To the Imperial City

We left Portugal early on Wednesday morning, and spent an uneventful morning cruising across acres of rolling nothingness – interspersed with only a few low forests and grazing cattle – to the ferryport at Algiceras.  Following a few hours lazing around at the ferryport, we boarded the boat and sailed out of port, past the rock of Gibraltar, and across the gateway to the Mediterranean to the Spanish enclave of Ceuta.  After leaving the ferry, we drove the 2km across town to the border.

The usual collection of hustlers and chances surrounded us as we pulled up, eyeing us opportunistically and hoping to profit from our presence in some manner.  Avoiding them, we got our passports stamped then imported the car – a process which fortunately didn’t require the ‘Carnet du Passage’ documents which had cost us so much on our previous visit to Africa.  Instead, a simple form, completed in triplicate and stamped into officialdom, brought the car across the border – one of the simplest I’ve encountered on the continent.  Twenty-five minutes after our arrival, we were dodging cyclists, donkeys, pedestrians and Mercedes grand taxis as we headed south.

As no insurance was available at the border, we pulled into the first town to purchase some.  This first attempt proved unsuccessful, but a second try in the next town, ten miles down the road, got the job done, and for the cost of 700 dirhams (£50) we were on our way, driving legally in Morocco for the first time.

Several hours of boiling, signless towns and twisting mountain roads took us to Chechaouen, where we explored the steep, bustling streets before heading to the campsite for our first might in Africa.  That evening, the Rover elected to play up for the first time; it wouldn’t start.  The engine was getting fuel and a spark, but wouldn’t run.  We guessed the problem was fuel vaporisation caused by the build up of heat in the engine bay, and after leaving it to cool down for a few hours, it ran fine, much to our relief.

Thursday was spent cruising slowly south to Fez, one of the old imperial capitals.  The drive took us through spectacular gorges before crossing rolling, empty arable land for hours until it brought us to our destination, the drives only real interest being provided by the exhaust mounting bolts gradually working loose, a simple fix with a couple of 13mm spanners.

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Thursday evening saw us exploring the labyrinthine alleys of Fez, a maze of cobbled streets and high walls where 150,000 people live within the city walls of the old town, twisted together beneath the burning sun.

Today, we’re continuing south, to Todra Gorge and the high Atlas, where the adventure should begin properly, with our first taste of piste driving, high in the mountains.  But that can all wait until after we’ve finished breakfast…

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