Return to Morocco… Part 4

As the last strap was tightened beads of sweat started to trickle from my forehead, yes it was getting warm! 26 28 had been the midday temperatures over the past few days, we were going further south so this was likely to increase. The washing had dried within the hour yesterday except for thicker stuff which was bone dry come the morning and had been stuffed back into the bags,the washing machine was strapped down on the bonnet, it wont be needed for a few days now. Julie had packed away the two beds, chairs and sleeping bags, breakfast had been served with just two cups of tea on the bonnet as we fiddled with the last few bits and finally brushed our teeth. The morning map read was funny again, I had a rough idea today as Id done this particular section 2 yrs ago following some friends. “OK then if there’s no more questions let’s go then shall we”? The town was just a few miles ahead, we would turn left off the hight street by the hotel and go to the very bottom of the road and off onto rough ground and basically go in this direction.

Tinerhir is a busy town with all mod cons and facilities one expects of a thriving town though at the southern edge they were still building as we left the road (literally)  buildings and roads were in various states of construction. A shingle road led us south towards Jebel Sarhro sitting in the morning haze away in the distance. Soon we turned off the up and coming road network of shingle straight roads, finding a gap to exit we dropped away onto the sandy scrub and angled away from the road soon remembering to give a lot of room to the dusty bugger in front! We spent most of the morning slowly climbing on gritty tracks entering the jebel properly now the sharp rusty-red stone jutted hard out crumbling rock, again the track was of the single variety so a keen eye was kept ahead for any sign of traffic coming our way as we climbed higher and higher. We had passed two or three small village, on the outskirts of one a herd of goats were grazing on a flatter cleaner area with small stones marking the edges suddenly I saw the pair of goal posts, Ha this was their football pitch!

0171                                                                          Tea stop 


0172                                                                         Grazing goats


0174Julie covered against the hot morning sun with the Jebel Sarhro behind her



                              Land Rover Defender 90 and 110 in the dusty Jebl

It was deffo more stony and harsh around these parts and not a place to be getting a lick on it would have ended in disaster! Up we climbed higher and higher we went, the heat haze unfortunately prevented a view of the complete vista.


                                      The main route through Jebel Sarhro

The above photo shows the main track through the Jebel as you can see it doesn’t go straight neither is it very wide I don’t suppose we went more than 30 mph at any point? The very top was reached but was a bit disappointing because of the haze. We bought cold drinks and looked around anyway when around the corner came a couple of camels! A chap and his daughter followed with more and a couple of goats and donkeys, they were loaded up and on their way somewhere, probably the village we had come through a couple of hours earlier.


 Another popular and famous watering hole for 4X4 groups at the           summit of the track over Jebel Sarhro…GITE means rooms and not a description of me by the way..




Craggy the pass on Jebel Sarhro


                                                          Heavy traffic on the pass!


                                                                       Good afternoon!


0187                                         No chain or lead just following the trail

WE stood still to let these guys pass through us unimpeded, the old guy and his daughter brought up the rear, there are no photos of them as they waved me away. I head the young goats but couldn’t see them until Julie pointed, I managed a photo as they passed, I guess it’s a good safe way of transporting the tiny things!



                                                               Baby goats get a lift

0189            Jo spots the baby goats and looks on we all did!

After their passing we made ready for the downward journey, it was going to be slow and very bumpy so it would be low box 2nd or 3rd gear take it easy and absorb the bone crunching for the next hour OK of we go then!

I have to say it was a bit of a clatter coming down the narrow rocky track, we came across a family coming up in an ordinary car, it was possible for sure and I guess doing it in a hire car is better than wrecking your own! we had a bit of a shuffle to pass, the boulders prevented  either vehicle going wide, but we were on a corner so had some room to play with. A bit further on and we came across another camel train! Pete stopped and turned the engine off making it better for the guys to come past?


                                               Camel train coming through!



                               Camel Train coming through on BOTH sides!

Moving again we bounced over large stones unable to drive around and went along slowly when we encountered yet another vehicle this time a local white Land Rover Defender 110 but he shoved his into a gap and let us pass on by. We were practically at the bottom now and pulled over when the track widened and watched the rest of the guys pass the white defender back up the hill, eventually they joined us and we had a brew and something to eat, dinnertime it was!

