This day marked the beginning of the trip north. The route chosen had me leaving Sid Ifni by the coast thru Gourizim up to Aglou Plage. Here I would get into a short piste along the coast to Tifnite. In Tifnite I was to rejoin the tar, heading first east to the main road at Inchaden and then north to Agadir. After Agadir I would continue by the coastal road to just past Smimou. Here I would leave the main road into a secondary but tarred road towards the surfing town of Sidi Kaouki. I would then continue to Essaouira. Distance-wise, it was 65 km to Aglou, followed by 65 km of piste to Tifnite, plus another 240 km to Essaouira.
After a late breakfast (breakfast hours at Suerte Locareflect the fact that surfers and the like are not in much of a hurry in the morning), by 9:30 AM I was on the road and one hour later in Aglou. The piste to Tifnite was straight forward (just follow the coast) and not very difficult (I was in 4 wheel drive twice, and in another couple of times I wished I was in 4 wheel drive!) The rewards for doing this piste are the views from the coast and the views of the little fishing town of Tifnite. On navigation, two notes: 1- I chose to cross the Oued Massa by the bridge near the village. This meant leaving the coast at Sidi Ouassai heading a few kilometers inland to Massa, and then heading back to the coast at Rbat contouring the Parc National de Sous Massa. Some folks at Sidi Ouassai guaranteed to me that I could cross the wadi by the beach. I had no reasons to doubt them but, being alone, I was afraid that if I got stuck and the tide came in, I would have to leave my truck wrecked on that beach. Not worth it! 2- Near Douaira (between Rbat and Tifnite), I may have followed the piste into the little village for too long (as a matter of fact, I ended up crossing the village.) It may be possible (and more straight forward) to stay by the coast.
By 1:00 PM I was back on the tar. The rest of the drive to Essaouira was done mostly along the shore, on a road punctuated here and there by beautiful views from the coast (and by a few not so nice views of some places where the hand of man had made a mess!) Sidi Kaouki turned out to be no more than 3 or 4 small, mostly quite nice auberges, 3 or 4 restaurants, and a great beach! By 5:15 PM I was checked-in at the Hôtel des Iles in Essaouira. The hotel was a rather nice one, a lot more up-scale than what needed, but had a safe park and was walking distance close to the medina. On the town itself, what a jewel! The medina, the Kasbah, and the port, all in the old part of town, are well worth being seen. The remaining of the town’s old fortifications, including the North Bastion by the Kasbah, are quite impressive. (As a curiosity, Orson Wells filmed scenes of his Othello in one of the towers by the port.) All in all, a nice place to walk around for a few hours. After doing so, I had dinner at Chez Sam, deep inside the port. Fantastic! The best meal I had on the trip! After diner I walked back to the hotel, worked a bit on the log, and went to bed.
The little fishing village of Tifnite
Essaouira - North Bastion
Essaouira - North Bastion
Essaouira - fortifications by the harbor
Essaouira - the fishing harbor
Essaouira - the medina
. . .
Along the coast, north of Safi
Day 14: From Essaouira to Rabat (Sun, Feb 25)
This turned out to be the last day of the great circle by southern Morocco. It was not meant to be so, as I had planned to overnight in El Jadida, the old Mazagan during its days as a Portuguese fortified town (and the best example of Portuguese military architecture of the 16th century in this part of the world.) Unfortunately, I had to leave after lunch, without having a chance to walk around town! Next time!
As far as the itinerary, my idea was to stay as close to the coast as possible. In addition to the better views, I would also avoid N-1, the main road thru this part of the country. So from Essaouira I would go thru Safi, by Cap Beddouza, thru Oualidia, to El Jadida. After lunch it would be from El Jadida thru Casablanca and Mohammedia to Rabat, all still by the coastal road. All in all, it was nearly 460 km, all on tar.
As far as scenery, the part up to Oualidia was generally pleasant (with the exception of a short stretch south of Safi which is loaded with heavy industry.) Around Oualidia, some marshes start appearing between the road and the shore. It is here in these marshes (which stay along the road for quite a while) that the famous oysters (and a lot of sea salt) are produced. (As I crossed this area, I felt sorry that I did not have more time, as I am quite sure that it would have been great to explore around these marshes for a bit.) Afterwards, the road goes thru an area of small working farms, about which I felt quite neutral. Approaching El Jadida, the whole area around Jorf Laskar is foul with more heavy industry! From El Jadida onwards, there is not much positive to be said.
The drive was completely uneventful: By around 9:00 AM I was on the road. By 2:20 PM, and having had lunch, I was leaving El Jadida. And by 5:30 PM I was in Rabat, back at my friend’s house.
In Tanger, on the ferry waiting for departure
Day 16: From Rabat to Tangier (Tue, Feb 27)
This day was the opposite of day 2, so there is not much to be said about the road part (except to report that, yet again, the police was out on the highway in force, leading me to believe that their presence there is a rather regular occurrence…!)
I left Rabat by 8:50 AM and by 12:15 PM I was in Tangier (as a reminder, it is nearly 250 km, all but the very end on highway.) I fueled up, had lunch, and by 1:30 PM I was done and ready to tackle the ferry.
Given that I was heading to Switzerland, I opted for the ferry from Comanav (the Moroccan company) to Sete, in France. Foolish me! At the agency in Rabat, I was told to be at the East Terminal (not the same one used to and from Spain) ready to board by 3:00 PM to depart by 6:00 PM. I was there by 1:45 PM (being safe!) I finally boarded at 5:25 PM, and the boat did not leave until 8:30 PM. The process is not complicated: confirm the ticket at Comanav, do Immigration, and then, back in the car, do Customs. It just appeared that I was going from one unmoving line to another. (While going thru my process, I could see the people arriving to Morocco going thru theirs. What a nightmare! I could not believe that they were doing the same thing I had done 15 days before in 1 hour. They were taking two times that just to get out of the ferry and that much again at Customs! Commenting this with a fellow driver, I was told that in the summer, it is even worse. A very strong word of advice: wherever you start from in Europe, if you can, drive thru Spain and take the ferry across the Strait!)
. . .
Rabat - View of the Kasbah des Oudaias
The need to get back sooner than expected ended up having an impact on what I saw of Rabat. I had originally planned to stay 2 nights in town before heading out to the south and another 2 nights on my return. During the first stopover, the main priority was to prepare the trip. To the extent that I had some free time, I would play the tourist, but that was meant to be done mainly during the second stopover.
Things worked out pretty much per plan for the first stopover. I got some topographic maps at the Direction du Cadastre et de la Cartographie (Av. Hassan II, Km 4; entrance by some Ministry building, right next to the Centre de Transfusion Sanguine; note that the purchase of maps of border areas needs a special approval that may require up to 1 week); I got a local SIM card for my cell phone (no need to pay roaming fees); and I got some general supplies.
On playing the tourist, I spent a morning walking around the medina and the Kasbah des Oudaias. I also ended up spending quite some time walking around the Ville Nouvelle. In very general terms, the old part of the city, especially the Kasbah, is fascinating. And the new part is quite elegant, with an interesting mixture of new buildings with older ones, and plenty of wide avenues lined up with trees. The image that I got from the city is far from extensive, but I generally liked what I saw. What I did not see, well, it will have to wait for my return.