I awoke around 06.00 hrs to see the dawn breaking, now I know its dawn everyday wherever you are but I wanted to see it from the desert after our first nights wild camping in the Sahara. Unzipping my bag I rolled off the camp bed and slipped my shorts on and unzipping the tent door and the flysheet I stepped out onto the cold sand. It was so quiet and still and walked to the nearby hill and looked all around and saw….nothing! There was a track about three hundred yards away, we’d seen it last night as we watched two vehicles. This was the “Night in the desert experience”
Tourists are driven in from the city to spend a night under the stars staying in an Auberge a couple of miles away, we saw it on our way in yesterday, here we were suitably masked from the distant track by the shrubbery and the few low dunes, to be fair we didn’t know it was there until seeing the distant car headlights last night.
Dropping to my knees I looked at the desert activity little black beetles scurried back and forth gathering food and stuff taking it back to their particular little bolt hole in the sand. miniature tank tracks marked their journey, yesterday evening they were very busy but now at dawn I saw nothing but tracks and tiny burrow holes. The fascinating little fella’s are Scarab Beetles, or Dung Beetles as they are more commonly known.
I didn’t take any photos last night, as we were tent building and preparing dinner before darkness fell and this morning they were all having a lie in!
Dawn breaks to reveal our camp
Jim and Pete burning our rubbish after breakfast then bagging whats left to dispose of when we hit a town at some point.
We burnt all our rubbish every morning in the desert, what was left we crushed and bagged (tins) to dispose of later in a town. It seemed a bit pointless seeing how the locals in the countryside just discard rubbish into heaps, they don’t chuck it in a hole nor do they seem to bury it, it’s not fenced off,it’s just discarded on the ground in a particular spot at the edge of the village. I put a curse of the blue plastic bags that blight the land! However we live a different way so do what we do.
Julie sitting having breakfast
We were all into the morning routine of strolling off into the desert with shovel and toilet roll. The Scarab Beetles would feast well today when we vacate the area! Breakfast done, pots washed, breaking camp was next Julie generally has the 2 beds and bags packed and stowed leaving me to un peg and drop the tent, we don’t generally use all the pegs in the desert in these conditions just four at the back to pull the back wall further out, we use the 8 inch ones in firmer sand the beds and our own weight stops the tent from moving. Last night though with the wind and the bottomless light sand I moved the truck to the rear and tied the 4 back wall guys to the truck.
Enjoying the early morning sun after breakfast
Julie washed and scrubbed she’s now all set for the day
Pete had been in touch with the garage back at Zagorra and he said he could get a replacement in spite of the size it was awkward as Jim was running on 17 inch tyres and not an easy size to pick up easily here in Morocco. So at the gathering round the map Pete outlined what we had to do today, we would do a dog leg to Zagorra and get Jim back up to 100% reliability, if he had another puncture here in the desert he would be fucked, Whilst he was being sorted we would all have lunch, top up with fuel maybe then get on the road again intersecting our original track at the North East side of Zagorra. We climbed aboard and gunned our way through the sand in the direction of Mohammed, its was soft going as soon as we set of so getting back into hard-driving and searching for tussock hiding boulders took a few minutes. We were making our way around the spiny shrubs when someone shouted over the radio “CAMEL!” …”Camel on the left camel on the right” came more info, lucky they we not in front but to on both sides and in the shrubs.
The worn out edges of Mhammid came into view as we hit the harder surface, run down it certainly was though as we passed through the middle the school and surrounding buildings in the centre showed a bit more colour and life, kids milled around the entrance, there are so few teachers that the kids do just half a day each so letting more come to school in the afternoons, I didn’t know this until later when I remarked how the kids seemed to be coming and going all day long, it certainly wasn’t a short day! At the other side of town the hard surface turned to tarmac and the building looked a lot better, we picked up speed to get back to Zagora for lunch time and Jim’s new tyre. Pete asked us to look out for anything unusual about the little bus shelters we would be passing on the way. No building for miles except for these sporadic bus shelters. Julie took aim as I slowed and CLICK! she captured this..
