Detailing Jo and Duigs’ journey through Morocco to the border of Mauritania
We got the last boat from Algeciras to Tangier and entered Morocco after midnight. We headed straight to the bus station thinking we would get on the first bus wherever it was going. Basically we had no plans… it’s a good way to travel. There were no buses for several hours so we headed to a hotel for a few hours sleep and then got the first bus to Chefchouan at 6am. We stayed at the Hotel Bristol (14 Rue el Antaki). Unfortunately we had forgotten there is a time zone change from Spain to Morocco so we actually got there at 5am and had to wait! As we left the city and climbed into the surrounding countryside we knew we’d made a good choice.
Chefchouan was the perfect place to relax for a few days. This delightful blue and white wash town is very village-like. Most of the city is enclosed with old crumbling walls with endless markets, mosques, restaurants and people. We chilled out enjoying the slightly warmer weather from mainland Europe drinking lots of tea and coffee. Night times the place came alive with a buzz that can only be north African. We took on some locals at carim one night and lost spectacularly.
We realised we were never going to make it to Casablanca to get our visas in time as the visa office closed at midday on Fridays. So we headed instead to Rabat, the relaxed capital of Morocco. The markets hum here and despite a sad array of beggars and homeless, people are friendly and there is no hassle for tourists. It was the end of the Ramadan holiday and it was hard to find open restaurants and shops, but the market food was more than adequate. And we soon learnt the best time to get out and look for food was after 8pm. The markets then throng until about 3am, so it’s no wonder no one is about in the mornings. We stayed at the Hotel Berlin (261 Avenue Mohammed V, 70 dirham per double) which might have been a double for a brothel but it was also very clean, safe and cheap.
The great mosque of Casablanca, plus the name itself, were attractions enough. We also enjoyed arriving in style on the train which was fast and clean.
We stayed at the HI hostel (120 dirham per double) and unfortunately found out there was a public holiday on Monday so we could not get our visas for Mauritania until Tuesday. We met some very interesting travellers here, a nice Italian guy gave us his guide book for West Africa which was to come in very handy. We had basically no information on where we were going, it was not the most organised trip… and the book was to prove invaluable.
We headed to Essaouria next and thought we could go via train to El Jadida and bus down. There were no buses to El Jadida so we returned to Casblanca 4 hours later and went via Marrakesh instead. This exercise took us about 10 hours! We spent 6 hours in Marrakesh, enough time to eat in the famed square with the night market, spend a few hours in the Hotel Central Palace, see a horrible car accident and get on a bus.
This is possibly the most beautiful seaside town in Morocco and no wonder they filmed a movie here recently. We later met a South African guy who said he was paid 50 euro a day and fed 3 meals a day to be an extra in the movie.
Essaouira sits right on the sea with a huge fishing port and fort like walls facing the ocean. The town is enclosed inside crumbling walls. The streets are filled with tourist paraphenelia but there are some very atmospheric quarters, old passageways that pass beneath the houses, fantastic fish markets and a wonderful sunny winter climate.
We met a young boy in the street that showed us an apartment which had a shared kitchen and bathroom and terrace, plus its own dining room, lounge and bedroom. Only 150 dirham per night.
We ate seafood every meal, purchasing it from fishermen right on the water front and getting it cooked on grills in the main square. Marriage proposals seemed to come as part of the eating deal!
This is the kind of place you could end up staying a lot longer than planned. Unfortunately we only had a few days.
Laayoune and Dakhla
The push south to the border was long. There is not a lot of overnight transport in Morocco and we were often forced to halt for the night because of this. By a combination of buses and shared cars and some negotiating we got to Laayoune about 3am. We hailed a taxi to take us to the bus station to wait out the cold night but the driver would not hear of it. He spoke a little English and invited us to his house where we drank tea and slept a few hours until the morning when he drove us to the bus. Surely the hospitality in southern Morocco is unrivalled!
The journey from here to Dakhla took us through the barren reaches of Western Sahara. The countryside was barren and there were numerous police stops to check our passport and we were constantly holding up the entire bus. No one seemed to bothered. We were continually plagued by locust storms which entered the open windows and dived for us. Some of the passengers ate them or kept them in their pockets for later!
We stayed at the Camping Moustaffa 7km out of Dakhla. The owner was very friendly. He gave us tea on arrival and made dinner for us at no extra cost.
Dakhla to Mauritania
We tried to get a lift in Dakhla with any other foreigners heading overland. We met a French guy coming back the other way who had come with some Italians in a campervan. But we had no such luck. People were full or not leaving for a few days so in the end the guy from the campground helped us flag down a lift in a truck and we hitch-hiked about 80km to a cross roads. Here we attempted to hitch-hike again but it was over 400km to the border and in the end we negotiated with a taxi driver. The 400km was a barren wasteland with locusts everywhere. We even had to stop a few times to pull them out of the engine.
At the border the police check post arranged a lift for us across into Mauritania but the guys that took us dumped us in no man’s land with an unofficial taxi rig who wanted to charge 50 euro to get us into Nouadhibhou. We sat, smoked and watched the sun set on the desert, trying to remain unconcerned until a local passed and agreed to take us for free. He got bogged in the first patch of san piste and one of the illegal taxi men would only help us out if we paid him 15 euro to take us to Nouadhibhou. We had little choice. After a few more police check posts, sand pistes and a beautiful sunset… our guy stopped to pray… we hit the tarmac and made it to Nouadhibhou.1