In spite of last night drinking on the veranda I still awoke early, I grabbed the camera and went onto the roof to look at the sunrise. It was very orangey red in colour and very hazy I took a few shots but didn’t really like the results so chose to look and absorb instead, I walked to the front and watched some villagers making their way to work, it was a steady stream heading back the way we’d come, back to those green fields. One donkey was on its way back to the village already it looked like a huge pile of straw with four legs! David had joined me with the same idea and snapped away at the red fireball. It was around 07.00hrs and it was getting hotter already.
The town of Agoudal at dawn
A fully loaded donkey
Off to work she goes.
Others woke as their body clocks kicked in, we sat around on the veranda waking up properly and drinking coffee before feeling awake enough to start the day. Steve and Deane were making alternative plans as we sat with them waiting for Mario No 2 to arrive, as if by magic he rolled into the forecourt with a story about wifey not letting him inside, him in such a state she making him sleep in an outbuilding, I can’t imagine what he was talking about?? We packed the breakfast stuff away and said goodbye (again) to Steve and Deane, we would meet up again hopefully before the Sahara leg, they had a long drive ahead of them to Marrakesh over a hundred miles to the west of us. We drove out of Agoudal spotting a couple more Auberge’s on the way out, they used the term Auberge over here which is the French word for Inn. He should have bought a bloody Defender……
Who is that man on the extreme left??
It was more road than track now and very smooth it was too! This early morning drive was very pleasant it was a nice break from the harsh tracks of the previous day.We started a decent down through another huge valley, we were still heading south through the Atlas Mountains. Coming around one of the first bends we were greeted by a scene that stops one in ones tracks. The corner was extensive with a large pull-off area so we pulled over to gawk in amazement at the fantastic vista in front of us.
It was too early in the morning to see something so spectacular!
Photo showing my hire wire act!! Photo care of Dave Freeman
Its never too early to photobomb Chris Freeman
The bonnet was hot..good job I had thick cotton shorts on..
could see our road as it disappeared around the mountain walls away to the left, the thin road slowly heading downward and away, it disappeared away into the morning haze with no more than one or two vehicles on it, there was hardly any traffic at all on this superb super smooth road. We stayed on the corner for a while looking and taking photo’s. It was time to move on, somewhere ahead lay the small town of Tamtattouchte and just beyond that was the Todra Gorge.
The Todra Gorge
On the hotel fore court at the Todra
Mr Freeman senior with sales person
Mr Freeman senior with Mr Freeman junior
In Morocco its called The gorges du Todra, by the time we reached down on the valley floor, in fact we began to drop below it as the road followed the extra wide river, only now in the height of summer it was another very wide and rocky dry riverbed with just a small stream riding it. The gorge was red in appearance the walls of the valley narrow and vertical with room for just us on the road and the wide dry river-bed. I’d been in equally spectacular gorges in the South of France, I can’t recall their names at the moment, one is set somewhere in the fantastic Parc Naturel Regional Du Haut Languedoc in the Montagne Noire, the other is somewhere in the Corbieres region, my friend Martin Tubieres De Cayless put me onto them when touring the area on the motorbike a couple of years ago.
Eyes were drawn upwards trying also to keep eyes on the road too! Around one of the corners it widened even more and a hotel was situated at the base of the opposite wall on a rocky outcrop. It looked like the film set of a Hollywood movie. The access to it was across the low footbridge after parking on this side and walk over, or if possible and if in suitable vehicles one could drive down the concrete ramp go through the water picking our way through the boulders to park up besides the hotel itself. The water was wider here but was still less than two feet in-depth, we slowly drove into it making our way across to the hotel parking up then walked up the steps to the garden veranda and ordered drinks..sorted! Morocco was keen to show off the gorge as a tourist attraction, two small coaches were here so too a handful of 4×4 vehicles belonging to Marrakech travel firms, these people were on a day excursion with paying customers aboard, they came and went as we sat drinking coke on the veranda. The gorge was popular too with Moroccan folk and was quite busy.
Because of the clean water running out from under the rocks, farmers and shepherds came. I watched a couple of locals filling up container after container of water before loading them onto mules the young girl slung several full containers over her back I sat watching as she carried them to the waiting donkeys back and forwards she went, the old woman sat and filled the containers before the youngster bagged them up into pairs and transferred them to the donkeys. Further down I saw people taking a paddle, their youngsters played in the river their shrieks of laughter echoed up the steep walls as they splashed about.
