Morocco Travel Thoughts

I’ve seen plenty of lists online and the Rough Guide also has plenty but there is always space for another list. I would point out this is based inn 3 weeks of travelling and only to limited places. I’ve mainly been in the south, beyond Casablanca, Rabat and Fes.

Driving

  1. Drive on the rightrŕè
  2. Importing the car or van isn’ttt l towed on the back. The best site for going through the process is this one and the online forms make it easier.
  3. Most garages only take cash when off the Autoroute though Total tends to take cards in most plac6s. Further south the Afriqua and Ziz stations tend to be cash only.
  4. Diesel is currently about 70p a litre and cheaper in the subsidised Sahara region.
  5. You’re normal driving insurance won’t cover you for Morocco so you will need a green card or buy insurance as you arrive. I got a green card from Aviva after an hour on the phone for £74 for 6 weeks. Note arriving on Sundays usually means the usually means the insurance offices at the ports are shut.
  6. The motorways are good and you can do Tangier to Agadir in 8 hours if you want with Marrakesh about 6 and Casablanca about 4 hours on the way. They are toll roads and whilst cheap (Tangier to Marrakesh less that 200 dirham, 16 quid) they only take cash so you’ll need to change some money at the port or get to an ATM first

Shopping

  1. There are no supermarkets outside the big cities and everything happens in small shops or the market. You can find most things from cheap plastic essentials to food to expensive carpets.
  2. The gourd haggling scene in Life Of Brian is good training and you may want to start out with low value items first before going to more expensice things like carpets (er not that’s what I did).
  3. You don’t haggle for groceries normally and if you are paying what you think is a decent price (like £4 a litre of extra virgin olive oil) even if it is cheaper for locals you still know you are getting a bargain.
  4. Cash again is essential and funnily enough only the carpet shops have a credit card machine.

Eating

If you like tagine, cous cous or brochette (meat on skewers) then great but the choice can be limited in some places beyond that. A Moroccan salad is good and near the coast the seafood is stunning.

Price wise it’s cheap in most places and if you cook yourself then really cheap. That said a trip to the butchers is very different to most countries and not too much in the way of a fridge around and if you want chicken you may need to not only pluck it but also carry out the coup de grace.

Everything is bought fresh and even the smallest villages will have a small shop which opens longer hours than Arkwrights so no problem there.

Accommodation

Campsites were very mixed from the shithole in Essaouira to the decent sites in Tafraout which were similar to southern Spain standards.

Red Hat Summit is Record Store Day

Once a year some of the Consulting and Training organisations globally get to travel to Summit, to get the latest technology news first hand from engineering and the business units.

For me it’s got the same excitement as Record Store Day, the annual frenzy for fans of the vinyl audio format as they look to find the things they like and the collectable items that will add both quality and value to collection.

The UK Record Store Day for 2018 had over 400 releases and my personal interest involved some releases from some great folk artists like Sandy Denny, June Tabor and Anne Briggs. I also had an hankering for a Factory Benelux release of a Durutti Column classic. I spent 2 hours in the queue outside the Tangled Parrot on the 21st April and managed to pick up all the items I wanted as I was #11 in the queue. Other record stores had much longer queues and not such a good selection of records.

Red Hat Summit has a range of important announcements across a range of products and technology areas and the coming week of presentations, workshops and sessions covers a full range of interests. The Open Source elements and the less technical sessions really add to the flavour to the event which attracts over 7000 delegates. That most of these are customers and partners allow Red Hat to get as much back as is put in. However it’s always a challenge to pick the right sessions and prioritise the main ones of interest.

In the end day 1 of Summit was exactly that; a lot of announcements at key note sessions and a lot of PR events. You couldn’t cover it all and the filter of coffee and jet lag focused you on the most relevant. That you were also attracted not to the most important but to the best delivered also highlights that the presentation has to be good to cut through the noise.

As they day drew to a close, I did manage to get out and buy some records at a great unsung store at 510 Green Street. So it’s all good.

Chaos all around. Brilliant !

This is partly inspired by Cairo traffic, which in itself probably the worst I’ve experienced in terms of safety, volume and complete lack of road sense. But it’s brilliant and whilst something normal for the 20 million or so Egyptians who live there, it’s something different to the occasional visitor like me.

Been an interesting week and one thing that been on my mind is the constant attraction to the day to day activity for people rather than the tackling of the bigger picture.

There are good reasons for this:

  • It’s business as usual and you tend to know what you are doing. You are generally good at it
  • You get immediate results. Bit of a rollercoaster as they can be good and they can be bad
  • They need to be done and someone needs to do them.
  • We tend to go for routine as it is well defined and usually easy.

However there are sometimes problems with this focus :

  • The day to day activity may be inefficient and / or obsolete.
  • No-one necessarily appreciates the activity you are doing.
  • By doing the day to day you’ve not got time for strategy or development work.

