We decided to skirt Rabat since we were, as always, on a tight schedule, and exploring narrow streets towing a big trailer doesn't come all that highly recommended. So we kept going to Camping Ocean Bleu, beside the ocean in Mohammedia, just outside Casablanca. Down broken roads and through one of many half-finished developments, we parked up right by the beach to set up for a photograph before the sun disappeared below the horizon. Huge container ships and tankers came past, surprisingly close to the shore as the low white walls and palm trees of the campsite beckoned. As soon as the photographs were done, we parked up, the only trailer among about 10 mainly French registered motorhomes. In fact, the whole time we were in Morocco, we saw very few trailers of any kind. It appears that people just don't tow.
Over a few beers by the Airstream, we got chatting with some of our neighbors in the campsite, including a young British couple with a baby, who were just following the sun south in their 4x4 motorhome, and seeing where the road took them. Another Brit, Mark, pitched his tent nearby after riding in on his battered old MZ motorbike, which we learned he'd bought for #100 before setting off on this trip to the Sahara and back. The following morning, we made him a cup of proper tea and fed him Marmite on toast to give him a little advance taste of home. I have to say that, as he packed his tent away the following morning, while I read The Times on my iPad, I felt like a little bit of a fraud. By contrast, when I checked out the campsite's restrooms, I was extremely pleased that I'd brought my own with me. However, that was the only negative. We felt safe in the campsite; it was quiet, and the lovely chap who ran it spoke very good English and was even kind enough to cook us a simple evening meal.
Not long after setting off for Marrakech the following day, the landscape got a lot more spectacular. Although we were still making very good time on the toll motorway, which is too expensive for most of the locals to use and very quiet as a result, we climbed through some hills; and all of a sudden the terrain and the architecture changed. Houses were built of mud bricks, and small flocks of sheep were tended by lonely shepherds. As we dropped down toward Marrakech, it became sandy and rocky. This was it. This was what we had come to see.
Our destination was Land Rover's temporary HQ at the racetrack just south of the center of Marrakech. As there is no ring road, we had to navigate our way through the center of the city, which was every bit as alarming as you would think. Taxis tried to get into the gap between car and trailer, mopeds piled high with a full family and a week's shopping immediately dove down your inside the moment you tried to make a little space to swing round a corner, often from in front and behind at the same time. We were using our little TomTom navigation system, as even the high-tech system in the Range Rover couldn't be programmed with both Africa and Europe at the same time; it let us down and we managed to get lost in the rough end of town. We knew that stopping was probably a bad idea, but also realized that we could end up heading into the incredibly tight roads of the souk if we weren't careful. The stress level rose a little. Then there was a road name we recognized. We sailed through the red traffic lights in exactly the same way as the locals do, and 10 minutes later we were pulling into the racetrack -- and into the Land Rover bubble. Instead of tooting horns, traffic coming at us from all directions, dust, stray dogs, and piles of litter, the SUV and trailer were whisked away from us by calm, immensely competent men from Birmingham and Coventry to be prepped overnight for the following days' photo shoots.
Keeping with tradition, we got up incredibly early the following day to set out for our first location, the ancient city walls by the royal palace. As the sun was coming up, we even got into the middle of the Jemaa el-Fnaa, the famous square that forms the historical heart of the city, which might be a first for a sport/utility and trailer. Before it got too crowded, we headed out of town and up into the Atlas Mountains, which rise vertiginously some 20 miles south of Marrakech. We picked our way up ever tighter roads, and the character of the people and the terrain changed. The mountains and their people make a welcome change from the touristy development of Marrakech. The piles of litter disappear, and, while no means as wealthy as the plains dwellers, the people of the mountains give you a grave nod of great dignity as you drive past, something we were doing ever more slowly as the road got narrower and narrower, the hairpins tighter and tighter, and the drops at the side more precipitous.
And then we were at the top -- in Okamaiden, which is at an altitude of over 8800 feet. Apart from its small military base, this is best known for its skiing. While hardly resembling a well-groomed piste in Courcheval, where you definitely can't get a donkey to carry you and your skis to the top, we sat down to a magnificent breakfast of warm baguettes, butter, and jam, with the best coffee I've ever tasted in a pine chalet of astonishing Alpine authenticity. And then we drove back down the mountain. By the middle of the afternoon, we were in the middle of the desert.
We wanted to get a shot of the trailer next to a traditional farmstead - what I had taken to calling our Millennium Falcon in Tatooine shot -- and so we took to a trail and headed out toward a place set right on its own in the middle of the desert. As we came to a respectful halt about 100 yards away, a young man in a djebella walked over. After a couple of salaams, my Arabic was pretty much used up, and he was the first Moroccan we'd met who spoke absolutely no French. Happily, with lots of smiles, hand gestures, and pointing at Matt's camera, we got across what we wanted to do and he agreed and sat down to watch us set up. With absolute fascination, he watched us all dashing about like idiots to get the best of the light. I have no doubt that, had we had a few more words in common and in exchange for a few dirhams, we would have been allowed to park there overnight, but it's not something I would've attempted lightly.
As it was, we headed back into Marrakech in the dark, which is not something that even Land Rover's ex-military security advisers do if they can possibly avoid it. You can be barreling along a two-way road to find a totally unlit donkey cart or overloaded moped coming toward you. And, if you're not on the main roads, you can come around a corner and find a pothole the size of a Volkswagen waiting for you.
As we pointed the Range Rover north the following morning for an even more intense return leg, we realized how very doable this trip would be if you had a couple weeks on your hands and a spirit of adventure. Just one thing, though, if you want to do it in real style, make sure you do it in the new Range Rover with an Airstream behind it.