We had a week in Santa Pola with the Gusto Overland and Lizzybus teams and this was just the tonic we needed to move on from the robbery near Barcelona. The constant enthusiasm and encouragement from all of them certainly put us in a determined mood to get what needed done and make the trip to Morocco.
First of all we needed to get Emergency Passports. Dave had spoken to the Embassy in Madrid and both consulates in Barcelona and Alicante regarding our proposed trip to Morocco.
Emergency Passports can be issued to visit up to a maximum of 5 countries to allow people to complete prior booked trips to avoid even more financial loss or if a direct route home is not available. But the embassy stated we would not be able to use emergency passports to do our trip as the rules state you are not allowed to leave a country and return back to that country under an emergency passport system. If this was indeed the case our trip to Morocco was off as even flying back to the UK straight away it takes a week to get a new passport if your original has been stolen. No same day fast track issue.
However both consulates told us our itinerary was fine! So either way we needed an emergency passport to either head back to the UK only or to complete the Morocco Raid and then return to the UK. Applying is fairly straight forward where you go online on the government website, report your original passports lost or stolen with details and police report. Once these details are completed you select a date and time to attend at the consulate of your choice with all the required relevant paperwork. Flight bookings were easy and our intention was to fly to UK to get new passports on our return from Morocco. Flights were booked and appointments made at Glasgow Passport office to apply. Ferry booking however was an issue as it was not already booked and we could not book it without a passport - Catch 22. Dave called the consulate again and as long as we had the itinerary we were ok. We took a copy of Gerry (Celtic Rovers) itinerary and edited it to cover our trip. We couldn’t get our appointment at the consulate until the Tuesday so we had the weekend to chill out and get some other jobs completed.
Dave fitted the new wiper motor replacing the one that had spectacularly failed in Germany in torrential rain doing 100kph on the autobahn. Next up was a full oil and filter change. We bought all the oils etc needed at a local car service shop and then got a local mechanic to do the changes under Dave’s watchful eye. The mechanic charged €40 which was well worth it as he would get rid of the old oil properly. Meanwhile Robin was replacing his headlights.
Next we had been experiencing very intermittent starting issues that began back in Estonia and gradually getting worse. Sometimes turning over but taking forever to fire to the point of almost draining the battery and sometimes giving a Crank Sensor Fault on our diagnostic reader.
We decided to get this looked at whilst in Santa Pola at the local Land Rover dealership. Initially they diagnosed the crank sensor wiring as broken and carried out a repair. But still the issue was there. We took Wilson back again and a faulty part on an injector was identified. This was completed and although initially seeming better it still did not resolve the problem.
This problem would continue to plague us until we got to the UK where another Land Rover garage changed out glow plugs and still no better. Finally Dave lost faith in mechanics and after visiting forums online went through the different suggestions finally finding the starter motor loose with 1 bolt only holding things very loosely in place and the other too either almost completely off or the mount sheared. A new starter motor was ordered and fitted and Wilson now fires up first time every time.
Evenings were spent drinking beer, chatting, bbq’s and generally enjoying the company of our new found friends.
Finally our appointment time came round and we headed to the consulate with paperwork in hand. Stepping up to the counter the lady took our paperwork and read through our itinerary. Problem! She stated she needed to speak to her supervisor as our itinerary stated we would leave from Spain to Morocco return to Spain. Dave jumped in stating both Barcelona and Alicante had said it was ok, neglecting to say Madrid said it wasn’t. However the supervisor came over and said it was ok as many people do exactly the same going to Gibraltar without any issues. But we were advised it was a bit of a grey area. If we had been flying it would not be ok but as we were driving it was fine. Great so we headed off for coffee and a bit of shopping whilst we killed a few hours to then return and collect the emergency passports.
Emergency passports in hand we headed back to the campsite to tell everyone the good news that we were going on the Morocco Raid. Later we all had dinner together and a few beers.
Our last night in Santa Pola before we headed to Morocco we went round to David and Jayne’s apartment where Gerry of Celtic Rover had arrived and would stay the night. Lovely food, few beers and some great stories of adventures past and hopefully new ones to come.
Day 180 seemed like a good day to start the Morocco Raid. Lizzybus, Gusto Overland and ourselves would drive towards Algercias in convoy to join up with Overlandbirds and Celtic Rover for a final night in Spain before we catch the ferry to Morocco. Gerry had left earlier as he had to go to the airport and collect Duncan his co driver for the Raid. Both ourselves, Robin and Kim were up early packed up and organised for the 10am departure. Lizzybus was a little late as getting final packing and helping David with his terrible back pain was a little of a challenge for Jayne.
