The Red Plateau ~ Libya 1998

Republished with added pics
A 2008 BMW 650X is my current project bike

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In 1998 author of the Adventure Motorbiking Handbook (right), Chris Scott, decided to take a leaf out of his own book and headed for Libya on a BMW F650 Funduro. As usual, things turned sour.

gaddafi1998Go to most embassies and at the very least you’ll find a few tourist pamphlets and a poster of a couple frolicking by a fountain. There was no such noncing about at the Libyan Interests Section in London’s Harley Street in the late 1990s. Down in the grubby basement mean-looking guys ground another fag into a Brit passport and ignored you purposefully. Tourist literature was limited to a defiant newsletter commemorating the ‘drawing of the Line of Death’ against imperial aggressors. Charming. Just the spot to enjoy a spring break on a bike.

‘Visa?’ I asked meekly. ‘Hello? Visa?’

It has taken me months to get to this point. In November 1997 with the third edition of AMH completed, I decided it was time to practice what I preached. Libya sounded interesting and BMW’s Funduro trailie would make a nice change from another Yamaha XT600Z Ténéré.

Buying a ‘94 F650 (my 47th bike) was easy; getting a Libyan visa involved countless dead-end faxes to various Libyan tourist agencies for the required invitation. Eventually a mysterious internet connection provided an invite at a price and my permit was telexed from Tripoli in early April. A week later I was walking down Harley Street with the requisite stamp. There was no going back now.

funduroeI may have been nervous about my destination but I was less uncertain about the bike. I’d always fancied trying the Funduro. They came out in 1993, a trusty combination of Rotax engine and BMW build quality plus a naff name and a look unlike anything else. No one had anything bad to say about them other than being a bit heavy for off-roading. The revvy engine took a bit of getting used to after torquey XTs, but with the right tyres I was sure the 650 would be up for some piste bashing.

sf-red1As I was hard up modifications were kept to a minimum. A fat Michelin Desert squeezed on the back after a bit of sawing at the outer knobs. The front end took a ‘rear’ 19” Pirelli MT21 with a lot more knob-chopping and a Honda VT500 mudguard to get it to fit. Road riding on these tyres was initially unnerving, especially the ‘marbles-on-glass’ front MT, but I soon got used to it. The bike had come with a new o-ring chain, some brand I’d never heard of, but I figured it would last the trip. The 27-litre Acerbis tank looked barely bigger than the original unit but promised a useful 500km range. To help work out distances in kilometres, BMW UK gave me a metric speedo which saved on possible errors when converting from miles to kms. A chunky alloy Touratech GPS bar mount held my new Garmin 12 firmly in place and a cheapo ball compass was screwed on the dashboard. Lastly, I put on an in-line fuel filter, a cig’ lighter plug for the GPS, fork gaiters and a high screen. It was March now, high time to head South.

To save my knobs I took the overnight Motorail from Paris to Marseille and then caught a boat to Tunis where ensued five hours of messing around from one counter to the next. If this was Tunisian immigration what would Libya be like? And another thing troubled me: had I left it too late? By now temperatures were climbing steeply right across the Sahara and with it expected water consumption and a host of other problems.

A New Year’s meet up with a guy who worked in the Libyan oil fields actually put me off the whole idea. He warned me about the enervating ghibli winds which blew in April and melted strong men’s brains. A story of a guy who’d driven out into the storm sounded especially grim.

About a month after the guy had gone missing a nomad came into the camp and asked if we wanted to know where our Toyota was? We said yes and it cost us. Then he asked did we want our body back – it cost us some more. Turns out the guy had just parked up with the engine running and walked out into the sandstorm.’

With a weather eye out for the ghibli, by the next afternoon I was close to the Libyan border with a wodge of illicitly bought Libyan currency stuffed down my crotch. At the border I was resigned to hours of shuffling from one hangar to the next filling out forms and getting stamps. But by chance one of the many Libyan travel agents I’d given up on recognised me and whisked me through the formalities in just twenty minutes (and only a hundred quid!). Stunned at my good fortune, I set off towards Tripoli in the fading light and soon pulled over to fill the tank up for just 60p. That’s right sixty pence. Super petrol works out at 2.5p a litre, or if I you’re feeling stingy, regular costs 2p.

sf-red-broledDozens of the roadside wrecks traffic along Libya’s main coast road testified to the lethal mixture of ‘get-out-of-my-way’ gangsters in blacked-out Merc and lopsided farmyard bangers piloted by granddad in coke-bottle specs. So after a night in the bushes, I was relieved to turn off the death highway south towards Ghadames, 550km away. Now the roadsides were only marked by posters of the Brother Leader, hands raised in a ‘we’re in this together!’ salute.

