jouney than a trip in itself. I certainly had less hassle than on my first visit, but that was a long time ago, and these days I suffer fools less gladly. In fact, most people are friendly and helpful. The absence of town maps is an inconvenience, resolved by technology, or that tried and trusted old method, talking to people.

I would come back, possibly to walk up 4,000 metre Mount Toubkal, bringing empty bags for a shopping splurge afterwards in Marrakech.

As for now, it'll soon be time to head south, towards those mighty dunes...

Au Revoir
Taurus

NomoneyNohoney
Lemon Slice
Posts: 384
Joined: November 4th, 2016, 10:31 am
Has thanked: 46 times
Been thanked: 28 times

Re: Into The Sahara

#113733

Postby NomoneyNohoney » January 27th, 2018, 8:12 pm

I have enjoyed many of your stories, and wonder if you still have them, all saved as individual files on your computer? If so, why not cobble them together, using Sigil, and then you have an ebook... I'd love to have all your stories in one collection...

TaurusTheBull
Posts: 29
Joined: November 4th, 2016, 11:41 pm
Been thanked: 86 times

Re: Into The Sahara

#113741

Postby TaurusTheBull » January 27th, 2018, 9:22 pm

Thanks. I did copy all my travel posts before TMF folded so I could do as you suggest one day, but there are a few typos in older ones as I used to use Internet Cafes before WiFi became prevalent and I bought a smartphone. It would be handy to have them all in one place...

redsturgeon
Lemon Quarter
Posts: 3332
Joined: November 4th, 2016, 9:06 am
Has thanked: 260 times
Been thanked: 435 times

Re: Into The Sahara

#113909

Postby redsturgeon » January 29th, 2018, 9:37 am

I too enjoy your scribblings.

Glad to see you have kept them.

John

richfool
Lemon Slice
Posts: 507
Joined: November 19th, 2016, 2:02 pm
Has thanked: 134 times
Been thanked: 115 times

Re: Into The Sahara

#113947

Postby richfool » January 29th, 2018, 11:32 am

TTB, Thanks for an interesting "article" about your travels.

I would be interested to hear some of the practical aspects of travelling as you do, in terms of what you take/carry, what you eat & where, and how you keep your money safe.

DiamondEcho
Lemon Quarter
Posts: 2196
Joined: November 4th, 2016, 3:39 pm
Has thanked: 1498 times
Been thanked: 303 times

Re: Into The Sahara

#127756

Postby DiamondEcho » March 24th, 2018, 12:14 pm

TaurusTheBull wrote:Essaouira is as white as Marrakech is pink, and is amongst the rarest of place names, containing every vowel. It's an old Berber fishing port three hours west of Marrakech, with a Medina that today caters as much for tourists as locals. Sandy beaches stretch to the north and south, but the rocky offshore outcrop that dubiously inspired Jimi Hendrix's "Spanish Castle Magic" is noticeably underwhelming.
Dating from early Roman times, and formerly known as Mogador, the city was run by Portuguese and French before much of what we see today grew in the mid-18th century, when King Mohammed III instructed French military architect Thédore Cornut to design the city.
Though touristy, Essaouira is a good deal less frenetic than Marrakesh, with it's winding derbs, city walls and gates, fishy harbour, long sandy beach and omnipresent cats.


Absolutely fascinating journey you made or are having; seriously intrepid!
I visited Essaouira in the early 90s, it was very picturesque, and had something of an 'end of the road' feel to it. I was unlucky to pick up a giardia infection from the sardines or perhaps more likely the vendor. 2 weeks later I got it again from a kebab in Marrakesh. Essaouira was the end-point south for me on that journey. I remember the beach that seemed to stretch off forever to the horizon; and there was already something of a surf-scene forming back then, the waves coming in off the Atlantic were said to be good and reliable. IDR it being very touristy, but I was likely in my own budget-backpacker world.
Apparently Hendrix did spend time living in a hippy commune in the dunes just south of Essauoira. When I visited I specifically walked several barren miles down the beach to see what if anything remained. All I found was a hamlet, called Diabat**, of a few ramshackle cottages and I was literally run out of the hamlet by a terrifying pack of feral dogs. In front of the hamlet going down from the dunes to the sea was the remains of a castle [Borj el Baroud*], which by then was right down the beach and almost dissolving into the ocean. You could still see remains of some of the huge walls and a castellated turret. It was quite eerie, desolate and not another person in view for miles on the beach.
You can also see historical photos of the ruin here which shows it in an earlier better preserved form, together with it's history: http://www.essaouira.nu/history_Bordj.htm
I understand that that piece of coast has recently been developed and if you look at Google/Maps you will see Diabat now appears to be some form of golf resort/development.

So to me the Hendrix lyric in his track 'Castles made of sand':
'And so castles made of sand,
Fall in the sea, eventually'

...Would seem likely to fit. He was living in London at the time, Essaouira/Marrakesh etc were hippy pilgrimage destinations, and he did apparently visit.


* I can't post a clean link to Google Images but it's simple to find other pictures of it.
** Coincidentally in the past week or so I posted a couple of photos that I took on that trip of Diabat, and of the castle, over in the Photographs topic. But digitallook appears to have timed out the linked photos and they were erased.

DiamondEcho
Lemon Quarter
Posts: 2196
Joined: November 4th, 2016, 3:39 pm
Has thanked: 1498 times
Been thanked: 303 times

Re: Into The Sahara

#128049

Postby DiamondEcho » March 26th, 2018, 10:38 am

Correction to the final sentence^, in case it confuses anyone:

'But Photobucket appears to have timed out the linked photos and they were erased.'

Clitheroekid
Lemon Quarter
Posts: 1206
Joined: November 6th, 2016, 9:58 pm
Has thanked: 398 times
Been thanked: 745 times

Re: Into The Sahara

#131035

Postby Clitheroekid » April 10th, 2018, 1:43 am

DiamondEcho wrote:So to me the Hendrix lyric in his track 'Castles made of sand':
'And so castles made of sand,
Fall in the sea, eventually'

...Would seem likely to fit. He was living in London at the time, Essaouira/Marrakesh etc were hippy pilgrimage destinations, and he did apparently visit.

Sadly it appears that this was not the case. From the page you linked:

A common name for Bordj el Oued is "The Castle in the sand" and it is a misbelief that this ruin was an inspiration for the song "Castles made of sand" by Jimi Hendrix.

Jimi visited Essaouira a short stay in 1969 and the song was released in 1967.


Return to “Airport Lounge”

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 1 guest