A Travellerspoint blog

Week 14: Football fever

Four countries in four days

Football fever has hit this week. Much of the time has been devoted to finding a good bar to watch the quarter and semi-finals. We started the week at the campground in Barcelona, and picked up Mikes from the airport. Barcelona tourist time for us was devoted to shopping on La Rambla and the small streets around this, which was incredible, Barcelona is such an alive city, and full of people seemingly constantly. In between shopping bouts, we ate delicious tapas, saw the beach, went shopping, saw the church Gaudi designed Sagrada Familia, went to the Picasso Museum, saw lots of Harleys and watched the football. We also had a bit of a mixup with the buses back to the camp one night, where we ended up missing the last day bus by about 15minutes (maybe in hindsight we shouldn’t have stopped for that icecream) then ended up walking 5km from where the night bus dropped us back to the camping ground, on unlit back country roads first then about 1km up the motorway. We were sure not to miss the last bus the next night!
We were hit with another impressive thunder and lightening storm on the last morning in Barcelona, and a not very good weather forecast for the next few days, so decided to change our plans a little. No more southern France beaches, instead we headed back to the Pyrenees. Andorra to be more precise. Andorra is a tiny country, and looks like it would be humming in the winter when ski season is in full swing. It has beautiful forest, and almost Fiordland-like steep bush-covered mountains coming down into ravines. In summer, there are heaps of walks to do. We stayed up in the hills for the night, and did a high altitude run the next day. Mikes made friends with a local restaurant owner’s dog there. We were amazed with the shops in Andorra, a smokers and drinkers paradise. There seems to be no tax on either of these things, and the supermarkets have aisles and aisles of incredibly cheap alcohol and tobacco sold by the paint pail.
Before we ended up with some heavy addictions and ruined our lungs and livers, we headed over the border into France. Again, we needed somewhere to stay where we could watch the first semi-final in the football, and ended up staying in
Foix, a town not far over the border. Our supporter’s curse held, and we saw Brazil get thumped by the Germans. Surprisingly, the French people in the pub seemed to have forgotten that the Germans had just kicked them out of the comp and were cheering for Germany. Mikes was pretty impressed with his first French Baguette of the trip the next morning, before we headed to Carcassone, of board game fame that afternoon. Carcassone is home to a medieval castle and village, which is pretty touristy and there were heaps of people there, but it still kept its charm. That night, we stayed just out of Montpellier, beside a wharf where people had their fancy boats berthed. We went to another pub (seeing a theme here?) to watch some more football, and couldn’t believe it when we got kicked out of pub when extra time started because barmaid had to get up early the next day. Lisa was rapt when the next place we ran to to see the rest of the game happened to be an ice cream bar. Win! And win to Argentina, the first time our team had pulled through.
The next day we drove up to see the Pont Du Gard, an old Roman aqueduct, before dropping Mikes off at Marseille airport. The weather had picked up a bit, but we decided southern France was too packed for a campervan, so decided to head north to Les Alpes. These mountains are also spectacular, and lots of the little villages up in the mountains have ski lifts which start from the hotel doors. It must be a really amazing place to be in the middle of winter. We drove through the Alpes to Italy, and stayed on Lago d’Orta, which is a stunning place, with a small lake nestled in bush clad hills. We took a long drive via some mountain top village with a very narrow winding road (thanks to Lisa’s navigational prowess) then to Verona.
We were planning to watch an open air opera in the Arena, Verona’s version of the colosseum, but another huge thunder and lightening storm thwarted that plan. So we write the blog when sitting in the campervan in a carpark in Verona. Tomorrow we might actually see a bit of Verona, the Arena and the old part of the city. And of course we will find somewhere to pull up a chair and watch the big final.

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Posted by Andrew and Lisa 08:50 Archived in Andorra Comments (0)

Week 13: Nature in northern Spain

The phenomenal Pyrenees!

