Week 31

For some reason, we didn’t really take to Tan Tan, so decided to leave the next day and made our way northwards again.

The desert road really is amazing, just barren scrub and sand, through which runs a single tarmac road, for miles and miles and miles. We seldom saw another car and it was really eerie. It was made even more so in the morning, when the desert was shrouded in fog, with the sun just a faint glow, made massive by the water droplets.

Each town usually has some arch or other significant edifice marking the boundary. In Tan Tan they had the marvellous idea of having a pair of camels demarcating the town boundary. They are quite a sight.

We decided to stop at Sidi Ifni which is a small coastal town recommended by Lonely Planet. It is really just a couple of streets, but it is a really bustling place. We were lucky enough to arrive on market day. The stall are all crammed into an enormous, easily covering a football pitch. Needless to say, you could buy just about anything there.

Josh set his heart on a laser key ring with 50 different attachments which shine (rather peculiar) images on to the wall. While these intensive negotiations were being carried on, I noticed Gary at the djellabah stall (the long, hooded, cloth gowns that the men wear as coats) he was chatting away to the stallholder and a European man. Josh did the deal with the laser key ring and we went over to see what Gary was up to. It became pretty clear, when he asked me which colour I thought would suit him best! To cut a long story short, “we” bought two djellabahs- one for Gary and one for Josh. I have to say that Josh’s one looked great on him, it is blue with a dark stripe and fitted him to a tee.

The European man was called Tony, and coincidentally only lives a few miles from us back in England, and, strangest of all, knows Farringdon quite well. He and Gary arranged to meet up in the Royal Oak, both wearing their djellabahs – should be quite a night!

The campsite was right on the beach and, as you can see, the sunset was quite spectacular.

We then decided to go back to Tiznit for a couple of days, before going back to the campsite at Taghazout to tackle the washing.

We had found another good restaurant to eat at, it was only small, but packed out – always a good sign! We asked for koftas, spiced minced lamb, that are made into lozenge shapes, they are lovely. There was a slight delay, then the waiter came over, and apologetically explained that they had run out of meat. So, if we had no objection, there would be a slight delay, whilst they went to the market to buy another sheep which would be slaughtered and then cooked for us. What could we say, except that would be fine? The boys thought it was mind boggling, that as we spoke the sheep was alive and well in the market behind us, but soon, well, would not be… It tasted great, and at least we knew it was fresh. I think if you eat meat, you can’t get too squeamish if the reality of having to kill animals is brought home occasionally.

There was also a marvellous market on at Tiznit. It was particularly entertaining, because the festival of Hamul (not sure how to spell it) was in a few days time and every Muslim household in Morocco would be buying a live sheep ready to be slaughtered on Wednesday, commemorating the story of Abraham and the sheep which God substituted for Abraham’s son. Consequently, a whole section of the market was given over to the sale of live sheep. The ingenious ways in which people found to transport their newly acquired live sheep would have to be seen to be believed. Sheep were crammed into cars, hoisted into handcarts, walked along like wheelbarrows, made to ride pillion on mopeds and some just carried in the arms.

The spice sellers were also out in force. There displays were so colourful and precise, they were more like works of art than market stalls. Tagines are made from a mixture of spices and these are often sold together. The way of showing them off is amazing, so I thought I’d include one on the website.

Josh was so enamoured of tagine that he decided to make his own. First though, he had to buy the meat.

The Moroccan way of selling meat is quite different from at home. The carcasses of the animals (usually only two or three per shop) are hung up either outside the shop or, over the open air counter. The head is placed just beside it. It is also quite usual for restaurants to display the meat this way. It did look a bit gruesome the first time we saw it, but really it makes sense. You can see exactly what you are buying and it would be pretty obvious if it wasn’t fresh. By seeing the head of the animal, you can see that it looked healthy before it died. Having said that, I was a bit taken aback, when Josh asked for a leg of lamb, to find that with the leg also came the lamb’s scrotum, I explained that I wouldn’t be needing that bit, and he cheerfully cut it off!! Josh couldn’t believe it, he thought it would have been good to try it, after all, he said, I am apparently always saying it is good to try different things. Yes, but not that different!!

The tagine that he made (with only leg meat!) was superb.