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As I rode into the desert on super smooth highways I wondered when the real heat would begin. I didn’t have to wait long. By mid-afternoon the temperature had risen to the high thirties and out of the blue the bike started spluttering. Surely I haven’t got through the tank already, I thought? Undoing the cap revealed plenty of gas. The bike started up but a few miles later cut out again. I got off, had a look at things and guessed at a cause. A combination of half empty tank and minimal throttle at cruising speed added to the afternoon heat saw the trickling petrol evaporate in the fuel filter and cause vapour lock – cutting off the fuel supply. Stopping cooled things down and got the petrol flowing again. Later on, when pouring cooling water over the filter body I saw the petrol level rise instantly, I knew I’d guessed right.

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Knowing the problem was as good as solving it so I filled up first chance and carried on to Ghadames, arriving zonked out at the empty campsite just as the sun set. Slumped out on the sand, I had a think. If it was reaching nearly 40°C this far north, how hot would it be further south? The vapour lock was easily fixed with a cardboard heat shield, but I was keen to get the BM on the dirt. Was I taking too great a risk riding alone? From here my plan was to ride across the Hamada el Hamra plateau and then cut over the edge of the Ubari Sand Sea down to the Akacus Mountains near the Algeria/Niger border, altogether about a week’s riding.

My French guidebook claimed the route across the plateau was a straightforward 450km gravel track with a well half way. Just about within my range, though in these temperatures water consumption was another matter. I checked over the bike, wrote myself a road book and planned to leave early next morning.

That night at 2am a rising gale woke me and I dozed fitfully as the tent wobbled and the palms flapped overhead. Dawn revealed an orange sky and a thick dusty haze. Was this the ghibli I’d been warned of? I postponed my departure, hoping it would die down, but in the end set off back to the village of Derj where the plateau track began. I’d reassess there.

Filling up again at Derj junction, I was on the verge of heading back to Tunisia. As I sat there mulling over ‘dare I’ with ‘should I’ the attendant leaned out the door and said
‘Eh, la mangeria?’
La what?
‘Mangeria!’ He made the universal mime for chow.
Ah oui, merci. In the desert I slip automatically into French mode but Libya had been an Italian colony where this slang for food had come from.
As I ate my bowl of oily stew a little German Isuzu pulled in and, as always in the desert, we sized each other up. A brief chat revealed that Rainer and Katja were also heading across the Hamra and would be happy to have another vehicle along for safety.

The Hamada el Hamra is aptly named the Red Plateau, a barren, undulating prairie of rust-coloured gravel cut by dry water courses. Rising to 800m, my oilfield mate hadn’t  much good to say about it: a pitiless void that was either freezing or baking and criss-crossed with enough tracks to confuse even the wily nomads.

sf-hambikeEnjoying the security of another vehicle, it felt great to be back on the dirt. By myself I’d have been gnawing my lip into a pulp. With th uncompromising tyres the BM handled the 40-50kph pace well enough, and it was fun concentrating on the riding instead of sitting on the blacktop. As expected, I was a lot quicker than Rainer’s ex-trans African Isuzu, but I didn’t mind stopping, their very presence made this whole excursion much less tense. But there was one thing which bothered me…

‘Rainer, shouldn’t we be at Bir Gazell well by now?’ According to my speedo the landmark should have been close.
‘Bir Gazell? No, that is on the direct route, we are taking the southern route.’
‘The southern route?’
‘Ya. Here, look. It goes down into the Ubari Sand Sea, turns east and follows the dunes to Idri. My guide book says it’s much more scenic than the direct route.’
‘How far is it?’
‘Oh, about six hundred kilometres.’
‘I doubt I’ve got enough fuel to go that far, especially if the piste gets sandy.” 
We paused for a moment to consider the implications.
‘Well, I have some spare petrol, about six litres.’ said Rainer whose Isuzu was diesel,
Topping up the bike’s tank we decided to take a gamble and press on.

