We packed up early and headed into town to catch a ferry. We paid 95 Euros for a one way ticket for the 12h15 ferry to Ceuta. We managed without any trouble to get the export papers for the vehicle signed and stamped (although it required a fair amount of running around in the sun from place to place – the weight is already starting to shift!). However, panic set in shortly afterwards when we couldn’t find the ferry ticket and we were the only vehicle left sitting in the departure bay. Just when I was about to run back to check if I had left it at the customs or ferry office, the man from the ferry office came running down to meet us with the ticket in hand! We boarded the ferry and had an ice cold drink.
We did the ferry crossing with a German family we had met at the Casita camp (Stephan, Michelle and Felix). Customs was no problem in Ceuta and we filled up with fuel, much to the delight of the petrol station – over 450 litres in one go!
We went on a slight detour to visit Aziza Daiboune (who we had met previously on our trip to Morocco in October 2003, when we broke down and camped in an olive field near her house). We eventually located her house based on memory, each corner thinking ‘this would be it’. We decided we would try and get as close as possible by car.
It was interesting to say the least. The locals thought we were mad as we wound our way through the twisting/turning roads. We put Nyathi to the test through some fairly deep slippery mud on the approach to the top of the hill about 1km or so away from Aziza’s house. We stopped there and walked the rest of the way with Mustapha who spoke good French and knew the Daiboune family.
The walk was through sticky mud which clings to the bottom of your boots making each step more slippery than before. Sadly, Aziza wasn’t there, but we were greeted with lots of kissing and handshaking by her mother who immediately ran off to make some food for us, despite our protestations! It was good to have Mustapha there as Aziza’s parents spoke absolutely no French nor English, so I spoke to Mustapha, he spoke to the parents, they responded to him, he told me and I told Michael! They served us each very large bowl of soured milk – I tried to be brave and took a big mouthful thinking ‘I can do this – think of yoghurt’ – well, I was wrong. I had to control my very strong urge to spit it out, it was worse than I had expected. Michael was battling to contain himself looking at the expression on my face. We also had bread and a very rancid butter. When we departed she gave us an enormous shopping bag of olives and 5 large, boiled turkey eggs, which were very tasty! It was great to see them, but they were very disappointed that we would not stay the night so they could slaughter a turkey and have a big meal together. We left with lots of kissing and waving and set up for the ‘mud-race’ up the other side of the hill away from their house and down toward Fes-el-Bali. All the children came out to watch us depart, of course.
We took the toll road to Rabat, a pleasurable, relaxing journey, with eye-catching poppy fields dotted along the way.
Rabat was a fantastically friendly city. We parked in the central car park and could see Nyathi from the internet café window (although it wasn’t necessary, the car was well looked after and had many interested onlookers). The police (as in the rest of Morocco) were remarkably friendly and helpful especially when were searching for the various embassies. We found the Niger and Burkina Faso embassies after about an hour or so of driving about and asking directions, as they were located off our map! The Niger embassy gave us forms and said if we came back first thing in the morning they would issue the visas. The Burkina embassy was fantastic even though we arrived pretty close to closing time. The Ambassador was actually off ill so was not there to issue the visas, but they said if we completed the forms and left the passports with them they would get him to do them first thing in the morning and if he was still ill at home they would send them to him to be signed and that we could collect them at 08h30! We then drove around to locate the other embassies to make Friday’s work easier…
We set up camp in Sale – the camp site was clean and well organised. Someone has painted some very realistic pictures on the wall of the various types of vehicles and their costs for camping. It cost us 60 dirhams, plus 10 dirhams each for lovely, strong, hot showers! We walked to the Medina to get some passport photos done and grab something to eat. We got 48 passport photos for 100dirhams (10 Euros) compared to the £36 it would have cost us at home. There were lots of cats all over the place who were, unsurprisingly, very skittish. The meat market was remarkably clean and we contemplated buying some fresh meat and cooking back at camp, but we went for the lazy option and found a clean looking place which served sausages, omelettes, chips and bread, so we settled for that!
We then shared a late night beer with Philippe and Pat, a couple of seasoned French travellers in a bright yellow Series 3 Land Rover of mid-Seventies vintage.
We spent a very busy day racing from embassy to embassy. When we arrived at the Burkina Faso embassy our passports with visas (350 dirhams each) were ready and waiting for us, with a smiling receptionist – we really couldn’t praise them enough! Niger was a little frustrating – I spent almost 2 hours waiting for the ambassador to do his thing with the visas (200 dirhams each), but still, not bad compared to what we had experienced in Nairobi 8 years ago. Mali were terrific – the ambassador invited me into his office and he issued the visas there and then (350 dirhams each).