Bus shelter Morocco style
We saw another a few miles further up I slowed again, yup it’s a bloody palm tree growing through the middle of it!
So Zagora and the garage for an hour as Jim got his disco sorted, we took ourselves off to the fuel station up the road, then called at the market for some savoury snacks and some bread. We hung around back at the garage for half an hour, I reminded myself how nothing happens fast over here. At least the kids were glad to see us again! We didn’t have long to wait as it happens, Jim had negotiated a price for the tyre, I think it was just an ordinary road tyre it didn’t have a hole in it except in the middle unlike his failing Grabber tyres.
OK let’s go! our passenger door was being awkward and wouldn’t open from the inside, having to wind the window down and reach outside, behind the door card is the most simplest of locks that it looks like a “Steam Punk” contraption, I wasn’t bothered right now thought the mechanics started looking at it, we would get it sorted eventually and it would hopefully be a simple fix but not right now.
Off we went back out of town heading east on new tarmac. After a few miles Pete was looking for a gap in the kerb edge and a dirt ramp that let us get back into 4×4 country tally ho! leaving the tarmac we drove at an angle away from it in the direction of Tizi-n-Tafilalet.
We’d been going for a couple of hours it was time for a brew and tree or two with bushes were found, we pulled into the clump of vegetation. The temperature over these past few days had reached a high of 30+ degrees by noon. Julie found it quite stifling, yes its was warm, two years ago when I was here at its peak it was 6o degrees! Let me say guys don’t EVER do this in the middle of August!
Ian.. an Englishman abroad
Tea and photographs
I walked into the desert a couple of hundred yards to take some photos of all the trucks as the sped past kicking up some sand, hopefully the photos would look good, I passed a lad coming the other way he was making his way to our trucks hoping we would give him something, he’s lost his chance today though as the guys packed up and made their way out of the shrub and towards me.
Pete & Jo Team leaders of Atlas Overland
The village a few miles ahead had some disgruntled villagers who weren’t keen on 4x4s coming through their village apparently, I have to say neither would be really, kicking up dust and maybe not going slowly enough but go through we must so we slowed down, sure enough folk just looked at us without a smile, the track passed right through the middle of the village some of the kids chased after us as usual but soon dropped away as we cleared the village and picked up speed. We were now back on our original track, the detour had been just half a day I don’t think any of us thought it was a waste, least nobody said anything.
At another pause to view the landscape and talk about how we would proceed and in what direction Pete would often point at this and point at that..at one point he seemed to get carried away with himself…
Minding the sun!
He has a knack of making the more mundane stuff appear interesting, and of course stopping often to enjoy the view is good because the drivers are staring at a point from 10 to 50 yards ahead all the time looking for dips.. holes.. rocks and old river ruts so often miss what’s on the near horizon.
Loitering with camera behind a snorkel
The above sequence was of us looking across another dry riverbed, Pete would with his expert eye suggest the route we would take. We dropped down the shale bank onto the riverbed and wound our way past the deep ruts up and up the opposite banking, over the radio came.. “More fesh fesh ahead everyone, its about about four hundred yards, worth” Down into 3rd and low box to plough into the billions and billions of deep powdery grains, it was as if hundreds of tons of cement powder had just been dumped in front of us. Bash on with lots of power and look out for obstructions that might stop us it wouldn’t take muck to come to a halt in this stuff, even lifting the boot off the accelerator pedal would be enough, to stop would result in sinking instantly up to the bodywork it really is that thick so forward momentum is the key! There are patches of harder ground where a halt could be had, ahead we watched the red 110 plough through a dune pushing the fesh fesh out-of-the-way with the bumper as it went up and through, I was following too close and to slowly, so I stopped on a hard patch and reversed a few yards, got my revs up and ploughed on after Ian. I was often catching the 110 Disco and the troopi through stuff like this, it wasn’t a race I just needed to keep the revs up, on the occasions I stayed behind I was slowing so much the revs where dying and I was in danger of stalling, so either being way behind or ahead of them or overtaking when possible was my option, I’m sure they thought I was racing, but I wasn’t honest guys!
