Motorhome Trip to Morocco

This is a guest post by Alison Majuqwana

This winter in the UK my partner, Brian, and I decided that we couldn’t bear the cold and the gloom and so we took off in our motorhome.  We live near Dover, in Kent and so we took the ferry from there on 28th December.  The crossing was rough and I feared for Bolly, our motorhome, stowed on one of the car decks below us.  We are both good sailors though and we reached Calais in France in good form as did Bolly.

France was as cold and gloomy as the UK we had left. The French are keen motorhomers and there are plenty of sites, but in the winter they are closed.  This meant that we were camping on aires, these are little more than car parks with water and disposal for grey waste (shower and sink water) and black waste (the loo cassette waste).  Some have loos, but at one particular aire one really would not have wanted to use it.

We rushed through France, and reached the Pyrenees by New Years Eve. We had the quietest New Years Eve we have ever had, toasting each other in the motorhome before going to bed.  The following day we reached northern Spain and breathed a sigh of relief. There is a site in Tordesillas, south west of Vallodolid, that is en route for Portugal.  We have used it several times.  It has washing machines which we needed by now and a restaurant that is so good that it is frequented by the locals as well as the campers.  We camped there and drew breath for a couple of days. By the 3 January we had reached northern Portugal and another aire that we have used before.  This lies between two bridges at Peso de Regua, beside the Douro River. This is a beautiful area famous for its terraced vineyards producing wine and port.  The most renowned ports are produced in this area and its possible to take a boat trip and spot the famous names from the river.

We travelled on to Coimbra.  Portugal is full of beautiful towns and full of surprises.  Coimbra is a university town and very pretty.

From there we revisited Nazare which is renowned as a surf spot and the most recent surf record was achieved there.  It’s a relaxed seaside town that was a small fishing village until the surf phenomenon was picked up.  It has a large expat community with weekly meet-ups, mainly Americans, but Europeans too.  The weather smiled on us in Nazare, it wasn’t cold and there was some sun.  From there on to Setubal, where we caught up with neighbours from home who were looking at properties with a view to moving to Portugal.  The weather was so disappointing that they have changed their minds.

We travelled on down through Portugal which is a really easy country to travel through.  Most Portuguese speak some English and they are friendly and welcoming to tourists.  The motorhoming community at this time of the year was mainly Dutch, German and French.  Occasionally we met Brits on sites, but they were the minority.

On the 17th Jan we reached southern Spain and then travelled to Algeciras where we found Carlos, the motorhomer’s friend, for tickets and the paperwork for taking a motorhome to Morocco.  The following day we got the ferry to Tangier Med, the main port in Morocco.  The strait is only 27 miles long and the trip took an hour and a half travelling down past Gibraltar protruding into the sea. 

Security is very tight in Morocco.  We disembarked and headed for customs where we were abruptly turned away to join another queue.  We realised that the van was going to be X-rayed by a huge machine that ran down a track, scanning about 6 or 7 vans at a time.  This took a while – we must have been there for at least an hour.  I was sure that customs would find the 18 bottles of wine I had salted away for a month or so in Morocco.  Security weren’t bothered about that it turned out.  They were looking for drones, guns, people and drugs.  I guess in that order.  We joined the queue for customs who sent a sniffer dog around the van and then asked us if we had a drone or guns.  We had neither.  We were then handed a small card, the size of a credit card which we were told we had to be able to produce at any time when requested by the police.  We then bought phone SIM cards and changed money.  The Moroccan Dirham (MAD) is a soft currency and can only be bought in Morocco.  From the port we drove to Chefchaouen.  This is the blue city and it is very pretty.  The medina (the old walled city comprising a souk (market) and houses hidden away behind wooden doors) is almost entirely painted blue.  We caught a taxi from our campsite and went into the town.  Brian lost courage in the medina and we left its labyrinthine streets to explore the newer town.  The new town is attractive and we eventually found a restaurant that served one of the best tagines we tasted in Morocco.  On site we met another British couple who were on their way back to Spain where they live and run a restaurant.  They were great fun and we shared some wine and some stories and agreed that we would visit them on our way home. 