It was about a 7 hours drive to the campsite chosen and our convoy received many stares and waves as we passed. Finally arriving at the campsite Camping La Bella Vista just south of Estepona
Gerry had already arrived with Duncan and set up. We all got parked up and set up the Neil and Julie of Overlandbirds arrived. Dinner was prepared at the Lizzybus pitch as David’s back was giving him some serious issues and then we spent the evening talking Land Rovers and again more trip stories. Neil later came round with the spare parts a few of us had ordered, sent to Neil and he had brought them down. For Dave it was like Christmas day with new fuel caps, Mass Air Flow Sensor etc.
Exciting day today as we would finally get to Morocco. However the excitement was tempered when Jayne and David came to tell us that due to David’s back they would not be going forward. This was a major disappointment for all of us and especially for Jayne and David who had put so much hope in the trip. We were all gutted and although we hated the decision in hindsight it was probably the best decision. We would miss the spirit of fun and excitement they brought to the group. So it was a very sad goodbye as our depleted convoy left the campsite to head for the ferry with Lizzybus waving us off before their long drive back to Santa Pola.
Following Overlandbirds we arrived at the chosen ferry ticket office. Neil had been in contact with them earlier and they had said the tickets would be €190. However today he wanted to charge us all €250 plus an additional €40 for our trailer! After some negotiation the price came down to €250 each and no charge for the trailer. This was better but as we had no time to go elsewhere we paid the price and then headed to the ferry terminal.
50 minutes later we were boarded on the ferry and starting passport control. This would be the first test of our emergency passports. Once up to the counter the officer was more interested in the fact he had never seen an emergency passport than whether he should or should not accept it. The passport was stamped and we were in or so we thought. The ferry journey is only about an hour to Tangier Med so we say discussed the route and waited to arrive and start the customs process.
Driving off the ferry a cursory check of the passport to check it had been stamped and then to customs. The cars were checked then as part of the vehicle temporary import Dave had to take the passports to another office to get validated. This officer did not like the emergency passports and tried repeatedly to phone his superior. Being a Sunday he did not get a reply so after half a dozen attempts he gave up and grudgingly validated our passports. Next stop was the car insurance at €85 to cover the trip and then we were in with a big sigh of relief.
Our first destination in Morocco was Chefchouen and a campsite called Azilan at the top of a very steep road overlooking the town and Medina. We got ourselves set up and decided to head down into the Medina for dinner. Thankfully the walk was all downhill and we joined the throngs of locals who all seemed to be headed in the same direction. So we wandered through the centre into the medina taking in the colours smells of the spices and the general hustle and bustle of a busy souk.
We found a restaurant in the square and all say down to enjoy our first tagine with Dave taking a beef tagine and Angela opting for the goat. When we decided to head back to the camp site most of us couldn't face the thought of the long uphill walk so we decided to get a taxi. Gerry and Duncan opted to walk. Getting a taxi proved a lot harder than we thought. We finally got a taxi which we are sure was just some local with a Diahatsu van. Neil jumped in the front, the girls in the seats and Dave and Robin crouched on we don’t know what in the back. The engine sounded tortured as it drove up the steep road with none of us thinking it would make it and every bump being combined with a horrendous scraping noise from underneath. But make it it did and we all jumped out thankful we had not had to get out and push it there. It had been a long day so we all enjoyed a few drinks then called it a night.
We were woken early by a rooster making a right racket and coupled with dogs barking throughout the night Angela in particular had not had such a good sleep. Dave on the other hand can generally blank the noises out and sleep no problems.
Our route today would take us to Moulay Idriss and the Volubilis the Roman Ruins and Amphitheatre meant to be the best in Morocco. Initially we arrived at the wrong end of the ruins as the main entrance has been moved but no one had seen sense to tell the Satnav companies. A quick detour though and we were there. Entrance was 10 Dhms and we all split up to wander the ruins for 1 ½ hours. It was interesting but once again having seen the roman ruins in Turkey nothing ever seems to quite compare.
Once we were all together again we set off in convoy to our campsite Bellevue near Volubilis, a quiet site and we had the campsite to ourselves. We all got showered early as the town was shutting off the water until morning and we were all hot, sweaty and dusty.
Soon it was beer o’clock so we all sat down together and chatted about the day and the tomorrows route with Gerry who had pretty much single handedly planned the whole route. We enjoyed Spagbol for tea and cooked enough for tomorrow night. It got windy for a little while which was great for drying our washing but thankfully calmed down later before we went to bed. The group enjoyed the evening laughing and chatting with the now standard obligatory few drinks.
