We have been without online access since Mauritania. All is good and we are having lunch just before the Finish line. Yes, we are in Gambia. Have driven 9800 kilometres from Norway. There should be internet access again tonight at the hotel, but tonight there is also a big party, so maybe no new blog updates until tomorrow.
So the big off-road sections started. This was going to be a day where both men and equipment was put to the challenge. The distance is around 500 km in sand and rock. When your average speed drops below 60 km/h you can easily do the math and find the amount of time this takes, even without stops. Today we teamed up with two other cars from Hungary, and a third from Poland asked to join. Started out from camp as soon as there was a little visibility. No major issues for a long time, and we helped a lot of others that did not have very much experience driving in the sand and that had got stuck.
We even found a drive shaft that had fallen off one of the other cars in front of us and that we soon found the owner of. It basically turned their car from a 4×4 into a two wheel drive. That car headed back to camp.
If we hadn’t got enough of sand in the camp the previous day, we got a lot more this day.
The only thing that really seemed to be thriving in this barren environment were the camels that grassed on what was available of plants, grass and bushes.
The route went next to a railroad track used to take iron ore from the city of Zuerat to the port in Nouadhibou. I think the train running these tracks have the world record in being the longest train (2,5 km). The one we saw was nothing near that, but still a nice sight.
Then after some kilometers we ran into some problems that would potentially be disasterous for us;
Trying to keep the speed up, we probably hit a sand dune that hit our auxiliary diesel tank so it started leaking. That was the worst possible scenario, being stuck out in the middle of nowhere without fuel. The situation was so serious, but there is a trick on trying to fix it. Use a piece of soap, and work it to seal the leak. We had almost 120 liters of diesel in this tank and saving it was extremely important. I didn’t last for long and we had to stop again and see if there was something more sustainable solution. One option was to try to get the fuel into spare cans, another was to try with a sealant. It kind of worked although we still dripped but we were now able to carry on.
We even got company with the armed forces again. They drove with the race during the day to make sure we didn’t have any problems.
Not too many pictures from this day, as we had fewer and fewer stops. Not even had time to eat, and had to use what we had availble from the back seat. Towards Atar there is a tar road leading from north to south. As we reached this raod it started to be dark and the wind was picking up. We stopped to reinflate the tiers from driving on sand, and went south.
Still we had almost 150km left of the days stage.
Stopped in Atar to fill up, and bought some bread. The camp was 35 kilometres south of Atar in the desert. Trying to find it in the dark was a nightmare and we used at least 1,5 hours trying to find a path even though it was just 1,5 kilometers away, but we finally made it and arrived at midnight. Made some food and went to bed. What a day!
Since we dropped the camp site in Dakhla, we went the previous night into the city to get a Hotel. No international brands were represented, so we took the best we one available, called Saharah Regency. Not any anyway very fancy and we could see that someone had slept in these beds already before us. The border to Mauritania was far away and we started very early and started the car 04:45 to be at the border at 09:00. The advice was to fill up all the Diesel (Gasoil) we could carry, since there was not going to be any filling station for the next 1000 km.
As we drove throught the darkness in the morning it was not much to see outside. Dawn came closer to 07:30, and the sun was touching the horizon around 07:47. As we arrived at the border passing an hour later, it was already a long line to trucks and trailes, not very organized. This is the thing you must anderstand. There is nothing that really is coordinated or planned. So here is the receipy:
- Get hold of a white exit Fiche from one of the police officers
- Get back into the car and fill it in
- Be lucky enough that you are in the right line picked by a official
- Drive through the gate, and they will check your passport and that you have the Fiche willed out
- Park the car in the middle of the street
- Take your passport and Fiche with you, and go to a building to the left with a long line
- Deliver your passport and filled out Fiche, and wait for your name to be called
- Answer a few questions, and get back into your car
- Drive 10-50 meters to the Customs, and show your green pass you got when you entered Morocco
- Get a stamp, and maybe a dog will search your car for drugs
- Drive 100 meters
- Go into a white small booth the get your licenses number registered
- Drive 5 meters
- Show all your papers and passport to the Military Official
Once you are out, you are basically in no mans land. This is the offical DMZ (demilitary zone) of Western Sahara. Here there are no laws, no regulation, no help. Some people are wondering around trying the exchange money, sell mobile subscriptins or other goods. There is also a huge scapyard here as there is illegal to import old cars to both neighbouring countries. They do need spareparts though, so this is a huge stockpile.