sf-ham-backduneBut by late afternoon we’d got ourselves lost. The next GPS waypoint was through the hills to the south, but our track was now heading west, the wrong way. This is all part and parcel of Sahara travel so, not unduly worried, we made camp in a oued and resolved to head directly for the waypoint next morning.

sf-ham-roxCross-country riding may sound fun on a trail bike, but in the desert it can be incredibly slow. Once you ride off tracks, however bad they are, you find yourself walking the bike down rocky slopes, blundering up dead-end valleys or edging towards drops. Even with an early start and the bike reconnoitring a way through the hills, it still took us till noon next day to cover the 14km to the waypoint and the route.

sf-ham-dunerHaving lost some altitude coming off the plateau, the day began to burn and, as I feared, the plateau’s firm gravel turned into plains of sand. As all you beach racers know, soft sand has to be attacked standing on the pegs with a nailed throttle and eyes firmly fixed on the ground ahead. There is no easy option: back off and you’re off – go too fast and you risk crashing. I did my share of both and finished the day exhausted by more types and shades of soft sand than the Cote d’Azur.

sf-ham-hotBy now I was already cutting into Rainer and Katja’s water reserves, so we needed to find a well. Their German guidebook identified a source 40km away. We located what seemed the right place and ploughed into the sands where the Isuzu soon mired. While they shovelled I headed over the dunes, riding the sandy banks in all directions just to keep from getting stuck. After a while I found the well – bone dry and full of sand, just like in the movies. This little excursion had cost us two hours, a heap of energy and still more water. We flopped out under some meagre shade. No one said anything.

sf-ham-drinkWe moved on, at one point encountering the vile surface-crusted powder known as feche-feche. Regular bull dust is often mistakenly called feche-feche, but this was one of only two occasions I’ve ever been on it. Often found on the edge of large sand seas, a hard crust like a pie forms and might support a vehicle. Or it might break though into the flour-like blancmange beneath. I spotted it too late, the gnarly tyred Funduro cracked the crust and sank in, engine screaming in first gear as a 20-foot roost spurted up vertically from the back wheel. By paddling madly I just managed to regain firmer ground in time to grab yet another desperate slug of water.

sf-ham2Now every minor exertion demanded a drink and these exhausting conditions went on for hours. In this sort of terrain the Funduro was just plain old Duro. Sure, the engine was amazingly zippy on the highway, but it lacked the plonk needed to chug through soft sand. And as I’ve found before, the super stiff Desert tyre might do the trick on a hefty Dakar racer, but at even just 7 psi and with the tyre creeping round the rim (I was trying the self tapers through the rim trick), it didn’t flatten out enough to provide traction. Result: lots of wheelspin and wasted fuel for not much forward progress.

sf-ham-wellAt dusk we located a proper well with a bucket and trough – the whole thing. We filled up everything with water while camels mobbed us for a hand out. Then, fit only to quickly cook up some grub, the three of us  crashed out for the third night running. We all knew we’d bitten off a bit more than we could chew, but the end was surely in sight.

sf-ham-tentWe got going early but by nine next morning the bike was halfway down a dune and out of gas. We’d seen no other vehicles since we left the highway at Derj so there was nothing for it but to lug out twenty litres of water and watch the Isuzu chug off over the sands in search of fuel. With a bit of luck they’d be back tomorrow. I knew that lying still in shade was the best way to limit water loss, so I crawled under a make shift lean-to and waited.

sf-ham3The burning sun inched across the sky and the scorching wind peppered me with sand. Then, just as I began thinking ‘What if…’ a toot-tooting heralded the early return of the little Trooper. They’d chanced across a date plantation where a guy had tapped off a jerrican’s worth from his pickup’s oil drum.

I poured the fuel into the tank and we were on the move again, but now the riding became really hard as the track squeezed between the dunes and rocky outcrops. Again we found ourselves searching for wind-erased tracks or taking repeated blasts up boulder-strewn slopes that even the nimble bike couldn’t manage. We covered just 40kms, when the Isuzu got stuck on a dune we’d all had enough and called it a day. Hopefully an early start on firmer night-cooled sand would finally get us to Idri. The Hamra wasn’t letting us go without a fight.

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With a 6am start and another four hours driving we finally rolled into Idri, caked in dust and all absolutely shattered. I felt like I’d done a four day enduro on a heavy loaded bike in 40-degree temperatures – hang on, I just did that – and a week later I was still aching.