Water containers are slung over her donkeys.
I went back to the truck to change lens I would try taking some photos from a distance, I was pointing it to see what F stop and speed Id use when a woman put her hand up shaking her head at me, I hadn’t noticed her I was actually looking at the numbers on the inside of the frame and not at her and her husband. I acknowledged them with a raised hand. It was a bit frustrating to say the least! I was even frowned at by a man working outside his shop later on. We took a stroll back up the road amongst the stalls as guys sold their wares, I didn’t buy anything but some did!
We walked back to the trucks over the footbridge turned around and drove back across the river up the ramp onto the road, tourists stood and watched us as we splashed our way towards them. We drove out of the gorge towards the big town of Tinerhir along a good tarmac road.
The mules didnt carry huge loads all of the time!
I challenge you to find a road as good as this in G.B
The town was about twenty minutes away, after some searching up and down the main roads in the town we found first a bank with cash machine then a garage and filled up we also filled the roof Jerry cans. We would be heading into the “back of beyond” from now and it was better to have extra fuel just in case. We had a dozen or more bottles of water per person stashed too as well as food, we were now self-sufficient for a couple of days, we made our way to the edge of this very busy town, driving was “close quarter” stuff again!It might be a good idea I thought to keep to the middle of the road making sure everyone saw me, cars were in some places double parked on both sides of the road, it wasnt fast progress, I remember two young lads sat on the floor working on a greasy old car engine propped to one side by a few rocks on the road, they hardly threw me a glance as I looked down at them, the cars ahead began to wiggle through the narrow gap followed by Rob and Dave I engaged first and pulled after them. We drove down the road to the end…and yes it really was the end! The road went beyond the last building then it vanished it was gone no wall or curb edge, it just disappeared into the sandy soil.
However…The B roads in Morocco are shyte!
Tyre tracks went in the same (ish) direction. We were following GPS and the maps now heading off into the wilderness, the few wheel tracks had a gully at either side about twenty feet apart, perhaps this was the track? There was no road number or sign pointing to the next place so as you can imagine It took a couple of goes before we were satisfied I pulled down my goggles as the dust was being kicked up by the guys in front, I had to drop further and further back in order to see, the track had ruts boulders and turns that would have been felt keenly if we hadn’t the ability to see! This was a taxing few miles before turning towards the mountains. Before that though Dave found a clump of trees to pull under and have lunch. The camping Jet boils quickly turned cold water into boiling cups of coffee, Chris had bought a melon a while back which he sliced up and shared with us, I ripped off some of my daily bread, the last for a few days, and smothered it in jam and Spanish cheese Id bought ages ago near Gibraltar. I figured an intake in sugar would be good. In fact Matt gave me some concentrated fruit juice to nip from during the day. I hadn’t thought of this stuff, he actually likes it and has an unhealthy sweet tooth of which at this moment I was thankful for.
Lunch time…. you’ll find everyone in the trees!
It was important to take on food and water even if it wasnt really fancied and especially now as we were heading into the hottest part. On retrospect maybe I should have started with the supplements as soon as we hit Morocco? I had a 3 litre water bladder hung behind me in the truck with a drinking pipe over my shoulder, this would be topped off with powdered supplements like iron and salt. On retrospect I thought it a bit difficult to self monitor because I didn’t know what all the signs were of de-hydration, I drank all the contents of the camel pack daily plus two or three large plastic bottles of water, I hardly pee’d during the coming days because it was all being absorbed I just “went” maybe once or twice in the evenings and a No1 and No 2 in the mornings! Once the pee turned yellow it meant one was really dehydrating big time and I increased water intake. I borrowed salt tablets from Chris as well as taking supplements these made a difference I think because I felt OK.. just bloody hot, it was in the 35+ degrees and rising when we left the tarmac and town for the sandy stuff and yellow pee! Sun cream? well this was plastered mostly on my right arm as I had the Land Rover position! Let me explain, the driver’s seat is really close to the right door and driving with the window up is a bit cramped when turning the wheel but if you wound the window down you could rest your right elbow on the window and still keep your hand on the large steering wheel at the three O’clock position. My window only gets shut when it’s really cold or wet. I put some on my thighs too as the sun could see them as I drove, the negative windscreen was positive on this trip, it’s quite narrow and upright and very small compared to modern vehicles but it did kept the sun off me. We didnt sunbathe too much so getting burnt wasnt a huge concern, though I think Matt got it on his thighs.