Week 32

We met up with John and Diane again and decided that we would join forces and go across to Marrakech together. The first problem was how to get out of Agadir, not that it is a big place, but we came in on one road and headed out on another thinking it was the original road. We went up and down the highway a few times (with John and Diane gamely following our every wrong move!). Then, we decided to ask a policeman on roundabout duty. Doing in true Moroccan style, Gary stopped on the roundabout while I hopped out and ran across to the bemused policeman, who sent us back the way we had just come from – for the third time.

Despite an inauspicious start, we did arrive in Marrakech that afternoon.

The following morning we all took a taxi into Marrakech and treated ourselves to an ashamed pony and trap ride around the town. It was well worth it. The sights and sounds were incredible; it was like having a real life film made specially for us. There is just so much energy in Marrakech it is impossible to describe, but it is full of the “good to be alive” juice.

Part of the ride, naturally included a stop at the camels… well it would wouldn’t it? As soon as the boys saw the camels, they were clamouring for a ride and couldn’t believe their luck when we said “yes”! I have to say that they were very close to changing their minds when it came to actually getting on the camel, as it then became apparent just how big they really are. You might be able to see the whiteness of their knuckles from the picture. Once it was all over, they thoroughly enjoyed!!

At the end of the ride, we made our way into the square in the centre of Marrakech. There were snake charmers, bare fist boxers, musicians, henna painters, acrobats just to name a few. Josh was brave enough to have a snake put around his neck….I wasn’t keen.

The souk is all around the market square and in we went. John was keen to buy a pair of shoes like the ones Gary had bought in Tiznit. Of course, keenness to buy is the one quality that the Moroccans prize above all others in Europeans! Once they knew that they had a serious buyer in the souk, the word went round. I have no idea how they manage it, we were only in the place for about ten seconds before a helpful “guide” appeared to take him to all the stalls that had shoes. We were led like a lambs to slaughter from stall to stall, watching whilst John tried on pair after pair of shoes and listened to many tales of how perfect the particular shoes were, and the largeness/smallness would disappear after wear, the colour fade was the sign of superior quality and even, in one case how shoes of completely different sizes were just what he wanted! Eventually he did a deal. Then the “guide” came back for a “introduction fee”, John had been in Morocco long enough to deal with that one pretty smartly!

At dusk, Marrakech comes into its own. The square takes on a surreal quality as the light fades and the place really does come alive with people from all directions, giving the impression that you are in the middle of a crazy, over the top circus.

If you are ever feeling a bit jaded, then I would definitely recommend grabbing a friend and a flight to Marrakech. You will either love it, or hate it, or may be both at the same time, but whatever, you will know that you are alive and will have a fund of stories and memories that will make you laugh forever!

The next day we were all exhausted! John and Diane are experienced motorhomers and know what to bring with them. They asked if we fancied a curry and about half an hour later we were eating a fantastic curry, it was so nice to have something different. I never thought about bringing a curry mix with me, but will do now.

Next, we were off to Fez. It is the spiritual capital of Morocco and very different from wild Marrakech. The old town is an ancient walled city that is administratively separate from the rest of Morocco. The residents do not pay taxes, but do not get any benefits either. The people live the traditional way of life and rely on the family and the community rather than the state for assistance in difficult times. If someone is so ill that they need to see a doctor or go to hospital, then the family and neighbours club together to put the money together, you can imagine that this would only be in extreme circumstances.

The streets are narrow and winding usually with very little natural light. This means that in winter the streets are protected from the elements and in summer from the sun. You feel as if you have entered another world, as in many ways you have.

John asked about the beggars (of which there were only a few), these are apparently from outside who are drawn in because of the tourists, it would be unheard of for a resident of the old town to beg, as the shame that would be brought on to his family and neighbours would be unbearable. He also asked about pickpockets. If someone sees a pickpocket, the shout goes up and the hapless pickpocket is kicked and punched to the city wall and then dumped at the feet of the nearest policeman. They don’t want that sort of thing in their neighbourhood as it is a shameful practice that would bring dishonour.

The Festival of the Lamb was over, as evidenced by the huge number of nearly new sheepskins piled up just about everywhere, that were being offered for sale.

Even though I was heavily into retail therapy in Morocco, I didn’t feel tempted, the smell was just a bit overpowering and I wasn’t sure that I would know what to do with it once I had it. I think they need to be cured or something, someone said you could do it by hanging it out in the sun, but I don’t think we have that sort of sun in Farringdon!

Anyway, as we made our way up north, sun was a scarce commodity, as you can see, one place we stopped at had so much snow, the boys were able to make a proper snowball.

