Morocco, a short hop from Spain and not requiring a Carnet, has long been a favoured overlanding destination for many Europeans. During our time here we have spotted overland vehicles from Holland, Germany, Czech Republic, Poland, Italy, England and of course it is incredibly popular with the French, whose native language (along with Arabic) is spoken throughout. The 3-month visa, year round sun (at least in the south), varied landscape and friendly people also help seal the deal.
Our first real taste of off-road driving came as we decided to pass the High Atlas mountains for a third time. After crossing twice on two stunning paved roads we decided to opt for a more challenging route on our third pass. Heading north from the small town of Timesgadiouine we had planned on doing a 1 day north-easterly circuit passing over the 3205m tall Djebal Tabgourt. With our 1:1,000,000 Reise Know-How map in hand we set off, after about an hours drive it became blatantly apparent that all our map was good for was toilet paper if we got caught short. Relying on our GPS compass for direction we carried on regardless to try and navigate the barely wider than Bee-bee tracks.
The route we took was scarcely driven, rocky and featured a few hair-raising cliff drops. After a full days drive it dawned on us that we were not going to get off the mountain before sunset. We drove until the light dropped and soon our situation became the start of one of those ‘When Things Go Bad’ TV programs as we found ourselves setting up camp on a precipitous edge in -2°C at the top of the windblown mountain.
The next days driving was equally as challenging and featured several slightly daunting drop-offs. The descent was steep and involved rock crawling that was so heavy on the brakes they literally stopped working, requiring us to pause in a little village to let them cool down. After nearly two full days of driving we arrived in a small settlement where we had to pass between two buildings; thankfully the gap was about 20cm wider than Bee-bee. Travelling these tracks in anything bigger than us would have caused problems; on our entire route we rarely encountered places wide enough to pass on-coming vehicles, let alone turn around. Luckily we didn’t have to do either, emphasising just how little traffic passes along these routes.
Located on the coast just south of Sidi Ifni is Fort Bou Jerif, a clichéd French Legion fort, the kind you’d see in a Sunday afternoon movie. It is also right next to the site of a rather trendy boutique campsite of the same name. After a couple of nights of wild camping we owed it to each other to have a hot shower and so heading off-road we attempted to follow the rather useless signs (foolishly failing to make a note of the GPS co-ordinates that were written on the first sign). After approximately 18km of piste and a few wrong turns we finally got our first view of the rather impressive fort. Driving closer we realised that the previous 3 days heavy rain had resulted in a flooded wadi flowing rapidly between us and a hot shower.
Whilst in Mongolia river crossings were part of the daily routine, but in Morocco we were not really expecting any, let alone one over 1m deep and flowing. Whilst wading in, thigh deep, to check the riverbed a French Landcruiser arrived behind us and watched on amused at my underwear paddling antics. After evaluating the situation we decided the crossing was do-able despite the French surrendering to overland defeat. With a little gas and a carefully planned route Bee-bee took the crossing in her stride as the water washed over her bonnet. We watched on, smugly, from the far riverbank as the French turned around and drove the 50km detour to the nearest bridge.
A trip to Morocco would not be complete without driving some stereotypical Saharan sand dunes. A real highlight for me was driving out to the 300m tall dunes at Chegaga. Other than a few sandy tracks (where we got stuck) and getting bogged down in soft sand on the shores of Lake Baikal we’d never really driven Bee-bee in the soft yellow stuff. Apprehensively we headed west out of the town of M’hamid; after about 3km the stony track gave way to undefined tracks in the sand. This time we wisely aired down the tyres to 14psi and cracked on; given our previous track record for driving in soft-sand we were amazed at the difference airing down made. Bee-bee, despite her hefty load, handled impeccably and we smoothly drove the 120km (with a camp in the middle) without a hitch.
After 2 months in Morocco it is obvious why we have met so many other overlanders. Morocco is essentially an off-road playground for Europeans and it is often used as a testing ground before embarking on longer trips or as a gateway to Africa. It offers all kinds of challenging terrain for every kind of overlander from Motorcyclists to the largest of off-road trucks. The people are friendly, the fuel is cheap and weather is excellent; it is essentially overland heaven and it’s only a short ferry trip away!