Days 8 to 11 – Are We There Yet?

Wow time is flying, no let up in pace…from camping, to border crossing, to dunes and sand and a near 19 hour driving session.

Let’s recap, day 8 was Laayoune to Dakhla. There wasn’t much to see, pretty samey landscape with a couple of ship wrecks (you can just about make one of them out from this view point) and a Spanish speaking beach dweller who’s home turned into a car park / parking lot for rally participants. We camped in the sands outside of the city itself…it was quite windy, had to tie the tent to the car!

Day 9 was Dakhla to Boa Lanouar, which involved crossing the border into Mauritania. The exit from Morocco was relatively quick, if a little convoluted, with multiple stages. Then came true no-man’s land, the space between Morocco and Mauritania. There is some paved road but the last part is brutally choppy, broken, not marked, like a mountain side really of large rocks and bumps…even in a lifted 4×4 it was uncomfortable…can’t imagine what it was like for an Audi I saw going the other way. Entry into Mauritania was smooth, pre-arranged, we actually got out visas at the camp site, a mile or so away from the road in the dunes, complete with army guards. I had been in a little convoy of 3, with an Opel and VW camper van. The van got stuck in the sand right at the entrance to the site and I was able to give them a little tow to get them pulled out. It was also my intro to Sahara dust. Not the sand you see dunes made out of, the fine dust that coats everything. You can’t avoid it. You feel it when chew, just an ever present grittiness. I joined up with a group of 5 other 4×4 teams in the evening, ready for the big desert adventure…

Day 10 was the epic first day of what was supposed to be a two-day Sahara driving experience. 530 km from Boa Lanouar to Atar, with not a paved road in sight. A few kilometers in, one team suffered a mechanical failure, discovered when they got stuck in sand and only 2 wheels were turning. Closer inspection revealed a gap where a drive shaft to the rear wheels should be. Shortly after another group came through, carrying a driveshaft! They had found it. It wasn’t repairable, so the team opted to return. We carried on as 5, though rocky and sandy conditions, some firm, some so soft it was easy to get bogged down. We had a variety of issues, one team’s fuel leaked due to the bumpiness, several of us, including me, got stuck. In my case, it was self inflicted, another car got stuck ahead of me and as I was reversing, I drove over a bump and beached myself. It took two winch attempts, airing down, filling in holes and a tow to finally get me free! We pressed forward, aware that we were not going to make it by nightfall. We had been briefed on no account to drive at night, so this was not a pleasant prospect. A few more stops and night fell, we were still a long way from the camp site. As a team we decided to press on, and after a further stuck moment, we split, with a team striking north to a village while me and three others continued on the rally route. After several hair-raising hours of night sand / rocky trail driving we made it to a lovely smooth tarmac road. We drove through Atar and on south to the camp site entrance. Thinking we were just about there, and after several miles of hard rocky trails, we were within 2kms of the camp, but no track could be found. I set off on a series of exploratory drives down these narrow sandy paths…came close to driving off a dune which would not have been fun! After three dead ends and about to give up, I tried one last trail and…success. To the surprise of three camels trying to sleep their slumber ruined by 4 tired 4×4 teams as we zoomed into the camp and set up tents. An epic 18h46m drive covering 526kms had come to and end at around 3am.

And so we get to today, day 11. It was supposed to be Atar to Boutilimit, but after the brief 3-hour nap and brutally windy and sand filled night, we decided instead to seek refuge in the capital city, Nouakchott, the comforts of a hotel with a shower and WiFi! It was a simple, tarmac drive, with a brief detour to Atar to fill up.

Tomorrow we regroup and rejoin with our group member who had the driveshaft failure and the rest of the group and we cross into Senegal!

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Days 4 to 7 – Oh I Do Like To Be Beside The Seaside

In Layoune, well about 15 miles away at the stormy Atlantic coast, about to get back underway. Pace is relentless! No working local sim and wifi until now.

Monday was the first day in Morocco, the border was eye opening. Got to Midelt (technical end of stage one) and managed to get a room at the team hotel.

It was pretty cold, sleeted a little.