One other area of concern (well to me this week) is where the way of working for day to day is also the approach for strategic work.

This way of working has a number of characteristics which centre around confirmation bias. You are going to do what you know best or what you’ve done as routine even if you are working on something new. What you therefore produce as new will be course elements of the old even if it’s seemingly been completely rebuilt.

There’s a great film from the 1950s which highlights the reluctance to change and inefficient working practices that persist. Okay it’s a comedy (and well worth watching) but it does give you a sense of the frustration and the mood towards change.

I’m Alright Jack ” also highlights corrupt bosses and the power of the trade unions (Only one of those two thrives in the UK) but by watch the time and motion man you get a sense of what might need to be done to make things happen.

I’m writing this in the context of software development and IT architecture but of course they are many different areas where this is true.

The shifts and changes in IT are probably more rapid than in other areas so the need to change agreed practices and ways of working happen more frequently. What you might see is new applications written with new languages and but where the paradigm for development is still the same. You will see that way of working hasn’t changed.

Saying “we’ll develop this for a container platform” is all well and good but it’s not going to be that effective if:

  • You don’t use the right languages that support the design
  • You keep legacy functions and features in the application, even if they are provided by the new platform
  • That the process of software development changes as well, with greater levels of automation
  • It is actually proven to be more effective than the previous application platform.

People (and in this case software development teams) will always try to:

  • Work the way they’ve always worked
  • Use the same shortcuts, coding standards, testing procedures etc they’ve done before
  • Use the minimum effort needed
  • Minimise risk by as doing as little change as possible.

So what approaches can use to break the cycle and the reliance on the old way of working.

  1. The lab: using a safe environment where external coaches work with  an initial group of people, who will in turn share new ways of working with others in the organisation
  2. The core team : internal team, as the lab, which is ring fenced to do the right thing and correct way or working 
  3. The acquisition: acquire a business or organisation that has the new culture and way of working and use that to drive change.

Plenty of scope for discussion and some interesting but this propensity for change is key; it will impact if you can change and how quickly this can then happen.

 

 

Reading a sign of The Times

It was the best choice of free newspaper prior boarding the Lufthansa flight from Birmingham to Munich. I don’t read The Times too often,  but I was hoping for something slightly cerebral so I could delay ingesting the contents of this month’s Record Collector for later on my work trip to Austria. However it’s clear I was over optimistic.

A few things are clear: Papers want to give you their opinion, with comment sections seemingly outnumbering news stories.  The letters page is bonkers and ‘proper’ news articles aren’t easy to read and don’t seem to flow at all. Nothing dragged me in for a longer read.  The Times and it’s contributor seemed to be intent on banning me from using wood burners, making me eat more fibre, continuing to live in London (rather than moving to a 30 acre estate in Berkshire?!!) and that telling me that micro cheating on my partner is not okay. What is micro cheating ?

That one of the letters was written by a resident of Llangynidr, Wales’ very own nimby Surrey village, and it comes as no surprise.  I am still a bit bemused on why the letter was written and why it was published.  Newspapers still have clout when it comes to swaying the opinions of people, on their choices in life, in particular their politics.  Even if you aren’t a regular reader, the right leaning views of The Times are pretty clear from the story of the “left wing” takeover of the Labour Party. It’s a conservative tendency (with small c) that takes aim at the thrice married UKIP leader and his girlfriend , who happens to be 30 years younger than him. However, for me,  there is indeed a case of a personal need to combat the confirmation bias I have, where possible and pick up The Times rather The Guardian from time to time. I would have picked up the latter had it been available but I would then missed out on the slick 8 page insert offering rail holidays (in partnership with The Times). Perhaps seeking out something that challenges my views and opinions is better than something that agrees with them. This is a challenge for us all but of course doing things we wouldn’t normally do (Christmas eve shopping, buying out of season fruit and veg in supermarkets or listening to Radio 3) wouldn’t necessarily make you happy ?

Like all things, doing it in moderation and balance is good and I’ve achieved that to some extent by ingesting the hateful Murdoch sheet for hour. I am now a secular newspaper reader with a wider tolerance of other readers.

