Marrakesh – Kinitra (226 Miles)
We had hoped that after a sleepless night the previous evening, with a pretty ‘full on’ day taking in the sights and sounds of Marrakesh, that we would have slept well, we didn’t ! Whilst the Campsite was very conveniently placed for visiting the city, especially with a shuttle bus service, the noise from the busy main road was relentless and we had another very disturbed and restless night. We were in no particular rush to depart the following morning, we had discussed our options, we could make our way to ‘Schirat‘ for an overnight stop and then cut across to visit both ‘Fes‘ and ‘Mechnes‘ before heading for the Port at ‘Tanger Med’ a few days later. Or we could go from Schirat, have another overnight stop at ‘Assilah‘ then go straight to the Port and get our ferry back to Spain, back to life in a modern twenty-first century Europe. Reminds me of that song “Back to life, Back to reality.………” and that is exactly how we were feeling about Morocco, the majority of the people were extremely friendly and helpful, Agadir was great because parts of it were modern, due to it being a popular Winter Sun tourist resort, but also, for the same reason, it was very ‘Westernised’. The rest of Morocco, well I should really say, the very small part that ‘we‘ have experienced, was exactly as I knew it would be. I guess you travel to places and either love them or hate them, we didn’t hate Morocco but it didn’t do anything to change my mind about it. Shazza wanted to visit this Country, but even she has decided that once is enough, we were as one on this and glad to have at least ‘ticked‘ it off our ‘Places To Go List‘ but we are not planning on a re-visit. So, we had made our decision, or at least ‘I’ thought we had agreed a plan, two nightstops and then back on the boat.
We had opted to stick to the very good Motorway route, certainly not the most scenic but it was fast. Shazza doesn’t normally ask me ‘How we are doing for time’ when we are on the road, unless we have a particular time to get somewhere that is, but she had asked me that same question at least three times in the first hour !! I knew that she was already thinking up a ‘Plan B’ but just hadn’t told me what it was yet. I preempted her, I just know her so well, she, like me, just wanted to get back to Spain so I knew she was probably thinking of missing out the night stop at Schirat and heading straight for ‘Assilah’, then we would only be Fifty miles or so away from the Port and a late morning sailing the following day !! I suggested to her that this is what she was thinking, but I was wrong, she only suggested that we drive all the way to the Port and catch the night ferry !! I knew she was being serious when she offered to do some of the driving. We were making pretty good time, but it would be a non-stop journey of nearly Four Hundred miles !! We had planned to stop on the Motorway to refuel just before ‘Rabat’ not far from Schirat, so that would mean that with a full tank of fuel we could make the Port easily without having to stop again, so ‘Plan B’ it was, I adjusted the ‘cruise control’ from 55mph to 60mph, not a huge difference but it would eat up the miles a bit faster. We reached our scheduled Motorway Service Station just South of Rabat as planned, it was one of the ‘Afriquia‘ fuel stations so I was happy that it was one of the three ‘Recommended‘ ones, I told them to fill her up and we were soon on our way again. We had only driven about 20 miles when the engine suddenly just lost power and we came to a smooth but unscheduled halt on the hard shoulder !! I checked my temperature gauge, it read ‘normal’ but I noticed the small ‘Amber’ engine symbol had come on, on the dashboard instrumentation. I re-started the engine, there was no resistance and ‘Big Momma’ burst into life again, she ‘revved‘ up okay but the Amber light was still on. We managed to drive just a mile or two more and the same thing happened again, I was now concerned, I ruled out dirt in the ‘carburetor‘ because although not mechanically astute I did know that ‘Diesel‘ engines do not have such things. However, in the absence of any dashboard instrumentation giving me any clues and the coincidence that this had just happened since I had refueled, it could only mean one thing, we had been ‘Contaminated In Africa’, bad fuel !! There was nothing I could do except try to limp my way to the nearest town or the next Motorway service station, whichever came first. It just so happened to be both, at the exit slip road to a town called ‘Kinitra‘ there was a ‘SHELL‘ service station and as luck would have it there was a ‘Breakdown Recovery’ truck parked on the forecourt. I parked up and made my way over to a Moroccan chap who was sat inside said truck, unfortunately he couldn’t speak a word of English, and so just in case I havent mentioned this before in these ramblings, I very strongly suggest to anyone thinking of coming to Morocco to brush up on their ‘French‘, or if a bit more adventurous, ‘Moroccan’ but not ‘Arabic’ as it is different !! Anyway, back to the developing nightmare !!
