Morocco tour a world of pain

The Weekend Australian - Life - - MOTORING -

The road from Mar­rakesh to Ouarza­zate should be right up there with the best of them. It has every­thing. You start in the desert and then you climb through pine forests in the foothills of the At­las Moun­tains up to the snow line, where it’s hair­pin af­ter hair­pin and drop af­ter ver­ti­cal drop.

Af­ter you crest the high­est point, about 1800m above sea level, the road sur­face be­comes for­eign-aid smooth, and as you drop down into the Sa­hara proper, the cor­ners turn into third and fourth-gear sweep­ers. This is the sec­tion Tom Cruise chose to use for the bike chase in his most re­cent Mis­sion: Im­pos­si­ble out­ing, and I can see why.

It’s fast and it’s dan­ger­ous and I loved ev­ery inch of it. Es­pe­cially be­cause it was 30C and I was at the wheel of an Alfa Romeo 4C and the roof was off.

How­ever, the road does come with one or two is­sues, chief among them driv­ers go­ing the other way who are never re­ally sure which side of the road they should be on. Or maybe it’s be­cause they are mostly at the wheel of an­cient Re­nault 12s that have never been ser­viced, so are nearly im­pos­si­ble steer.

On one long stretch a chap go­ing the other way pulled out to over­take a lorry and I as­sumed fool­ishly that he would see me ap­proach­ing and im­me­di­ately pull back on to his side of the road. So I didn’t brake. And I should have done be­cause he kept com­ing for such a long time that I was able to reg­is­ter the fact his face was rather gorm­less.

Any­way, I re­versed back out of the desert and, when the dust had set­tled and I’d stopped swear­ing, I got back on the road, and 3km later the same thing hap­pened again. I think there must be a rule in Morocco that states over­tak­ing ve­hi­cles have the right of way.

It’s not just the lo­cals who cause a bit of but­tock-clench­ing be­cause as Morocco is now the only country in all north­ern Africa that we can visit, it’s be­come a favourite among Europe’s clas­sic car clubs. So when you are not swerv­ing round Mr Gorm­less in his spi­tand-Kleenex Re­nault, you are pre­sented with an out-of-con­trol E-type Jaguar with an enor­mous Bel­gian at the wheel.

I haven’t even got to the big­gest haz­ard of all yet: the road­side ven­dors who walk out in front of your car, even when you’re do­ing 150km/h, to see if you’d like to buy their rock. That’s all they sell: rocks. I think ev­ery­one in this re­mote place has a rock that has been passed down for gen­er­a­tions.

“My grand­fa­ther didn’t sell this rock be­fore he was mown down by a Ger­man in a big Healey. My fa­ther didn’t sell it be­fore he was squashed by some­one in a Re­nault 14. And now it’s my turn.”

Some­one ought to ex­plain to th­ese peo­ple that tourists are un­likely to buy rocks, as there are many that can be had free at the side of the road. And in­deed in their own gar­dens back at home.

And they should be told the stop­ping dis­tance of an Alfa Romeo 4C when it’s trav­el­ling at, ahem, 80km/h is not 25mm.

The fact is, though, that I didn’t crash into an on­com­ing Re­nault or a speed­ing Chevrolet Corvette. And I didn’t run over any road­side ven­dors, and de­spite a cou­ple of near misses I ar­rived in Ouarza­zate with a burnt face, hair as solid as a breeze block and a smile the size of Cheshire on my face. It had been four hours of un­al­loyed joy.

But then two days later I had to drive back to Mar­rakesh on the same road, and Not a top year: Jeremy Clark­son on his an­nus hor­ri­bilis The Week­end Aus­tralian Mag­a­zine Jeremy Clark­son’s com­ments are ex­pressed in the con­text of the Bri­tish ve­hi­cle mar­ket.

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