The journey was getting strangely bumpy now in fact it became quite uncomfortable we were on corrugations. Can you remember at the seaside playing on the beach near the water’s edge where those curly brown worms were and where the sand was rippled and made of little ridges remember? Well these are corrugations of the sand and just the same only these had been created by the wind and not the sea. The way to go was go faster until you reached a point where the truck skipped across the tops, when you did this the vibrations reduced and the truck stopped sounding like a shook up tin of fooking nails! fortunately the corrugations ceased before I found the optimum speed but at least I had tasted it and learnt a bit more.
Ghostriders in the sun??
The track head up into the mountains and before long we passed a couple of nice looking motorbikes parked up, I didn’t see anybody all afternoon or any sheep or goats for that matter, the bikes weren’t covered in dust so I imagine the owners and sheep were probably just out of sight? The track climbed high and higher as we drove up into a mountain range, the goggles rested on my fore head now as the dust was being whipped from left to right, I hadn’t worn them often so far but was very glad Id brought them along.
Robs truck..the hotel and the ladies
At the top of this particular run was a hotel not that you’d recognize it as such, it was a squat two story yellow blockhouse with a couple of women in attendance and a scruffy but friendly dog. I said hello they waited quietly for us to go into their cafe or hotel but we were more interested in the views to be honest. so they just stood nearby talking quietly to themselves. A bill board was by the cafe entrance it was plastered in 4X4 stickers from all over Europe, this was spotted all along the popular routes or Piste’s as they are known in the campsites and Auberge along the way too. Dave told us where the good places where to go and look at the fantastic views across the valley, yes he’d been this way before!
Said sign for hotel obliterated by 4×4 log’s
Not a scene from Brokeback Mountain
Looking down through The Jbel Sarhro
Standing at the edge perched on huge ruddy brown boulders was one of those “moments” in life never to be forgotten (Thank you Herr Moulds) The quietness the stillness in the warm air as a slight breeze blew over us sitting there with Rob scanning the distant rocky horizon was marvelous and NOT a “Brokeback Mountain” moment! It was quite hazy, I didn’t think a photo would have done justice it just had to be absorbed to be felt and not forgotten. We were looking out over the Jebl Sarhro, I think this place was near Tazazert. Back at the trucks we took more photos the two women still stood off and looked at us occasionally their scruffy dog showed more interest to be honest laying by our feet in the shadow of the trucks from the hot midday sun. We climbed in saying goodbye to the dog, the two old girls had gone back inside disinterested in us we didn’t go in buying.
Dave with Rob and our newest best friend
We drove slowly along the rocky trail for a while looking out to the left and right at the faraway mountains when the track wasnt too rough. Rob took a break from driving and gave Matt the wheel, I could see a blue puff of smoke from the left window as he sucked on a cigar! behind me came IONA with Chris and Dave, these guys swapped places all the time, on the hard climbs and steep descents we could see each other as the track snaked its way up and down the steeper bits, all the time everyone was smirking, if we were Yanks we would be mouthing “awesome” at each other but we aren’t so a thumbs up and a huge grin was the usual gesture to each other unless one was at a difficult bit! Even on such a day I was still learning much about the truck and the excellent “Low box” and leaning much from whoever was in front at any particular time.
If only it was a fish, Matt could have identified it!
Suddenly the white 110 stopped and an arm pointed off to the left Helen had spotted a beast sunbathing on a rock. It was a large lizard and sat there with boot leather skin mouth opened and just kept one rotating beady eye on us, we looked at it from the trucks. The track leveled off now and began to curve around where we stopped again. Dave remembered this spot as being properly awesome…He was right it really was!