On and on we drove, quite a way in fact and pretty soon it was time for another pause, just checking a few things and taking a few photographs. We did have plenty of breaks which was great we were on track time wise and not too far away from our next camp, tonight we would be camping in the grounds of an Auberge, its said there was a shower and a real toilet there so….
This tyre, believe it or not marks two merging tracks! Often its a small pile of white-painted stones, sometimes just a small boulder with a number painted on.
Phew yes it was really warm now as afternoon dragged on. The sign indicated we were not too far from tonight’s objective, we just had a huge depression to cross. Looking at the map and my pen line I think also we were not many miles from the border with Algeria, my map actually states “Mined Border” so best not veer too far to the right for the next thirty odd miles Julie!
Don’t you just love the lack of traffic out here?
We were spread out over the whole damn road!!
It was open country with low mountains to both sides perhaps ten miles away? the surface was OK so we spread out again and put the old foot down, Tally Ho! I saw a speck behind us and it was closing, pretty soon I saw it was a chap on a motorbike he was going full tilt and slowly overtaking us the air was flowing through his flip-flops, I bet his feet were nice and cool! Strapped to the back but bouncing about was an old-fashioned stirrup foot pump.
Of he went ahead of us and we laughed about the freedom of the road jokes both of us being Ex bikers it was a funny moment! A few minutes later we saw him again, he had stopped and he was trying to put his chain back on! How many times as a “yoof” had I let my chain get too slack and come off the sprocket. Up ahead now we could see a couple of small squares on the horizon..aha buildings up ahead. A few minutes later we were pulling into the compound of the Auberge, we were at Hassi Fougani, it was like a small frontier fort, we’d driven through a gateway with stone pillars, a neat small wall surrounding the Auberge and its long building and a SHOWER and TOILET block. We got the tent off the roof and erected in minutes, Julie put the bed together and voila we were done! in the compound with us was a battered old white defender which had starter motor issues hence it was parked on a slope in the corner.
It was time to wash some smalls and do a bit of “housemaid” this evening so as tea was being made a few cans were passed around and the few chores were soon done, there was no need to check for loose nuts tonight as the journey today hadn’t been that bumpy,some chose to eat inside tonight as the choice presented itself, we declined tonight and cooked again as the sun began to fall we gathered round a few chairs and brought out the wine and generally had a great evening, it was still very warm so the clothes were dry in no time, the washing line was strung from a couple of branches just behind the trucks, Ian also had a washing machine, his was a bit smaller and square an ideal size and shape I thought, that’s the thing on tour, someone has always got something that works a little better or differently and has something somebody has been after for ages! These tours are always a source of great ideas! I have a little brown book and am constantly writing up a new shopping list for when I get back home.
Cosy camp..the 110 with the roof tent, and the 90 with the ground tent
We all got together for the last few hours and had drinks and laughter before tiredness overtook us and drove us to our pits.
The next morning feeling refreshed we packed up and stowed all away in the trucks and set of again. Today’s journey ahead was discussed and a question mark was stubbornly still there about a certain region, was it passable or not? Pete gleaned the best info he could from the Auberge owners, it might be easy it might be difficult! We would give it a go we had by now got a little experience in sand and the feshy stuff and I think we all felt we had a chance, I certainly did and I had every faith in my truck.
Shall we go then?
Pete used the map to put us in the picture, he’d done this many times but conditions frequently change and it’s almost like a new track sometimes. “OK shall we go then? He says, Feeling excited I climbed in Julie settled in her seat, kicked off her shoes and rested her heels on the wound down window, I had mine wound down too as I had all the trip we had as much sand inside as outside but that’s all part of the fun, The way ahead opened up again within the hour and we had yet more fun as we fanned out across the solid smooth flat expanse. A warm sun clear blue skies an “open road” speeding across the flats at 60 mph all the trucks heading off towards the distant fesh fesh what brilliant fun we were having. The whole trip is worth the effort just to be here, playing in the Northern Sahara!
