Morocco: On The Trail Of The Rally — Part 3 Merzouga To Tagounite

We had a relaxing morning at the Hotel Touareg. Some of the group needed to go into Merzouga for car repairs, so we took advantage of the sunny patio to enjoy breakfast and coffee before heading out to take a few spins in the dunes just a few kilometers away at the Erg Chebbi.






Afterwards, we were invited for tea at the home of one of the local residents in Merzouga. We stopped at the bakery for bread on the way out of town before starting the second leg of practice over land to Tagounite in the afternoon. We didn’t want to drive all the way to the start of the next stage near Erfoud, so we tried to locate a point on the map where we could pick up the route as it passed to the west of Merzouga on the way south. The tricky part was to find a known landmark in the road book so we could set the kilometrage on the rally computer without having GPS coordinates for the track.

We managed to locate a point near Rissani which seemed likely to correspond to a road crossing designated in the roadbook. After we found the track, we did a quick check of the Terratrip calibration to make sure it corresponded to the indications in the roadbook. It did, and we set out to cross the plain off road to the end of the stage near Nesrate several kilometers before Tagounite. We wanted to reach Tagounite by late afternoon on Sunday since the Africa Eco Race would set up a bivouac there. Since the Hummers hadn’t been prepared to drive very fast over the rough tracks, they took to the highway, and we agreed on a rendezvous to meet them in Tagounite on Sunday.

As we set off over land the track was fast with some sections requiring navigation according to the heading. There were many parallel and intersecting tracks so it was important to stay alert. After a passage between two mountains about an hour before sunset the track turned toward the west. We had the dust of the cars in front and the setting sun in our eyes so it was almost impossible to see the track. We had to slow down and move slightly off the track to leave some distance between our position and that of the cars in front. The car behind us did the same and after a while we lost sight of it. At that point, we slowed down even more to avoid losing anyone in the vast plain.

Around sunset, the track crossed a heavily travelled north-south route emerging from a passage between two mountain ridges. We were a little too close to the mountains compared to the indications from the roadbook, and we ran right into a field of deep hardened ruts in the sandy terrain near Foum Mharech perpendicular to our direction of travel. At the same time, we saw the lead cars had turned back and were coming towards us. Together we decided to follow the perpendicular track leading to the narrow passage between the two mountains, where we intended to make camp.

As we approached the pass, we noticed a small hotel, the Auberge Riad Nomad, perched on the western face of a small hill beside the passage. This address is worth noting if you are planning to be the in area: N30 44′ 42.4” W004 33′ 11.2.

The hotel was full; it had been completely rented by another group. We set up our tents behind the courtyard, and took advantage of the clean showers and other facilities. The owners were friendly and welcoming and the food was good (we had dinner and breakfast). We didn’t have any trouble getting to sleep despite the low roar of the seemingly endless line of trucks crossing thorough the passage below us overnight.






The following day was undoubtedly the best of the trip and was easily everyone’s favorite. Fast tracks and tricky navigation, dirt, rocks and the dreaded fech fech, we had it all. We saw some beautiful scenery and learned some important lessons for the rally too.

Foum Mharech

  1. Not every landmark is mentioned in the roadbook. Just because you see something that you think should be noted, but isn’t, it doesn’t mean you are off-track.
  2. The tracks change and the indications may not correspond exactly to the state of the route, especially when the roadbook has not been recently updated.
  3. Many landmarks look alike. The positions of trees, houses or even mountains can look very similar to the indications in the roadbook even when you are well and truly off-track.

As one of our friends told us, when you aren’t sure you’re on the right track, don’t always trust the car in front and don’t keep going in the hopes you will figure out where you are. You may get lucky, but there is every chance you will lose time if you don’t go back to the last place where you were sure you were on the right track to pick up the route from there.

Rally Piste


We also got an excellent introduction to the various conditions we can expect to see along a rally track. Just before lunch, several of us were caught by surprise in an area of fech fech despite the indications in the roadbook, and we had to get out the shovels. This was a lesson better learned during practice than during the rally.


Around mid-afternoon on a fast track near Nesrate we realized that we were on the same track as Stage 2 of the Africa Eco Race. Soon after we stopped by the side of the road Anton Shibalov passed by in his Kamaz, followed closely by the MAN of Elisabeth Jacinto. We didn’t know it yet, but they were among the leaders of the stage.





We waited while a few more vehicles passed and then for a long time, no one came so we headed out again, driving very fast in the direction of the finish line near Nesrate. We had to stop at a military checkpoint and while the police were filling out the paperwork, several more racers passed, including Miklos Kovacs driving his Scania and Tomáš Tomeček and Vojtěch Morávek in their Tatra 815-2.



A few minutes after Tomáš had passed, the officials told us we could get back on our way. After the military post, the route through the mountains was windy and narrow and we had to drive very slowly. After the pass the track was fast again, and we were roaring toward the finish line to get to the bivouac. We could see the line of dust stretching out in front of us as Tomáš was blazing the trail toward the finish line.


We accelerated and soon passed the buggy of Hubert Auriol, which was being towed by a car after having lost a wheel during the stage.

It wasn’t far to the finish line, but we had to get gas in town before heading out to the bivouac.


We stopped by briefly to say hello and found out that the first stage of the rally had been cancelled for the cars and trucks because of a late ferry arrival. More worrisome, Tomáš was having engine problems; a tank of badly filtered diesel was causing a loss of power. He had lost a lot of time on the day’s stage and his team would have to empty and clean the engine and all the tanks as best as they could overnight to get the Tatra up to full power for the next day’s Stage.









We left them to work and went to set up our bivouac a kilometer or so from the race, close enough to quickly get back and forth, but far enough away from the noise of the generators that were running until 3 or 4 in the morning.

After dinner we went back to the bivouac, where all the teams were busy doing maintenance and repairs following the first complete stage of the race.

The buggy of Jean Louis Schlesser:




We talked a little more with Tomáš.


Vojtěch was absorbed in preparing the navigation as we left the bivouac.


After all the excitement, it was hard to fall asleep, but we wanted to get up early in the morning to see the start of the race. As we waited for sleep to come, we could hear the sound of the generators in the distance reminding us that the rally never truly sleeps.

Read the next installment or go back to Part 1 and the post index.

2 Responses to Morocco: On The Trail Of The Rally — Part 3 Merzouga To Tagounite

  1. Pingback: Morocco: On The Trail Of The Rally — Part 1 « Erg Machine

  2. Pingback: Morocco: On The Trail Of The Rally — Part 2 Nador To Merzouga « Erg Machine

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