Atlas 2024

Wednesday Now in Rabat having crossed to Tangier this morning and planning an evening meander around the city whilst trying to find a working ATM, a local SIM card and supper. Uneventful day with a lot of motorway just to get the miles out of the way. A number of long standing rally friends on this trip. In theory 8 cars but one, having come all the way from the Hebrides has had to wait in Spain whist the navigator recovers from suspected pneumonia; we wish them a speedy recovery and hope we may see them later on.

We walked from Gibraltar airport across the border but were only permitted entry to Spain on production of our return air tickets – something the Chinese have required for a long time but not a requirement one would expect from European “neighbours”. Maybe its part of their “harass Gibraltar” policy? We shared Charlie’s taxi to the hotel where a very clean Elan awaited us, with smartly blacked tyres – and a boot full of water! Seemingly there had been a lot of weather on the way down; ferries to Spain had been diverted to France – and the rain had found its way into our boot. The hotel were not impressed when I emptied the boot out into the sunshine in the parking outside the front door – suggesting the underground parking instead!

Hotel car park

View from the hotel

Paul Kane already had his head under the bonnet of his AMX – saying his alternator was faulty despite being repaired – but he did have a spare. More work outside the front door! We later learned that Mark’s MGA also had a spare alternator – in Charlie’s truck and that Paul Merryweather was delayed by the need to change his alternator – definitely the “Alternator Rally” and we’ve not even left the first hotel.
Our only day in Spain took us to Fronterra de la Castello and then to Tarifa, passing stork nests on the electricity pylons en route.

Stork nests on pylons

Road sign

The crossing to Tangiers took 45 minutes – about the same time as it took the incoming ferry to offload its cargo of women in chadors each lugging multiple suitcases – there must be a story to this traffic but not sure yet what it is.
Tangier port has changed since our last visit and the patch of rough ground and odd shacks replaced by a paved area and a new terminal building. We had to buy local insurance and attempt to get some Dirhams for the toll road ahead. Then to lunch at the very smart Villa Josephine before the 200 odd km motorway slog to Rabat.
Our hotel was in the Sale district, just across the river from the Souk and Medina. “Blue boats” provided a rowed ferry service across the narrow strip of water – but the price was, shall we say, inconsistent and if you didn’t have the correct change then surprisingly neither did the ferryman!

On a Blue Boat

We were in Ramadan, a period of daytime fasting. This means that dusk is party time when families can eat and drink together and restaurant hours and their willingness to serve alcohol were variable. We found the Dhow restaurant (on a dhow) and were asked to wait for half an hour until the kitchen opened (and staff had eaten) but meanwhile we could have a beer – so that was ok! The restaurant was full of tourists and “Tagine of the day” turned out to be chicken and chips. Back to our hotel via the blue boats (now having the correct change!) and we saw groups of families on the beach happily eating whilst on the other bank, children were in the bright dodgems with multi-coloured flashing lights.


We had been warned about traffic police in Rabat and the first to be fined was Charlie, the mechanic, for turning left across 4 lanes of traffic on leaving a petrol station instead of going up to the roundabout and back again. Next day the Bentley did the same and that cost Dh 400 (about £35).
The organiser felt that motorway was not in the spirit of a rally so from the civilisation of the capital city we soon found ourselves driving on rutted tracks where compact mud battered the sumpguard – and the MG had his exhaust pulled off. Then back to motorway for a run down towards Safi and our overnight stop in an isolated guest house on the Atlantic shore and the sounds of waves and wind. No alcohol, no Wifi and plenty of sea mist so not even a sunset. The Bentley crew rolled up very late but without their car which had been left 30km away near some workshops with a hole in the radiator. They had a very imposing radiator protective grille but the damage was on the engine side and seems it was caused by a build up of pressure inside the system. Repairs continue.

Saturday, Allison wanted to visit the Ceramics Museum in Safi

so we deviated from the route before rejoining for lunch and a visit to the fishing port/tourist trap of Essouria and then the hotel a couple of km away.

Essouria Port

Sunday and our last day on the coast. Our route was inland through trees and scrubs with plenty of grazing sheep and goats. Then to a hippy surfing village which is threatened with demolition for coffee followed by a run down the coast road to a very large lunch at a restaurant we had visited on the last trip in 2018. After lunch the plan was to continue inland along an attractive valley with hairpins and views before returning to the coast at Taghazout. It didn’t quite work out like that as we had to stop when the throttle return spring came off its retaining plate – and a revving engine is not what is wanted for downhill engine braking! Charlie, the sweep, happened to be right behind us just after we stopped so a cable tie was employed to hold the spring in place.

Road side repair

The car had been spluttering and smelling of petrol – can’t do much about the spluttering as it probably wants smaller main jets but the smell was down to loose carburettor banjo bolts so fuel was leaking out. Once repaired we couldn’t carry on as the road ahead was blocked by a landslide – so about turn! In the hotel car park we were pleased to see the Bentley arrive with a repaired – and flushed out radiator, which had become blocked with accumulated sludge but now ok.

