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Posted By Dorrit, Coen, Sophie, Marlies & Leonie

from a city point of view, Marrakesh was as exotic as it had been promised. We spent two days in this wonderful and diverse city where you miss all sense of direction. To take a rest, there is mint tea everywhere. Marrakesh is too packed with snake charmers, donkey carts and labyrinthine alleyways. We first visited the action-packed Djeema el-Fna square. For Sophie and Marlies this was breath taking. All sorts of snakes were piped out of their baskets, monkeys acted like acrobats, made saltos and even saluted and when we just looked around for a second, a little folclore ensemble started their musical act.
Furthermore there were storytellers, magicians, henna sellers, trained squirrels, more snakes and many many people. 


We visited the beautiful Bahia palace with its many orientally decorated rooms and courtyards. We let ourselves go with the flow through the endless souqs with silver art, antiques, handycrafts, wood- and leather shops that cover the early cleaning and painting upto the manufacturing of clothes and other items and of course the uncountable markets where everything was being sold; turtles, gekkos, perfume ingredients and spices. This was all being decorated with ancient gates and colorful patios and a diverse mix of locally dressed Moroccans. One could spent two weeks or more in this city...
As the dogs stayed on the campsite and the girls shouldn't be over-impressed, we spent the afternoons in and around the campsite pool.

 


Because the end of the month is approaching we left Marrakesh and headed up north. We drove the motorway to Casablanca where we spent the night near the beach so the girls could try to find a clean place to play in the sand. Sophie said she was looking forward to more beach but we wait for more (and cleaner) beach until we are in Portugal.

 

 

 
Posted By Dorrit, Coen, Sophie, Marlies & Leonie

after the sand storm night everything inside and outside the van was covered with a thin sand film.
It was long driving day through an endless sand storm with several sand dunes on the road. We drove through a wonderful barren landscape with middle high mountains in black and red colors, a camel was breastfeeding her baby when we passed. The road climbed steep uphill with beautiful views on the oases until we reached the Todra gorge.
 

In a small roadside shop I bought some essentials like veggies, fruit, water and eggs for a price you dont get a coffee for at home and had a nice chat with the owner. It it so nice most of the Maroccans speak French and everybody is in for small talk. We had a resting day and since there was a decent washing machine at last, Dorrit did a washing marathon. The next day we visited the gorge. As we got deeper into the gorge with its high walls, it got narrower and narrower. The narrowest point is only 10 meters broad. Local people were washing, picknicking and relaxing in the river below. Some souvenir sellers tried to sell handycraft and Sophie bought a necklace with purple stones. Later that day back in the van, she offered us one of her toys for only 30 dirham...
We spent the night on a very beautiful campsite between palm trees in the middle of the oasis. The owner gave us a bunch of nice fresh mint leaves from his garden so we could brew several pots of Flamumten tea as Sophie calls it.
Next moring we started driving the Kasbah Street to Skoura. We passed several kasbahs (medieval mud fortress or castle) in the little villages on this valley of a thousand kasbahs. Some are gorgeous, some are not more than ruins. Old peugeots, little fruit-and vegetable markets and sleepy Morrocans under palm trees in the hot afternoon gave us the feeling of being in the middle of a movie. Only the crazy drivers pull you out of that dream. May the flies of a thousand camels infest their crotch and may their arms be too short to scratch. This Moroccan curse I read on a wall somewhere :-)
We visited an old kasbah with nice views over the oasis of Skoura on one side and snowy peaks of the High Atlas on the other.
As she starts crawling now, in the afternoon Marlies played on the huge plastic carpet we bought for this purpose.
 

