Morocco Trek (part 2)

Fes to Moulay Bosselham and Tangier Med

Meknes, Moulay-Idriss

On the day before we left Fes we decided to do a short circular ride-out from Camping International taking in Meknes and a small town called Moulay Idriss. In all, the route was about 120miles in total. The day was bathed in warm sunshine and it was a pleasurable ride. The first 30 miles was on the National Route N6; uninspiring. The road, though well made, was boringly flat, wide and straight for the most part.

After following a local bus, and absorbing it’s fumes for several miles, we arrived in Meknes. The journey took around an hour. We drifted through the traffic filled streets of this modern city, looking for somewhere to park. After a while we found a vacant car parking space and pulled into it. Immediately we were approached by an official looking, but amicable guy in a fluorescent vest. He indicated that the space we occupied was for cars only, but beckoned to a place on the pavement where we could put the bikes. We still don’t know the official status of these ‘parking attendants’ but they appeared in most of the towns we visited. For the donation of a few Dirhams they not only park you, but will guard the bikes while you are away. Even the helmets were left with the bikes and remained unmolested until our return. Much of the Moroccan economy seems to work this way, begging, though rare, is seen as an acceptable economic activity. It is not uncommon to walk a street and see a series of identically small provision stores virtually side by side.

We had a tea break in a street cafe and considered our options. It had become too hot to contemplate wandering around this modern part of the city, in our biking gear. There was, apparently, an ancient medina, but it was some way off and we had had our fill in Fes. We handed over a few coins to the smiling guardian of parking, mounted our steeds and with the aid of iMaps we were soon out of town.

After a short ride we climbed the road winding into the town of Moulay-Idriss. As we approached, we ignored the gesticulating locals and found ourselves a perfect parking spot without any assistance. The day had become warm and sunny, possibly too warm for wearing biking gear, as we wandered into the town. Idriss was typical of the small towns we had encountered, built into the steep terrain with narrow winding streets. We had successfully fended of the attentions of an insistent young man who kept offering to show us the sights and continued to drift around the maze of streets until, after some time, we had to backtrack from the blind alley we had reached. Looking like lost tourists we were easy prey to a pleasant older man who, encouraged by our apparent confusion, latched on to us. He had closed and locked the tiny store he had been supervising and joined us with a smile. The views from the small terraces dotted around the town were spectacular but after 10 mins we were tired and in need of refreshment. The airy town square was encircled by restaurants and shops with a large mosque on one side; a pleasant place to watch the world go by. Eventually we had to return to the campsite in Fes and ready ourselves for decamping and hitting the road; destination Rabat.


We had decided to avoid the main, and busiest roads whilst traveling in Morocco, and as a result of this policy had found some excellent rural byways. Our route to the Atlantic passed through countryside which consisted of rolling hills of cultivated land. We halted for liquid refreshment at a roadside halt, here we became objects of some curiosity especially, I suspect, when Jen removed her helmet. Although French is the country’s second language, in rural places, Arabic is often the only spoken language. The tea we had ordered, after some confusion, arrived and was a full bodied infusion of various leaves; without milk.

By late afternoon we arrived at the coast, the only campsite we could find was closed; our problems had begun. After being directed to an accommodation; the middle of a roundabout in the middle of nowhere, then riding around looking for an hotel without success, we were rescued by a knight in shining armour, in the unlikely guise of a small delivery truck. The driver, spotting us sitting on a kerbstone, peering into the glowing iphone, commanded we follow him to a ‘good hotel’. A frantic pursuit through the, now darkened, busy streets of Rabat ensued, with us desperately hanging onto the back of a furiously driven truck, finally we halted in front of the opulent sprawl of the Hotel Spa Dawliz. The driver refused, absolutely, to accept any reward. “You are a guest in my country” he proclaimed and handed Jen a chocolate bar. We shook hands and waved furiously as our saviour disappeared. The uniformed guards lifted the barrier and parked us close by, so that they might provide all night security for the bikes. Though thoroughly dishevelled and wearing our grubby bike gear the receptionist was charming, even when she discovered we were ‘walk ins’, without a reservation. The room was huge, the bed was huge and we were hugely knackered. We spread our gear liberally around the room in order to make it more homely and, after a spruce up, went down to the bar for an expensive beer.

