Morocco: On The Trail Of The Rally — Part 6 Around Zagora

The temperature at the bivouac near Tagounite was a little warmer than the previous nights, and we slept comfortably despite the faint noise of the generators powering the lights and power tools at the Africa Eco Race just over a kilometer away. At one point, the noise seemed to get a little louder and then sometime in the dark hours of the night we noticed that it had become much more quiet.

With the anticipation of seeing the departure at the starting line, we didn’t have trouble waking up early. It was still twilight, but we saw right away that the bivouac was gone. Only a few lights remained where before there had been a small city clustered around the grid laid out by the cars and their service teams as they had arrived and set up camp after the previous day’s stage.

The starting vehicles and some of the service teams were still in place, but the big tents had been torn down and the bivouac site was empty. The Orga had packed up moved during the night to set up the camp in Oued Draa at the end of Stage 3. We rolled up our sleeping material and folded the tent as quickly as possible (a 2-second Quechua always takes much longer to fold up than you think it will). As we were finishing breakfast, we heard the first of the motorcycles at the starting line. It was 7:30am, and they had started right on time.

We packed everything away, strapped down and locked the tool cases before hurrying over to the remains of the bivouac. The first cars and trucks were just getting ready to head over to the starting line. After talking with some of our friends, we followed Tomáš as he took his Tatra to the waiting area, and we set up to watch a little of the action (see photos here and here).

We stayed for an hour or so until most of the cars and trucks had started the Stage before heading into town to visit Ali’s garage. Once again, our minds and hearts were with the drivers on their way to Oued Draa, and we were somewhat wistful that our brief encounter with the Africa Eco Race was over.

The feeling didn’t last long. As we pulled up to Ali’s garage in Zagora, the first thing we noticed was a Renault Kerax assistance truck parked across the street. They had a broken turbo and had come to Ali to for help fixing it before continuing to Oued Draa. We didn’t know it yet but this would not be the last of the race we’d see during the day.




A few of the cars in our group needed repairs before starting back to Nador, and we decided it would be a good idea to have Ali’s mechanics check over all the cars to make sure there weren’t any hidden problems or damage after two days of driving on the dirt track in the traces of the rally. Our steering stabilizer was worn and had come loose so we asked them to remove it (we didn’t have any vibrations in the steering) and then to check over the suspension and chassis and give the joints a good dose of grease. They finished by giving the Jeep a good cleaning to remove most of the sand that had already infiltrated all the cracks and accumulated wherever it could.


We saw lots of interesting cars while we were waiting.


Not long after we arrived, a tow truck pulled in with a VW service car from the Africa Eco Race. The service team had been in an accident on the way to the next bivouac and one of the wheels had been torn off. We didn’t hear if anyone had been hurt.





After a shower, we headed into town for lunch and a little shopping. Later in the evening when we came back to get the car, we were surprised to see the Tatra Balai 2 sweeper truck. We had not seen it at the bivouac near Tagounite because it had gone into the dunes at the start of the second stage to pick up Luc and Marlene Vidal, who had a damaged suspension and were not able to continue the stage.





Unfortunately, the sweeper truck had not been able to find them until morning and they had slept in their Toyota HDJ 100 with an emergency blanket to keep warm when the temperatures fell below freezing overnight. The sweeper had located them soon after daylight and loaded their car for the day’s drive to Zagora where Ali would repair the suspension so they could continue to Dakar.





We left them at the garage around nightfall and wished them well as we headed out to a Berber camp in the dunes for our New Year’s dinner. That would be last we saw of the Africa Eco Race.

We had planned to spend New Year’s Eve in the dunes of Erg Chegaga, but since some of the cars weren’t up to the drive, we were lucky that we were able to share a camp just outside Zagora with another group. We spent a wonderful evening after dinner around the warmth of the bonfire talking, singing, and listening to the Berber musicians.


After the celebration, most of the group wanted to take it easy on New Year’s Day. We headed into town late in the morning and checked into the Hotel Sirocco around lunchtime. In the afternoon we decided to do some more training on the track of the Special Stage around Jbel Rhart. We got a late start, so we didn’t want to drive the entire stage, and we thought it would be fun to try to pick up the stage around the halfway point to practice finding the track as if we had been lost. Most of the others decided to stay in town, but one of the Hummers wanted to come with us.

There are many intersecting dirt tracks around Jbel Rhart and the afternoon practice was very instructive. We learned two very important lessons:

1. It can be almost impossible to pick up the route if you don’t know where you are. We weren’t lost, but trying to find the right track without having a known landmark or point can be almost impossible. We finally picked up the track in the roadbook near the end of the Stage, but had we been in the race, we would have probably missed some hidden checkpoints.

2. When an extremely dangerous situation is mentioned in the roadbook, if you haven’t seen it after a few hundred meters, don’t immediately assume you avoided it.

After about 20 km of navigation off track over land according to a heading, we were on the lookout for a deep ditch perpendicular to our direction of travel. After several hundred meters we didn’t see it, but ran across a smaller one. Assuming we had taken a different trajectory than mentioned in the road book, we thought we had simply missed it. We had not. At the last minute, we had to brake hard several hundred meters farther long the course to avoid hurtling straight into it. Afterwards, we realized that we had a problem with the sensor for the Terratrip and had been expecting the ditch at the wrong place.

We reached the end if the road book in the late afternoon around some small dunes southeast of Zagora and headed back to the hotel. Our group had been invited for dinner, and we had just enough time to clean up before heading back into town. The next day we’d begin the two-day drive back to Nador.

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

3 Responses to Morocco: On The Trail Of The Rally — Part 6 Around Zagora

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

  2. Pingback: Morocco: On The Trail Of The Rally — Part 5 Africa Eco Race Tagounite Photo Highlights « Erg Machine

  3. richfinck says:

    Great. Thanks for sharing.

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