9. Morocco – Meknes to Biarritz
Leaving Meknes we headed North again for the short hop to Moulay Idriss. Moulay Idriss is a pilgrimage town and if you can’t make it to Mecca for the Haj then a visit here counts as 1/5th. We are not sure if you can just visit this place 5 times or you have to go to the other sites with fractional value to fill up your Mecca card. If you’re a beast of burden or an infidel like us, there is a wooden bar across the path to the shrine to stop you visiting the shrine itself but we could have a coffee in the pretty town square.
Just down the road from Moulay Idriss are the wonderful ruins of the Roman city of Volubilis. It was the last post of civilization at the fringe of the Roman Empire before the wilds of Africa and was notably the city that cleared North Africa of its Lions and elephants that were hunted to extinction and sent to Rome to eat Christians and battle gladiators. We arrived as the sun begun to set and had the place to ourselves and could walk the streets and marvel at the impressive opulence of the grand villas and civic buildings of ancient Rome. Oh to be a Roman, actually oh to be a RICH Roman!
The last leg of the journey to Tangier took us along Morocco’s Atlantic coast. The roads got wider and better, the buildings got taller and uglier and for the first time there was litter. Kabylie rattled along as we all listened to a story tape, without noise reduction headphones! The Overdrive that Tom has fitted adds an extra gear that we did not have on our Iran trip and transforms Kabylie and makes her much easier to drive and much quieter at speed. You can now hear yourself think and listen to story tapes – just.
Asilah was on our route and we stopped for an impressive seafood lunch and to peruse the fabulous old fortified town. Painted in white and a deep-sea blues this sleepy fortified town originally built by the Portuguese had a lovely sea-side feel and was full of art galleries and shops. Petra and Justine were sent into a final shopping frenzy but the pressure of having lots of space in the car, tons of wonderful stuff to buy but not enough time to make decisions meant that to Tom’s great relief they bought nothing!
Between the towns on the Atlantic coast there are still large areas of pristine beach with no coastal development. We had run out of time but it is obvious there is an enormous amount more to be discovered in Morocco and we need to come back.
As the Retroroadtrip approached Tangier we joined the throng of impressive 4x4s all heading North to catch their ferries back to Europe. Vast lorries, Toyotas on steroids and hundreds of Land Rover Defenders joined us on the road. We were easily the oldest but arguably not the most impractical! Finding camaraderie in our ridiculous vehicles we stopped for a chat with a fantastic couple of Frenchmen in a vast fireman’s truck from the 60’s that turned out to be essentially a bar on wheels as despite its huge size and ten-tone winch there was no provision for even a bed! As Kabylie is so rare even most Land Rover owners don’t recognize her toolbox style utilitarian shape as being the original genetic line from which the Land Rover Defender was born. To our surprise it turned out later on the ferry that she was not only recognized but one of the overlanders on the ferry actually owned one! He also knows of the whereabouts of the other 12 that are in France with the same Algerian origin as Kabylie so hopefully one day we will be able to meet up with the others.
The ferry from Tangier to Barcelona was a big upgrade from the one in the other direction though to the kids dismay the pool had been drained. We love a ferry ride as long as the sea is not rough and like always it is over too quickly.
Last year in Romania we had met a Spanish couple at Prince Charles’s guesthouse who had warmly invited us to stay when we were next in Barcelona. They were very nice people so we thought we would look then up and take them up on their offer. Parking anything in Barcelona is difficult but if you’re over 2M high its quite simply impossible. After two hours of driving around Tom eventually found a 2.4m high parking and I’ll put the address here incase anyone else is driving around getting old looking for one!
It turned out that we could have probably parked Kabylie in our host’s utility room as their flat in the center of Barcelona was enormous. They told us a story of a friend learning to ride a bike in there but we could imagine that they could have also learned to drive a lorry! It was a wonderful contrast from some of the places we had been invited into in Morocco. Their hospitality and kindness to us was amazing. They were clearly very busy people but took the time to entertain us royally, take us out for two fabulously opulent meals, the second of which started as we had just finished the first, and showed us everything that needed to be seen in Barcelona. This was especially kind given that we were all very much on our last set of clothes with Tom and Hector in theirs for the best part of the last week!
After a fabulous breakfast reminiscent of those in The Mansion House we pilled back into Kabylie with our stomachs all struggling from the richness of the food of the last 24 hours. A long trundle across northern Spain in the rain, a supper of stale bread and sardines and the worst night camping we have ever had, 10m from a busy road soon had us back down to earth!
Sadly, this mini Retroroadtrip has come to an end. The kids have bunked off school for a cheeky extra two weeks holiday, but we had to be back in Biarritz for Hector’s Music theory exam at 17:00. School in France seems quite relaxed about extended holidays, but the music conservatoire is not and we were told that if Hector missed this test he would have to redo the whole year! Reluctantly we packed up our tent to arrive back in Biarritz just in time for him to sing ‘Do Rey Mi’ – Julie Andrews would have been suitably impressed.
In conclusion, Morocco is wonderful. There is very little of the old hassle, its clean (they have banned plastic bags), the architecture is lovely and the people (apart from the ones that poison you with bad bread) are delightful. There is so much of old North Africa that you can still see but you can end your day with a delicious meal, cool down in a swimming pool and find a good but cheap hotel almost everywhere you go. Its apparently changed a lot but its culturally one of the most interesting places we have been and its also safe, so book your tickets and thanks for reading out blog!
Until our next adventure………………..