Dates and Olives

In retrospect, I didn’t give Morocco the chance it deserved. Like Namibia, it suffered from being a bookend to the first leg of the journey. In both places we were stressing to get somewhere else. In Namibia, our main focus was on getting to Angola before our visas expired. In Morocco, I wanted to get to my parents in time to celebrate their birthdays in July, before any more catastrophes befell us. As a result we didn’t do either place justice.

After all this time crawling across West Africa, we’d finally made it to the North side of the map

We had turned the final fold of the North West Africa map (the map we’d been warned we couldn’t have out on display because it had Western Sahara written on it, in case Moroccan officials got offended). I was beginning to get seriously excited about being within reach of Spain and started dreaming about seeing my family.

I became irrationally scared about having an accident. Moroccan roads were far better than several countries before them, yet I was battling a daily fear, the ‘so near and yet so far’ terror of smashing the truck (and us) up at the 11th hour.

My paranoia wasn’t completely without foundation. There were always two lanes but barely; surfaces were very irregular and edges crumbly. Worse than that were the terrible drivers happily hurtling along the other way, apparently leaving all ‘inshallah’ in the hands of God. Trucks thundered past, buffeting us in a terrifying down draft. Big Reg would bounce off the steep camber and threaten to career out of control on a broken edge… And the risky overtaking! More than once we thought we’d had it as we’d come round a corner or over a rise to see two trucks bearing down on us and seemingly no way to get by.

As we drove further north, the main problem on the road ceased to be this…

or this

(as pointed out here)

or even this…

but an increasingly heavy number of these (check the mud guard)

along roads like this

getting windier like this

(leading to warnings like this)

They were often massively overloaded

bearing down on us at great speed, on my side of the cab!

As a result, I didn’t feel I was enjoying Maroc like I should be, had it been situated between, say, Sierra Leone and Guinea. Now it just seemed like an obstacle course of winding roads and roadblocks in the way of getting to our loved ones, waiting to catch us out at the last minute.

At the time I wrote this:

“We couldn’t get online for nearly 2 weeks in Morocco. At first, I wasn’t trying very hard to get connected, enjoying the break, but then we began to get desperate for news of the upcoming Brexit referendum, due to happen on 23rd June, the day after Zola’s birthday. For some reason, the JCBs that had served us faithfully through 18 different phone number changes wouldn’t work with Moroccan SIM cards, so it took awhile.

We were sat in the middle of the desert when we finally got online 20 minutes after Cameron resigned on 24th. The children found it hard to understand why Sampson and I were dazed with shock. I’d had grave concerns, but thought the UK would probably pull through for the ‘sensible’ option, like the Scots had in their referendum.

The horror, the horror of realising that Dave was not far right enough for England, that the fear-mongers and doom-merchants had won. It was appalling to have to explain to my children that, in a couple of years’  time, their British passports would no longer entitle them to move visa-free across Europe; that the UK was voluntarily giving up the freedom to move across borders that the African Union is dreaming of.

So much for Farrage and his barrage of bollocks. I feel pretty sure that his hero Churchill, one of the founders of modern Europe, is turning in his grave. He knows what it is to be stuck between a rock and a hard place – Hitler and Stalin – and when I look to the future, between Putin and Trump, my heart quails for my children.”

I began reading about how the referendum promised by the UN in 1991 to the thousands of Sahrawi refugees stranded in the Algerian desert since 1975  had been denied for decades. It seemed horribly unfair that Britain got one about the EU when so many of the electorate seemed apathetic or barely qualified to comment…

On 27th June, the day we visited the Saint Expéry Museum, the wind finally dropped to normal Fish Hoek summer levels. Zola scampered after me as I set off to walk and we ended up going all the way down to Cap Juby.

