A 40 km sign is installed on the side of the road to Merzouga. It’s a big sign, so clearly visible. A police car is stationed on the other side of the road in a conspicuously inconspicuous way. Next to it stands a uniformed man who walks to the middle of the road when I approach and clearly gesticulates that I must stop. These kind of checks are normal in Morocco, but mostly foreigners can drive on, reportedly because the Government does not want to disadvantage tourism after all events of terrorist attacks in Europe. But this time the man definitively wants to see my passport, driving license and registration certificate … and if I will be so kind to come along to his car where his colleague waits for him. It turns out quickly that I have exceeded the speed limit. 40 km sir, and you drove up to 8 km too fast. We measured it by radar. Normally I drive at this type of road between 60 and 80 km/hr, So I actually expected a reward. Besides, the only 40km sign I have seen is at the feet of the police officer and not earlier.
The gentlemen remain stern but show themselves very fair. 30 Euros fine. Protesting does not have any effect so at last I let him know that I want to receive a receipt. After the coupon book is pulled the colleagues chat something in Arabic. One officer repeats several times if I really want a receipt. At last it gets clear to me. OK. Without a receipt means half price, which the men immediately accepted. So 7.50 Euro per person for the gentlemen. Everybody happy
After a friendly goodbye, a handshake and a “bonne journée” I continue my journey to the Erg Chebbi, a relatively small area on the edge of the Sahara where many 4×4 enthusiasts gather to play in the sand of the pink-colored dunes with their off-road vehicles.
It’s horribly hot. No tourist to see. The time to be here is between November and March. The heat prevents the people to come here now. As the only guest I stand at the foot of the sand dunes in the shade of some palm trees. Fortunately the site has a pool with a water temperature hitting the 30 degrees Centigrade, so still refreshing if you’re not moving, because otherwise you’ll start sweating.
The view is fantastic. Especially at sunset the sand dunes colors more pink-red and the shadow effect of the low sun does the rest. A delight to photograph, but the heat sucks all the energy out of you.
In recent weeks I have discovered that I am in Morocco in a totally wrong period.
Firstly because it is Ramadan. The streets of towns and villages are deserted, shops closed. Hardly any movement to discover. Difficult to buy bread and other foods. From about 19:40 one may eat. Thereafter, around 20:30 the people come outside and some shops will then open. Most people go to bed after midnight. But at that time I already have my sweet dreams.
Secondly, it is much too hot. In the east and south it can certainly be 50 degrees Centigrade or more. One time I measured 53 degrees in the cockpit. Therefor I skip my plan to travel to the southernmost part of Morocco. The mountains of the Atlas will provide some cooling. Ramadan lasts for 1 more week. With Eid al-Fitr people will break loose, I expect. Until that time I will stay and wait for it in Tafraout, at the edge of the Anti-Atlas.
But now I’m here, I have to start with really testing Piggy.
At the beginning of the tour around the dunes of Erg Chebbi I meet a German couple who I already have met in Meski. They also came to Morocco with their old Toyota Landcruiser to test it in preparation for their world tour which will begin in late July. They also go towards Asia and maybe we’ll meet somewhere on the road. We decide to ride together around Erg Chebbi. Soon we get into the soft sand and within a short time I’m stuck in the sand. Transfer to 4×4 is the next step. Piggy pulls out of the sand but it quickly turns out that the tire pressure is too high. The pressure should be at least 50% less for a better grip in the sand. A job which takes quite some time with the big tires of Piggy. Thereafter, the real game starts. The Toyota is much more agile and drives ahead. Suddenly he disappears out of sight. Behind the sand ridge the slope goes steep down. Scary. At one point, I only see the steel blue sky. Just before the ridge I stop to oversee the case first. Below me I see the Toyota continue his way without damage, but I don’t venture to make the descent. 12 tons of weight is a bit too much for this first time. Incidentally, I also need to ensure that the eggs remain intact in the fridge. Via a detour we come together again and continue playing in the dunes. Piggy has a hard time All gears in high and low gearing, with – and without differential. Everything must be tried out. The low tire pressure works wonderful. I’m amazed what a beast Piggy really is. A great adrenaline feeling. One time having the feeling to top over I decide to go back to flatter terrain. The circle around the sand dunes takes a day to complete. On the way we meet many encampments. In winter-time many tourists come here. I imagine that it will be a circus at that time, but the area is large enough. At the end of the day we take a dive tired and dusty in the 30 degrees pool.
The next day, we want to go offroad along the Algerian border to take the route to Tagounite. At the beginning we are stopped by a man who explains the running of the route. A complicated story, but with the GPS we should manage it. He also says there is a dry riverbed of 5km wide that must be crossed with lots of sand, pebbles and scattered shrubs and trees. He expects my truck is too heavy for this stretch. I decide not to take this risk and plan to make a detour on the asphalt road towards Zagora. The Germans decide to take risk with their lighter car.
Via the detour I ended up on the track where I met the Germans again. The riverbed indeed gave some problems, especially in navigation. The route was hard to find. According to them it could have been possible for me to follow them. In hindsight, the man was trying to persuade me to take him as a (paid) guide “to help me to bypass the obstacles.” I did not want to.
The next day to Zagora leads over bumpy sections, with large boulders. 5 km/hr speed often proves the least uncomfortable for both the truck and for myself.
When I am back on the main road to Zagora an oncoming car signals me to stop. Police again, I think. But it turns out to be an employee of a garage whose family of my last encampment tipped him that I was heading towards Zagora. His heavily tuned off road Land Rover with impressive stickers betrayed much 4×4 knowhow. In the middle of the highway, we stand next to each other (there is no traffic) while he advises me to grease all essential parts considerably. A job of 20 minutes for only 6 Euros. This is truly needed after such a heavy and dusty ride of the last days.
I am interested and follow him the last kilometers to his garage in Zagora.
During lubrication of the vital components, we find a number of significant damages. The support of the radiator is totally rusted and broken, It appears that the welding of the chassis in different places is torn and a number of other issues. What a strange coincidence. If I continued driving with this the damage was enormous.
The men specialize in off-road vehicles. At that time Paris-Dakar mechanics and known by Morocco Travelers who like to go off-road.
Eventually I stay two days in the garage. Everything is meticulously inspected and repaired. The men show great skill
Feeling certain again I continue my trip to Erg Chigaga, the stretch of dunes. Again two days banging over boulders, stones and grit. Midway zooming on the smooth plain of the dried up Iriki Lake, with more than 53 degrees Centigrade in the cockpit. Piggy held well.
Via Agdz, Ouarzazate and Talliouine I return to the Sahara border. Tata is a nice town, but very hot and the streets are completely empty. Because of the Ramadan. This is actually not fun anymore. I decided to forget my destination in the south of Morocco and provisionally find more livable temperatures in the Anti-Atlas. The last stretch between Tata and Tafraoute runs through beautiful mountain scenery. Here in Tafraoute I stay a couple of days to await the end of Ramadan. Meanwhile, I have neighbors, a German couple with a camper truck waiting for their visa extension and also taking it calm for the last days.