On board

All sorted this morning and arrived in plenty of time for the ferry which was running late in and just unloading from what must have been a late arrival from Portsmouth. Managed to get the stove out and make tea and grab some breakfast and chat to a few other people in the queue. The night in the port had been interesting with about 300 migrants looking to get in, on and under lorries and camper vans. Seems it had involved some interesting clashes with the police and security and not much sleep was had. Gutted I’d missed it but on the other hand all good in the hotel. Dinner a la carte on Brittany Ferries is usually excellent value and has a great (and reasonable priced wine list). Also good on the ferry are the Roy and Renee couples bemoaning the lack of boiling water to make tea how they’ve stared down some foreign chef for serving uncooked seafood. The lorry drivers lounge is situated inside the a late carte restaurant so whilst enjoying fine dining you’ll get the odd sensation of all isn’t quite just so. Just like the Blues Brothers. “How much for the little girl ?”. My time on the ferry has been spent doing emails and playing the guitar. Some progress with an easy chord version of America’s Horse with Noname and seem to have a working strumming technique for it. Got the verses nailed but not the chorus oddly but I have been through a desert on a van with no name, so maybe it’s time to give it one. Or maybe trade it in. The oil in water will mean a trip to Hereford on Thursday to try to understand what’s going on. All very chilled on board and no even concerned about the contents of the van at UK Customs. I’m already in the EU.

Bilbao with a bump…

The bump being the return to work. Appropriately enough I’ve checked into a business hotel neat Getxo (that’s pronounced Getcho as we are in the Basque country) and whilst rooms are cheap not much else is in the hotel. Work was very much the order of the day and my task was now to catch up with the last 4 weeks of work. Did manage to take a few calls during a walk out to and across the transporter bridge, which unlike the one in Newport is in day to day use for fare paying cars and foot passengers. Well worth the 40 cent fare. Bilbao and surroundings are great and I really like the area. You get can grab a Pinxo from a bar along with a beer, which doesn’t mean you starve waiting for dinner to be served at 10pm. Apart from the work a pretty chilled out day, though Morocco seems a million miles away. Have booked the van into VW in Hereford for Thursday to look at the oil in water issue and potentially to run a service just in case. Be interesting to see if the van makes it and what they think is still happening. Ferry is on for tomorrow as the Bay of Biscay looks calmer than it has been. Last day of the trip really and final chance to be away. Though also good to be back!

A long slog

And that’s the good news. The oil in the reservoir bottle seems to be the residue from the initial oil cooler failure as the 1080km passesd without any further problems. Watches the oil and water like w hawk all the way.

Wouldn’t say it passed without incident though. Friend and colleague Alberto in Madrid forwarded me a link to the weather forecast which showed an orange warning for snow north west of Madrid, mainly around Salamanca.

After checking oil and water in Seville pressed on towards Merida and a pleasant drive up from Tarifa. About 5km from the campsite the van a dreaded ping but luckily it was from the temperature indicator that it had gone to 4 C. Given thoughts of disaster with the van id slept pretty well and was nice and warm at 7.30am. After a shower and some breakfast was away at 9am with 9h40 of driving ahead if I was going to do it one go.

It was all pretty easy until going over the top to Salamanca. The police were turning lorries around and it was down to 1 lane because of the snow (and the 1000m pass). Didn’t see much of Salamanca in the blizzard and worst stretch was leader out of town towards Valladolid. Not pleasant driving at all and at around 5 hours in I was beginning to feel it

In total about 200km of snow covered roads and when it eases on the way to Burgos decided to make Bilbao and booked a hotel room near the port which I could use for work tomorrow.

Now trying to rearrange my brain to forget about the van and driving and make plans for work tomorrow. And to get some sleep. 1700km in 32 hours from Marrakesh was pushing it a bit but worth getting done

Played quite of Vertigo artists on the way up and quite a few are on Tidal. Some reviews coming up.

Ping !

As I’d pulled away from the numerous toll booths on the way up from Marrakesh, I’d occasionally get a ping from the VW as I had taken off my seat belt to reach across to pay the fee or pick up a ticket. This has been done 8 times and this was now the last time as I pulled into Tangier after a 6 hour slog up from Marrakesh. Alas the ping was different and it was the same ping that had sounded going through Cheltenham a month ago.

I’d dropped Tamara off at 7.30am after a short trip across Marrakesh from the Ibis to the airport. Sorry to see her go and it also meant I was heading back north. Weather was crap with heavy rain showers and a cool 8 C in town. I picked up another tagine on the way to the autoroute for 50 dirhams and it included a burner underneath with which to use charcoal or sticks.

Made good time till Casablanca where the roads were busy and the toll queues long. Decided then not to push it for the 14h00 crossing and go for the 16h00 from Tangier Ville and stopped for lunch about 150km short on Tangier for a service station tagine. Not too bad.

I had planned to use the last if the dirhams for fuel but following the ping headed down to the port wondering how serious it was going to be. Tangier Ville port wasn’t quiet and having seen a lot of French and Italian cars well laden heading north had a suspicion things were going to be busy.

Took an hour to get through the police check and customs and then line up in the queue for the FRS ferry. There was it seems no 16h00 sailing the next one was 18h00 and the 14h00 had left full leaving a number of unhappy in the port. A French guy with a VW had been there since 10h00 and was no worried he was parked where he wouldn’t get off quickly and how he’s been waiting.

