In 1956 the French left Morocco after 44-years of occupation but recent times have seen a new invasion; from the Southern Spanish Ports they come in their thousands, a campervan cavalcade marching to a victory of sunshine and low-cost campsites.
Throughout natural history, species with the means (ie-wings) have wisely selected to spend their winter months in the sunshine of North Africa, returning to the lush landscapes of Europe during the warmer summer months. This mass-migration of sleek, shiny-white motorhomes starts around December; armies of retired French couples cross the straits of Gibraltar and spread strategically across Moroccan camping grounds.
Rigorous behavioural routines can be observed; departure to the next site is at 8.30am sharp, with arrival around midday for lunch. Males typically drive, with females directing the fibreglass monsters into position through a series of bizarre hand signals. Yellow plastic wheel wedges level the automobile to perfection, the satellite dish rotates into position, astroturf is rolled outside the doorway, a miniature dog appears on its lead (or even cats) and a pot plant completes the picnic table and two chairs.
Territorial behaviour is intense, parking is unidirectional with an unwritten rule of personal space encroachment; an awning overstretching into a neighbours pitch will be met with fierce aggression. On one occasion we witnessed a ferocious altercation culminating in a couple spraying a hose over a man and his wife that refused to move their car from slightly blocking the communal tap. Morning sees a parade of males carrying ‘Vide cassettes’ from their on-board toilettes, followed by a mass-grooming of vehicles; vertical mopping maintains the pristine gleam while females polish the windows and hoover the 3.1m2 of interior carpet.
But surely this kind of mass tourism is great for the struggling Moroccan economy? Not so much when these vehicles represent Carrefour-on-wheels; stocked to the roof with Cotes-du-Rhone and Camembert they remove the need to shop or eat at restaurants locally and hotels, buses and taxis are unnecessary when you travel in your accommodation. Behind high campsite fences on the fringes of towns, there is little integration with local communities or absorption of culture; essentially these mobile home ‘cocoons’ are miniature replicas of their French apartment equivalent (only with winter sunshine). French is Morocco’s widely-spoken second language so communication is effortless and at around 5 Euros per night, pitch fees are a fraction of European sites. Some campervans will move around the country but many take root in a single location for the entire duration of their 3 month visa. On the outskirts of Taghazout a miniature city has grown on a stretch of coastal wasteland; hundreds of campervans congregate in groups, encircling areas where Petanque is played and Christmas trees and lights dot the rough ground in December.
On the flip side of the dirham is the possibility that maybe a season in North Africa is an avoidance of ridiculously high French winter fuel bills. Retired couples removed from the social circles that employment brings are possibly seeking new communal interactions. For overlanders, this influx of motorhome tourism has provided an infrastructure of convenient campsites throughout the country, yet the immaculate, meandering, camping car convoy can be escaped in minutes via any road with a slightly rough surface.
In a country that once saw transportation and movement over its deserts and mountains via a Camel Train, there now comes the Campervan Train.