Oued Rheris To Zagora

The most difficult part of the trip is always the drive back. The hours crawl by on the way to catch the ferry when you leave home at the start. Cruising along at the speed limit for trucks is an exercise in patience when spirits are high in anticipation of the coming adventure. In the opposite direction, when the daily routine awaits, the road requires even more discipline. The solitude of the highway in the wee hours is quickly dispelled in the dusky orange and turquoise hues of morning twilight. It almost doesn’t seem possible that the same sun also rises over the silent, empty sea of dunes that stretches from horizon to horizon. The news on the radio brings you sharply back into the world that is yours but which you only temporarily left behind.

A week ago when we stopped at dark to make camp in the Oued Rheris, we were in a different world. The labyrinth of scrub trees that effectively stymied us after nightfall proved much less difficult with a visual point of reference that came with the golden light of morning.

A short walk was all it took to find fresh tracks leading through and out of the dense shrubs. It almost didn’t seem possible that we had missed them in the dark. On further inspection, we realized that we had been only 20m away when we had turned around thinking we had reached a dead end. In any case, the tracks that were obvious by day may have been difficult to make out by night while navigating primarily by instrument and with little input concerning the actual state of the surrounding terrain. That method only works well when you don’t have any obstacles like trees, rocks or holes.



We used the handheld GPS again to save time finding our way out of the trees. When we were back on our way, it didn’t take long to reach Foum Mharech, where we stopped for tea on the terrace of the Riad Nomad with its elegant hedge of Oleander overlooking the immense valley below. 

Continuing our way to Zagora, we stopped in the plain to take a photo. Our hope was to get the same shot as in 2012, but we decided to avoid the middle part of the passage, which seemed to be soft from the recent rains. Getting stuck in the mud wasn’t in our plans for the day. 


Two years before, the Foum had been a dry, barren plain where the track had been fast as long as you kept a lookout out for the larger bumps and ruts. This year, we had to make our way more carefully.  We were amazed to see a few worked patches of soil that soon gave way to field after field, freshly tilled and ready for sowing wheat. The dry barren plain had been transformed by the rain into fertile farmland! We drove west toward Zagora, continuing on the narrow piste that at times closely hugged the base of the mountains to avoid ravaging the carefully prepared fields.

At Tafraoute du Sud, some locals came over to meet us. The crossing was not practicable they said, offering to lead us across over a “sure way.” A tractor about 50 meters away was heading over, we replied that if he could cross, we were sure we could too. Turning into the soft sand, we were hindered by all the children running beside and zig-zagging in front of us as we picked our way across. Some of them were very small and hard to see from inside the truck. We were afraid they might get hurt.

Once we were safely on the other side, we decided to stop for lunch at the auberge. Under a clear blue sky we shared the most delicious omelette Berbère in a setting as stunning as a tropical paradise in any tourist brochure. We talked a little with some locals and gave a man a lift to a nearby village in exchange for guiding us through the passable section of a muddy riverbed farther west. Several other tourists in 4×4’s took advantage of the opportunity to follow us through. The rest of the afternoon was uneventful. 

We arrived in Zagora by the wide well-leveled piste through the Tizi-n-Tafilalet. At the entrance to town, we checked into the Hotel Sirocco where we spent the night before heading over to Ali Racing the next morning for a check-over. We hadn’t had any mechanical problems, but we thought it was worth a look after three hard days off-road.

Christmas On The Piste

It’s easy to lose your sense of time on the piste, and difficult to find time to write. Check the ErgRacing Twitter feed in the right hand side-bar for the latest updates via Wifi or SMS. 

On Christmas morning, we were up to see the sun rising over the riverbed in a deep blue Moroccan sky. The warmth of the golden rays quickly dispelled the humidity that had settled during the night. Eager to head out, we took breakfast and broke camp quickly. 

The track we had chosen was varied. Within 30 minutes we had to navigate through a small swath of dunes. Later, we got a good taste of mud at a river crossing. We picked up part of the trail from the 2012 Rallye du Maroc along the cliffs, and through a narrow rocky pass. The steep winding piste had been thrilling but easy in the Jeep. The descent in the truck took significantly more skill, not to mention nerves of steel.

