Category Archives: Cars, Trucks & 4WD

Book review: Gandini Jebel Sagho off-road guide

In a line
Packed with intriguing routes to amazing vistas but unapologetically expensive and hard to visualise the potential without maps or the tracklog download (for another €20).

  • Price and description
  • £34 on amazon (€36)
  • Jaques Gandini with Houcine Ahalfi
  • 140 pages with loads of colour and one map.
  • Extrem’ Sud Editions; 2022
  • ISBN 9782864106746

What they say
The “Jacques Gandini [Jebel Sagho] Roadbook” [is a] lighter version[s] of the French ” Guides 4×4 J. Gandini” (without the historical or ethnographic boxes present in the French edition): all the itineraries, all the waypoints and their comments are included. Abundantly illustrated, they are printed on strong 170g/m2 paper and bound with a metal spiral for better handling on the trail. They are published in 4 languages: Spanish, English, German and Italian.

Jacques Gandini and Hoceine Ahalfi have explored in detail the Jebel Sagho, this magnificent wild region of southern Morocco, with its breathtaking landscapes, situated to the east of Warzazat and to the south of the Dades valley, and have put together 59 itineraries totalling 2,500 kilometres and 1,100 waypoints.

  • Thick, quality paper and spiral bound
  • Amazing Jebel Sagho deserves its own guide
  • There can’t be many routes left in Jebel Sagho!
  • The author is not without a GSOH
  • A little of the historical and cultural background seeps in from the full French edition
  • Expensive, even for a specialist guide
  • Just as with previous Gandinis, it’s an effort to engage with the book’s content, even in English
  • Better off just getting the tracklogs for €20?
  • Design/format too dense and basic
  • Scores of extraneous waypoints for every passing creek, etc
  • Just one map!
2500km, 1100 waypoints, 1 map

Review
I first came across Jacques Gandini’s Sahara guides over 20 years ago when that was all that was available for Libya (apart from German). The books were loaded with well researched historical and cultural background but as practical piste guides for the early GPS era I found them hard work. I may have bought one of his early Morocco books too, but was further put off.
Since that time I’ve written similar books like Sahara Overland (op) and Morocco Overland and like to think I know what it takes to make a piste guide user-friendly for two- and four-wheelers. In the meantime the prolific JG has concentrated mostly on Morocco, producing 11 routes guides to various regions as well as other travel books and histories, assisted by his Berber-speaking local guide, Houcine Ahalfi. The books were all in French until this English edition for Jebel Sagho was released in 2022 (also in Spanish, Italian and German), alongside the new French version. A sign that more translations will follow?
The blurb clearly states this is a ring-bound, stripped down ‘roadbook’ of the full French version which is well over twice as long. And they’re not exaggerating. You usually get one line intros for routes squeezed between masses and masses of photos. A few of these are amazing (not hard on Jebel S), some a bit so-what-y, as if filling space.

The pistes are categorised using Gandini’s scale, shown left. ‘Tufna’ are easy, well-maintained tracks like MZ1, ‘Beldi’ are ancient winding village routes, some possibly abandoned for regular use (locals on 125s can go anywhere); ‘DPM’ I think is meant to signify ‘Dedicated Piste Merchant’ or somesuch. ‘Orangina’ is a bone shaker and ‘AFA’ is Absolutely F-ing Amazing.
Most are listed from A to T but these refs are scattered all over the hard-to-read map (tip: don’t used dark red text on a brown background). In between are sub-routes Ba, Cd, etc, plus the aforementioned five AFAs.

Can’t see the route for the waypoints

Page upon page is packed with distances, waypoints, short descriptions and photos. According to the blurb, with over the 59 routes there is on average a waypoint every 2700 metres. Many of these waypoints are merely names of passing creeks extracted from a local shepherd or an old map. In the picture left, the right page has just six directional waypoints. I think this is too much distracting information, much of it unnecessary. Perhaps Gandini is a writer who likes to throw everything in (a common flaw with many ‘under-edited’ self-published books): loads of waypoints, loads of photos, but loads of routes too. Also, I believe we are now firmly in the era of the less error-prone decimal degrees format: simply 00.0000, -00,0000, not N00° 00.00′, W00° 00.00′. My next Morocco edition will use DD which I believe is the default in mobile phones.
You’d do well scrutinising the book or prefered routes with a highlighter, marking the waypoints that actually matter. In my Morocco book I decided ages ago that waypoints weren’t needed for every single passing feature which may be noted with a distance, especially when on a section of track you can’t get lost on. I have to add the condensed font is not to my taste either. For me legibility and ease of use are key; on the piste and with the Orangina fit to burst you have enough on your plate if the time comes when you need to refer to your guidebook.

