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Dash to Marakesh and a little of the way back. Part 3.

The afternoon of day 4 saw us parked in Algerciras waiting for the ferry to Tangier checking the brake adjustment and giving a full grease and fluid top-up. Cars left the boat in a cacophony of horns of different ages. There was a long wait (but then we were in Africa!) before the one k drive to our hotel on the sea-front. The rally cars parked on the central reservation of the boulevard and were immediately surrounded by vendors. Most started by showing some interest but soon brought out the watches or trinkets or tried to entice you off to their shop. I was more intent on fixing the rear axle nut and checking the front suspension was holding up, whereas Amy headed straight for the pool.

I checked out the exit to the town when getting the recommended supply of bottled water before going for a much needed beer and shower.

Day 5.

There was lots of excitement the next morning as we anticipated the 433k drive to Ifrane through the hashish growing Rif valleys. Nobody was expected to clean this day. Sure enough nobody did, as the roads were incredibly rough and twisty. The first few k were beautiful as we travelled along the coast before heading south into the first Special Section that I described in part 1. We started to encounter the stone throwers, some were tiny tots but others were youths. The E-type in front of us had his side window smashed by a fist size stone, I had one on mine but it did not smash, and the MGA hard top behind caught one at head height. Luckily it was not a coupe as the dent was quite big.

We past Tom Noor, the Mercedes driver, who was chasing some youths who had just hit his head with a stone. Tom’s second passenger was a Labrador, pity it was not a Rotweiler.

We then had to contend with miles of road building that covered and filled the car with tarred chippings. You soon learn that lorries do not move over in Morocco, the cars do. Then there were miles of dusty road that they had not started surfacing. There was some respite as we travelled on well made road on the approach into Fes. What an impressive place, especially for a Fez-Head Saracens rugby club supporter! Then there was an easy drive into the ski resort of Ifrane, where the car was once again fettled. Moises and Meli greated us and said they would have to travel now to reach the desert stage to take some pictures. Amy put in another of her queries after checking the day’s results. Those roads surpassed that road on the Austrian/Jugoslav border in Italy on the second Marathon that was my previous favourite stage. Amy came through well after the shock of the crash on the first stage. The Hotel Michlifen gave us dinner and probably something we did not want as well.

Day 6

Saw us moving south across the High Atlas. For some strange reason I decided to check the oil at a TC and to my surprise found the gearbox empty. I asked Amy how long I had, which was not more than 5 minutes, but I scrambled underneath and thought the casing had cracked. I carefully cleaned and degreased it and plastered some instant gasket on it. After the next stage I again found there was no oil. So I sped into a garage straight onto the ramp and had a look while Amy explained to the locals. I found the reverse shaft had come out 15cm so letting all the oil out. The bolt holding it in was missing and the casing thread stripped. Amazingly the rod went back (I have yet to see why the unrestrained gear and washers did not do something horrendous).

The sky was gradually turning orange. We traversed some high barren mountains and rock desert, followed the palm-lined strip of the Ziz river before being enveloped in a blinding, choking sandstorm. Luckily I had fitted foam filters and covered them with vacuum cleaner bags but had forgotten to bring breathing masks for us. Amy used her surong that she bought in Malasia but I could hardly breath and suffered for days with clogged up lungs. I have driven in blizzards, but this was worse because there are no tracks left by cars and the way in front moves like a cross-tide and directs you off the road.

After an hour or two of this we were halted by some marshalls who told us the desert stage was postponed and we should go directly to the hotel in Erfud. I guess they did not want to spend weeks finding the rally! So what about Moises? The sand or rather fine dust was getting everywhere. I put tank tape over all the cracks I could find but still the seats and inside filled up. Even worse, the hotel had run out of water so no wash! Then Amy discovered the passports were missing. After much panic I had another search in the sand filled car and found them, but not before Amy had contacted the previous hotel and the police. We were now starting to suffer from Ifrane belly plus some stress. Anyhow there was some local entertainment in front of a swimming pool with a few inches water in it that at least Tom’s dog enjoyed. Oh yes, and it started to rain so the dust turned to mud that, when dry, was like cement.

Day 7.

We awoke before the birds as we wanted to see Erg Chebbi (the largest sand-dune in Morocco) at sunrise. Last month’s Jowetteer picture shows the Erg in the background and the web site shows some of the photos on the journey out. The journey back was to be the postponed highlight of the rally. At the Café de Sud, in the shadow of the Erg, we met Moises and Meli who had been trapped there. They had been rescued by some locals and started to sleep on the floor of the café. The rain flooded the floor and they had to take to sleeping on the stone seats. Amy spent a long time before the exciting desert stage talking to a Talaban camel herder and purchasing a fossil.

We exited the walled ‘garden’ of the restaurant over some massive yumps before aiming for a distant point on the horizon across your own chosen route. I think Amy called it navigation! Anyhow we turned left at a bush. I gradually learnt (or plucked up courage) to drive fast over the piste and even reached top gear.

