We left the Algarve at the end of October and set off for Tarifa, south of Cadiz in Spain. We just took the motorhome and left the car in Albufeira with Rob and Pauline who live on the site. Tarifa has a gorgeous hard sandy beach complete with cows and horses grazing on the moorland next to the beach. I also saw the famous Iberian black pigs (appeared on a menu last month as 'Secretos') in a field close to the beach. We had planned on wild camping but the area was unsuitable as it had rained a lot and become boggy.
We met up with some other motor home owners to go to Morocco as we were unsure as to whether our motor home was entirely suitable as it is so large. Well, of course we needn't have worried at all, it was well up to the job. All the roads were of an extremely high standard, mostly tarmacked. Although we heeded the advice not to drive at night as anything travelling at less than 25km an hour doesn't require lights! We were also surprised to discover that there is practically 100% mobile phone coverage, including the desert.
In case you think my geography is poor I haven't described the places below in the order we visited them just in the way things have popped into my head.
We visited the ancient Roman ruins of Volubilis. They have been restored where funding has been available over the years. There were some very impressive mosaics and an olive oil press. Nowadays the presses in the villages are almost exactly the same but use donkey power rather than slaves.
We travelled south via a town called Meknes. Early on our first morning we were woken by the call to prayer from the mosques. As we could make out at least 5 this should have been a terrible sound. Far from it! It sounded like a wonderful early morning symphony. Once we were organised after our 5am wake up we took a horse and cart to the very authentic souk which sold everything from meat and produce to designer clothes. Although there were parts of the animal for sale that you wouldn't generally see in the butcher's at home (freshly shaved cow's heads spring to mind). It was all extremely clean and very well laid out. Many tasks such as spinning cotton thread were undertaken manually by young men working outside their shops.
We were given such a warm welcome by all the people we met. As we drove along children and adults enthusiastically waved and smiled from the roadside. Mike had to be careful driving the motor home as many people would run out on to the road to try and sell trinkets. As we drove along the motorway on the way home there were even people walking along the hard shoulder trying to sell things, or sitting on the crash barriers watching the vehicles go by.
One night we stayed at a cedar forest. There were some Barbary Apes that came to see us which the locals were feeding bread to. Mike had some monkey nuts and the huge dominant male picked up on this instantly. He chased Mike away who started throwing nuts out of the bag behind him shouting 'mind my nuts!'
As we travelled south the scenery was constantly changing. We went across the Rif mountains and the Atlas mountains and then into the desert. We stayed at an oasis called Source Blue de Meski. This had been an R &R outpost for the French Foreign Legion in its day. The pool looked beautiful but I didn't go in as closer inspection revealed quite a lot of living things in the water. We had a tour around the village by a local resident and met his wife and daughter. We felt very privileged to see around people's homes and how they lived. The new king has ensured that electricity is available and most homes had a well in the garden and access to a satellite dish. But the women still did the washing in the river and weaved brightly coloured rugs in the home.
We then continued south to the Sahara desert and stayed in front of the sand dunes outside an Auberge at Erg Chebbi.
After leaving Erg Chebbi we visited the Todra Gorge, the Atlas film studios and Aout Bennadou (I've spelt that wrong!) where many films have been shot. We enjoyed the main square in Marrakesh and got lost in the souk which seems to be what you are expected to do.
We then travelled out to the coast and had a week at Essaouira. A very nice coastal town and fishing port. Whilst there we visited a Hammam which is a Moroccan bath house. I went with Elspeth who had been before as I wasn't brave enough to try it out on my own. I stripped down to my bikini bottoms and was allocated my own lady to 'look after me'. We entered a hot steamy room with women and girls washing themselves or each other. The room was very clean, tiled and completely bare apart from taps at intervals around the room. After being sloshed with bucketfuls of warm water I was covered in what looked like engine grease but is actually an argan oil cleansing and moisturising paste. After being left to marinade for a few minutes she returned and scrubbed my skin extremely firmly (brutally?) with an exfoliating mitt. She showed me with great pride an alarming amount of very black grime and skin that had come off me. Next was massage time and again I was thoroughly pummelled. Then she washed my hair and my body and I was left to relax as she went and fetched my towel. It was a shame that we couldn't communicate as she didn't speak French or English. I would have loved to tell her how much I had enjoyed the experience. My whole body glowed and my skin was so smooth and soft afterwards.
The quality of the food and eating out was excellent and inexpensive. We enjoyed snacks from the street stalls, traditional Tajines, fillet steak and the famous Berber omelette. This was always different, usually with a delicious spicy tomato sauce and cheese. There was one truly awful interpretation which was a cold plain omelette served with bread and a cheese triangle on top. We were able to buy pretty much anything we needed. The large towns had full sized supermarkets such as the French chain Auchan. These sold everything including alcohol and even ham. The villages and towns all had a souk and we were able to buy fresh produce here. We acclimatised to it all quickly, however on the way back we stopped to buy some toilet roll at the Lidl in Tarifa. Half an hour later we left with a trolley stacked high with purchases. 'Wasn't that a good Lidl?' I pronounced, well I think any supermarket would have looked like Harrod's Food hall after a month in Morocco!