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

Kuwait Times - - LIFESTYLE -

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-kilo­me­tre-long (215mile) 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”.

Ex­te­rior shots of the train mak­ing its way through the desert dark­ness were used in the Bond movie, a star-stud­ded spy thriller with Daniel Craig repris­ing the role of 007. One of the most strik­ing se­quences in the film de­picts a ro­man­tic din­ner be­tween Bond and a char­ac­ter played by French ac­tress Lea Sey­doux that is in­ter­rupted by the vil­lain Mr Hinx, played by wrestler Dave Bautista. The re­sult­ing fight be­tween Bond and Hinx in a train car­riage has been praised by some crit­ics as one of the best scenes in the whole movie. Cra­dle in the desert

The tourist train that Kunz hires from Morocco’s na­tional rail­way op­er­a­tor is not quite as lux­u­ri­ous as the one fea­tured in “Spec­tre”. Tourists can choose from a first-class, air-con­di­tioned car­riage and an­other that dates back to the 1960s, in which they can open the win­dows to take in the scenery and snap pic­tures. The train moves at a top speed of 50 kilo­me­ters per hour (30 mph), but this can of­ten drop to 10 kph and some­times the train has to come to a com­plete halt be­cause of sand on the tracks.

When that hap­pens, work­ers re­sort to shov­els to get rid of the sand be­fore the train can pro­ceed.

“Some peo­ple buy BMWs but I bought my­self a train,” Kunz says, with a chuckle, re­call­ing how he strug­gled to make a profit with his desert train project. In a good year, he says, he makes five to six trips be­tween Ou­jda and Bouarfa. On the route to Bouarfa, the first dozen or so kilo­me­tres are through a fer­tile plain, and then the train passes through the Tiouli tun­nel. Af­ter that it is mostly desert.

Along the way, pas­sen­gers see aban­doned train sta­tions-and the more un­usual sight of a for­mer Ro­man Catholic church turned into a judo club, near a mosque. Kunz is hop­ing to trans­form one of the aban­doned sta­tions into a res­tau­rant, but for the time be­ing din­ner is served in the train. The chef, Aziz, pre­pares lo­cal spe­cial­ties-spicy tajine stews and mint tea-for the tourists. “This train is im­por­tant. It cre­ates jobs and helps pro­mote our coun­try,” Aziz says. One of the pas­sen­gers on the Ori­en­tal Desert Ex­press is Mona, a young Moroc­can based in Paris. “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. — AFP

Th­ese pic­tures show the Ori­en­tal Desert Ex­press train en route from Ou­jda to Bouarfa in north­east­ern Morocco. — AFP photos

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Kuwait

© PressReader. All rights reserved.