Friday 9th January. Tarifa to Tangiers and on.
We decided today that we would just go from Tarifa to Tangiers rather than go back to Algeciras. With the need for me to call in at Rabat for my visas it seemed this would put us on the right side of the country to get that little task out of the way.
There are a lot of people with advice on where to get the best price for a ferry ticket but we just went to the port and possibly paid a little more but just got straight on the one o’clock ferry for 167 euros. One of the joys of this fast ferry was that we were given our white immigration cards and had the passport control on the vessel which left us with our police numbers stamped in our passports. On leaving the vessel we dealt with the formalities with a helper and the lightening of my wallet by 10 euros. I made the decision to pay this, even though I generally wish to avoid ‘dash’, as I wanted to get out of Tangiers and get us settled into somewhere to start the trip proper.
We headed out of the port and fuelled up. Heading South along the coast brought with it a nice gentle introduction to the Moroccan system of automotive projectile piloting. And for me the realisation that the scenes we were witnessing as we passed through busy chaotic towns were actually a reflection of Africa as I’d only previously seen on television ,scenes that I hadn’t anticipated but then I came with no expectations. An additional surprise was seeing characters that looked like they’d stepped off the film set of The Lord of the Rings, these are the Berber people whose characteristic dress is a long hooded coat. We were to see many of these out in the country riding their donkeys going about their daily business. Passing through Asilah and Larache we made the foolish decision to carry on past a campsite and try for one in Ksar-el-Kebir. There appeared to be none and taking the advice that there was one in Souk-el-Arba-du-Rharb we ploughed on rather than retrace our steps. Guess what? No campsite so another 78km to Kenitra and then a real game trying to find the campsite with many different versions of the same directions. Finally we found Le Chiene camping and settled in for the night. The campsite is little more than a grassy muddy area but the facilities were washed down and disinfected although rather chilly to use on a January day.
Saturday 10th January Kenitra to Meknes.
We had a gentle start to the day and went off on our little side trip to Meknes with the intention of getting settled in a campsite nice and early. Following the GPS co-ordinates from a previous group we arrived successfully at the campsite within the imperial city and proceeded to get set up then walk around. The campsite is pleasantly laid out in nice surroundings, but with cables hanging out of the mortar and taps that don’t work, some maintenance would be good. We walked across the square that we had driven through marvelling at the size and also the relative quiet. Following the walls round I saw a sign that seemed a little odd, it said Royal Golf. Through a traditional large wooden gate there was a smaller door open and upon looking through there was, inside what I took to be the old palace grounds, a golf course!
We had another gentle walk back cooked tea and settled in for the night.
Sunday 11th January Meknes to Rabat
And so to Rabat. The journey was pleasant with much more in the way of breathtaking views but strangely, when I was looking for them, there didn’t seem to be any orange sellers about. We stopped off part way to brew up and even though it was very sunny we had to sit in the shelter of the vehicle against the wind or it would have been quite chilly. On arrival in Rabat we first looked for the Sale campsite but this appears to be closed or certainly not where I had it marked. From previous accounts this is no loss of a great facility however we had to find somewhere else. Down the coast about 10 miles was another site but even turning into it had the effect of a revolution sweeping through the car. The guy also wanted 100Dhr per night which was twice Meknes and 4 times the price of Kenitra. I wasn’t keen but needed to stay around for my visas but Stephanie revolted at the state of the toilets (which the other ladies staying there weren’t affected by as they were in motorhomes) and so hasty calls were made and on her holiday emergency budget we booked into a hotel. I breathed a sigh of relief as we arrived at a hotel with a Moroccan style ambience where baths could be had and clothes washed in warmth. The campsite to me was a very grim prospect for two or three nights, dirty and whilst the sea was the only redeeming feature, this too would have soon turned into a nightmare by evening. Not my idea of a cheap start to ease myself into the camping mode but necessary. Quite early to bed as I wanted to be up early to get started on the visa trail.
Monday 12th January ’09 Rabat
Up quite early for breakfast and also to try and get a couple of photocopies of my passport. The parking that allegedly came with the room appears only to be a space that has to be paid for during the day but at least it appears to be semi-guarded by our parking man who appears to have a huge sideline in car-washing although I haven’t the heart to get him to tackle mine. I then get a petit-taxi (makes Thunder Mountain seem like a merry-go-round) ride out to the Mauritanian Embassy to see a queue of hopefuls waiting. Bang on 9am the door opens and application forms are handed out which we all fill in, apparently quite badly. When it is my turn I am asked for Dhr 320 and told to come back tomorrow at 3.
I wander off to find the Mali embassy which is just further down the street on the left just past the Portuguese. The guard man says they do the visas very quickly and I should go back and try to get my passport back and get the Mali visa done tout-de-suite. I head back and the guy releases my passport saying I should have it back by 1pm or come back at 3pm when they hand out the previous set of applications. Trotting back to the Mali embassy the guard is nowhere to be seen but someone says just go in so I do. Up the stairs is the visa dept and I plead my case gently. They ask when I have to have the passport back to the Mauritanian embassy and I say 1pm. There is a sharp intake of breath, a brief exchange of language between the 3 others in the office and I am told to take a seat outside. I have already filled out the much easier form and paid my 250 Dhr. I sit and watch trying not to giggle as each time the person dealing with my request passes they do a couple of ‘I’m running in a hurry to help you’ steps and then slow down round the corner. 30 minutes later my passport is gently thrust into my hand with the word ‘Finished’. I say thank you and leave to take my passport back to the Mauritanian embassy. All this is completed by 10.30am.
The rest of the day involves a walk around with neither of us really in the mood to sightsee. I had earlier set out with guidebook in hand in search of the “sights” and the old Medina but these proved rather disappointing although I found some rather pleasant gardens which are something of an oasis in a City otherwise lacking charm and appeal. We take a couple of photos of the walls and sit out with mint tea. Later it is a tagine and to bed.
Tuesday 13th January ’09 Rabat
A big wander round the market today followed by more mint tea and then the trip to successfully retrieve my stamped up passport. My French obviously let me down because I have a 2 month Mauritanian visa which expires on 12th March and a 1 month Mali visa expiring on the 4th March. Hopefully both will suit just fine and I am happy to have sorted them quickly. I walk back from the embassy and take the opportunity to have a serious wash and brush-up. We have a nice meal out and I will then be using the wireless available here to send this first update. Off to Marrakesh tomorrow.