Morocco starts

It’s Tuesday, June 10, 2014 and the tour is finally underway. Destination: Morocco. On this leg of the tour I am accompanied by an old friend of mine and her husband who will be providing help and support with the organisation, driving and confirming appointments. Fixing appointments in Morocco prior to the trip had proved a bit of a difficult exercise, the result being a mere handful of confirmed meetings. But I am reasonably confident that things will improve of their own accord, as has happened so often on previous tours.

The Editourmobil is still where Waldemar and I left it, on the supervised parking in Seville. In Germany, we have been sweltering for two days in a heat wave, and here I am, at the unearthly hour of 4.30 in the morning, standing in front of my house in Heidelberg, with the thermometer already registering 20C, waiting for the airport shuttle to get me to my flight to Seville. Is it going to be as hot as this in Morocco? Everything goes according to plan and by early afternoon I am back at the airport which I had left a mere four weeks or so ago. My friend and her husband will be arriving later, so I make good use of the time by making my way to the car park to get the vehicle up and running again. I then nip over to the local supermarket to pick up the essentials for the next few days. About five hours later, my friends arrive and we celebrate the occasion by breaking open the Campo Cruz, the local brew, appropriately enough from a 1.5-litre PET bottle.

The next morning we have to leave early because I have already reserved the 12:00 Algeciras ferry to take us to Morocco, and it is 200km to the ferry port. At 11:45 we reach the check-in desks at the ferry, and we are in fact the last vehicle to board what is a packed ferry to Tangier. Behind us on the vehicle deck is 4×4 Unimog Expedition from the Heidelberg area. It’s a small world

The crossing is rapid and after about an hour and a half, we are ready to disembark. Just behind the unloading ramp the first border control officials are waiting to inspect passports. One of them glances perfunctorily at our papers and motions us over to the parking area. We are missing some kind of entry stamp. So we have to trudge back to the ferry, to a makeshift office, where we duly get the papers stamped. After the ransacking of the vehicle in Spain, I now take the precaution of never leaving the vehicle without my new camera backpack. This weighs in at 15kg and is very cumbersome and uncomfortable to carry for any distance, but I don’t want a repeat of the Calafell disaster.

The officer nods and waves us through. Approximately 500m further on is the actual entry point. Everything here is total chaos. First, we cannot get into the normal lane to the individual checkpoints, because they have a roof which cannot accommodate our nearly 4m high Editourmobil. On one side of the multi-lane road the roof is missing, and this is where we should go. The border guards are rushing back and forth between numerous vehicles handing out documents to the various waiting vehicles. Unsurprisingly, stress levels are soon increasing.

I pushed my way through to the men in uniform, and watch: after about an hour’s wait in total we are in Morocco. This is in no small measure due to one of our tour sponsors PET Morocco who kindly sent us several weeks ago the vital link to filling in the customs forms, which is worth its weight in gold and in time saved We decide to look for a campsite in Asilah. On the 70km long stretch, it is so windy that I fear for the first time it could blow the vehicle over. The satnav isn’t working, and no-one apparently thought that we might need maps of Morocco. An ordinary paper map would have been fine.

Once arrived in Alisa, thanks to the efforts of my friend, we quickly locate a campsite by the sea. After a rapid look around, I spend the rest of the evening writing and organising the next day, telephoning and more writing. One of my teeth is giving problems, and whatever happens, I need to see a dentist. No sooner said than done. We drive satnav-less to Tangier, where I had located a dentist on the internet and promptly made an appointment by phone to see him that afternoon. The city is heaving, with traffic dodging and weaving all over the place especially at roundabouts where the rule seems to be “first come, first served”. In the end I have to give up, as we are never going to find the address. I grab a passing taxi instead, and he eventually gets me to the dentist. Here everything goes without a hitch. The inflammation of my tooth is sorted out quickly and professionally, and shortly afterwards I make my painless exit from the surgery, but not before the dentist has questioned me at length about what I am doing in Morocco.

If there is anyone out there who urgently needs a dentist in Tangier, may I heartily recommend Dr Mohammed Drissi. While all this is going on, my friend has managed to locate a campsite by the sea near the Caves of Hercules. Thanks to our compass and a few discreet enquiries from the locals we arrive at our destination. The site is large, with lots of facilities including two restaurants and the view over the sea is fantastic. We decide to stay here two days, so we both have plenty of opportunity to write and to catch up with office work before our first appointment on Monday with the major water bottlers Chaouen Water.

It is now Sunday and I have only a very vague notion as to where the water bottlers might be. Their CEO, Mr Amziane, emailed me to say only that that production is located near the town of Chefchaouen and that we are bound to pass it. Well, perhaps. We set off, driving for what seemed like an eternity `mainly uphill with numerous switchbacks, even though our destination was only about 100km from Tangier. An enquiry at a restaurant confirmed we were on the right track. Suddenly, on the hillside, I notice a blue factory, no sign anywhere to be seen, and drove over. Bingo. The security guard at the gate confirmed that we were indeed at the right place. Our next plan is to find an overnight parking spot because next morning we have to make an early start. Chefchaouen is located on top of the mountain and the Editourmobil struggles manfully in first gear up the slope. Then finally we are there, on a beautiful campsite with a stunning view over the countryside. So now here I sit, having finished my first week on the road to Morocco, with the prospect of catching up on the World Cup on the Editourmobil’s TV. Bliss