top of page

2.8 Disaster at Iriki Salt Lake


With our supplies we could have spent quite a while in Erg Chigaga. But after we have crisscrossed our daily range both on foot and by bike, we are already plagued again by the longing for more to see. Or should I rather say "more to the sea?" In fact, with Chigaga we have now the second sand desert in our repertoire and a little bit of sea would certainly not be to be despised now, because we both love it very much. Of course, this also corresponds to our rough Morocco plan: In December in the High Atlas, in January in the Sahara and in February at the Atlantic.

Shortly after returning from the dunes to the piste, we say goodbye to our companions from Zurich after two weeks. The Turtle crew is heading north along the Pistenkuh route to Foum Zguid. For us, an overnight stay at the Iriki salt lake is on the program, as well as a lonely offroad route across the pampas to Tissint. Our explorer gene somehow does not allow us to simply follow routes that have already been driven and described in detail. The actual discoveries we are looking for are there, where (hopefully) no one has been before us. There, where at least not everything has already been photographed and documented. The good stories - we believe - are the new stories. That means for us again about 100 kilometers offroad, through extremely rarely traveled, varied and photogenic area, which we will now complete alone and at the photographer's leisurely pace.

Collecting wood for the bread baking on the sand pit

On the way to Iriki there is an amazing amount of wood lying around. The idea to finally bake bread on an open fire in the Dutch Oven has been with us for a long time. Today we will finally realize it. We collect as much wood as we can put in our rear garage, respectively bring up on our fatbike carrier.

Today is really busy on this route. Within one morning we meet four German motorcyclists and a multi-nation mix of young van-life enthusiasts. A young girl from Austria is even alone with only tent and backpack on the road and has joined the mobilists for a few days. We are always amazed at how little such adventurers can get by with. Our way of traveling probably corresponds more to our age and is of course comparatively pure luxury. We are always aware of this in such encounters and also extremely grateful about it.

The sandy passages and foothills of Erg Chigaga slowly turn into a hard, salty plain. Our route now branches left in a southerly direction, away from the main track, away from the last signs of civilization. Soon we see in the distance the shimmering over the hot ground. It already looks like the sea. But since "Lawrence of Arabia" or "Hidalgo" we know that this is only a mirage. There is no more water for a long time, but only the dry remains of the Iriki salt lake. We are faced with the choice to cross the salt pan today or to make another lonely and romantic night camp in the sand in the outermost foothills of the Erg. It is not at all yet night camp search time, but in view of our intention to still bake some bread, we decide for a very last overnight stay in the sand.

Below this dune we find the ideal camping and baking place between Erg Chigaga and Iriki Salt Lake

Nicely protected from the wind behind the first row of small, sparsely overgrown dunes, we find - of course first on foot - a suitable place to stand and bake. As usual, we place our vehicle with momentum in the perhaps today somewhat soft, but quite drivable sand. We don't waste any thought that this place could somehow be our undoing, we have already mastered such sandy sites several times in the last two weeks without any problems. Why should that please be different at the presumably last dune stay?

It's barely ten kilometers to the Iriki, which is of course already clearly visible from here. Except to the east, where the dunes of the Erg rise, our view reaches between 60 and 80 kilometers in all directions. To the north and west the Anti-Atlas mountains, to the south the Algerian Sahara. No doubt, if we had known today which disaster awaits us here tomorrow, we would have driven on determinedly. Unsuspecting we spread out in our little oasis. We enjoy the silence and look forward to the fresh bread we will bake today. I quickly dig a sand hole and the dry wood is already blazing. The big pieces of wood are cut with the battery saw and made suitable for the fireplace. Finally our Petromax Dutch Oven is used. Battery saw and Dutch Oven are gadgets that you really don't need every day. All the more I appreciate it when I need them, that I do not have to do without anything even at the end of the world.

Homemade bread baked in Petromax Dutch Oven

The spelt bread is turning out to be a complete success. The only thing I can find to criticize about it is the fact that we didn't bake three or four such great loaves right away. The wood would have been enough for a long time, even if the wind that starts at sunset heats up our fire quite a bit. Despite rapidly falling temperatures, we keep our campfire alive until deep in the evening. Somehow it's very romantic.

