So…. we have been robbed.

Tim and Sarah of glamping company Quality Unearthed
The day after being robbed. Still loving the world.

The unfortunate loss of camera with all pictures, iPod, money and notebook came after a run in with the police following a fire show at Sidi Ifni, southern Morocco. Until recently a Spanish outpost and still a hotbed of instability.

The journey to get us this far started in Tangier 4 weeks ago…..

An international border is usually an organised affair with carefully designed layouts and buildings with well-trained, honourable officials. Arrival by ferry to Tangier is a free for all! First off the boat and fastest to the customs, wins. A ten euro ‘oiling of the cogs’ gets our vehicle authorised for entry with minimal fuss save for one over zealous customs officer who was convinced we were carrying arms. Perhaps due to the conflict in Mali. Fortunately our lubricated official ushered him and his inquisitions away.

 Our SatNav guided us through the busy streets of Tangier where our interpretation of the chaotic yet curiously ordered rules of the road go something like ‘whoever has their nose in front has the right of way, regardless of speed of travel’. This applies equally to horses, goats, donkeys, bikes, and the blind.

 The road south along the coast is a good one. Although it is a toll road we enjoyed making good miles driving through the rich and advanced farming land with miles of poly tunnels. The pipe irrigated fields and well-organised crops like ribs of an old washing board are part of Morocco’s powerful drive into development.

So far Morocco is barely discernible from parts of Europe. Indeed in these urban areas women are as likely to be unveiled as veiled. Commonly they wear tight clothes with skin showing – something less common in other Arabic countries I have visited. Amusingly we passed 3 girls all in matching tracksuits and big gold earrings who wouldn’t have looked out of place in the UK.  Continuing south we see ever increasing numbers of new build developments. Although these appear to be tourist developments I am reliably informed that these are mostly for the growing Moroccan middle class seeking a place outside of the city. This development is not without its rewards.

 

Taking the advice of a 20-year-old surf book handed down to me by good Aussie friends we turned off the roads and tracks (to SatNav’s dismay) in the direction of Imsouane. A small fishing village with at least 2 very good surf waves. After a few days of wild camping we were happy to pull into a campsite overlooking the beach and the best surf spot.  Former windsurfing pro Jamie owns the camp.

Glamping boat in Morocco
A great upcycle of an old fishing boat into a lovely place to stay
Glamping boat in Morocco
Glamping boat in Morocco next to where we camped. Simple and Ingenious.

Despite a successful campsite with friendly alternative living guests Jamie has diversified inadvertently into glamping. Based on a principle of taking a small space and making it warm and comfy, attractive and inhabitable, Jamie has converted a small fishing boat. By raising the sides and adding a roof along with a glass door and a very romantic bed inside he has created the most successful plot on his site. The view in the morning from bed through glass doors towards the sea is well worth leaving the tent in the bag. Unfortunately our photos are in the hands of a mischievous Sidi Ifni resident!

 

Friends of a friend live in Taghazout, a few hours south, just north of Agadir. Another surf village with multiple good surf beaches in the heart of Argan oil country.

Argan Fruit
Argan Fruit

Argan oil is a very precious oil made by hand from the nuts of the tree that only grows in this small part of the world (also in some areas of Mexico). The oil is used to nourish skin and hair. It is an organic and ancient tradition made exclusively by women. I am helping a friend set up his argan business with which he is selling the finest quality hand made organic argan oil made by the local women from the surrounding argan trees. He sells

Argan tree
Quality Unearthed’s ‘Big Red’ alongside Argan trees

at the best prices too! In the region of £10 per 50ml and £100 per litre. The edible version of the oil is commonly eaten here with bread for a delicious breakfast.