At Idri I bade farewell to the tough German couple and headed north, butt-, leg-, arm-, hand- and back sore after the 600km pummeling. Heavy winds prolonged my retreat and at one point I had the distinctly novel sensation of leaning out round a bend while braced against a 50mph crosswind. By the sf-ham-roadrideTunisian border that cheap chain was on the way out – and when o-ring chains go they go fast. Back across Tunisia, back across the Med, another Motorail to save the chain and a quick coffee in Paris.

I made it to the Channel but after over 2000 miles or riding, just 20 miles from London the sprocket turned into a greasy disc. There was nothing for it but to hire a van and drive home.

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Previously published in Trail Bike MagazineOverland Journal and Wyprawy 4×4 (Polish)
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Saharan plane wrecks: two stories

Phoenix4On page 350 of Sahara Overland II I wrote a box titled ‘If we’re done for we’re done for and that’s all there is to it‘ about some of the better known plane crashes in the Sahara. Anyone who’s seen the stellar cast at work in original 1965 movie, Flight of the Phoenix (right, not the dreadful 2004 remake) will know what a compelling story the tragedy of a plane crash in the desert can be.

memairLast week a rather belated article appeared on the BBC where it trended for a day; the tale of how a victim’s relative from the September 1989 UTA 772 plane crash over Niger’s southern Tenere organised the construction of a striking memorial at the crash site to his father and the other 169 who perished.
bbc1989Less than a year after a similar event over Lockerbie in Scotland, a bomb – said also to have been set by Libyan agents – saw the DC10 break in the sky some 450km east of Agadez, close to the UTA-772-CockpitTermit massif. One still of what looks like the cockpit (left) bears a  resemblance to the similar well known image from Lockerbie.

Libya’s rather implausible motive was said to have been revenge for France’s support for Chad in the last stages of their border interventions into northern Chad’s Aouzou Strip between 1978 and 1987. This was a little-known Saharan war which had ended when they were roundly defeated first at Wadi Doum near Faya in the Tibesti, and then routed at Maaten al-Sarra, right in Libya itself. However, in July 2011, Gaddafi defectee and former Libyan foreign minister Abdel Rahman Shalgham, told a newspaper ‘The Libyan security services blew up the plane. They tenerememobelieved that opposition leader Mohammed al-Megrief was on board‘.
With part of the £104m compensation gradually handed out by the Gaddafi family, Guillaume Denoix de Saint Marc set about building the huge memorial sculpture close to the crash site. It was completed in 2007 and appears on Google maps today.

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lanclast

The other tale concerns an Avro Avian biplane which crashed in April 1933 between Poste Weygand and Bidon V in Algeria’s Tanezrouft. Featuring biplanes, romance and death in the desert, the story resonates with the popular but very fictional English Patient movie and book. But this tory is all true and a film-making  descendant of the loan pilot, Bill Lancaster, is close to completing a documentary about his forebear titled: ‘My Great Uncle; The Lost Aviator‘.

Bill Lancaster was a pioneering British aviator who found fame by flying from London to Darwin in 1927. Despite leaving a family back home, on route he fell for his co-pilot lancplaneand financial supporter, Australian aviatrix Jessie ‘Chubbie’ Miller (not a nickname you’d think most women would covet).
The adventuresome duo’s romance soon became the Posh & Becks of its day and the couple set up house in Miami. Their relationship then rose to become an outright cause célèbre when,  in April 1932 Lancaster was tried for shooting his love rival, Chubbie’s biographer and some say fiancé, Haden Clarke, at their Miami home.
lanctabsCleared of the charges despite the compelling evidence, Lancaster set off to rebuild his reputation by flying across the Sahara.
While following what may have been the Tanezrouft beacons used by the Citroen motor crossing of 1922-3, his plane went down some 400 kilometres from the Mali border.
lancaster-lettersAfter eight days of suffering Bill Lancaster died one year to the day after Clarke’s unsolved murder. His body lay undiscovered by the wreckage of his Avro until lancwreck1962 where a recovered diary revealed his agonising last days (‘… the heat of the sun is appalling … my constant craving – WATER‘) as well as his undying love for Chubbie Miller.

denvolThe story was fictionalised in 1985 as an Australian mini-series, The Lancaster Miller Affair and again in French in 2009 getting what looks like an exceedingly unsuccessful ‘English Patient’ makeover as Le Dernier Vol (The Last Flight, right) with Marion Cotillard. It sounds like the documentary based on true story may be much more interesting.

