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Morocco, August 1996

Fri 2 Aug 1996

By camper van with
Liz to the Atlas mountains and an ascent of Jebel Toubkal (4167m), the highest mountain in North Africa.

An overland trip down through France, Spain and across the Straits of Gibralta to Morocco. We then looped round through Tangiers and Fes to Imlil, from where we spent some time in the High Atlas, including an ascent of Jebel Toubkal. Then to Marrakech, over the high pass of Tizi-n-Test to Taroudannt and back north along the Atlantic coast via Essaoira, El Jadida and Casablanca. On our way back through Spain we climbed Pic Mulhacen - Spain's highest.

Fri 2 Aug 1996
Set of from Bristol at 7.30, after work on Friday evening. Liz and I were traveling in our Renault Trafic van. We had bought it four months earlier for 2000 and since then I had spent weekends and evenings kitting it out with a cooker, sink, water supply, fridge, bed, lockers, sound system, cushions, curtains and carpets. The last lick of paint had gone on a couple of days earlier and this was to be the first major trip. We were booked onto the 2300 ferry from Southampton to Cherbourg, but destined not to catch it. Crossing Salisbury Plain a wheel bearing seized and the van screeched to a halt. After allowing it to cool down we limped to a service station. No garages were open until the morning so we spent the first night of our holiday in the carpark of a drive-thru McDonalds seven miles outside Southampton.

Sat 3 Aug 1996
Took the van to the garage. It looked like they should be able to replace the bearing in time for us to catch the ferry that evening. That was the first opinion. As it turned out, the heat created when it seized had welded it to the stub axle. We needed a whole new rear axel. The earliest they could possibly get hold of one was Monday, so we went into Southampton and booked into a B & B.

Sun 4 Aug 1996
Wandered round Ocean Village, went to the cinema, read my book.

Mon 5 Aug 1996
Phoned the garage at midday. A new axel costs 1500 but they've found a second hand one for 150. They should be able to fix it today. Quarter of an hour before they close, they finish the job and we pick it up and drive into Southampton. As we arrive the wheel seizes again. I try phoning the garage but they've all left, so we call out the AA. The man arrives very quickly and seems happy to be called out for something other than "My car won't start". He has soon dismantled the offending wheel hub and has found two extra roller bearings rattling around in there. With these out of the way he assures us that we'll have no more problems. We take his words with a pinch of salt, but board the ferry anyway. [It is 2000 miles from Bristol to Marrakech. So far we are averaging 1 mile per hour. Unless we get a move on we won't be home in time for Christmas.]

Tue 6 Aug 1996
We are woken at 3.00 am, after four hour's sleep to tell us that the ferry will be docking in an hour. This is followed by periodic announcements about the availability of breakfast in the Neptune Self-Service Restaurant, duty free allowances for cigarillos and the fact that someone has left a small furry dolphin in one of the cabins. 5.00 am French time we hit the road (on the right) and head south. After a couple of hours we realise that we haven't had much sleep so we stop and get a bit more, before continuing virtually non-stop down to Guy's.

Wed 7 Aug 1996
Driving again - Down through Spain to just south of Madrid.

Thu 8 Aug 1996
Continued to Granada, Malaga, Algeciras, then by ferry to Tangiers.
My first view of Africa was in my rear-view mirror. As the ferry docked and the doors of the car deck openned it was every man for himself. Every car in the tightly packed hold was trying to turn round at the same time. There was not enough space to do this with the van so I reversed the length of the boat, up the ramp and onto the dock. Various officials checked our papers, searched the van and asked where we were going and what we were doing:-
"Do you have anything?"
"Um, what sort of thing?"
"Pistolas, bombs, cocaine?"
Eventually we made it through all the checks and found ourselves on the streets of Tangiers. Dusk was falling and the place was teeming. Cars, taxis, trucks and people were all trying to go in different directions on the same bit of road. We went with the flow. We were trying to find the main road south, which was easier said than done. By the time we were out of the city the stars were out, which at least confirmed we were going south. We pulled off the road and stopped for the night.

Fri 9 Aug 1996
By the light of day it was easy to pick up the road and we were soon on the way to Fes. Fifty miles later we were surprised to find ourselves on a brand new motorway which was not marked on our map. It seemed to be going in the right general direction, had four lanes, a central reservation, and because there was a 3 toll we had it virtually to ourselves. And I had heard that driving in Morocco was a harrowing experience. An hour later we left the motorway and headed inland. Reality struck. Now the road was a strip of tarmac just wide enough for two cars to squeeze past one another. To pass at speed required the vehicles to drive with two wheels off the road and on the rough dirt track that runs alongside. To add some spice, a collection of donkey carts, mopeds, bicycles and pedestrians are scattered across these lanes, not all obeying the "drive on the right" convention.
By midday we were approaching Fes and we decided to head for the campsite, which was a top of the range affair, with hot showers and a swimming pool. As Liz navigated through the outskirts a motorbike pulled alongside us and the driver started shouting the history of this ancient city through the open window. He told us to follow him and he would guide us around the medina. I tried to explain that we were going to the campsite. He rode off ahead of us and eventually turned left where we went straight on. Undeterred he overtook us and ran us off the road. He then insisted on guiding us to the campsite.
We spent the afternoon by the pool and then headed into town.

Sat 10 Aug 1996
A lazy morning, then into town.

Sun 11 Aug 1996
We drove to Marrakech and straight on to Imlil. Over the last ten miles the road deteriorated to a rough track needing a first gear crawl. Sections had been washed away by the river. At the end of the road we got the last parking place in the village. This was organised by the local "Guardien", who bore more than a passing resemblance to the shopkeeper from Mr Ben.