Week 33

We then made our way up to Chefchaoun in the Rif Mountains a beautifully calm, clean place. We couldn’t work out why there were so many flags adorning the road into the town, from miles out. Then we discovered that the King was due to visit in a few days time and the flags were in his honour. In fact, his entourage was going to stay at “our” campsite, under giant marquees. Rather them than me, it was really cold, even in the daytime.

We had decided that we were going to have to go back to England to off load all the memorabilia we ( ok – I ) had collected in our travels and particularly in Morocco. This obviously called for a bit more shopping. We found a pleasant man in a pleasant shop and bought a few more souvenirs. Once we had agreed on a price, and Gary had gone to the cash point to get some more money, he began wrapping up our purchases for us.

Then, he gave me a necklace as a present

Now, as I have mentioned before, presents are usually available at a price ( very low, of course) or to make up for the fact that we would be getting no change, so I was amazed and enormously flattered when I realised that this was neither, it was simply a present. “When you look at this you will remember me!” Wow!!! I certainly will. Bowled over, I was. If we go back to Morocco, I will be straight back to his shop, never mind the homely feel of Tiznit, the sunsets in Sidi Ifni, the madness of Marrakech or the wonder of Fez, Chefchaoun is the place for me!

Then it was back to reality and the ferry back to Spain.

We met up with John and Diane for the last time in Algeciras and, rather sadly, went our separate ways.

We blasted up the centre of Spain, making a one night stop just outside Madrid, for reasons that escape me now, we didn’t feel that we had time to stop there. It was probably the thought of getting home, I think.

However, we did stop for a few days in Caussade in south western France. When I was at school, there was an exchange with a school in Caussade, and I stayed with my penfriend, Gisele and her family. I then met Claude and Michel and we have stayed in loose contact ever since. We decided to stop off and see if they were still there.

I knew that Gisele had moved to Paris, so didn’t have any expectation of seeing her and her husband, Gerard, but I hoped that her family might still be there. I couldn’t ring Claude and Michel as I didn’t have their phone number and despite Sam in England trying International Directory Enquiries for every possible permutation of their name and address, we couldn’t get the number. It didn’t look promising, but we were virtually driving past the door, so thought we would give it a try.

We were in luck. We found the street where Claude and Michel live, but got the wrong end of it. I won’t describe the embarrassment of shouting through the letterbox of a very elderly, very deaf, lady, trying to explain who I was and who we were looking for! Luckily though a couple were walking down the road, and they knew them and took us to the door.

It was great seeing them after so long. We went out for a celebratory meal the following night. Caussade is famous for hat making, and the restaurant also had hats as a theme, so I had to include the photo of Claude looking very French in one of the hats.

We made tentative enquiries in the Tourist Information office about my penfriend’s family and were told that her sister still had the hairdressing salon in the town. We went and saw Josianne, who said that Gisele had just left but would be back later….amazing news.

It turned out that Gisele and Gerard had moved back to Caussade and adopted two Polish brothers, who are now similar ages to our boys. It was lovely meeting everyone after so long.

There was just so much to talk about, I don’t think we paused for breath the whole time we were there!

Gisele’s mother lives next door and came over to see us. I swear that she has not changed a bit in thirty years!

The children got on like a house on fire, not speaking each other’s language didn’t seem to matter at all. At one point, I caught sight of Rory, and asked him what they were playing, “Cache Cache” he replied, and ran off in hot pursuit of the others.

The photos may not be very clear, but they are of us all having lunch together and one of all the boys at the motorhome.

Week 34

It was strange, but brilliant to get home. We met Sam at work and collected our keys and I think we all felt a bit emotional and we’d only been away seven months.

It felt very strange opening the door at home; the boys raced in desperate to see everything. Rory’s classic line was:

“Wow! We must have been rich…..we’ve got a toaster!”

With the boys upstairs getting reacquainted with all of their toys, Gary and I set to unloading the motorhome. My goodness me, it was a wonder that we were able to carry it all.

As you can see, we very quickly filled the utility room and kitchen with all of our stuff, to the point that you couldn’t actually walk into either room without tripping over it all. I couldn’t imagine how on Earth we had accumulated it all!

The first thing I did was to get the washing machine on and I think that it pretty well stayed on for the whole of our visit. It was such a luxury to just be able to get on with it all. All of our clothes and bedding got washed, whether they needed it or not! I then swapped out most of my clothes, frankly I had got fed up of wearing the same clothes day in day out and some of them had actually just about fallen to pieces.