This week has been devoted to exploring Northern Spain. We started in Alberracin camping near the village in the national park, which it turns out is pretty popular with the local rock climbing crowd. Lisa had had enough of heights the day before in Alberracin itself, so we avoided the climbers and explored the national park. It was pretty cool, lots of pine forest, with massive rock formations jutting out, brilliant views and Neolithic cave art throughout. The cave art they thought was between 4500 and 7000 years old, and a lot of it seemed quite faded but other parts were really well preserved and pretty good drawings.
It seems we can’t get enough of castles on this visit, and Monday night was no exception. We have been looking at a website for various wild camping spots around the place and found one on a hilltop next to a derelict castle to spend the night, near Huesca, with beautiful views over the surrounding countryside. It was pretty spectacular.
On Tuesday we went to another abandoned castle, this one was called Loarre and was built in around 1070. It was halfway up a mountain and built on top of a rock, would have made a great fortress back in the day. The castle even had a tunnel under the keep for the big wigs to escape if things went bad. But the real mission on Tuesday was to head up to the Spanish side of the Pyrenees, where we had heard there were lots of good walks and totally different scenery. Apparently lots of the towns in the mountains become inaccessible over the winter, and the roads are pretty windy but not too bad. We spent some time in a town called Torla, which was full of beautiful old stone buildings and situated at the foot of some pretty impressive mountains, before heading slightly up the valley to camp in paradise. That night, we had a massive thunderstorm, and we were pretty stoked to have decided on the campervan option rather than tenting for about the thousandth time this trip. We holed up in the campground’s bar and suffered through the storm. The cows that lived right next door to the camping ground didn’t seem to love the storm, and their mooing and the bells some thoughtful person had put around their necks kept us up during the night. Thankfully the next morning things had cleared up, leaving enough water to make the waterfalls look even better, and we set out for a pretty amazing walk up the valley and over a big hill. For our next visit to Spain we will definitely look at spending lots more time up in the Pyrenees, there are so many different walks to do and lots of birds to find. We were sad to leave, but there is so much to explore! We stayed in a place called Graus on the way out of the mountains right next to a beautiful lake, and had the second night in a row of amazing thunder and lightening. Spain sure knows how to put on a show.
Thursday saw us heading south towards Barcelona, and we drove through a national park on the way to make the trip more interesting. We had our first near disaster with the van, when we realized we were at the top of a massive hill in the middle of nowhere and the fuel light came on. Over 30 nailbiting kilometres lately (apparently we were in a region in Spain with only 2 fuel stations, and the first one we came across had closed down), we made it to Monstant, and our third credit card worked in the prepay machine. We didn’t think Monstant as a town was much to write home about, but it was my favourite place in the world at that moment! We spent the afternoon exploring another clifftop town called Siurana, then came down the hill to camp next to the lake, and had a couple of swims. Thank goodness we did decide to make the journey down the hill, because our third thunderstorm in a row was by far the biggest and scariest, rocking the campervan and waking us up at about 2 in the morning. But again, it had all cleared and left behind a gorgeous day on Friday.
Friday bought another day of travel, this time to Barcelona. We had done our homework online and found a campsite close to the airport to make it easy to pick up Michael on Sunday, and avoiding driving through the madness, but with a good bus service into town. The campgrounds over here are like cities of their own, this one has 2 x restaurants, a little supermarket, a souvenir shop, ice cream parlour, 2 swimming pools and is on the beach. We spent the night watching the world cup quarterfinal between France and Germany with some patriotic fans in the bar. Germany edged out the French, which we are gutted about because we had been wanting to watch France play the semi or final in France next week. So far every country we have visited has been knocked out…….
Next week we get into Barcelona for a few days, will enjoy some time with Michael and make our way into the south of France. Europe is starting to fill up with tourists, so we’re making the most of the relative quiet while we can.

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Posted by Andrew and Lisa 08:24 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

Week 12: Spectacular Spain

Tapas, castles and sand...