Dave shows us the fantastic Echo Valley
Helen…on the rocks
Before us lay a replica of Monument Valley from Arizona USA with those prominent oblong shaped blocks of rock pushing up from the soft sand for hundreds of feet. He told us an echo trick, to shout and get the return echo bouncing around the valley before disappearing over our left shoulder, a couple of the guys shouted but the return echo wasnt so clear, I gave it a go and bellowed. My dad was a Company Sargeant Major in his army days and taught me to shout deep from the chest and not from the throat. amazingly the echo came back very clear bouncing a couple of times across the valley before disappearing away to our left! We stood there a while shouting for all our worth down the valley, I wonder what the shepherds might have thought sitting miles away down the valley? The fossil hunting ritual started again and people began to walk around picking stones up here and there, I stood with Dave looking down the big valley before getting back in the trucks and setting off again. When out of nowhere a young girl appeared a few yards away to our right, I pointed the camera and she promptly turned away, I tried again but got the same reaction. She made her way to the truck behind for a hand out, she came to me and started talking, but I didn’t have anything her hand was outstretched but I had nothing for her, maybe she had better luck with the others.
Dave Moulds starts up his Land Rover Defender 110
We started to head in a downwards direction making our way to the floor of that faraway valley. It was mid afternoon when we pulled up at a lonely looking Auberge surrounded by a low two foot high mud wall, the ground inside was as rocky as on the outside! However the chap had a shower and proper toilets, to dig a toilet out here would require a stick or two of dynamite. A deal was struck and we set up the tents, the owners family came out and watched us the elders made sure they didn’t come too close.
Our desert Auberge
The ground was real hard here so out came the hammers! then came the tables chairs and folding beds I was going to cook for myself again so set up the cooker and table. Next to me was Dave, Joe was out kicking his football and Helen was fossil hunting. Rob, Chris and their boys got together for the evening. I didn’t feel like joining them tonight, after a quick meal I cleaned up as two scavenging cats sat close by!
Sunset outside the Auberge
I saw the sun beginning to settle over the mountains I got the camera and walked towards it. I stood away from camp leaning against a solitary telegraph pole and quietly watched the sunset.Once again it was all very hazy. I tried a few shots with the camera leant against the pole for the sloooow shutter speed.
At the Auberge we met our newest best friend
A dog that appeared from somewhere the track was friendly and sat amongst our camp spending some time at each tent, it looked to be some kind of Golden Labrador it had a thick coat and an odd look. He settled for a while between mine and Dave;’s tent with front feet crossed (to match his eyes) Also visiting us were a couple of mangy and very hungry cats. They were a pest because they kept getting in my way in spite of being told to go away. During the early evening A solitary motorbike made its way along the track to the Auberge, the rider and his pal set up their small tent next to the “office” they looked to be friends with the owner and his family. Apart from them the place was empty and the single track fell still for the night. I was quite tired and so after dinner and a few beers I took to my cot for the night. As I lay drifting off to sleep I heard a noise and half awoke to see four large bugs moving on the roof of the tent. OMG it’s a big rat! Waking a bit more I saw what it actually was and it was and it was on my roof. I whacked the tent roof with my feet and the four bugs were gone! Smirking to myself at the vision of a thieving flying cat it amused me as I drifted back to sleep.
The morning rush hour…on his way to work at the hotel way up the mountain I presume because he walked past us. The hotel was the next nearest building and it was about 5 miles away up in the mountains…and no Ive no idea where he came from we never saw any building for the few miles that we went in that direction
The dawn came with the sight of Rob brewing up again I joined him with my cup, David was out on the road taking photo’s of the rising sun before returning to the compound and breakfast with his dad. I figured Id drop my tent as soon as possible before the sun turned the heat up and packed quickly this morning. I sat on the roof of my truck bathed in sweat but happy the tent was up and secured before it got any hotter. Matt awoke to his funny stomping Chris came from under the tent flap to stretch his old bones, Dave was moving about Helen and Joe were breaking down their beds. I sat and watched them when I noticed a distant speck, it was growing larger as it came towards us followed by its own dust cloud, I gave a wave as the motorbike went by but he just looked across at us. Soon after an old transit van came by with people sat in its rear seats. Wow, two vehicles in the space of five minutes, this must be the morning rush hour!
Soon everyone had packed up and gone through their morning rituals including the truck climbing game and were equally doused in sweat, we went to the man and paid him for the night’s camping and bid him goodbye, as we drove out of the Auberge and drove east I saw the cross-eyed dog tucking into a pile of food with the two mangy cats behind the building. we accelerated away and made our way to the waiting mountains and on towards the city of Zagora about 120 miles away. Over the past couple of days the going was pretty harsh and so we averaged about 150 miles it was pretty bone crunching on us and the trucks and easily took the best part of 6-7 hours and 12 litres of water.
