Onwards to Rabat and Marrakesh

The Old fort at Rabat - Long ago this Kasbah was also the residence of the Sultan, and today it is a historical site with art gallery and cafes. Picture: Courtesy of Norhayati Abu Bakar

Sunday, March 28, 2010

WE started the journey early on the morning of February 23.

The crossing from the Algeciras port on the European continent to Ceuta town, on African soil, was a stormy one indeed. Prior before the journey, I was already not feeling well, coughing and suffering throat pain for over a week; and the ride in the catamaran ferry was adding to my misery. Still, the ride was pleasant and picturesque, with the ship cutting through the rolling waves, the spray flying high creating rainbows in the glittering sunshine.

The sailing time was less than an hour and we were more than eager to step once again onto the African continent which we left in 2007 via Egypt. The border was in vicinity of Ceuta town and we drove slowly through the Spanish side of the border, passing it without being stopped.

Before the Moroccan border post, the ever-present touts were already trying to sell you some very important "documents" which are needed for the formalities. We ignored them and when finally halted, were approached by Aziz, an old, tall man, so thin that he would not need an umbrella in bad weather, as he could walk between the falling raindrops. With only three lower teeth left, he was worn out by a life of long hardship.

Able to speak four languages, he made his living by helping tourists gain entrance into Morocco, and drug pushers out of jail.

"She was a German nun," he told us, "and she came to get her brother out of jail. He was caught with 6kg of hashish, which is freely grown in the Rif ... to be more precise, in the Ketama region." "How much did it cost her?" "€12,000 ($23,000) for the lawyer. I was the interpreter."

The border formalities were fast. The customs officer took the green custom form we had filled before, and he saw my husband's name. "Your name is Harun?" "Yes ... I'm a Muslim."

"You are a Muslim?" "Yes, Boss." "You're a Muslim! No problem!" he said and promptly applied his stamps ... one for the front, one at the back, and his signature on our passports, and out we went. "Shukran, Chief," said Harun to the smiling officer.

Aziz came with us. He talked about his family life, saying that he is the sole breadwinner with five boys, the oldest being 35 years old. "Do they work?" "No. They only sit at home." "Aziz, sorry, but there is something wrong! Why do you not kick them out of the house to earn a livelihood for themselves?" "My wife does not allow that."

And hence poor Aziz never grow a body big enough to ever need an umbrella.

We got the Morocco car insurance in town, tipped off Aziz and drove into the evening, towards Rabat. Flags were everywhere and people were waiting to get a glimpse of the King, who happened to be in town.

Friday, February 26

We left Rabat and headed for the former "Kingstown" Meknes which was only three hours driving away. During our drive, we passed by fields of oak trees. One should note that it is here that cork is harvested and made to seal bottles all over Europe.

Meknes has a turbulent history. She was founded by the Berber tribe of Meknassa in the 10th century, and was later taken over by the Almoravides before the Merinides in the 12th century and finally the Saadiers.

Saturday, February 27

By around 8:30am, we left Meknassa and were on the way to Old Fez. For many local people here, this is the secret capital of Morocco. About 800,000 people live here, the very place where the first dynasty of Morocco was established. From Bordj Nord one could savour a splendid view of Fez. Fez was separated by the small rivers Fes el Andalus, and Fes el Bali.

In Fez, the Kairouan Mosque is one of the largest in North Africa and has space for 20,00 believers. She was founded in 859 AD by Laila Fatimah Fihrya who emigrated from Kairouan, Tunisia.

Attached to the mosque is one of the oldest universities of the western world, and the library dates back to the 9th century and has an outstanding collection of Islamic literature.

Monday, March 1

The sky was brilliant and we were lucky as there was no storm the previous night. We continued with our journey towards the south and by 9am, we reached the great sand dunes. Many of the dunes here rise about 300m into the air.

After a brief stop at the sand dunes, we were soon on our way to Quarzazat. The Angolan visa becomes critical at this point. If this is not possible, it might be very well that we might have to abandon our plans to go to South Africa, and to decide whether to ship Jambo from Casablanca or Europe to the Americas.

There is no alternative route to South Africa. If we try to cross over to the east, that is through Chad and Sudan, we might just step right into the rebel zones of Darfur, also known for its starving refugees. The Central African Republic in the East is a "no go" area due to banditry. Left is the Congo, there is one mud road, to cross west to east but coming into Rwanda. There we would be facing thousands of refugees from the Tutsi-Hutu conflict, and active rebels; and that seems to be too risky. Angola is our only option.

Wednesday, March 3

After checking for travel options, we finally said goodbye to Quarzazat and headed northwest towards Marrakesh. The Brunei Times