We managed to pick up and follow part of the rallye roadbook to the oasis where we had picnicked two years ago. The area had recently been flooded and the ground was still soft and muddy. The well where we had drawn water was filled with sand, and we could see they had since installed a pump. Later we learned from the locals that the drought had been severe for two years. The wells had dried up and they had dug deep in search of water. 


By this time the sun had set, but the ground was too soggy to make camp amongst the palms, so we decided to attempt the remaining 60 km to Merzouga. In addition to reduced visibility, unexpected obstacles make driving the piste risky at night, but we knew the route was relatively easy, and so we made our way cautiously, pulling into Merzouga around 7:30pm 

We took rooms with board at the Hotel Touareg, which has been renovated since our first visit in 2010. The rooms were comfortable, and it’s nice to wash away the sand under a warm shower and catch up on the news in the rest of the world via Wifi, but sometimes the simple comforts of the bivouac are just as enjoyable.

On Friday morning, we took the Scania for a short spin in the big dunes. After so much rain, the sand was hard and carried well. We didn’t have any trouble crossing some of the steep dunes near the edge of the Erg Chebi. Afterwards, we went to a nearby lake where we had been told we could see some pink flamingos. We observed a solitary representative of the flock we had been expecting, although we took some nice photos of the lake with the dunes as a backdrop. Look for them when we publish our photo gallery at the end of the trip.


By early afternoon, we headed south to Taouz, where we planned to pick up the piste to Zagora. We were anxious to return to Foun Mharech and stay the night at the Auberge Riad Nomad, if possible. 

On the outskirts of town, some local teenagers had gathered at the turn-off to the piste. They told us that the flooding had modified the tracks and that we wouldn’t be able to cross the river in the south, trying to convince us to go another way or take a guide since we “might get lost.” We thanked them for the information about the condition of the route, but explained that this was not our first time overlanding in this part of Morocco. 

We were not alone as we started on our way. Three Belgian MAN camper trucks had also set off along the same route. We stopped to picnic when we thought we were far enough from town to avoid been solicited, but a peddler passing on his mobilette arrived while we were eating and set up all his wares. He didn’t get any reward for his effort.

By early afternoon we were underway again but making slower progress than expected. We decided to take a shortcut and ended up on a dead-end piste in the mountains. Fortunately, we had a good vantage point to study the tracks in the valley below. With a little ingenuity, we managed to go down into a small ravine and follow the riverbed for about a kilometer to pick up the track again. We lost time, but we had come for the challenge. If we hadn’t found our way and had been forced to double-back, we probably wouldn’t have been as proud of ourselves. 

Having taken the northern pass where we had been told we would be able to cross the river, we thought the worst was behind us. Then about 25 km from Foum Mharech we came to an intersection. One piste continued straight while the other turned south. Arrows indicated Foum Mharech in several directions. We didn’t want to tempt fate by going too far south, so we took the piste toward the west. The track crossed two oueds, one after the other. Daylight was fading, and the traces disappeared as we came to the first Oued and realized the extent of the flood.

We picked up tracks again in the broad riverbed, one set seemed to lead south in the direction the water had flowed and the other west. The southern track looked better and we followed it for a little way hoping it would lead us to a good place to cross. After a while, with no obvious signs of crossing, we decided to double-back, worried that the fresh tracks would lead us too far south.

We turned west, but after a few hundred meters the traces of the track disappeared again. We decided to find our own way across as quickly as possible. The sun was setting and we wanted to be on safer ground to drive the last kilometers to Foum Mharech at night.

We didn’t have much trouble finding a good crossing point, but as we headed west in the fading light, we realized the second crossing would be harder. It was quite dark when we came to a line of trees growing along the river bank, which rose abruptly from the riverbed several meters below. 

