Sahara Challenge Slight Return

Just got hold of Jonathan’s photos of our Moroccan tour. We’re kind of in limbo until the event starts so published some past photos to keep you all keen

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Cordoba in Spain and the gorge below

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In the hills after Toledo, Geen does look adventuresome and the views were every bit as good as Morocco’s.

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Arrival Tangiers in the rain and number one claimed in the Rif Valley, truth be told this was the first time we felt it was safe to stop.

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Valleys and our first sight of sand dunes

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Cafe on the climb up the Atlas Mountains to the pass, The view from behind the Mercedes gives you a feel for how the plains are very flat and then the mountain ranges just go straight up

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Trucks and S bends on the way up

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Into the clouds and an unusual hazard given the grazing opportunities

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Snow and sand, these two photos were taken 40 km apart

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Hot in the plains but you can still see snow on the caps, Amazingly empty terrain at times

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Scraggy roads and valleys, you can make out the odd oasis in the valley

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Les Roches Peintes, Spot the 4×4 having quite an overnight in the forground

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Our facebook friend and the mountains from the hotel in Marrakech

Postscript

Some thoughts on our return.

Geen has proved herself as a highly effective and reliable rally car. Jonathan and I have begun feeling our way into operating with her and with a few tweeks we’re nearly ready to ship the car to China.

The pleasure of driving Geen on the cols you would have to experience yourself, but: sharp turn in; finger tip control on the steering; very little lock required; torque delivered from anything above tickover; unfazed brakes; not a murmur from the clutch or gearbox; useful diff; enough storage; comfortable on stage or tarmac; good ground clearance; and it feels like it would just go faster and faster on the rough stuff.  Pressure is now on the crew to perform to the same standard as the car has been prepared to…

I think Morocco won both of our hearts, we enjoyed the Rif Valley scenery but felt quite a hostile reception partly.  Once we were south of the Atlas Mountains the mood lifted and I will remember the serenity of the desert regions forever. It was a shame to miss out on the chance to visit Cherg Ebbi and the gorge where, because it is so deep, the sky disappears above you. Yet we came away having met lovely people and just had a blast of an adventure

Sahara Challenge 359

Particular thanks go to Jonathan Lodge for being the total partner in our endeavour – being so strong, in particular, on issues where I am so weak; to Justin Holdsworth for helping out on the long haul home; and Benmahjoub Mohamed and his mates at the Berber Palace in Ouazazate, who probably gave us the best laugh out of many on our tour.

Home at last

Quite a hard drive home. Up after a six hour stop, fed and watered the horse, and back on the road.

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Simple but delicious breakfast of cured ham tomato paste and even the cheapest Spanish olive oil had real character.
Didn’t get a photo, but we saw two eagles soaring (natch) above the autopista which runs through the mountains South of Burgos in Spain. A reminder that, even after all the scenery we had seen in the last week’s tour in Africa, Europe still has sites to take your breath away.

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Typical stop by the road, Justin and I alternated driving and getting what sleep we could in the passenger seat. Despite the cramped quarters I was so tired I managed to sleep well.

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Justin put in some heroic stints, delighted that he joined us for the drive home, it was much appreciated and great to catch up.

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Motorway grub was expensive but a welcome break. Nice to be somewhere you could eat veg and salad again safely. While Morocco was very nice you can’t risk ingesting anything that’s washed in water or not peeled by yourself. When we did eat veg there it was always cooked to death.

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Arrived back at Autosportif in Bicester Oxford and reported to the headmaster and his assistant
Since leaving Tafraroute, Geen covered 4400 km to get there. The leg from Marakesh to Bicester was 3900 km and we covered it in 50 hours despite making two sea crossings and losing three hours with Moroccan customs. An average of 78 km/hour or 48 mph. Not too shoddy.

But was the headmaster happy with our work?

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The Sea Shanty of Success!

Homeward Bound

Started the day with Daniel my Brother by Elton John. On nose flutes of course.

