Dakhla to Imlili and back

Imlili – April 5, 2021 – Dakhla to Imlili and back, Morocco

By Tom Allin

Yesterday was a day of taking it easy and trying to de-sand ourselves, and our clothes, luggage and the 4Runner. As for de-sanding; we made progress and hopefully someday soon we will say goodby to the sands of the Sahara.

Today we are taking another drive into the desert. However, this drive will be with Martina not Nico and she will do all the driving. Nancy and I will be passengers.

Martina is a knowledgeable guide: (a) a Doctorate degree in Ocean Biology, (b) enjoys the outdoors, (c) has lived in Dakhla for six plus years, and (d) enjoys people. She discussed tourism, government programs, the issue of the Sahrawi independence movement, birds, oceans and of course the desert.

The primary destination is Imlili. Not the very small village but the Imlili sebkha. A sebkha is a depression with a salted bottom. The Imlili sebkha is characterized by small saltwater pools with fish and is approximately 12 km long and 2.5 km wide and 10 km deep. It is 15 km east of the Atlantic Ocean and if you know this area there are several trails to drive – I didn’t see trails but Martina said we were on trails.

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Essaouira Fishing Port

Essaouira Fishing Port – March 29, 2021 – Essaouira, Morocco

By Tom Allin

First thing I did this morning after making my morning check to confirm I was still breathing was to go to the parking lot to retrieve an item or two we had forgotten to unload yesterday. On the way back I stopped In Essaouira’s Moulay Hassan Square for a cup of coffee.

The square is huge and as you can see: empty. Essaouira has morphed from a fishing port into a tourist center during the last twenty years. However, being a year into the pandemic and Morocco still limiting Europeans and others in visiting plus the mandated closing of all restaurants at 8:00 pm has brought tourism to a standstill.

Nancy and I spent 30 minutes or more looking for the perfect café for an American egg and black coffee breakfast. When our search turned up nothing we sat down at a café, ordered eggs and coffee, and sat back to enjoy the morning.

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Drive from Marrakesh to Essaouira

Essaouira – March 28, 2021 – Drive from Marrakesh to Essaouira, Morocco

By Tom Allin

After three days of taking, it easy at the Al Fassia Hotel in Marrakesh it was time to become explorers again.  We are doing nothing tough today after a pandemic caused layoff of one year.  We have a less than four-hour drive to Essaouira and I have already made hotel reservations with a hotel with parking.  Oh, to be so naïve.

We leave the hotel, drive out of Marrakesh, stop for gas, and hit the open road.  It didn’t take but a few minutes to again become comfortable with driving in Morocco.  Something new to contend with: it seems there is a police check point every 20 or 30 minutes that require us to come to a stop and either we are waved through or we have to pull over to show our passports.

As we entered a small town the policeman waves me over.  I put on my mask, roll down the window and the officer says, “Texaaasss, you are from Texaaasss”?  I say, “Yes, from Texas”.  He is smiling (no mask), we fist bump through my window and off we go.

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Casablanca, Morocco

Casablanca – April 18, 2021 – Casablanca, Morocco

By Tom Allin

Today was Sunday and no one was working on transporting our 4Runner from Morocco to South Africa.  We decided to go bathing suit shopping.  Nancy and I both thought we had left bathing suits in the 4Runner when we left Morocco last year at the beginning of the pandemic.  We returned to Morocco and the 4Runner to find no bathing suits.  The front desk suggests the Marina Mall, grabbed a taxi and off we went.

It was maybe a 15-minute ride that cost about $2.50 – we over paid.  The mall was two floors with two U.S. small medium sizes store, a large grocery store, 30 small shops and a dozen eating establishments.  Took us less than 45 minutes to see everything including maybe 10 women swimsuits and to head for the door.

Took a taxi to Hassan II Mosque.  This is the third largest mosque in the world – and was closed, no tours.  This is the one tourist attraction that Casablanca claims and it wasn’t open to the public.