0178                                                          Brew time at the bottom of the hill

That took us a while but we all made it without drama, ripped tyre, busted spring or spilt juice! I went around the truck checking the straps again and the roof rack, one or two nuts needing nipping up unsurprising given the bashing we’d taken today. The next 60 miles of so was on tarmac when we finally joined the tarmac, it was an old road to begin with until we joined the major wider smoother cleaner road to Zagora, I wanted to fuel up before the town as we were getting low, I think I’m right in saying I had the smallest tank of the group. As I was filling up a French 4×4 group pulled over, it was the guys we saw from the other day, they came over to ask about the pass and if we had made it through. Their stickers made for impressive reading and during the conversation they said on one trip they even drove to IRAN, that must have been a great trip! These folk used hotels most of the time which for fairly fit 60 yr olds is allowed and one of their team used a wheelchair which was strapped to the back on the wheel carrier. Yup they were impressive alright! They were heading further south than us, we said bye, hey who knows we may bump into them again before the trip is over.


Local Defender 110 amongst the palm groves in the Vallee de Draa 

We now drove along side the Vallee du Draa on the N9 into Zagora from the north-west it was very green our right because was covered in palm trees for mile upon mile, apparently the export of dates is massive here in Morocco. Zagora was close now, another check point loomed and we slowed as requested by the sign, the checkpoints are frequent and mobile, usual there were two police cars and two or three officers, and a couple of sets of “stinger” tyre shredders deployed, they saw us saluted and waved us through, this they did every time, sometime the checkpoint was as little as two bike cops who pulled vehicles over as they saw fit, but they always waved us by. Not often the officers sported side arms or at least I didn’t notice anyone with a gun. We occasionally came across a military checkpoint but these were seemingly relaxed even though these guys did carry weapons. In Fez we saw quite a few and when driving through some places coming south we did see a number of soldiers with rifles, we saw too they patrolled with the police officers and they looked quite relaxed it was to be honest quite heartening to see. Sometimes we saw a military convoy either supplies or troops, there were always escorted by a police car with its siren blaring. Morocco in fact is on a heightened state of security due to the rise in terrorist threats and has been all year.

I had been here before too, this is Zagora and a major town on a major route to the Sahara, the town boasts and regional airport and several garages that specialize in looking after4x4 vehicles, they have young lads on mopeds who look out for 4×4 vehicles coming into to town and come say hello as soon as you stop, before you know it you have agreed the best price for a service! I was swept along last time and ended up at one such garage, I was hugely suspicious to begin with I must admit but this feeling soon disappeared, they are a mix of expert and on the job trained chaps with many more wanting to help with mint tea! I was actually looking forward to the service and to see the guys again in the morning, but first we went to the camp site to get booked in and to capture our spot, it was late afternoon and the spaces on site were being taken up quickly.


                                                        The camp at Zagora

Getting us in place first was the plan because we had the tent and first thing in the morning we would all be driving to the garage for our service so the tent needed to be out-of-the-way, eventually after a bit of shuffling we were in neat and tidy.The camp guys had rolled out a bog rug with tea and offered to re-stock some of our supplies for a good price like bread and a few more bottles of Moroccan beer. Camping Palmeria was indeed a modern thinking outfit and their centre block was well stocked with showers and European toilets. On looking round most I noticed that of the guests in fact were Germans and Dutch for the most part, In the next bay was a huge German Uni-Mog 4×4 whose owners were in party mode with their friends and their dogs.


Ze Germans are here!

0201           The British camp..much more civilised, Cath sits doing her toe nails…

0205                                         Janet finds time to chill and dive into a snack

Word had reached the boys at the garage that we would be there in the morning so we didnt get ambushed, however waiting until we got sorted this chap came to say hello, he makes models of your very own 4×4 even down to colour and equipment strapped on, I bought one last time so declined his offer even if he did keep calling me Ali Barber!