The following morning, after an expansive breakfast, we left the hotel and it’s panoramic views of Rabat beyond the adjacent river and turned north away from the city. A perusal of the map had revealed a large,coastal, lagoon about 100 miles to the north of Rabat; we all know that lagoons mean birds, lots and lots of birds. We had decided to use the main autoroute, with it’s tolls, trucks and fast moving traffic. There was a, cold, coastal mist settling on the road and surrounding countryside which rendered the ride uncomfortably unpleasant. After a few hours we were thankful to reach the exit for Moulay Bousselham, the fog had lifted and the day was warm and sunny as we rode the handful of miles to town.

Moulay Bousselham

Moulay Boussalem is a small fishing port with a natural, protected haven at the seaward end of the lagoon. There are floating moorings where numerous sturdy looking open boats are stationed. The moorings are shielded by a large sandbar almost separating the lagoon from the Atlantic beyond, with a small natural channel allowing access to the fishing grounds. The boats, with their high, sharp prows, are able to punch their way through the shoreline surf to reach the bounty beyond. From tiny sardines and sprats to large tuna and sharks the variety of the fish landed is vast. What cannot be sold on the beach is carted away on the ubiquitous three wheeled pickup trucks to local markets and beyond. The campsite is adjacent to the beach where the catch is landed, a tranquil field with sheep and horses replacing lawnmowers. The services are a little archaic and the hot water supply intermittent, but the atmosphere is slow paced and relaxing. A small on site restaurant and it’s smiling young manager, supplies mint tea, delicious food and wifi.

Much of the town sits on the cliffs overlooking the beach and lagoon. Several restaurants supply a variety of food and a small market behind them sells fresh fish, vegetables, fruit and ‘cook while you wait’ street food. We ate at one restaurant, sitting on a rickety wooden terrace, a lookout to the western horizon, the sun was setting with one of those vivid displays that sear the memory, as well as the retina.

During our stay we met Omar and his extended family, took a trip around the lagoon, shared a fresh fish BBQ with John from the UK and had an in depth political discussion with a ‘comrade’ from the Chinese royal family. These are the magical things that happen when you extend your horizons. At times you will feel unsettled, or anxious ,or even fearful; more often you will feel welcomed, sometimes admittedly for your wealth, but also because people want you to be happy and safe in their country.

We had finally to tear ourselves away from Moulay Bousselham and head for Spain. This would be our last full day in Morocco and rather than trek around the coast we decided to enjoy our last day in the hills. We had booked a B & B in Ksar-es-Seghir 5 minutes from the port. Unfortunately it was very windy which rather spoilt the ride. This was more than compensated for by the comfort afforded by the ‘Villa Marine’, attentive staff, great food and the bikes under lock and key.

Tangier Med

Okay the ferry was more than 5 minutes away; by about two minutes and we did spend much of the day shivering in the windy docks (see our other blog posts). We finally boarded late in the afternoon, after arriving dockside before ten in the morning.


Would we recommend Morocco? Short answer is ‘without doubt’. You will feel gently hassled on occasion, but many of the people that approach you are just trying to get by. The Moroccans are very tolerant of anyone trying to earn a crust and we tried to be the same. We saw very little begging, we also met many people who were trying to redistribute some of our wealth to their benefit. Try not to loose a sense of proportion or humour. Do not, as I did, get stroppy over being charged the equivalent of less than two quid for two teas! Smile a lot, learn the Arabic for hello, please and thank-you. Sometimes paying a guy, £40 for seven hours of his time, is a small price to pay for better understanding of his culture. The people of Morocco, at least most of the ones we met, are happy, helpful people. Like the good socialist I am, I say ‘share the wealth brothers’.

A Strange Thing Happened On The Way To The Ferry: Twice.


What A Load Of Balearia

As we were heading from Spain into Morocco without a clue about anything, we bought an open ferry ticket. This one was good for 6 months, which was a smidgen more than the two or three weeks we had in mind, but allowed ample wriggle room for our total lack of forethought.

So many ferries, so little choice!

Balearia; not an expletive, but the name of our ferry company, have a choice of seven sailings a day. I must admit, that this is six more crossings than we need in any one day. We went for the 10am option, so that we could get to a place called Chefchaouen with plenty of daylight to spare. If we ran a bit late, it did not matter at all, after all there were another four crossings to aim for.

