Had my first decent night of sleep in the Auberge Familiale chez Belkacem a Merzouga. The kind owner let me park the filthy bike in the reception area. Had some good food last night and watched the sun set over the Saharan sands. Feeling refreshed and energised I made my way to the end of the tarmac and the piste to Zagora…….
What a tough day. Set off for Zagora as planned but ballsed-up in the first village of Taouz and had to pay a kiddie on a push-bike 50p to guide me back onto the piste. Not a good start. The track was fine, some stony and some sandy parts but I got to the next village of Ouzina quickly and with no problems. From here I was pointed in the right direction for the next village of Remlia. Unfortunately, as I was leaving the village, I hit a small muddy river crossing which I chose to tackle at speed. All went well until I hit the other bank, wobbled and fell-off after a few metres. No damage was done to man or machine but it was tough getting the bike back up as it was firmly embedded in the mud. Just as I was about to set-off again, a couple of guys turned-up on mopeds and said the road ahead was impassable due to the un-seasonally high water levels. For another 70p I was guided safely out of Dodge.
On the rocky piste towards Remlia I was told by several 4x4 drivers that the river ahead was impassable due to its current height / width. I pressed on regardless through some very muddy lake beds and yet more rocks / sand. In Remlia the locals confirmed my worst fears and said that the river was presently un-crossable. They offered to guide me to the only possible crossing point for €50. After much negotiation I finally parted with €20 feeling like I’d been robbed….
Two lads on a small bike must have led me more than 10km North on sand, through bushes, over rocks and through numerous small streams. We made good progress and soon got to the ‘good’ crossing point. When I first saw it I was shocked. There were a few Spanish 4x4’s camped-up probably hoping that the water level would drop to make crossing a possibility for them. The river at this point was about 100m wide, fast flowing and still very deep in places. The moped boys stripped to their pants, enlisted another helper to guide us via the shallowest parts and beckoned me to start pushing. It was exhausting work, I was up to my waist in water at times and nearly dropped the bike a couple of times. I had to stop half way as I had no more strength and thought I was going to puke. Anyway, once recovered the final push was easy and we’d made it across to the other side. I took a quick photo and was shown the correct route ahead. A few kicks later the bike was running and I was off down the twisted, deeply rutted soft sand track. It was hard work but eventually I made my way out onto another rocky section where I met an old Bedouin guy who confirmed the correct route to Oum-Jrane. Soon after I met another group of lads in a Land-Cruiser who confirmed that I was heading in the correct direction.
At the next ‘hamlet’ I made the mistake of not asking directions and headed on a path that let too far to the North. The scenery was stunning but even my old GPS with just four valid waypoints knew that I was going the wrong way. As the track was fun, I’d gone pretty quickly and gone 10’s of km in the wrong direction. I eventually found a small settlement where on the map they confirmed that I was 55km away from where I should be and heading totally the wrong way. I saw a truck in the distance so caught-up with it and checked again. As light was fading and there was nothing around for miles, I decided to head North towards tarmac and civilisation. En-route I found a very remote ‘truck stop’ where I got a Coke and confirmed the best way out of the desert. After 25 tough km on what I later found out was part of a previous Paris-Dakar route, I eventually hit the road just East of Alnif. I’d done over 200km off-road on less than 9l of petrol which impressed me as I wasn’t dawdling about.
Tanked-up at the next petrol station and took the tarmac to Tazzarine where I am now camped-up. Whilst the entire day has been amazing with spectacular views / tracks / challenges – it’s really not wise to be doing this kind of thing on your own. I saw very few people all day and just a handful of 4x4’s but no other dirt bikers. Tomorrow I will attempt to find another piste to Zagora which hopefully won’t be as bad as there are no rivers on the map.
Next time I would get 100’s of way points and go with at least another rider as the risks are pretty high when you’re riding solo through remote desert areas. One crash, one serious mechanical problem and you could be in a lot of trouble or at best left sitting around for hours waiting form someone to pass by who can assist (obviously for money)……
Anyway, just finished eating my meal of 2 x Asda Curried Noodles and some great mushroom soup. Time for a well deserved sleep…