Monday 8th After being pursued round the hotel by one of the waiters last night we expected problems when it came to check out and that bill – but no, there was “nothing to pay”. Today would be a day of contrasts, leaving our modern chain hotel, we quickly encountered heavy traffic and road works round Agadir. Our day would end in an old, family run hotel with wifi that stopped at reception and located pretty much in the middle of no-where. It was overcast in the morning so many of the views were lost in the haze. On our last visit to Morocco we had come across a convoy of Italian camper vans, travelling nose to nail – and today we found them again.

A string of Campervans

They really didn’t want to vacate the middle of the road so Allison and other navigators gave them a piece of her mind as we tried to exercise our right to be on the tarmac.

Kasbah doorway

En route we found Kasbah Tizorgane on a hillock, 800 years old and now a restaurant where we admired the rebuilt stonework and had some very sweet freshly stewed mint tea. Looking down there was scarcely a tree to be seen – just arid sand. Nearing the end we visited Oumsnat a tiny old village just off our route where modern houses jostled with the tumbledown ruins of older generations, all colour matching the steep brown hillside behind. A Maison Traditionelle with its local Berber guide occupied us for a while whilst he explained the layout and customs of the house, its animals and its occupants. Our hotel was along a single track road with raised manholes, camouflaged by drifting sand. The draw here was the Painted Boulders, where a local Frenchman had used 18 tonnes of paint on a group of boulders in memory of his wife.

Painted Boulders

Plans for drinks and nibbles sitting in admiration were shortened by the lack of sun (hazy) and the chill wind – so we had to return in the morning.

Tuesday 9th we regrouped round the boulders in bright sunshine – and were soon on our way. The sunshine faded during the day and by late afternoon the sky was the same brown hue as the land around. This was a good driving day on empty good quality roads with just the occasional sharp dip or bump to remind us to take care. Quite why there are so many excellent roads with no traffic – I cannot say but not complaining! Our route passed through the Ait Mansour gorge, a narrow road overhung with lush greenery; difficult driving as the sun and shade came in rapid succession.

Ait Mansour

Our objective was the Grand Canyon near the end-of-the-road village of Aoukerda.

Grand Canyon

Fuel was a concern – in general as there were few petrol stations in the area and we were concerned about early closing – but we were ok and fuel was available just a few miles beyond the hotel – always fill up the night before! Jobs today were tweaking the horn cables and tightening up the hand brake in addition to checking the oil.

Wednesday, a driving day. We started with the wind which had blown all night, sand drifted across the road and with open windows we were blasted as we clutched the steering wheel and then corrected when we went between rocks on each side and the side wind was cancelled. After a while the wind abated and the sun took over – 38C Adrian, our organiser arranged a midday coffee stop amongst palm trees and a trickling brook, then back to the road and a fast run on good, empty roads to the hotel.

Morning wind and sand

Midday sun and hot

This evening is the end of Ramadan, today we drove through largely silent towns, shops closed and a few pedestrians walking about – and groups of children trying to touch the cars as they drove by.
Thursday we were re-routed away from a gentle drive and placid motorway back to the Tizi ‘n Test – probably the country’s most (in)famous pass. Last time we were here the southern approach was gravel track; this time it was all tarmac and with a number of temporary accommodation units and tented camps where survivors of last September’s earthquakes were housed. Then the road deteriorated as we passed sections seemingly destroyed more by landslide than earthquake. Plenty of the roadside villages still bore the scars of the ‘quake with debris, collapsed buildings, tents and emergency services. The road was slow and hot and once past that we encountered queues of traffic at police check points. Fortunately these were on the out-of-Marrakesh side of the road but we were still delayed by the resulting congestion. (the in-car camera also malfunctioned – so no photos). Allison then saw a carpet vendor and, deciding that a local purchase was preferable to haggling in Marrakesh decided to buy 2 carpets as a packing challenge. Foolishly we decide to eat in the hotel rather than take a taxi to the centre of town – the hotel is in the middle of no-where. That was expensive with beer at £12 per bottle, service slow and meal expensive – we’ll take a taxi tomorrow come what may! The car seems ok, some play in a wheel bearing and the sump-guard doing its job; very fuel-sensitive to road conditions with great mpg on long runs but much less on the many ascents our organiser so likes. But oil and water doing well and engine temperatures well in control despite the hard work. Thanks Scholar Engines!
Friday a rest day and very hot. Decided against Marrakesh in the morning and will try to do an afternoon and evening visit.