That mighty hurricane through which we had ridden our motorbikes, had caused the closure of the sea! Too dangerous for the car ferries to set out. We waited until the next day and tried again.

The dock side queue of cars, vans and motorhomes, at Algeciras was targeted by a team of druggy tramp-like people. They were trying to pull over passing vehicles to sell ferry tickets. I almost hit one man, who saw it as perfectly normal to leap out in front of a moving motorbike. Others were openly begging at the windows of the queuing vehicles. There is a Port Authority here and it needs to do its job and clear the area of all unauthorised personnel. These folks are a nuisance and a potential security risk.

To make matters worse, as we huddled on the quayside, trying not to make eye contact with the tramps, I began to think I might like to use ‘the ladies’. What greeted me defies description; but I’ll try. A Portacabin. Filthy outside. Mens and womens’ section. So far, so average. I stepped into the womens’ portion and was knocked back by the over-riding smell of faeces (shit) and, as my eyes grew accustomed to the gloom, the amazing filth of the room became apparent. I doubt if the sinks have been cleaned since the cabin was plonked into place and hooked up to the mains services. One sink appeared to have faecal matter in it, not much; enough. There was no hand drying facility and, no surprises, no soap.

The effect was outstanding enough to win the Turner Prize; I should have shipped it home and entered it. It is possible that you are thinking, it doesn’t sound so bad. But you have not considered the floor. I had a choice of cubicals. One cubical appeared to be out of service, so I followed a set of dubiously brown footprints that managed to stand out against the generally filthy floor, to the stall with a puddled mound of faeces. This, almost completely dried out, cracked and crazed splodge, had plopped onto the linoleum, just in front of the toilet pan. It took up at least a third of the width of the floor. Someone had missed the pan by about 6ins. This is what was trodden throughout the cabin, along with various ages of toilet paper scraps, some clearly faecally daubed. I placed my feet carefully on top of a set of well positioned shitty shoe prints, either side of the accident and hovered my rump above the toilet, whilst trying not to touch the faeces smeared walls. A total lack of toilet paper and door lock completed this grime worn, shit coated loos’ itinerary. Afterwards, with the tap operated using a wad of some of my spare toilet paper, I was able to swill my hands in cold water. I touched absolutely nothing as I left the little building to return to the queue for another hour. Much of my time was spent wondering if I had time to walk back to the loos to take a photo, but we felt we would board our boat at any minute.

Glad we dressed for cold weather.

We sat on the dock for 3 hours, in the freezing force 8 wind, with no motorhome to keep us warm, watching other ferries come and go. Ours seemed to be the only company unable to get it’s act together. Further delays followed and, eventually, another, heavier boat was deployed. ‘Rent a Wreck’ came to mind. It was more rust than paint and we were relieved that the crossing is only nine miles, swimmable from every point; should one need to bail out of this poor excuse for a vessel.

The Amman, Balearia’s rust bucket of a vessel

Our ferry left several hours late; the first and probably only crossing made that day by this lamentable company. As we left Europe, we pondered on how bad the Moroccan toilets need to be before they s(t)ink to the standard of Algeciras Port. We decided that nothing can be worse, but they could, with a huge lack of any effort at all on the part of the ‘cleaners’, be equalled.

Inside the Amman, the air conditioning system is state of the art and held in place by string.

We enjoyed Morocco. Fourteen days of exploration, which we are documenting and posting on this blog, but not this page. The time came for us to head back to Tangier Med, our embarkation point for Algeciras. When we arrived, we had cleared the port, entering Morocco inside half an hour, with everything done. We had high hopes that our exit from this modern port would be equally quick and efficient. How wrong we were.

Goodbye lovely mint tea.

As we rocked up to the the port of Tangier Med for our return journey, it was a breezy force 5 kind of day; bracing dinghy sailing weather. The sun was out, but we could see dark clouds near the surrounding mountains.

We checked into the Balearia desk. It was 10am. We were told the ship wouldn’t be sailing until much later; something to do with weather. Well, here’s news for Balearia, there is always weather, get used to it. So our 12 O’clock boat might not sail today. We went into the little port cafe and drank tea. Wally spotted a couple of bikers who had just arrived from Spain. They had been transported here by Balearia and had a miserable tale to tell.

They had arrived at the Spanish side for an early ferry and for what seemed to be no reason, had waited hours on the quayside for the ferry to set off. The sea was calm, they said. Their reading of the situation was that Balearia waited for enough vehicles to line up to make it financially viable for them to sail.