Up to get organised we found the town had not turned the water back on so washing was a wet wipe day. Today we would be continuing south, doing some off roading as we headed towards Ifrane and Khenifra wild camping by the lake at Aguelma Azigza National Park. But first we all needed supplies so we headed for a Carrefour for food and the Carrefour Cave for more beer and Alcohol. Being a muslim country most shops and super markets do not sell alcohol and you must purchase it at what are called caves, usually underground from the main supermarket. Here you can buy beer, alcohol, wine etc. Once everyone was stocked up we got going again.
We were now into the mountain pistes, rough gravel and mud roads or tracks that locals use and link remote towns and villages. We came across a steep uphill section, very rough loose gravel and we got stuck half way up and beginning to roll back. With foot brake pressed, hand brake pulled we were still moving backwards and Angela was getting reading to jump out. But we eventually stopped slightly jack knifed. Dave selected low range and difflock and tried again. This got us moving to the top of the hill. Schoolboy error from Dave but lesson learned. Later we would learn that we had taken a wrong turn earlier in the route taking us from an intermediate difficulty route to challenging.
However the route continued through some lovely forests with dusty roads and Barbary apes running around.
We camped at the end of the lake and the sunset views over the lake were amazing. We got a nice big fire going sitting round it into the evening. We had a few visitors, some dogs came and stayed the night sleeping around the camp, a few people came down to watch the sunset and a few Barbary apes that we chased away.
Morning broke and we got ourselves organised to head off for a couple of days travelling mountain pistes to Dades Gorge. The intention was to camp at an Auberge at Lac de Tislit but we arrived early at 2.30pm and after tea by the lake we decided to push on to Dades Gorge.
Everything was quiet until we arrived at Agoudal and we were swarmed with children chasing after us, showing us the way and hoping we would give them sweets or bonbons. They get very close and you are always worried one will fall and slip under the wheels. On top of this the village had clearly been flooded recently during the heavy rains and landslides with lots of mud and surface water throughout the town. We are sure we ended up driving through peoples back gardens to get through.
The terrain as we climbed higher into the High Atlas mountains was getting rougher often seeing the route was difficult and coupled with this we could see a storm chasing us as we travelled. The ground was small sharp rocks that glistened when wet in the sunshine and we were at the front leading the way.
To drive the route took us 5 hours, with high climbs, gravelly steep downhill sections and steep drop offs with no guards. In hindsight we should not have made the decision to carry on earlier in the afternoon and should have stayed and tackled this section with a full day. Saying that the rain was making things more arduous. Kim of Gusto Overland has a real fear of heights so this was particularly frightening for her. The views were spectacular and the highest point reached was 2900m. The route back down was much of the same, deep gorges, stunning views, tight corners and drop offs. This felt like a real adventure but always watching the trailer in case it bounced near the edge.
Throughout the route the storm had been getting closer and it was starting to get dark. With no shelter this high up to camp it was agreed we would push on and certainly getting down would not come soon enough for Kim. Once we got lower we came across villages where mostly the children would wave and smile but a couple of the guys at the back reported stones being thrown at them also.
It was now getting dark and there was no way we would make our planned camp site.
In the middle of a village we found an Auberge with enough space in the courtyard for us all to fit even if a tight squeeze. Price negotiated next on the list was a hot shower. A bedroom was made available for us to shower and get changed. The owners were really friendly and couldn’t do enough for us. The Auberge did not supply beer or alcohol but were happy for us to drink our own especially if we gave them some and we all ordered Tagines which we enjoyed in a traditional Moroccan dinning room with colourful cushions and carpets. We all thoroughly enjoyed the evening.
Morning came and everyone started getting ready. The guys from the Auberge brought out green tea and Dave got on with carrying out the Landy checks all under the watchful eye of a pet stork that lives in a blue telephone box.
We were told that through the night the road further down had been washed out. But in Morocco they are used to this kind of thing so hopefully it would be repaired by the time we went through. But as we had gained a day yesterday and it had been a long hard day we were not in as much of a rush and set off around 11am.
The route as we continued down was full of rocks and mud most of the way and the washed out section had been filled in and we could get through. We continued through steep sided gorges some with low overhangs where the road had been chiselled out, tight corners and passing Auberges styled like castles.
Intermittently we would hear a clunk under Wilson that was concerning us. We stopped and checked but could not see anything obvious so continued and hoped we would get to a campsite and check everything fully. The concern was it could be gearbox or differential which would mean we were not going any further.
Throughout the day the rain continued on and off and we arrived at our next campsite for the night. It was very basic, a hotel by the river with terraced gardens and dirty toilets / showers. We were to camp in the gardens so we picked the lower one that seemed a better choice than the higher one which was also the hotel car park.
