The road to Ijjoukak – 4,004 miles in four days – Part 1

In 2011 some friends and I had the idea of driving to Morocco. We’d been told of a small village in the Atlas mountains by a mutual friend. Having been on many a road trip around Europe, but never having left the continent, a visit to Ijjoukak seemed like a good idea. We set about the task of arranging everything very lightly. We researched where to get the ferry from and places of interest on the route down to the Spanish port city of Algecrias, where we would get the ferry tickets from. Other than booking a place with El Mahjoub at his place in Ijjoukak, which required some broken french and many, many attempts (his phone signal was not great and kept cutting out), as well as booking a night’s stay in Seville, we didn’t do much else.

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Setting off from High Wycombe, car kitted out with tech.

To mitigate problems like being stranded, we brought sleeping bags, plenty of water and a large pack of cereal bars (a trip to Costco brought a whole new meaning to ‘large pack’!). We packed some tools as well, and the essential bodger’s kit: cable ties and duct tape! With the addition of a dash-cam and some map updates for out TomTom, we were ready to go!

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Heading south through the Spanish plains

Our journey to Seville took 24 hours in total, taking it in turns to drive the car. We had four drivers, in teams of two, each taking 6 hour shifts. The car was comfortable enough to sleep in and the DVD player in the headrests provided ample entertainment, not to mention to the scenery!

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The view from the back seat of the Mondeo

The drive through France is rather dull, for the most part: the Autoroutes from Calais to the border at Bayonne offer nothing other than flat farmlands and a few glimpses of the Biscay. We stopped at Salamanca, very briefly, to purchase some chorizo and see the Plaça Mayor but otherwise the drive went rather smoothly.

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Spanish border control in Algeciras

The next morning we rose early to catch the morning ferry to Tangiers. We hadn’t purchased a ticket, I would recommend doing so in advance as we were relieved of some €400 for it by purchasing on the day. Nevertheless, we were on our way to Africa!

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Our vessel would be “Le Rif”, once on board we discovered that it was formerly owned by Stena lines, on the Irish Sea, as evidenced by the old branding on board and the safety certificates, all naming Stena Lines, still on the walls. The boarding process was conducted with all the organisation of a scared herd of cats! It took two hours to load all the cars onto the ship and then a long queue formed around a desk in the cafeteria. This served as passport control, and Moroccan policemen examined (after about an hour’s wait) our passports and stamped them.

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Our first glimpse of Morocco

Once off the boat and onto Moroccan soil, we then had to stop at the customs control. This was less a control point and more of a lucky guess. We’d been advised by our friend that we’d probably have to pay some bribes and pay for a guide to tell us how to complete the required documents and where to find them. Nobody approached us, except a smiling policeman who asked us for a particular document. We explained that we didn’t have it, so he pointed us in the direction of a hut, with an office inside, across the way.

I walked over, the officer inside informed us that we needed several other forms, all of which could be obtained at the other huts next to his. After some thirty minutes of going to and fro, as well as a lot of lucky guess work as to where to get what, we had our required documents to pass the original smiling officer’s checkpoint. He took it away, stamped it, and brought it back. This excessive bureaucracy was in order for us to obtain a temporary visa for the car. We, as people, didn’t require one, but we were obliged to sign the car in and out of the country, lest we face a fine or imprisonment! One final test; the officer inquired as to whether any of us had ever taken any drugs, to which we all replied no. He smiled again, waved us on and we were in the country!

Tips for driving to Morocco

If you have an EU driving licence, you don’t need an international driving permit to drive in the country. You also don’t require a visa to enter if you have an EU passport. Bribes are not necessary either.

What you do need:

  • Proof of ownership of the vehicle (in the UK this is your V5C document)
  • Proof of a return journey booked (in this case our ferry ticket)
  • At least a little bit of French vocabulary
  • Patience, lots of patience
  • Insurance that covers your vehicle in Morocco

 

The dash-cam we had running all the time recorded some 39 hours of footage on six 32GB SD cards (the device was not efficient at recording video). What resulted was the hour long time lapse below. Our stops in the towns of Bayonne and Salamanca are visible, as well as a couple of other stops we’d made along the way for one reason or another.

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