Goodbye to Jonathan nonsense at the hotel:

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A chapter closes

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But life isn’t all cake

Or is it…

Left Jonathan in Marakesh and Justin and I headed out to Casablanca. We found the local UPS depot, but customs was a nightmare. A real throwback to traveling in Western and Eastern Europe before the EU was formed and the Berlin Wall came down.
Luckily I have some knowledge of customs work and quickly picked up a helper: Mohammed Pistole pictured with an Autosportif pen, a hugely valuable asset in the bureaus.
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Morrocan Customs and UPS’s agents cleared me out of all my Dirhams, a few Euros Justin’s Dirhams and some goodwill to boot.
The process brought back all those memories, great to see carnets and duplicate sheets, ink stamps and poor quality paper everywhere. Mohammed got me to the head of every queue and found all the officers we had to find, we were walking round the airport customs sheds and offices for two hours. You would stand no chance on your own and would have been there for days without a fixer. By the time I got the parcel in my hands I had paid or got a stamp from nine different officials. Better outside the EU?
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Got to Tangiers Med, sorted out swapping Justin for Jonathan on the tickets and booked on to the 8pm crossing. We were still in the queue for police control above at 8 pm and thought we’d miss the boat, but we loaded at 9pm anyway, phew.

Africa Day Six

This morning I was using the travellers hotel shower. It was so feeble I had the shower head in my hand. At one point I turned it upside down and water stopped coming out as a result!

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At Les Rochers Bleu, an art installation from the 19th century when a local artist shipped 18000kg of paint to the desert and, well, painted loads of rocks.  Big tourist pull but we had the place to ourselves at first light. Looks good now and is still striking, must have been amazing when new.

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Morocco is a bit like India in that even in the remotest places you are never alone. We had just stopped here when  this guy popped out of the bushes. Somewhat unexpectedly we had a long conversation about Calais and if Britain would leave the EU. He went off to post photos of himself with Geen on Facebook.

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Up and over the hills again, taking great care today as a very end of term feel

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Coming back in another life I would put being a donkey in Morocco as a particularly harsh result, they work them so hard.

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Cafe stop, even tepid Coca-Cola was welcome on this, the hotest day so far.

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Hang on what is that

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Huh?

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That’s a camel coming head on at us in the road, a whole herd of wild ones, wouldn’t mess with this guy he was three times the size of Geen

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Mohammed was much taken with Geen’s motor
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Photo doesn’t do the view from the hotel justice. We had a beautiful drive into Marrakesh, we tried to meet Justin but the fan dropped out again. Trying to find the hotel while dodging the insane traffic watching the temperature get higher and higher was peak stress for the trip. Oh and a record maximum for Geen’s motor. We got to 120°C, a temperature that would blow any modern engine, or indeed a less well built older engine, to pieces. Waiting while security checked under the car with mirrors before we parked up required superior patience, if it wasn’t for the language barrier and knowing that kicking off about it would slow our progress…
A relief to finally get parked up

Africa Day Five Ouazazate to Tarafaroute

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Mohammed was very impressed by the GPS equipment in Geen, he particularly wanted to know what height above sea level his petrol station was: 1600 metres.

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Typical of the towns we pass through

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The view to the right

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When we pulled over for a picnic here, we had driven 30km up a gorge without seeing another vehicle

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Part of the reason we hadn’t seen anyone is that in November 2014 a biblical deluge came down the gorge and smashed every bridge, and I mean smashed and every. As it is the dry season, there are rough make do tracks through the debris.
Standing in the river bed reviewing the wreckage is weird, the force and volume of water that must have passed are beyond comprehension.

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This is the view back along the valley

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And this is the road up to that point

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Everything here is a shade of brown so it was nice to see some blossom

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Geen looking deserty

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The view from the hotel balcony. Tafraroute is behind us and is a meeting point for all sorts of travellers: rally raid motorcyclists; Dutch dormobiles; overland trucks; all sorts of 4x4s which take tourists into the desert; hitch hiking hippies; free climbing mountaineers; coachloads of American walkers and the list goes on and on.

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Geen has eaten her front disc pads – above is the pad coming off and below the new one going on.

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The mountain switchbacks have been hard on tyres too, the rears have pretty much had it and we hope we have enough rubber on board to get back to the UK.
Tomorrow we turn North for Marakesh to meet Justin who is going to jump in for the return journey while Jonathan catches a flight.  This is the furthest South we got. The journey home will take four days.

Africa Day Four Marakesh to Ouazazate

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Breakfast accompanied by Bonnie Tyler’s Total Eclipse of the Heart reworked on Arabic nose flutes, weird

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The sign says No Diving, No jumping. Luckily we only wanted to do petting and bombing. The pool gives you a feel for the constant hardship we are forced to endure

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Geen is getting the lived in look

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Hard to believe but we’ve stopped under these trees as the pass ahead is blocked by snow. Foiled in our attempts to cross the Atlas Mountains again. We had already lost one day from snow blocks, it looked like we were going to lose the rest of the route we’ve been following. Spirits would have been more subdued if we hadn’t proved and tested so much already. As we prepared to strip out the front end and then give up and get Jonathan an early flight home we saw movement in the queue ahead. The pass was opening. Amazing luck as, if it had happened any later, we would either have had the front end stripped out, or given up and gone home
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The queue
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The road