It was too dark to find a crossing point in the truck. We thought of making camp for the night, but the Auberge was not much farther than 14 km away. After crossing, the route would be straightforward. We took the handheld GPS and went to scout by foot. After a while we found a good place to cross where the bank wasn’t as steep. Following the recorded track in the truck, we easily made our way down into the riverbed. 


The ground proved too soft to make it out the other side, however, so we drove upstream through the scrub in search of a passage. We soon found ourselves in a thicket and it was almost impossible to find our way out of the labyrinth in the dark. 

We made camp in a small clearing, where the ground was relatively flat. A few lights flickered in the valley not too far away, and we wondered if the Belgian group had also stopped nearby for the night. Although we were in the riverbed, the air seemed less damp than at our first bivouac on the plain to the north of Merzouga. We found enough dead branches to keep warm around the campfire. Finding our way out of the thicket would be easier by daylight.

Morocco: On The Trail Of The Rally — Part 7 Zagora To Nador

The trip from Zagora to Nador would take two days. To make the drive easier on the cars that hadn’t been prepared for the rugged tracks we had been following for the past week, we had planned to take the highway north to Errachidia. From there, after the Gorges of the Ziz, some of us would take a dirt track for one last leg offroad, while the rest would continue by highway. The two groups would meet in Nador the evening before the ferry.

At breakfast, the plan changed. Everyone was sad to leave the warm sunny weather and beautiful countryside, and those who needed to drive carefully had found an “easy” track they wanted to try from Zagora to Tazzarine through the Tizi-n-Tafilalet between the Jbel Rhart and the Jbel Tadrart. Everyone was happy with this option. We’d take this track to Tazzarine where we’d join the highway and continue on the original plan.


The chosen route passed the start of the Special Stage we had practiced on the day before. This time, instead of driving overland toward the Tizi-n-Tafilalet, we turned onto a well-maintained track that was wide and smooth. Given the aspect of this track, it seems likely to be paved before long.


We stopped near the pass to take some pictures and then got back underway. There were several intersecting tracks at this spot, and we weren’t sure we had taken the right one. At first it was easy to follow, but soon the way narrowed, becoming winding and rocky. Having studied the roadbook the day before, we suspected the track followed part of the stage we had skipped. We tried to match our location with the indications in the roadbook, but we were driving the roadbook in reverse and had not recalibrated the Terratrip, so it was a losing proposition.

We were about 15 km from Tazzarine as the crow flies when we had to stop. The steering tierod on one of the cars had broken. The mechanics in the group had a look, but this time there was not much they could do. We’d have to get the car to a garage for repair before they’d be able to finish the drive to Nador. We didn’t have cell phone coverage, and there wasn’t much question that it would be better to drive out instead of waiting for a tow truck, so we slowly made our way to Tazzarine behind the damaged car.



When we arrived, the first stop was the garage. As we were waiting, some of us did a little shopping at the market. After lunch, we learned that it would take more time to repair the steering, and we decided to split the group again. There was another section of track we could take near Alnif northeast of Tazzarine. The rest of the group would drive directly to Nador on the highway once the car was repaired.


Cropped zoom.


When we got to Alnif, we realized that the track we wanted to take had since been paved, so we continued to Errachidia. We arrived about an hour before dusk. We had planned to continue past the Gorges of the Ziz before starting off road again to find a good spot for a bivouac. It was already rather cold in the foothills of the Atlas, so we opted to spend the night at a local hotel in RIch instead.

The next day we set out in search of a track to the northeast that lead through a river bed. Some of the people in our group had driven through it during Stage 2 of the Tuareg Rallye earlier this year. It was foggy in the morning, and we missed the turn after Nzala and had to double-back. As we left the road, the fog was starting to lift and we passed a number of people and several villages.



After giving a man a lift to a neighboring village, he invited our entire group to his house for tea. As we left, the sun was starting to break through the clouds. It was cold and windy, and the terrain was rocky and uneven, but the drive through the gorge was lovely. We had followed the service route and taken the highway during the Tuareg Rallye so it was interesting to see where the race had passed.