It can’t be a mere oversight that the book has just one overview map on the inside front cover (above and online), tightly packed in the 2500 kilometres of routes. I feel that in books like this additional maps are an essential part of breaking down long lists of waypoints or tangled routes into something you can visualise. You get the feeling you’re being pushed into buying the tracklogs for another €20 (but of course not share them beyond your immediate family on pain of the guillotine). This is a current quandary to the intellectual property of all digital publishers. As it is, a canny user of Google Maps could easily locate the pistes shown above and trace them off satellite imagery to make their own tracklogs.
Finding online ‘OSM’ maps maddeningly unreliable and inconsistent, that’s what I’ve been doing these last few weeks in search of new routes in southern Morocco. There are many places I’ve long wondered ‘Hmm, where might that go?’. The best answer is on a WYSIWYG aerial image; zoom in close enough and you’ll find a dense lattice of tracks leading to lonely homesteads and hamlets all over Southern Morocco; just don’t expect these tracks to all to be passable. That is the value of guidebooks; the routes have been systematically ‘curated’ for you.

Some anomalies I chanced upon: he calls my MH14 route ‘new’ which seems odd. Yes there are new mines up here but I was told of this piste way back in 2011, it’s a long-established Sagho route. I also note he draws 120km out of my MZ1 route, when my tracklog recorded 102. That’s quite a discrepancy on a route which must be identical.
Other than that, there’s masses of information based on years of experience, it’s just a shame Gandini hasn’t got better at laying it out because it’s hard to easily take in what you actually need to know. Maybe, like any new guidebook, spending more time with it will make it easier to use.

Toyota Prado in Morocco

In October I had a recce job in Morocco and unexpectedly ended up driving a Toyota Prado TX. It’s been some time since I’ve driven a 4×4 – 2008 in fact: my Mazda in Algeria. Luckily I had an off road instructor alongside to remind me what to do.

The Prado TX is a commonly rented vehicle in Morocco – a 3-litre diesel automatic at around £150/day. Auto diesels were very rare in my day but make sense as rental vehicles. The cars had around 100,000km on the clocks but were in good shape. Part of the brief was to find some challenging tracks which I expected would get too much for the well-used and softly sprung TXs.

An auto fourbie is a new thing for me, but a great idea in that there’s no clutch to fry or gearbox to hammer. The Prado feels heavy and on the road is a bit of a sluggish overtaker, but off-road that ability to concentrate on wheel placement and braking was of course a better way of doing things.

One thing I did find was that Low Range 1st was still too high while coming down Route MA6 on Jebel Timouka. It was over patches of rocky terrain more than the steepness which needed easing over, but I constantly had to dab the brakes. I think I should have tried Hill Descent Control (or some such) to slow the car down, though that may have been excruciatingly too slow. The gearbox could also be slotted across into manual – ‘S’ – which also helped with control.

I’ve never scraped or thumped a 4×4’s underside so much as I did coming down MA6 in the TX at 5kph for two hours. They were all non-damaging hits but it’s not a good sound. The dash button would also not lock the central diff the one or two times we thought we might need it; traction-wise the car managed fine thanks to the fat tyres on soft springs and dry conditions.

I heard later that a couple of months back an HZJ78 Troopy fell over at the bottom end of this route where a wash-out requires driving steeply up/down the river bank. On a few occasions I had to be marshalled over rocks; following the guide’s hand signals to inch left or right. Not done that for years but it’s a system that works very well. Taking it easy, front and rear bumper clearance were not issues.

At one point I had a ‘Specsavers’ moment when a rock jumped out of nowhere and caught the nearside front wheel while driving out along MS9’s riverbeds towards Anezal. We stumbled across that route from another direction and which I’ve also not done since 2008 on an XT660. I’m pretty sure that thump tweaked the steering wheel 5° to the left, though there seemed no damage to the linkages or subsequent vibration in the steering. We also had the age-old problem of dust playing up with the tailgate release locks.

All up, while it was fun to off-road in the Prado and the auto box make light work of the trails, it’s still a big fat, lumbering 4×4 which I’d have no use for elsewhere. I’d sooner do Morocco in a jacked up Audi estate or maybe a rented Duster.

