Wednesday, 16 September 2009

She Says – Fear and loathing in Rabat

14-16 September
Peter had to take off on our second day in Ouarzazate to help some bikers who had had an accident and needed a support vehicle for the rest of their trip. They were already planning to stay with Peter anyway, and he runs a breakdown service across the country. Zineb looked after us wonderfully, we had wonderful food including the best couscous ever – melt in the mouth chicken just falling off bones, topped with a yummy, sweet, caramelised onion/sultana/cinnamon topping. Using the extra day, we had time to make sure the bike was running fine, the fuel tank repair had worked, check all was working OK with the computer and new external hard-drive, and create backup DVDs of all our photos. We even got the dodgy hard-drive to behave and got a backup onto it! With a lot of stress off our minds, we had some time to relax, plus got some of our clothes really clean in the washing machine! We had a great location in the upper levels of the house, sleeping with our door open to the terrace, and with an awesome view to mountains in the mornings. The rain held off, although we did get a few splashes in the afternoon.

Since we left Ouarzazate, things seem to be getting worse. Our trip up to Rabat was good and uneventful, taking around 8.5 hours to complete, including lunch and bum-rest breaks, plus a trip to the supermarket to get groceries for dinner as we planned to stay in a campground. We got hit with some good rain but nothing too bad. It got quite cold travelling back through the high passes towards Marrakech; I actually had to put on my polar fleece jacket! Who would have thought we’d get so cold in Morocco!?! After reaching Rabat, everything just went wrong! Traffic here is crazy, the worst we’ve had (though we’ve heard Casablanca is the worst in Morocco); however, it didn’t help that technically we were in rush hour. Actually, I’m not entirely sure if that applies here, the real rush occurs before sunset for end of Ramadan! The GPS wasn’t particularly helping us, although we eventually managed to make our way to Sale, the town across the river from Rabat where camping was supposed to be near the beach. With no signs to help us, we managed to navigate our way to the supposed campsite using the guidebook map and GPS. Yes, supposed, as we saw no sign of it anywhere! We had to complete our first water fordings, as some of the beach streets had completely flooded. By this stage, we were pretty sure the campground was no longer open, but spoke to a guy who confirmed it. He told us the next campground was almost 20km back in Temara, towards Casablanca. We had to pay him for his help, the first time we’ve actually done this, as we usually ignore anyone who tries to help so we aren’t expected to fork out money all the time. There’s only one bad thing with this, and that is sometimes people are just trying to be helpful to us and don’t seem to be after money. I feel really uncomfortable to always be turning people away, especially if they are just trying to be friendly. I hope it doesn’t taint the view that those particular people have of Westerners, as I feel so rude sometimes. But when I don’t know their intentions, turning aside all help and expectations of payment is the safer bet. It really ties my stomach in a knot having to deal with this and worry that I am offending perfectly helpful people.

We managed to pick up the quiet coastal road and headed back to Temara, by which time the sun was setting. After a while of not knowing where we were or how much further we should go, Xander pulled over and then found the voltmeter he had made to test the rectifier (voltage regulator) was reading red. Just great, all we needed was more problems! By this time, we were both getting pretty grumpy, so this didn’t help things at all. We worked out that we had a few more kilometres to go till Temara and headed off desperately trying to see a campground. We eventually found one, the staff of which were rather unhelpful but understandably Ramadan had just ended for the day. It was a pretty crappy looking site, and we had to scout around for a space that wasn’t covered in glass, bits of metal or power cable! As I started to pull out the tent, Xander came back from the bathroom and said we weren’t staying as it was absolutely disgusting in there! We hadn’t seen any real sign of hotels anywhere in Rabat or on our way back out of town. We hunted around Temara for a while, finding one place but not being happy with it because parking was out the front with no possibility of getting behind the hotel, when we noticed a burning smell. Xander located the smell to where the rectifier sits. Great, just what we needed. At this point, he remembered he had seen an Ibis Hotel on the GPS and decided we should just head back into the city, where we could get secure parking plus photocopies of our passports for the visa application. The only problem was, we couldn’t follow the GPS map, we got continually lost through Rabat, roads appeared where there shouldn’t have been any and turnoffs didn’t exist where they should be. I think we covered all of Rabat that night! We still didn’t see any hotels anywhere, plus driving at night gave us a few scares with cars coming out of nowhere and trying to pass us on the wrong side. Tiredness wasn’t helping either. Somehow Xander managed to get us close to the Ibis, and while we didn’t find it, we did find a Mercure hotel and managed to get a room with parking out the front, security provided by a guardian. It is costing us a fortune to stay here (over 90 euros), and the parking situation is not ideal, but at that point we really had no choice.

Worse still, the next morning we realised that we had to leave our passports with the Mauritanian embassy, and you have to fill in a registration form every time you check into a hotel and most of the time you have to actually show your passport. I think sometimes they are happy to see you are using a passport to get info and don’t bother checking themselves, but if you didn’t have your passport it might be a problem. So we booked in for another night, rather than pack everything up and cause ourselves a huge hassle trying to find a new hotel then going to embassy, especially as we were concerned the embassy closed at 10.30am from something we had read. Ouch, but oh well. We were able to get passport photocopies done in the hotel, and after a breakfast buffet (where we nicked some bread, cheeses and ham-like substance for lunch!), we dashed out the door and off in what we thought was the direction of the Mauritanian embassy. WRONG! Confused by the GPS, driving around in circles and quickly getting crabby, we dashed back to the hotel, dumped our bike gear and took a taxi instead. We got to the embassy at 10am and squeezed into the tiny visa application room along with a few others, getting our applications in just before 10.30am. Phew! Finally one thing went right. The visas cost 340 dirham each (roughly 30 euros), and it starts from the day of application, meaning we have limited time to spend in Morocco after getting the visa. However, Ronald told us they managed to get the timing they wanted by requesting a different end date – we have tried that too and will see what happens! We had no idea about filling in the form, consisting mostly of long-winded, unintelligible-to-us questions and all in French. Xander checked with attendant at counter several times, who wasn’t part that helpful, and eventually we got some help from a German family also applying. Hope all goes well!

After getting through the stress of our first on-the-road visa application, we decided to walk back to hotel via a shop for cold drinks and a bank. We have been having terrible problems with banks not accepting our cards, so it pays to try every bank you can find. Xander’s card seems to have a near fatal flaw, and has only worked a couple of times. We’ve no idea what’s going on! The walk did us good and calmed our tensions a lot. We walked up to the chellah, the old Roman city and later Islamic necropolis, which was extremely peaceful beside the franticness of Rabat’s traffic. We took a very easy day after that, taking advantage of free wi-fi, got our French blogs uploaded finally, and sorted out a few other bits and pieces. We even ate Pringles chips for dinner while watching a DVD, as we couldn’t find any cheap restaurants (in fact, few restaurants of any sort!) near the hotel. A cheap night after expensive day! So while we have not given Rabat any time or justice, it has left us with a bad impression from what we have seen – just another big business-oriented city.

Naturally Xander is very concerned about what is causing the new electrical problem. We are carrying a spare rectifier, as it’s a common problem on this bike, and will try to test it tomorrow to see if that is the problem or if it’s something else. Otherwise, we are going to head to Marrakech tomorrow after picking up our passports at 2pm, and Xander will test the wiring in a campground. We know we can make it to Marrakech easily in that time, as the toll roads have been very good and almost empty. They are definitely worth using and total cost to get to Rabat was only a bit more than some of the individual French toll roads we took!