The story that follows is a compilation of “Postcards” written on a daily basis while driving around in Morocco in early 2007. The trip itself was not planned to be one of those exercises of extreme, life-risking adventurism through nearly impossible obstacles. Rather, it was meant to be a controlled test to mainly three variables: a test to a 4x4 truck that I had just bought (a Nissan Patrol 4x4 SWB pick-up from the mid 90’s); a test to my driving skills in conditions different than those that I had here in Chad; and a test to Morocco as a desirable destination for possible future adventures. What follows is the final test report! I wrote it then, and now make it generally available, in the hope that it may be useful to anyone who, like me, is considering getting a bit more into this exhilarating activity of overlanding.
You may have seen parts of this story (in Portuguese) or some of the photos on the old Mosquitto website. Also, to make it “lighter” and faster to load up, the story is divided into four parts. I hope you enjoy all of them.
Finally, as soon as I found out how to do it, I will post here all the navigation data (waypoints and tracks ) all in OziExplorer format.
Part I Lisbon - Tarifa - Rabat - Erg Chebbi 1550 Km, 6 days (2 in Rabat, 2 at the Erg Chebbi)
Day 1: From Estoril, Portugal to Tarifa, Spain (Mon, Feb 12)
In spite of plans to leave earlier, I ended up not being able to do so before 10:40 AM, Portuguese time. (As a curiosity, moments before I got going, an earthquake of intensity 6 in the Richter scale shook Portugal. I did not feel a thing, quite embarrassingly given how many times I was going to be asked about this earthquake during my journey!
The trip to Tarifa was completely uneventful. The route chosen took me across the Tagus by the old bridge; then onwards to just south of Grandola where I left the highway; then to Seville via the border crossing at Rosal de la Frontera; then southwards to the outskirts of Cadiz and finally Tarifa, where I arrived just after sunset. Close to 610 km in app. 8 hours.
Searching for a hotel at night in a place you do not know is never fun! After trying for a bit in the town itself, I decided to go back to the road and look at a few of the places I had just driven by on one of the beaches outside town (places that cater mostly to windsurfers.) After checking out a few of them, I ended up going for the Hurricane Hotel – a bit more up-scale than what I wanted, but otherwise perfect.
For dinner, I drove back to town and ended up in a minuscule but wonderful tapasbar in the historic part of Tarifa. I took advantage of this incursion into town to find out as much as possible about the ferry to Tangier.
By 10:00 PM, Spanish time (i.e., Portuguese +1) I was back at the Hurricane and done for the day!
Looking across the Strait of Gibraltar
Day 2: From Tarifa, Spain to Rabat, Morocco (Tue, Feb 13)
By at 8:00 AM, after a hurried and rather unremarkable breakfast, I left the Hurricane, and 15 minutes later I was on the line for the ferry. As expected, the entire embarkation process was very straight forward, and soon after 9:00 AM we had set off to cross the Straight of Gibraltar.
The crossing itself was also quite uneventful: nearly perfect conditions (flat seas, clear sky, only a bit on the cold side), fast (app. 50 min), and comfortable (But I can tell you on a first hand basis that this body of water is not always as “considerate” as it was on this day! I remember quite well one of my previous passages thru it, on my 40 ft sailboat, alone, and with 40 knots of Levante.)
Quite unexpectedly, the disembarkation process also went rather smoothly, with only one minor scare to report: this being my first time ever in Morocco, I had to be physically present at Immigration as they entered my passport data into their system. This meant that I had to leave my truck on the Customs line and go upstairs to the first floor of the terminal complex. Leaving the loaded-up, soft-top pick-up truck alone and out of sight was not comfortable to say the least! Fortunately, the whole process did not take more than 5 minutes (if that) and soon I was back in my truck with nothing to report! By 9:50 AM, Moroccan time (i.e., Spanish -1), I was done with formalities and free to go. Close to 1 hour to unload from the ferry, go thru customs and immigration, and get local insurance was not bad at all!
The drive from the port to the southbound highway and then to Rabat (nearly 250 km, all but the very beginning on highway) was completely uneventful, but not unremarkable! After all, this was the first driving that I was doing in Morocco. So here are the remarks in brief, bullet point fashion:
·Driving thru the city of Tangier – What a mess!
·Back on the highway – Whoau! Are we really in Africa? And not a bad deal either: less than €7 for app. 250 km on a pick-up truck! One thing to pay attention: lot’s of speeding tickets being handed out left and right! (None to me, thanks, one benefit of the Patrol’s limited speeding capability!) Another thing to note: lot’s of people walking along the sides of the highway.
·The scenery – Not being spectacular, it was generally pleasant. The highway crosses an area of either forest or small farms (where you can see a lot of people working on the fields), never too far from the Atlantic coast (sometimes right next to it), a few small villages here and there … Again, generally quite pleasant!
·Entering Rabat – mostly straight forward!
