Subscribe via RSS Feed

Midnight at the Oasis

July 2, 2016 0 Comments

Morocco BuildingGreetings from Morocco!

What better place to write this blog from than inside an oasis! As I write, a donkey is honking away about 100m away.

An oasis is a communal garden, tended by all ages and genders of people. There is always someone nearby, hoping for an undiscovered peek at you, on their way to do their job. Right now we are on the northern outskirts of the western Sahara, and this is the subject of this blog. It’s early summer and we are to find out that, especially at Ramadan, the Berbers and other tribes don’t come out in the day.

Earlier, in Montenegro, we met some Dutch people who’d been on the road for 23 years. Their final choice of mobile home is a 75 series 2000 model Land Cruiser, with a home on the back. Awesome. Anyway, we got talking and as they’d been to Morocco 20 times and they gave us a route they take people on for a three week 4×4 tour.

The route map is a thick texta line on a downloaded Google maps image, so it takes some interpretation. And, it includes plenty of off road tracks! (piste)

So yesterday, off we go. There was one section, 200 + km of piste.

I broke some golden rules of desert/bush driving, but we got away with it. But, NOT again! It’s the Sahara desert. Serious.

I couldn’t get our maps to coincide with his layout, for a run to the base of a big sand hill called Chiggaga, south west Morocco, very near Algeria. But we headed in anyway – before confirming positions!

Also, we had no “buddy”, vehicle. We were on our own. This is the Sahara desert we are talking about, early summer! For example, if Barry and Donna were with us, we could always tow them out, or leave their car, all get in ours, and get help. But, not now.

And no-one knew where we were going, or heading. I should have sms’d or emailed someone at home with departure point, track, destination and expected arrival, and confirmation that we would contact, when through. But I didn’t.

It was hot, so hot one tyre sort of exploded it’s air, without an actual hole anywhere. I did the change, on a rocky plain, in 50 deg heat.

The dunal sand moves. So, I would follow a track/tyre marks and suddenly run into a one metre high dune that had blown across the track. Sounds small, but put 10 or 20 together and you lose your momentum and orientation. Twice I was being boxed into a blind sand area and the car was bogging down. Just luck, a healthy strong diesel motor and electronic differential locks prevented us from getting bogged. Note you guys, air pressures were already low.

The vehicle tracks you follow are deceptive. They look clean as a whistle, which they are, wind-blown and all, but they could be as old as the last rain two to three years!). The fresh vehicle track is the one showing red or yellow, ie the sand colour, before the sand is blown away! So, following a tyre mark can lead you into shifting sand dunes.

Then, nearish our position at the base (south end) of the dune, we stumbled onto a huge, wide, flat silt/clay/sand pan, 20km to the closest hill/tree etc. Would have been exciting if the crust had not been so thin! Of course, the thin crust that our 3.5 tonne Cruiser was breaking through, ensured a different level of excitement. One I could have done without.

This plain had no landmarks, so I was amazed at how difficult navigation was. I had our “” plan going, and our GPS, which I was mainly using as a compass, but at stages I was 90 deg. out!

Then we got close to our destination, But the dune sand had grown over the track. I proceeded as far as I dared, but then decided we had no guarantee of getting back if we continued, so we pulled the pin. Much to Lynn’s relief! I didn’t realise how disturbed she was.

Navigating the sand drifts, rocks, ledges etc had been a hard day so far. Backtracking showed me just how many vehicles had to do the same thing. There were lots of fresh retreating tracks! But the full retreat was a 146km drive through the piss-weak terrain we had just done! No way, gotta be a better solution. So we consulted our maps and rather than go back nw, we headed north. In Mongolia, if you are south of Ulanbataar, you can head in ANY direction (no fences, railway lines, or wet rivers). Easy! But, in Morocco, there are trillions of rocks, which means you have to stick to the tracks!

We wiggled our way north, ending up getting onto national road N1522. It is a flea bitten varmit of a rocky road, which runs for some 90km! We spent more than four hours on it, dodging rocks as big as basketballs, ending up with a flat tyre 45 km before our final camping spot.

We drove for 11 hours, covered 280 km, saw no cars and more sand dunes than we ever want to see again, and were still 30km away from a town. And NO spare tyre for another puncture. Stopped at dusk. Fair to say the temperature in this area was 50 deg, as today we were in a cooler area, (Zagora, 150 km north) and the temperature in the town sign said 47 deg, and it felt cooler!

My hats off to those living in the Sahara, it’s a fiendishly hot place.

While we broke all those rules, we had three weeks water and as much food, more fuel than we needed and as we were near the Algerian border, we had three military crossings, including passport checks, so I felt confident they knew where we were headed. (We kept telling them we were headed for M’Hamid, by the back road). In fact, my Garmin GPS had us in Algeria a couple of times, and I think this reflects the age of the Garmin, as well as Algeria may have given ground to Morocco relatively recently.

Bye for now. So many stories, so little time!

Filed in: Diary

About the Author:

Leave a Reply