We decided to get our CAR visas too, because we had been told there were not CAR embassies, except perhaps in Chad and we thought it would be a safe option. However, locating the embassy was a nightmare. It had moved and no-one knew where to! Frustrated and hungry we took a break and had some pizzas from Pizza Hut. There some friendly diners (Alton and Aletia from Sierra Leone and a local friend) said they would help us locate the embassy. After some phone calls, still no luck. They took our mobile number and phoned us back a little later with the address – we were really impressed with their kindness and helpfulness. When we arrived at the embassy the ambassador was just leaving for the weekend, but he took us back inside and issued the visas for us, which took 45 minutes, but cost a hefty 775 dirhams each! We decided to push on and head south over the weekend, instead of waiting for our visas from the Mauritania embassy in Casablanca on the Monday.
En route, we visited the Mosque Hassan II in Casablanca. Unfortunately, being a Friday we could only see the outside, but it was most impressive! It is a legacy of the late King Hassan II and work started way back in 1980 and was only completed (well almost – the library and museum are apparently not yet finished) in 1993. The minaret stands 200m high and the mosque can hold 25,000 worshippers inside and a further 80,000 in the vast courtyard outside (far bigger than St Peter’s in Rome, and second only to the Mosque in Mecca).
When its completion date was looming 1400 men worked on it during the day and 1100 during the night! The roof can roll open and worshippers can look down on the sea crashing below as it is built on reclaimed land and has a glass floor. It was a really social place where families and friends gathered, while others also used quiet corners and corridors on the courtyard to silently contemplate things. We enjoyed our visit and wished we could have gone on one of the tours – I’d recommend it as a place to see!
We drove fairly late into the night and had to camp quite close to the main road.
We heard the first signs of life at 4.40 this morning, so decided we’d best get up and start driving and set up camp fairly early in the evening. I slept for a further two-and-a-half hours while Michael drove! The heat is being turned on now, with temperatures reaching 42°C. Michael did a marathon day of driving and we covered almost 700kms. We found a really quiet place to camp behind some rocky sand dunes, but the wind absolutely howled and everything was soon covered in a film of dust! We slept well, especially after the wind died down a little and the tent wasn’t being buffeted around quite so much! Tonight was the first night I have actually cooked dinner properly and the soya was actually rather tasty, particularly with a bit of chilli mixed in.
We really enjoyed the vast openness of the desert today. It is getting hot though, and when you stop, it gives all the flies a chance to settle. The wind has been exceptionally strong along this stretch, blowing in from the and across the sand causing sand blasts across the road. We met up with Guy, Mie, Natan and Sam from Belgium along the road when we had pulled over for a pitstop. We ended up camping for the night together and shared dinner with them. They had an impressive vehicle. A Unimog with a custom built camper body with a lifting roof which they designed and built themselves over a period of eight years.
Michael and Guy spent hours chatting about engines and all things technical. We downloaded all the routes that they had done, which will be very useful further south. We were really disappointed they weren’t on their way down so we could travel further together… We have seen loads of shipwrecks along the coast and Mie told me that apparently it is too expensive for sailors to scrap their boats in the shipyards, so they simply beach them.
We also saw an amazing sinkhole alongside the road where the sea was splashing through, wearing away the rock even further. It was at least fifteen metres wide, with very precarious edges which had been marked out by the locals with piles of stones.
Nyathi got a bit bogged down in some innocent-looking sand alongside the road - with the (rear) tyres at a hot pressure of nearly 400kPa, it took quite a bit of to-ing and fro-ing to get her back onto the hard.
We set off early this morning as quietly as possible so as not to wake the others. The wind was still pretty brisk and the desert extremely stark and bare. We saw quite a few camels (dromedaries) today.
We covered a lot of ground and towards the end of the day we met up with Henrik, Rike, Karl and Aloise from Germany. They had stopped at the Tropic of Cancer, marked (not very precisely) by a pile of stones on the side of the road. They are en route to live in Ghana for a year. We camped together and decided to meet each other in Nouadhibou, with the idea that we travel together along the pistes. We camped right next to the sea on a lovely clean beach and I made smash and soya mince for everyone. We phoned home and spoke to Karen, Lex and Kathy on the satellite phone. It is so difficult to keep our calls to 10 minutes maximum, but it is fantastic to be able to call.