Explorers Connect

Overland UK to Morocco with my son

Trip ReportJames Hipkiss

What an incredible journey and experience. For 3 weeks my son Markus and I lived in our modified Land Rover which consisted of Tent, Cooker, Fridge, Shower and other expedition equipment to explore Morocco and the Sahara and to deliver donated supplies to the under privileged children in the remote areas.

We also managed to raise 1600 GBPfor a local charity called The Zipper Club who support The Papworth Hospital. Papworth specialize in cardiac surgery and saved my father several years ago. Below is a description of the trip, which I was asked to send to the local paper who did an article on our journey. There is also details of our trip on the Norfolk Zipper club web page- http://norfolkzipperclub.weebly.com/2011-morocco-adventure.html After driving from UK and through Spain we met the rest of the team in Malagaand headed to the ferry and onwards to Morocco. Things started to get interesting at the Moroccan border as my son was asked if he was carrying any guns or weapons.

He gave a cheeky smile and said No. The Moroccan border guard then ruffled his hair and then we were on our way into Morocco! Our first camp in Morocco was near the ancient ruins of Volubilis - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Volubilis We explored the ruins of Volubilis the next day and my son, Markus, was amazed how they lived back then! We then headed deep into the Cedar forest and climbed up to 7,000 ft in the Atlas Mountains through dense forest, crossing rivers, splashing through muddy puddles and sliding on muddy tracks to reach our next camp. As soon as we made camp high up in the cold Atlas Mountains the heavens opened and we were soaked through to the skin by a tropical storm!

Not the Morocco we had imagined..! As we descended off the mountains we stopped at a very remote school to hand out some of the donated supplies. Several pens, pencils, rulers, note pads and paper were delivered which was gratefully received by the Children. All that was near the school was goats, a water well and several chickens! We then made our way to the Imperial city of Meknes to stock up on supplies as we were now heading for the Sahara. Markus had great delight in discovering that they could make pancakes in Meknes but soon lost his appetite when he spotted a skinned goat with its head still on hanging outside the caf. Our route took us to the Berber town of Tinerhir and over the Jebel Ougnat Mountains and we stopped at an area where they are digging for fossils.

This area is littered with Fossils and the Moroccans make beautiful ornaments with them and sell in the Souks but not everyone realizes they are dug out by a few guys with nothing more than a pick axe in the middle of the Desert. The tracks were punishing and we soon got into the routine of checking over the vehicles everyday to see what had broken or fell off. Markus and I became slick operators at making camp and preparing the food. Markus even washed the dishes a few times although was not a fan of that chore We then entered the gigantic dunes of Erg Chebbi. Erg Chebbi is an incredible place and some local Moroccans have built an Auberge. This is a place with basic amenities but we were shocked and delighted to see a swimming pool in the middle of the Sahara after several hot, dusty and sandy days - http://www.aubergedusud.com/

The Berbers then presented Markus with a birthday cake! What a surreal experience to see my son enjoy his birthday cake followed by a dip in the pool in the middle of the Sahara. Tummys full, well rested and clean we then set off even deeper into the Sahara and after a day of fighting sand dunes in the Land Rover with our tyres deflated slightly to aid traction we arrived at a Berber camp. These are nomadic people and there lifestyle is as basic as you can get. Everything they own they can pack on the back of a camel and move house. We delivered some clothes to the Berbers, and they were very kind and showed Markus around their home. To say Markus was gob smacked would be an understatement! We the fought on for several more days and our next target was the 20th Century city of Zagora. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zagora,_Morocco

Zagora has gained its reputation of being a good stopping point of any expedition as it has several garages who can jump into action at the drop of a hat (and right price, normally called the diplomatic price ). We spent a night here for stocking up on supplies again and took the opportunity to get our vehicles checked over. We had 10 vehicles and 6 of them needed serious attention! One even had a broken chassis.! Disaster we thought! How on earth can we carry on and complete our planned route in time and deliver the rest of the supplies. The 6 vehicles were left at the garage at 4pm and by 11am THE NEXT DAY they were all ready! The garage mechanics worked through the night and waved us good bye the next day. You don't get that service in the UK.!!! We were glad we had all our vehicles checked as we were now entering the Western Sahara and going further and further from any form of civilisation. This was also a dangerous area as this is known as a disputed area so it is known for bandits to regularly cross back and forth from Algeria.

The Moroccan army try to police this area but due to an invasion in 1995 some of the area is littered with land mines. We always had a briefing by our support crew leader John in the mornings but this one was different. We had strict instructions to stick to the track and stay behind him as he had information of a track which had been swept by the Army and was clear of mines and to put a wheel outside this track may ruin our day. We decided to stay at the back of the convoy for obvious reasons. We battled on through this section which was very rocky with the odd sand dune to surprise us. We then started meeting children towards the end of the route. We had no idea where they had come from as there were no buildings in sight or any signs of civilization.

We stopped often to greet them and handed out the remaining donated gifts and supplies and wondered how they knew where the mines were!? Since Markus had been so good at helping with everything, I asked him if he wanted to drive. He sat on my knee and drove through the mine field area for 30 minutes. I dont think there are many 10 year old boys who can say they have driven through a minefield in the Sahara..! Thankfully we got through without loosing anyone and we headed for Taroudanthttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taroudant If we thought we would be arriving in a city full of glittering lights, cinemas and McDonalds then we would be wrong! Taroudant is a Berber market town and is full of character. Markus and I sat in the town and just watched everyday life go by.

We had a competition to see who could spot the craziest thing, I am not sure who won. We could not be further from what we consider our normal life back home! Markus and I walked around the Souks and investigated all the different arts, crafts and dried fruits. Even though Markus had been given a cake earlier in the trip, this was his actual birthday, and he put his hand in his pocket and bought me a drink to celebrate him turning 10 years old. Once at Taroudant our off road section of the trip was over and all our donated supplies had been handed out. It was tarmac all the way back to Spain, so nice easy drive, so we thought The road twisted and turned over spectacular cliff tops and sweeping bays. We stopped at the delightful fishing port of Essaouria which is fast becoming busy with surfers due to the Atlanic coastline.

The homeward journey took us via the coastal lagoons of Moulay Bousselham. However, our thoughts of a nice easy drive on tarmac was shattered when another tropical storm developed and washed the sides of mountains onto the roads. Roads were flooded and became slippery so we had to drive carefully through the floods, avoid the washed out roads and also keep an eye on the normal Moroccan motorist, who are not used to such slippery road surfaces. This can be confirmed by the amount of holes there were in the stone barriers on the side of the mountain passes. Tired and dirty we fell back into our hotel in Spain and enjoyed a full nights rest, hot shower and a few celebratory drinks. We had done it! Over the 3 weeks we had been to some incredible places, seen amazing things, met some fantastic people and had managed to deliver some donated supplies to make a small difference to a few children in Morocco.

The one single thing that stands out in my mind is just how friendly the Moroccan people are. Everywhere we went we were greeted with huge smiles, the shout of Salam and frantic waving as we drove past. We have raised over 1,600 GBP for the Norfolk Zipper Club which both Markus and I are very grateful. Just goes to show with a little effort you can make a difference and no matter where you come from, what your religion is or what you believe in, a smile is the same in any language!

Scott Laddiman Driver, Cook and Bottle washer