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The scenery
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The heroic driver
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The other side of the pass, and really hot
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Lunch in the first bit of shade we found in 20km

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Finally testing in the desert

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Arrived at a particularly poor oasis in the desert for our overnight (we should have been camping in the dunes at Erg Chebbi)

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Jonathan’s idea of the driver/navigator relationship

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Africa Day Three Ifrane to Erfoud

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Errrr, more snow

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Geen in the car park

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Breakfast of brioche with apricot jam and a local spice dusted on top. Either that or I’ve found a new use for the hotel’s snuff

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Driving conditions tough from the moment we left the hotel, not many photos from today as it was such hard driving conditions.

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Look closely and you can see two of the 12 people inside this van

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Look closely and you can see three of the forty eight goats in this truck

Our first pass we got through ok but after that every pass we tried was blocked

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When we got to the end of the first pass up in the mountains we met a worse traffic jam than the one above. When they close the road the locals fill both sides of the road and both hard shoulders, guaranteeing no one goes anywhere. I had a flash of inspiration and threw Geen off the road and we left all the traffic behind as we skididled across a ploughed field and picked up a track that took us back on up to the road – my proudest Smokey and the Bandit moment yet.
The joy of making progress was short-lived as there was no question of taking the next pass – turned back by very emphatic police. Twice.
Jonathan did his magic on the maps and found what looked like a do-able route at a lower altitude.  Near the town of El Kebab we got stuck again.  It’s really hard getting information out on the road and we got stuck in a jam. As it was 150 to 200 km to any alternative we decided to hold tight and see what developed.
It got to 2pm and we had been stuck for an hour so I foolishly did my Scott of the Antarctic routine and went out into the horizontal sleet and broke open the emergency rations. Half an hour later I may have been soaked (and I mean soaked) from the waste down, but we had hot meatballs and pasta, washed down with two cups of tea.
By the way when I say soaked I meant it, the -7°C weather was alternating snow, sleet, rain and hail, all driven up the valley with such force that it was hard work to get the car door shut. Everything below my waterproof jacket got as wet as if I had got in a swimming pool. When I got my wallet out at the hotel, the leather oozed water and the receipts fell apart.

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Jonathan wasn’t stupid enough to go out of the car, but was happy to have a cup of tea

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Chez Geen – drivers footwell turned kitchen

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Faced with the barriers de neige and uncertain if it would lift in an hour or tomorrow we cut our losses and doubled back to Marrakesh to find a hotel, dry out and rework the rest of the trip.

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Drying my shoes on arrival at our hotel, note tape holding trigger on. Hairdryer overheated a little while later and tripped out the West wing. Whoops.

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Jonathan thinks tonight has been our best overnight because his bed has a nav light.

Africa Day Two Fes to Ifrane

Getting further South every day,

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Another day another omelette chef..

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Service in the hotel car park, if you look closely you can see Jonathan doing his morning ablutions under the back axle, although I have my suspicions that he may be sneaking in an extra kip

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Jaouad Bennoune Chef de Reception was really nice and efficient. On duty when we arrived late, on duty again in the morning, perfectly turned out

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Mohammed Alaoui in the back office helped us with onward hotel reservations in Ifrane and Erfoud.

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Post service, a much happier car and quite a few issues resolved or repaired

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Self service station Morrocan style, they earned a tip when they got the screens cleaner than they left the factory

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Driving through the Tazeka National Park, once the world’s smallest at three square kms, and home to Barbary apes and panthers. We turned a corner in the road to be met with the view above. The photos don’t work, the range is massive and you are looking at huge distances, those aren’t clouds but snowcaps. Astonishing in the flesh

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Being more like the Arab…
In my hand the crushed kettle that had served me so well for so long

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Was determined to fix it but sadly holed below the waterline

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Jonathan being explorery

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We collected this sprig in Spain but four days later it’s earned its place on the car.

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Wasn’t expecting snow, ah Africa, the heat the dust.

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Dukebox in the back, Hotel Chamonix in Ifrane

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Three long flights of stairs, loads of fatigue and the swirly spiral stair carpet nearly did for me, felt quite strange by the top. We’re very high up here so the rare air may have played a part

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Lahoucicine our waiter for breakfast and dinner

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Bit pissed after dinner with the Lion of Ifrane.

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The guy on the right took the photo, the little kid on the left bawled her eyes out when I lifted her up to be in the photo with us