Visited Cactus Thieman in the morning – founded by a German water engineer and now hosting many varieties of cactus – different coloured flowers but mostly prickly! Also a much easier route to the hotel than yesterday’s which wrongly tried to send us via the Royal Palace before men with guns persuaded us to try a different approach. A lazy midday in the cool of our hotel before venturing out to Marrakesh in the afternoon for some sightseeing and evening meal at a Riad, hidden away off a small street in a unvisited part of town – and where beer was halfthe price of our posh hotel!

high ceilings, marble floors, A/C

Jemaa el Fna

Hidden splendour

Saturday 13th The first day when fuel availability became a possible issue as we left Marrakesh for Skoura on little used roads.

Lonely Road

Lunch was in an unlikely little cafe virtually un-signposted and traditional Moroccan with multiple salads and tajine. Sadly the local children decided that the parked cars were toys and climbed all over them as well as pulling off some of our flags.

Mountain stream at lunch stop

Goat in tree

It had been suggested that we visit a small Berber village en route to the hotel but after a couple of kms we decided to turn round. One Mercedes did make the trip but on the way back down his clutch slave cylinder failed – not a real problem there as first gear was quite adequate for the track.

Berber village landscape

Track to Berber village

Once on the main road he was towed in by the sweep. He didn’t carry a spare (we have two as we know their propensity to fail!). At the hotel, a phone call and 10 minutes later someone arrived with two versions! That wouldn’t happen to a Lotus.
Sunday 14th we started off using the dreaded Ipad to follow a route through the Palmiers but that didn’t work out too well as we ended up following a motor bike and missed the Kasbah we were aiming for.


We found working ATM’s in Quazerzate and from then to the Tizgui waterfalls where the only source of water seemed to be a hosepipe. After a coffee we met a father & daughter in the car part who were admiring the flags on the bonnet and specifically Kyrgyzstan as she had spent 6 months in Karakol teaching English. Our route was along the east side of the Draa valley along the old road (the only string of tarmac). What should have been lush green palm trees looked brown and dried up.

Not so lush and green

A sighting of an old Kasbah at the roadside turned into a longer visit than we had expected. We left the road on a track up to a group of houses and parked. Women were peering at us from one window whilst a group of men at a door invited us inside. We declined food but accepted tea and were ushered to the visitors reception room, an area separated from a large room, carpeted, with a couple of low tables and cushions along the wall. The room had been finished though to Western eyes, the bare concrete walls and floors of the remainder might suggest otherwise. Our conversation, in French, was limited as only one of our hosts spoke French – it turned out that he too was a visitor and had to catch the overnight bus back home to Rabat. We were given a tour of the downstairs, including the family sitting room – similar to the visitors reception room but smaller and that was where the women of the house were gathered. We visited the Kasbah

Restoration not yet in sight

– 200 years old and occupied by the French army until 1938, now a cow shed but about to be restored – possibly by the local council, although that part of the translation was a bit unclear!
Monday 15th – a rest day – but a small party set out south to M’Hamd to see how far we could get across the dunes – not very!

Inflating the airjack

Only two of our cars, a Mercedes and the organiser’s hire car got as far as the “Big Dune” but had to be towed out a couple of times before even getting that far.

Under tow and being pushed

Back at the hotel we raised the rear ride height and tightened a front wheel bearing as tomorrow is a long day with a lot of broken tarmac. I had tested the air jack before leaving but the weight of the Mercedes was obviously too much for it and it exploded – right next to me as I was holding the pipe onto the exhaust and I was covered in sand and dust. My eyes recovered in a while thanks to Keiron’s quick thinking and provision of water and eye bath. The camera in my pocket was not so lucky and is now jammed – hence a shortage of photos.

Cathedral Rock

Back on the road and now headed north towards the ferry – by the scenic route. An 8 hour day and an unexpectedly bad/steep track did give some trouble. The steep part was after a hairpin so no chance of a run at it and the car laboured up, hampered by the rich fuel mix and the 3,000 metre altitude. The organisers car also struggled and needed a couple of attempts to get up; as we were right behind him and the air horn was clogged with dust I was worried that he might bump into us; but he assured me that driving into client’s cars was not part of his business proposition. Lunch was up and down a long dirt track and across a stream, the latter following two pack donkeys carrying the load for a trekking party

Two donkeys and a stream

Saturday 20th and a short distance from Chefchauen to Tangier. Overnight had been in the same Auberge we had used in 2018 and Allison again had a log fire in our room. The weather changed and today started dull and got worse. Our route at up to around 1300 metres was in pea soup and we travelled very slowly on narrow roads of poor quality with no visibility. The situation was not helped by an erratic fuel gauge which varied between empty and 3/4. Somewhere over half should have been correct as we had last fuelled 120 miles away yesterday and had emptied our 10 litre can into the tank expecting to get to Sunday’s Transporter collection point with about 1/4 tank – hopefully that maths still holds good! In Tangiers it was on/off rain – more on than off as we took the Corniche walking route from our hotel to the Kasbah. Coming back it was unrelenting so we found a taxi and returned like drowned rats. After adjusting the handbrake so it works on tomorrow’s ferry to Spain it was off for the farewell dinner (taxis both ways!).

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