                                                                 The 4×4 model man


                                                                     Garage Iriki Zagora

The above photo was copied from his web page, because he and his team was too busy to pose when we got there! Aziz is the boss of the outfit he’s on the right, that lad there was the mechanic that worked on my truck this time. They know what to test to pull rock and tug, checking what is worn or loose, its inevitable that things get bashed and broken and are probably the same kind of thing so its true to say these guys know what to look for and know how to fix the problem, always they will always show you what they have found before fixing or replacing it. The last time I had a service and they beefed up my rear springs (still have them) Today they were going to replace two bushes at the front and on the rear the slot holes instead of circular had gone tear shaped as they do in time. OK carry on boys I said and so out came the spanners and out came the mint tea for us. There is no rush to do anything but it will be done that’s the way it is, I was sat here all afternoon on my own the last time, sometimes even the mechanics disappeared!  Gone to get this from so and so…gone to drag a broken truck from the desert…Imshalla became a word to be used. I just had the kids from the street for company!


                                               Aziz with the hammer..

The two guys above are the same guys in the previous photo. Here an old engine block is used to rest the bush on before thumping it in place.

With that in mind I was prepared to be here the whole afternoon! I looked of a found my tea drinking buddy from Aladdin’s cave next door, I walked in grinning and shouted “OI Im back again”! It was actually nice to see him, I said Id brought my wife and took him next door to meet her and the rest of the girls in minutes he took them all into his cave to do some business! Hence no rush to get us fixed and out of the garage, I suspect the street and shop vendors worked hand in glove with each other.


                           Aladdins Cave next to ANOTHER 4×4 garage at the end



                                                         My favourite salesman!

The kids too were still here, though a couple of yrs older. They were curious about us and kept looking at what we were doing, one such youngster had a euro and wanted to swap it for Moroccan money, I gave her a few coins and told her to keep the euro, in exchange she let me take her photo, her friends gathered and had their photos took too. Not on Face-Book they kept saying to me This I couldn’t do the last time for love nor money, maybe the presence of our wives helped?


   A thumbs up and still with her euro. Not on FACEBOOK she kept saying….


                                       OK so not on Face-Book just here on my blog

Dinner was laid on by Azziz in a room above the garage it was Tagine,  Its a pot plate with a cone-shaped lid, the food is cooked together as one. We had lamb and chicken during the trip.


                                                                      Tagine meal

The above photos is from a website however it shows a meal very similar to what we had, the veg was assorted and piled up over the meat, plenty of flat bread came with it too, I can’t recall having chips! I guess because Atlas Overland brings business it’s a good gesture to offer and I’m presuming it’s served to every group Pete brings.



                                                        Zagora..the main drag


                                                                Zagora centre

Some might view it as a waste of a day, spending it around the garage? But I think it’s a wise thing to do, already we have driven around 800 miles from day 1, the last few days have been harsher on rocky and sandy surfaces. It also sets the vehicles up for the next few harsh days and nights in the desert and lastly the jobs done cost a lot less than they would back home! Zagora was a place to get re-supplied with food fuel and money, its a very modern place and has plenty of shops..garages..banks..



The next morning saw us packing up and leaving Zagora heading west on a  track that weaved around a couple of acres of agricultural land but first wee stopped for a team photo by a famous wall on the edge of town. The rough track soon cleared away from the locals farm land, the blue pipes brought water and was helped along by the small pumps housed in the little stone sheds, there wasn’t anything much as yet but hey its only April. Several tracks went in different directions we saw people on motorbikes and a couple of donkeys, it was only a few miles from town so not as remote as others. Our track began to get a bit harsher as the sandy gravel turned to small rocks and boulders we slowed but carried on for a good few miles until our rocky track dropped below the level of the land for a bit, it wasnt too wide but still no problem for the Defenders.


                                                      Stoney track out of Zagora


                                                          A solitary tree



                                                          Troopi on the gravel

0237                               Pete “spots” for Carrick through the boulders



Julie at the wheel today

I tried this shot half a dozen times before getting this one. We were bouncing around so much the photo was blurred almost every time!

0236                             Gathering again at the other side of the rough bit

Julie chose to drive again this morning so had a few miles to do on the rocks and we bounced from side to side as we made progress,it flattened out here and there before going back to rocks and boulders, fortunately we didn’t have to move any and managed to drive around or over everything in our path. After an hour or more we were finally at the other side and we paused for a break and a cuppa.


      Marie shouted for me to bring my big lens as she had spotted something!


0229                                                              Rocks rocks everywhere!

We moved off after the tea break, going in the direction of Foum Zguld but still on the rocky stuff, we hadn’t quite cleared it yet after all, Eventually we came to a tarmac road so looked for one of the ramps, the ramps are just bulldozed mounds of earth, we find one and climb up Pete is looking for old dead wood as we drive along to collect for tonight’s fire in the desert.