More on the Lost Aviator doc here and here and more pictures here.


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Tuareg documentary online at Al Jazeera

First in a three-part documentary on Al Jazeera online about the Tuareg of Niger and Mali following the fall of Libya from which many of them fled.

Can’t embed – the link is here or click image below. Well worth watching.

Also, an article by the film maker here. And another by Andy Morgan about the Tuareg cause.

Part Two ‘Rebellion‘ is online now too. Part 3 ‘Exile’ is in a week.
All also on Al Jazeera TV channel I presume.

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Mauritania ~ autumn 2013

by Robert R

Googled into English

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Carnet ATA: Pour le Sénégal seulement
Visas Mauritaniens: Double entrée, demandés via Lyon visa service.
Visas Sénégalais: Multi entrées, demandés au consulat de Lyon.
Guides: La Mauritanie au GPS (Cyril Ribas), Le Routard 2013 pour le Sénégal et la Gambie (pas très fiable), Lonely Planet pour la Guinée Bissau.

Plage Blanche, Morocco

Plage Blanche, Morocco

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Aororea, Morocco

Le voyage
1. Ferry Sete – Tanger le 28/9/13 avec GNV.

3. 11/10: On retrouve nos amis à Dakhla.

4. 12/10: Frontière Mauritanienne: c’est le souk côté Marocain car il y a pas mal de monde et l’organisation des   files d’attente laisse à désirer. On y passe au moins 4h! On retrouve notre guide Fadel, coté Mauritanien.
Bivouac au début de l’ancienne piste vers le Banc d’Arguin  (Pour les points, cf. bouquin Cyril Ribas).

5.  13/10: Déjeuner à la plage d’Arkeist, baignade et bivouac.

6.  14/10: Traversée Banc d’Arguin –> Benichab. On quitte la piste de Nouamghar vers Tessot.

Croisement vers Tessot:
N 19° 28.249 O 16° 18.330 (km 0)

Points sur la (belle) piste:
N 19° 28.281 O 16° 17.244
N  19° 24.716 O 16° 04.127

On rejoint ensuite la route Nouakchott (vers le Sud, km 30)

Croisement de la piste pour Benichab (sur la gauche, juste après une station-service):
N 18° 52.840 O 16° 09.736 (km 97)

La piste suit une direction Est Nord Est jusqu’à Benichab.

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Benichab

Points sur la piste:
N 18° 56.507 O 16° 05.012 (km 110)
N 19° 00.305 O 16° 01.321 (km 120)
N 19° 22.417 O 15° 34.351

Benichab: N 19° 28.130 O 15° 25.642 (km 212)

Benichab:
A Benichab, il a fallu discuter ferme pour pouvoir bivouaquer plus loin sur la piste d’Akjoujt. Depuis qu’on a quitté le bord de mer, il fait très chaud (pointes à 46-48°C!)

7.  15/10: Akjout puis traversée pour bivouaquer au pied des dunes de l’Amatlich.
Pour le parcours Akjoujt-El Abiod, on a utilisé les points du guide de Cyril Ribas car Fadel ne connaissait pas.

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Rue à Akjoujt

Akjoujt: N 19 44.700  O 14 23.040

Croisement (sur la route d’Atar): N 19 54.897 O 14 05.388
Puit Tabrenkount:      N 19 48.686  O 14 02.149
Entree Amatlich:         N 19 42.926  O 13 42.535

8.  16/10: Traversée de l’erg le matin : C’est vrai que l’Amatlich c’est pas trop facile! Mais il y avait une bonne trace et le collègue qui était devant moi est un super pilote, donc derrière on voit bien les difficultés et plus facile à négocier: aucun plantage pour les 3 voitures mais il a fallu forcer sur le champignon!

Sortie Amatlich:   N 19 45 445  O 13 46.241
Puits d’Amazmaz: N 19 41.241  O 13 25.965

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Erf Amatlich

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Amazmaz

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la guelta

Puis détour vers la guelta d’Amazmaz: pas facile à trouver la piste pour y aller et en plus elle est pleine de caillasses mais une fois arrivée à la guelta c’est le pied: baignade et bivouac.

9.    17/10:  En route vers la passe de Tifoujar, on traverse de jolis villages.

