To Africa: Tafraoute – Western Sahara
We came across the big, expensive Expedition Trucks parked at the Rocks. They cost about 30 times as much as our vehicle, but don’t seem to do much ore than drive 5km of gravel to the Rocks and stay on asphalt the rest of the time. The owners really didn’t seem to like us, as they came to inquire very rudely when we would be leaving. Perhaps turning on the siren and the blue lights at night had something to do with that.
Our first day near the Blue Rocks we went for a big walk through the desert. The guys seem to love a crazy challenge, so Max and Lukas had resolved to climb a monumental pillar. The rest of us just relaxed before the vertical part. After that they resolved to climb another mountain, so me being old, I skipped out on that out of concern for my camera and kunckles on the granite rocks.
We stayed another day after that, in which not so much happened. Lukas and Max hatched the crazy plan to transport our spare fuel barrel to town on a bicycle, to try and sell it. At the end of the day we all went shopping a bit in town. A very charming Berber man talked me into buying something (I hold back a lot on spending compared to some others), all the others including Gustavo bought djellabas, like Anton did a while ago, so at night we roamed the streets like a djellaba cloak-wearing gang.
Gustavo, our Uruguayan biker friend whom we met a while ago, and had been with us at the rocks, was having trouble leaving us behind. He insisted on joining us despite it being the opposite direction of his flight in Marrakech in three days, just so he could sit in the truck for a while. Of course that meant someone had to ride his bike which Lukas did in djelabba and leather jacket, looking like some kind of movie character.
we did the long, boring road from Tiznit to Tantan in the late afternoon. The landscape got a lot more desolate, and the truck-stops really were something else compared to some of the trucking I did before. They seemed like they were from a movie at times, with am improvised mosque, goats running around, locals in cloaks, and young boys asking if we have any whiskey for them.
Even more movie-like are some of the vehicles, including our own. Since Anton found a skull next ti the road while cycling, I managed to fulfill one of my dreams of genuinely riding in a vehicle with a skull on the front (that I tied on myself). The moped standing around was amazingly still riding, with wheels completely misaligned and no working lights anywhere. In Europe it’d be something you find in a ditch, here it’s somebody’s transport.
As it got late again, we headed along some dirt road Max and Lukas had a fascination with from previous years. Lukas rode Gustavo’s motorcycle in, through sand and gravel. We set up camp at dark, next to a hill with a ruined fortress that we decided to explore at dawn. It was interesting enough to warrant a small post about it in the future.
The next day things got proper hardcore. Gustavo had wished for an off-road riding course the previous day; was he about to get one! I actually really respect his enthusiasm, I remember how nervous I was in sand the first time, and he was on a much heavier and less-suited bike than I’ve ever been. When we got to the river crossing, he needed some coaching and encouraging to get going, but he made it through without issues.
Never one to pass up on a challenge, Lukas decided to step things up, as he was determined to make it up some hill chain back to the main road. We went proper offroad, weaving a way between bushes in the desert flatlands, where some of the time there was no proper road. All the while poor Gustavo was in tow, handling it all like a champ. When we got to that hill face, Lukas gave it two tries, with engine screaming and belching smoke, differential-lock and low-gear engaged and dust clouds trailing behind the truck. At probably about 45% incline, it was just too steep and we had to give up. I’m really impressed by Lukas’ skills, I had some horrifying scenarios in my head of the truck toppling down the hill, but he managed it fine. Even with the extra challenge of Brad sitting next to him, offering “expert advice” like Brad often does.
While we were watching the very exciting show of the hillclimb, Gustavo actually rode his near-wreck of a Yamaha FJ600 up a rocky hill that would pose a challenge to even an experienced Enduro rider. He was a bit disappointed when we said we couldn’t make it, but we;d seem him again on the main road. He asked us for some bread and water like the expected to maybe not make the last 2 km to the main road.
After the whole offroad excitement for the day, we headed for the beach. There Lukas took Gustavo’s bike down the dunes onto the beach and the rest went swimming. Gustavo insisted on riding out himself, which involved four people pushing his bike up the dune while his chain was skipping teeth on full throttle. I;m pretty sure by now this must have been one of the most exiciting days in Gustavo’s life. No wonder he has trouble saying goodbye to us.
Rolling into Tantan Plage, things just look that little bit more decrepit and desolate, as we approach Western Sahara, a territory occupied and administered by Morocco. Not that many people live there, and there’s mot so much more than endless wilderness plains. Old Landrovers start to pop up more and more, suited for the rough landscape.
And then we ran into problems. With all our offroading we’d enabled some things on the truck not tested before. The differential-lock, which makes things more offroad-suited, but much less road-suited, was not disengaging anymore. That meant we could only really crawl along on dirt, or risk breaking a lot of critical components.
We tried fixing it by the road just outside of Tantan Plage, byt it got dark and it wasn’t easy. We resorted to just sleeping next to the road (which is actually the only highway from north to south africa, susprisingly not that busy).
The next morning it was raining as some of us attempted to unjam things more and more. It really felt like a low point, not having showered for days, with a malfunctioning truck next to the road. We decided to just head to a workshop, and pulled into the first one we saw, where two-three guys got to work instantly. Pretty impressive compared to western Europe where you would be told to wait for an appointment for at least a week in most cases.
These two guys managed to get it all unblocked in a couple of hours, while we could get showers and breakfast. We also did a much needed clean and reorganization of the car. Meanwhile I’d heard from Gustavo he had similar issues: a workshop fixed three broken welds and his chain that day.
Now we are driving through the desert, towards Dakhla where we will have another break and prepare some more. And yes, the sky was really blue on one side and red on the other!
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