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Drive to Tata

Drive to Tata – April 10, 2021 – Tafraoute to Tazalaght to Ait Ballou to Imitek to Tata, Morocco

By Tom Allin

Our original plan was to drive through Tata, but Tata ended up being a destination not a waypoint on the map for us.  What we didn’t know until later is Booking.com doesn’t show any lodging within a two-hour drive of Tata.  No matter what the Lonely Planet says about Tata, not many tourists end up here – yours truly did.

Enough about Tata. 

It was the drive we thought would be interesting and it was a fascinating drive.  This area is a combination of the Anti-Atlas mountains and Sahara plains.  For the most part it was a good two-lane highway.  We only drove on compacted dirt for maybe an hour.  At times I was doing 80 km/50 mph but for the most part was driving about 60 km/35 mph.

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Central Sidi Ifni – March 31, 2021 evening – Sidi Ifni, Morocco

Spain returned Sidi Ifni to Morocco in 1969. The Spanish took possession of Sidi Ifni after a successful war against Morocco in 1859. The central district has a number of art deco buildings that need renovation or have been renovated mixed in with traditional Moroccan architecture. The city has been painted blue and white – a cooling color to the eyes.

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Sidi Ifni – March 31, 2021 – Essaouira to Sidi Ifni, Morocco

We have a tight schedule between landing in Marrakesh and meeting up with Martina Rovers in the Western Sahara. Today we will drive from Essaouira to Sidi Ifni. This drive is approximately 333 km/200 miles and Google maps says will take 5 hrs. & 45 minutes if we average 35 mph – easier said than done.


We got up and while Nancy assembled our luggage, I was going to walk to the private parking lot to get a baggage carrier. Down two flights of stairs, open the door and damn – there is an older guy with a cart ready to take our luggage. Am guessing either our landlord or the parking lot arranged for this great surprise.


Better than half our drive will be along the Atlantic coast. It was an easy drive and we made several photo stops and a coffee stop – no breakfast and therefore no coffee before we left Essaouira.

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Tata – April 10, 2020 – Tata, Morocco

By Tom Allin

We woke with a planned drive from Tafraout to Taroudant by way of Tazalaght, Imitek, Tata, and Igherm. However, about 30 minutes outside of Tata Nancy suggested we stop in Tata for the evening. I immediately agreed, our long drives do tire one out.

Nancy grabbed the Lonely Planet Morocco book and looked for lodging in Tata. We decided on a place with so-so reviews but a bar. As we drove into town, I pulled over to see if we could get the internet and google maps – No. But Nancy sees a sign for the hotel we want, damn good luck. I drive a hundred feet, make a left and pull into the hotel unloading area – looks dead. It is closed. Nancy and I agree on hotel #2 which I had seen a sign for as we drove into Tata – it’s closed. As we drive through town, we see the Lonely Planet’s 3rd and last hotel. It’s open and we get a room. What can I say, I think we have had worse and Nancy’s not sure. Price is $31/night and no breakfast but a restaurant that serves beer.

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The Western Sahara – April 1 – 4, 2021 – Western Sahara/Morocco

Editors note: Tom and Nancy Allin are bad on the road. This is the story he posted this week. 4/12/2021

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We set the alarm for 5:30 am so as to leave our hotel room in Laayoune by 6:15 to meet Nico, co-owner with his wife of Martina Dakhla Rovers.  We were to meet about an hour north of Dakhla at a gas station where we hoped to fill up again with gasoline.  The evening before, after a 20-minute round trip walk to a café restaurant for dinner – we both ordered pizzas – I had filled the 4Runner’s gas tank to the top.  At a previous gas stop that day I filled both emergency 5-gallon roof top containers with gas.  Still, there was some concern about having enough gas for the trip since most of the filling stations down here only have diesel. 

We set out to explore the desert in the dark.  I drove slowly at about 25 mph until we were out of town and on the two-lane highway.  I probably averaged less than 40 mph – wanted plenty of time to stop for any highway sleeping camels or highway crossing camels or donkeys; not to mention bicycling or motorcycling Moroccans.

Many of the towns have either a large arched wall to drive through or some kind of display to let you know you have arrived.  Also, most of the towns in southern Morocco have a long entry stretch of road lined with palm trees, streetlights and very wide sidewalks.

