Day 259 : A Whole New World

2 April 2011

Ceuta (Spain) to Fes (Morocco)

A Whole New World!

High Point: Entering Morocco and taking Martha into her 5th continent!

Low Point: Narrow bumpy roads and speeding trucks made me feel like I was back in Russia.

No Point: Moroccan guy “Hi are you from England?”  …. James (Master of languages) Morrow replies “Ci” … Nice.

After 8 and a half months we had finally reached the African continent. Yet something wasn`t quite right as we awoke in the Spanish city of Ceuta on the very tip of Northern Africa. Ceuta has been a Spanish territory since the 1600s and in 1995 was recognised as an autonomous Spanish region in order to help control illegal immigration into mainland Spain. Moroccans don’t recognise the city easily and I got the feeling the crew didn’t quite feel they were on the African continent properly until we had crossed over into Morocco.



The border crossing was just a few minutes down the road but and as we approached it you got the feeling we were entering (Aladdin voices at the ready)… A Whole New World! The Moroccan locals flooded down the road from the border paying little if any attention to the oncoming traffic as we got a small taste of the general chaos that makes Africa such an amazing continent to visit.

All seemed normal when Steve got out with our four passports and the Carnet for Martha for Morrocan customs to inspect, yet in reality things were far from normal. It seemed that the customs officials weren`t happy with our fire engine coming into their country and to all intent and purposes we were going nowhere.  Not great when you have a Guinness World Record on the line that requires you to visit the African continent proper. Things looked even worse for us when the head honcho of customs came out to inspect Martha and after a quick look in the back gave us a very stern “NO”.  There was no one else to turn to and it seemed our only option would be to turn back to Spain. Then Mohammed came to answer our prayers…

Mohammed worked for the Moroccan tourist board and lives in a town called Tetouan which was around 1 hour from the border. He spoke great English but more importantly seemed to be “in” with the customs officials and could help us explain why we needed to enter Morocco with a British Fire Engine.  After some time talking to customs he managed to convince them to issue us a short term visa and entry to Morocco for the three days we would be staying! Miracles continue to happen on FTFE!

Mohammed travelled with us in Martha to Tetouan where it was market day in the Medina (Old Town).  Before visiting the market itself we were treated to morning coffee Moroccan style! Strong enough to make your eyes wince and thick enough to stand a spoon in, it made Spanish coffee seem like water but after the early start we had it was just the tonic we needed to keep us going.

The Medina of Tetouan was a complete assault on our senses. Visually the old town was a stunning maze of cobbled alleyways with white washed town houses towering above us blocking out the sun. But for seldom the satellite dish on a house you could easily think you had slipped back in time hundreds of years. The aromas were a bewildering mix of exotic spices, fresh butcheries with chickens crowded into pens ready to be killed and the nauseating smell of the traditional leather tanneries where wet sheep skins were hung to dry. And the sounds of the medina hit you smack in the face with local vendors all shouting out trying to sell you everything you might need (and plenty of second hand stuff you would never need! Check the video out for that!).

As ever with this expedition time was moving fast and we had a long way to go until we were to reach our destination for the evening, Fes. And so with Mohammed’s blessing we bid Tetouan farewell and headed south into the Moroccan desert… or maybe not. Now I don’t know about you but my impression of Morocco before I came here was that it was all dry, barren and desert like, yet nothing could have been  further from the truth as we sped towards Fes.

Driving through the Moroccan countryside felt like more like we were passing through Laos with green fields endlessly falling into the distance and the High Reef Mountains providing an imposing backdrop to it all. Indeed if it wasn’t for the amount of donkeys on the road or the local Moroccans crowded around smoking road side BBQ`s with whole pig carcasses hanging in front of them you could easily think you could be anywhere but Morocco.

For the first time since leaving Russia I began to feel nervous behind the wheel too. The road to Fes was barely wide enough to get two small cars past let alone Martha and a speeding truck coming the opposite way. As usual the approaching trucks seemed to not move off the road while evasive maneuvers were carried out by us in Martha as we had to drive off road to avoid the kamikaze drivers headed straight for us! (I’m sure I had enough of these guys in Russia!!)

By the time we got to Fes it was late and we still didn’t know where the hostel was, every time we stopped a local would pop up and offer to help us (they obviously thought we were going to give them a little money of course!).  Indeed one guy didn’t even wait for us to stop as he insisted on trying to help us from his bike while we were both driving along the outside of the old city wall. Bargaining at 30 kms an hour was an entertaining sales tactic, and if you ever need a direct marketing campaign I certainly know where I would hire my staff from!

Thank god the owners of the Riad Verus where we were staying came to meet us otherwise we could have never of found our Hostel (Riad). Being located within the old town it was impossible to take Martha to the hostel so we left her close by and walked through the medina.

Although Fes is not the capital it’s the heartbeat of Morocco and when walking around the old town it feel like we had finally reached the North Africa we had all hoped for. It was a crazy introduction to Morocco and really gave me a feeling of FTFE being an expedition. Although we were only just outside Europe and closer to the finish line than we have been in months, Martha and crew are feeling further away than ever.

Thank you so much to Leanora and Noureddine from the Riad verus who looked after us so amazingly well, it was a gorgeous place to unwind after our long day!

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