 

Continuing further south we take another break form wild camping and stay in a villa courtesy of our friends at sister company Quality Villas. Dan and the team have kindly offered us a stay and have bent over backwards to set it up for us. We arrive after dark to this palatial seaside villa, but the true magnificence only becomes apparent in the morning. The miles of Aglou Plage beach are on our doorstep (or pool step to be more precise). The owners who we invited over for dinner were also incredible and all in all a great break from the dusty road. See http://www.qualityvillas.com/agadir/agadir/villa-fatima

Dancing at a Quality Villas property
Edu and Camile dancing at one of Quality Villas’ property

 

 

An old friend from New Zealand and his partner join us in the villa as well as Edu and Camile, professional musicians and performers of Cuban, Colombian and other Latino music. Edu recounted on one occasion stories of some of the 30 or so friends he has lost to war in Colombia – in the eyes of beautiful people who might be sitting alongside you now will be tales so vastly different from your own it is hard to refute the concept that there are 6-7 billion worlds on this planet. We hang out discussing P.P.R. – philosophy, politics and reggae – surely a Degree subject of the future!

 

Luxury villa over its time to get back on the road. Mirleft is our next destination; a small unvisited town in steppe country. The very friendly people remember with great fondness the hippy movements through the ages and welcome such kind souls with open arms. The ‘Dirty Hippy’ Americanism of the Vietnam war era never succeeded in brain washing the people here. Wild (ish) camping next to Europeans from Denmark throws us into days of delicious Moroccan food courtesy of Hannan  – think couscous and tagine.

Hannan on Couscous Friday
Hannan on Couscous Friday

 

After days of surf far too large, I finally have a chance to get in again. There are strong rips that I use to help get me out back. No one else is in and as the first set waves roll in I can see why – they are HUGE! The first set wave breaks right on top of me, never a comfortable place to be. I duck dive underneath only to get tumbled. Surfacing to the unpleasant sight of an ever bigger wave breaking ahead of me I dive under again.

Mirlfet Surf Spot
Surf near to Mirleft.

This time I was tumbled with that ferocity only Mother Nature effortlessly produces. My efforts are now far more concerted and I’m clinging onto my board for buoyancy, which duly bounces off my head and face! Relieved to come to the surface there is a break in the waves. I catch my breath long enough to notice I have drifted disconcertingly close to a lobster pot line I definitely don’t want to get caught in.  More Set Waves.  Surfacing I see I am now uncomfortably close to a large rock outcrop in the middle of the sea which may be beautiful in the eyes of those on the beach, but less so from out here! My heart thumping I decide my survival depends on getting back to the beach. I could have kissed the sand when I made it back. Despite scaring myself I am thankful for putting myself outside of my comfort zone, for whatever reason or mistake I made in getting out there, for my body mind and energy learnt from the experience. It will make future experiences easier.

 

Edu, Camille, Rene Mike Sarah and I decide its time to travel south to Sidi Ifni for Souk (market) day.

Mike at the market in Sidi Ifni
Mike at the market in Sidi Ifni

We will take the opportunity to do an evening performance with music dancing and fire show – filmmakers Mike and Rene will document the experience.  Sidi Ifni is arguably the entrance to the Sahara. Formerly a strategically important fort it still has a frontier town feel. We set up at the market and wait dusk to perform in front of Mike and Rene’s truck. Edu and Camile light the musical flame with Latino tunes as Sarah makes rings of hula-hoop fire – a beautiful spectacle.  A fire breathing part finishes my rope dart and fire juggling part. Unable to find Paraffin we use a substitute somewhere between paraffin and white spirit in constitution and heat of flame – a decision instantly regretted as I put it in my mouth with the immediate sensation that my mouth was being dissolved. I think I will be in trouble with the dentist. Not recommended. 100 or so blank faced Moroccans observe tentatively. They seem to really enjoy the show despite the impressionless faces!

Sidi Ifni fire show warm up
Tim of Quality Unearthed warming up for Sidi Ifni Fire Show
Courtesy of Mike at www.michaelrobins.net

As we pack up and chat to the inquisitive audience an unmarked car pulls up and out jumps a portly balding man who charges at us like a goaded bull. Instantly demanding passports and evidence of our authorisation for making ‘spectacular’ – nice of him to say so. Cautiously hesitant to hand over passports to this angry plain clothed person who might or might not be police we delay giving original passports opting sensibly instead for copies of our passports – serving as a red rag! With the arrival of the very pleasant uniformed police – who by the way have been excellent throughout Morocco – ID is given, we are cautioned, told not to stay here and sent on our way towards the fateful beach.

