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Mowgli is as capable as a camel in a sand box and as nimble as a mountain goat on a hill, or so it says on the Unimog off road marketing pamphlet. So we left Rabat to head to the desert and try out Mowgli’s world famous off road capability.
But first we needed to get some fuel on the highway. The Afriqua garage looked promising, signs up for fuel, food, visa card, wifeee, showers, groceries the lot. In we totter and ask the fuel pump attendant if we can pay by la Carte. I am lead to the cashier, and a strong oui is given. Right then fill her up, both tanks please. 530 litres later off we go to pay by la Carte. La Carte refused! We try again, refused. We try another card, refused…oh that’s a problem for you, says the cashier. Another customer’s card refused and another, well that’s their problem now. The other customers have cash to pay for a twix or two, we had 4800 dib dobs of fuel sitting in our tanks to pay for and did not have that amount of cash. The manager quickly arrived, took us to an office to try another phone line and la carte was swiftly refused. Next thing we were offered coffee, and accepting the offer, we also asked for the wifeee code. No wifeee!
Soon the garage manager’s assistant pulls up in a 1980’s Peugeot 106, shiny hub caps and a dash board sporting a turbo cloth cover. He is given 10 dib dobs of fuel and I am asked to go with them to town. (I am getting used to jumping in strangers cars now). Off we go with the gusto of a pseudo turbo 106 up the highway to the Maroc telephone office. Clattering the sump off the kerb we demount and after a few hellos and handshakes, we are plugging in la carte machine to their telephone line. On the first attempt, hey presto! An immediate Oui and we have paid. Happy smiles all round and I am whisked back to Mowgli and Angela.
After bimbling over the Atlas mountains for a few days, camping in a cherry orchard and making cherry muffins with the ripe fruit, we eventually arrived in Erg Chebbi, a 50 km stretch of dune 150m high. We arrived at dawn and quickly went into the dunes to cook breakfast. As expected within 30m we were getting bogged so I let the tyre pressure down. It took a few hundred metres more of gear playing and diff settings before we stopped for breakfast. A final tyre pressure set and bingo in the right gear and we chug over the sand to our campsite under some trees.
It’s 10am and starting to get hot. By 2pm it was 46°c in the shade and we knew sitting tight was the only option.
Not saying the locals are used to it or are mad but Merzouga is famous for the locals burying themselves in the sand in the afternoon to fix all aches and pains. Angela found a group of ladies down to their underwear doing such a thing. They were having a gay old time, laughing and chatting as if it were a ladies spa day.
Although they invited Angela to join them she declined on the pretext of not wanting to get sand in her camera.
That night, Hassan called by for tea and a chat,
well to try to sell his wares and us being polite, we let him absorb the best time of the day in the dunes. Despite his efforts, he didn’t sell us any of his fossils, desert roses or brightly coloured bangles but we had a good old chat in bad French, Arabic , English and pictures drawn in the sand.
We decided to sleep in the tent. Mowgli was 39°c in the back and it was 35° outside with a breeze that was hot but gave a little refreshment. That night we got one of the Sahara’s finest sand storms and we retreated to a very warm Mowgli.
We know Mowgli in 5th gear with no diff locks, tyre pressure at 2 bar and keep the momentum up and she floats over the sand like a camel. But we needed to acclimatise to this heat and so we headed back to the mountains via Souka. Once we passed Ouarzarate, Angela suggested we take a ‘short cut’ over the Toubkal mountain to Lake D’Ifni up at 2500m.
The track through Toubkal National Park started out fairly easy but soon it narrowed and became increasingly more steep.
Mowgli climbed a very narrow set of tracks up the mountain side like the proverbial mountain goat. Tiny villages, low hanging trees and ridiculously narrow tracks. Even I breathed in on a couple of bends. We could only use the low box up to 3rd gear and all diff locks in. Even then it was a little challenging to keep traction.
The locals with their donkeys think we are mad and they all came out to watch us slowly work our way through their
villages hoping we didn’t knock their houses down en route.
We eventually arrived at the lake, nice but probably not worth the 3 hour death defying drive. Here the road ended and we could go no further. Camped up for the evening, we slept badly thinking of the downhill drive we knew we had to attempt in the morning.
So up at first light, Mowgli goes mountain goating again. Angela was quiet for much of the journey, a tell tale sign of her nerves. After a long haul drive, we were back on black top with a few more scratches and 1 broken kitchen window.
Getting that fixed was a mission but she’s all sorted now, not too noticeably worse off for it.
Mowgli. Is she a camel? Is she a mountain goat? We think she’s probably a little bit of both.