Travelling 1000 miles through Morocco in 5 days in the lowest possible budget car with nothing but a trusty old map is a good way to have an adventure. Luckily, Laurence Donoghue survived to tell the tale, and we recently caught up with him to ask how it went.
What was the plan, and how did that pan out for you?
We planned to explore by car as much of Morocco as we could in five days. This would encompass a five day circular road trip covering just under 1000 miles in a rickety one litre automobile over mountains and through desert with one punctured tyre, one fraudulent speeding ticket and time spent amongst vast, otherworldly landscapes. Starting in Marrakech, a bustling, howling spectacle of a place we started off driving South to the Atlas Mountains where we spent a night and a morning. We then drove through the Tizi n Tichka Pass, a perilously un-barriered, unmarked, potholed narrow highway where juggernauts compete for the title of most fearless over-taker all the while hollering ‘Insha’Allah! Until we reached the mellow and dusty Ait Ben Haddou, the poster boy of the East in fifties studio films and the infamous Kasbah of Lawrence of Arabia. We soaked up the serenity and space of Ait Ben Haddou before hurtling down further South to Merzouga where we leapt out of our car, now sporting a flat tyre, and onto two very fractious camels named after the musicians of Bob Marley and the Wailers. We spent a night camping in traditional style in the Erg Chebbi desert. The Erg Chebbi is an intoxicating, disorientating moonscape, conjuring other worlds of 1980’s sci-fi films and the paintings of Salvador Dali. In the Erg Chebbi everything sloooooooows down; there is no time. Like Odysseus in the land of the lotus eaters, time breaks down as you descend into the bowl of another dune, frighteningly like the last and yet strikingly different. After a night dancing by firelight to the music of the Berber people we pushed our car to the nearest village, got our puncture repaired and set off on the eleven-hour drive back to Marrakech this time taking the Tizi n Tichka pass by night, where at times it felt safer to close your eyes whilst driving rather than keep them open, lest you see the horror of the drop inches out the window. Arriving back in Marrakech, I felt like I had truly been to outer space and back; I felt like I had seen landscapes that could not exist on our planet. I felt like I had stepped both back and out of time and had seen and briefly experienced a different way of living, of one without time and without fear.
After a night dancing by firelight to the music of the Berber people we pushed our car to the nearest village, got our puncture repaired and set off on the eleven-hour drive back to Marrakech this time taking the Tizi n Tichka pass by night, where at times it felt safer to close your eyes whilst driving rather than keep them open, lest you see the horror of the drop inches out the window.
Did you come across anything unexpected?
My trip to Morocco was the first time I had experienced both arctic and desert temperatures in one day. We woke up in Imlil to find a three-foot snowfall, but by that afternoon we were driving South East of Ouarzazate with temperatures just over 25 degrees Celsius. I’ve never travelled through climates so quickly and it really shook up my idea of time and how long we’d been travelling. We were also pulled over by the police at one point and accused of driving at 80kmph in a 60kmph zone, which was awkward as they pulled us over next to the 80kmph speed sign. We had a very surreal conversation in which we went from best of friends to worst enemies to best of friends in a very short space of time and 200 dirhams worse off.
Did you learn something new about yourself?
I learnt that I like to get away from modern life. I’ve lived in several major cities over the last few years and as a keen pursuer of the arts have always been wanted to be wherever ‘it’s happening’. But in Morocco, outside of Marrakech I felt like I could breathe and think without any exterior pressure or stress. It was an amazing release.
There are so many that I’m not sure where to start really. One of the attitudes that stood out that was this idea of ‘Insha’Allah’, or ‘as God wills it’. Although it seemed to come across most prominently in the Moroccan style of reckless driving, it also extended to fate and fortune.
What advice would you give someone who was planning a similar trip?
Get a car and do it yourself. We spoke to loads of people on our travels who were travelling through Morocco through organized day trips or with a guide. They had done so little compared to us and were amazed how much we’d managed to fit in. We did have a really tight schedule which was hectic but it was completely worth it. We also brought with us a ministry of sound best of disco compilation CD which I’d highly recommend. Kool and the Gang and desert go together perfectly.
What insights did you gain about the places, people, things you came across on your travels?
There are so many that I’m not sure where to start really. One of the attitudes that stood out that was this idea of ‘Insha’Allah’, or ‘as God wills it’. Although it seemed to come across most prominently in the Moroccan style of reckless driving, it also extended to fate and fortune. The idea suggests that we are not in control of our predicament, or that there is an outside force partly responsible. It seemed to add a fatalistic attitude towards those we met who embraced the phrase and seemed to create a feeling of contentment. If the stress of one’s own destiny is outside of their control, then there’s no point worrying about it. That really stuck with me.