 

This too-good-to-be-true park up right on the beach inevitably is. On our first night there, whilst sleeping above the vehicle, our locks are picked and backpacks removed. Despite the loss of possessions and subsequent time at the police station, our love for  the Moroccan people and country is unwavered. By far, more safe than otherwise. Whilst some possessions have gone our happiness has not. We return to Mirleft and prepare for the next stage in the Moroccan adventure; The Sahara!

 

Next time; Stuck in the sand and the desert man.

 

4 weeks ago Tim took off for a 2 month adventure, here is his first report!

We are half way through a 2 month journey from the UK into the dunes of the Northern Sahara in Eastern Morocco. Sarah and I travelled by ferry to Spain, crossing the narrow gateway to the Mediterranean into Morocco at Tangier. From there we travel the Atlantic coast as far as Mirleft / Sidi Ifni and pointed the wheels east dancing through dunes, gorges and ancient cities and hopefully the odd Bedouin encampment.

Our ‘Magic Carpet’ for this journey is a 1994 Land Rover Defender 300 TDI bought second hand from our friends at www.hummingbird-tipis.co.uk. He is known as ‘Big Red’ for no other reason than he is big and red. Despite 200k mils on the clock Big Red is in great working order, helped largely by our friends Dave Ward, Martin Vaughan and Dan Calder from St Davids garage.

Much work has been done to prepare Big Red and equally lots of is gear needed. I will post about this, along with a what worked and what didn’t when we get back to the UK. Worth a mention is Jumbo James of Wood Park Farm, Pembrokeshire (www.woodpark-offroad.com). Jumbo is a Welsh farmer with the stature of countryside nobility and his knowledge and training were invaluable. I would recommend anyone considering such an overland trip into extreme conditions to be sure they know how to drive the vehicle. We found it was like learning to drive again!

So finally after months of preparation of vehicle, toil and torment fitting everything to the Defender, we were finally ready. However, to find that my passport wasn’t in its usual ‘safe’ place was ‘unfortunate’ as leaving-do pints had to be skipped (well mostly – don’t tell Sarah!) and still with only a few hours to take-off I was still tearing the place apart looking for the passport. We search high and low, the yurt and my office are unceremoniously ransacked but the passport was nowhere to be found. Thoughts of missed ferries and visits to the passport office flooded my mind. Our friend Chas suggested we check the Quality Cottages & Quality Unearthed car but no, it’s not in the boot, not in the doors, not in glove box, not under the drivers seat, loads of old papers under the passenger seat – best bin them……..wait…..what?…..that’s it, Thats It! Found it!  An immense feeling of elation! Thrill seeking personalies would need to be incredibly brave to submit themselves to the torturous sensation of losing it in the first place however!

The drive from St Davids to Portsmouth is easy. Not unfamiliar to customs checks (is it the hair?) upon arrival we are duly directed into the security search area where by now we know the routine but once through and safely on board our cabin is comfy. The strangest thing about this part of the journey is the time warp tardis we find ourselves in. This alternate reality is populated by gala bingo players all driving white refrigerators – we are to encounter these strange fridge drivers many times in the coming weeks.

From Bilbao we get some miles behind us. Direction Salamanca. The bonsai tree like mountains become canyons with rising mist, vineyards and our first camp. A small lake, spotted by Sarah on the map, bordered by rounded boulders atop sand, is reminiscent of those at Hampi, India.