An odd shaped peak amongst a group of peaks was to be our aiming point as we approached the large area of fesh, this was also dotted with dunes bush and several cast iron termite hotels…better known as thorny trees! We should only stop on hard ground, IF a stop had to be had in the fesh then don’t brake otherwise a dune of the soft stuff would pile up in front of the tires, no just lift off the gas the truck will stop just as quick. We went in with a fair margin between the truck ahead, the rule was if it stopped drive round it and keep going, they would be recovered when the remainder gathered at the other side. Keeping our revs up we drove forward increasing speed and twisting left and right negotiating tree trunks shrubs and small dunes, it was very exciting the engine was roaring the fesh was flying we slowed for nothing now and again we saw the odd-shaped mountain and bashed on, Pete was through and now stood on the roof of his truck with his radio guiding folk in who began to stray, we pulled in front and coasted to a stop on a hard patch and waited for the rest. Yey made it!
Carrick was straying apparently, we could hear Pete guiding him to us, the shrub was thick and you couldn’t see too far ahead, taking photos were out of the question we had too much else to concentrate on. Listening to the roaring Disco getting closer and closer until he too eventually joined us. Pete got down from the roof pleased at things and we set of again, it was hard work but wasn’t as bad as it could have been after all.
Stopping to “see a man about a dog”
After that excitement my throat was quite parched! We had plenty of plastic water bottles in the cab always topping them up and putting salt tablets in them so drinking water all the time was very important, we had a 25 litre water container on the roof kept full just in case, alongside our duel fuel cans.. one full just in case.. and a 10 litre ready to use water container in the back.
Brew time again!
I have to admit I didn’t see too much of the wild life especially when driving, so I’ll just back track a little to the day we saw a really colourful fella during another brew stop, I was looking around and saw him about 50 yards away running across the huge flat stones. Quickly I switched my camera lens over to the 200mm and did a wide arc to get the sun behind me, one of the girls walked slowly towards him to keep his attention, thus I was able to get some shots before he shot off at high-speed.
Hello big boy
If Ive already told you about this guy then Im sorry, it must be the heat! But hey what a brilliant photo Eh?
Time to move again, once again we spread out across the flats heading towards that distant mountain range we would climb up and through it when we reached it, Julie was having a break from the hot and harsh conditions and was taking a ride with Pete, his new truck was comfier and had air-con. I was blasting along with the red 110 about 80 yards to my right when I saw a black lump in the sand ahead as we got closer the black lump turned out to be a big black camel and he was sat down resting! We passed him wide and slow, I managed to take a photo..
About half a mile further on we saw the owners in their very low-lying homes, I guess nomads don’t live in anything grand and spectacular.
People of the desert
Kicking up the sand.
Ian comes in with the troopi from the flats.
Normally these guys belong to someone, they are a valuable thing to own both as transport and food but for once I saw nobody around. We picked a spot to stop once off the flats and had lunch, Julie quite liked the break and was benefiting from the air con. Not everyone loves a hot sun! She would stay with Pete for the rest of the afternoon as it was getting hotter, the high 30’s in fact, we were heading upto Erg Chebbi and a break in a hotel for two days. Erg Chebbi is fascinating area of very high red sand dunes and attracts 4×4 groups from all over Germany…erm I mean Europe.
We left the soft sand and the hard rocky tracks when we located the tarmac and passed a thumping great truck with its huge ( normal ) load on our drive to Erg Chebbi
By late afternoon we saw the red dunes and after pulling into the fuel station to top up we drove onto our bed for the night, we had done the Sahara wild camping now! It took longer than Id imagined to circle round the dunes, they really are fucking huge! Our hotel was built right on the edge of the sand, in fact one stepped out of room onto the veranda and straight onto the sand!
A hotel with a statement!!
We pulled into the courtyard and parked up, Carrick and Jo had gone on ahead to sort the booking out and hand us our keys which was a good idea because hanging about booking in after a long day isn’t!