So back we came to Spain on 29th May 2008, but didn’t leave Africa.
Ceuta is a Spanish enclave on the coast of Morocco, and was a convenient stop off point to wait for the westerly winds to finally change and allow us to leave the Straits and continue our journey south.
Ceuta is a military post and a free port. It is one of five enclaves constituting Spanish North Africa (along with Melilla and three smaller areas). The city is on a narrow isthmus that connects Mount Hacho to the mainland.
Successively colonised by Carthaginians, Greeks, and Romans, it became independent under the Byzantines. Because of Ceuta's commercial importance in ivory, gold, and slaves, it was continually disputed until Portugal gained control in 1415. The port passed to Spain in 1580 and was assigned to Spain in the Treaty of Lisbon (1688). At the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War (1936), General Francisco Franco dispatched an expedition to Spain from Ceuta. There is a monument commemorating this but the populace seem unsure as to what to do with it. They obviously feel it should be demolished but it hasn’t been. Instead it is being allowed to decay and is surrounded by weeds.
Five centuries of Spanish Christian occupation have given the place a European rather than Moorish appearance. About a third of the population of around 70,000 is Muslim.
Ceuta is a surprising place, we found. It is 3 times the size of Gibraltar and there is a lot of countryside surrounding the city. The border is a little different from Gib and Spain though. The amount of drug and people smuggling from Morocco into Ceuta has become so serious that the Spanish are at present building a third high security fence all along the border. It is like looking at the Berlin wall! We rode our bikes along to the border post at Taragal and also along the opposite side of the enclave to the closed side of the border at Benzú, just under the mountain Jebel Musa, 2,790 ft high, which some say is the other Pillar of Hercules. It should be, as Mount Hacho is just a tiny blip on Ceuta. We walked up to the top of it one day.
While staying in the marina there we made new friends. Firstly Robert, a Swede, who had just bought a lovely boat, Clara, there. Unfortunately it had been lying unused for some time and there were a few things that needed fixing. We will never forget Robert as he kept appearing wailing, “Mike, I can’t turn it off!” ‘It’ included the engine and the generator! Between Mike and him they finally got Clara in some sort of shape and he left for Lagos to meet up with crew before sailing home to Sweden. Hope he makes it.
We also met two families in Ceuta. Sarah and David with Bethany and Bryn from Wales in Cape, and David and Valerie with Bastien and Morgan from France in Miti. Cape was heading east into the Med along the Moroccan coast so we left them at Ceuta, but Miti plans to vaguely follow our route. We left later the same day as them on the 7th June 2008 but we were only going to Tangier while they were sailing overnight to Rabat. The wind had finally changed and we waved goodbye as we passed Miti among a pod of dolphins. The wind was getting up to a Force 6 or 7 as we approached Tangier and we could see that Miti had changed course and was following us in. Tangier has not got a marina, just a couple of pontoons opposite the fishing boats and as we approached we saw there was little room. Miti was close behind us and we let them have the last remaining place rafted up against other yachts.
We started to think that we were not going to get a berth as we spent some time manoeuvring the boat around the harbour, until we were finally allowed to tie up alongside a pilot boat which was not in use. As it turned out, we ended up with the best mooring of the lot as the others were all rafted up on the end of the pontoons and were in peril of being hit by the dinghies towed by the fishing boats! We and Miti were so lucky though, as other boats were turned away in the following days.
Tangier has definitely improved a lot from the last time Pat visited. The innumerable touts and hucksters have greatly diminished and the shopkeepers in the souk do not try and pull you off the street forcibly as happened in the past. It is still a little dirty and rundown but the majority of people are friendly and we enjoyed our visit there.
The history of Tangier is well documented. When the rest of Morocco became a French protectorate in 1912, Tangier had special status; and in 1923 it officially became an international city, governed by a commission composed of representatives from Great Britain, France, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Belgium, The Netherlands, Sweden, and, later, the United States. Tangier remained an international zone (except for a period during World War II, when Spain took control) until it was integrated in 1956 with the independent Kingdom of Morocco. The population is over 500,000.
In the first part of the twentieth century Tangier was one of the fashionable resorts of the Mediterranean, with a community of exiles, expatriates and refugees. Writers were attracted to the city after the war and it was home to Paul Bowles, William Burroughs and others during the 1950’s. It was also the world’s first and most famous ‘gay’ resort. Most of the male and female brothels have now disappeared and the seediness is receding. This is again due to King Mohammed V1, who has provided much of the impetus to rejuvenate the sea front and main square.