It has been another pretty busy week for us in Spain, so much going on it’s hard to keep track of the weeks. On Monday morning we headed into Malaga hoping to visit the Picasso museum, which looked good from the outside, but we got tricked again by Spain’s funny custom of shutting museums on Mondays, and the outside of the place was as close as we got. Malaga seems to be a bustling modern town, and was extremely clean and full of young people. We spent a couple of hours wandering around the centre of town, then hit the road again.
Our next stop was Granada, which we had heard was great because of its custom of serving free tapas with every drink. We found a camping ground within walking distance to the main drag and hit the tapas bars. They lived up to their reputation, drinks around 2 euros each, but each came with delicious tapas, from little sandwiches to fried fish to little helpings of stew, couscous and paella. Granada is a beautiful town with deep Arabic roots, and going to the bars in the narrow streets was a great way to check the town out. We came across lots of shops, which sold Moroccan products identical to those in the markets we had been to.
The next day, we got up early and walked the 5km to Alhambra Castle, apparently one of the most important Muslim castles in the world. The Lonely Planet had told us we had to get there by 7.30am to get tickets as only 6000 were sold each day. We were pretty rapt to get in, and started exploring straight away. There are 3 castles in the complex, and the main attraction is the royal palace, and they limit the crowds by giving you a set time to go through. Our time on the tickets was 10am, so we thought we had plenty of time to soak up the atmosphere in the gardens before wandering to the palace, and lined up at about 9.30. By the time we got to the front of the line, we were gutted to learn that our watches and phone were still on Moroccan time, which is an hour behind Spanish time – it was actually 11am, and we hadn’t quite got up as early as we thought! Luckily they were pretty understanding and after explaining our situation to the nice information desk people they let us through. The palace was beautiful, lots of intricate carving and amazing archways. However, when we had just finished our look around the castle, our lack of preparation let us down again, and we were hit with a massive thunderstorm with torrential rain, and we were only dressed in shorts and t-shirts. Lots of very smug people who had obviously looked at the weather forecast were putting on jackets and ponchos and pulling our their umbrellas. We were very envious. Between breaks in the rain we managed to whip round the rest of the grounds and see the other castles and the beautiful gardens, then shouted ourselves a lovely umbrella from a souvenir shop on the way back into town.
Then next day we were on the road again, this time heading for the beach. We stopped for the night in a seaside town called San Jose, and enjoyed a morning run and swim. On the drive north the highlight was seeing hundreds of acres of greenhouses, which must produce most of Europe’s winter tomato and capsicum crops. Commercial horticulture on an absolutely huge scale. We stayed at another little town on the beach, and had our second swim in the Mediterranean.
On Friday, we hit Valencia, a town we didn’t know much about except that it was home to Paella and famous for its oranges. We stayed slightly south of the city in a beachside town, and after a really long hot drive hit the beach straight away. It was amazing – the seemed a good 10 degrees warmer than it was a couple of hundred kms down the coast. It was like swimming in Hawaii again. After some trouble working out the bus schedule the next morning, we headed into Valencia city, which was an interesting mix of the old and the new. We wandered around the old part of town, then Andrew decided that it would be a good idea to hire bikes to check out the beach and new parts of town. Lisa was a little bit less keen on the idea, but went along with it. Valencia has to be one of the most bike friendly cities we’ve ever been to, it has a big green belt through the centre with nice flat tracks, which takes you to the new part of town, with a science and arts centre, then nice cycleways through to the marina and old America’s Cup village and out to the beach, which reminded us of Brighton but with sand instead of rocks. Being the weekend and about 30 degrees, the beach was packed. By the time we made it to the beach, Lisa had nearly crashed twice and had nearly taken out 5 people and a pushchair with a toddler, and was over it. But she soldiered on and we made it back to the hire place intact, with no collateral damage, and had some well earned Valencian paella for dinner.
We were a bit over the heat, and have a few days up our sleeves until we meet Mikes in Barcelona on the 10th, so decided to head into the hills next. Andrew is following a blog, which looks at the most beautiful and unvisited places in the world, and thought Albarracin was worth a look. It is a stunning village, set on a hillside and is surrounded in the ruins of a medieval fort. We wandered up the hill to take in the views, and once again Andrew put Lisa out of her comfort zone scambling over the old fort walls. OSH would have had a field day – there are huge sheer drops, with not a safety barrier or even a warning in sight. After dealing with Lisa’s nerves for the past couple of hours, Andrew needed a stiff drink so we headed into the town and came across probably the coolest little pub in the world, which had been carved into the rock, then found a place to camp for the night not far out of town.
It has been a week of castles, beaches and delicious Spanish food. Lisa has been pushed out of her comfort zone a few times, and can’t wait for Disneyland Paris to put Andrew out of his for a change.

