Tag Archives: africa overland

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…


“The world is a book….


My book box with room for more titles.

…and those who do not travel read only one page” (Saint Augustine).

Non-exisiting hotels, a recommended restaurant with a cockroach infested kitchen, or an undiscovered and unspoilt paradise with busloads of noisy Chinese. Anyone who has ever used a guidebook will have had similar experiences, when expectations collide painfully with a cruel reality. If – according to Augustine – the world is a book, does a  wellknown guide at least give us a few pages of relevant and reliable information?

Yes and no. If anything, a guidebook offers a quick, inexpensive and practical orientation. Very useful in the preparatory fase for a global itinerary: not to be missed, what to steer away from. As soon as we’re on the road it loses part of its up-to-date-ness. When a new and revised edition is published it is already outdated. Perhaps a guidebook is gradually becoming an anachronism with all the Tripadvisors, blogs and forums packed with recent information of travellers en route.

I still enjoy buying a new guidebook. As with all new books I fumble it, leaf through it, savour its smell, carefully break the back, read the editor’s blurb and admire the photographs in eager anticipation. (I also haver some guides on the iPad: practical, compact and light weight, a comfortable read even in low light, but browsing the pages somehow does not affect my heartbeat and the smell in no way evokes fantasies of exotic destinations).

I have a box reserved for books and the number of African guidebooks in it is reaching 30, and still counting. My curiosity (no wanderlust without curiosity) is especially aroused by Bradt’s guides of Sierra Leone and South Sudan, a country that became independent some two years ago after a long and bloody civil war. That there is a guide to South Sudan is remarkable in itself as it has no tourist infrastructure to speak of. Bradt calls it “the dark side of the moon” and “the lost heart of Africa”, but it is developing fast and “now is the time to go”.

I also carry a couple of reference books that should be in every overlander’s book box:

Chris Scott’s Overlanding Handbook and Tom Sheppard’s Vehicle-dependent Expedition Guide. Indispensible and highly recommended!

Chris Scott, Overlanders Handbook

Chris Scott, Overlanders’ Handbook

Tom Sheppard, Vehicle-dependent Expedition Guide

Tom Sheppard, Vehicle-dependent Expedition Guide


Overlanding with a dog: Sudan-Egypt border

There’s one border that Thimba will have to tackle all on her own: the border between Sudan and Egypt. It can only be crossed with a passenger ferry on Lake Nasser. The cars are transported on a separate barge. Dogs are not allowed on the passenger ferry, so Thimba will be stuck on the barge with the car for a couple of days. Of course I’ll arrange and pay for a fixer to look after her during the crossing, but the idea of leaving her in the hands of complete stranger for a couple of days is unsettling, to say the least!

To make sure that she is securely fastened on a lead I have bought a Julius K9 harness for her. Tried it out on a walk today and it looks comfortable and very sturdy.

I haven’t been able to find many examples of overlanders who took their dog. I know of a Dutch couple who travelled all the way to Cape Town and back to Europe with their German Shepherd. In a VW T2 Transporter! And Lucy and Lachlan who are travelling the world with their stray dog BowWow. So if you have any experiences yourself – or if you have any thoughts, suggestions, advice on travelling with a dog (in Africa), please let me know (use the reply link under the title of this post).

Thimba harnassed for the Sudan-Egypt border

Thimba harnassed for the Sudan-Egypt border