The town beach is extremely clean and is popular with locals. We watched youngsters playing football and performing acrobatics one morning before having a welcome fruit juice at one of the many beach cafés.
We also, by chance, found an excellent small restaurant, the Restaurant Populaire, which only has one set fish menu for 150 dirhams. It is frequented by Moroccans so must be good. We had about 7 courses, each delicious.
We also visited the Tangier American Legation Museum, a former palace given to the US Government. Morocco was the first overseas power to recognise an independent United States and this was the first American ambassadorial residence, established in 1777. It is amazing the amount of spacious homes hidden in the tiny streets of the medina.
We spent quite a lot of time with David and Valerie from Miti and became fond of the boys, Bastien and Morgan. They are a handful but such fun and full of questions about everything they see. It must be tough to teach children while travelling but Valerie seems to cope, with help in the way of education packs from the French authorities back home. They say they will live like this until the boys are ready for full time secondary education in France and will then go back. The boys will be well up on history and geography by then!
We finally left Tangier a few hours behind Miti at 1000 hours on 11th June to sail overnight the 118 miles down the coast to the river Bou Regreg and the twin cities of Rabat and Salé. We got there at 1100 hours the next morning.
Rabat is the capital city of Morocco and we found we liked it very much. The new part of town, the Ville Nouvelle, is elegantly laid out like a French city, with wide boulevards and cafés. We even found a bar there where we watched the Euro football. Pat was the only woman in the place of course!
Rabat started life as a trading post for Phoenicians and Carthaginians. The earliest known settlement, Sala, occupied the citadel known today as Chellah. The Romans built it, their southernmost colony. It lasted well after the break up of the Empire, and eventually formed the capital of an independent Berber state, which reached it’s peak in the 8th century, developing a code of government based on the Koran but adapted to Berber customs and needs. It represented a challenge to the Arab rulers of the interior, however, and to stamp out the heresy, a ribat, a fortified monastery was built on the site of the present day kasbah. The ribat’s activities led to the Chellah’s decline, a process hastened by the building of a new town across the river in the 11th century, Salé.
On the arrival of the Almohad’s in the 12th century the Rabat kasbah was rebuilt and a city again took shape around it. It was during this period that some of the finest Moroccan monuments were built including the superb Oudaía gate of the kasbah and the Hassan mosque, which was never finished. After being sacked by the Portuguese, Rabat and Salé again declined, until the arrival of the 17th century refugees from Andalusia.
Salé then became the major partner in this twin city. The Andalusians had no respect for anything European, having been evicted from their homeland in Iberia, and also owed no loyalty to the Moorish sultans of Morocco, so created their own independent pirate state, the Republic of the Bou Regreg. Thus began the infamous piracy of the Sallee Rovers, specialising in the plunder of merchant ships returning to Europe from West Africa and the Spanish Americas, but on occasion raided as far as Plymouth and the Irish coast. One of the gates in the medina wall in Salé was tall enough to sail a ship through! The piracy continued right up until 1829 when Austria took revenge on the loss of a ship by shelling the towns. Both again declined until the French arrived in 1912.
We visited the great monuments, also the mausoleum of Mohammed V which faces the ruins of the Hassan mosque. The mausoleum was built to house the tomb of Mohammed V who died in 1961. It is a striking building, with ornately costumed royal guards on horseback and also standing at the entrances and on the balcony surrounding the white onyx tomb. There is usually an old man squatting beside the tomb reading from the Koran but he must have been on his lunch break when we were there! The Hassan mosque opposite, although the minaret was never finished, would have been the second greatest in the Islamic world. It was clearly a folly, as the capacity for prayer was for over 100,000 worshippers! It was used for some time though. It lost it’s roof during the earthquake of 1755 which destroyed Lisbon. (That must have been some earthquake!)
We visited the Jardins Exotiques just north of Salé one day and they really are a treat. They were laid out by a Frenchman in the early 1950’s and fell into decline (as most things seem to do in Morocco) until they were rescued and rejuvenated in 2003. They were grandly reopened in 2005 and are now a delight, snaking paths crossing rickety bridges across lagoons and more formal areas. There are different regional creations, including a Brazilian rain forest, a formal Japanese garden, a great piece of French Polynesia with summerhouses set among long pools, turtles paddling past, palm trees all around and the flash of bright red flowers. A delight for us and especially adventurous for children.
