The Sahara Challenge 2015
Madrid to Marrakesh - October 5-14, 2015
Day 7 - Erg Chebbi to Ouarzazate
Today we turned out of the desert and hit the mountains again taking in the beautiful but relatively unknown Gorges d'Amellago in the Ait Morrhad range and the equally impressive but much more famous Todra Gorge.
At precisely 5.30 am the camp generator was fired up and the lights came on. At this rude reveille, 80 or so bleary eyed souls stirred themselves from their beds, performed whatever ablutions were necessary - in the en-suite luxury of their tent - and filed almost monastically, under the blue black star filled sky to breakfast. It was a good breakfast from the same crew who'd supplied last night’s feast although thankfully they'd left the drummers and the dancers behind. We got in line at the omelette station but it was a case of eggs sunny side up for Chicago native Willie McNickle.
As the Rally pulled out of the campsite and the sun poked its head over the dunes directly behind them, the crews were presented with a short and relatively easy test within the first kilometre. This led them via a series of gravel tracks back to the tarmac and to the morning time control in Goulmima manned by Nikki Bannister and Jim Smith. This cafe supplied us with excellent coffee, tea and the best internet connection this side of the Atlas Mountains. Maroc Telecom we salute you.
If yesterday was all about sand, today could be said to be all about water as we crossed many oueds in the first of our gorges. Full and fast flowing they provided a much needed underbody wash for many of the cars and a little bit of fun for the drivers too.
Manoj Saxena was certainly enjoying them and was seen to attack them with some gusto. Some young boys fishing by the side of one them saw their quarry pretty much thrown out of the water and into their baskets such was the velocity of the 240Z.
Within a short while though the Datsun was seen stopped by the side of the road with some “sand” in the distributor but Jesus - the navigator not the deity - had it running again with barely a minute lost.
Further down the road and just after another oued we saw the same car stopped for a second time with ‘water in the works’ and again. Further down the road and just after another oued we saw the same car stopped for a third time with a wet condenser and a failed fuel pump!
Catherine Phillipson also suffered with the water today. Richard had gunned the Kadett into one of the deeper oueds sending a jet of water straight into the cabin. Some 10 km up the road we found them with a puncture and pair of very wet trousers.
The Atlas Section at Sidi Bou Yacoub, a rugged plateau sitting at around 2000 m, was another great piece of driving road. No towns, no people - just the road ahead for the driver to concentrate on. The navigator had the views to take in.
With the fun and games of the morning over, most crews had worked up quite an appetite by the time that they arrived at the Todra Gorge lunch halt via many tumbledown villages filled with freshly cut maize cobs drying on the roofs of the mud walled houses.
This area is an old ERA stamping ground but our original hotel of choice for lunch had, we discovered during the recce, been flattened by an enormous boulder falling from the cliff. Nevertheless the replacement Kasbah Taborihte did themselves proud and the entire Rally left feeling fully refuelled.
There was a relatively straightforward afternoon in store with only one Regularity to upset the digestion and the sun was high in the sky as the crews set off for Tamesraoute. If Bill Cleyndert and Jacqui Norman were feeling the pressure of leading then they didn't show it as they lined up to take the start. Similarly, Mike Velasco and Peter St George seemed to be pretty composed.
The village children turned in force cheering the cars through and we traded pens for pomegranates and the view from the top of the hill was lovely. An oasis, a village and a grove of fruit trees set a picture perfect scene for what was quite a tricky navigational exercise with many changes of direction coming in short order. We sat back and watched as more than one crew rolled themselves backwards down the wrong hill to make the right turn up the correct hill before both tracks eventually met at the top.
From the end of this section there was good tarmac all the way to Le Berbere Palace hotel in Ouarzazate which is the capital of the Moroccan film industry.
As for our own stars there’s been a slight change to the top billing.
The Vintageant category hasn’t changed and is still being led by Bill Cleyndert and Jacqui Norman with Jean and Anne Steinhauser in second place. Keith and Norah Ashworth are still in third.
The Classics though have had another slight shakeup. Gianmaria Aghem and Rosella Conti now hold top spot having pulled eight seconds clear of Mike Velasco and Peter St George. Ludovic Bois and Julia Coleman hold third but with only 19 seconds covering these three cars all is yet to play for.
Tomorrow we roll out to Tafraoute.