Morocco week 1: Arrival & settling in
Written by Caitlin de Boer & Erik Westerhoff
The Journey from Groningen to Agadir, Morocco
Our journey started on the 24th of September beginning with a train ride from Groningen to Eindhoven. Friends and family gathered at the Groningen Central Station early afternoon to say their goodbyes to us and to send their well wishes as well as support for our team. After a quick picture with the team, we boarded our first of 3 trains down south. The train ride was mostly smooth sailing with small hiccups with regards to the track issues (typical for the Dutch train system). After a 4.5 hour trip, we finally arrived at Eindhoven Airport where we would stay the night at the airport’s hotel in preparation for our early departure to Marrakech, Morocco.
On 25th of September, our team started the day at an ungodly hour - 3am. As our flight was at 7.10am and due to the fact that Morocco has strict entry restrictions, we had to be early at the check-in counter to ensure that our whole team could have their bags checked in on time. Once we passed security, the team was free to do as they pleased. Most of us went to the food area to get breakfast and enjoy our last “Dutch” meal before a month of Moroccan food. Alas, we were now ready to board the plane. This was an experience for some as they had never been out of Europe nor taken a plane before in their life. You could feel the excitement in the air as we walked on the tarmac along the rows of nicely arranged planes towards our plane (a Boeing 737-800).
As the crew greeted us, we headed to our seats. To our delight, we found out that the flight was less than half full which meant that most of us had full rows to ourselves which made savouring the experience a lot better. During the flight, some took the time to take some well deserved rest, some looked out of the window to admire the geographical landscape which was a huge contrast to our very flat Netherlands, while others enhanced their knowledge by reading books.
In no time, we had finally arrived in Morocco! Unfortunately, since we arrived in Marrakech, and our destination was Agadir, we still had a 3.5 hour bus ride to go (the horrors!). During the bus ride, we spent most of our time admiring the Moroccan landscape which mainly consisted of the picturesque Atlas mountains where we will also be driving our solar car, the Green Spirit, during the race. Upon arrival at our hotel, Hotel Aferni, we were greeted by our friends Charlotte and Jamal who have been helping us with arranging many things in Morocco. While waiting for our rooms, we ate at the hotel’s snack cafe and were soon greeted by Moroccan hospitality. A lovely Moroccan man, who had studied in the Netherlands previously, paid for the whole team’s meal. He explained that when he was in the Netherlands, he was also greeted with lots of hospitality and the knowledge he gained while studying abroad helped him gain a good job in Morocco. Since we were a Dutch team, he wanted to return the favour! Our 26 hour journey from Groningen to Agadir finally came to an end and our team took some well deserved rest that night.
Besides the hotel, we did arrange another important location: the workshop where the Holy Grail (Green Spirit) will find her final form. The workshop is a garage on the outskirts of Agadir, but only 10 minutes by car (or 6 minutes by taxi). On Sunday, the technical team inspected the place and cleaned it a bit. After that we had to wait for our container to arrive, bringing us the solar car and all the equipment we packed back in Groningen.
On Thursday, we were finally reunited with our baby, brought to us by our fabulous truck driver Rob; a new friend of the team who will stay with us for the complete period. We love to hear his English accent - especially Ruben who was really delighted to have a real British accent on his birthday, but we all enjoy his happy appearance to the max. Anyway, he is the angel bringing back our baby, so finally we could arrange the workshop properly and install the mechanical and electronic department.
Of course the whole neighbourhood was curious to find out what on earth we would deliver, we got a lot of attention. For that reason, we hired two guards who will protect the car and container during night times. Mohammed and Abdullah, the two giant street fighters of Agadir, are providing us with a good night's sleep so thank you again guys!
Now, with the workshop alive, working days are almost normal again, if normal ever existed in this project, except for the temperature which did reach the 40 degrees Celsius this week and creates some kind of oven-ish environment wherever you are, especially inside. So as soon as the boys return to the hotel, the swimming pool is like an oasis in the desert and in the coolness of the water they find their well deserved relaxation after a hard day’s work.
Getting used to Morocco: the food
One of the exciting things of traveling is getting to know a different culture and of course the local cuisine. Moroccan cuisine is famous for its couscous and tasteful tajines as well for the use of a delicious variation of herbs and spices. So expectations were high and so is the deception, unfortunately. Not that the food in the hotel is not good, on the contrary, but is well designed to please the western tourists. So we had pasta, and rice, and pasta, and fries, and soup but not the terrific harira, my personal favorite, or at least a lentil soup but just the veggies leftover from last night's dinner. So a little bit meh. Of course we asked for improvement (trying not to make it sound like the standard Dutch Complaint) and today we will get tajine and grilled meat, hurray hurray. Maybe that's because last night we went to a local restaurant, appointed by the marvellous Mr Jamal, our personal guide in Agadir, and returned with a good story about lovely food sold by the kilo (!) for non-European prices. We paid like €6 for a meal, including a liter of soda. Alcohol is of course off limits. So tonight we can compare the skills of the hotel chef with the performance of the locals on the street. We will update you doubtless in the next blog. Due to the changes, some folks are having troubles with their stomach and intestines, we will spare you the details..
Our day structure in Morocco
Naturally, even though Agadir is a holiday city, we are not on holiday and work still needs to be done. Thus, we work 6 days a week with Saturday as our rest day. Our work day (for those who are not ill) starts at 7.30am sharp in the morning, as we are training ourselves to always be on time in preparation for the race. We then do a morning briefing, after which, the technical team will head to the workshop to work on the Green Spirit. The rest of the team will then work on the preparation for the race which includes the convoy protocol and cars. Our work day ends at 6.00pm and since dinner at the hotel begins at 7.30pm, we have an hour and a half or rest. During this time, we can rest, but many of us go swimming at the hotel’s pool. After which, dinner takes around an hour and we chill around till 10.00pm which is when we have to be in our rooms.
Our first rest day
Saturday marked our first free and easy day (yay!). We arranged quad bike riding for the team. Quad bikes are four-wheeled bikes meant for off-road riding. This is the perfect activity in Morocco since there are lots of sand dunes here which makes it really fun to ride such vehicles. We went to the sand dunes by the beach and rode on the bikes for 2 hours. It was a lot of fun but also really sandy! The owner used a big blow dryer to get the dust off our bodies and clothes, but everyone had to take a shower when they got back anyway.
We then spent the rest of the day suntanning and relaxing by the pool in an attempt to get our batteries recharged for the coming working week.