We then travelled via Fez to the Hacienda des Cigognes (Stork Plantation).  This is a winery in Morocco!  It gets its name from the storks nesting on the roof.  The deal is that you do the tour and wine tasting, buy some wine and then have a meal in the family home.  We tucked into a Moroccan salad, followed by a chicken tagine and then a fruit platter.  It was a huge meal and we took a doggy bag back to the van. There is no charge for staying there per se and we stayed for a couple of days.  There were a couple of French motorhomers and two Brits when we arrived.  One couple were driving a beautiful very old Hymer which they invited us into.  The other couple we were to meet again.

After a couple of days we set off for the coast.  There is a huge motorhome site in Mohammedia.  We headed for this and were shown to our pitch.  As we drove to the pitch we saw the bright yellow camper of the Brit couple from the winery.  They gave us a friendly greeting and we shared some wine and beer with them.  The beach was pretty, rocky, with some sand and the campsite was behind a restaurant that faced the beach.  We discussed going into Casablanca from there but several people said it wasn’t worth it.  Brian was anxious to stay out of the cities as much as possible so we didn’t make that trip. The options were to drive, which neither of us was keen on or to take a taxi.  It’s quite a distance so we gave it a miss this time.

From there we drove down the coast to a small campsite.  This was tiny in comparison to our previous site and we weren’t allocated a pitch and so we chose a spot.  It was tight and Brian had to manoeuvre into it.  As he moved backwards to straighten up a van had decided to squeeze past him.  The noise was awful.  I was outside the van and I could see a long scratch down the side of the other van.  The other driver behaved very badly.  He got out of the van and started shouting, then his wife joined in.  Brian got out and walked round to the back of our van. He calmly pointed out that the other driver could see he was parking up and asked him why he couldn’t wait.  The shouting went on.  Then the damage to our van was clear.  Bolly had a hole in her rear.  We have a box on the bike rack full of equipment – water hoses, electrical cable and adapters and so on. The box had a hole in it, the frame was twisted.

The other driver was waving his insurance form for his scratch while we picked up our equipment.  As he was French, Brian asked me to deal with him with my small amount of French learned at school fifty years ago.  We went to reception.  He had calmed down but wanted to see every document we had.  He had no English and there is a huge difference between French and English documents.  He got round that by asking the receptionist to monitor me and my documents while I completed his insurance claim form that he just happened to have on him.  It was only afterwards that it dawned on me that he had no need to see those documents, but if we hadn’t had them it would have been a police matter.

A small word about the French in Morocco.  My chant so far had been “entente cordiale” when the British had complained about the behaviour of the French in Morocco.  We had seen a party of French vans arrive at Chefchaoun late in the evening shouting at the reception staff because they were too late to bag electric hook up.  We had no hook up either our first night but we had been told we could move as others travelled off in the morning.  Then we had an incident when Brian walked around the edge of a pitch at Mohammedia and the Frenchman had created about it.  The site was so huge that people walked round pitches all the time.  Generally the behaviour toward both Moroccans and the British is appalling and the Moroccans are polite to them but dislike them. I have to say that after the accident I stopped my chant.

We had the problem what to do with our equipment.  The lockers were pretty full, and after all this is why we had the box in the first place.  The box was useless, even with the hole in it as the frame was twisted and hanging off the back of the van.  We gathered up what we could and I found spots around the wine to pop things where I could inside.  Brian called the British couple we had originally met at the winery and told them what had happened.  They appeared the following morning.  Trevor immediately dismantled the box.  We had agreed we probably needed to dump it.  They are expensive but what to do?  We had no space for it.  Trevor, knowing how expensive they are unloaded his camper, put the box in, and repacked his stuff around it.  Box saved for now!  He then added most of what we could not find space for and over a beer made a plan.  We would travel in convoy to Sidi Ifni which is as far south as intrepid motorhome travellers go in Morocco.  He explained that there is a site there which has people who work on damaged vans.  We were a bit sceptical but we had heard about the resourcefulness of the Moroccans and agreed that we would give it a go.  To be honest, we were sure the box was a write off as was the frame, and as for the hole in the motorhome – that surely would be a whole new panel, and very expensive.  We were facing a bill of thousands of pounds.

