Like Steinbeck’s novel “Travels with Charley”, our journey is unique:
“A trip…is an entity, different from all other journeys. It has personality, temperament, individuality and uniqueness. A journey is a person in itself; no two are alike.”
Some would say that we are well-travelled. 🙂 Aaron and I have been on six continents, and Mali five, we’ve had short, intense travels to countries near our own, and long draw-out adventures to multiple continents. In all these journeys, we have never done any traveling like we are now, driving our motorhome, dubbed Charlie, through many countries for an extended period of time.
While driving through Europe has had its intense moments, from figuring out one-way roads in small towns to missing major interchanges on the highways, these challenges would pale (like our knuckles) in comparison with what we’d face driving on the African continent. Our travels with Charlie in Morocco have provided a wealth of impressions both about traveling in this style and of the country itself.
The beginning of our journey began in our little blue Mazda3 driving from Redmond, Washington (just east of Seattle) all the way to Denver, Colorado via Utah and Arizona. Our impressions of driving rather than flying or taking public transport were that you see so much more- you have the freedom to stop when you want, to get a better flavor of a place simply by seeing the miles go by. This first impression of traveling by our own wheels across our own country set the stage of opening ourselves to new places: in this case, Morocco.
Morocco has a dry climate and very rocky terrain: plains, hills, fences, walls, houses, and even traffic barriers are made of piles of rocks. Driving along the potholed stretches near the northern Sahara, the only patches of ground that are rock-free are each township’s soccer fields. While they might sport dueling net-less goal posts, more likely than not the players aim between rock piles. While the landscape seems determined by rocks, other than the occasional road works, we have yet to witness people actually moving rocks. As Aaron says, “This country rocks!”
Obstacles in the road, or potential obstacles are a major source of concern for us driving in Morocco. Oftentimes, they also offer the most hilarity. Driving through small town Morocco entails dodging donkeys, people crossing or standing in the road chatting in small groups, children on bikes coming and going from school, mopeds, motorbikes, mule carts, local buses, grand taxis, tripod motorbike-trucks, and anything else you can think of.
Aaron is now a master at driving slow enough for people to get out of the way, but not so slow that we never make it through town (believe me, there is a fine line between these two!).
There are hitchhikers everywhere we go in Morocco. Men stand by the side of the road, either in singles or pairs, and put up a forefinger to wave a grand taxi to stop for them. For some reason, many believe we’ll stop for them too (we don’t). We’ve seen them in the mountains, in the desert, along the coast, in cities, everywhere the grand taxis ply their trade.
Grand taxis are generally found to be blue Mercedes sedans that are not considered “full” until they hold six passengers plus the driver. They are very affordable and as Aaron and I found out, you start filling them from the front seat first unless you expect to pay all six fares for the chance to hire the entire taxi! Aaron and Mali were immediately reminded of the grand taxis in Turkey, called dolmus, after the stuffed grape leaves, and so they affectionately call these ones “dol-smoosh”.
One of my major disappointments about traveling in Charlie is the lack of wildlife we’ve seen. We don’t know if wild animals are so scarce that it’s not unusual, or if sticking to manageable roads means we’re not in the right places to see wildlife, or both. However, our travels brighten with what animals we do see. We’ve been delighted at the frequency we see goats: with their herders, in mixed groups of goats and sheep, with their babies, and even in the tops of trees eating argan nuts! We’ve even had to dodge the goats grazing on the grass in the highway medians.
A major highlight for us all have been the camels we’ve come across. We’re not sure if they’re wild or domesticated, but we’ve seen them in small caravans and a large one of about 45 camels including a mama feeding her baby!
Another disappointment we’ve encountered is the prolific amount of litter we see out our windows. Plastic bags, especially blue, are everywhere there are townships. In particular, just on the outside of towns, we’ve seen miles and miles of plastic bags caught in the trees and shining on the ground. Every town’s Oeud (pronounce “wad”), or dry river valley, we cross is strewn with garbage. In the more remote areas without much civilization, and on the touristy beaches of the Atlantic, we encounter far less litter.
Although we frequent Moroccan restaurants several times a week and shop in the local markets, it is our travels in Charlie that give us an understanding of the economy of the region. Roadside vendors sell what is grown nearby. We’ve been through many regions now, and have seen vendors selling oranges, dates, argan oil, bananas, olive oil, straw baskets, and the traditional clay tagine pot for making Moroccan stew.
We have been well-received by locals as we travel around Morocco via Charlie, giving us a sense of how celebrities might feel. As the kilometers multiplied through less touristy destinations in eastern Morocco, villagers along the road would see our car camper, smile and wave. Men wearing traditional (Obi Wan Kenobi) hooded jellabas or slick euro-gear and waiting alongside the road for a grand taxi crack broad smiles and wave; women covered in layers of sari-like fabric or feminine jellabas siting under trees and waving wildly; children, most often in same-gender groupings, run out towards the road (sometimes into it and sometimes from even long distances) waving and hollering at us.
Only on occasions where we were still and the locals could get close, would their shyness overcome them. Several times I would pull out my camera, point at it, then them, as a gesture of request, and each time the children would flinch and run away. I have yet to take photographs of the children with their permission.
Our impressions of Morocco from the windows of Charlie continue to give us the impetus to stop, check out the local town, eat the amazing food, and learn more about this fabulously friendly country.
-written and photographed by Tammy