We are still in Morocco and the Kingdom continues to be on lockdown. The State of Emergency was initially extended to May 20th, and then extended again until June 10th.
We were at Borj Biramane , a wonderful campground near the small town of Icht for almost six weeks. The campground is located within the Sahara Desert and is an excellent place stay while exploring the surrounding areas. The owners, Paul and Philippe are extremely helpful and kind. The facilities are clean, the staff is friendly, the restaurant has amazing food, and the grounds are picturesque. I continue to be very grateful that they accepted us into their campground during these exceptional circumstances.
As I have written before, we were setting up for the long haul here. No one knew when the lockdown would end. The summer heat of the Sahara was approaching and we started modifying things in the van to cope with the heat. We removed a lot of the panels of our galley to allow for more airflow around the compressor of the refrigerator. We bought a fan from a local shop and hung it with straps in the front of the van to push air into the galley area, hoping to keep the compressor a bit cooler as it was getting pretty hot with 100+ degree F temperatures. Ideally, we wanted a small 12V fan to place under the galley, but we didn’t have much of a choice in the local town of Fam El Hisn. We bought extension cords for the fan as it was 220V and we couldn’t use our 110V inverter in the van. We deployed our awning for afternoon shade when the desert wind wasn’t too strong. We used the small pool at the campground as a place to cool down several times a day. Ryan would wet his shirt as well and use evaporative cooling in the afternoon heat. We worked out a system to cycle our fruits and vegetables into the fridge for better preservation in the heat. We also starting using our spray bottle, initially used to keep the campground cats out of the van, for evaporative cooling on our skin.
A lot of people have asked if we are bored. The answer is no. Surprisingly, we don’t have much time to be bored. Living in this way isn’t very conducive to spare time. Everything takes a lot longer. Due to the wind, I often needed to place the dirty dishes in a bucket as to not lose the dishes on the the 200’ walk to the dish washing area. I lost our sharp knife once due to the wind and almost lost a toe. Doing dishes by hand in this manner 2-3 times a day takes a lot of time. Then, there is laundry. The campground has a lovely sink to wash clothes in. It’s a much better system than I was using at the hot spring, but it still takes a good amount of time and energy to hand wash clothing, wring them out, hang them on a line, make sure the wind doesn’t carry them away, and take them down when they are dry. Ryan was doing some work and would either set up his computer in the van or in the campground common area. I continued to do most of the daily chores, manage a majority of the “shopping” roughly once a week in a local town, and keep the van as clean and clutter free as possible. Two people living in a 63 square foot living space is challenging, especially during these circumstances.
When the weather was tolerable enough to walk, we would walk and explore the area. We walked around Icht, social distancing around people, and using a mask as required in public. We explored the local desert and found petroglyphs a fellow camper had told us about. We walked the local washes or wadis. I walked to a local dam (barrage) that was dry on both sides. I also walked out into the desert to observe the camels whenever I heard them groaning on the outside of the campground walls. The local camel herders probably thought I was a bit crazy for wanting to watch their herd. They would keep their distance and we would wave at each other. I would exercise and stretch outside in the shade while listening to music or in the pool to cool off. Movement is good for the body, but in this heat, it’s hard to be motivated. Just doing my daily chores was exhausting!
As time marched on, we got into a pretty good routine. Once the sun approached the horizon in the evening, we would head down to the restaurant / bar for an Aperitif. This was a highlight of our day. We would enjoy a drink with the other people who were stuck here with us. We would share stories and news with each other, and would have a tiny glimpse of “normal” life.
Ryan and I are the only one’s here who’s primary language is English. A majority of the people here at Borg Biramane are primarily French speakers. This can be a bit challenging for us. We are learning a little French here and there, but far from conversational. Luckily, Paul, one of the owners, Fer and Tina from the Netherlands, and Rene from France speak English.
Since we arrived here, two German guys in a VW van, a French guy, Gilbert in a Defender 110, and our Dutch friends Tina and Fer in their camper van, left our campground to drive to Tanger Med to board repatriation ferries back to Europe. These ferries are arranged by European countries and only open for EU residents with EU registered vehicles. Ryan and I wondered if we would be the last guests at this campground with the owners as all the other people stuck here were Europeans and were all actively trying to get on the list for one of the ferries. These ferries have been sailing roughly every two weeks for the last few months, but often are cancelled or rescheduled due to either the Moroccan government, the European governments, or both.
On May 18th, the Moroccan government decided to extend the lockdown for 3 weeks. We decided we needed to start working on getting a “Special Movement Permit” (a permission slip) to allow us to move locations to the coast which is 10-20 degrees cooler than our current location. When we had asked the local authorities for permission to go to the closest supermarket, 80 miles away a weeks ago, we were denied. They stated we would need a letter from our Embassy or Consulate in order to move. I had written the US Embassy / Consulate a week ago without response. After the lockdown was extended this last time, I resent the e-mail and called the following day. Luckily, I was able to reach an actual human being who was very helpful and e-mailed us a letter with the pertinent information within a few hours. We spent a few hours discussing our situation with the local authority, Cherkaoui (meaning “comes from the East”) who is in charge of getting the paperwork processed for the local Pasha. We discussed Moroccan and US history, local customs, and his thoughts on the pandemic. After two plus hours, we had our Special Movement Permit that was stamped and signed by the Pasha and we were on our way.
Since it is Ramadan and it was already mid-afternoon, all the stores in Fam El Hisn were closed. We chose to get some cash out of the ATM and head back to the campground. We joined the crew at Borj Biramane for a dinner of amazing chicken and mushroom stew, a dish of tomato, garlic, and eggplant, and a lemon tart. We discussed our plans to pack up and start our drive to a cooler location.
A side note about Ramadan. Things we have learned:
- The start and end of Ramadan depends on the lunar cycle, thus changes by about 10 days every year.
- Morocco turns back the clock an hour for the month of Ramadan.
- In observance of Ramadan, people do not eat or drink (not even water) while the sun is up.
- This can be very hard for people who are working during the day in this heat.
- There are a few exceptions to this rule:
- people who are traveling
- the elderly or sick
- children younger than some age
- women who are menstruating – must make up the time they missed after Ramadan
- women who are pregnant
- Smoking, drinking alcohol, or sex during the daylight hours is forbidden
- Ramadan is a time for family, reflection, and practicing generosity, charity, and kindness.
We spent hours repacking the van and getting it ready for driving again. We had only driven the van once on a day trip to an oasis in the desert a few weeks ago. Besides that one day, we hadn’t driven the van in 6 weeks. It was already getting hot and the energy required to pack up the van felt like I had hiked up a mountain in full sun in 90+ degree heat. While I was working on the van, Ryan was scouring over maps and planning out our route. We wanted to avoid towns & cities, stay away from people, and go around areas we thought may have checkpoints. The virus numbers are very low here in the South, but as we will make our way North, the numbers grow significantly. Our mission is to get to a cooler location with as minimal contact with other humans as possible.
We settled up our bill with Paul, said good-bye to those who were not taking their afternoon siesta, and we were on our way. Time will tell if we will actually be able to take the tentative route we have plotted out or if we will be redirected by the authorities.
Wish us luck…