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Hassi el Tisram      N 19 47.243  O 13 25.248
El Meddah               N 19 54.930 O 13 19.607
El Gleitat                 N 19 58.306 O 13 17.624
Passe de Tifoujar   N 20 05.537 O 13 11.882

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La passe de Tifoujar

 (La passe de Tifoujar, je ne connaissais pas, c’est splendide!), grande et belle descente vers l’oued El Abiod (toujours aussi beau malgré le temps gris et toujours aussi chaud), Oujeft et bivouac sur la  piste de Terjit (avec, en plus de la chaleur, un sale vent).

Toungad: N 20 03.193 O 13 07.208
Oujeft: N 20 01.609 O 13 02.940

10.  18/10: Terjit, courses à Atar et bivouac près de la piste d’Ouadane.

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L’auberge de Zeida

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L’auberge de Zeida

11.   19/10: Ouadane, Déjeuner à l’auberge de Zeida: elle est très sympa et elle nous a cuisiné un super plat.

Départ par le désert pour Chinguetti et super bivouac en route après un très joli village.

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Chinguetti

12.   20/10: Chinguetti, visite et déjeuner sous 1 bosquet dans l’oued et départ pour 1 visite à la passe d’Amodjar (que l’un   des équipages ne connaissait pas). Puis direction le mont Zarga pour récupérer la piste de Tidjika. Bivouac juste avant Zargas.

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Piste vers Tidjika

13.     21/10: Piste vers Tidjika, en suivant les points du bouquin de Cyril Ribas sauf quand la construction de la nouvelle route Atar-Tidjika nous a obligé à dévier (assez loin, d’ailleurs).

 Joli bivouac à l’écart: Il faut noter que pour tous les bivouacs, Fadel nous a demandé de choisir un coin un peu éloigné de la piste ou de la trace principale pour des raisons de sécurité.

Pour tous les points de la piste Chinguetti-Tidjika, voir le bouquin de Ribas.

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Oued Rachid

14.     22/10: Puis on a rejoint le magnifique Oued Rachid pour le remonter.

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bivouac non loin de l’oued

Super bivouac non loin de l’oued.

15.     23/10: On continue à remonter l’oued, passage pas facile à trouver vers la fin car les pluies ont fait des dégâts.
Et on découvre une guelta: avec une magnifique séance de troupeaux à l’abreuvoir.

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Rue à Rachid

Arrivée à Rachid, quelques courses pour un super picnic à l’ombre (il fait toujours aussi chaud!) au bord de  l’oued. 

Puis Tidjika pour refaire les pleins et on récupère la piste vers Boumdeit.

16.     24/10: Passe de Néga (on toujours pas vu les singes!), Boumdeit et bivouac près de la piste vers Kiffa (le cram-cram commence à devenir envahissant et il fait toujours aussi chaud!).

rr2117.     25/10 : Kiffa, puis route vers Aleg. Arret devant la stele à la mémoire des  4 Français et leur guide assassinés en Décembre 2007.

Beaucoup de contrôles sur la oute à partir de Kiffa. Bivouac à l’écart de la route après Sangafara. Nous quittons notre guide Fadel  à Aleg, cela a été un très bon compagnon de route et un bon guide. Fadel Habib: 00222 22 44 38 04.

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Rosso

18.     26/10: Route (c’est goudronné maintenant) vers Boghé,Rosso; bivouac avant Rosso.

Rosso:
19.     27/10: Piste vers Diama et passage de la frontière Senegalese sans problème. Nuit à Saint Louis.

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Saint Louis, Senegal

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Moto Morocco for beginners, 2014

mk3-25After the successful recce in 2013, this November I’ll be offering a ten-day ride again using locally rented bikes.
We fly into Marrakech and pick up the bikes next day for the short ride into the hills. From there we off on a relaxed 2000-km ride following deserted backroads and spectacular mountain pistes.
As importantly, we use great accommodation out in the sticks and enjoy freshly prepared food they provide. It’s not all about smoking the knobs off your tyres and ending each day wrung out, it’s about enjoying your time in southern Morocco on and off the bike and not having to ride the 200 miles back to the UK exhausted and in need of a rest.

Sound like your sort of thing? Then read the FAQs or the report of the 2013 recce trip. Six places; the first date has booked up already; the second date is on the way.

mk3-98

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Xmas Competition: win desert biking dvds

Click this to get yourself to my AM Website where you can answer an easy question of desert biking trivia for a chance to win a copy of Mondo Sahara (2013) and Desert Riders (2003) dvds.