Mon 12 Aug 1996
Acclimatization day. We set off from Imlil (1650m) at 6:30 and headed straight up the ridge to the south-west, towards Adrar Adj. By 7:00 we were in the sun and we were beginning to fry. The terrain was quite craggy so there was shade for a rest every half hour or so. We made good progress and were soon high above the valleys with a good view of Jebel Toubkal ahead of us. The ridge was wide but the ground to each side was steep enough to make it unpassable. We scrambled up gullies and short steps to where a narrow exposed ledge led round to the right. This looked initially promising but unfortunately it petered out at a deep notch. I regained the main ridge but there was no way forward (we had not brought a rope). From 2900m, 200m below the summit we had to retreat. The day had served it's purpose though - we had an idea of the terrain, the heat and the lack of water.

Tue 13 Aug 1996
Ascent of Toubkal. A 5:30 start this morning. The walk up the valley started fine as we were in the shade. At the high village of Seti Chamarouch the valley swings south and the path crosses to the west side so we were soon roasting again. By 11:00 though, we were at the Neltner Refuge (3207m) where we planned to sit out the midday sun before an evening push to the summit. A cool breeze was blowing through the pass but it was still hot. We brewed up some noodle soup and I pumped 10 litres of water through the filter (That's a good way to work up a sweat). This was probably the last place we could get water until lunchtime the next day so we had an extra 10 kilos to carry.
The final section is a 2 kilometre walk with 1000 metres of ascent. We set off at a good steady pace up the scree into the south cwm, but after an hour Liz began to feel the effects of the altitude and we began to slow down. With only 100m of ascent to go she was unable to continue and we stopped for a rest. She had a bad headache and then started throwing up. In retrospect, climbing 2400 metres in one day was asking for trouble at that altitude. We pushed on and eventually made the summit, where Liz promptly threw up again. The sun was low now so it was getting cold. We got into our sleeping bags and I made some soup. Liz managed some hot chocolate but she wasn't very lively. I watched the sun set and the stars come out. It was the most impressive night sky I have ever seen.

Wed 14 Aug 1996
We woke next morning in time to watch the sunrise while we had our breakfast. Liz was feeling better, but still not 100%, so we abandoned the plan to continue along the North East ridge and opted to return the way we had come. As we descended it got hotter but the extra oxygen was well appreciated. By lunchtime we were back at the van.

Thu 15 Aug 1996
We drove into Marrakech and spent the afternoon in the medina, where you can buy pottery, leather, TVs, sheep's heads, that kind of thing. We were only window shopping. As dusk fell we moved to the Djemaa el Fna. The square was full of snake charmers, story tellers and water sellers. The orange juice sellers around the outside were now complemented by a whole array of gas-lit food stalls. We had some food and wandered around, taking in the atmosphere.

Fri 16 Aug 1996
We spent the morning in Marrakech and Liz demonstrated her bartering skills. After lunch we headed south again towards the high pass of Tizi-n-Test. This narrow road winds through the mountains for almost 100 miles. It was carved into the rock by the French in the Twenties. I had to wonder why they had bothered - It is the most direct route between Marrakech and Tarudannt, but the longer route around the mountains takes about half the time. Anyway, it is a spectacular journey if you have a head for heights.

Sat 17 Aug 1996
Tarudannt used to be the capital of Morocco (where didn't?) and Liz was impressed by the size of the cockroaches. Then to the coast and north to Essaouira - famous for windsurfing and visits by Jimi Hendrix.

Sun 18 Aug 1996
A day on the beach then we headed north.

Mon 19 Aug 1996
Breakfast in the old Portugese city of El-Jadida, dinner in Casablanca.

Tue 20 Aug 1996
If you drive into Tangiers and head towards the port you will find yourself on the docks, in the queue for a boat which is just about to leave. This seemed okay as we had bought our tickets and spent our last dinars. Unfortunately it is not as simple as that.
"Have you had your ticket stamped?"
"Do you have your exit visas?"
"Where are the export documents for your vehicle?"
Luckily if we hurried he could sort all this out. Fifteen minutes later we had spent 5 and FF100 on bribes, we no longer had a ticket and we had attracted the attention of a policeman by leaving the van unattended in the queue. Next, someone was warning us that we wouldn't get on the boat without our ticket. This led to a major "discussion" between various port officials and the policeman and after lots of animated shouting all our money was returned. We moved on through waves of officials and had to pull to the side while a sniffer dog gave the van the once over. All clear and we were on our way back to Europe.

Wed 21 Aug 1996
We drove back along the Costa del Sol and hit the supermarket in Granada for a major re-stock. Then we set out, up the highest road in Europe. Pic Mulhacen (3478m) is the highest mountain in Spain and it makes a nice afternoon stroll - you can drive to within 90 metres of the summit. The van got up fine, but was not very keen on starting with a limited supply of oxygen. Also spending an hour engine-braking on the way down was not too popular.

Thu 22 Aug 1996
The long drive north through Spain to Biaritz.

Fri 23 Aug 1996
This was to be a day on the beach, but the weather was terrible. We had breakfast in a cafe and remebered how cheap Morocco was. We drove on to Bordeaux.

Sat 24 Aug 1996
Visited the Loire chateau of Villandry.

Sun 25 Aug 1996
A trip to the Bayeaux tapestry and on to Cherbourg to fill the van with beer and wine. Unfortunately this was Sunday and all the hypermarkets were closed.

Mon 26 Aug 1996

Aug 1996
Mark relaxing in the van.
1996 Morocco, August 1996

Tue 13 Aug 1996
Mark cooking in the bivvy on the summit of Jebel Toubkal.
1996 Morocco, August 1996

Aug 1996
Crossing a ford in the van, in Morocco.
1996 Morocco, August 1996 Mark Bailey
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