Since the last entry, we have traveled from Chefchuan to Morocco’s capital city, Rabat where we had to get visas for Mali and Mauritania. Some of the group went off on a side trip to see the city made famous by the Bogart film Casablanca. Visas obtained, we drove off and explored the grounds of the ancient Hellenic city of Volubilis. From there we made our way to Fes where we explored the old city and took in a little culture.


Things are going well. Very well when you sit down and really think about what we’re doing here. One wouldn’t expect to put 26 people on one massive, rather rustic vehicle, plunk them down into a completely foreign environment and have everything run smoothly from the get-go. Still, that’s how things seem to be going. The troops have adapted to truck life readily. We’ve got some absolute naturals on the truck who know exactly how to live this rather unconventional life. It is not usually the easiest adjustment for everyone to make. Truck life is awesome but it is very, very different from what most of us consider the norm.

Sleeping in tents every night isn’t something most people do. Bush camping defies our urbanized sense of what accommodation should be. Cooking over an open fire is a rather foreign concept to anyone who has grown up in the Western civilization. Electricity, something we consider a basic human right in most of our home countries, is scarce here. Internet, when you can find it, is tragically far from high speed. Water quality can’t always be trusted – you never know if it’s going to send you searching frantically for a toilet which can sometimes be a mission in itself. Hell, as we learned this week, water sometimes isn’t available at all. The modern conveniences that we often take for granted suddenly become unavailable. It’s all quite a dramatic change from the comfortable lives most of us are used to living.

I imagine what most of the passengers find the biggest adjustment of all, though, is learning to live in such close proximity to so many people that right now are barely more than strangers. In a pretty confined space, no less. That certainly won’t be the case at the end of the trip. We’ll be like family. For the time being, though, it is a little strange. It just isn’t a situation most are used to.

Adapting to truck life isn’t always exactly a fluid transition. These guys, however, have proven that it can be done in a relatively short period of time.


Along the way we stop at some incredible places and see some amazing things. This can’t always be the case, though. Sometimes necessity puts us places that we’d rather not be. Rabat was a required multi-day stop. This is where we had to get our visas for Mali and Mauritania. Rabat itself was lovely. The campsite however left something to be desired.

Every former Western Trans passenger we talked to regarding the subject told us the same thing:
“Find a new campsite in Rabat. Temara Plage is a sh**hole.” Pardon the profanity, but it was really always those exact words. And I’m not talking just one or two people. There were multiple sources.

I tried. The internet wasn’t helpful and I found no book with useful information. One wouldn’t really call Rabat a tourist hot spot. I think I did the best I could without actually planning a reconnaissance mission to Morocco prior to the trip. The cost and timing voided that idea but it did cross my mind.

So, here we are. Tamara Plage. And it is exactly as we were told. I’d call it a visually depressing, overgrown lot that probably was quite a decent place when they last did some maintenance, back in …say… 1956. Now it serves primarily as one gigantic litter box for the colony of feral cats that prowl the grounds. If you wanted an illustration of the word derelict, you’d take a photo of this joint. So, in truth, if you wanted a shorter description one probably would just use the colorful expression the veteran Trans passengers used.

By no means is this place the worst I have seen and surely not the most rustic accommodations we will encounter. The grounds are sandwiched between a popular beachfront park and a main road so we’ve got plenty to see in the area. The manual flush, squat toilets are relatively clean-ish and only one of the four is missing a door. On the down side, there are no showers so we’ve had to get inventive. Some of us have been taking bucket baths. I, myself, have been washing my hair with the aid of a camp shower hung off the side of the truck. The water and electricity get shut off for nearly the whole day every day. These are things I can happily live with. Paying what we’re paying for the privilege of staying in the campsite time forgot and being denied water and electricity (which they most certainly can provide but won’t!) rubs me the wrong way.

The group adapted to the situation just fine, though. They’ve turned the remains of an old awning frame into a laundry rack. A make-shift internet café has been established in one corner of the camp where we can just barely pick up some wireless from an unknown source. Our cook teams have mastered shopping in the local markets and using the jico charcoal stoves. The meals have been great. The ablutions don’t seem to be an issue at all. Yes, I think these guys will do well on the rough roads ahead.


The main mission in Rabat was to obtain our Mali and Mauritania travel visas. Gavin and I were able to do this job ourselves once everyone provided us with the documents and necessary photos. This left time for those who were interested in visiting Casablanca to do so. I can’t tell you about that but if you refer to Dan’s blog at you might be able to read a bit about that experience.

Most of the things one experiences while traveling, good or bad, just add to the adventure. The good times are just that: Good. Harrowing or uncomfortable experiences are usually reflected on with a kind of affection or appreciation. The one thing you rarely hear travelers wax poetic about is the visa process.

No matter where you are or where you’re going, it is one of the few unpleasant travel experiences that fails to yield later reminiscing pleasure. There is no romance involved in filing paperwork and spending hours at a foreign embassy, battling rude people for a place in line, dealing with officials who are constantly being harassed, which their mood often reflects. But it must be done.