And so we headed south.  We were much more cheerful as we had a plan.  The Atlantic coast of Morocco is lovely.  Trevor and Lorraine had travelled down it the year before on their first trip this far.  There are sites on the way down of various sizes.  Our first stop was Kaouki Beach where we stayed on a small site with a hippy vibe.  It had washing sinks that had waste pipes that just leaked over the floor, a pool that was closed for the winter even though the temperature was in the high 20s and a fruit and vegetable seller who arrived with a trailer pulled by a donkey.  There was also a donkey that visited who we named Danny who would graze on any greenery and was also fed by the campers.  The hippy vibe was down to this being a surf village.

Later we had news that Brian’s mother had been admitted to hospital and was gravely ill.  Brian was told to prepare himself.  We had a discussion about whether we should turn round, but Brian was happy to continue.  He was keen to get to Sidi Ifni

From here we went to Imsouane, en route to Essaouira.  Trevor had visited last year and many of the shack cafes and surf shops had been cleared.  There was a lot of rubble and there were signs of infrastructure being developed.  We felt sad with Trevor but Morocco has a policy of sympathetic development – no high rises and an adherence to local architecture so it may not be all bad.  There were a lot of surfers enjoying the bay and it was a pleasant morning.

We continued south to Essaouira.  This is a beautiful fishing town on the Atlantic.  The harbour is full of fishing boats and the harbour wall is full of stalls loaded with fish.  Brian received the news that he had had to prepare for while we walked around the very pretty town, which provided a distraction for him.  The medina is very clean and well kept, less cramped than some and it was a relaxing walk around despite the news.  We returned to our site and again we discussed whether we should turn round.  There is a long waiting time for funerals in the UK now.  At least two weeks.  I have no idea why and it is a subject that only comes up when we are bereaved.  We had wine and a good supper and decided to press on.

Our next stop was Agadir.  The campsites are some way outside the city which is busy.  If we had flown in and stayed in a beach hotel, there would have been some impetus to see the city.  As it was we were a long way out and under some pressure to get to Sidi Ifni.  We stayed at a site north of Agadir and inland.  The scenery here was less green and we were surrounded by the mountains of the ante Atlas that we were driving through.  I began to get my desert vibe.  I love deserts.  It’s a sentiment that some people don’t understand but deserts feel like old land and they fire the imagination.

After a couple of days spent doing camping “admin” like laundry and just resting after the driving we pressed on to Sidi Ifni.  This was by the sea and very arid although it did rain as we approached the outskirts.  We arrived at the site that Trevor had identified and no sooner had we parked up and registered with reception than a chap turned up to assess our damage.  He arrived when we had been on site under 15 minutes!  He and Brian had a conversation and within another half hour the hole had been filled and various historical dinks and scratches had also been primed.  He and his assistant assured us that they could repair the box but weren’t sure about the frame.  They would think about that.

The site had a very jolly vibe.  Trevor met a Dutch couple he had met earlier in his trip.  There were a few Brits and we were parked next to a Frenchman who had little English but was perfectly affable.  His van was an elderly camper which was more primer than paint.  We marvelled at it.  Behind us was a jolly German with his wife who was quite disabled with Parkinson’s.  On day two our repairers arrived with more primer.   We joked that the van might end up looking like our French neighbour’s.  Later in the day they arrived with a very heavy frame and tow bar that they wanted to replace the frame with.  We had to explain that it was far too heavy for the rear panel.  They said they were doubtful they could fix the frame.  Trevor assured us that it was still worth getting the box fixed.

We discovered that there was a hotel next door that sold food and so we sat on their balcony overlooking the beach for an early supper.  It was a treat not to cook as Lorraine and I were taking turns to prepare an evening meal.  She was a good cook in a well equipped van kitchen.  I had a saucepan, a frying pan, a grill and an oven I discovered didn’t work.  When we travel we usually cook outside.  We have a charcoal barbecue and because Morocco is suffering the same lack of rain that is affecting southern Spain we were not able to barbecue or light fires.  Later, the British woman in the corner approached us to invite us over for drinks the following day.  Her husband was turning 60.  We arrived to find the Dutch couple, another British couple that the hosts were travelling with, the jolly German and his wife and a collection of other travellers.  It was a jolly affair and long term travellers and those that live in their vans are used to socialising with people they may never meet again. We also learned that there was a bar next door to the restaurant we had visited that sold wine and beer with food.