We visited the citadel of Chellah with new friends, a Moroccan family of mother Sakina and daughters Yousea, Khawla and Hajar. We met them after visiting the Medersa of Bou Inan in Salé. Medersas were a kind of student residence and teaching annexe for the old mosque universities. The one in Salé is especially beautiful, and as we toured the upper floors we could see a terrace of another building outside with tables. As we left the Medersa we met Ahmed, one of the usual unofficial guides who infest Morocco, but in this instance he did us a favour, for when we asked about the café we had seen he took us to the home of Sakina. We were made very welcome, and arranged to go back that evening for a Moroccan meal and entertainment. Mike even tried a hookah pipe! We paid too much for the meal, but Ahmed had to have his commission, and we invited them down to the boat the next day. We don’t know if they felt guilty about overcharging us, but the next time we went to their very beautiful home, it was as special friends, no charge, and we shared a bowl of couscous with the family including Sakina’s brother. Sakina and her brother both ate traditionally, with their fingers, but the rest of the family used forks as did we. They may have been being polite to us by not forcing us have to eat with our fingers. We wouldn’t have liked to have cleaned up the mess of couscous if we had tried it without cutlery!
As we said, Sakina and the rest of the family accompanied us to the Chellah one day and it is truly an awe-inspiring place. At first sight it seems to be another medina, with its surrounding walls and towers, but it has been abandoned since 1154, and is basically the ruins of two buildings, a mosque and a zaouia, a sort of mosque monastery. There are also royal tombs of princes and local saints. In addition, the remains of the original Roman trading post with a forum, a temple and craftsmen’s quarters. The whole area is surrounded by semi-wild gardens of banana, orange and fig trees. Overhead, in the trees, are a myriad of storks and egrets nesting. Truly a beautiful ruin.
We really liked the family. It is just unfortunate that the Moroccan way of life makes it necessary to use ‘guides’ such as Ahmed, (who wasn’t so bad when you got to know him). We’re sure that Sakina could well run a small B&B without the need for Ahmed’s services. Yousea, especially, was very helpful and spoke good English. She is due to marry soon and will be leaving for a new life in France. She will be a miss to her family. We wish them all well.
The best part of all about staying at the new marina de Bou Regreg was that it isn’t officially open. There were about 10 visiting boats there and the prices were quite high. A few boat owners complained and the marina manager declared that there would be no charge at all until the official opening on the 1st July! Some bonus there! We had been going to go further down the coast to Mohammedia and from there possibly take a train to Marrakech. When we realised that we were going to get free moorings we decided to take advantage of them and take the train journey from Rabat instead. We left for Marrakech with a Dutch couple, Ari and Maria from Summer Wine. We had met them in Tangier when Ari was kind enough to try and help us when we were struggling to get moored up.
Marrakech is the second largest city in Morocco after Casablanca and is VERY hot! Pat has been once before, in 1978 with Jean, but it was September that time, and didn’t seem so hot then (might be something to do with age, Pat!). We did find a good hotel online, the Moroccan House Hotel, which was reasonable in price and is not like an ordinary hotel. It has a traditional decor and is like a real Moroccan house. There is a swimming pool and our room also had air conditioning and a bath. A very rare luxury! It is well worth staying there if you ever visit the city.
Marrakech has always been a city of pleasure. It’s the place where southern tribesmen and Berber villagers still bring in their goods, spend their money and look for entertainment. The square at the heart of it all is the Djemaa el Fna, really no more than an open space in the centre of the city, where a never-ending ritual of story tellers, dancers, acrobats, snake charmers, comedians and circus acts continually draw the crowds. The performances are not just for tourists though. The largest crowds are of Moroccans, Berbers down from the villages in the mountains, and lots of local children. In the evening hundreds of small eating places set up shop around the square and the whole scene is amazing with clouds of cooking smoke wafting over the scene to the sound of drummers and musicians. It is certainly a place you wouldn’t want to miss.
