7. Morocco – Desert
Our thermometer began to raise as we trundled towards Merzouga and a familiar, worrying tick tick tick began to emit from Kabylie.
We had last heard this sound in Iran when the temperature got over 35 degrees and the fuel pump started ticking like a bomb. Unlike Iran, the air was so dry that no one except Kabylie was really bothered by the heat – Petra and I were just relieved we were not clad in head to foot black nylon like in Qom where we had broken down in Iran. We asked ourselves why this damn recurring problem kept happening in the hottest and most inhospitable parts of the desert. We thought we had resolved the problem in Iran but it turned out we hadn’t!
In the distance, through the hazy, sandy heat, we began to make out the orange silhouette of Saharan dunes. We started to spot camels munching on the occasional tuft of scrub and the outline of romantic Kasbahs came into view.
We have only seen a small part of Morocco, so are no experts, but two things that are striking about the country are the lack of litter and the good architecture. Last year we lamented that both eastern Turkey and even worse Iran were giant rubbish tips, with plastic literally everywhere. When we were in Bali a couple of years ago it was tragic to see the countryside covered in plastic and the streams choked with it. By contrast, Morocco has just banned all plastic bags. New architecture in Iran and Turkey is also shockingly terrible. Cement block buildings litter the landscape, just square, badly designed cubes creating eye sores wherever you look. Again by contrast, Morocco (the part we have been in at least) rejoices in it’s heritage and new buildings are either done in the same old style of the Kasbahs or are modern but retaining their Arabic and North African features. Luckily we had done our research and donning our Berber outfits we were able to completely disguise ourselves among the natives.
As the temperature rose we dropped further down into the sandy desert basin. The dust swirled across the road as Kabylie ploughed on with her frantically ticking fuel pump struggling to keep her engine alive.
We spent a delightful night under the stars in a desert camp. Though a pretty touristy thing to do, it was done incredibly well and we sat around a campfire in a carpeted camp drinking mint tea and gazing at the milky way to the sound of the tam-tam and African castanets. Comfy beds and then a camel ride over the dunes to watch the sunrise over Algeria. – perfect. Finding a board in the camp Petra and Hector even managed to do some sand surfing.
Tom’s highlight was learning to drive Kabylie in the sand. The fuel pump was still ticking like a bomb, but with her tyres massively deflated, she swayed her way over the sands with ease. In the soft sand the engine laboured a little but the dunes are surprisingly hard particularly in the early morning and cool evening. As we drove the wind got up and fine dust got into everything. When Tom rebuilt Kabylie he found this fine red dust in everything from her days in Algeria 60 years ago.
Hector spent happy hours filming himself catching the sand from the famous blast ended Moroccan sand worm.
With Kabylie suffering from the heat and us from the dust we begun our reluctant journey north and back up into the High Atlas. Once again as we hit the desert road north and the temperature rose, Kabylie’s fuel pump really started playing up. Typically in the middle of the most barren stretch of road in the middle of nowhere the engine began to konk out.
We spluttered and hopped along, willing Kabylie to keep going as Tom looked more and more concerned. Our will power worked and amazingly we eventually managed to roll into a town and spluttered into a café where we could get a drink and the car could cool down. Two helpful policeman strutted over to give us a ticket for allegedly not stopping sufficiently quickly at the stop sign. The bastard then kindly invited us to pay a bribe in exchange for a reduced fine so we could pay for the repair to the car! As we drank our orange juice scowling, we watched as they stopped every second car on a trumped up charge to extract a bribe. There are in fact police checkpoints all over the country but we have been waved on by all of them and are told you are never asked for bribes in Morocco, so it was sad to find a rare corrupt one like this. It was not long though until our faith in Morocco was once again restored by a delightful local artist who was given the rare privelage of painting some Berber text on Kabylies sides and some Arabic on the back door.