As I was entering Rabat, soon after crossing some bridge and coming to a roundabout, I could not help but look up to a bluff and see a large, official-looking building with an American flag flying high and mighty over it: I had found the US Embassy! I parked the truck not too far from the main entrance to the complex (either legally or very nearly so) and called my friend at the Embassy (on whose house I was going to stay during my days in Rabat.) As it turned out, I was parked one block and half away from his place! By 1:00 PM, the Patrol was safely (and legally) parked in his garage, and I was in his kitchen with a beer in my hand!
The rest of the day, as well as Wed, Feb 14 and most of Thu, Feb 15 were spent in Rabat. This period will be covered on a special “section” on Rabat, to be written after my return to this city after my tour thru the countryside.
Day 4: From Rabat to Ifrane (Thu, Feb 15)
While in Rabat, I was pleased to find out that my friend and his family (wife and two kids) were planning to accompany me down to the Erg Chebbi on their car: good company is always a plus on a long road trip! This led to some changes to my original plans to take into account both their schedules and the fact that their car was not a 4x4. So per new plans, a bit after 9:00 PM we were all on the road to make the 198 km (all surfaced, mostly highway) to Ifrane, a beautiful small mountain town close to a few sky resorts. By midnight we were at the parking lot of the Hotel Le Chamonix, a nice (if a bit pretentious) place with quite a lively “Berber” scene (music and dance) at the Bar downstairs!
Somewhere between Midelt and Ar-Rachida
Day 5: From Ifrane to the Erg Chebbi (Fri, Feb 16)
By 9:50 AM, after yet another rather unremarkable breakfast, we were back on the road, destination The Great South! The itinerary for the day took us across the cedar forests of Azrou; up and down the scenic Col du Zad; then across the Plateau de l’Arid to Midelt (with its incredible views of the High Atlas); then across this mountain chain thru the Défilé de N’Zala and the beautiful Gorges du Ziz, to ho-hum Ar-Rachidia; then thru the palmeraies du Ziz to Erfoud and the quite impressing palmeraies du Tafilalt to just south of Rissani; and finally to the Kasbah Mohayut on the edge of the Erg Chebbi, 3 km before Merzouga.
Long day driving (402 km in nearly 8 hours), but uneventful. The only things worth remarking were the sighting of some monkeys just after Azrou, the beautiful sceneries that we had throughout the day, and the incredible wind storm that stay with us all the way to the end. Just before Midelt we had some extraordinary views of the High Atlas, and I can say that even if my friend had a 4x4, we would not have been able to do the Cirque du Jaffar: too much snow up there. For lunch we had sandwiches at a small café along the road in “downtown” Midelt and in less than 30 minutes we were back on the road.
We arrived at the Kasbah Mohayut by 5:40 PM, and proceeded immediately to the place’s incredibly nice roof terrace to watch the sun setting over the desert. Great timing! On the Mohayut itself – what an absolutely incredible place! Worth the trip just to stay in it. The people, the place (a traditionally Kasbah very nicely converted into a small, hôtel de charme type thing), the setting (right next to the sand dunes of the erg), the food (traditional Berber fare), everything!
After a nice dinner of tajine, it was the bed time for me!
The High Atlas from somewhere north of Midelt
One ofthe palmeries after Ar-Rachidia
. . .
View from the terrace of the Kasbah Mohayut
Day 6: Around the Erg Chebbi (Sat, Feb 17)
We spent this day driving around the Erg Chebbi, my friends on a hired (and driven) 4x4, and I following behind on my truck. By 11:00 AM, after a good breakfast on the terrace, we left the hotel to circumvent the erg driving clockwise. By 5:30 PM, having clocked 83 km, we were back at the Mohayut a happy bunch. Here are the highlights for the drive, in bullet point format yet again:
·Scenery – Great views of the dunes, with their golden yellows contrasting beautifully with the grays of the hamada. In the middle of this dryness, we passed by a nicely-sized lake, with some green around it and reflections of the dunes on the water.
·Movie in the making – It turns out that the this erg is the location where quite a few desert movies have been shot including, I was told, the greatest of them all, Lawrence of Arabia! True to its fame, on our drive we had a chance to see something being shot in the dunes.
·Driving on the Lisbon to Dakar route – Yes, we all had a chance to show our “stuff” on a section of the route of the Lisbon to Dakar Rally. Lots of fun!
·Mining, as it was done ages ago – Surreal! Difficult to describe! Men working on a trench 15 or 20 m deep, with a bucket at the end of a rope of a little inverted J crane powered by a 3 or 4 hp, diesel-fired, put-put engine. All this feeding a one-truck operation, which was loaded by hand, stone by stone!
·Concert – In Khemlia, we stopped for a brief introduction to Gnaoua music and dance. The music is an ensemble of drums, finger percussion gadgets (castañolatype), and a stringed, guitar-like, instrument. The Gnaoua culture has its roots in West Africa and was brought to Morocco by the slave trade.
(For the record, Mohayut arranged for our driver, Hassan, who works for his family owned Arrahla, Expédition en 4x4, e-mail address: firstname.lastname@example.org. Highly recommended!)
Once at the Mohayut, it was back to the terrace again for yet another incredible sunset, followed by another great dinner. By 9:00 PM I was in my room, done for the day!