He peels off the road as he spots firewood and we peel off after him. It looked an easy job so I jumped out with my combi weapon! It was a machete on one side and a wood saw on the other edge the dead tree was probably 6 inch across and about 4 foot in height, I cut into it but it was so tough so I started sawing at it, Ian came across and we took it in turns, boy was it hard work I couldn’t understand it! WE fastened a strop to it and Pete tried to pull it with the truck but it still wouldn’t budge, we sawed at it some more Pete tried again eventually it snapped a cloud of sand burst forth. I picked it up to throw across my bonnet. It was so heavy it was like a bloody girder, I thought it was me and I was so unfit! It turns out the old rotting 4 foot trunk was an old termite hotel and was actually crammed packed with sand and termite spit!! The old Disco meanwhile had a puncture and was having a wheel swapped over with Ian helping Jim as we fought with the old tree trunk, I didn’t know this until we got back to the road. It wasn’t a huge rip in the side-wall apparently but a hole in the tread, anyway he was soon fixed and we got back on the road and got our boot down to the town in the distance.

The mountain range of Jebel Bani had a slit in it large enough for the tarmac road to punch through, the small town of  Foum Zguld was here. We pulled into the square for refreshments of fresh squeezed oranges. It was nice and cold but so sweet it made my cheeks tingle and not something I could drink by the gallon! Pete went off with Jim to get his puncture fixed. Returning later to join us for a drink of supa sweet orange and tell us how it had gone, the garage had done the best job it could sealing the hole and Jim was happy again, bloody Grabbers he muttered!


                                          Not a lot to photograph in the town..


                                                                 Except for Cath

On the road again we drove down the extraordinary and ultra wide main street. I go that feeling that Id been here before, looking to the right I spotted the old campsite, its gates still shut! The hotel was there too that we used instead, the hotel with broken air con and a 60 degree day…I kid you not that’s how hot it was. NEVER come here in August folks It will boil your brain! We had come from a different direction across the desert and we think across an airstrip? Some bloke in a green uniform came running towards us but we looked the other way and just kept going Oooer!


                                                        The gateway to the Sahara!



Following Jim…note the ex termite hotel on my bonnet



             Heading for the track up and over the saw tooth mountains.

Id like to tell you about the border post and its guards but you wouldn’t believe me so I wont, can I just ask have you seen Carry On Up The Kyber? Suffice to say we were only held up here for half an hour whilst papers were checked and permission to proceed was given. Dear God what a fuc…no dont get me started! Further down the track leaving the checkpoint pantomime far behind Pete found what he was looking for. We walked to the top of the dune where Pete talked about how to drive over them. Julie was the first of the girls to go and did almost everything right, just pausing a fraction too early coming to a halt just short of the rise, we all dug out a little and rocked the truck as Julie pulled forward and down the other side taking a wide arc as told and came flying up the other side this time getting it spot on, pausing at the top then tipping nicely over the crest, We all had a go and soon understood how quickly the sand drags vehicles to a halt when stepping of the gas. Another vehicle arrived, a cut down Japanese 4×4 in camo colours out stepped a couple of soldiers, Pete went over to speak with them after a few minutes they were satisfied and drove away. We were pointing in the direction of the border with Algeria and wasn’t a million miles away so they were just doing their job, from the top of the dune we saw their two vehicles glinting in the sun a mile or so away and the fort where they came from was a that little black square a few miles further back so Ive no doubt they had been watching us, they were just checking that we were in fact just another 4×4 adventure group. They probably go see and speak with every group, its nothing to be worried about in fact its a re-assuring thing they do. Ive no doubt they also stopped to speak with the couple of German Iveco 4×4 truck we passed earlier in the day.


                                                 Julie roars upto the crest of the dune



             …Then runs up the dune to watch the other girls have a go



                                                               Ian & Marie having fun!

We had a while here before moving off again it was very hot now but we were having fun, Julie got her Land Rover umbrella up as protection against the sun. We drove south-east now across a dried lake and spread out to keep out of each others dust trail. We came across some more dunes and we had a go at driving out of a hole! He called this the Wall of Death. It is all about momentum he said and whizzed round to show us.