Algeria Timbuktu Mauritania 1990

Desert Travels Index Page

Buy Desert Travels 2021 on Amazon

Book Chapters:

Chapter 23: Battle of the Saharans

In Chapter 10 of Desert Travels the cantankerous 101 leading my first desert bike tour was stranded at the Tin Taradjeli pass (above). As so often happens in the Sahara, the next person to turn up happened to be a diesel mechanic.
Steve soon got the 101 running and, long story short, the following year we decided to team up and do a big Sahara trip together: him in his Land Cruiser, me in an old Land Rover 109.

For both of us this was the desert trip we’d each been planning in our heads for years. When travelling together briefly with my bike tour the previous year, we’d quickly established a shared passion for exploring the Sahara and set about doing a big trip together, each with his own 4×4. Though I’d been keen to head for the Ténéré Desert in Niger, we’d settled on keeping off the tarmac where possible and decided to head down to the Guinea’s highland jungles and the Mauritanian Sahara. 

Nineteen ninety was not such a good year for me: post bike-tour debt, a bad crash leading to hospitalisation, followed by homelessness, a smaller bike crash which at least put an end to my dozen years of despatching. And finally my Land Rover, all set for a desert adventure with Steve, blew up in darkest Sussex at 2am, while I was doing some late deliveries.

As a way of keeping the tip on the rails Steve invited me to ride his XT600Z instead. I wasn’t that keen on bikes by that time, plus it would leave me dependent on him. But I accepted his offer and we met up in France, the bike towed on its back wheel with a similar arrangement I’d used on the 101.

Unfortunately, as so often happened in those days, all my films were lost on a flight in Mauritania. Since then I’ve learned: do not put things you cannot afford to lose in the hold baggage. What few photos I have were shot by Steve.

On the ‘closed’ piste between Fort Mirabel and Hassi bel Guebbour.
Steve’s XT was nicely set up and of course all the essential gear was carried by the car.
I’m wearing my airey, paper-thin Swedish Tenson jacket. Beyond wearing a lid, gloves and boots, the idea of wearing any sort of armour never occurred to me.
On the gnarly piste up from Hirhafok to Assekrem deep in the Hoggar.
I found this picture recently on the internet and am pretty sure it’s the same ancient Beetle we saw at Hassi Tabelbalet, just after the Gara Khanfoussa dune crossing on the Graveyard Piste.

“… A couple of hours later we reached Tabelbalet well on the far side of the erg and were dumbfounded to come across an eccentric German father and son in a ratty VW Beetle. Amazed that a forty-year-old 2WD had made it through the dunes, Steve confessed later that the Germans’ presence had soured his crossing…” 
One of the easier sections on the sandy trail along the Niger river from Bourem to Timbuktu.
Tooling around in the dunes somewhere near Timbuktu where our trip was about to unravel.

‘I think I’ll head off when we get to Ségou [the next major town]. I’m not really enjoying all this riding around after you. I want to go off and do my own thing.’
I was determined to salvage the trip for my own ends. The shared driving had not materialised, the pace was ridiculous (we’d done around 4000 kilometres in less than two weeks) and everything I did was wrong or not enough. I didn’t see such a separation as a failure, it was merely the right thing to do if I was not to end up feeling resentful. 
Somewhere near Timbuktu. Too much vegetation for my liking
Getting water in a village in the Malian Sahel.
Fuelling up in Nara, just before the Mauritanian border.
Digging out on the way to Adel Bagrou, the Mauritanian border post where we managed to talk our way in without a Carnet de Passages.
Trackside break on the way to Nema.
In Nema we picked up the Ghandi-like guide called Nani for the 800-km crossing to Tichit. Just as well; there is no way we could have found the way without him as most of the time there was no track (or he rarely followed it).
Steve and Nani have a brew near Oualata.
I remember this bit well – a steep sandy pass called ‘Enji’ about 300km from Nema by which time I was riding the unladen XT like a Dakar vet. When you’re good it feels like ski-ing.

Enji is the plateau at the bottom right. This 1960s map shows a track, but in 1990 most of the time there was nothing but sand and annoying tussocks.
Sunk down to the axle in the soft sands west of Tichit.

As agreed near Timbuktu, in Tidjika Steve went his way towing the XT, and I went mine. I met some American Peace Corps Volunteers and my travels in Mauritania took on a whole new direction.

Once in Tidjikja, I flogged my crash helmet to a delighted policeman. This time Steve didn’t even try to persuade me and drove off towards Nouakchott. 