In the afternoon we drove to the city of Ouarzazate, here we visited the two most impressive kasbah cities. These are castles on top of a hill surrounded by a village with litlle narrow streets. Movies like Jewel of the Nile, the Gladiator and Jesus of Nazareth were filmed here. While strolling around in the still populated, 11th century cities, we felt like being in one of these movies.
The last night of this fantastic southern part of Morocco we spent on a deserted, hot and rocky campsite. Evenings when I walked on my slippers towards the water place, a warm breeze blew through my hair. From a distance I saw Sophie and Marlies playing while the sun was going down behind the high Atlas mountains, throwing and orange glow over the area, it was just perfect and I felt happy and grateful.
Next morning we started early in the moring in order to cross the Tizi Tichka pass (2260 m) that connects the pre- saharian oases with Marrakesh. After this scenic, steep and adventerous route we look forward to what Marrakesh has in store for us.

 

 
Posted By Dorrit, Coen, Sophie, Marlies & Leonie

high on our wishlist was a visit to the desert. Sophie also pointed out the camels in the travel guide. In Morocco the Sahara is accessible. Why not going there...
The next morning we first visited a carpet factory that was initiated by nuns to improve the circumstances of berber women. About 80 local women have a job here and get reasonable prices for their work. Then we drove to the Gorges of Ziz, a dramatic gorge of about 20 kilometers long and 1/2 kilometer wide. Here we spent the night at a campsite in the middle of the gorge. 

In the afternoon we searched for fossiles with Sophie and found some nice ones, the evening we spent with a Moroccan-French family in the restaurant with music and tea.
The next morning we drove to Merzouga, the landscape changed to a sandy dry area with long streched palm tree oases. The houses in the villages we passed were made out of clay with the colours yellow, yellow and yellow. 

After driving a long hot stretch through the dessert with sand blowing over the road in stripes, we saw the sand dunes called Erg Chebbi and we finally reached Merzouga. There were many police checkpoints, probably because we werexonly a 25 kilometers away from the Algerian border. On a wonderful campsite we spent three more than perfect days. The courtyard of the sandcastle was a campsite and, as in the movies, it was full of low palm trees and surrounded by sandstone arcades. Directly behind the campsite the desert started with groups of palm trees, several camels lying around waiting for passengers and sand dunes as far as the eye reached. A huge sandbox for the kids to play in, for us a surreal experience to be in the middle of the Sahara with all its beauty and its cliches. During the hot days we walked through the dunes, we went to the little village to look for local handycraft and we spent much time with a nice Swiss family who were camping with two boys. Evenings the temperature went down so we all had a good sleep. The starry nights were amazing and the sky was so clear one could see milky ways.

 During a camel tour, Sophie could finally sit on the back of a camel. Uphill and downhill we swung straight through the desert towards the great dune. The views were spectacular and the sunset was amazing, changing the colour of the dunes to orange, violet and pink. For all of us a great adventure. 

That evening we had to quickly pack everything together as a sand storm approached but fortunately we could enjoy locals playing traditional music in the bar.

 
Posted By Dorrit, Coen, Sophie, Marlies & Leonie
our visit to Fes was a bit different than originally planned.  We entered the old town and landed directly in the center of the souqs. We passed the butcher's area.   Flies, meat, all imaginable parts of animals and goat heads in a row with there tongues sticking out. After the backery part we got stuck in the wedding dress streets where the girls bought dresses for Adi & Corinne's medieval wedding. As no vehicles are allowed in the souq, fully loaded donkeys were pushed through the narrow streets. With our buggy, moving on was hard and the impressions for the kids were pretty heavy so we negociated about the taxi to bring us back to the campsite. This topped everything.
The man probably wanted to get back quickly so with high volume arabic music we raced through the streets, overtaking from all sides, nearly missing other cars, people and busses. We sat in the back on a loose back seat trying to hold the kids   until we could finally get out. Scared and sick...We decided that leaving Fes a day earlier was not a bad idea.
Our plan was to get to Azrou the following day. We followed a scenic route through the middle Atlas until we reached the Emirates campsite. This is owned by a scheick who built a huge Disney castle in arabic style, totally misplaced in this rather poor area. Of course for Sophie this place was a dream. 

