M’Hamid El Ghizlane ou la Plaine des Gazelles


M’Hamid El Ghizlan is a small village in the Zagora region of Morocco, 98 km after Zagora, one of the two places in Morocco where the Sahara begins (another is Merzouga where the Rally begins).

It is about 7-8 hours by car from Marrakech and 5 hours from Ouarzazate. It is “The end of the road” (the last point of the route national N°9), after that it is only the sands of the Sahara, shepherds and caravan trails.

M’Hamid El Ghizlan where the Rally Marrakech Sahara finishes, means “the plain of the Gazelles” in reference to the times long gone when gazelles used to roam the area.

M’Hamid is next to a vast oasis where nomads, some with up to 5000 camels, trading between Sudan and Morocco used to come and rest, protected from the sand storms and winds. Aridity, drought and borders have put an end to this activity with only a few semi-nomadic people left.

The big palm grove extends from the Kasbah or dry earth fortress to the Oued Draa, an Oued being a partially dry river bed.

There are fewer visitors to M’hamid than to Merzouga and Erfud, giving the place a more (arguably and in my opinion) authentic feeling.

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The palm grove and kasbah

One of the main attraction of the place is its proximity to the magnificent dunes of Erg Chegaga

les dunes

Characteristics of a good 4 wheel drive (for the uninitiated)

IMG_1016Nowadays, a lot of cars call themselves 4x4s. It is important before you go rallying in the desert to distinguish what is a “real” 4×4 from a SUV which can also function in 4 wheel drive, meaning that the power of the engine is distributed to all 4 wheels at the same time.

This is what Alain from Baroud Terre du Sud in Marrakech has to say :

First of all, a proper all terrain vehicle must be extremely solid as it will be driven on difficult terrain. A 4×4 must be high enough in order to go relatively easily over rough terrain , which means that beyond having a high car body, it must have good attack angles to go up slopes and good outgoing angles in order not to drag the car bottom on the ground.

It must also have the compulsory differential locking in order to allow wheels on the same axle to work independently, something that is necessary when your wheels are bogged down (in sand or mud); also to overcome forces generated by the weight of the vehicle (rolling resistance), steep grades (gravity) and resistances created by material pushed by the tires (sand, mud, etc)– best combined under “Load”, the vehicle needs to generate sufficient torque by combining engine torque and adequate gear sets.

In order to generate torque, a counter force is needed: Traction. A proper 4×4 will provide a lot of traction to make the vehicle move in difficult terrain.

And last but not least, a powerful engine will be of great use enabling the driver to move forward softly in low rpm without having to press the accelerator to its max, something rather dangerous when you suddenly find yourself past the difficult zone.

in the rocks

And now in French :

Ce qui caractérise un bon véhicule tout terrain

De nos jours, de nombreux modèles de véhicules se disent « 4×4 ». Il est donc important de distinguer les éléments permettant de faire la différence entre un véritable 4×4 d’un SUV qui eux peuvent être aussi en quatre roues motrices. Tout d’abord un véritable véhicule tout terrain doit être extrêmement solide car il est amené à être utilisé sur des terrains accidentés. Un véhicule tout terrain doit être suffisamment en hauteur afin de franchir des terrains accidentés de façon relativement aisée, pour cela outre la hauteur de la caisse, il doit avoir de bons angles d’attaque (pour monter les pentes) et de bons angles de sortie (afin de ne pas racler le derrière en descente de pente). Il doit aussi avoir des options indispensables en conduite tout-terrain comme le blocage des différentiels (afin de permettre aux roues d’un même axe de tourner de façon indépendante, ce qui s’avère utile lorsqu’une des roues est embourbée par exemple), le rapport de réduction (comme une « super première vitesse ») est aussi nécessaire pour progresser sur des terrains difficiles nécessitant au véhicule une grande force de traction pour avancer. Enfin, et non le moindre, la puissance disponible dès les plus bas tours (ceci permet de franchir un obstacle avec force mais tout en douceur, sans être forcé d’appuyer à fond sur l’accélérateur – ce qui se révèle extrêmement dangereux lorsque l’obstacle est franchi).

Stargazing in Morocco

IMG_2585As a competitor in the Rallye Aicha des Gazelles Morocco and sleeping in a tent, I got to see one of the clearest skies ever, along with over 300 women and 400 journalists/mechanics/organisers, every night and every morning for 8 days. You’d think I’d get bored with it but I don’t. This is why, this time as an organiser, I was keen that participants in the Rally Marrakech Sahara spend 2 nights in a (comfortable) tent under this magnificent sky.

Most of us live in areas with high population density and light pollution which obstruct the natural starry sky.

The Arabs have been observing the stars above the desert for thousands of years. Many stars were named by Arabs who navigated in the “sea of sand” with the help of the stars. Almost every night in the desert the sky is so clear that you believe you were in space.

The first night is at Riad Zaid: we will sleep in Berber tents in Erg Ouzina and well be able to admire the sunset over the dunes. The second night is on a sandy peak looking out into a valley. It’s wild and magnificent.

IMG_2061Bring your best cameras or smartphonesRAG20150401_Leg5_NIC_050145             IMG_2086