Zola and I on a blustery walk

down the shoreline at Cap Juby

He asked me where we were going to be at Christmas and I said “I don’t know, love. It depends on where Ruby can go back to school. Spain maybe, or Dakar even” and asked him if that bothered him? I said it was important for him to let us know his wishes so they could be taken into consideration. Zola thought for a minute and said “I want to go down the East Coast” and I said “Do you?!” and was really happy, ‘cos that’s what I want most too 🙂

Still young enough to delight in flotsam and jetsam

After visiting the Museum we set off and I was helping Ruby who was struggling with her algebra. She had period pains, so I tried to cheer her up with by telling her about the conversation her Dad and I had had about the pressing need for her to return to formal education and peers now. This past year it had become obvious that she is far more interested in maths and science than the humanities. Quite apart from my obvious limitations in teaching higher grade algebra, there ain’t no lab in the truck…

Ruby in studious mode, looking deceptively quiet

In between debating the merits of schooling in SA or UK, Spain or Senegal, we had decided that she needed to be around horses for her health and happiness and that this should perhaps be a higher priority than gaining a top notch education. As a result we were even considering abandoning the whole trip and spending a year in Costa Rica, where we have good friends who run a Freedom Horse stable. Being a teenager, instead of being thrilled that we were seriously considering sacrificing our dreams to facilitate hers, she took against the idea, and went upstairs to sulk and read for rest of day. (She read Lauren Hillenbrand’s Unbroken in 3 days.)

Hmmmmmmm

That night I dreamt that I was driving a heavily overweight vehicle loaded Seuss-like with toppling books, as it was breaking apart. I was gripping the steering wheel, hanging on for grim death as it hurtled down an impossibly narrow and challenging path, almost vertical like a chimney. I called on verging-on-superpower capacities to escape by leaping upwards by means of mere toe and finger holds, yet was just-not-quite nimble enough to pull it off. There was a couple of old geezers in the way, having to be charmed to help, and though I was always on the verge of managing, deep down I knew the supreme effort was killing me.

When I woke up feeling beaten and exhausted at 4am, I realised it wasn’t the first time I’d dreamt this. It was so disturbing, I kept my light on for a bit.

Later I dreamt about singing ‘Dirk Wears White Sox’ with an aged Adam Ant. Probably not so metaphorically loaded.

The starting point of Morocco’s occupying Green March of 1975…

is currently commemorated, with much pomp, and giant billboards…

at the site of the old frontier between Maroc and Western Sahara…

The original border between Morocco and Western Sahara is an arbitrary straight line, but Salek the Sahrawi fisherman had told us his wife had gone to spend Ramadan with family in Tan-Tan. A more natural division seems to be offered by crossing the lower range of the Atlas Mountains where the countryside changes dramatically.

Back on the road…

we were approaching the mountains…

We were passing tiny but peeling right-handers all morning and Sampson was constantly stopping and making me enter potential surf spots into the Garmin GPS. We had discussed the possibility that if Ruby was accepted into W.A.C.A. (the bilingual school in Dakar we had applied to), she and I would fly back to Senegal at the start of their school year in September, and he and Zola could drive Big Reg back over a couple of months as more favourable winter surf conditions settled in.

A couple of people were very excited…

at the prospect of that option coming together

Scenery changed rapidly as we ‘rounded the corner’ and came in view of the mountains.

The sparse flora…

we had seen…

deep in the desert…

and along the shoreline

battling the wind to survive…

began to expand…

their reach from the more hardy succulent types…

to more colourful bijou blooms

and increasingly eye popping spreads

Tiny blossoms began to look like bowlfuls of orange, red and purple berries strewn by the side of the road.

This new abundance of greenery alternated with:

occasional river mouths

sudden rocky ascents

and the odd dune.

It felt like we went from the Sahel in the morning to the Mediterranean in the mid-afternoon: from the desert just before Tan-Tan to the plage at Sidi Ifni. The countryside got hillier and hillier, and the roads got more and more winding. There were prickly pear bushes everywhere and gnarled olive trees as well as thorn.

The scenery went from this…

to this…

and suddenly this!

There were prickly pear bushes everywhere

red earth hillsides reminiscent of Angola

and picturesque villages

dotting the landscape – and the first drops of rain in forever!

So very Mediterranean!

It was suddenly stupendously beautiful, but with the memory of the invasive military presence so fresh in my mind, I still couldn’t feel at ease in Morocco.

