Beni Mallal is one of Morocco’s fastest growing towns located between Fez and Marrakech and en-route to the Middle Atlas mountains so the Hotel Ouzoude proved to be a convenient stop-over outside of the city. The food the previous evening had been a substantial and tasty chicken tagine… but the hotel had been described as “a very average hotel with good food and so expectations had been well-managed.
The competitors first challenge for the day was a testing regularity section climbing 470m – 1320 m in just 50 kms.
The time control crew needed to press on in order to get to our designated area to start the morning’s event. After hitting the road we started to notice that there seemed to be a lot of police presence on the outskirts of Beni Mallal; every 300-500 yds or so there seemed to be a very smartly dressed policemen standing to attention by the side of the road – probably from the Royal Gendarmerie – and enough to suggest that something or someone important (other than a rally of 2 CV’s of course) was passing by. These policemen were stationed consistently as we made our way up the steep mountain road which brought us some great views of symmetrical crops and huge wide skies. Leaving Simon and John T to set up the start, John B and I found a suitable spot to end the regularity event – slightly around a corner and hidden by some bushes – and started to get out the ‘End of Regularity’ board and set our clocks etc when a policemen literally popped out of nowhere to ask what we were doing. Apart from anything else, it transpired that our crafty hideaway was also the entrance to a military installation that we needed to get away from and on asking, yes there was a VIP passing through – although he was reticent to say exactly who. It was suggested we should move up a couple of kilometres or so up the road and all would be well. Naturally about five minutes of finding our new spot an official-looking car drew up and this time a couple of plain clothed policemen also got out and questioned us kindly. Thankfully they had already chatted to John T and Simon down the road, so they knew what was going on but I think were just checking that the rally Land Cruiser (bedecked with very military-looking boxes on the roof rack) held nothing more suspicious than tools and crew gear. When they were satisfied all was well, they waved to us cheerily as they went on their way. Very shortly after that we were rewarded with a speedy drive-past of a full (and possibly royal) motorcade. I like to think I may have had the privilege to see the very popular ‘King of the people’, King Mohammed VI, and I really hope that he too may have had the opportunity to smile as he passed some perfect red and white 2Cv’s nimbly winding along his Kingdom’s wonderful roads.
269 ‘clicks’ into our day and our lunch break was at the stunning Falls of Ouzoud. Turning off the main road we headed slap bang into a market in full swing that was taking place mainly over a narrow bridge. Perhaps it was just lunch-time rush hour here, but the cars had to creep forward, surrounded by market stalls and colourfully dressed people everywhere. Even in a car, you really get ‘up close and personal’ to a lot of the stalls resplendent with hanging meat, tables groaning under the weight of offal, tagines being prepared, lunch cooking over herby charcoal alongside stall-holders showing brightly coloured carpets and traditional leather slippers. As a first-time visitor I just want to soak up all the sights and sounds. Morocco just feels very ‘real’.
Walking through an area that was a bit more touristy, we briefly stopped to admire the handiwork of a young woman putting the final touches to a henna tattoo on a slightly sunburned American girl. As we rounded the corner we found this very welcoming spot for lunch. The smell of lemon, herbs and spices were heavenly and the food seemed prepared and served with such care and welcome. Toby and his lovely wife Fenella – the orchestrators behind the event – quickly sat us down and organised delicious mint tea, Moroccan salad, olives and bread followed by a steaming vegetable tagine thick with squash and onions.
Having driven behind some of the competitors , I wanted to know how the 2CV’s didn’t just tip up when going round some of the hair-pin bends. Toby is extremely knowledgeable about all of his much-loved 2 CV’s having worked on them for over three months, so he explained, ” the reason they lean so much is because of the suspension – the travel does produce sometimes alarming angles of lean around corners – but there is a low centre of gravity which ensures the car does not tip over!” Michelle and Reg from Australia agreed the suspension was fantastic and although a little slow up the hills, they had got used to that speed and then compensated by going pretty fast down the hills. Reg, a self confessed ‘large man’ reiterated how comfortable the 2CV was, although he did say (to much hilarity) that he noticed a ‘bit of problem with visibility’ as his head kept bumping on the roof quite often!
Some drivers wanted to crack on in order to get to Marrakech in good time, but with no further regularity events to do that day Simon and I were free to do a bit of sightseeing and felt that it would be rude not to go and see the falls with Rod Kirkpatrick and Alex Broadway, the camera team. There are a lot of steps down – and therefore back, but there are plenty of strategically-placed seats should you need to stop for a breather and of course lots of opportunities to make some purchases at various stalls set out along the path, should you so wish.
Waterfalls are always stunning, but being able to get so close to the deafening, rainbow spray of this one was frankly awesome. Both Alex and Rod took safety in to their own hands and shimmied down some fairly slippery surfaces (not recommended!) to be rewarded with an even closer view. To see a 360 degree shot of this taken by Rod click here: http://fstoppress.com/vr/waterfall_002/
Apart from Sean and Mike having to repair a puncture, the rest of the competitors seemed to have a straightforward drive through some stunning scenery via Tanant, Demnate, El-Sahrij, El-Attaouia, Tamalelt and eventually into cosmopolitan Marrakech and the fabulous Sofitel Palais Imperial Hotel. As we signed in at the reception we were greeted with orange blossom scented flannels to freshen ourselves up with and a nice glass of mint tea. It is the little details after a days hard driving that can make all the difference!
As we had a free day the next day, most of the drivers took the opportunity to relax with a drink or two, breaking off to get competitive again over the large table football in one of the lounge areas, before we were all whisked off to the evening’s entertainment. To set the scene: imagine a ‘Ye Olde English’ themed banquet set in the grounds of a stately home, complete with long trestle tables, flagons of ale and jousting knights. ‘Fantasia at Chez Ali’ is the Moroccan equivalent – not exactly cultural and a bit unexpected, but quite authentic and fun nonetheless. Here we ate a traditional menu of harira soup, whole lamb, couscous and an assortment of Moroccan pastries under a huge richly patterned tent, whilst being entertained by belly dancers and tribesmen/women singing, shrilling and playing an assortment of instruments. Afterwards we all went outside to see some fearsome looking horsemen charging up and down the sandy arena brandishing and firing some very long guns. The evening ended with a few more pyrotechnics and a lovely mellow moment showing a magic carpet ride accompanied by some beautiful singing. Everyone seemed to be having a good time.