As luck would have it, the Moroccan chap knew that one of the male service station attendants could speak English so he told me to wait by my van and he would bring him across to me. I was introduced to ‘Dris‘, probably in his Mid to late Twenties but more importantly he spoke, and understood, English. I went through the story and both he and the Moroccan chap both agreed that it was most likely to be ‘Contaminated Fuel’. Dris, albeit very helpful, was not a mechanic, he simply suggested that he could empty my fuel tank and re-fill it with clean fuel, however, the Moroccan chap, albeit just a ‘tow truck’ driver and also not a mechanic, suggested that the ‘bad fuel’ may have damaged the ‘Fuel Injectors’ and that it would be better to get a garage to check out my vehicle. Now this made a lot of sense to me, but what didn’t make sense was that he, the Moroccan chap suggested that I follow ‘Dris’, who would take me to the garage, rather than he, the Moroccan chap, with a tow truck, taking me there himself !! I was more than a little nervous, ‘Big Momma’ keeping cutting out on me was bad enough, but to then have to follow a total stranger into an unknown Moroccan town was another thing, but what choice did I have ? I followed Dris into the town, the engine cut out on two or three occasions during the relatively short journey, however it was busy and Moroccans are not patient people so there was much sounding of horns, flaying arm gestures and a few choice Moroccan words, fortunately I couldn’t understand the verbal abuse but suffice to say I didn’t need to, their body language and gesticulations were easy to understand !! Then my worst nightmares, well another one to add to the growing list, Dris turned into the narrow maze of back streets, vehicles abandoned in the street, pedestrians coming at me from all directions, I knew at that very moment that I hadn’t brought enough brown trousers to cope with this !! Now you need to get out of your minds, nice modern garages with largish forecourts and you need to picture dusty pot holed back streets, where a garage is merely a hole in the wall, a crude corrugated iron door and motor vehicles and parts strewn all around, I told Shazza to stay in the van and lock the doors, we had attracted a lot of attention and crowds were gathering. I won’t say that we feared for our safety but more that in the short time we were parked here I reckoned this lot would have been quite proficient at stripping ‘Big Momma’ right down to her chassis !! Dris spoke to a man who I assumed was the owner, then he returned and told me that this man had no experience on such vehicles but would take us to an auto-electrician who had a ‘Diagnostics Device’. I was following Dris, who seemed to forget that his car was smaller and narrower than ‘Big Momma’, back along narrow side roads to another ‘hole in the wall’ establishment. The man with the hand-held device plugged it into the relevant ‘USB Port‘ under the dashboard, spoke to Dris and then relieved me of 150 Dirham (€14.14 or £11.52) for the thirty-second use of his ‘technology‘. I am not sure whether something got lost in the translation but Dris informed me that the diagnostic check had reported a fault with the ‘carburetor‘, just for a nano second I did consider asking Dris to ask the man with the ‘device’ if he could show me where this faulty carburetor was located considering that my van didn’t have such a thing, but then I thought better of it. So onto the next ‘hole in the wall’ establishment, no less than a Diesel Engine specialist !! His ‘Specialist’ skills comprised, lifting the bonnet, starting the engine, looking inquisitively inside the engine, walking to the side of the van and placing his hand over the exhaust, then pouring a bottle of ‘STP Diesel Fuel Treatment and Injector Treatment’ into the tank containing the Contaminated fuel ? Perhaps I could become a Diesel Engine Specialist as it doesn’t seem particularly technical, well not in Morocco at least !! He told me, via Dris, to run the van for a little while, once the STP had mixed with the fuel it should be okay, then he relieved me of 100 Dirham (€9.43 or £7.68). We got about 200 metres when the engine cut out again, so back to Mr diesel Engine specialist !! This time he removed the ‘Injector Pipes’, got a high pressure air hose and blew air through each one, presumably in the belief that they may be blocked and this would clear it, well who am I to question the practices of a Specialist, after all, I was still under apprenticeship and had not yet removed the screw top from a single bottle of STP !! Once he had re-connected the pipes he attempted to relieve me of a further 400 Dirham but this time I stood my ground and told him that I could have got ‘more’ pressurised air for just 10 Dirham at any service station, so we agreed on 100 Dirham instead. Morning and afternoon had now turned into early evening and I was in no mood to press on to the port. Dris knew of a Campsite on the outskirts of the town and told us to follow him there, which we did willingly as it was now rush hour in down town Kinitra and we didn’t have a clue where we were, I have to say that ‘Big Momma’ didn’t give even the slightest cough.
