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					Adventure Exploring Morocco part two

The magic of
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    chance to stock up the Defender’s fridge with   anticipation I drive hastily ahead over the
              wheels as the majesty of Erg          fresh meat and veg before we refuel and wash    dusty plains to our camp for the night, take
              Chebbi fades in my rear-view          the tired-looking vehicles.                     the photos I need and switch off the Td5.
              mirror. We’re on the move, and fast      Leaving Rissani, we head southwest, and      My travelling companion, Sharon, and I are
reaching the most southerly point of our trip.      within five miles the blacktop ends and we      hit by the silence of the desert, our breath
The three dusty Land Rovers gather speed            leave habitation behind. Barry, our leader,     the only noise as the sun warms our backs
and seem to float over the vast gravel fields       heads the now-shiny trio of Land Rovers         while we await the approaching Discovery’s
before us. This morning we first drive west         into deep, white bull dust, and several         dust cloud. Words can’t do justice to the
towards the desert staging town of Rissani.         miles of intense choking concentration later    incredible experience of standing in total
Once prosperous from trade in slaves, gold,         we emerge from the powder to see the            isolation a thousand miles from anywhere
spices and weapons, the seventh-century             captivating Sahara stretching before us.        next to the same car I drive to work every day
town is now a major stopping place on the           Tonight we’re wild camping, so we stop          back in the UK.
trans-Saharan caravan route. On foot we             and load enough firewood to last the night         That evening we stand atop a large sand
explore the famous souk. The scent of spices        on the Defender’s roof-rack. A comfortable      dune overlooking our wilderness camp. Our
fills the air as we take in the sights and sounds   camp and a tasty evening meal mean              backdrop is a magnificent sunset, and a
of this busy Moroccan market, and I take the        the world to any overland traveller, and in     crackling campfire keeps us warm as evening

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draws in and the temperature plummets to            We soon find the blacktop and push on             replenishing the vehicles’ supplies and giving
sub-zero. I’m grateful for the luxury of my     north of Tinerhir to our campsite for the             them a thorough mechanical checkover.
trusty Howling Moon roof tent as I snuggle      next two nights, which boasts an inviting                 Refreshed from our day off, we continue
down for a well-earned sleep.                   blue swimming pool and hot showers. Our               our adventure north through the mighty Todra.
                                                next day is for rest, so we can relax at the          Reaching the top of the gorge, we leave
HERE COMES THE SUN                              poolside, take the opportunity to get our             the smooth road and follow a gravel track
The heat of the morning sun awakens             laundry done or visit nearby Tinerhir, a market       up into the cool, thin mountain air. Winding
the team, and we’re ready to take on Lac        town. Barry explains that we’re situated at           switchbacks take us through small mountain
Hamada, a huge, barren lakebed that takes       the south end of the Todra gorge – the most           villages where we see even more of the daily
us almost until lunchtime to cross, with only   impressive cliffs in southern Morocco, rising         life of the people of the High Atlas.
an occasional camel to puncture the dusty       to almost 1000ft.                                         We rest the Land Rovers at the top of
horizon. Eventually the lakebed becomes an          The following day we explore the gorge,           the pass at an altitude of just over 2600m,
equally dry, rocky river, bringing our speed    following the Wadi Todra through this great           break the camp kettle out and make tea at
down to walking pace as inquisitive children    geological fault. Early morning is the best time      the roadside in true British tradition before
appear from nowhere to run alongside us         for this, when sunrays shine between the high         descending towards the village of Imilchil,
practising their English.                       cliffs on either side. The rest of the day is spent   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 mineral-
rich 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

38 August 2009 •
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 much-
needed 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

40 August 2009 •
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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