Before Gav and I could go off to the embassies we all had to have all the forms completed. It took a couple hours for us to sort out the paper work, the first challenge being that the entirety of the Mauritanian visa application was in French. Not just straight forward “Nom” , “Prenom”, “Date De Naissance”, etc. There were a few obscure questions in there which also threw us for a loop. Chris H. and Mike proved very helpful in deciphering some of the more confusing questions. “ Si vous residez dans un pays autre que votre pays d’orgine, etes-vous autorise a retourner dans ce pays?” was probably the one we got stuck on the longest.

After finishing those and organizing payment, photos, etc. Gavin and I were finally ready to head out. We did our best to look presentable. Morocco is not at all as conservative as some of the Middle Eastern countries. I wasn’t too sure about Mauritania though so I changed out of my infidel harlot outfit (jeans and a v neck t-shirt) into something more presentable. That is, a getup that left everything to the imagination except my wrists and anything above the jaw line. For Gav, looking presentable meant he had to put on his one clean shirt.

I could go on about the whole visa process. I could make it sound intriguing… bribery, competition, deceit. Ok. Not really deceit but it sounded good, right? I won’t though. Basically it just involved a lot of waiting around and sucking up to government employees. Not something you really want to waste your time reading about is it?


We opted for a guided tour of Fes. Kamal came recommended by some other overlanders so we called him up to show us around town. Kamal was dressed in traditional Moroccan clothing but I couldn’t help thinking he looked like one of Star Wars’ Jawas with designer glasses.

Kamal led an excellent tour. We saw the King’s Palace, a pottery shop, and a panoramic view of the city. In the afternoon were then led through the rabbit warren that is the medina.

The chaos of the sights and sounds and crowds blended together to create a truly exotic sensory overload. The sweet smells from the candy shops mingled with the oily aromas from the food stalls, the smell of sawdust from the carpenters, the odor of donkeys, cats, chickens, ripening meat, fresh fruit and incense smoke. The mix created an atmosphere that was overwhelming but unexpectedly pleasant. Voices shouting in French and Arabic, animal sounds, music from various radios, hoof beats, saws, clanking dishes, and nondescript hums offered the soundtrack to the experience.
Shops on either side of the small alleys sold stationary, perfume, colorful cloths, lamps, or meats that were hanging from the rafters of the stalls. Every now and then we’d have to flatten ourselves against the stone or mud walls in order to make way for a donkey loaded up with bags and crates and sacks of who knows what.

The butchers all had an array of offal for sale; unidentifiable, apparently edible organs displayed on saturated wooden counters. Several stalls had a wall of chicken pens, stocked with live chickens, less than a meter away from a table where a man was hacking up and plucking one or more of their former cellmates.

Fes is probably best know for its tanneries. We climbed up a narrow stairway into a leather shop to get a glimpse of this iconic sight. From their rooftop platform we could look down on the men preparing hides. There were dozens of pools with different, richly colored liquids containing an array of unusual and odoriferous ingredients: everything from animal fats, cow’s urine, chromium salts, sulphuric acid, pigeon droppings, red poppy extracts, and fish oils. Barefoot men were moving the skins from one concrete pool to another while others were dunking them in the solutions. They were preparing the leather as it has been done for centuries. It was incredible.

After the tanneries we were led through an alley. Kev was in the lead, walking along coolly. Following our guide he rounded a corner, then immediately assumed a more ridged posture and let out an emphatic protest: “Nope! Uh- uh. No more carpet shops!”, He was reflecting the sentiment of the majority of us. A rebellion of about 20 people was brewing.

“But this is where we eat lunch.” Kalmal explained to Kev and the mostly famished group.
“Oh. Alright then.” Kev said, relaxing his posture and proceeding indoors. Rebellion averted.

We bypassed the rug shop and headed to the terrace upstairs where we ate our Moroccan hamburgers and drank mint tea.

In the evening some of us went out for dinner and a show. Sean, Jeremy, and Mayumi all dressed up for the occasion…. In jalabas and a kaftan. The 5 course meal was excellent. The show was pretty good as well, complete with live music, a magician, belly dancers, and a wedding ceremony which Mayumi took part in.

Belly dancing is usually synonymous with gorgeous, fit women that have the ability to hypnotize men and women alike. So, I’ll be honest here; it was a bit of a shock when the first pink satin clad performer came out. A woman in her mid 40s with a severe overbite, a big gap in between her two front teeth, and about a dozen kilos in excess baggage came on stage and starting shaking what her mama gave her. Don’t get me wrong, the woman did have talent and was quite entertaining. Her fire eating was especially impressive. She just wasn’t what we all expected and it left us all momentarily stunned. Another few belly dancers performed over the course of the evening. Turns out that young, beautiful dancer was saved for the finale.

The evening continued and Sean D., Sean W., Dan, Mayumi, Hisashi, and Phil all had their moment in the spotlight. Out of an audience of over 100 people, both Phil and Dan were getting especially picked on. More than one of the performers pulled them up to dance. The rest of us cowered behind them silently pleading under our breath “Please don’t pick me. Please don’t pick me….” We didn’t all get our wish but it was still a fantastic evening.

From here we plan to travel through the Atlas Mountains, to see Todra Gorge where we’ll do some hiking. After that it will be on to Marakech. When we finish up there the trip will start to get very different as we head off into the vast Western Sahara. It will be one of the more challenging portions of our journey but one I think we’re all looking forward to.