Category Archives: Morocco

Monty Python in Africa and a hot dog.

Yes, we have no beer.
When I leave Boujdour for Dakhla – a flat desert road of some 360 km. – a group of young men shout at me when I pass them, making drinking gestures with their hands. Do I have some alcohol for them? No, of course I haven’t. You can’t get it anywhere. Such hypocrisy. Morocco produces a considerable amount of beer and wine, and 80% is consumed by Moroccans themselves. To buy it they would have to go to one of the larger cities where there’s a hypermarchė like Marjane. They have a separate side entrance for alcoholic beverages (it’s o.k. as long as you’re not seen buying it). One after another these supermarkets are closing these departments to reduce alcohol abuse by youngsters, or so they say.

Monty Python in Africa
There are so many checkpoints, I forget how many. Most of them very friendly. After the usual and mutual courtesies, I give them a homemade, preprinted fiche with all my personal and vehicle information  and we wish each other a Bon Journée. Some ask for a petit cadeau. I can’t help but laugh at these requests, perhaps I’m missing something. Here you are, a grown up man in a somewhat loose fitting uniform, perhaps a father of five or six children, and you ask for a pettit cadeau! When I laugh they usually laugh with me and that’s it.
I had one gendarme who asked for a beer, another asked for some medicine (when I asked what kind he said any kind would do),  and a third one wanted my North Face jacket. All requests were kindly but resolutely turned down.

Monty Python cop

Monty Python cop

Just outside Dakhla this conversation took place at one of the checkpoints:

Police officer (PO): “You are driving a two-colored vehicle. That’s a first class offense. I will have to fine you for 70 euros.”
Me: “But officer, I know that perhaps the colors don’t match the way they should, and perhaps they’re not exactly your taste, but to be fined 70 euros just for that!”
PO: “So you think it’s too much?”
Me: “Well yes, I most certainly do!”
PO: “O.k., in that case, I could fine you for picking your nose in an indecent manner.”
Me: “But, but, I wasn’t even picking my nose!”
PO: “No, but that’s a second class offense and will cost you only 30 euros.”
Me: “That’s ridiculous!, I want to..”
PO: “Look, do you want to pay 70 or 30 euros?”
Me: “Well, I don’t think I…,  (sigh) o.k., 30 euros of course (deep sigh).”
PO: “That’s settled then.”

indecent nose picking

indecent nose picking

And of course I wasn’t initially fined for the colors of my car, but for the fact that I hadn’t stopped at the “halt” sign and instead crawled deadslow to where he was standing. Wrong of course, you should wait at the sign until it pleases his royal highness to beckon you towards him. And I wasn’t fined 30 euros for indecent nose picking, but for not wearing my seatbelt, which I was.

Directly after the checkpoint was a billboard which said: “Adapt the Dakhla attitude!”

No dogs allowed!
I plan to stay at the Hotel Barbas, 80 km. before the Mauritanian border. It’s better to start a border crossing fresh in the morning. The hotel looks grand with an enormous forecourt, clean rooms, good wifi, and only 18 euros. But Thimba has to stay outside in the car. That won’t do, so I drive on and decide to camp at the border. I park my car next to an Austrian Pintzgaur (the Rolls Royce among 4×4 trucks!) and turn in early.

Border crossing Morocco-Mauritania
Got up at 6.30 and joined the queue at 7.30. There were already some 30 cars waiting to cross and a double lane of trucks. They say that traveling is a lot of waiting. Well “on attend“, with fresh coffee and Eva de Roovere on the speakers (Yes!!)
There is a certain nervousness at borders. People get in and out of their cars, walk up and down, look to the front of the line to see of there’s any movement. If someone tries to jump the queue he is immediately sent back to the end of the row with a lot of discussion and expressive body language. Two hours later I have advanced 40 meters. Thimba is still very relaxed in the back, pretending to be asleep. I feel like getting out of the car and waiting outside, but the strong wind and the sand keep me inside the car. At 11.00 only 12 cars before me. Lots of car dealers scouting for cars to buy. Most of the European number plates (with African drivers) are game. I am the only West-European waiting to cross the border.
At 12.30 it’s my turn, at last. I’ll spare you the details of the inefficiency of Moroccan border formalities. What struck me most was the fact that they wanted me to unload the car, inspect every box inside out. They must have been suspicious because of Thimba, thinking she is a hunting dog (well, she is, but she doesn’t know that). I think they were looking for fire arms or drugs.
Between Morocco and Mauritania is a 3 km. stretch of no man’s land. Bad piste, but nothing a 4×4 can’t manage easily. Stick to the track (very well shown on my Tracks for Africa gps map!), because it is still heavily mined. Car wrecks as far as you can see.
The Mauritanian side is efficient and friendly.

