The Sahara Challenge 2015
Madrid to Marrakesh - October 5-14, 2015
Day 8 - Ouarzazate to Tafraoute
The Berber on the Hill
What a day! We crossed from the Hollywood glamour and glitz of Ouarzazate to the more authentic Tafraoute, a small town in the Anti Atlas Mountains, the heartland of the Moroccan Berber culture.
There was also a lot of ground to cover and we hit it running with the first Test of the day held on the wide flat plain behind the film studios with the mountains looming large in the windscreen.
It was indeed a magnificent setting and you could say that we were seeing it in widescreen HD. It was a short section though with a couple of tricky 'dips' to negotiate. The low slung Jaguars crept carefully over them while the bigger bolder Chevy's laughed them off even grabbing a little 'air time' of their own. Jo Robillard thinks that 'having this much fun shouldn't be legal'.
Once all were safely through the Rally struck back to the blacktop past the film studios and the piles of smashed props lying abandoned by the side of the track.
Gianmaria Aghem, the overnight leader was obviously inspired by the surroundings to make his own movie and stopped just after the Test to turn off his GoPro camera.
Further down the track we came across Charlie Bishop who had broken a spare wheel mounting. While Barbara and Nicholas Philips' Model A was sitting a bit lop sided with a broken leaf spring. Andy Inskip and Tony Jones were soon on the scene and set to with trolley jack and spanner. The media crew offered green tea and sympathy and recorded the event for posterity.
Along the route today there was plenty of crockery on sale and the colours of the glaze contrasted beautifully with the blue sky and almost ochre coloured earth. If you needed a new tagine then today was the day to commit.
We also passed the gas station made famous by the movie, The Hills have Eyes. It's a recreation of a 1950's style American roadside diner and was used as a set in the film. We last visited for free in 2009 during the London to Casablanca Rally but it seems to have been appropriated by "locals" who now want to charge admission to either enter or photograph it. Soon we arrived at lunch in a real Moroccan diner, the Auberge Le Safran in Taliouine. This is an important saffron growing area so they know a thing or two about flavours here and the food was once again superb. And, like all good restaurants in this part of the world they had an excellent mint tea on offer in two different variations. A sweet one and a really sweet one.
After lunch there was an Atlas section to be enjoyed but getting to it was an event in itself. Around the town of Igherm there were many deviations and rocky river crossings because of the devastating floods of one year ago. Whole bridges had been washed away in some places. The road, twisting and steep sometimes took us past many of the typical mud brick villages seemingly clinging to the cliff. Today is Monday so the children are at school but in their place, old men waved, smiled and nodded as the cars filed through. Foreigners are made to feel very welcome here and the locals do like a bit of interaction with the outside world and today we traded a pomegranate for a picture.
Paul and Chris Hartfield in the Packard lost their brakes on this uphill section but the AA – Actman & Ayris – sweep team was soon on the scene and managed to get them to the hotel for the evening but the car will need more attention tonight as tomorrow there's a lot of downhill.
The Atlas section itself was 17km of timed to the minute pressing on. Uphill, downhill and round and around. This was really a 'wild road' set against a background of warm pink hills folded into soft curves as impressive as anything we've seen so far.
Sadly, Manoj Saxena and Jesus Mantas never got to this stage of the Rally, they look to be out of it with a broken front axle.
With only two competitive sections today it was never going to be a day when the results were turned on their head and indeed the Vintageants leaderboard stays as it was last night and is still being led by Bill Cleyndert and Jacqui Norman with Jean and Anne Steinhauser in second place. Keith and Norah Ashworth hold third.
The Classic category though has had a movement, Gianmaria Aghem and Rosella Conti still hold top spot from Mike Velasco and Peter St George but the Tuthill Porsche 911 of Edmund Peel and Sarah MacDonald has crept up to third.
Ludovic Bois and Julia Coleman drop to fourth but as they sat down to dinner this evening they were sanguine about losing their third place. Ludovic simply puts it down to 'the Porsche, he has 300bhp so he's quick' ...... 'but maybe not so good on the navigation' he added supportively.
At the night halt, The Hotel Les Amandiers the talk in the bar has now turned to the end game. There are only two days left in what has been an exceptional Rally and those podium places are proving to be very tricky to nail down.
Tomorrow, we leave the hills and head down to Marrakesh.