Blanket Coverage

HAPPINESS, sang John Lennon, is a warm gun.

He obviously never spent much time overlanding or he would know happiness is a warm blanket.

Planning this trip, one of my major concerns was surviving nights under canvas – something which has been avoided for many years and on my last overland trip was abandoned after a couple of nights in favour of sleeping on our converted bus.

That is not an option this time and so much thought was put in to making life as comfortable as possible after dark – a blow-up mattress and a sleeping bag, albeit opened out as a quilt, working together to keep me warm and relaxed.

It didn’t exactly work on the first few, largely sleepless nights, but things have improved (although doubt anyone was predicting me rising before sunrise and the allotted breakfast time on a regular basis) with the addition of a pillow.

By royal appointment - Joe and the rest of us treat the palace in Fes with due dignity
By royal appointment – Joe and the rest of us treat the palace in Fes with due dignity

And last night our tent took on the appearance of a showroom from the Ideal Homes Exhibition with the arrival of two new Moroccan rugs.

Tent mate Michael (you can work out why we were paired together and why our fellow campers are so keen to know where our tent is pitched each night) opted for sprawling his across the floor, while mine is folded neatly (for now) along my mattress and topped off with the quilt.

Very comfortable it is too, although stiffer, colder tests lie ahead in the next few days.

The rugs were a result of a day in the labyrinthine medina of Fes, our latest stop on the journey around Morocco.

Having left soggy Chefchaouen just as the sun was finally emerging over the picturesque scene, the day’s drive to Fes was fairly subdued on the back of the truck.

What scenery we saw was well worth the pictures we took and staying awake for, as was the thrill of being chased around the mountain roads by a string of cars full of men trying to sell us hash.

But, sorry to say, most of us ignored tour leader Joe’s pleas for us to enjoy the passing countryside and spent much of the day catching up on sleep.

Our arrival in Fes brought us face to face with a second Oasis truck and a second, smaller group of travellers heading as far as Cape Town five days behind us, albeit via a slightly different route through Morocco.

Real leather - The colourful scene at Fes' tanneries
Real leather – The colourful scene at Fes’ tanneries

Much of the evening was spent chatting to what could have been our truck mates – all of which, allied with a restocked drinks chiller, proved a little too much for one of our number. Not only did he somehow entrust Joe with a pair of clippers on his hair, but he needed three goes to find the right tent.

We waved farewell to the other truck in the morning before meeting up with Callum – our guide and fixer, who knows seemingly everybody worth knowing in Fes.

He led us around the city, to the Jewish Quarter, King’s Palace, a pottery workshop and a scenic overview before heading headfirst into the medina, supposedly the largest car-free urban area in the world.

Dating back more than 1,200 years, the medina is vast with people on every corner and in every nook and cranny finding a way to make a living. There really does seem very little you cannot get in there if you know where to look.

But knowing where to look is an art, given the puzzle of finding your way around. Every time we thought we had some vague idea where we were, Callum would turn a corner, duck down an alleyway, through an arch or up some stairs and emerge in some new area.

All, of course, giving us plenty of opportunity to spend money at the various stops.

None was spent at the tannery (which did provide a fascinating, if pungent, view over the work being done on the leather round the back and the question of the trip so far from a passing American: “Are these wallets real leather?), and not so much at the pharmacy (a few spices and oils) or at the weavers (where a masterclass showed those who opted to buy turbans how to tie them).

But plenty was spent at our lunch stop – the carpet shop.

As well as feeding us – very nicely thank you with lamb koftas and more Moroccan tea, which is starting to prove a little too sweet – they gave us a quick show through their range and we lapped it up.

By the time we left, bags stuffed with rugs were tucked under arms and a couple of Berber jackets have been sported ever since.

My rug, evidently, is a aphrodisiac. May need to go for a lie down to check.

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