We felt that we needed to give Dris some money for his trouble, he had left his work to assist us, he had guided us around Kinitra and served as an excellent translator so we felt he, more than any of the others, richly deserved a financial reward. Once he had delivered us safely to the Campsite I suggested to Dris that we would like to give him some sort of payment for his most generous assistance, he suggested that perhaps after he had finished work at 8pm that he could come and have a beer or two with us so we agreed to meet him at the site entrance at 8:15pm. To cut an already very long story short, I waited at the entrance from 8:10pm until 9:15pm, Dris never showed !!
Kinitra – Tanger Med (169 Miles)
The Campsite was full of French Motorhomes, and a handful of Dutch, and at only 60 Dirham per night (€5.65 or £4.61) inclusive of all the usual facilities, including Electric and WiFi, it was a welcome nightstop. So our return to Spain had been delayed by Twenty-four hours, we could live with that.
Another sleepless night, why is it that all these Campsites have nightclubs at the back of them ? Even the dogs didn’t enjoy the music and appeared to be in competition to drown out the noise !! Another morning of waking up tired but we needed to get a ‘wiggle‘ on as Spain was beckoning us more and more. To our relief ‘Big Momma’ started on the first time of asking, but we had driven no more than a couple of Miles, we were in the morning rush hour and on the dual carriageway out-of-town and then ‘Big Momma’ just died on us and this time she refused to re-start !! Now I really was in the proverbial ‘brown stuff‘ as there was no Dris on hand to help me out of this one, no RAC Breakdown number to call, our European Cover did not include Morocco. There was nothing for it, I left Shazza in the van and I started to make my way back into the town to find a garage! the problem arose when I came to a roundabout, it was pointless going back down the road I had just driven up because I already knew that there was no garage down there, but do I go left or right ? I did neither, instead I stopped a young woman dressed in Western clothes and asked if she spoke English, which fortunately she did, well enough to understand my problem but not enough to know what to do about it. She in turn stopped a passing youngish Moroccan man, dressed in a Berber cloak, and they conversed in Moroccan. He made a phone call on his mobile phone and then, through the young woman, told me that he had called a tow truck. I thanked the young woman for her assistance and she then left to go and do whatever it was that she was going to do before I had accosted her, the Moroccan man walked back to the van with me until the tow truck arrived. Now this was no smart-looking ‘Breakdown Vehicle’, this was a very old battered Landrover, but it did at least have roof mounted Amber flashing lights, well right now beggars can’t be choosers. They attached a rusty old chain to ‘Big Mommas’ towing eye and one of the two men told me that he would sit behind the steering wheel, there was no power steering but he did a good job of following the Landrover as it just turned right across all four lanes of the carriageway and we headed back into the town, if I hadn’t felt that it would have been considered disrespectful I would have covered my eyes !! How he got ‘Big Momma’ around some of the corners and down narrow streets I will never know, more luck than judgement I think. We ended up in what looked like a less than salubrious part of town, outside a garage that had numerous cars, parked outside on the roadside in all sorts of different states of repair with ‘mechanics‘ working in them as well as under them. The tow truck people disconnected me from them, spoke to the garage owner and then before leaving, relieved me of 500 Dirham (€47.13 or £38.41). The next thing I knew ‘Big Momma’ had been assigned one ‘Mechanic‘ and ‘five’ observers, all of whom made so many ‘oohs and Aahs‘ when they looked under the bonnet that you would have thought that they were looking at a space ship that had just landed !! well actually it was six observers if you include me, although I wasn’t so much an observer as a security guard ensuring that they didn’t start dismantling parts and walking off with them !! Never one to let a foreign language get in the way of having a conversation, I soon learnt that my ‘assigned mechanic‘ was called ‘Mustafa‘, the Moroccan equivalent of ‘John‘ or ‘Dave‘ and he was their Diesel engine specialist, well he was once I had lent him ‘my‘ socket set ! There was no technology in evidence here, no fancy ‘Diagnostics Machine‘ just sheer brute strength, a hammer, over sized spanner and of course ‘my‘ socket set. Mustafa could only remove three of the four fuel injectors, the fourth refused to budge and so he gave up with it, however it was as clear as the nose on his face that the three he did remove were swimming in water, he sent one of his