We made several trips into the town of Sidi Ifni, up the steps from the beach.  It is a pretty, small town with cafes and a large souk.  The souk is turned into one huge food hall at night with pans sizzling, tagines lined up on gas burners and tables outside makeshift stalls. 

We visited a nice restaurant in town and treated Trevor and Lorraine.  They had visited it before and it was one of the few restaurants to serve alcohol.  However, they had stopped and when we asked why the owner quietly said he had had so much trouble from the police.  He said that customers were welcome to bring their own.  Unfortunately we had left what we had in our vans.  There was a mosque opposite and we guessed that was probably where the objections had come from. 

We had arrived on the Friday, by Monday we had the van back after it had been resprayed.  On Tuesday the repairers told us they thought they could repair the frame after all, but that it would take time, would Friday be OK?  We were happy with that. 

On Wednesday we had a sand storm.  The wind blew a gale of hot wind on an already hot day and lashed us with sand literally sandblasting everything.  The van was 41 degrees inside, but it was better than being outside.  Everyone sheltered and the site was quiet.  On Thursday the weather settled again and we cleaned up after all the sand.  It was everywhere.  Fortunately the newly sprayed paint on the van was dry enough and withstood it.  The repairers brought the patched and sprayed box back with the untwisted frame.  They fitted the frame and the box would be fitted the next day. 

On the Saturday, after just a week at Sidi Ifni we travelled to Tafraout in the mountains.  This was one of the highlights of our trip.  There were a few small sites on the outskirts of the town that were quite full.  The main site was an overspill guardian site on a large sandy patch.  Every evening the “guardian” would come round and collect the equivalent of £1.18 for site fees.  We were on the edge of a small town with a souk that specialised in shoes and metal work.  We were also visited by a couple of young men who paint Moroccan artwork on vans.  This is a thing for motorhomers who travel south of the Atlas.  There is usually an artist on the Sidi Ifni site, but we didn’t see anyone in the week we were there but once we reached Tafraout we were approached.  Brian chose a design which is now on one of our locker panels which can be replaced if we sell the van and the buyer objects to it.  We were visited by vendors daily.  There was the water bowser man who came round each morning to provide water, the women who would take your washing and return it the next day, women selling bread and taking orders for tagines or crepes and the man with a bicycle with his call for “macaroons, macaroons”.  Then there were the children who collected the five litre drinking water bottles who asked for bonbons.  It was such a peaceful place, full of warm hospitality and helpfulness.  After a few days it was time to leave.  Brian’s mother’s funeral had been arranged and we needed to get to Marrakech so he could fly back to the UK.  Trevor and Lorraine had offered to stay with me while I stayed with the motorhome in Morocco.  I was more than happy to be on on my own, as the sites had all felt safe.   Brian and our co travellers would hear nothing of it and so we set off for Marrakesh.  We stopped en route at a tiny site in the grounds of a small French owned hotel.  The garden was lovely and the pool had water in it which made a change for the few sites that had pools.  But we had little time for swimming as we had to move on.

We arrived at the site in Marrakech which had excellent reviews with some trepidation as the approach was along a track with litter scattered waste ground.  Bleak doesn’t do it credit.  However, as soon as we reached the site it looked far more promising.  It was a luxurious site by Moroccan standards with a pool, a restaurant that sold alcohol and hammocks under trees with seating areas.  It was cooler north of the Atlas and much more lush.  We pitched and settled in before Brian flew to the UK two days later.  Trevor, Lorraine and I caught the bus into Marrakech and spent a day there.  Trevor had to sort out a SIM problem and I took the opportunity to get my hair cut.  The hairdresser was incredibly nervous.  Moroccan women wear their hair long, I wanted my shoulder length hair cut back to a bob.  The receptionist at the salon had a little English, the rest was negotiated in French.  I left the salon delighted with the result even though I hadn’t retouched my roots and the staff relieved.  From there we mooched around the square -Djemaa El Fna, before getting the bus back to site.  Brian was away for a week, and for me the time dragged.  Apart from the trip to the city we spent the time on site, catching the rays, buying fruit and veg from the vendor who, on this site, had a horse pulling his cart.  There was a small shop just outside the site that sold eggs and water alongside clothing and souvenirs.  For me, it was too chilly to use the pool after the heat of the south – although it was about 25 degrees every day.  I began to feel homesick.  Brian was seeing friends back home and by now we had been on the road for two months.  Brian returned.   He was tired after travelling, the funeral for his mother, and he had a hangover.  We made one more trip to Marrakech where Brian and I had a pizza on the square and then we left to cross the Atlas once more. 

