It’s a winter night in februari back in 2006 when Sofie and I first talked about an overland trip to the Sahara. Neither of us had ever undertaken an adventure of this scale, and we didn’t know what to expect. So we started talking to people who already went there, got some books, made some lists and started preparing. We were going to leave home in september, so we had a good half year to get ready. Good, because there was a lot to do. We had to get visas, a “carnet de passage”, plan our route, get he right maps etc…We also had to prepare our car for this trip. A brand new Land Rover Defender td5 was going to be kitted out with a roof top tent, a dual battery system, a fridge and some decent tyres. September arrived and we drove to the south of spain and embarked on the night ferry from Almeria to Melilla (a Spanish enclave in Morocco). We crossed the border in Nador and it was very obvious that we were entering Africa. Everything became ten times as colorful and chaotic in an instant. We were lucky to be fluent in French and soon we were on our way.
It’s not all sand and dunes in the desert, these rocky, gravel like plains are called “reg”
The first leg of the trip was a journey south along the Algerian border. We planned our first tracks there and headed in to the desert for the first time…it was amazing. Navigation went smooth and the Land Rover just seemed to belong there. From tere we headed for the dunes near Merzouga called “Erg Chebbi”. I will never forget our first sunset in the golden dunes! Just beautiful. The Sahara was getting under my skin already. Here the locals called our Land Rover “Petit Dromedaire” parce que ca passe partout, comme un dromedaire. From Chebbi we travelled further south towards Zagora. Here you enter the real south of Morocco, my favourite part. We followed the “Old Spanish Road” south to Assa. The route from Assa to Smara crossed the border into the Western Sahara and we drove south along “the Berm”. We already had a couple of thousand km on the clock when we arrived in Guerguerat, the last village before the border with Mauretania. This was a little more involving because to enter Mauretania from the Western Sahara you first have to cross a good 10 km of no mans land littered with land mines. We drove on a sandy piste following fresh tyre tracks and swerved around exploded car wrecks before we arrived at the border. This turned out to be nothing more than a shed occupied by a few guys with machine guns hussling you for gifts.
Playing in the sand for the first time, these sandy dunes are called “erg”
Half an hour and a pack of cigarettes later we were in Nouadhibou. One of the biggest ports in West Africa. Everybody and their friend wanted to buy our truck and wanted to know what it was worth. A local recommended us to leave the car maffia alone and we headed east to Atar. The piste from Nouadhibou to Atar is the notorious “railroad track” where huge trains haul iron from the mines in Zouerat to the port of Nouadhibou. After two full days of dune bashing we arrived in Atar. We spent the night in an improvised camping run by an excentric guy who collects doors from all over the world. Deserts always seem to attract weird interesting people. We went further east towards Mali and nothing could have prepared us for this. Endless golden dunes for days in a row. Petit Dromedaire was living up to it’s name and we were getting quite handy in the dunes. In the sout of Mauretania we heades back west towards Dakar. From the north of Sengal we headed back south and drove the beach all the way from Nouakchott back to Nouadhibou. It was like dream! The Sahara on your right and the Ocean on your left. I strongly recommend this for your bucket list! It’s mindblowing.
On the beach from dakar back north, pure bliss!
We started heading back south to Morocco where we visited all the Kings Cities and roamed the Atlas mountains before we took a short ferry from Tangiers to Tarifa in the south of Spain. All the way home I was planning the next Sahara trip and contemplating ways to improve “petit Dromedaire” for the next journey. I lost my heart somewhere between those friendly smiles and those golden dunes.
Maps and Guides: We used Chris Scott’s book “Sahara Overland” to prepare our trip and plan our routes. “Sahara Overland” is like the bible for travellers in that region of the world. (ISBN I 873756 76 3) Michelin map 741 “Africa North & West and 742 “Morocco” are best and very accurate. We loaded a Garmin topo map of morocco in our Garmin GPS Map60 GPS and if you throw in a compass, thats all you need for navigating in the Sahara.
Gear: Any 4X4 with low gear and decent tyres will do. Make sure it is in good reliable condition and don’t overload it! We drove a 2005 Land Rover Defender 90 with a Hannibal Roof top tent, Good Year Wrangler MT/R tyres, a Waeco 40 liter compressor fridge and a National Luna Dual battery System so the fridge doesn’t drain the starting battery. We took some extra jerrycans of diesel, but never needed them. We had two garmin GPS devices, a GPSmap 60 and a Streetpilot 2720. We rented a sat phone for this trip but never needed this. It is a good idea though…certainly when travelling alone.
All the pictures were made with a Leica M7 rangefinder and a Voigtlander 15mm wide angle lens on KodaChrome.
In the east of Mauretania the dunes seemed endless. A bit daunting without a second vehicle, but we made it!
This is how a proper oasis looks, complete with palm tree and all. And me bathing of course…in the middle of Mauretania!
Sofie feels on top of the world in the Sahara.
The sky, the sand, the light, the structures…I love the Sahara!
Driving more than a 1000km trough Western Sahara with the ocean one one side and the desert on the other.
A dried out lake between Merzouga and Zagora in Morocco.
Those sunsets were really something!
Driving trough the Atlas mountains, they are called “jebel” in Arabic.