Harsh outcome if you took your eye off the ball!
The day was blur of tracks sand big holes little holes boulders large and distant images in pink purple then red and brown as we drover closer to the next row of mountains It was a bit of a “grit your teeth day and just do it” I was looking forward to Zagora and a two-day break from the crash bang wallop thump my poor truck was enduring! I didn’t take too many photos during the course of this day, we drove out of one huge Jbel into another, the going was tough on the trucks, sometimes we were down to about twenty miles per hour the track looked less than a track more than ever before. Rob saw the sigh to Nkob and we turned in its direction. Once through it Zagora would be just ahead, not far away but still a good couple of hours over this flat but fantastic moonscape.
The view from the drivers seat at the back of our convoy driving over the Jbel, keeping the distant cloud in view was important as you can imagine.. The vague vertical lines in the sky are actually the very thin wire in my heated windscreen caught in focus by accident by the camera
Dave Moulds makes his way towards me…Looking at these photos is it any wonder Im struggling to remember what happened on this day and what to describe, except to say ot was creeping up to 40 degrees, it was slow going, it was hot and very noisy, bang bang fooking bang bang!
Heading into a deep wadi…..Even when we cleared the moonscape it was still slow going. The wadi’s and depressions meant a good deal more concentration required..all very draining.
20 mph was about the quickest we could do all day! The little flat bit was actually about 1000 metres long and about 100 metres wide and shiny smooth, the descent from the shale onto it was quite steep as was the climb out. It was about here where we saw the guy waving an empty plastic bottle at us, hiding it as each truck went by thus gaining several full bottles of water from us.
We pulled over at the outskirts of the town, we saw a shop and needed more water. It was closed for dinner! WE stood about a bit and decided to find the campsite instead as it was only a few minutes away, we could always come back. The owner came running from his house, one of the kids had gone to fetch him, now a small audience had gathered and he opened up for us inviting us in we all bought a fresh supply of water, funnily enough a huge amount of sweet stuff was purchases too! I loaded the back of the truck with my bags and gave some cake to the bright kid who had gone to the shop keeper, I saw an orange 110 Land Rover had parked up nearby, but was too worn out to take too much notice and it was so bloody hot, I just wanted to get to the site and switch off for a bit. I didn’t notice the outriders of mechanics in blue overalls and riding moped who came with us to the campsite, I was quite drained. I stopped and turned off the engine once on the patch with the others “Thank fukc that’s over for today” I said to myself A bubble black guy greeted me like a long-lost buddy and was chatting excitedly to me in English. Aha Land Rover mechanics! Peter from Atlas Overland had told me about these guys, I was with it now! They were from a local garage, in fact there were two of them and they specialized in 4X4 vehicles repairs and service jobs, My man said he would do me a grease round and a check for the princely sum of £20, everyone was getting the same treatment and for what the trucks had been through then it make sence. I took the tent and stuff from the roof and followed my man to the garage. It was all a bit of a whirl I was a bit bemused but had the thumbs up from Dave who would follow later and Peter had spoken of them months previously, so I went with the flow.
It seems the two garages have people on the edge of town watching out for 4×4 vehicles coming then I surmise they the mechanics via phone who then descended upon you as you looked for your campsite the circus began with long-lost greetings and huge big smiles. I would have liked ten minutes of peace and quiet before the show but hey, what the fukc!! I fell in behind my mechanic on his moped and off we went to the garage down one of the city back streets. They took me into the tiled garage then over ramp area and started to grease the truck up and do the check round, I agreed that my truck had bottomed out once or twice over the last few days they could double my rear springs by inserting springs inside my springs! I had heavy-duty springs fitted already but more support wasnt a bad idea considering where I was going next. I didn’t think it would harm and wouldn’t mind a harder ride on tarmac when I got home so I agreed to the job. I sat back with a tray of Moroccan tea, relaxed as they set about my truck with spanner and hammer and good deal of know how! Everyone seemed keen to get stuck in with my truck and very happy in the ir work, even the youngsters were keen to pass this and that. It was like the House of Fun Madness style!
My newest bestest mate!