The beauty sat uncomfortably next to the celebration of Morocco’s occupation…

of its neighbour Western Sahara

despite the appearance of peace

Several days ago, we’d loaded up with some slightly brackish water which was affecting me badly now, like when we had poisoned water in Sierra Leone, giving me limbs too heavy to lift for T’ai Chi. I was very glad when we finally found a Shell petrol station in Tan-Tan where the patron M. Jamal Mbark agreed to let us fill up with potable water.

Moroccan murals

As we were busy filling up, two Australians cruised in on motorbikes. Tanya Nayda and Michael Eckert had done 60 000km from Cape Town on the first leg of their ‘Earth’s Ends‘ round the world trip. They came up the east coast first to avoid Ebola, then drove across the DRC (see the blog about their hectic ride from Lubumbashi to Kinshasa here – very comforting to see Mick is as behind in writing up their journey as I am!). Tanya had only come off the bike once when she hit a donkey. But Mick had broken his leg so badly he’d had to be Medivac’d home for 4 months.

Michael and Tanya, making us truckers look like wimps

Despite the brevity of our conversation, they struck me as a super-dynamic couple in more ways than one: Michael said when they also got massively ripped off bigtime in Rosso, he nearly came to blows with the Chef de Poste; Tanya speaks Mandarin and Portuguese and was somehow managing to study for a second degree en route!

Styling

Like us, they were battling against the headwind and it was costing them fuelwise. Unlike us, they were finding it so tiring, Tanya said she had taken to leaning her left elbow on the handlebar and resting her head on her hand while riding along! They were also struggling to find places to park off and eat or rest during the day during Ramadan as there were no restaurants open.

Go Aussies!! They’ve gone halfway round the world in the meantime and are now in South America.

We felt so sorry for them, missing out on Moroccan truck lunches.

Delicious Moroccan bread! Torture for the coeliac!

Sampson was so in love with the bread, he did this little photo-essay on the bread they call khobz pronounced ‘hobbs’:

Sampson chatted up this baker, M. Omar Akla

and asked if he could document the process from dough…

to hand-slapped patty…

into the oven, traditionally made of clay

Omar was cool with it

Sampson was thrilled

especially when he can eat them warm from the oven

Oh YUMMY

Olives and cream cheese and preserved lemons make a simple sardine pate sarnie a feast fit for a king. Olives do that to any meal. And in even the meanest corner café in Maroc there were always at least two types of olives and three types of dates.

The wondrous natural bounty of Morocco

not to mention the marvellous manufactured goodies

Not surprising they big themselves up

When we arrived in Sidi Ifni, it felt like we’d arrived back in touristville. We sneaked round a side road towards the mosque to avoid the main camping sites next to the hotels.

Sidi Ifni, chocolate box pretty tourist town

of organised leisure activities

and impressive views

with a very Moroccan line in well-maintained borders

and a few too many hotels for our comfort

not to mention the camping car ‘pen’

so we scooted out of town…

to where it was quieter….ah…

Sampson hardly slept because he was so predictably overhyped at the prospect of surf. In the morning, the waves were a bit disappointing but they still went in.

Doable?

Man on a mission

while I went for a walk across the beach

Mission accomplished

Ruby playing at hairdresser plaited Zola’s post-surf wet dreads

while others chilled out in the heat of the day

Beautiful spot for it

While Ruby was handwashing I listened to the English and French language news on 91.5FM. Whatever the King was doing that day was always the main story, followed by the latest international bombings, news of the EU referendum or whatever. On 29th June the King had shared Iftar with Michelle Obama and Meryl Streep, so that was fair enough, but often the headline was about him attending a military graduation or something equally sublunary.

Can’t fault the Moroccans for their commitment to renewables though

The morning news was followed by a hideous 50s style chat show, where two young women took it in turns to exclaim about the difficulty of satisfying competing needs of work, family and husband. It was like a parody of Harry Enfield’s Women: Know Your Limits! sketches. After 30 excruciating minutes, it was back to 1980s MOR guitar bands and power ballads. It’s possible that Phil Collins could support the population of a small African nation like Western Sahara on his Moroccan royalties alone…

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