There are many sights of interest in Marrakech but we only had two days there. One place we visited was the Bahia Palace, originally built in 1866-7 for Si Moussa, a former slave who had risen to become chamberlain then grand vizier to king Moulay Hassan. His son, Bou Ahmed, then became grand vizier and regent to the new 14 year old king on Hassan’s death. Bou Ahmed had attained virtually complete control of the whole state until his death in 1900. Much of the palace has been restored to it’s former glory and the rooms surrounding the inner courtyards are beautifully decorated with carved stucco and cedarwood. A description of the death of Bou Ahmed was published by a correspondent of the London Times, Walter Harris.
For several days as the vizier lay expiring, guards were stationed outside his palace waiting in silence for the end. And then one morning the wail of the women within the house told that death had come. Every gateway of the great building was seized, and no one was allowed to enter or come out, while within there was pandemonium. His slaves pillaged wherever they could lay their hands. His women fought and stole to get possession of the jewels. Safes were broken open, documents and title deeds were extracted, precious stones were torn from their settings, the more easily to be concealed, and even murder took place.... A few days later nothing remained but the great building - all the rest had disappeared into space. His family were driven out into starvation and ruin, and his vast properties passed into the possession of the State. It was the custom of the country.
This was published 20 years after the events, by which time Bou Ahmed’s name was already ‘only a memory of the past’. There is a certain pathos as you walk around the rooms of this magnificent building and think about the demise of Bou Ahmed.
We had intended to visit another ‘must see’ attraction in the Saadian Tombs, which lay ruined and half forgotten from the mid 14th century until they were rediscovered by a French aerial survey in 1917. They consist of two main mausoleums and more than a hundred more tombs spread around the gardens. However, this is when our story turns bad! You remember our telling you of the Grand Taxis in Smir and how you could flag one down and everything was hunky-dory? Well, in Marrakech and, to a lesser degree in Rabat, this is not the case. The Grand Taxis operate from taxi stands and you have to barter for a price. This price is never the same between two places we found, but we just accepted that the drivers wanted to earn as much as possible and would try and charge tourists extra every time. In addition to the Grand Taxis which can travel between towns, there are Petit taxis which operate within cities only and are supposed to use meters which should cost you no more than 15 dirhams during the day or 20 dirhams at night. Well, in Marrakech particularly, these drivers would just quote a price, vastly more than it would cost a Moroccan, and when you’d ask for it to be put on the meter, they just refused (one driver, in fairness, did, and the journey only cost 9 dirhams with him). Well, when we had eaten lunch the day we wanted to see the Saadian tombs, we realised that they were not yet open for the afternoon, so decided to walk to a nearby park to while away some time. Firstly, the park was further away than we thought, secondly, when we got there it wasn’t very good. All this time the sun was beating down and it was 38C! Taxis, Grand and Petit, kept stopping and quoting 50 dirhams to take us back to the hotel. We were getting madder and madder at these bloody taxi drivers and kept telling them to get lost and just kept walking and walking! By the time we got back to the hotel, Pat especially was not well at all. She had to leave the table at our restaurant that night and it took a few days to get over her heat exhaustion.
It was a shame that happened because it coloured our impression of Marrakech and really, it was our own fault. Even the 50 dirhams they were asking was less than €5 but it was the principle of the thing! We are pleased we have visited Morocco really. Sitting in Rabat talking to Ari and Maria afterwards, we decided that at least we were sitting in a real place, not a plastic place like some areas of the Costa del Sol. Morocco is not a place we would particularly want to live, but it was worth the experience, and the majority of the people are nice, apart from some of the taxi drivers!
However, now we had more important things to think about. We intended to sail to Porto Santo, north of Madeira, which lay 480 miles distant across the Atlantic ocean. Could El Lobo carry us safely there? More importantly, could Pat actually manage to do her duty on watch and would our new wind vane steering cope with the rolling swell?
We left Miti in Rabat but hope to meet up with them later in the year. They are travelling further down the Moroccan coast and then direct to the Canary Islands. We hope we see them again as we are missing the boys!
Well, we did it. We left Morocco on 27th June and arrived 1st July. It took 4.3 days to travel the 486 miles and it was ‘bumpy’, but El Lobo managed beautifully. Thanks for building such a strong boat John! Both crew were a little seasick but we managed the roller coaster ride OK. Read Mike’s Page for full details.
We are now on Porto Santo, an island we hadn’t really heard of to be honest, and it is lovely. A holiday island that Madeirans come to for weekends and during the summer. We’ll tell you more about it next month.
Bye for now.
Moroccan photos below.