This time we traversed the high Atlas south from Marrakech to Ouazazarte.  I had done this route in a minibus ten years previously.  Then it had been a hazardous route, single carriageway with unguarded verges which dropped what seemed like miles below.  Now it was a dual carriageway in most places with overtaking lanes on hills on the stretches where it was still single carriageway.  There were verge guards and I was delighted at the improvement.  We reached Ouazazarte and stayed outside for one night as we had been warned that the main site gets busy.  We moved on the next morning and got a space.  The Oarzazarte site was ordinary looking until the evening, then the receptionist who was a dashing Berber in turban and tunic turned an ordinary looking area next to reception into a tented bar and restaurant.  We sat around a fire in a metal firepit drinking wine and enjoying the balmy evening and night sky.  The following day we noticed a brilliant white camper van near us.  It was a Renault and we had only really registered one of those the whole trip.  “ I wonder” said Brian, and then we saw the affable Frenchman from Sidi Ifni.  His van was being resprayed just as we had to leave and we regretted not seeing the finished article.  It now looked splendid, one of the best and newest on site, rather than the write off it had seemed.  We greeted him and he was delighted that we were thrilled at the condition of his van.  We went into Ouazazarte to visit the Atlas film studios.  This had been on my list as it hadn’t been open for business when I had last visited.  We met our tour guide “Bruce Willis” aka Abdul, looking wonderful in his turban and tunic.  He was a brilliant guide, full of enthusiasm and pride for the film industry they host.  There was a fortress in the distance and we were told we wouldn’t visit that as there was another film being made there.  The town had also benefitted from the investment, it was much more prosperous than it had been ten years previously.

From Ouazazarte we travelled east toward the dunes.  I had wanted to see Saharan dunes since I was a teenager and I was impatient to get there now.  En route we stayed at another really lovely site .  It was in the wilds and Brian was beginning to doubt my navigation skills as we bumped along a dirt road into .. well, nowhere it seemed.  Then we turned a bend and there was a gate.  We approached and it was the site. This was a piece of paradise.  The focus was on recycling and there were woven baskets for separation.  There were seating areas and patches of garden that were just beautiful in this dry landscape.  There were a number of Berber tents away from the motorhome area and there were several groups of young people who were staying there.  The young man who ran the site explained that 20 years ago this had been a farm.  After several years of drought his father had decided that farming was no longer viable and that he would invest in tourism.  This seemed an odd choice for somewhere so far off the beaten track but it works.  Water is still an issue and there were notices in the shower block reminding visitors that water is precious.  I took care to shower using as little as possible.

We had to move on and so we headed for Merzouga.  The road in Merzouga stops where the dunes start.  We were surrounded by people wanting to take us to a “special site”.  We were the most harassed we had been the whole trip.  I couldn’t wait to get away and quickly found a site I had identified and we headed off.  Instantly, we were in a quiet camp surrounded by the dunes which form Erg Chebbi which means sand sea.  Researchers have established that it is at least 8,000 years old.  The dunes are breathtaking.  High peaks of sand and undulating landscape.  We decided to take a four by four into the desert rather than camels and decided against a desert camp as we were doing that anyway in our motorhome.  Ali, the owner arranged this for us and we were picked up at tea time to set off with a view to seeing the sun set over the dunes. Our first stop was to visit immigrants from Mauritania,Senegal and Mali.  These are an established immigrant group who are long settled.  They have brought with them a strong musical tradition and and they put on a performance for us.  It did feel artificial and touristy but they earn money this way.  From there we went to the Nomad camp.   This felt more natural.  We sat in a tent and spoke to a young mother who had her toddler with her.  Tea was brought and she served it and the conversation flowed.  The nomads have been in that spot, a plateau in the dunes, for six years.  Water is brought to them from the town and they are able to feed their animals and themselves.  Their existence seemed precarious as the water shortage affects everyone.