About 1pm an official looking man rushed into the cafe, and took Wally to the Balearia check-in desk. Wally handed over our last note, 200DN (£20 app.), and was told that a boat was about to leave and if we hurried we’d get on it. They implied that the money was a fee, as there had been a change of carrier. They wouldn’t give the name of the replacement boat. As we left the cafe, we realised that we didn’t have enough moroccan money left to pay in full for our tea. There was no time, luckily perhaps, for me to go and demand our money back, as it dawned on us that we had probably been ripped off. We rushed to the dockside, completing paperwork at the various drive through booths as we went.

A number of ferries had moored in the dock, all of them for other companies. We were turned away. We were ushered into a short queue where, once again we waited. The sun went in, the wind grew stronger and we were getting colder by the moment. After over an hour and at real risk of hypothermia, we shuffled over to an office block and sheltered there in the lee of a defunct Coke machine. Then it started to drizzle. Some men came out of an office and took us in. They were members of SLD, Societe De Lamanage Du Detroit, the professionals who moor and free the ships that use the port. They made us hot mint tea and carried on working around us.

Inside the SLD office that sheltered us.

A Balearia boat arrived. We left the sanctuary of the SLD, and rejoined the queue. It was another hour before the authorities noticed that there was a line of about 10 vehicles sitting waiting to board a vessel; any vessel. We think it was our SLD heroes who tipped off the ferry company. As it is their job to moor the boats, they know what boats are coming and going and when and they knew we were due to board a Balearia boat. We are pretty sure they knew no boat was due on our mooring that day and notified the authorities.

On the cold, wet and windy quay side once again – SUCKERS!!

Suddenly someone in the queue broke ranks and hurtled off. Like horses out of the traps, we careered after the breakaway vehicle. A nondescript car had been deployed to fetch us. Only one person in the queue had noticed. There was always any number of vehicles moving about the docks and I have no idea why this one caught the attention of that particular driver. We followed at high speed and travelled for a surprising distance, eventually coming to rest at the jaws of the same rust bucket that had brought us to Morocco a couple of weeks before. Our 200DN fee was not for a change of ferry company. It was theft.

At least something on the ferry appeared to be in reasonable order.

We had been hanging around, cold, wet, hungry and angry for over 5 hours, purely for the convenience of Balearia. We are not valued customers, we are cash cows.

The North African coast.

When we returned to our campsite, it seems this delaying sailing routine is Balearia business model. Those at this campsite had not realised that it happens to other people. They all thought that they had been unlucky.

Personally, I think we were ripped off, as was another person on the boat that day, by a person who had no business being in the port and by the Balearia check-in man. We were also neglected. Surely a ferry company has a duty of care for it’s customers? Dropping customers off at dusk, in an unknown country is appalling. We could not make it to our chosen destinations on either leg of our journey, and had to hastily make other arrangements for our first night in Morocco and our first night back in Spain. This puts people in direct danger and in some cases, where accommodation has been paid in full, in advance, can leave people short of money.

We wont use Balearia again on this crossing and we strongly suggest you don’t either.

Morocco Trek (part 1)

Port Tangier Med to Fes

We finally crossed the Straits of Gibraltar, after a long delay, and landed in Morocco in late afternoon. Next the dreaded customs formalities, endless queueing for the inevitable paperchase…..or maybe not? We breezed through in half an hour, including exchanging money and arranging motor insurance (900 dirham or about £75). We felt our luck had just changed.

Waiting for the ferry in Algeciras

The original plan was to ride to Chefchaouen, about 2½ hrs from the port, and find a campsite. It was however, already 4 p.m. and we didn’t want to arrive in the dark. We decided to wing it and stop as soon as we saw something suitable. Apart from Jen getting blown off her bike, we arrived at an hotel about an hour later without a major problem.

Time for a tea break

Up early the next day, or as early as Jen could cope with, we packed and set off towards Chefchaouen, about 50 miles away. We were feeling quite smug that we had survived our first day in Morocco. Too smug, too soon I think. The next town, Tetouan, was meant to be a dot on the route; a dot that we hadn’t planned to visit. We had momentarily got off route and pulled over to check the map. A motor scooter pulled up alongside. The spiel is generic, someone must have written a guide for Moroccan touts.