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Embrace Good Traditions

Editor’s note:
George Smith is a co-founder of Marshall’s Wonderland of Lights. He recently sent me this article. It’s something we should all think around.

Traditions, good traditions, the ones that make us smile, that give our kids and grandkids pleasure, that bring back fond memories should be cherished and protected and embraced, revered even.

Marshall has such a tradition, one that is more than 30 years old and has brought more people to this city and produced more smiling faces than any other event…ever.

The Wonderland of Lights is not another festival; it is an institution that must be preserved, changed to fit the times and cultivated with love and reverence.

When Wonderland of Lights was conceived, Marshall was in the midst of the worst economic period since the Great Depression. There were more empty storefronts downtown than were occupied buildings; 18 of the top 22 retail establishments had given up and locked their doors.

From Day 1, the Wonderland of Lights was never about “lights”; it was about the spirit in the hearts of the special people in a special place called Marshall. As co-chairman with J.C. Hughes, Jr. for first five years of the holiday lighting festival, I have a personal bias in making sure the festival not only stays viable…but grows as it glows annually.
A vast majority of the citizens embraced the concept of Wonderland from Day 1. And from the onset, the Chamber of Commerce, Tony Bridge at the radio station, and the News Messenger pushed the idea because it served as a beacon of light in a dark era of the city’s history.

What was so special about Wonderland of Lights?

One night in the first year, I was going around the square, replacing burned out bulbs and talking to visitors. Out of the corner of my eye I saw a woman and four children get out of a car. Something made me watch them. The kids, 10 to about four years of age, were running around under the lighted trees and staring gawk-eyed at the courthouse with its 100,000-plus lights.

The woman watched them and, suddenly, slumped to the ground. I ran over to check on her. “Are you okay?”

She looked up and big tears were coursing down her cheeks. “This is just so beautiful. This is just so incredibly beautiful.”

Her story tore through my heart.

Her husband had left, walked out of the marriage a few weeks before; she had no job, no money and four small children. And Christmas was less than a month away.

She looked up at the lights. “This is our Christmas! I bring the kids up every night and let them run and play and marvel at the beauty.

“It’s all they’ll have this year for Christmas.”

I turned away on the pretense of getting something  to write on which gave me time to wipe my tears away.

I got the lady’s contact information that night and the next day started a “telephone tree” to see if folks could help.

Within 48 hours, the spirit of Marshall rose up: The lady had a job, free day care for the kids, enough money to keep the rented house outside of town and utilities, groceries, and abundant Christmas presents and clothes for all the children. This newspaper gifted her with a Christmas tree, lights and ornaments and a shopping trip to local merchants.

The spirit of Christmas. The spirit of Marshall.

Fast forward a few years. There was an incredibly likable high school girl who volunteered to help string lights and work at the old city hall stage on the intricate task of making light panels in chicken wire.

She was happy, helpful, diligent and hard working. She always carried a smile on her face to share with others.

One night she didn’t show up to work; we learned she had been killed in a car wreck.

The day after her funeral someone put up a small decorated Christmas tree at the gravesite; one of her friend, knowing she loved teddy bears, put a small bear in a glass jar by her gravestone.

The tree and the bear were stolen.

Within a couple of days, there were five small, decorated Christmas trees and more than 10 teddy bears in jars surrounding her gravesite.

The spirit of Christmas. The spirit of Marshall.

Of course, there were detractors for the projects, aginners who didn’t like change, who didn’t like the Chamber or the newspaper and went out of their way to make their feelings known. One lived in a very nice neighborhood and when all his neighbors decorated their houses and landscaping…this resident held on to an intense curmudgeonry with a fierce determination.

About the first of December that year, the resident left on a family vacation and returned to find the house and landscaping ablaze with thousands of tiny white lights, courtesy of his neighbors, who even ran extension cords to their homes to provide power.

The spirit of Christmas. The spirit of Marshall.

Wonderland of Lights is not about Christmas lights; it never has been. Don’t let the special spirit diminish. Embrace and enhance this tradition that only Marshall possesses.

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