Words by Grant Spolander. Pictures by Marc Bow, Deon Sonnekus and Grant Spolander.
A Moroccan coastal cruise in the new Hyundai Santa Fe
For many years, Morocco was on my must-visit list. I think its appeal lay in the blend of spicy Arabia, European exoticism and Mediterranean panache. When I closed my eyes and thought about this corner of the world, I had visions of sandstone buildings with glassless windows, cobbled streets, and clusters of cast-iron coffee tables around which white-robed locals sat, drinking mud-thick coffee. It’s a wonderful mental picture, but sadly, now that I’m in Morocco, the reality is vastly different. Instead of earthly aromas and bitter-tasting coffee, there is the rampant odour of camel pee fused with the throaty smell of a blocked drain. What’s more, a swarm of flies has been following me since I stepped off the plane two days ago. I’m attending the international launch of the all new Hyundai Santa Fe, held in Agadir, Morocco.
I’m trying to keep an open mind about this country, but it’s not easy. My objectivity was lost during the 28 hours it took to get here. Despite the fact that Morocco lies on the same continent as SA, there are no direct flights across the 7 950 km gap between Cape Town and Casablanca. So we flew via Dubai. There are several such roundabout routes that span various parts of the globe. The coastal city of Agadir lies south of Casablanca. It’s a diverse town of resorts sprinkled along the shore, and a huge fishing trade – apparently the largest of its kind in the sardine industry. The local beaches are not what you’d call paradise: the waters are murky and the beach sand is dark brown, making it hellishly hot to walk on barefoot.
On the plus side, there’s a terrific coastal road that dips and dives along the shoreline’s mountainous contours. It’s a great drive; one that duly showcased the new Santa Fe’s responsive suspension and sharp steering. Interestingly, the new model boasts an all-new feature called Flex Steer. In short, this optionally-fitted system allows you to select one of three steering modes – Comfort, Normal and Sport – each of which adjusts the Santa Fe’s steering response to your liking. We drove our convoy of Santa Fes to a popular tourist spot called Beach Twenty-Five. It’s a well-known bay, littered with umbrellas, jet skis, camel rides and even more flies. After a lengthy swim in sea water which was the ideal temperature, we continued our driving experience through the city centre and onto the national roads. While driving through Agadir’s infinite supply of traffic circles, I was reminded of the driving chaos of Cairo (experienced on a previous trip), where road markings are ignored and boundaries are demarcated by the scratched paint on the cars around you. It’s a terrifying experience, especially behind the wheel of a brand new Hyundai. Morocco is also jalopy country; this is no place for heated side mirrors and pearlescent paintwork. Once on the open road, we put the Santa Fe’s three engine options to the test. While international markets have the option of three power-plants (3.3-litre V6 petrol, a 2.4-litre petrol and a 2.2-litre diesel), SA will be receiving only one engine / transmission package: the 2.2-litre diesel burner coupled to a 6-speed automatic. This third-generation common-rail turbo-diesel is capable of 421 Nm and 138 kW @ 3 800 rpm, and is reportedly light on juice, too.
The following morning we jumped onto a city-tour bus, which took us to several key spots related to Agadir’s history. The most promising of these was the old city ruins, destroyed in the 60s by an earthquake. Our tour guide offered to show us the entrance to the ruins, but, as he put it, “There’s nothing worth looking at.” He wasn’t lying. The area looked like a landfill site, full of plastic garbage and old concrete. Stray cats hid in patches of shade, and a brightly decorated camel – apparently meant for tourist rides – lay on the searing tar, soaked in his own pungent pee and looking half dead with boredom. Our next stop was the enormous city-centre souk (market) – a giant labyrinth of hand-stitched carpets, leather jackets, shoes, food, jewellery, and everything in between. Unfortunately, we had only 45 minutes to tour the souk. Realistically, you’d need at least three hours to cover the place. I bought a cup of freshly squeezed orange juice for roughly R10, and idly gawked my way through an amazing show of kaleidoscopic colours and equally vibrant salesmen. On the way back to our hotel, I caught a glimpse of Agadir’s beachfront promenade and vowed to return that evening for a closer look. A little before sunset, a colleague and I caught a cheap taxi ride to the promenade. It was here that I found the Morocco of my dreams.
The promenade stretches out in either direction: several kilometres of wedged-in cafes spilling their tables and chairs onto a paved pedestrian boardwalk. We choose a place with local customers – neatly dressed Arabs sipping tiny cups of coffee. The beer’s good in Morocco, and we order a local brew for approximately R18. I’m shocked by the price; our hotel bar was charging R80. (Morocco’s currency, the dirham, is roughly one for one with the rand.) The sun’s blaze has just fizzled into the horizon and the evening air is warm with the salty smell of the Atlantic. I greedily absorb the atmosphere and feel my previous cynicism replaced by a need to stay longer, see more, and embrace the true Morocco. But, sadly, our two-day trip is coming to an end and I begin to dwell on the long haul home. But enough of that; right now I’m exactly where I want to be, on the other side of Africa, enjoying its many tastes, smells and cosmopolitan sights. And – would you believe? – even the flies have buggered off for the night. More technical data on the new model will follow after the local launch early next year.