Waiting for 
tea A few kilometers uphill was a ceder forest in which troups of Barbary apes lived. This was another adventure for the girls. We fed the apes, made pictures of their babies and Sophie and I could ride a horse with a gold embroidered saddle through the forest. 
Our road continued to Midelt. The road climbed up through the complete barren landscape. Sandy and rocky slopes with minimum vegetation as far as the eye reached, only populated by nomads hearding huge numbers of sheep. We got into a fog that lasted for more than an hour until we reached the pass Col du Zad. Then  another climate zone starts, the style of the houses changes; they are now made out of the typical yellow clay. Our doctor at home is an Africa traveller and he recommended a Kasbah-style (sandstone fort) complexe aimed at developing local tourism. At this relaxed and sunny place we unpacked our family.

Breakfast
 
Posted By Dorrit, Coen, Sophie, Marlies & Leonie

another day in Tetouan. After we read about its Unesco heritage Medina (old town), we decided to visit the city one more time. This time we let ourselves flow with the stream. It was amazing! All those little shops, sorted by trade and goods. Little narrow streets and endless turns. Medieval towers, walls, It seemed to go on and on. When Marlies was getting hungry and Sophie tired, the fun part was over. Especially because of the rain, the streets were covered with centimeters of mud (and sheep blood mixed with fish). So were we... Next morning we left for the mountain city Chefchaouen. It was "only" 60 kilometers but it took us 2 hours. It was a beautiful road right through the Rif mountains. Amazingly green hills,  little muddy villages, men with packed donkeys, goats and exotic inhabitants.  And hashish ("kif") selling peasants every kilometer.
Chefchaouen is surrounded by steep and rocky mountains. We visited the old castle and the old town with its typical blue colored houses and arabic shaped windows. Here the majority of the people dressed in traditional folklore and with palmtrees and the sandcoloured castle as deco, we felt as if we were in the middle of the story of 1001 nights. According to the experiences of other travellers we met, this is going to be topped down south.
As this is a mountain area, the nights got cold again . For some days, the rain is our compagnon but as the rain comes in showers it is possible to live around it. We spend another day in this lovely town and on the campsite we met a German family with two kids that Sophie could play with.

Then it is time to drive a big part through the Rif mountains in direction Meknes. The area again is beautiful and green. The road winds itself along hills and rocky ridges. We pass many lonely men riding on donkeys or hearding flocks of sheep or goats. Flashlights of other drivers mean; cows near the road, heards of goats crossing the road or police controls. The exclamation sign means; road damage or any other circumstance for which you should hit the breaks quickly before losing ground. Marlies is starting to be "catching the spoon champion" as she usually gets her lunch while we are driving and the roads are pretty bumpy. We arrive at a nice campsite that looks like a Spanish garden with orange trees, pots and trees nicely arranged. Also the bathrooms could perhaps be worth giving a try. So far, the bathrooms of Moroccan campsites were old and filthy  in a way you wouldn't even touch the door to open and look inside. We are happy to have all facilities in the van!

Between heavy rainshowers we visited the ruins of the city Volubilis. This Cartagenian city was taken over by the Romans. It survived because the grand grand son of the profet Mohammed occupied it. In the 18th century it was destroyed by an earthquake. The next day in this area we visited the city of Meknes, one of the four imperial cities in Morroco.  First the old town was on our agenda. When after prayers the great mosk emptied itself in the narrow little streets, we were almost run over by men.  For a good overview on mausoleums, royal palaces and castles the city is full of, we took a horse carriage. For the girls this was great fun. Sophie pretended she was queen and waved at all "roadside peasants". She is still friendly to the locals although she starts getting annoyed by the dozens of people that kiss her, hug her or pick her up.  At the end of the day we took the motorway to the second imperial city:Fez. We installed ourselves on a nice campsite full of tour groups and Sophie was happy to meet some playmates that belonged to a Belgian family.

 


 
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