Zagan the motorhome is under the African sun. But forget him, dammit, what about us? Well, folks, we’re loving it. This is our 3rd time in North Africa in a motorhome (Zagan’s first though), and we’re finding the experience more relaxing and enjoyable each time we do it. That said, I did have a moment when I almost hit a truck reversing off the ferry onto Moroccan soil – see below. We’re parked up in Camp As Saada which is in Assilah on the Atlantic coast about an hour down the motorway from Tangier (N35.471942, W6.02888), and it costs €8 a night here with WiFi and electricity. There is a €4 ‘guarded parking’ below the medina walls and facing the sea, which looks great but has no leccy and we’re hoping to eke out our gas over 2 or 3 months so are happy to pay for it.
After brimming off the old LPG tanks (there are no LPG refill stations in Morocco), we rolled on down to the commercial district outside Algeciras to stock up on last minute goodies (yes, there are many boxes of 40p-a-bottle wine in here) and buy our ferry tickets. Despite the advertising boards all the way into the city, one business has made itself famous for flogging motorhome tickets to Morocco, in fact one man: Carlos. His business is called Viajes Normandie, but everyone knows the places as Carlos’. As far as we know he’s retired now, passing the business on to his daughters, but when we arrived it was in the same office building, and was doing the usual roaring trade. Rumours about no-one coming to Morocco due to terrorism in Europe are, it would seem judging by the 60 or so motorhomes overnighting nearby, just rumours. €200 later and we’d an open return to the new(ish) Tanger Med port which we knew from last time was probably the easiest place to enter the country.
The equally famous Lidl, near to Carlos’ place and whose car park was an ever-full unofficial motorhome overnighting spot, has sadly burned down. The building is still there, as is the huge LIDL lollypop sticking up above the motorway, but the shop has moved. Ju spotted something about it being a temporary move, but there was no sign of hordes of workers about to descend on the blackened shell of a place. Motorhomers being what we are, have just moved around the corner and were all shopping at, and sleeping outside, the Mercadona supermarket, which must have seen a 1000% increase in sales since Lidl went up in smoke.
As we went through the process of buying tickets the chap had asked us ‘8am or 10am’? We’d been chatting to a chap from Newcastle earlier on who’d said he got the afternoon ferries to avoid the rush at customs in the morning, so when the next ferry was. Being keen to get over, we stretched it to the 11am one. After a good night’s kip (for me at least, Ju was up half the night with a nervous Charlie), we bought even more last minute goodies before heading off into the port where Phil’s door lock decided to bust, just before boarding the ferry, in such a way the door couldn’t be closed. Level-headed, he removed the catch from the van-side of the lock and thus prevented a potential disarrr-ster. While Phil’s tools were being twirled, we watched lorries being reversed onto the ferry, with some trepidation about how they’d choose to load us, but in the end we just drove on.
Last time across the Straight of Gibraltar we were treated to the sight of pilot whales cruising the waters, and I was on high alert with binoculars the whole time. Ying and yang: we were on a fast ferry which carried out the inter-continental journey in no time, but that meant we were both inside and low down, close to the sea, so I managed to spot nothing but the occasional sunlit crest of a wave.
Leaving the ferry was, errrm, fun? Not being roll-on-roll-off, we had to either turn round in the hull, or reverse off. After being sat about for half an hour, watching the ferry crew swapping euro notes for opaque plastic bags with folks getting back into their cars , they opted for the latter. At this point I deployed the only reversing camera in the world I trust: Me Julie. She legs it onto the deck and starts guiding me off, while an official chap did the same from the front. The brightly clad fella was largely ignored but distracted me as (a) the dog barked for England and (b) the sun streaming in through the doors meant Me Julie was a mere shadow dancing in the light. WHHHOOOAAAA!! A shout goes up and I spot I’m Ju’s width from a lorry – with Ju filling the gap. At this point high-vis man loses his cool and, quite rightly, instructs Me Julie back inside and tells me to watch him, only him. He is the man (tugs at and points to high vis). I am not the man. I am a muppet, and I know it. “Lo siento” I tell him, Spanish for I’m sorry, but literally meaning ‘I feel it’, and I did. I must do what the man says. The man shakes his head and wipes away a tear of sorrow at my un-manness. I reverse off, tail between legs, and roll on to the next set of fun: Moroccan customs.
We liked Morocco so much the list time we were here, we wrote a book about how to come here with a motorhome. Huh? What’s that? You want to know more? Well, if you insist, here is it on Amazon (we wrote another too about how much of an experience it all was). Part of the reason for writing it was to explain some of the more mysterious aspects of coming here, one of which is getting through customs. Although it’s 4 years old now, we were pleased to see it’s still more or less accurate, although it seems they vary the customs process on a daily basis just to keep things fresh. We arrived to a queue of other motorhomes: we’d caught up the 10am ferry which had left late. The customs process was the usual confusion of forms, officials wandering about being fussed over by nervous would-be-entrees, Spanish-registered cars being emptied of enormous loads and passports being flung at all and sundry. European motorhome owners stand about in the middle of this looking bewildered. Ju and I did our best to fit in. Phil wasn’t impressed at the lack of any clear end-to-end process, reminding me exactly of me when we first did a crossing like this.
Out of customs we stopped on the other side to change some Euros, insisting on getting €20 worth of small notes and change to simplify transactions in the coming days. I’ve learned/remembered a few words of Arabic and folks are clearly happy to hear them in place of French, so I’m motivated to learn some more. Notably, the word for ‘yes’, which sounds like na’am. Last time here we only learned the word for ‘no: la. Maybe that’s telling in some way? Thank you is shukran, and we’re trying to use it a lot. By the way, shukran is actually شكرا in Arabic, an entirety different character set with all kinds of difficulties for us Europeans, so my chances of turning into Laurence of Arabia are fairly small.
Out the port we headed south down the toll motorway. It’s been years since we were last in Morocco, and my memory of it’s become twisted in time. I can’t recall any near-perfect motorway sections despite the fact we must have driven this same road, but it felt as smooth and safe as a Spanish motorway. Apart from that chap pushing his broken down car along it. And that car transporter which hassled its way past Phil into the roadworks, kicking up a cloud of dust. Hmmm, yes, must keep one’s wits about one. As we left the fast road into Assilah the toll booth attendant robbed us. In daylight. 71 Dirhams: almost €7, ouch. Looks like toll costs have gone up since the last time we were here.
Here in Assilah we’ve had a great time. The campsite feels safe and quiet. It has a back door which opens to a road, the other side of which is a huge beach. We’re immediately used (almost) to the fact we can offend folks by holding hands or kissing in public, or even baring our legs. We’re used to the smiles, stares and whistles Charlie attracts. We’re used to the odd tout trying to flog us something or other. We’re used to prices being only sporadically displayed and needing to ask if you want to know. We know not to haggle over food, and to keep Charlie away from Moroccans unless they show an interest, since in their religion a dog is seen as unclean (what, our dirt-eating mutt, unclean?).
The old town (the medina) here is pleasant and airy. There are lovely views up and down the coast. In the new town we sat in the evening and had a meal together, some of which the owner went and bought from neighbouring stalls after we’d ordered: the bread and cold drinks at least. Over tagines, Moroccan soup and brochettes we sat outside among a bustling scene of mainly locals, and I was taken back decades to the Khao San Road in Bangkok, the last time I can recall a similar experience. We sucked it up.
Today the plan is to head out for a run (I’m up at 7am writing this, I must be in Africa), then attempt to buy an Internet SIM at the Maroc Telecom shop over the road, then head south a couple of hours towards Fez where we’ve an appointment with a 10km run in 3 days.