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Posted by Andrew and Lisa 12:32 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

Week 11: Farewell Africa

A week of blues, whites and greens?!

It has been another busy week on the road. We started on Monday by saying goodbye to the Sahara, and leaving behind another probably 50 degree day in the sand to head north towards Fes. After leaving the desert we were soon back in the mountains and came across some monkeys on the side of the road. These monkeys, altough wide were rather street savvy. We watched one swipe a whole bag of nuts from an unsuspecting tourist. We stayed in a small town called Midelt, in the municipal camping ground. The camp ground owner saw us coming and chased us down the street in his car to direct us to his place, where once again we were the only campers. He greeted us with a cup of Moroccan tea, and when we asked about where the local shops he offered to take us into town in his car. We took him up on the offer, which turned out to be a bit of a mistake. After taking us to the markets to stock up on some veges, he dropped us at his mate’s “traditional Berber house.” We thought we were going to look around a house, but it turns out this means local carpet dealer. We got stuck drinking more tea, and being shown about 50 different carpets, which were way out of our price range. The guy was pretty desperate to make a sale - when he realized we didn’t have enough money to pay for a carpet even tried to barter for the shirt off Andrew’s back. We came out of there with a cactus silk blanket, and all of our clothes on. Needless to stay we got out of that camp in a hurry the next morning.

