Morocco tourists make tracks on 007’s ‘desert ex­press’

Global Times - Weekend - - TRAVEL -

Edouard Kunz knows time­keep­ing is im­por­tant but the for­mer Swiss watch pre­ci­sion me­chanic ad­mits that James Bond’s Ori­en­tal Desert Ex­press in re­mote east­ern Morocco never runs on sched­ule. The train, made fa­mous in the 2015 Bond movie Spec­tre, trun­dles tourists be­tween the town of Ou­jda and the for­mer min­ing city of Bouarfa along a 350-kilo­me­ter-long stretch of desert. “It takes be­tween eight and 12 hours to make the trip, some­times even more,” says Kunz, 70, who is known as Edi, blam­ing sand­storms for fre­quent de­lays. His pas­sion for trains put him in the driver’s seat more than 10 years ago when he per­suaded Morocco’s Na­tional Of­fice of Rail­ways to let him run a tourist train on a dis­used rail­way line. The track that runs near the bor­der with Algeria was orig­i­nally built nearly 100 years ago when Morocco was a French pro­tec­torate.

It was part of an am­bi­tious project, the Mediter­ranean-Niger rail­way, to link the sea to in­land Africa. How­ever, the project was short-lived and, in time, the mines and fac­to­ries in Bouarfa shut down, un­til the desert re­gion with its lu­nar land­scapes was re­dis­cov­ered by Kunz and the lo­ca­tion scouts for Spec­tre.

In a good year, Kunz says, he makes five to six trips be­tween Ou­jda and Bouarfa.

On the route to Bouarfa, the first dozen or so kilo­me­ters are through a fer­tile plain, and then the train passes through the Tiouli tun­nel. Af­ter that it is mostly desert. One of the pas­sen­gers on the Ori­en­tal Desert Ex­press is Mona, a young Moroc­can.

“It is a wel­come change of scenery. It’s noth­ing but an in­fi­nite desert be­hind us and ahead of us,” she says.

“There’s an ex­tra­or­di­nary at­mos­phere on the train,” she adds, com­par­ing its slow progress through the Sa­ha­ran sands to be­ing rocked in a cra­dle.

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