observers off with them to dry them off and clean them. Then he removed the fuel filter, emptied the contents of the filter housing into a jam jar and let it settle, within seconds the water and fuel separated, it was an uneven match, twenty-five percent Diesel and Seventy-five per cent water !! He held up the jar, inspected the liquid contents, first a visual inspection, then the sniff test and finally the finger in the liquid and the taste test, if that had been me I would have got one of the remaining observers to have done the taste test, however, thinking about it, they were merely trainees and not yet specialists like Mustafa, only ‘he’ knew what Diesel should taste like, I just hoped he didn’t ask me for a cigarette otherwise I would possibly have lost my one and only Diesel specialist !! He then dispatched another observer away to get a new fuel filter. Mustafa, the Diesel Specialist, could not locate the Diesel tank, more importantly, the drain point to empty all of the contaminated fuel, but not one to be beaten he elected to drain the contents of the tank via the fuel pipe that fed the fuel through the fuel filter. Now this of course would serve the same purpose but with one very subtle difference, he could only get a plastic five litre container in the cavity where the fuel pipe was located, there was probably something like Seventy-five litres of ‘contaminated’ fuel in the tank so the mathematicians amongst you will know that this was going to be a very slow process !!
All the time I was watching Mustafa and his ‘support crew’ at work I was thinking about all the ‘Bob the Builders’ I had observed during our stay in Agadir and the ‘Can you fix it ? Yes I can’ line. I was rather hoping that Mustafa wasn’t actually a John or a Dave but that I had got a very competent ‘Bob‘. By late afternoon, early evening the new fuel filter had been fitted, the fuel injectors re-installed and ten litres of ‘clean Diesel’ put into the tank. With bated breath we waited for that all important turn of the key in the ignition, ‘Eureka‘ !! a few minor adjustments and ‘Big Momma’ was purring like a kitten again, Mustafa really was a very good ‘Bob the Diesel Engine Specialist‘ !! Like any good mechanic though, he wanted to road test, I did the driving whilst he sat in the Co-pilots seat, first stop was a ‘SHELL’ fuel station to ‘fill her up‘ and at the same time add another bottle of Diesel engine and Injector treatment fluid, then a good fifteen minute test drive. We returned to the garage and I was re-united with my socket set, complete in every respect. Then it was time to get the bill, as well as the parts there was a little matter of at least six hours, if not more, of labour charges, this was going to require the very rare use of one’s Credit Card. I was presented with an itemised bill for 970 Dirham (€91.42 or as I later discovered from my Credit Card statement just a few pence over £68.00), in the UK the labour charges alone would have cost at least £600.00 !! I wasn’t offended when Mustafa asked if I had any ‘Whisky’, I also left him with some Beer and Cigarettes and worth every bit in my opinion, or I did at the time !!
It had been a very long and stressful day for the both of us, however, we now just wanted to get out of Morocco and back to the modern world, a world where I had ‘European Breakdown Cover‘, which could be summoned via a phone call, not that I hoped we would have to use it, but there was a certain reassurance knowing that it was there if required nonetheless. We decided to make the non-stop run to the Port at Tanger Med and get the first available boat back to Spain.
It had been a good plan, ‘Big Momma’ was set to a speed of 60mph on cruise control and was performing well, but then, after covering only Sixty-eight miles of our One Hundred and Sixty-nine mile journey, without any warning, she suddenly cut out again !! I couldn’t believe it, we ground to a halt on the hard shoulder, I turned the key in the ignition and she started first time, I gave her a few ‘revs’, there appeared to be plenty of power and so off we set again. But no, it was not going to be our day, just a few more miles and she cut out again. This kept happening for the rest of what was now becoming a very long journey, it eventually got so bad that we were stopping every five hundred metres !! We persevered, our stress levels were now off the scale but we made it to the Port and their was a ferry leaving at 1:00am, the question was, would ‘Big Momma’ start and at least get us on to the boat ? Once on the boat I didn’t care if she wouldn’t start when we reached Algeciras, they would have to tow us off, but at least then I could telephone the RAC European Breakdown Number !!
The time arrived to board, pensively I turned the key in the ignition and fortunately she started, I gently tapped the steering wheel and said out loudly, “Come on girl, you can do it, get us onto the boat”, and she did.
To be continued…………………