On Tuesday, we travelled to Fes, another town famous for its Medina. We stayed in a pretty big campground and spent the afternoon swimming and relaxing, with some mental preparation for the big day of bartering/haggling to come.
Fes markets were probably bigger than Marrakech, and crammed with people, who seemed to sell everything. Lisa’s introduction to the market was an interesting one. To celebrate our entry into the medina without being snagged by the “helpers,” we decided to celebrate with an orange juice and café. The café’s toilets turned out to be inside a traditional Arab bath house. The place was hot and steamy, and crammed with overweight, naked, middle aged Arab women! After being surrounded in burkas and virtually no visible skin for the past week this was a bit of a shock to the system!
We felt much more prepared entering the Fes markets, and were keen to try out our newly honed haggling skills. Fes is famous for its pottery and leather. Part of the medina is home to a leather tannery, and seeing this in action was probably the highlight of the day. All of the steps in the process were manual. Skins were bought in by donkey, men scraped them with knives, moved the leather from the pools of pigeon guano where they were softened to the pools of dye, and laid out to dry. It looked like pretty hard work, and didn’t smell great. We also saw coppersmiths at work making amazing cookware and went to a ceramic factory. We had done our research this time, and had read online it paid to look poor, so we had worn our best student clothes, and Andrew hadn’t shaven for a week. It was amazing how the merchants dropped their initial price and promised us special student deals. We left Fes with lots of souvenirs, pottery and leather mainly, and were pretty happy with our deals.
On Thursday we drove north to Chefchaouen, the blue city of Morocco. We had looked up the different ways to get there on Google Maps, and because it didn’t look far decided to take the road that went past a lake. Bad call. Turned out to be a Mark Bracewell special. 100km of winding gravel and potholes big enough to swallow the poor Sundance. After about 10 minutes of driving the suspension was never going to be the same again. We were pretty over the drive by lunchtime (according to Google we should have been there well before then) and stopped at a tea house in the mountains. It turned out that the place didn’t sell food, but once we had finished our coffee, the owner of the café, who only spoke broken French, offered to bring us lunch from his house “gratuite.” We had become pretty cynical of people offering us free stuff in Morocco, but we were starving so decided to along with it. He bought us a delicious chicken tagine, complete with bread, fresh fruit and some kind of yoghurt drink (unsure which animal this came from, but it was chunky and a little sour). When we tried to pay, the owner wouldn’t take our money, insisting that he would get his reward from Allah. It was such a refreshing and heartwarming change for someone in Morocco not to be trying to take advantage of us westerners. The next 50km towards Chefchauoen were through the Rif mountains, and the home of Hashish in Morocco. Obviously Muz’s experience teaching on the East Coast had refined his sense of smell, because he knew something was up before we rounded the corner. There were fields and fields of marijuana plants lining the valleys, right up to the roadside, and every person we drove past would signal us to stop and sample the goods. By the time we arrived in the blue city we seemed to have forgotten those potholes and were in a pretty good space….
Chefchaouen sits on the edge of the Rif mountains, and is absolutely stunning. There are lots of walks to do, and the town itself is beautiful. We spent the night and the next day taking in the sights around the town and especially the medina. Every second person we came across tried to sell us Hashish. The medina is gorgeous, all of the buildings, fences and sometimes paths are painted in different shades of light blue. We did a little haggling in the medina to try and use up our remaining Dirhams, and the next day headed back to Ceuta to battle border security again. Luckily we didn’t decide to try our hands as drug mules, the campervan was searched twice during the border control, one group of guys even climbed up on the roof and had screwdrivers ready to take off panels from the van. We were both sad to leave Morocco, but ready to get back to Spain.
The crossing was really good, and we drove north into the Andalucia mountains, this time to see villages of a different colour. We stayed in Grazalema, which is one of the Pueblos Blancos (white villages), which are famous in the regions. The countryside in this area is breathtaking, beautiful rocky mountains with valleys lined in fig and cork trees. Every 30-40 km you come across another village where all of the houses are painted white. Grazalema provided us with one of the best free camping spots yet, complete with drinking water at the local church across the road. On Sunday morning, we spent some time wandering around Grazalema, and watching some of the local children in a procession around town for their first communion. We then headed to Ronda and visited the Plaza de Toros which is considered to be the national home of bullfighting. We also crossed and explored the gorge below the Puente Nuevo (new bride). The bridge is an incredible feat of engineering, and Andrew was keen to get a closer look so took us on a mission scrambling down about 100metres of vertical cliff on iron ladders in jandals. The view was sensational, although Lis was less than impressed, especially when we turned the corner and were able to climb up a lovely wide path to get back to the top. Death-defying antics over, and still riding high on adrenaline, we jumped back in the van and headed towards Malaga. This week, we are planning to continue our trip through Southern Spain and start towards Barcelona. For the past few weeks we have been living off a diet of fresh dates, fresh figs and cherries, long may summer continue!

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Posted by Andrew and Lisa 12:15 Archived in Morocco Comments (0)