Once we were through the gorge, the track was fast again and we were treated to an immense landscape of beige sands, bright green scrub, clear blue skies and puffy clouds. Soon we came to the highway, but the bright scenery made up for the fact that we had to get back on the road.




We arrived in Nador late in the evening and had dinner with our friends at a restaurant not far from the hotel. When we got back the hotel walls were vibrating from the music in the disco on the top floor. We were tired, but it wasn’t easy to fall asleep with the noise and the lingering emotions from the week. In three days we’d be home and following the final stages of the Africa Eco Race online. We’d also have our own rally preparations to begin.

Go back to Part 1 and the post index.

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.

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.

Morocco: On The Trail Of The Rally — Part 2 Nador To Merzouga

Our route took us from Nador south to Missour and Er-Rachidia by highway before we started the first stretch of dirt track following the roadbook of a rally special stage that led us to Merzouga. We reached the start of the special well after nightfall and a few kilometers of night driving on the track was enough to convince us to quickly find a good spot to bivouac for the night.


The next morning we started our first day of rally practice: 125km of dirt track finishing in the dunes of Erg Chebbi near Merzouga. The track was fast with some tricky navigation before the dunes. We were driving fast, although not quite rally speed, and one of the Hummers had a problem with the rack steering, one of the tie rod joints had given way and they needed to slow down.

We stopped several times and by late morning we discovered that one of our 8 litre bottles of water had been punctured and everything behind the driver’s seat was wet, including the compressor and the rally roadbooks for later stages. Fortunately, the warm sunshine and light breeze helped dry everything quickly.






Later in the day, we had lunch under the palm trees of a small but lush oasis.



By lunchtime we had completed just over half of the stage and were still 60 km from Erg Chebbi following the roadbook. As we got back underway, the group spread out as the Hummers were driving more slowly. We were following the lead car. When we reached a tricky part of the roadbook, where the navigation was according to a heading, we lost sight of the car behind us and weren’t sure if they had had a problem or if we had simply taken the wrong route. We stopped for a long while to wait, and finally decided we had taken the wrong route and made an attempt to get back on track. In fact, we hadn’t gotten off-track. We didn’t didn’t find out until later that sometime after lunch, the pneumatic suspension of the damaged Hummer had given out. They had to drive very slowly to Merzouga to make repairs and wouldn’t be able to continue the rest of the trip off road.

On our side, we were pleasantly surprised by how well the Jeep handled the terrain. The King shock absorbers with remote reservoir (specifically tuned for the weight of the car by Off Road Evolution) and Currie Dana 60 axles took a beating, but came through just fine. The car handled extremely well on the track and the Toyo Open Country M/T tires were well-suited to the sharp rocky soil. This would be true for the rest of the trip.

We drove into Erg Chebbi just before sunset.


One of the Toyotas got stuck in the sand and we had to turn around to pull them out. The other part of the group had decided to avoid the dunes and left the route indicated by the roadbook. They phoned us to set up a rendez-vous at the Hotel Touareg, where we had camped for several days during the Tuareg Rallye last March. We stayed at the hotel overnight and planned an easy morning the next day with some fun driving in the dunes.

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

Morocco: On The Trail Of The Rally — Part 1

The ferry from Nador arrived in Sète over 12 hours later than scheduled because of a delay refueling in Tangier. After five hours of driving, we arrived home safely with just enough time to unpack and unwind before heading back to work.

We spent nine days in Morocco and drove over 2,000 km, about 600-700 of which were off road on dirt tracks, dunes or over land. We had initially planned to take the Scania TGB 30, but to keep the group more homogenous and to economize for the upcoming rally we ended up taking our Jeep JK Wrangler, which turned out to be quite well-prepared for the rugged pistes of Morocco. In total we were 7 vehicles: 2 Jeeps, 2 Toyotas, 2 Hummers and a Landrover.

Our main objective was to experience driving on the dirt tracks. Since most of our desert driving has been in the dunes of Tunisia we wanted to get a better idea of what to expect on the tracks. We also wanted to practice navigation using some old road books one of our friends provided.