Sahara West–East with VW Vans, 1984 • Part 8/8

See also:
Sahara West-East Crossings
Astro Navigation in the Sahara

Reports by Peter Reif
Photos by Peter Reif and Arike Mijnlieff

OSEWO Index Page

The final instalment of Peter Reif’s report and maps recalling ÖSEWO: an Atlantic-to-Red Sea crossing of the Sahara in 1983-4 with VW T2 Kombis. From Aswan the foursome visit the temple of Abu Simbel, passing Sudanese camel meat caravans on the way. Then, after six months and some 12,000km from the Atlantic, they cross the Nile and take a well-earned dip in the Red Sea.
For earlier parts, click the Index Page.

Sahara West–East with VW Vans, 1984 • Part 7/8

See also:
Sahara West-East Crossings
Astro Navigation in the Sahara

Reports by Peter Reif
Photos by Peter Reif and Arike Mijnlieff

OSEWO Index Page

Part Seven of Peter Reif’s report and maps recalling ÖSEWO: an Atlantic-to-Red Sea crossing of the Sahara in 1983-4. After having to divert around Libya via the Mediterranean, the flat-four foursome are back in the desert to tackle on of the hardest stages so far. But not before they conduct a desert survival experiment to see how far one of the team can walk with what they can carry (above left).
For other parts, click the Index Page.

Final instalment

Sahara West–East with VW Vans, 1984 • Part 6/8

See also:
Sahara West-East Crossings
Astro Navigation in the Sahara

Reports by Peter Reif
Photos by Peter Reif and Arike Mijnlieff

OSEWO Index Page

Part Six of Peter Reif’s report and maps recalling ÖSEWO: an Atlantic-to-Nile crossing of the Sahara in 1983-4. Despite their best efforts to acquire Libyan visas in Djanet, Algiers and Tunis, an escalation in the Libyan war with Chad means they can’t cross overland to Egypt and so have to ferry around across the Mediterranean.
For other parts, click the Index Page.

Next stage

Sahara West–East with VW Vans, 1984 • Part 5/8

See also:
Sahara West-East Crossings
Astro Navigation in the Sahara

Reports by Peter Reif
Photos by Peter Reif and Arike Mijnlieff

OSEWO Index Page

Part Five of Peter Reif’s report and maps recalling ÖSEWO: an Atlantic-to-Red Sea crossing of the Sahara in 1983-4. The team have arrived in Tamanrasset where they meet many other desert overlanders, as well as the Dakar Rally and three VW friends from Austria who’ve brought spare passports for Libya.
The four vans tick off the Hoggar Loop, then headed east for Djanet, close to the Libyan border.
For other parts, click the Index Page.

East to Djanet

Next stage

Sahara West–East with VW Vans, 1984 • Part 4/8

See also:
Sahara West-East Crossings
Astro Navigation in the Sahara

Reports by Peter Reif
Photos by Peter Reif and Arike Mijnlieff

OSEWO Index Page

Part Four of Peter Reif’s report and maps recalling ÖSEWO: an Atlantic-to-Red Sea crossing of the Sahara in 1983-4. Following the tough, three-week crossing of the Majabat al Koubra to Timbuktu, the two VWs head northeast back into the desert for the Algerian border they crossed two months earlier on the way down.
For other parts, click the Index Page.

Next stage

Sahara West–East with VW Vans, 1983 • Part 3/8

See also:
Sahara West-East Crossings
Astro Navigation in the Sahara

Reports by Peter Reif
Photos by Peter Reif and Arike Mijnlieff

OSEWO Index Page

Part Three of Peter Reif’s report and maps recalling ÖSEWO: an Atlantic-to-Red Sea crossing of the Sahara in 1983-4. The VWs load up and tackle the big 1500-km dune crossing of the Majabat al Koubra or Empty Quarter from Atar to Timbuktu.
For other parts, click the Index Page.

Next stage

Sahara West–East with VW Vans, 1983 • Part 2/8

See also:
Sahara West-East Crossings
Astro Navigation in the Sahara

Reports by Peter Reif
Photos by Peter Reif and Arike Mijnlieff

OSEWO Index Page

Part Two of Peter Reif’s report and maps recalling ÖSEWO: an Atlantic-to-red Sea crossing of the Sahara in 1983-4. The team get in position for the first big desert crossing.
For other parts, click the Index Page.

Next stage