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Country living on the edge of Africa

Having moved from Cape Town to the UK five years ago, we had become desperate to find our own place in the sun, some sun, ANY sun . . . Our quest had taken us to remote valleys in Spain and “undiscovered” corners of France. Nothing had been quite right – it was either too expensive, too remote, too built up - and we were starting to lose focus.Maybe it was because we felt we had exhausted all our other options and the possibility of walking away with nothing was, quite simply, not an option. But I like to think it was rather a matter of the right place at the right time for us, that made embarking on the journey of buying a property in Morocco feel like the right thing to do.

After a holiday that had transported us across the silent dunes of the Sahara on camels (exercising muscles that I clearly had never used before) to the organised chaos of Marrakesh’s Djemaa al Fnaa, we ended our holiday in the quiet town of Asilah. Just down the drag from Tangiers looking out across the Atlantic, it was the perfect place to rest our travel weary souls and discover the pace of life in a Moroccan medina.

By the end of the week we had found a country house, put down a deposit, shaken hands on the deal and appointed a lawyer to act on our behalf – not bad going really. Although I must confess that in the rush of doing a deal we ignored the one piece of advice that every TV programme, magazine article and investment guru stipulates when buying property in a foreign country – make sure you get a lawyer you can communicate with!

Instead we chose a lawyer who speaks minimal English (I speak bad French and no Arabic) and his office hours are as erratic as his fax machine. Email . . .don’t be silly! So although I know now that he did a good job and kept our interests at heart, there were many a sleepless night had when we simply felt out of control of the whole process, and I was convinced that this was all an elaborate ploy to do me out of my hard earned savings.

We flew back to England with a fist full of photos and heads full of plans and ideas.

The weeks went by and days before the final papers were to be signed our chosen property disappeared into a mire of bureaucracy. Our trusty lawyer identified problems of multiple owners and distant cousins lurking in the woodwork and on his advice we withdrew our offer.

Having been told I couldn’t, made me even more determined to do it! And so the real and protracted process of buying a rural property in Morocco began. The convoluted path we had to take soon put paid to those images of balmy evenings full of flickering stars and smoking tagines, as months of frustration and negotiations started. Properties had to be found and prices negotiated. We bought a crop of figs we didn’t need, discussed the mechanics of clay bread ovens and drank large amounts of mint tea in attempts to ingratiate our selves with local farmers and land vendors and whoever else was in the neighbourhood.

Finally 8 months later Mark and I found ourselves bumping over a somewhat dubious road – clearly meant only for donkeys, of which there were several – en-route to our hard won home.

In the clear light of the Moroccan winter sun my heart started sinking with every jolt of every pothole. However it didn’t’ take long for that same sun to start firing my imagination as we walked around the property and started planting imaginary olive trees, building aforementioned bread ovens and sinking wells.

At the bottom of the slope of land, Choaki, our translator, estate agent, tour guide and finally our friend, was introducing Mark to our neighbour while in the distance his donkey was persistently chewing ( with relish) our border fence of hindiya – prickly pear cactus.

This weathered old man called me over – senorita – and from deep in the pockets of his well worn djellaba he pulled out, magician fashion, a chicken egg and pressed it into my hands. This was, he explained, a white egg that would promote health and fortune and was a gift from him to us. Mark was treated to the same ritual, but I’m afraid even in the middle of this touching rural moment the cynic in me reared its ugly head and I did wonder if he generally strolled about his fields with a couple of eggs in his pockets just in case he came across any stray foreigners in need of some local colour!

That being said we did carefully pack and transport the eggs back to England with us - they have since been blown and framed ready to be taken back and hung on the wall of their homeland. In the meantime we have got to know the area and the people a bit better, we’ve managed to plant a few olive trees (only 298 left to go!)and enjoyed a bumper crop of watermelons grown on our land by the guardien who looks after things for us in our absence.

There is still some outstanding bureaucracy, but we hope to start some serious renovating within the next year. So at the moment our evenings are spent pouring over design books and filling page after page with designs and doodles that change daily. It is an exciting, and potentially life changing project for the whole family.

And although the journey has been somewhat convoluted - moving from the Southern tip of Africa to the green rolling hills of Wales – it has finally taken us back to Africa, albeit on its very northern edge this time, but the overwhelming feeling is one of coming home