Map Xmax Morocco 2012

From Nador, we went south to Missour and Er-Rachidia on the highway before turning onto a dirt track that led us to the dunes of Erg Chebbi and Merzouga. After having a little fun driving in the dunes, from there we set off over land to Tagounite, following the rally roadbook closely for two days of good practicing. At Tagounite, we caught up with the Africa Eco Race, stopped to say hello to some of our friends and acquaintances taking part in the race and watched the start of the 3rd Stage.

Once the rally was on its way, we spent two days in Zagora, doing some maintenance on the cars (a few needed repairs) and passing the new year in the dunes in a Berber camp. We also got an interesting look behind-the-scenes of the rally. From Zagora it was a two-day drive back to Nador, with two short sections of dirt tracks (one with the Roadbook). We spent the night in Nador before boarding the ferry to Sète on Friday evening.

We took lots of photos and a few videos, although we forgot to mount the Contour until after we arrived in Zagora, so we don’t have much interesting on-board video. Except for the photos of the Africa Eco Race, there isn’t much about trucks, but since most of our trip was related to rallies and many of our readers may also be interested in reading about it, we’ll post a complete account here. To make it easier to digest, and more mobile-friendly, we’ll divide the posts into seven installments, which we’ll list below as each post goes up. The first installment should be up in the next day or two as soon as we get the photos transferred and processed.

Part 2: Dec. 27-28: Nador To Merzouga
Part 3: Dec. 29-30: Merzouga To Tagounite
Part 4: Africa Eco Race Tagounite, Trucks
Part 5: Africa Eco Race Tagounite, Photo Highlights
Part 6: Dec. 31 – Jan. 1: Around Zagora
Part 7: Jan. 2-3: Zagora to Nador

Tunisia 2010: Day 2 — Ferry to Tunis

This is the third post in a series describing our voyage to Tunisia in September 2010.

We woke early in the morning on Saturday to have time to eat breakfast before heading to the ferry. We didn’t have far to go, but we wanted to arrive early in case the boarding area was crowded. The 45-minute drive stretched into an hour or more when we took a wrong turn after exiting the Autoroute and had to backtrack several kilometers.

We followed the Ferry access road to the first entrance where we were told by the attendant that the truck was too big to follow the other cars and we would have to take a separate service road. This was unfortunate since the road he indicated was not well marked. We started off, but after a few minutes it became very clear that we were not headed in the right direction. We had probably missed a poorly marked turn, if it had been marked at all.

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Tunisia 2010: Day 1 — Departure for Marseille

During the last few days leading up to our trip to Tunisia we spent our evenings making final checks and preparations. A few days before departure we learned that due to unforeseen circumstances the assistance truck would not be making the trip, so we had to make some last minute rearrangements to carry all the necessary equipment and supplies securely in the truck bed.

Fully loaded truck bed

The bed is 2.5m long and 2.3m wide, but the auxiliary fuel tank, spare tire and refrigerator take up a significant amount of space. We had originally intended to place the refrigerator in the shelter, but it was too bulky to install there without significantly reducing the comfort of the sleeping arrangements. This limitation was not a problem according to our original plan. Even with three 25 liter cans for extra fluids (transmission fluid, engine coolant and oil for the axles), we had room for a quad that we had agreed to transport from France to the edge of the desert for one of the members of our group. There was just enough place in the bed to hold the quad and still have space to move around.

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Tunisia: September 2010

As the 2011 Dakar Rally winds down after the closing ceremony on Sunday, this seems like a good time to share some of our experiences from our trip to The Grand Erg Oriental in Tunisia last September. It was our first voyage with the Erg Machine, and our first experience in the desert.

We were thoroughly delighted at having chosen Tunisia to make our first trip and are looking forward to returning as soon as it is possible to do so. We found the country’s arid beauty absolutely breathtaking, and with a few exceptions, the people we met were friendly and helpful. We did not spend much time in any of the populated areas, but we noted a stark contrast between the atmosphere in the few towns and villages we visited and the camps and oases of the southern desert regions.

The caravan on the road between Matamata and Ksar Ghilane

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