I was first to go I put it in low box and set off but as I got to the edge it came out of low box and slowed. Nooo! banging it back in again I tried to go on but was slow and was getting dragged to a halt. Pete shouted stop on the radio and called Jim forward I was pulled back with his winch, I helped with reverse and slowly came back out of the hole. I gave it another go, putting it in low box again and letting the clutch out a tad this time I felt the stick go firmly in…lesson learnt! Pete reminded me to actually set off in 3rd, surging forward into the hole I went, driving in a wide arc and with plenty of power I was round and out before I knew it. One by one the guys all gave it a go straight in and straight out they came

0251                                                                   Help Im stuck!



              Pete and the gang watch me zoom round the Wall of Death

Whoever got bogged down was going to be a training lesson as to what to do if one gets stuck I suppose, how to use the strop..where to fix it to…how to use the winch. I was next to get stuck dune driving it’s not something most of us do everyday and I was really enjoying myself and learning how to get out is really useful, I bogged down on soft sand in the Orkney Islands once and managed to get myself off the beach from what I had learned the last time. I could have stayed here all day messing in the dunes but we had to get on, we had to reach x in the sand some miles away and make camp for the night.

A couple of hours later we arrived driving hard through some fesh fesh sinking in but going forward all the time foot down hard and giving it large, low box third gear pushing through the soft stuff turning the wheel hard left and right swerving around large tufts of grassy stumps sometimes these were a foot or more high sometimes they grey on a boulder so its better to avoid the larger on, it was great fun and good exercise our steering wheel is standard 1990 so as big as an old bloody bus wheel! Finally Pete found a clump of shrubs and a tree to his liking I head straight for a flat spot at the side of a small dune.I have to say the desert is not always billiard table flat like in the movies. A wind was blowing and the fine grains of sand got EVERYWHERE it was horrible! we put the truck into the wind but with its high-profile the wind just blew straight underneath, the bottom edge of the tent had sand piling up against it within the hour, cooking in this was a bit of a pain, whatever we were going to eat tonight unfortunately would be a bit gritty. As the sun dropped out of the sky sticking out of the sand in the distance like a discarded frizbe until it slipped quickly from view and the skyline turned a weak golden-yellow then orange then a vivid red then black.  Dragging the chairs across the sand to the bonfire we joined the others after dinner we soon felt the heat from the fire as it blazed though my big log took some surprise really considering it was full of sand and bleeding termite spit! The fire is good to have coz it appeal to our primeval roots, we all gaze into the flames for periods, fires do that, they draw ones eyes to it and a gentle feeling of contentment washes over us (no not the wine) of course keeps us warm and keeps the lions away…Plus its  a mistake to go to bed cold, one just doesn’t get warm again until dawn and the arrival of another sun and another day.


The wind finally dropped and the termite hotel lies on the floor. Dragging it to the fire was an effort believe it or not!


                                       Whats a flat tyre or two between friends? Cheers!


                                                                           Picture perfect


                                                            At the setting of the sun…


                       Just sitting to watch the setting sun was so very rewarding



                                       Jo and Julie chillin and relaxing round the fire


                          The termite hotel did not burn well… Bloody thing!

I was going over the fun day in my head as I sat staring into the fire (like you do) Remembering those two huge white modified desert spec trucks, they say sat so tall they looked enormous, they passed us at one point as we paused to let our tyres down. Waving a hello and discussing briefly the route ahead with Pete. When coming to the softer deep stuff its a good idea to let they tyres down to increase spread of the rubber on the “floor” How much to let out is debatable and down to experience and preference I suppose, I have run on 1 bar as opposed to 36 and it feels so dopey and unresponsive in the turns but at least one doesn’t get stuck. once on firmer ground the air is put back in. Today we dropped them from 36 down to 24 bar and soon caught the two German crew in their white Iveco trucks, they pulled over and stopped to let us pass waving and shouting hello again. Yes a brilliant day I thought. Jim had had another puncture on the old Disco for gods sake as we began the last surge through the fesh fesh. He changed it with help from the others again. I don’t suppose he was best pleased. Here we were in the Northern Sahara his spare wheel had been patched up in a fashion from yesterdays puncture and now he had another puncture. This was to change our plans somewhat the next day..