Going through on the Mauritanian side was a breeze. The Rally already had a representative waiting at the border and just routed us through for going straight to the Bivouac (camp). Here the government had given us VIP service, and we had our own border control station.
Also we put up camp, in a hot, windy and isolated place. We soon had sand everywhere. And our moist tents from the beach camping previously acted like a dust magnet.
We settled the night with the rest of the rally with armed guards on all sides by the Mauritanian army.
You may see one of their cars on the top. A Toyota pickup.
The night went smoothly, but I heard and saw a military vehicle approaching on the beach close to midnight on its run. Luckily the guys had already gotten our Fiches and they passed by. Woke up early to pack up our gear and get going before dawn. Today we decided to not check in at the race and just go directly to see the sights as there is supposed to be two shipwrecks on the beach as we go to Dahkla.
The car is running just fine. The noises we heard came from a rusty break disk.
The day to Laayoune went fearly quick on paved roads. We started out looking for the Blue rocks painted by a Belgian artist in 1984, but it was still so dark outside that this project was skipped, and we continued towards the city of Guelmim.
Stopped at a supermarket that pretty much had anything except beer. After that it was pretty much main road from north to south towards the southern provinces (that is what Moroccans call Western Sahara). The territory was annexed by Morocco after the Spanish withdrew in 1975. Approaching the “border”, the police checkpoints where shorter between, and we had to start handing over Fiches (something that we had read about, but not experienced so far). We arrived in Laayoune in the afternoon as the first car and went to check out the race hotel by the sea. It looked like the run down buildings seen in the original Miami Vice series as the location of a drug lord. Completely run down and not even a sign on the front door. Bjørn started to bet me if we were at the right location, so I had to go inside to take a look. It was completely empty except a guy sitting low behind the counter asking me if we had a reservation. No furniture nothing. This was also the night it was stated in the race book that it was perfect to sleep out in the desert. Therefore we drove back a bit and tried to look for a secluded place to make camp in the desert dunes. Near the hotel it was not a lot a big dunes, so we didn’t really see a perfect place that was completely hidden.
The best place was towards the beach and the sea and not inland. We drove down and put up the tents just minutes before the sun settled and ate in the dusk. Shortly afterwards we got a visit from two men strolling towards us on the beach in green army clothes asking for a Fiche and wishing us a good night. It was kind of windy the whole time, and I fell asleep with the roaring sound of the big ocean waves hitting the beach and the wind flapping the tent.
The night in yet another hotel bed is luxury compared to what we planned for.
This day’s race to Tafraoute was promised to be a slow, lazy and cosy day. Far from it! It became the day we arrived until now the latest at the finish line. Then again it was spectacular and the first day we went off road.
It was truly an astonishing experience to see probably the most beautiful oasis the whole of Morocco. Arrived at sunset and slept in the official race hotel in Tafraoute. The first city we have seen a lot of people and activities going on driving through it. Tomorrow will be another long stage with more than 800 kilometres, taking the BudabestBamako (B2B) rally into Western Sahara.
The Midelt Ouarzazate was again going to be a challenge for many teams. The destination was the Hollywood of Morocco were amongst movies like Kingdom of Heaven was recorded. We started off by driving the main road N4 out of Midelt towards our destination to avoid some of the snow problems from the previous day.
The task was to cross the High Atlas mountain range, and there are usually enough snow covered mountains in Norway, so that is something we have seen before. There was one sight that we kind of wanted to see today, and that was the dam of Bin el Ouidane, so when we saw a road that looked to go in that direction we kind of skipped the main road and headed in that direction. Further studying the map told that reaching the dam was not going to happen. Anyhow we made a very good choice it seemed. We climbed slowly towards the peaks of 2800 meters. After that we headed towards the main road again and Ouarzazate.
Arriving at the film set in front of the fortress, we were supposed to set up camp, and to a big surprise the temporary office of some mechanics. Anders told them about some noises that we hear from the direction of the front axels. It took like 2 minutes before the car was up in the air on a jack and torn apart. The really knew what they were doing. The big open space was windy, the night temperature forecasted to a -3’C. No specially good place to put up a tent, and the fact that Bjørn still has a fever drove us down towards the city again and the Ibis Hotel where we spent the night. This starts to feel like touring Morocco on first class.