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					Adventure Exploring Morocco part two

The magic of morocco
Well-travelled overland expert and off-road driving instructor Wayne Mitchelson continues his epic journey through Morocco on an expedition recce with Worlds Apart Adventures in his travel-hungry Defender 90 Td5


ravel scatters from the Defender’s wheels as the majesty of Erg Chebbi fades in my rear-view mirror. We’re on the move, and fast reaching the most southerly point of our trip. The three dusty Land Rovers gather speed and seem to float over the vast gravel fields before us. This morning we first drive west towards the desert staging town of Rissani. Once prosperous from trade in slaves, gold, spices and weapons, the seventh-century town is now a major stopping place on the trans-Saharan caravan route. On foot we explore the famous souk. The scent of spices fills the air as we take in the sights and sounds of this busy Moroccan market, and I take the

chance to stock up the Defender’s fridge with fresh meat and veg before we refuel and wash the tired-looking vehicles. Leaving Rissani, we head southwest, and within five miles the blacktop ends and we leave habitation behind. Barry, our leader, heads the now-shiny trio of Land Rovers into deep, white bull dust, and several miles of intense choking concentration later we emerge from the powder to see the captivating Sahara stretching before us. Tonight we’re wild camping, so we stop and load enough firewood to last the night on the Defender’s roof-rack. A comfortable camp and a tasty evening meal mean the world to any overland traveller, and in

anticipation I drive hastily ahead over the dusty plains to our camp for the night, take the photos I need and switch off the Td5. My travelling companion, Sharon, and I are hit by the silence of the desert, our breath the only noise as the sun warms our backs while we await the approaching Discovery’s dust cloud. Words can’t do justice to the incredible experience of standing in total isolation a thousand miles from anywhere next to the same car I drive to work every day back in the UK. That evening we stand atop a large sand dune overlooking our wilderness camp. Our backdrop is a magnificent sunset, and a crackling campfire keeps us warm as evening

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draws in and the temperature plummets to sub-zero. I’m grateful for the luxury of my trusty Howling Moon roof tent as I snuggle down for a well-earned sleep.

The heat of the morning sun awakens the team, and we’re ready to take on Lac Hamada, a huge, barren lakebed that takes us almost until lunchtime to cross, with only an occasional camel to puncture the dusty horizon. Eventually the lakebed becomes an equally dry, rocky river, bringing our speed down to walking pace as inquisitive children appear from nowhere to run alongside us practising their English.

We soon find the blacktop and push on north of Tinerhir to our campsite for the next two nights, which boasts an inviting blue swimming pool and hot showers. Our next day is for rest, so we can relax at the poolside, take the opportunity to get our laundry done or visit nearby Tinerhir, a market town. Barry explains that we’re situated at the south end of the Todra gorge – the most impressive cliffs in southern Morocco, rising to almost 1000ft. The following day we explore the gorge, following the Wadi Todra through this great geological fault. Early morning is the best time for this, when sunrays shine between the high cliffs on either side. The rest of the day is spent

replenishing the vehicles’ supplies and giving them a thorough mechanical checkover. Refreshed from our day off, we continue our adventure north through the mighty Todra. Reaching the top of the gorge, we leave the smooth road and follow a gravel track up into the cool, thin mountain air. Winding switchbacks take us through small mountain villages where we see even more of the daily life of the people of the High Atlas. We rest the Land Rovers at the top of the pass at an altitude of just over 2600m, break the camp kettle out and make tea at the roadside in true British tradition before descending towards the village of Imilchil, past some Berbers tilling soil with wooden ➤

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Adventure Exploring Morocco part two

ploughs and donkeys. Women wave from afar as they collect water from the river and gather firewood. Many of these people are completely self-sufficient, and in certain valleys mule tracks are their only channel of communication with the outside world. We’re passing through 2000 years of unchanged landscape and farming techniques.

Our guide Hamid buys fresh bread and meat as we pass through town. The next wilderness camp is a few hours ahead, and the drive takes us through a mineralrich desert plateau surrounded by rolling mountains. Sheep graze on its lush pasture, and the emerald waters of Lake Tislit provide a splash of colour through the dust ahead. The lake is our destination for the night, and our highest camp of the trip. Politely declining Barry’s kind but unappealing invite to take an icy early-morning plunge, we continue our northerly route, following a fertile river valley past dozens of small subsistence farms before winding the Land Rovers up the gravel pass high into the

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Middle Atlas. Two shepherd boys join us for a celebratory brew at the top. We begin our descent down trails edged with mountain snow, reminded again of Morocco’s incredibly diverse landscape as we glimpse towering cedar trees and a lush, green, wooded river valley in the distance. In the blink of an eye we’ve left the desert behind and I point the Defender down into the cedar forests of the Atlas Mountains, the open windows and vent-flaps letting in a breeze perfumed with wild thyme. Once on the valley floor we follow the winding river, our trail frequently crossing the flowing water until we reach our wilderness camp under the dense canopy of the immense cedar forest. We cook over an open fire to the sound of roaming Barbary apes and woodpeckers working well into the night, and I’m again grateful that Barry and his team are hugely experienced wilderness off-roaders as I put my head down for the night. I’m awakened by the delicious smell of campfire coffee. An alpine chill pierces the air and a spattering of snow dusts the roof tent as I dump the contents of my ice-cold Jerrycan into the tank and stow the crispy camping equipment away. Winter has arrived in Morocco.

An hour later, Sharon and I are glad of Barry’s GPS navigation as the snow cover grows deeper and our speed decreases ➤

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Adventure Exploring Morocco part two

to a crawl. The Discovery 300Tdi pushes its way through the deepening snow for over an hour. Eventually Barry waves the Defender through and we use the Td5’s power to clear a path for the two Discoverys. Using second gear in low range, we adopt a ‘tread lightly’ technique and let the Cooper tyres rise up onto the soft snow, making tracks for the Discoverys to follow. Then the alpine trail starts a long descent into the valley below, the single track clinging to the mountainside – unlike the Defender, which uncomfortably slews sideways every 20 metres until, perilously, we reach the valley floor with a sigh of relief. That evening we reach Ifrane, in northern Morocco’s skiing area. Here we can choose to camp or put our heads down in basic but comfy accommodation. After a muchneeded rest, we hit the road bound for the ancient city of Fez, located between the fertile lands and the Middle Atlas forests. After a smooth, dust-free drive, we enter the bustle of Morocco’s former capital at lunchtime. Hamid directs the grimy Land Rovers through winding back streets between contrasting city vehicles, until we reach the magnificent riad where we’ll spend the night. There’s no camping option for our night in Fez, due to a lack of suitable campsites, but we’re not complaining as our bags are taken to a five-star room. We leave the Land Rovers to explore one of the Africa’s most amazing sensory experiences on foot, our eyes on stalks as we wander down the

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1200-year-old bustling streets, taking in the breathtaking sights and smells of a place that’s arguably the cultural heart of Morocco. In the morning, after a traditional Moroccan breakfast, the three Land Rovers head north for our longest day yet in the saddle. Happily, we have time to stop at the UNESCO World Heritage site of Volubilis, once the capital of Mauritania. After another mind-blowing wander, we wave goodbye to Hamid and head to the Mediterranean coast, where we spend our last night in Africa. The next day we sit on the beach, watching the surf and reflecting on our two incredible weeks crossing Morocco’s unpredictable and stunning terrain. For us it’s been the journey of a lifetime, and six months on I still find myself daydreaming about my incredible African adventure. If, like me, you and your Land Rover are struck by a bout of wanderlust, visit the website and sign up for the trip of a lifetime: www. ■

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