I’d checked the coolant bottle and there was some oil in the top but no water in the oil checking the stick and the cap. Interesting and wondering if the oil cooler was failing in the same way as before or if the oil was simply the residue in the system and had floated to the too after 4000 miles. I doubt it’s the latter and that the oil cooler has failed again.

Now sitting on a very full hydrofoil that’s still in Tangier. Getting in to Spain is going to take some time tonight and will aim for the campsite in Tarifa which I think is open till 10pm. Plenty of thinking to do and I might aim for a gradual drive through Spain tomorrow watching the oil and water every 100 miles. Seville is first target and see where I end up tomorrow. I’m on the 10h00 Tuesday ferry from Bilboa and it’s about 500 miles so we will do it steady city by city and may even go via Madrid for some options.

Like when the van going ping before on the way to ferry on 4th December this also has mixed blessings. It happened 15km from the ferry port after 1400 miles in Morocco, and not somewhere south of Tafraout.

Marrakech express arrives eventually

Played a bit of Buffalo Springfield on the way up from Sidi Kaouki which seemed appropriate for a leisurely drive. Waved good bye to Haijoub, a nice guy and left him with 2/3rds of a bottle of single malt, and a very dodgy bottle of white wine which I think had come all the way from Crete 🙂

Quick coffee and on the road to Marrakech. To be honest given what I’d heard wasn’t really looking forward to it but in the end it was all good. Got stopped again for ‘speeding’ again, doing 94 kph in an 80 zone. Given there were no signs though Waze showed an 80 limit it was no surprise it was a 150 dirham bribe rather than an 300 dirham fine.

There’s something to be said for corrupt traffic policeman as they are all out to get you and they are self financing. Keeps speeding at a very low level. Just need to sort out crap driving and cars that have done 3 series of Scrapheap Challenge (now that’s a tv Programme I do miss).

I have developed a hankering for a Mercedes 240D (W123) as the indestructible car of choice. Asked a cabby earlier how much they cost, and 30,000 dirhams seems the price so somewhere less than £2500 for a car with 1 million kilometres on the clock and as original as Triggers broom.

Marrakech is one guy shopping arcade based around the Jebel El Fna, a large square that really comes alive at dusk. Whilst there are many tourists there are also plenty of locals on the hunt for a bargain as the scramble for velour onesies at one stall proved.

With all purchases of carpets undertaken the focus in Marrakesh was on lower cost items and anything where we could find a bargain. Tajines are off the list because of weight and the need for transport to the van. On arriving at the hotel next to the very neat Gare managed to obtain a parking spot with guardien who was also going to wash the van, all for 100 dirham which was reasonable.

Anyway the Tamara and Malcolm Marrakech Shopping Index is as follows:

  1. Teapot : 300 dirham closed 120
  2. Wool jacket : 300 closed 220
  3. Dress thing : offered at 30 with jacket.
  4. Earrings: 50 dirham no haggling
  5. Multi tin opener : wanted 30 offered 10 no deal reached
  6. Hat : 100 closed at 30
  7. Scarf : 500 closed at 120
  8. Cushion covers : 400 for 2 closed at 250
  9. Morocco football shirt: 350 closed at 180
  10. Agave cushion covers : 150 each, offered 100 no deal offered reached

Did see a nice bronze teapot but damaged and with an opening price of 400 dirham and a non moving shop owner not going anywhere with that deal. The end teapot is good for price and a nice momento of the trip. Tamara potentially grabbed the deal of the day with the £10 pashmina scarf where opening price was £43. The wool jacket is great as it’s orange as some flexibility on price was achieved. The camel wool jackets from Essaouira are better quality and potentially better value.

A terrace for tea drinking for an hour overlooking the Jebel El Fna as the sunset was great and the temperature dropped quiet a bit. Resisting the temptation of boiled sheep head from one of the stalls we venutured forth once more into the souks. Whilst there are plenty of people willing to give you directions this comes at a price. Refusing sometimes means getting an insult which I assume in many cases is something the local lads don’t understand.

7.30pm and were were spent so grabbed a taxi back to the Ibis and enjoyed what turned out to be a nice bottle of Moroccan red with some snacks. All in all an enjoyable day and much better than the Marrakesh i had expected. Touristy and tacky in places but also a place for food and shopping. Not sure what else you’d manage.

Not much

The quietest day of the trip which involved Tamara and I not shopping and just sitting on the beach. Some chatting but mainly reading and some drawing.

Tide came in a bit further than even the locals expected and ended up retreating to the back of the beach. Given the previous days full moon on springs so no surprise.

Evening in Aftass and all good with some the good conversations with friends of Hajoubs from Casablanca and later on two Polish girls who given up their degree courses to go surfing. A bit strange but you get the drift of Sidi Kaouki.

The Third Policeman continues to have a high ranking place in list of top books and is probably #1.

More on this when I have move time on the journey home.