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Ten Days in Morocco ~ Husky • Sertao • XR ~ Final part

mk3-01As two of the group are actors and Americans, from Tazenacht we take an excursion north to Gas Haven, a surviving film set from a 2006 remake of Wes Craven’s 1970s mutant hillbilly slasher The Hills Have Eyes.
If nothing else it’s a great ride north through the Tizi n Bachkoum pass, chasing Andy on the Sertao.

mk3-02Southwest American roadhouse an hour out of Ouarzazate. Even that boulder by the sign is fibreglass and wire.

mk3-03Being an actor, Patrick knows a lot about about working behind bars.

mk3-04Outside, desiccated, severed limbs swing in the desert sun.

mk3-05There’s even a Wall of Death, but not the fairground one where a bloke rides round and round until he gets dizzy.

mk3-06Chubby-cheeked babies charred by a nuclear experiment that went tragically wrong. Or something like that.

mk3-07Lunch in Agdz - pronounced like ‘Agadez’ in Niger.

mk3-08Rob takes a swing on the Husky.

mk3-09Mustapha leads us to a viewpoint over Agdz palmerie with the Draa river in there somewhere. We’re riding up that hill tomorrow.

mk3-10We arrive at the lovely Ksar Jenna on Nekob westside. We’re spending two nights here.

mk3-11Night falls over Nekob.

mk3-12Inside, following another fine feast, the Kindles glow.

mk3-13Next day Rob, Andy and I take a ride up MH14 ‘Sarhro West’ which I tried last year on the BMW 650 twin.

mk3-14Patrick is doing his own thing today on the Sertao and Andy snatched his XR250 before I could.

mk3-16We stop for a tea and snack at the last dwelling up the valley. Hassan sits with young Ahmed in his woolly hoodie.

mk3-17At the summit junction, KM46, I invoke the droite d’accompagnateur and depose Andy from the XR250.

mk3-35Undaunted, Andy hurtles off into the afternoon sun on the TR650, following an untried Olaf track which descends to the N9/N12 near the Draa river.

mk3-18Once it drops off the plateau this piste proves to be as spectacular and exposed as I imagined. Morocco at its best.

mk3-20

mk3-21Back on the N12 road a short distance out of Nekob, another palm-ringed kasbah shimmers in the crepuscular glow.

mk3-22And another lavish breakfast at Ksar Jenna.

mk3-23Today we’re moving on, off up the well-known 112-km piste over Jebel Sarhro to Tinerhir; MH4.

mk3-24Just a week on a dirt bike and Patrick already has his arse-end aflame.

mk3-25A rare shot of me on a motorcycle. I’m trying out the Sertao, but on the piste its characteristics are distinctly canine compared to the Terra. Nice engine but feels 20kg heavier.

mk3-26This was all the ‘camping’ we could manage.

mk3-27A coke stop near the pass.

mk3-28Up past Iknioun the track becomes a wide and fast motorway and I blast along on the Husky in top gear for a while. But the classic piste (MH4) is now in the shadow of the amazing Sarhro West piste we did yesterday.

mk3-29We haul 100km over to Chez Moha at Ait Youb hamlet in the High Atlas. A lovely spot all made of mayd and straw, but a bit chilly compared to what we’re used to.

mk3-30Maybe better in the spring when I was here last time. Even then, we enjoy a fabulous cous-cous feast huddled by an electric heater.

mk3-31Next day a cool morning but I enjoy a fantastic burn up down the Todra Gorge on the Husky, fix a quick nail puncture then we have a lavish grill in Tinerhir.
A hundred miles down the road we check into the Vallee 
hotel in Ouarzazate southside. A little past it prime, but they have wifi and heating and beer and yet more great food.

mk3-32Our room boasts some rather creepy psycho-erotic art. The longer you look at it, the more disturbing it gets. Or perhaps it’s just depicting the desecration of our Mother Earth. Either way, I do believe ‘Salah 07′ might be in dire need of some female company.

Next day, yet more brake warming, bend swinging action over the Tizi n Tichka pass back to Marrakech and a plane home.

mk3-34So there we have it. A great group and a fab time buzzing around Morocco over 10 days enjoying a little bit of everything: cosy lodgings, amazing views, delicious fresh food, all linked by great blacktop and piste.
I’ll offer something similar as a tour next November 2014 when the weather seems just right. Have a look at the Tours page around mid-December.

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