Following in the steps of the Paris Dakar

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I wasn’t sure what to make of the small town of Assa, located in the middle of the desert and quite near the guarded frontier with Algeria.  As the new foreigner in town, it didn’t take me long to realise that maybe I was a rare sight – people’s eyes bored into me in a way that was unique on my trip so far.  Sitting at the café that evening, eating bread from my bag (there is no restaurant in town), Simo turned to me from a neighbouring table and with a cheeky smile, opened the conversation with ‘Are you lost?’ After a couple of jokes and some explaining that I wasn’t lost, he enlightened me on how things were to live in a town in the middle of nowhere. I enjoyed chatting, and learning a bit about the local area. Not only a few locals knew I was there; so did the police, and they turned up at my accommodation later that evening for a ‘chat’, asking me a few questions on where I’d come from and where I was going!  After noting down some info, they finally seemed satisfied and left me to collapse onto the rather hard bed.  That evening the bed bugs were bighting, and I struggled to sleep. I’m not sure whether this was due to the bites or the apprehension about something leading on from the police visit the next morning.  Was my route through the desert safe? The owner slept in the inner courtyard, where the TV blared most of the night, whilst the next door neighbours’ dog barked incessantly.

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I woke, groggy and bitten all over my arms and legs. I hit the road early to try and avoid the heat, the town was still asleep apart from a few guys gearing up for the day ahead.  The first 50kms were tarmac, and the patrol/road block that I had envisaged the night before never materialised.  I passed just two trucks, before reaching the village of Aouinet Torkoz.  I kept a keen lookout in my mirrors for ‘strange’ cars, ‘bandits’ or anything that may turn out to be a risk.  The first kms were a mix of plain sailing track, interspersed with a few rocky sections until I reached a beautiful hard packed clay section.  Taking off my helmet for my ‘breakfast’, the first thing that struck me was the stillness; quiet, peaceful and not as hot as I was imagining it to be!  The clay soon opened out to some light sandy tracks, and after 30mins of riding through nothing, my earlier fears were completely forgotten.  I saw some nomads living in tents, crossed some dried out river beds, bombed along for a good portion of the day.

IMG_1495 (Large) Rounding the top of a hill, I came down into a little oasis village and pulled up alongside the well where the kids and their mothers were.  We smiled, laughed  and I was soon invited in for tea, which as it happened, turned into lunch!  Brikh and his family were friendly, open and amazingly hospitable.  Sitting in    their inner courtyard, we chatted as far as my French would allow and generally had a lot of fun with the kids.  There were four houses in the village, his    brother also lived there, and they had a Landrover to ride the bumpy track 80km to the nearest town for supplies. I was a novelty, and the little guy in the    red T-Shirt was as curious about me as I was to learn about his family.  Obviously the hair on my arm was a new phenomenon, the protective motorcycle    trousers with pads in the knees fascinating, and the camera a new device to play with.  It didn’t take him long to work out how to use the ‘swipe’ touch screen  function on my camera to look through all my photos. We flicked through all the pictures in my French phrase book more than once.   The sense of peace,  and tranquillity was overwhelming and time just trundled by until I realised that I still had another 80km of off-road so I should probably get on my way.    Thanking them for their hospitality I donned my riding gear and hit the rough track again, this time with a 4kg box of dates I received as a gift.  What an  encounter.

 

The track was pretty stony, and I almost got stuck in a riverbed where the stones were rather large.  By the end of the day I had discovered that speed was my ally, keeping me heading forwards and helping me defeat the many rocks that seemed determined to knock me off course .  The potential danger of a higher speed crash somehow was pushed to the back of my consciousness! Eventually I made it to the road and I couldn’t help thinking that I was nearly back in civilisation now that I was back on sealed roads again.  How wrong I was! It took 60km of desert road rising over a lovely mountain range, seeing just one vehicle the whole way, to reach Tan Tan.  On arriving, I slumped into the chair of the local café for an orangejuice, completely exhausted and I thought through how lucky I was to have had such a great day: Dakar track, and a great encounter – a lunch.  I slept well that night.  Without the bed bugs.