And then we got into the car and bounced at speed over the dunes.  It was exhilarating even for a nervous passenger like me.  We reached a high peak and settled down to watch the sun set.  The sun did set, as it does, and we returned to the car.  We were stuck.  The men pushed the car, the women stood on the ledge and bounced and it would not budge.  Eventually our driver called for help, something he seemed reluctant to do, and eventually another vehicle arrived to tow us out.  By now it was dark, and rather lovely out in the dunes.  The sand was hard in places and very soft in others which made balancing difficult as the distance between the different states could be tiny.  I shall never forget being out there and the view and the peace and the ancient feeling of the place. 

We returned to site and stayed another couple of days before deciding to head north.  Trevor and Lorraine were heading west and so we bade them farewell.  We took our third, most easterly route over the Atlas and stayed the night in the Ziz gorge, set in stunning scenery.  The next day we continued through the mountains and reached our planned stop early and so we continued on until we reached the winery.  We had planned to buy wine in Oarzazarte but the Carrefour had stopped selling wine 3 days before Ramadan had started and so we had none.  The winery owners had made it clear that we would be able to buy wine during Ramadan if we wanted it.  Ramadan does make travelling harder, not least because the cafes close during the day outside obvious tourist areas.  So it was a relief to reach the winery, enjoy a meal as we had done before, although this time it was different.  The winery was busy and we had dinner with three or four different travelling groups.  There was a French group unsurprisingly, as well as Swedes and Italians.  The other surprise was that Trevor and Lorraine arrived.  They were hoping to extend their stay in Morocco in order to regain their 90 day Schengen entitlement and W at the winery had said she could arrange it.  There were another British couple who arrived in a large very new motorhome.  We chatted to them and then she showed me what she had in her garage.  It was a small twin tub!  I was so envious.  Laundry is a chore and a strategy when travelling.  The weather had turned, it was cooler and raining.  The Moroccans were delighted at the rain and so we couldn’t be churlish about it, but for me it was a sign for us to leave Morocco and head home. We headed for the docks and boarded a ferry once we had been through all the checks and had our van X-rayed once more.  We arrived at night and so we camped at the port, where we had stayed before we left.

Morocco is splendid, but Spain is easier, particularly during Ramadan.  We made our way to Vera in Almería where we met up with Nikki and Nigel whom we had met in Chefchaouen.  We found a lovely aire, almost a site with a helpful young man on reception.  We had left Ramadan and found Easter!   We had booked dinner at Nigel’s restaurant which has views of the lagoon and the sea and Nikki joined us.  The following day we returned for the most delicious fish and chips at lunchtime after which she took us into town where we watched the Good Friday procession with the enormous statues from the church.  It was Nigel’s 60th birthday (a theme here), and his daughters had come to the restaurant to help him alongside the staff.  They really are a lovely family.  The girls joined us after the procession for a drink before they stayed in town and Nikki took us back to camp. We spent Saturday doing cleaning and laundry and then on Sunday Nikki took us into nearby Mojácar, which had been on my list. It is such a pretty hill town,  with a large tourist economy.  We hadn’t planned an Easter Day procession but one found us as we had coffee.  We had lunch there and after a good look round we returned to camp.

On Easter Monday we headed north again.  Our neighbours that we had found in Setubal had told us they were now thinking of moving to Oliva and so we headed there to check it out.  We found a very shambolic campsite which I liked, but Brian hated and so the next day we moved on.  Oliva has a town on the hill and the beach meets the overspill of the town.  The old town is attractive and we gave it our approval.   We couldn’t get a site in Valencia as they were all full and so we drove on to Zaragoza and from there to Bilbao where we caught the ferry to Portsmouth and home.  The Bay of Biscay truly lived up to its reputation and even Brian felt slightly seasick on this trip.  Fortunately on day two the sea settled.  We had spent 3 ½ months travelling, 2 of which were in Morocco.  We had met some wonderful characters along the way and had left with enormous respect for the people of Morocco.  The lasting impressions are that we prefer the south, below the Atlas, that Morocco is keen to attract tourists and give them a good experience and that there is a clear investment in the country.  The roads were excellent, the winter climate is better than anywhere in Europe and it is affordable.

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1 comment

  • Nadene

    What a memorable, exciting adventure!! Love anything Morrocan!!