Week 10: Africa

Haggling 101 in Morocco

On Monday morning we left our camp at the beach in Gibraltar, without seeing any monkeys on the rock (Lis in particular found this very disappointing). We had been told that the best way to get tickets to Morocco was to go and see ‘Carlos’ by the LILD supermarket, this proved more difficult than we thought. After driving to three different LILD’s we finally found Carlos, but it was well worth the effort! Only 200 euros (200 euros cheaper than the cheapest price we could find online) for an open return ticket, all of the necessary paper work to get us through customs and they even sent us away with a bottle of cider and a chocolate sponge cake, service!
We stocked up on some supplies and headed for the ferry terminal where we encountered our first scammer – some guy trying to charge us 20 euros to validate our tickets and make sure we got on the next ferry. Luckily we had read online about these sought of ‘helpers’ and after a bit of bamboozling and confusion we just decided to keep on driving. The actual ticket lady at the counter was great and we were on the ferry within 20 minutes of arriving at the terminal bound for Africa!
It turned out that getting in to Morocco was somewhat more challenging. We arrived in Ceuta which although in Africa is still Spanish territory and after driving nearly every street in Ceuta we finally found the Moroccan border. This was utter chaos. There were people everywhere with totally ridiculously overloaded cars that would never come close to being warranted in NZ (the yellow submarine would have been a pretty modern ride). There are three steps to customs and luckily we had read online about what these were and what we needed to do – there was an abundance of non-official helpers everywhere which we managed to avoid. We drove right through the initial police check point trying to escape a particularly enthusiastic helper but luckily the official customs people were use to first timers like us and we found one police officer that was quite helpful. Unfortunately most of the customs officers were a little grumpy and spoke no English they worked on early 90s computers and made what seemed like a simple process sound extremely confusing and complex. After at least half an hour of interrogation in French, lots of head shaking, stamping and writing random numbers on multiple pieces of paper we were in to Morocco. The chaos didn’t end there. It was a crash course in tooting, driving in the centre of the road, avoiding people trying to sell us stuff or hitch a ride or random children just running out on the street to wave. We drove down the coast for a couple of hours and ended up at Asilah in probably the strangest campsite we have stayed in yet. We were unsure of where exactly the camp ground was but as we drove through the township we were chased down the street by a waving Moroccan man who directed us in to his camp ground. We were the only campers and the campsite looked as though it hadn’t been used for the last 20 years. One block of showers had no taps or shower heads and when Andrew went to use the shower in the ‘good block’ the shower head fell off in a cloud of rust when the tap was turned on. We had a good dinner of fried fish on the water front the owner (a great laugh and who went by the name of Abdul Fish and Chips) even chased a couple of the local kids down the street when they started to try and eat the food off our plate. The next day we found a really helpful guy at Maroc Telecom who had us a sim card and internet connection within 10 minutes of walking in the store, so far the most reliable and cheapest internet on our trip! From Asilah we headed south to Rabat, we stayed off the motorways which was an experience in itself. During the drive we came across people riding donkeys, horses, 3 wheel motorbike trucks, trucks piled ridiculously high with hay bales, cars with atleast eight people in them, all sorts of road side stalls and some of the most entertaining and hair raising driving so far! There seems to be a huge police presence in Morocco, particularly on the roads and at round abouts, police check points seem to be every few kilometres.
The two camping grounds in Rabat we had planned on staying were either no longer in existence or shut for Summer so we drove south to Mohammedia, a resort town that seems to have fallen on hard times. The camp was a step up from Asilah, it was on the beach and there were two other campers at the site. The next day we caught the train to central Rabat. Rabat is Moroccos capital and third largest city but doesn’t seem to be too touristy. The Medina (old walled part of town) was a rabbit warren of Souks (markets), merchants selling leather, ceramics, spices and herbal potions, carpets and rugs and street food. We had heard the merchants in Rabat weren’t as pushy as those in other centres so it was a good place for us to practice our negotiating skills. Haggling is a way of life for the Moroccans which strangely often involves sitting down for a nice cup of very sweet Moroccan mint tea. We visited the Kasbah where we sat down for a cup of tea and got suckered in by a couple of woman who grabbed our arms and gave us henna tattoos even though we were quite clear that we did not want them. It was a great scam because once they finished they charged us a ridiculous fee, our kiwi politeness meant we just paid and left angry at ourselves for being such suckers. They have become our reminder to be a little more street savvy. The Kasbah itself was quite stunning with blue and white walls and a great view over the ocean, river and city. We also checked out the Mohammed Mausoleum which was an interesting place but was also full of quite devout Muslims so we felt a little out of place. There is also a guy who stands on the first floor of the Mausoleum who recites the Koran aloud.