The night is cool and windy and my first walk in the morning takes me to the still warm fireplace in front of our truck. They are those moments where you are very close to nature. You see it, feel it, and it makes you happy. I find myself starting to talk to a little bird. It amazes me that there are birds here at all. Apart from a few desert shrubs, I only see sand dunes and the salt pan. The little guy is very talkative, almost excited, as if he wanted to tell me a story. Not only that, when we open the door he flies straight into our apartment on wheels. Brigitte reacts in a flash, opens the opposite window and after a few seconds the sweet bird is free again. We wonder together about this cheeky guy and what he wanted to tell us. We understand him only much later that day!

While getting ready for departure, I notice that the wind has filled our tracks abundantly with sand. In addition, really big dents formed around the wheels. But I don't waste any thoughts, because driving off is almost routine after more than two weeks in the desert. And it comes, as it had to come! We don't get out of there right away and even sink a little deeper into the freshly blown sand. A second attempt with all differential locks also ends unsuccessfully. We had practiced it a few times with the Turtle Crew in the last few days, the use of the sand boards. Today it's our turn. My brand new boards are needed on the very last day in the sand. I was actually already of the opinion, or let's say of the good hope, that our Unimog will never need such a thing. With tire pressure at just over one bar and the complete differential locks, it has really shown no weakness on sand so far. It doesn't help. Today they have to get here, the boards. But before that, a lot of digging has to be done. The rear axle is already buried in the sand. With just under half a meter of ground clearance, that's a lot of sand to dig out in front of the four wheels and under the body. Now we are just glad, it is not yet so hot. I get rid of my turban and Brigitte also grabs the shovel. We dig like moles until the almost two meter long boards can be laid properly. I have always warned my Zurich sparring partner in the past days not to let the sand plates stand up between the axles and slit your guts. This danger is real when dealing with the sharp-edged aluminum plates and has been the undoing of many off-roaders. So we do this with the necessary caution and decide to drive up to the plates for the time being and then check again in which position they are then. No sooner said than done. After only a few seconds my teammate raises her arms in the air and shouts "Stop!" It seems we have made a good start and are now on the boards, no longer in the sand. I get out for a moment and, on sight, almost feel the blow. The sand plate in front of the left rear wheel has wedged itself between the 240-liter diesel tank and its carrying straps really badly. How did I manage that? There is only one explanation. I must have rolled back a few centimeters when I stopped and thus pressed the tank onto the presumably slanted plates. When pulling on the board, you quickly notice that incredibly large forces are at work here. Nothing goes there anymore. And the real crux of the matter? If I continue to drive forward, I will probably push down the steel girder fixing the tank with the sand plate and risk tearing off the tank. If I drive backwards, it pushes the board even further into or perhaps soon through the tank. Catch-22! Brigitte immediately grabs the cell phone and checks if we have a GSM signal at the moment to possibly send a message. She is lucky and talks already very fast with a Unimog acquaintance we made a few days ago in the middle of the desert. But the situation doesn't require someone to pull me out of here, because any forward or backward movement carries the same risks as driving out on my own.

Rien ne va plus! The sand plate is stuck between the diesel tank and the rear wheel. Stalemate situation in the middle of nowhere.

Now just keep a cool head. So we reflect on our situation once again. We are here in the middle of nowhere, about three kilometers away from the nearest unused dirt road and maybe ten kilometers away from a used one. Fortunately, we have a weak signal, so we are not completely alone in terms of communication. But the Mog can't be moved forward or backward with the metal sheet in its ribs. I can only see one solution. Unpack the battery saw, mount the metal blade and saw off the whole thing. How I can get to the spot where sawing makes sense is another story. The first thing to do is to dig once again. But the longing for soon success is great and therefore my saw rattles soon. The battery saw is actually on board to cut through the thicket or to cut firewood. Fortunately, however, my guardian spirits whispered to me during the equipment procurement probably correctly that also one or two metal saw blades can not harm. Actually, though, I had no idea what I would ever need them for. I somehow squeeze myself under the truck, already disappearing deep into the sand. All kinds of worst-case scenarios run through my head, always with the reminder: Don't make a mistake now! The situation in an uncomfortable position under the Mog with this huge device in front of my head does not seem to me to be entirely without danger. Fortunately, I also have protective goggles with me, but other than that, all that remains is the admittedly not badly equipped on-board pharmacy and the medical expertise of my dear wife and nurse.

The metal sheet has three holes in its width, so there are four spots of about four centimeters to saw through to get to the other end. The first piece is done after just under a minute. I have a hard time with the second one, because the angle to the board becomes more and more impractical. It comes as it must. The first saw blade bends completely. The second breaks at the last spot to be sawn. Now I have to use the joker. I still have a saw blade in the box from the Bosch basic equipment, which seems to manage both wood and metal. This is my last chance to free myself from this awful situation by my own efforts.

