Hot days, Arabian nights

For the first leg of Africa, through Morroco, my daughter Poppy has joined me. This is her first time Overlanding in the truck, her first time in Morroco, and a big contrast to her normal day-to-day job in corporate law (though she is a resilient and adventurous traveller by nature).

So this leg of the trip has been designed to ease her slowly into overlanding, which she is keen to try, and blend together the four main aspects of overlapping in the country.  So initially we spend a good bit of time in Tangier and Fes absorbing the ancient culture of the Medinas from the comfort of traditional hotels.  During the days not touring the cities we travel in the heat with windows down and and vents open getting Poppy used to driving the truck and managing our hydration and comfort with the occasional stop at a campsite to introduce Poppy to “truck life”

Poppy had a busy introduction as her flight got in about 10.30 at night, so I had to break my normal not driving at night rule and cross the busy and unruly Tangier traffic to get to the Hotel Continental on the walls of the Medina.  Very fortunately we managed to get to the hotel Terrace just as they were finishing serving so we had our first mint tea overlooking the harbour within the calls of the Mosques, a nice symbolic arrival.

Poppy arrives from Colonge in good spiritsTangiers Medina has been undergoing a renovation for the last years and is now a super place to walk around, well lit and quite safe, a far cry from its reputation as a den of iniquity in the past.  We had a easy time wandering around and getting lost but with the help of google managed to get to the main sites and get a good feel for the aromas and bustle of the Medina.  I am not keen on photographing people who are just going about their daily business but really liked this picture from the modern art Museum we visited, it captured the atmosphere of the Medina vividly for me.

My favourite picture, from the Museum of the Kasbah in Tangier,

When I am travelling in the truck, it is a real pain if one gets sick, of course with many different countries and many different foods, it is inevitable that something will disagree with you, but reasonable precautions can be taken.  Lamb Tangine is one of my favourites in Morroco, a great combination of vegetables, meat, gravy and all very well cooked and hence sterile.  The slow-cooked lamb is tender and tasty.  Washed down with mint tea and some pastries it makes for an excellent “on the road” meal.

Half way through an excellent lamb tangine

When we left Tangier for Chefchaoun Poppy started her training, first as a navigator, which she did really well.  We use multiple different systems in the truck but the main one is an iPad in front of the passenger which can run various online and offline mapping systems and is linked to our satellite tracker (see link on the homepage of the blog).  The systems also include the excellent apps iOverlander and Park4Night which travellers update all the time with the latest information on camping spots or hazards on the road. So the first order of business on day one was to get Poppy comfortable with the navigators role and the different systems.

Poppy doing well navigating with multiple systems at once

Once we got to the blue city of Chefchaoun Poppy had the first experience of setting up camp in the truck, getting to understand all the little details of truck life takes some time, the one “golden rule” is that everything has a proper place and needs to go back in that place, as it is surprisingly easy to lose things in all the little storage cupboards and drawers.  Good news was that Poppy found sleeping in the truck very comfortable and had a good nights sleep to be woken with fresh coffee and overnight fridge porridge with dried fruit our staple morning diet.

Camp at Chefchaoun, shade from the awning and washing drying quickly in the heat.

One thing I was concerned about was crossing the mountain trails “solo” as it is unlikely but possible that one can get stuck or break something on the truck, with another vehicle one can get towed out or in the worst case get a lift or a tow to get help.  It’s not actually as critical as it may seem as we have water and food for about a week in the truck and usually some farmer will have a tractor, but it is a comfort to have more than one vehicle.  In the campsite we met other overlanders and now we have a nice couple with a lot of experience to join us in the more tricky sections.

Nicks very capable Landcruiser from South Africa will join us on the trip

I carry a set of four walkie talkies for just this situation, it means that we can talk to each other while driving and even if we have a river crossing or a difficult bit of road one person outside the car can talk to the driver in true “top gear” style.  So we set off to the Roman ruins in Volubilis together and part way along Poppy took over the driving for the first time, as the road got rougher (but still tarmac) it was a good introduction for her and Nick leading gave her plenty of brake light warning of ripples and potholes in the road.

Poppy unfazed by her first time driving Nelson enjoying Roman ruins and the city perched on the hill behind

Having survived the first two days driving, and the first night of proper camping, we arrived at Fes for a last bit of culture and indulgence before heading into the mountains and the desert pistes.  We stayed again in a very historical building the Riad Soultana which is a beautiful traditional house filled with high ceilings wood carvings and ornate mosaic features.  After a hearty breakfast we set off on a tour of the bewilderingly complex Medina of Fes including its famost, and rather smelly tanneries.  A guide makes a big difference here as this Medina is the home of 800,000 people and is a working city not just a tourist attraction.  With a guide we got to see all the main sights (and the usual leather and carpet shops) but also the residential and working areas of the city along with a running commentary on the history and functioning of the Medina.  Great value for 25 Euro

I am not keen on photographing people at their work or randomly in the street but could not resist this subtle shot of an elderly berber gentleman walking home
Every few meters one finds an ornate door such as this outside one of the 200 Mosques in the Medina

Of course it is traditional that the guide will take you to a series of shops as well as to the sights of the Medina, our guy Abdul was quite restrained so we got away with one textile shop, one leather shop and one carpet shop in the whole tour.  After a good explaination of spinning and weaving I did buy Poppy a scarf which will be handy in the desert or when visiting places were modesty is a requirement

our only purchase a fetching turban/scarf for the desert heat and dust

The tanneries of the Mediana are an assault on the senses, we are given bunches of mint to hold to the nose to counter the smell of the tanning process.

The tanneries of the Medina in Fes

Our hotel is full of lovely details like this water system in the main courtyard beside our breakfast table




a water system like this is common in houses, restaurants and even in the street for public use Occasional 

However all this luxury and comfort did not draw me into a false sense of security, This is still an overland trip of many thousands of miles and it all depends on our health and the health of the truck.  In Portugal, I had noticed in my daily checks a small amount of oil leaking from the rear differential and had topped it up, before we go to the mountains I needed to do a full check of the truck and the 33oC heat of the mid-day here in Fes did really not appeal.

So this morning at 7 am the sun was just rising on the minaret of the Mosque and the sandstone of the kasbah as I walked down to the guarded parking where the light was just catching Nelson in the cool air.  Much to the surprise of the attendant I got out my tools and my mat and started crawling around topping up the various gearboxes and differentials when needed.

The morning sun on the Kasbah brings out the colour nicely
Above the quiet and still dusky street, the first rays of the sun hit the minaret of the Mosque
The parking attendent was a bit surprised when I got out my tools and started to crawl about under the truck with my oil fill   One of the good things about my internet systems, and the common nature of old defenders here in Morroco, is that I have been able to source a garage in Zaragoza in the desert that has a replacement oil seal and will replace it under my supervision for the princely sum of 30 pounds including the cost of the new seal. Of course they will find other things to discuss with me but a good check after the first 2000 miles and the Atlas and Saraha routes is perfect timing for me so my appointment is all arranged, meanwhile I keep topping up the small amount of oil it is using.

So the trip is on plan so far, about 2000km and 17 days in, Poppy settling in well and we have good experienced company for the mountain and the desert sections, all good….



About Gerry Mulligan

Check Also

Quiet Times in Kenya

Now I am in Kenya, country number 81 for Nelson and I, this is the …