Seeking a quiet spot we follow bumpy lanes down dead ends until lack of daylight prompts us back to an easily accessible route to the lake. Dusk is upon us. The sandy road down to the lake has a water carved ditch cutting across it, not 2 foot wide by 1 foot deep. Considering we have seen cars down there this ditch cannot be insurmountable. With Jumbo James wise words in our minds I approach the ditch at an angle so as to drop one wheel in at a time. Drivers side front wheel in, I apply gentle throttle, when there is a secondary drop from the rear…….the drivers side rear wheel has collapsed the edge of the ditch behind us leaving 2 wheels in the ditch and an unhealthy tilt to the right.

 IMG_4566“No problem” I think. Into low gear; nope. “Try applying central diff lock” – just wheel spinning. Damn it! It’s our first ‘got stuck’ and we’re not even 24 hours into mainland Europe! So it’s out with the sand ladders and shovel….. but not enough leverage / traction – damn it again!

'got stuck' take one
‘got stuck’ take one

 

OK so out with the winch. An anxious moment as the front winch has been temperamental, but out she pulls perfectly.

 

Aimed at a large rock – but the wire isn’t long enough! OK, out with a heavy duty ratchet strap and 7m strop so it reaches. All safety procedures duly followed. Back in the vehicle and Sarah safely out of the way the winch takes the strain – pull, pull, pull – winch is turning but Big red isn’t moving. We have only gone and pulled the entire rock!

Take 2. Forget the rock. This time there is pull, but what is happening is that the winch direction of pull is tipping us further onto its side. Stop. Re-think.

Take 3. Aim the winch cable in the other direction, off towards the left….winch takes the strain…again the whole rock is pulled towards us.

Take 4. Take strain. Low gear, diff on, some throttle, up. Yes. Up  little more. Yes. keep going, up, up and yes! All four wheels up and past the ditch! I jump out with huge smiles and high fives with Sarah! Its dark and has taken us 2 hours but we are elated at having thought through the problem, analysed the solutions and implementing them successfully is particularly rewarding. IMG_0067  The next morning we have coffee sitting on the rock for breakfast. Silence. No traffic no people nothing, only the occasional ting-a-ling of a cow and her bell. A short drive today. Tonights camp is again by a lake Sarah spotted on the map, not far from the main road to Sevilla. Following a track otherwise impassable without a 4×4 we head around the back of a headland to a quiet flat spot out of view and overlooking the lake on both sides of us.

We park under the shade of olive trees. Roof tent out, gather wood for the fire, Sarah cooks, we eat, drink tea and feel merry.

 

glamping under the stars
under the stars in an olive grove

For me, this is the feeling that glamping sites aim to provide. Sleeping comfortably in a beautiful natural environment where we are warm, well fed and watered, with a fire for entertainment and each others company.

The stars in the sky are smiling at us. We smile back. It is these moments of emotional centeredness that we remember. Simple moments where inner peace prevails and our bodies and minds thank us for the chance to heal ourselves.Great glamping sites and alternative living homes of any variety, or for that matter any cottage or villa, should ultimately aim to provide this experience at its core.

From here we push on through to spain to Tarifa and the ferry crossing to Tangier, Morocco. Another continent and a world very different awaits…

Next Installement: Blog 2 – Bribes, donkeys, glamping boats and Argan oil.

Christmas Pressie Dilemma?

Are your feet aching already? right now a lot of us are pounding the high streets and  Christmas Fairs seeking out that perfect gift and perhaps wondering what on earth to get for certain people this year!

It can be tricky finding a meaningful gift as a lot of people already seem to have everything they need these days. For me at least, if I am giving someone a pressie I do like to put a bit of thought into it, and preferably something that I know the recipient would really like and appreciate – and as a bonus, something they weren’t expecting!

Holiday Vouchers from Quality Unearthed
Show them you care, give Unearthed Pounds!

Gift Vouchers

A fun and easy solution is to give a gift voucher, and even better, a holiday gift voucher which will give the lucky recipients a great experience and happy memories. I love the idea of holiday vouchers because once Christmas is over and the tinsel is back in the loft there is still something fun to look forward to! So for a change this year surprise your friends, family or even partner (that way you get to enjoy it too!) with something a bit different and take a look at our gift vouchers.