“Hello my friend, I have a brother/sister/cousin/son who lives in London/New York/Paris.”

Insert the relative and capital city of your choice.

“You are in luck my friend, it is a special Berber market in Tetouan today, only once a month.”

I faltered and was easily hooked.

“Follow me, safe parking”

King Mohammed VI’s summer palace.

We didn’t buy a ‘one of a kind’ Berber carpet or a white metal teapot, nor did we get away scot-free. We just about left with our dignity intact, our guide less friendly and decidedly grumpier than when we first met. His tip was a bit lower than he had hoped for and he had no sales commission either.

The citadel Chefchaouen

We had pre-booked an Hotel in Chefchaouen, the Dar Dalia. When we arrived, probably looking lost and confused, we were again accosted by another chancer. Mohammed directed us to a secure parking and after some explanation, offered to show us to our hotel. Mohammed was a much less pushy and a more endearing character than Abdul in Tetouan. We wandered through passageways and climbed numerous steps and were eventually deposited in front of a small and unprepossessing, blue painted building, sporting a sign announcing the Dar Dalia Hotel.

A typical Chefchaouen street

We were a little earlier than had been planned and a knock on the door produced no response from within. Miraculously a tall, imposing man with an official looking ‘maillot jaune’ appeared and proceeded to phone the hotel manager. He handed the phone to me. The voice on the other end said,

“You’re a little early, I’ll be there in 9 minutes.”

The hotel was a gem, 5 minutes from the medina and beautifully appointed. For the duration of our stay, the ‘maillot jaune’ guarded the bikes around the clock and even disguised them with local drapery.

Stealth bike covers

Chefchaouen, ‘The Blue City’ was, possibly, the best of introductions to Marocco. The town was both tranquil and busily welcoming. Simple food could be found throughout, with a variety of small restaurants clustered around the main square of the medina. To the east the mountains reared up a thousand metres above the city. In celebration of the Chinese New Year bright red lanterns decked the palace walls.

Naive street art

After 2 restful days, in Chefchaouen it was time to move on, to Fes. We had coordinates logged into the phone, the route mapped out and fuel in the tanks.

The north of Morocco is verdant with crop production everywhere and a seemingly endless supply of water. The road was in a good state, mostly, which meant that we could relax and enjoy the ride in sunshine and perfect temperatures.

When we arrived at the Fes campsite, we were in for a disappointment, ‘closed for the winter’, we were informed by a young man guarding the entrance. A quick search on found the ‘Hotel Agapanthe’ some ten minutes away. About an hour later, after some too-ing and fro-ing we found it. At the end of an unpromising dirt road a modern hotel presented itself. Tired and aching we were relieved and grateful and, after an acceptable meal, we slid between the sheets of a king sized bed.

Hotel Agapanthe

The plan for the following day was to find another campsite, this turned out to be the simplest of tasks. At the end of the dirt road from Agapanthe turn right and then turn right again, voilla, the Camping International, Fes and it was only 10.30 in the morning.

Camping International, Fes

The guy running the campsite organised a guide for us for 1.00 p.m.. At the appointed time he arrived; by scooter. Abbi flagged down a ‘Petite Taxi’ and we were off. Fes is difficult to describe and for this part of the blog a short vignette will suffice. The centre (medina) is an innumerable series of tight lanes and passageways bounded by brown plastered walls rising vertically. The walls often stretched three or four stories above our heads, blocking out all direct light. Reach out your arms and your hands are able to touch the buildings on either side of the street. The walls are punctuated by stout doors, wooden for the grand entrances, metal for the kitchens, and few windows to be seen. The view from any window would be muddy brown, due to the proximity of the walls of adjacent buildings and would afford little light to the interior, rendering them redundant. Most buildings have an inner courtyard open to the sky, letting light flood the interior.

Gloomy canyonised street in Fes

The medina is a place of numerous artisanal activities. Raw materials are brought in on donkey carts or small wheeled push carts. Carpets, leatherwork, metal household goods and numerous other products are created within the secretive walls of Fes. The smallest nook would house a tiny workshop, large courtyards within a building may contain a complete production line. All done by hand, without the aid of powered machinery.

The best saucepan maker in Fes

After two nights at the Campsite International Fes, we finally turned toward the coast and the capital city of Rabat.

The road to Rabat

To be continued