The road to Ijjoukak – Part 2 – Driving in Morocco

Once we’d got all of our documents were in order, passed the border control and picked up some local currency at the exchange office by the docks, we set the TomTom to Ijjoukak and started driving! However, things got off to a bad start when it sent us on a dirt track which passed underneath the Autoroute, rather than taking us to it. We’d paid for the up to date maps of the small desert state and we certainly were not driving an off-road vehicle! An absolutely enormous puddle, larger than many garden ponds, and about as deep, lay in our path. An unusually large procession of lorries were taking up the left side of the road, so we drove through the water very slowly and carefully. Our next surprise was the size of the potholes, we passed several which were big enough to swallow our car whole!

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Soon after this obstacle, we reached another, and then another, and then another. The roads we were driving on were wholly unsuitable for the car, but it handled it admirably. After about thirty minutes of being shaken to death, we stopped at the first town we came across for some famous Moroccan mint tea. It was a very rough-and-ready town, a few shops had been recently built on a roadside near some other houses, and built very cheaply. But for just a few Dihrams we had ourselves some outrageously sweet mint tea. The tea became popular in Morocco due to Islam forbidding caffeinated beverages, quite why it needs so much sugar is beyond me. I inquired as to how it was made and found out that they boil mint leaves and sugar for several hours until it is a rich golden colour.

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After our tea stop, we headed towards the motorway (Autoroute). This looked brand new, and was just like driving on a French Autoroute: smooth and empty. This road took us most of the way to Marrakesh, where it abruptly finished. The bumpy roads had caused some damage to the underside of the car; a quick stop and some well placed cable ties solved the problem! On the roads leaving Marrakesh we were stopped by a policeman who accused us of passing through a red light. We protested our innocence but he became angry and demanded 700 Dihrams from us (about $70). It was at this point that he placed his hand on his gun and then repeated his demands. We paid up quickly, he smiled, winked at us and gave us 200 Dihrams back before walking back to his motorbike. We later examined the dash-cam footage and we had driven through an amber light, not a red!

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The roads leaving Marrakesh were otherwise very pretty, lined with palm trees and the odd castle. The smooth roads ended around the same time the sun set. The mountain roads were littered with rocks that had fallen down from the cliffsides and the potholes were as prolific as before. We still had some 100 kilometres to cover before arriving in Ijjoukak and we’d slowed to a snail’s pace. The TomTom maps were not accurate enough to drive by and there were no lights at all. We followed a lorry, driven by someone who clearly knew the roads very well as he was hooning down these mountainside roads. This helped to shorten what would otherwise have been a very slow drive for us. Once we arrived in Ijjoukak we checked the instructions we’d been given by our host, Mahjoub.

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Location of Ijjoukak, relative to Marrakesh

We’d found the tiny concrete bridge, so reversed back a few yards and found the bollard he’d mentioned. Following the dirt track for another fifteen minutes, through the bumps, potholes and ruts, we happened upon a collection of houses. By this time it was about midnight and we had no means of contacting our host. There was a man walking alone the road, I inquired of him in French where we might find El Mahjoub, but French was not a language he spoke. He understood “Mahjoub” and gestured for me to follow him. He took me to Mahjoub’s door where I was welcomed inside. A few moments later he had sent his two sons with me to fetch our bags from the car and tell us where to park. We crossed the rickety bridge using the light from our phone screens as we’d not thought to pack a torch.

Exhausted but excited, we retired to the dining room where we were offered some bread and verbena tea, both welcome after the exhausting drive!

 

Tips for driving in Morocco

Based on our experiences, I can recommend the following:

  • Watch out for police officers, they may not always be reasonable
  • Bring a jerry-can to ensure you have a reserve fuel tank, we did bring one and we didn’t see many petrol stations after Marrakesh
  • Bring a good torch
  • Sufficient currency – Including fuel, police bribe, accommodation for two nights and food I used about $70 up
  • A backup-plan if the road is unpassable or you get totally lost – we didn’t really have one other than to sleep in the car, for which we had prepared for.
  • Good directions for how to find where you are going
  • Experience driving at night and on poorly paved roads
  • Tools and materials to make running repairs – Duct tape and cable ties are invaluable!
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