After that bone rattling we stopped for lots of pictures. Then back to Erfud. I once again found the gearbox shaft hanging out so this time wired and stuck it in with Loctite. Amy was sent to find oil and was most pleased with the locals who insisted that the normal oil would not do for such a car and went off to find some ‘good stuff’. Many other cars with ripped off suspensions, sumps and exhausts were being repaired in the ‘garages’ of Erfud. We returned to the hotel to pick up the luggage, have some breakfast and go to that much-needed toilet! The water was back on now.

So now we started the planned hard day of rallying. 300k of newly-made road across barren rocky desert, bounded on the right by the High Atlas and on the left by the Sahara. We stopped for pictures of adorable (as Amy calls them) camels. The sandstorm had left drifts across the road and the Wadi’s were full, so brought a touch of Stanhope Ford to the desert. Not quite what we had expected but the Jup was still with its Le Jog prepared electrics.

Then into that 44k of extremely rough road. Malcolm McKay took a brilliant picture showing the mud splattered Jup winding its way through an oasis over the rocky terrain.

We then had a supposedly easy drive to Ouarzazate, but we dallied too long over a drink. I asked Amy to drive as I was shattered, but then worked out our average speed, so I took over. We arrived with 6 minutes to spare over a 138k section. We had a difficult time with a filling station that gave preference to locals, so we had to get petrol in the morning. I was now bad after nearly 13 hours strenuous driving, so went straight to bed.

Day 8

This was an easy half-day with only that long multi-stage regularity on the main road into Marakesh. I went to bed and Amy went to the Kazbar. I emerged for a pizza before even more sleep. I was now on the third type of stomach pill given to me by survivors of the Peking to Paris rally.

Day 9

A long drive of 364k to the first TC was suprisingly enjoyable. The sleep had at least given me some energy. We pushed hard, down mainly straight single-track roads with quite a lot of traffic, people and animals that needed to be avoided. Petrol stops were important. I lent one of my spare cans to someone ahead of me in my class! And this was the last competitive day! And he was Dutch! Perhaps the bug had affected my mind. Navigation was a bit more difficult because there were a lot of turnings and no intelligible signposts, unless you knew what all those squiggles meant. There were a couple of passage controls where you had to write down information from signs. Amy forgot to put the answer in the correct box and picked up 15minutes of penalty. Never mind, it would not have made much difference.

The penultimate stage of the day was that brilliant drive through the Cedar forest. The car was starting to suffer from fuse blows, loss of overdrive, and an ominous loss of water. But the best stage result was saved till last. Very relieved crews sat and supped in the bar and told of near misses, driving techniques and stomach problems. It was at the meal that evening that the bottled water scam was confirmed.

It was difficult to motivate Amy to check the results and put in queries, as she was exhausted. This is probably the most difficult job for navigators, waiting around after drivers have gone to bed or the bar to check results before they go final or getting up early to check start times after re-seeding. The car was also exhausted and I was not sure the 331k to Tangier would be quite so non-competitive as it had been billed.

Last day.

Some confused town navigation instructions woke the navigators up on this day. Once again a sense of direction, and blind faith in it, saw us through one metropolis. We stopped in an interesting part of town to fill up the rad. It was obviously a drug area as I was offered some. We stopped at one garage to mend something and was helped by an old local who carefully repaired my wooden toolbox that Amy had made when she was about 12. We went through mile upon mile of street markets with massive traffic jams (or horse jams as Amy quipped). Yes, we could have stopped and bought some crockery but would it survive in the Jup? Or, we could have stopped and had a meal in a good restaurant at the seaside, but the radiator was pouring water, the gearbox was making a noise, the overdrive would not work and a vibration in the prop shaft (caused by not having overdrive) was really annoying me. So we limped into the finish in Tangiers. Not everyone made that last stage under their own steam, but they still received a finishers medal. I fettled the car to prepare it for the journey home. Some Bars Leaks seemed to cure the rad problem. The electrics were fixed. So we were ready to enjoy ourselves.

There was some good local entertainment at the prize-giving. The girls looked good in their evening outfits and I looked stupid in my pith helmet. But then I had been out in the midday sun.

The next day I visited the resident Carmelite nurse for some large pills. But the list of things I could not eat or drink was huge. So I could not enjoy my holiday. Jenny’s flight was delayed, so I picked her up close to midnight from the airport. Then I took the sick Amy there at 6a.m.

A morning was spent in the Tangier market, buying carpets and Fez for the Saracens rugby supporters. I could not wait to leave that city and be free of the persistent hassle. After a lot of bribery to the ferry officials, we made it onto an extremely delayed boat, with abysmal services.

I was so glad to stay in a civilised hotel in Spain. Even though I could not enjoy that lovely food and wine. But then they were fantastic roads! Thank you to the organisers, long-suffering marshalls, Kingpin, all the helpers in preparation, Moises and Meli and Amy and Jenny!

A post-mortem on Josephine will follow shortly. She is currently in a thousand pieces in the garage.




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