We got set up and Dave took the opportunity to jack up Wilson and try to find the “clunk” we had been experiencing. Initially it seemed confirmed it was the rear differential but further inspection Dave found the Rear Drive Shaft UJ at the differential coupling failed. This was great news, we had a spare and as Dave had not replaced one before he set about replacing it under the guidance of Neil and Gerry. In the process of replacing the UJ a storm moved in with thunder, lightning and rain. We also noticed the river was rising. Next the hotel manager came out and looked at the river then told us probably best to move to the higher level as soon as we could. Great no pressure then as we had just removed the drive shaft and wrecked UJ. Everyone else got shifted up to the upper level leaving us to finish off the UJ first.
Working as quickly as possible we got the UJ replaced and without taking down the tent towed the trailer up to the soggy muddy higher level and out of the now very soggy and very muddy lower level.
Finally Dave felt like a proper overlander have found a problem, actually having the correct spare and replacing it all whilst in a thunder storm with a river rising close by. It sounds more dramatic than it was but it did feel like a great achievement.
Later we chatted again and enjoyed drinks before heading into the hotel restaurant to eat. We all chose tagine but were disappointed as it came as one tagine for 4 people. Previously it had been one each and cheaper.
We were up organised early as we needed supplies again and diesel before heading to ait benhaddou which has appeared in more than 10 movies including Lawrence of Arabia, Gladiator and Jesus of Nazareth. To be honest we were a little disappointed as it was not as glamorous as the guidebooks suggest. On route we found a bank, basic shopping and most importantly a cave to top up our supplies/booze.
From ait benhaddou we headed to Camping Kasba in Agdz, pretty basic but at 60dhms we were not complaining. We got ourselves set up, organised a steak dinner and even got some badly needed washing done. A standard evening of chatting and drinking followed.
A new day and we were now heading for the desert on the border with Algeria where we will wild camp under the milky way and stars.
On route we stopped in Zagora to top up what fuel we could as we weren’t sure what to expect in the desert after all the last weeks rains. We had heard that rivers and areas were in full flood and might not be passable. As we were getting fuel a local garage mechanic in an overlander vehicle pulled up to offer inspection and greasing for equivelant of €2. We were ok as Dave has been anal about inspecting under the Landy every day and greasing regularily.
As usual as we waited for everyone to get filled up we were constantly pestered for money, clothes, bonbons or whatever else they thought we should give them. This was now starting to get tiresome and when one particular guy followed us up to the mechanics garage and continued to pester Angela without taking no for an answer Dave shouted at him and told him to go away. He backed off but stayed hovering around.
Neil and Gerry got their inspections and greasing done. Robin had his done but they also found a swivel seal leak. A deal was done to get it repaired and they got started. Meanwhile Neil and Dave headed off to try and get fire wood for our camp in the desert. They were taken to a bakers where they use wood burning ovens for baking. The guy offered is 2 small bags of wood at €40 per bag. We nearly choked and politely declined his ‘generous’ offer. Next was camel stickers. We found a shop and bought a couple of stickers for Dave himself and Robin. The shop owner did mention if Dave had whisky then everything in his shop was up for barter. He also said if he got a bottle of whisky from us he would not go home to his wife and children but head into the desert to drink it.
Back at the mechanics garage work was progressing on Robin’s landy so we all headed for some lunch. This was the most disappointing yet. Most of us ordered omelettes and they were served one between two, To say we left hungry would be an understatement.
With Robin’s landy repaired we headed off into the desert. This was great fun as no roads as such so the freedom to drift off and play. But you had to watch out for “woopy doos’ which suddenly appear and launch the landy into the air and everything lying loose in the landy.
After a few hours we found a spot to camp. We could not see any habitation in any direction so we set up and were just relaxing when out of nowhere two children appeared begging. They must have seen us coming earlier and followed us. We offered them fruit, water, biscuits and a few other things but as is always the case it was never enough. We also noticed they kick off their shoes further away from camp so they arrive barefoot to further exaggerate how poor they are.
We spent the evening drinking beer and marvelling at the stars and when walking away from the camp a hundred metres the Milky Way could be seen clearly and we had a competition to see who would see the first shooting star. Dave was first but is still waiting on his beer prize.
After a good nights sleep we got up and were having breakfast when a guy on a push bike with 3 kids arrived. Once again the shoes were kicked off and the children came in to beg whilst he sat at the side with things he wanted to barter. The children constantly asking for bonbons which we had none so they were given water, biscuits, tins of tuna, a pink blow up flamingo and an inflatable double bed. It’s a shame to see young children forced to beg but it seems tourists like ourselves have no one to blame but ourselves for giving in and giving them something to the point now they can get aggressive if they are not given anything. And its not just the children. The adults are in on the game now too.
We packed up and set off into the deep sands. A few of