With the 3rd sawing blade it is finally done: The sand board is now cut and it is possible to continue the journey without assistance.

El Hamdulilah! After what feels like half an eternity, I managed to get through the board. Driving out on my own works without any further problems and the aluminum sheet that is now still stuck between the tank and its belt, well, I'd better leave that stuck there. The tank does not seem to lose any diesel and when driving I always watch the fuel gauge from now on, that this remains the case. Only with the second smaller tank alone we would have to change the route a bit to get faster to a gas station. But as it is now, it looks like an injured vehicle with a knife in the belly, but the damage is purely cosmetic.

The scales fall from my eyes as I hear the chirping of the little bird in my head once again. I now understand every single peep. Thanks little guy for trying to warn us. Next time I will listen better, I promise!

Instead of morning, it is now already afternoon and nothing stands in the way of continuing our journey towards Iriki Salt Lake. We thank our guardian spirits and other forces, who finally just wanted to enrich us with another amazing experiences. Of course, we have learned a lesson, a lesson that is probably not in any off-road book!

The salt pan Iriki with mirage on the horizon

We are rather disappointed when after ten kilometers we reach the shore of the salt lake, which is officially marked on the maps. You can't see any difference at all here. Everything is flat, hard-pressed ground with numerous shifting sand dunes that have to be avoided or crossed. It is also better to avoid the sand whirls that come up again and again.

Alone in the wild, just us and nature!

The exit from the salt pan is unmistakable. The landscape now changes steadily, only the mighty mountains of the Anti-Atlas remain unchanged in the distance. A tremendous setting and we are here in the middle of the spectacle. Finally also the vegetation increases again. First only small desert shrubs and soon the first croupy trees appear. The ground is sometimes salty white, sometimes sandy yellow and then suddenly lava black. Today we drive almost until sunset, because we were a little bit late in leaving. For a quiet and serene place for the night we don't have to worry about anything this evening. We are ALONE on this planet. We simply place ourselves a few meters next to the track and fall asleep dead tired, happy and grateful after this adventurous day.

This is neither crumble pie, nor cream cake, nor guggelhupf. This is Morocco at its best ;-)

Each stone has a story to tell

We are on day eight of our off-road southern route through Morocco. The last two days we have not seen a soul. So we are happy to see at least a donkey on our way again today. But the good guy refuses our gift of food, so he doesn't seem to be wandering around hungry. In the distance we also see dromedaries, so we believe that we are getting closer to civilization. The area here is now almost snow-white, no salt, but rather like Caribbean sand ;-). However, barely over the next hilltop the picture already changes again. For our photographer on board an exciting region. Accordingly, we make slow progress and make one photo stop after the other. Also today we pass again a military checkpoint. They always greet us friendly, check our passports and write something down in their logbooks. We have created a factsheet especially for this purpose, where the strapping gentlemen can find all the necessary info on it right away. The guys would have enough time to write it all down neatly. But the factsheet makes them very happy, so there's no stress for them.

After a sandy river crossing we get off the trail for a short time. Our track moves further and further away from the target route marked in the GPS. We decide to go back a bit to look for the right track. Often there is no right or wrong, because these tracks usually join again somewhere. But in this case we think that the short search was worth it. Finally it should all be over tomorrow with our offroad route, somehow we don't want to miss this end. Even if our Unimog probably would prefer to drive on these tracks, we are also happy to blast again with 60km/h on tarred roads and without any washboards.

For the final day of the off-road adventure we have only thirteen kilometers left to the regional road. We can already smell the tarmac, but we have to cross an empty river for the last time. The stones in this dried up river are big and super round. It shows us that enough water has flowed here for a long time. The world is undoubtedly changing. But for this region probably in the wrong direction. Without water there is no life and nevertheless people and animals live here and somehow manage to make ends meet. The way over these polished stones is extremely badly recognizable, but in the distance we spy the first campers on the N12. That's where we have to go. Shortly before Mrimina we have made it. Nine days of driving, about 300 kilometers off-road. Morocco's southern route will surely remain unforgettable for us!

After two weeks and over 300KM offroad we are about to hit the asphalt road

Next Blog: 2.9 Intriguing Sea


Rated 0 out of 5 stars.
No ratings yet

Add a rating
bottom of page