Tuesday was foggy to start and a little headache, possibly altitude related. After climbing some more (Atlas mountains), emerged from the fog into brilliant daylight.

We camped on a big movie set, lots of props.

Wednesday saw spectacular wide spaces, mountains with some sand starting to appear.

Yesterday came across a spectacular road into a canyon and battled Atlantic gales hitting the car side on, quite attention grabbing.

Today heading toward the border, Mauritania from tomorrow!

Likely more updates for a while, let’s see where the next wifi spot is.

Day 3 – Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay

Well, sea really, as is Mediterranean. After an epic 705 mile journey that started at Montpellier, France and ended at Almeria, Spain, I’m now sitting waiting to board the ferry to Melilla for a brisk 8 hours of sailing. When I wake up I’ll be in Africa, for the first time in over 17 years. No pic this time, too dark. The parking lot is filled with B2 participants, looks like this ferry is a popular choice!

My updates may become more sporadic from now. If I can I will get a Moroccan sim but let’s see…They’re getting ready to load the cars…I’ll update when I can.

Rally Day 2: Dazzled and Starstruck

Today’s drive was largely a slog, pushing westward with the eventual goal of a ferry to Morocco. But along the way there was a little highlight…the bright and cheerful lights of Monaco. If you are familiar with Formula One, you might just recognize where this photo is taken…right next to Piscene (Or swimming pool). After navigating a back way into the principality, along some narrow twisty roads, I zipped along a portion of the track and found this little parking spot, stopping for some quick sightseeing. Then got underway and made it to Montpellier, completing a 587 mile drive. Tomorrow I head for Spain and the ferry that will get me to Morocco…

Rally Day 1: Goodbye Budapest

Start was fun, everyone proceeded to drive up onto the platform while an enthusiastic MC did introductions…in Hungarian! Here’s the view from inside the car

Getting to the start required lots of help, right up to the very end. I was very happy to see four friendly faces, Simon, Peter, Richard and Tony who came over to Budapest! While demonstrating the drawers I discovered a snag, something had fallen behind one of them and was preventing them from closing. The offending item, a small spare part, was lodged at the back. Using my antenna, I was able to move it closer to the front but couldn’t grip it to retrieve it. While Simon zoomed off to a local diy store to see about options to grab it, Peter’s suggestion of removing the screws on one of the sliders was put into action and it created just enough space to retrieve the item.

Thanks Gents, hope you had a wonderful rest of time in Budapest!

So then it was on the road, headed to Italy but with a pit stop for some supplies in Budapest first. A mere 421 miles later, driving via Slovenia with lots of light rain, I crept into Treviso, Italy at the now familiar 1am arrival time. About to get underway for France now!

The Grand Budapest Hotel

It’s the final countdown…the rally starts at 2pm…I have a song in my head from a band called Europe!

I made it to my hotel! Approximately 1,115 miles covered in two long days of driving. Picking up where I left off, after arriving in France I stopped at the first petrol station and took advantage of a lack of rain to continue my efforts to organize the various supplies into a better than thrown in there. I installed the high-lift jack holder onto the roof rack, as well as stowing the pul-pal land anchor and got most things into a better place. It took some nearly 2.5 hours before I was on the road again. The result, I arrived at my hotel in Mainz City at 1am. The first challenge on arrival was parking in the underground lot…turns out they have a few signs that are, um, too low. I figured that might happen and developed this technique of pulling my upper body out of the front window so I could look back along the roof of the car and steer around the low hanging obstacles while working the clutch with my foot…check out how close some of the fittings got…

After a refreshing 5 hours sleep, I roused myself from my slumbers and set off for Budapest. Extracting the car from the underground garage was a piece of cake with my new-found skillz! I had to take a couple of naps along the way and just when the end was in sight a traffic jam blocked the M1 road into Budapest. I got to the hotel just before 11pm and headed to the underground lot to find this one had even lower ceilings and was a no-rally-car-go venue. They kindly let me park it right outside the front door.

Turning attention to tomorrow, we’ll later today, cars start assembling from 8am and the rally officially gets underway at 2pm…it really is the final countdown…