Unearthed Pounds!

It’s nice to be able to cash in vouchers when and how it suits, so our Holiday Gift Vouchers can be used at any Quality Unearthed property, they are not time sensitive and can be used at any time of the year. So you nor the recipient need to worry about ‘use by’ dates or any of that nonsense! They start at £25 and are available in multiples thereof, so if you’re feeling really generous you could give someone a good contribution toward a well earned break or even a complete holiday. I think they’d be great for forthcoming celebrations like Honeymoons, Anniversaries and Birthdays too.

The Cwtch eco cabin
The Cwtch eco cabin in Pembrokeshire

If you’d like to treat someone to our Holiday Vouchers please give us a call on 01348 830922 to purchase… they will also be available on the website very soon, I’ll pop the link in here as soon as that option has been added.

In the meantime, happy shopping and don’t forget to treat yourself to a little something too, even if it’s just ten minutes out with a good cappuccino!

 

 

I have always loved ‘compact and bijou’ accommodation, be it a caravan, camper van or cosy cottage (which is just as well as I live in one). The fascination possibly started with my rather well appointed ‘Wendy House’ (I can still smell the canvas) and perpetuated by my makeshift tree-house amidst the huge willow tree in the garden. However these days it is not just the doll’s house ‘cute factor’ that appeals, what now fascinates me about little abodes and spaces is intelligent design. So inspired by the TV series “George Clarke’s Amazing Spaces“, I thought I would write this month’s blog about them.

‘Marilyn’s’ glamorous interior

It is relatively easy to create comfort and convenience on a large scale, but on a smaller scale one has to think things through a little, be creative and make the most use of the space to hand. This is also one of the things I love about our glamping structures, whether vintage or new, thought and care has gone into how they are laid out and how they will be most convenient to use – and therefore comfortable for a holiday.

Glamping structures such as The Cwtch create quite a challenge, but fair play to the owner Bethan who has created a light, welcoming and comfortable abode in something not much bigger than a 6 berth tent! Little touches like the small bookshelf over the bed, the vintage cupboard housing games / practical items and ingenious lighting make this a truly cosy, easy to use glamping holiday space. Clever stuff.

a cosy nest for naps and reading
The captain’s bed in the Cwtch eco-cabin

In one of his TV programmes, George takes a look at some traditional bow-top Gypsy Wagons and surely these evokative little structures have to represent one of the most impressive uses of small living spaces. Having had the pleasure of staying in our 1920’s Showman’s Wagon a few weeks ago I was blown away with the stylish and decorative use of limited square footage!

1920's Showman's Wagon
maximum use of minumum square footage, a vintage Showman’s Wagon

No corner or space has been overlooked in the Wagon, a cupboard squeezed in here, a drawer there – and all so beautifully finished. Evens so, I did wonder where the Showman might keep his collection of shoes & accessories, but then he might not have had as many as I do……

1920's Circus Master trailer Wagon
wood panelled interior and storage galore in this vintage Showman’s Wagon

On a slightly larger scale the Bensfield Treehouse also makes the most of space and indeed a curious shape – it is circular, so the kitchen and bathroom had to be worked into that without compromising the nature and beauty of the structure. And most importantly of course the design needs to facilitate convenience and comfort – important factors when the structure is to be used for holidays where we want to relax and take time-out from busy lives and schedules.

interior of holiday Treehouse
good design and comfort make the perfect glamping holiday venue

And I think this is why I love well thought-out, small abodes, be they someone’s once portable home, weekend retreat or quirky holiday properties – they are the ideal marriage of design, fun and funtion. Yes they are unusual, but ideally they are also intelligent and comfortable spaces, making them easy to use and a joy to be in… just like my ‘Wendy House’!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Quality Unearthed at the Royal Welsh Show
Quality Unearthed and Quality Cottages are at the Royal Welsh Show this week, call in and see us if you are visiting the show