We were only going to be home for six days and so rather than sorting everything properly for the next five months, we did it in between socialising. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many people in such a short time. We talked and laughed for eighteen hours a day. Perfect.

The house was in such chaos, there was no question of tidying up before anyone came round, we were well past that stage. It was more a case of dumping things from the table and chairs on to the floor, to add to the general chaos.

We were very grateful to be asked out for meals, it would have been impossible at home, for a start it wasn’t often possible to see the cooker, never mind actually open the oven door. Any excuse!

The children had been getting rather homesick and I think that it was good for them that we went back. They seemed to wonder if their friends were still actually there and if they remembered them. Judging from the amount of children who called round, their friends are still their friends. After a few minutes of polite conversation, they were tearing around as normal, which was a relief! Their bedroom was back to its usual state of chaos and I was repeating the usual mantras (in an increasingly shrill voice!) “Can you keep the noise down?” “ Calm down, a bit, someone will get hurt” Do you really need all those guns?” “Stop fighting!” “Don’t do that you’ll hurt him!” Life as we know it had returned!

By the way Kevin, I liked the beard and thought that it should be immortalised on the web!

Week 35

Driving down the M20 towards Dover, a stone hit the windscreen and took a lump out of it. At first it looked as if repairing it would be a simple matter, as we rang the insurance company who said that they would get it seen to that night. But, once the windscreen company realised that it was not a standard Fiat windscreen, it got a lot more complicated. Euramobil were the only stockists, so we had the choice of going back up to Cannock or to Sprendlingen. We decided that Sprendlingen was the better bet, so re-arranged the route to go there.

We didn’t want to rush there, so we headed towards the Champagne region, intending to get there by the evening, but the motorway was shut for miles and after endless diversions, after two hours driving, we were just ten kilometres further away than when we had left the ferry.

Then, it got very foggy. It was so bad that we were driving by Sat Nav and not by sight, as we couldn’t see a thing. The only way we could judge where a junction was, was by seeing that the Sat Nav thought we were 10 metres away, then pulling off. Not the safest way to do it. Then, we got lost and ended up on a track only wide enough for one vehicle with ditches either side. We couldn’t see a thing, so drove watching for the bends on the Sat Nav, it was very scary, but we had no choice, we could hardly stop,and we couldn’t see anywhere to park up. Well, we couldn’t see at all.

Eventually, we found our way back to the main road and a town called Caudry that had an aire especially for motorhomes and restaurant. We treated ourselves to a bottle of wine.

It was freezing cold and in the morning Gary slipped on the ice and broke the strap on his Swiss watch. It wasn’t a perfect start to the second part of the trip.

We headed on towards champagne and stayed at a tiny village, Villers sous Chatillon, that also had an aire, but unfortunately, no water as it had all frozen. It was bitterly cold. Just about every household produced champagne. In fact, in the whole region, everyone seemed to produce champagne. I had thought that it would be a few large producers, but in some cases, it must be at a cottage industry level. The whole place reeks of comfort. It is not flashy, but all the houses are very well maintained, the streets are clean and there are lots of flowers and plants.

The aire was just across the road from a small champagne producer, so we booked in to do the tour. This was quite unnecessary, we were the only ones there and all we would have had to do was turn up.

The tour ended in the tasting room. And although it was no yet 11 am, glasses of champagne were set out. As the boys were so young, they were only given half a glass. Watching them glugging it down, I did wonder if there were some rules about seven year olds drinking champagne just after breakfast …. but didn’t dwell too long on the point and got on with my own glass! Needless to say we bought a few bottles!

The weather was so cold, the temperature stayed sub-zero all the time. As if to compensate for the freezing conditions, the countryside was incredibly pretty. The tree is just an example of the general countryside. It looked so fragile and still, it was truly breathtaking.

From Champagne, we headed for Strasbourg, staying just over the border in Kehl, Germany, as there was a stellplatz there. The town of Kehl is nice enough, but you wouldn’t particularly choose to stay there, so it just goes to show that having a simple stellplatz does bring visitors to the town.

The boys loved it, because there was a field near by where they could have a snowball fight.

We went to Strasbourg for the day, and it is a lovely town. Unfortunately, the cathedral, and therefore clock, was closed for renovation, so we had to make do with the town itself. It was still freezing, so we soon found a very nice restaurant and soaked up some more French culture.