“Welcome to my little paradise!”
I was welcomed by Nicholas, the French owner of Sultana Beach campsite, 15 km. before Nouakchot, the capital of Mauritania. It’s a great place to relax on the beach, spend a few days, and get my Senegal visa. Horses walking around, dogs, French campeurs (yes, even here, but in seemingly immobile, converted city buses), and a restaurant with a view of the ocean and an ever so weak wifi connection. For the Senegalese visa you have to register online, and you’ve only got 20 minutes to fill in the forms and attach copies of passport and other stuff. So after 5 time-outs I finally managed, and got a reply mail to print out and take to the embassy in Nouakchott.

Sultana beach campsite near Nouakchott

Sultana beach campsite near Nouakchott


Less is more

Less is more

I ask Nicholas if he knows a shop in Nouakchott that sells dog food (croquettes).  I’ve still got enough for about a month, but – like fuel – you want to stock up when possible. One of his employees has two sacks stacked away in one of the sea containers. I examine them briefly and we agree on a price for one sack of 20 kg. I don’t have room for two. Later, when I open it to fill Thimba’s food box, I see that the croquettes have completely dried out and that what’s left has been eaten by hundreds of different insects, who easily outnumber the croquettesPas de problème, and I get my money back.

Zebrabar campsite in Senegal
After a long, hot day and 400 km. (of which about 100 were bad piste), I was ever so glad to arrive at the Zebrabar near St. Louis in Senegal. Beautiful spot, good restaurant, kind people. Poor Thimba, she really had a bad day. It’s difficult for her to control her body temperature in these circumstances, and I can’t make it any cooler than it is. When I stop on the piste she runs towards a muddy patch and lies down in the mud to cool down. I barely manage to get her back into the car again. Come on, Thimba, I tell every African that you’re a chien Africain (which gets the most incredulous expressions on their faces), so could you please start acting like one!

a very hot dog!

a very hot dog!

What can I do to make it less uncomfortable for her:

1. Drive early in the morning. I usually get up at 7.00 so I can be on the road at 8.00 o’clock. I can then drive for 4 or 5 hours before it gets really hot.

2. Avoid pistes and bad roads. If possible (which it most certainly often isn’t!)

3. Don’t drive every day. Take a break (goes for me as well; seem to manage quite well so far!)

4. Wet towels to cool her down if necessary.

5. Use the insulation blanket for her window.

Still, it’s going to be a hard trip for her. And there’s always plan “z”: sending her back to Holland by plane. Her safety and well-being comes first!

Zebrabar campsite Saint Louis, Senegal

Zebrabar campsite Saint Louis, Senegal









Entering the Sahara fully geared.

After the minor hiccup with the gearbox – which had me grounded in Mohammedia for three weeks and cost me a fortune – I’m happy to say that I am now fully geared for the Western Sahara. I made camp at Tantan plage, some 15 km west of town, admiring the sun set over the Atlantic. Who’s bored, eh?

Img 1793

Lone Landy ready for the Western Sahara

When I collected the Landy from the garage and drove it back to Mohammedia, I heard all sorts of scary noises from underneath the car. I had the feeling I’d lose the box before reaching the campsite! Slept very badly, having nightmares of Landy’s falling apart. I went back to the garage next morning, as agreed, and all the nasty noises were gone. And after a final test run and a final-final check under the car I could not but hope for the best and hit the road.

The garage of Ahmed Rajali have really done a good job, worked extra hours, sometimes with three mechanics working at the car, and charged me 2.300 drh (just over 200 euros) for the job itself. Thanks, Ahmed and your mechanics, you’re a great team!

I’m enjoying my chance encounters;  that’s what travelling is all about. Here’s a selection of the last couple of days:

Trying to get a taxi to take me from Casablanca to Mohammedia. Waiting and waiting, no taxi. Clouds are gathering, and it starts to pour. A Renault Kangoo stops. It’s Sami, who works at the port in Casa and lives in Mohammedia. He will gladly take me to the campsite (25 km), just for a chat. What a guy!

A French couple next to me at Aglou Plage campsite. I just love their van. No frizzles, just the necessities to be on the road. They are musicians with a great knowledge of Moroccan and African music. When I leave in the morning, Christian gives me a CD that he produced with recordings of himself and several African artists. To listen to on my long journey. And I will, and I have, with pleasure!