The next day we drove to Marrakech, this time along the highways, which had surprisingly low tolls, and were fast to drive along, but weren’t quite as colourful as the back roads. It was a hot drive. The van didn’t much like going uphill in 38 degree sunshine. We had to have the heater up full to avoid the engine overheating, so by the time we arrived at our campsite, we were sweltering and stoked to see the pool.
We spent the next day in Marrakech city exploring the souks. The taxi ride into town was pretty crazy, controlled chaos with lots of tooting, lane changing and hand signals out windows. We were glad someone else was doing the manoeuvring. Marrakech was a chance to hone out haggling skills, and we came away with a couple of beautiful ceramic bowls and some leather. The main square in the market was huge, and had monkeys, snake charmers, and ladies doing henna tattoos! People seem to be trying to make money any way they can here, they offer to give you directions, but lead you into shops where they get commissions, they tell you streets are closed for 'prayer' or that you are going the wrong way when you know you are not, expect tips for giving advice and are constantly badgering for you to go into their shops “just for a look” then barricade you in by blocking the exit. They are all about haggling to achieve a “fair and democratic price,” and all seem to have the same lines they use on tourists. A day in the markets is pretty full on, especially in 40 degree heat, and we left for camp that night exhausted.
We knew we had a bit of a drive ahead of us the next day, so got up early and headed west through the High Atlas region. The scenery was stunning, incredible geology, high mountain peaks, green valleys with palm trees among sheer red rock, where not even grass grew. We saw a farmer with a herd of goats in a tree eating the leaves, but weren’t able to stop for photos. Even out in the middle of nowhere there were people standing on the side of the road trying to sell us everything from quartz rock which they had dyed different colours to pottery and fossils. We stopped at Ait Ben Haddou, an old Kasbah which now only 8 families live in but is beautiful. It has been used for filming lots of different movies over the past few years including Gladiator and The Mummy, and is also used to film Game of Thrones.
We stayed the night in the Todra Gorge, again a ridiculously cheap camping ground with restaurant and swimming pool, with us as the only campers.
The next day, we headed for Merzouga, a town on the edge of the Sahara desert. It was our 4th day in a row of over 40 degree heat, but felt easily hotter than the other towns, and was probably around 50 during the drive with the heater on full blast to stop the Sundance overheating. The guy at the Todra Gorge camping ground had recommended his cousin Ali for a tour into the Sahara desert that night. About 3 different people stopped us on the way by standing in the middle of the road and tried to convince us to take their desert tour instead of going with Ali, but we stuck to our guns and were happy we did. Ali owns a hotel and runs tours into the desert. He gave us a room to use while we were waiting for it to cool down enough to venture into the desert, and we had the run of the place as the only guests. We cooled off in the pool, had some mint tea, then met Mohammed our guide, and our camels (Lis was very disappointed that they didn’t have names, Andrew was more disappointed that they only had one hump) and ventured into the Sahara. Mohammed was a Berber (the tribe of people in Morocco who were here before the Arabs), and grew up as a nomad in the mountains with his family. We spent about an hour on camelback and saw the sunset, before getting to a mini tent city in the Sahara. Each hotel owns a group of tents for tourists to come and stay in, and can be accessed by camel or 4WD. Mohammed and another guy cooked us a delicious Moroccan meal of soup, tagine and melon, we had a little walk around then headed to bed in our private tent. In the height of tourist season 40 people from Ali’s hotel stay in the same place we had to ourselves. There were a few other tourists with different groups, but we were lucky that things were quiet. The next morning, we got up at 5.30 to climb a huge sand dune behind the tent city to watch the sunrise, and had the dune to ourselves. It was a tough climb, and took about 40 minutes, but was totally worth it. The sand in the desert was a beautiful gold colour, and so vast. We climbed back on our camels and rode back to the hotel, where we were told we could stay as long as we needed, had showers and breakfast. The whole experience cost around 50 NZD each. Amazing and unforgettable.
So far, Morocco has been unique. There is such an amazing array of scenery, delicious food and some really amazing people. Our water intake has been through the roof - we must be averaging about 4L per day each. It is a very poor country, and you sense that a lot of people are desperate for any little bit that they can get, which does make it quite a tiring place to be in at times as a tourist. We have never visited a muslim country before, and find that we are constantly being singled out as outsiders, with strange looks, especially in the country areas where there are not many tourists. Every night, there are loudspeakers that drone with music and chanting from the towers of mosques which go on until about midnight.
This week, we are going to be heading to northern Morocco to finish our tour, before heading back to a different kind of chaos in southern Spain.

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Posted by Andrew and Lisa 14:07 Archived in Morocco Comments (0)

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