Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Web Blog post no 3

Web Blog post no 3  Morocco 2011
Todra Gorge, Zagora, Foum Zguid
Todra Gorge is a spectacular cleft in the rocks, cut aeons ago by the river coursing through the narrow gorge, draining show-melt from the
central Atlas mountains. At this time of the year we could still drive through the narrows and admire the great cliffs bordering either side. At it's narrowest it is only a few metres wide and it is a truly powerful experience to pass through.
From here we drove to Ouarzazate and then to Agdz, a small market town at the head of the DrĂ¢a valley. The scenery turned increasingly spectacular as we drove up and up into the Atlas highlands.
We peaked in mid-morning at 4,000 ft and drove through a barren, lifeless terrain which developed slowly into productive land. There
was some agricultural terracing to be seen and eventually our route accompanied a small stream. This developed during our journey. As we
descended the faster flowing water supported a string of oases and palmeries.
We reached a small gorge where the water sparkled on the morning sun. Up the cliff we heard bells announcing a nearby flock. Over the crest
appeared a hundred sheep and goats. They proceeded to descend the near vertical cliff with a sure-footedness that was amazing to watch.
They all descended safely and we continued our journey south through this spectacular valley and welcomed the increasing verdance as we
We reached the one-horse town of Zagora, gateway to the desert. Only 42 days by camel to Timbuktu, we were told…
After a rest stop in a good campsite, to repack and re-plan, we ventured off down a desert piste to Foum Zguid. This rough track started well
but petered out after 30 rattling miles at the edge of a deep wadi. I prospected on foot and chose a route across the great rock-strewn
divide, and having no low gear had to advance at the wrong speed for the terrain.
The first part went quite well, the wadi was about 75 yards wide at this point, but then I hit a patch of sand which gave way under the
left rear wheel as I drove over it. In front was a rock the size of an armchair. Next to it was an un-climbable sand bank and upstream was
our only exit. I applied more power, the mobile suspension gripped the uneven the contours and we shot out of the wadi to a hoot of joy from
Raymond, a gasp of relief from me… and a cheer from a shepherd who quickly told us we had come the wrong way!
The Discovery excelled itself.
I knew I was uncomfortably close to tipping the vehicle that time and  was much relieved to regain level ground afterwards. The shepherd
received a stylo biro and some melted sweets for his helpful comments.
We hit the Foum Zguid junction, turned north and proceeded to Tazenakht, the carpet-weaving centre of the Atlas. Raymond bought two
excellent Berber carpets while I ordered a splendid chicken tazine lunch for us both.
We camped at Tafaroute which supported a splendid swimming pool. We were the only guests there. Dinner was brought out to us at our tent,
and we dined by candle light under the full moon.
The next phase of the journey was a long and exciting drive northwards through the Anti Atlas, our road clinging to the side of
precipitous falls and spectacular scenery. We saw many striped squirrels. Here and there we would see big blue lizards running across
the hot tarmac with their tails held high. Also many small birds, finches, skylarks and a few soaring eagles.
We crossed the mountain range, reached Agadir and stared on the long journey home.
We stayed at Marrakech for a night and then camped near the important Roman town of Volubilis next day.
We have had a full, colourful and very enjoyable voyage and are now heading home through Spain.
This will be the last blog post in this series. In a short time I shall have photographs and text on the website at
Keep tuned in …

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Blog post Morocco 2

Erfoud to Merzouga

The stillness of the desert at the campsite was only disturbed by a
dog's concert that night, where every canine in the countryside joined
We left that morning for Erg Chebbi, near Merzouga, an isolated
offshoot of the Great Western Erg across the border in Algeria.
The route led east across a wide stony desert, wretchedly lifeless,
with only the occasional wadi sustaining a few goats and the odd
We were convinced from our research that there was a fairly strong
piste to be found around the east side of the Chebbi dunes, but all
our waypoints and two gps navigators failed to reveal the unmarked
trail we sought.
After a long drive we arrived unexpectedly at the dunes, a majestic
and spectacular formation. This isolated sand sea rises unannounced
from a flat stony desert, a great golden erg stretched into the desert
haze. Whispering winds sculpt the sand into a maze of crests and
curves, hollows and heights all basking in the morning sun.
We were at the northernmost tip. Across the sand, Raymond assured me,
lay our trail. However we were travelling alone and I didn't want to
enter the sands without a backup car.

And while we discussed the options, unfortunately the Disco made the
decision for us. Reaching for the low ratio gearing, the selection
lever failed to engage, indicating a broken linkage. Sand requires
power and the right gearing is essential, and now we didn't have it. A
quick check revealed the link was inaccessible without extensive
stripping down. We were now in a deep trough of sand and I had to
apply serious shunting, clutch slipping and engine overheating to get
That marked the end of that particular sand crossing and we re-routed
across the gravel plain to Merzouga, and drove the easier west side of
the dune instead.

Our route continued up the Todra gorge by way of Rissani and Tinerhir
and we found a wonderful waterside campsite for the night.
K. Constable Maxwell
Website: www.kitmax.com

Monday, May 16, 2011

Bird and Maxwell desert progress, Morocco May 2011

Raymond Bird and Kit Constable-Maxwell in Africa.
Our 'Bay of Biscay' crossing passed in a flash - and we reached the Spanish coastal port of Almeira on the third day, took the night boat to Melilla.
With lots of African hassle at the Moroccan border, we were well assisted by a self-appointed border guide.
A cash machine exchanged our pounds for dirhms and we were through the 'Douanes' in two intensive hours, free to travel.
We drove south and soon reached the open desert.
We turned off the tarmac at Bouarfa on day two and made a long challenging desert crossing on a rough, unsurfaced trail.
It was bumpy, dusty and HOT... I reminded Raymond that this is what we had come for.
There were a number of confusing breaks in the the trail where we would stop, check our compass, maps and GPS position.
Raymond's navigation was very well researched, all well backed with satellite images.
Six hours later we reached a stone-built desert refuge at the head of a long fertile, dried river course, a 'wadi'.
This was a vital landmark and we turned down the wadi with some relief.
We emerged several hours later at the 'Source Bleu', a campsite I had visited on my last trip some years ago.
It was nurturend by running water and an abundantly shady palmerie.
My old contact Joussef came out of the shadows to welcome me like a long lost friend - an amazing feat of memory !
A happy evening followed with a grand desert dinner from the 'Kitmax Twin-top Tuckbox' and a bottle of wine smuggled from Spain.

     K. Constable Maxwell          
     Website: www.kitmax.com