Descending a mountain just outside Tantan, I am stopped at a police checkpoint. It seems I overtook a van while driving down and that’s a first class offence: 700 drh (= 60 euro). The fact that the van was almost standing still makes a meagre impression on the gendarme. I rest my case and walk up to his mate in the car, who starts filling in a form and again explains to me how dangerous my behaviour was. He asks for the 700 drh, and I hand over the four bills. “First time Morocco?”, he asks. I tell him it’s my fourth time in his lovely country and that I’m enjoying it very much!. He stops writing. “Last warning”, he says, and hands me back my papers and the money. “Vous avez gagnez 700 drh”, he smiles. I shake his hands and thank him for his kindness. Good Moroccan cop!


Of a friendly taxi driver and lousy Land Rover service

The friendly taxi driver

Insane Casa traffic

Insane Casa traffic

I’m trying to find my way in the hustle and bustle of Casablanca’s insane traffic, looking for Salim on 625, Boulevard Mohamed V. Salim is the dealer for Britpart in these neck of the woods, and Britpart in the UK has a gearbox ready to be shipped. We all think that with a Moroccan company clearing customs will be less of a hassle.
Finding the right Boulevard is easy but I can’t figure out the logic behind the numbering; it stops at 323, continues a bit further with 128, then there’s 378. I stop to ask directions.

petit taxi

petit taxi

“Goedemorgen, kan ik u misschien helpen?”. A taxi driver in a small red petit-taxi asks me in fluent Dutch if he can help me. I explain to him what I’m looking for and he offers to pilot me to the right address. I tell him I’ve got a name, an address and a telephone number, and that it’s supposed to be  garage. He gets in front of me, drives a bit, stops to ask for directions himself, drives a bit more, gets out and dials the telephone number, and after 15 minutes he triumphantly halts in front of 626. When I want to pay him for his excellent services, he won’t hear of it.
“Just tell them back home how good these taxi drivers in Casa are,” he says.

Land Rover ‘service’

Lousy Land Rover service from Smeia

Land Rover Smeia

A few days earlier I had navigated my way through Casa’s city centre on my own, visiting the Land Rover dealer/importer for Morocco and the Middle East. When you have all that on your business card you expect chique, especially in Casablanca. I was not disappointed. My vintage Defender surely turned some heads; not out of admiration but pity. The chef de garage shifted the gear lever  a couple of times and concluded that a) it was old, b) it was not to be repaired, and c) that Land Rover stopped making these gear boxes eons ago. I could have told him that myself. I explained that there were replacement gearboxes aplenty in the UK, for instance from Ashcroft. They kindly but resolutely refused to be part of this: “Company policy, I’m afraid. We hope you understand?”

5th gear update (Sunday 19th)
The gearbox was shipped last Friday and should arrive today or tomorrow. Clearing takes one or two days. With the very kind help of a Dutch Expat couple (thanks Kevin and Stella), my own garage ET Coevorden (thanks a million, Erwin!), I should be on the road again end of the week. Insha’Allah, of course.


Smooth crossing, rough landing in Morocco

Lost 5th gear
After a relaxed trip through Europe and a smooth ferry crossing from Tarifa to Tanger, happily driving on the péage from Tanger to Rabat, the car suddenly lost its 5th gear. Shock and unbelief. Well, unbelief: with  a nearly 25 year old Defender, even when it’s very well serviced and maintained as mine is, you can expect anything. The gearbox is still original after 400.000 kilometers and it was running well so far. Fortunately the box had not completely gone on me, and 1st to 4th gear were still working properly. So I limped to Kenitra on the coast, not far from Rabat, thinking that it should be possible to have the car fixed there – if anywhere in Morocco. At an average speed of 65 km/hour, much to the discontent of my fellow Moroccan drivers.

Kenitra – Mohammedia – campsite Ocean Bleu
My already low spirits reached an all time low when I arrived at the Kenitra campsite late in the afternoon. What an incredible dump, muddy, crowded, noisy, filthy, unlit. There must have been at least a hundred campervans, cramped awning to awning. What inspires people to buy an expensive motorhome, costing at least two average year salaries, and to stay in places like this – and enjoying it – is far beyond my imagination! Got up at 6 o’clock next morning to find a better place to sit out my situation. I decided to take the péage as much as possible, so trucks could me easily overtake on the left lane. 
Campsite Ocean Bleu is near Mohammedia, which is about 35 km from Casablanca. It’s right on the beach, has a relaxed atmosphere, and WiFi everywhere. The latter I considered of vital importance considering my predicament.

5th gear update (Thursday 16 January)
My garage in The Netherlands has been really helpful so far. They have prepared a shipment with a new gearbox from England. Having it sent here is no problem; getting it through customs is. I’m working on that now, hoping to find a local business that’s willing to take care of that. To be continued…