Category Archives: Sahara News

The Algerian Berm

bermbermdakinbermIt’s well know that in the 80s the Moroccans pushed up a huge, 2000-km fortified and mined sand wall or berm (left and right) between their part of the Western Sahara and the remains of  the Polisario-controlled lands to the east. It stretches from the Atlantic border with Mauritania northeast towards Smara, on the way cheekily chopping off the desolate corner of Mauritania (not shown on all maps). After Smara it then runs up towards Zag until it reaches the natural barrier of the Jebel Ouarkaziz ridge – the southernmost outlier of the Atlas mountains – right around here and just 22 miles from southern Morocco’s N12 highway.mw1g
The periodic foums and oums (natural gaps in the ridge) sometimes become locations for strategic forts or installations, like the abandoned one at KM227 on Route MW1 in Morocco (left) from the Polisario war.

It seems the Algerians have got the same idea and have been building an intermittent berm of their own along exposed sections of their border with Morocco where foums in the Ouarkaziz or later, Jebel Bani, would have allowed easy motorised passage.

berm-farClick on this point in Algeria some 40km southeast of Mhamid in Morocco, and you can follow the zig-zagging berm northeast for some 40km via a small erg, until it stops near a ridge where berm-ouednyberm-fortrough terrain resumes the job. Branch berms break off to make enclosures or to complicate scouting along the main berm for a gap, and every once in a while there’s some sort of installation, fort (left) or look-out post pushed up berm-duneby the bulldozer. They even incorporated little gaps for the oueds to flow though (above right) and which are quite possibly mined. Any passages through the small erg are also blocked with a berm (right).
berm-railWay further east towards Figuig, a gap in the jebel there demarking the Moroccan border where the old Oran–Colomb-Bechar rail line used to run has been bermed too (left). lecmonustamp
Nearby, just to the south in Algeria is a monument to General Leclerc whose plane crashed near here in 1947 – it’s pictured on the commemorative stamp, right. Among other heroic wartime deeds, he’s famed for leading an armoured column lechadup though Chad to help the LRDG attack the Axis forces based in Murzuk, Libya. There are many more monuments to the WW2 liberator of Paris in North Africa and France.
It’s not fully clear what the Algerian berm is for – stopping n’er do wells from creeping south past similar Moroccan installations out into Algeria? You imagine any illicit traffic is northbound (as this article suggests) so perhaps it’s some EU or US funded initiative to limit the traffic of smuggled migrants, arms and drugs up from Algeria to Morocco. You imagine a berm is fairly easy to make once you order a conscript with a D6 to get on with it. There’s been bad blood with Morocco for as long as the two countries have existed. Algeria claims Morocco smuggles loads of hashish southwards to befoul it populace. Despite Morocco’s wishes, the border with Algeria has been closed to all since the mid-1990s.

More berm activity way down south at Bordj Moktar

Cabinet of Saharan Curiosities

mepCome see my collection of Saharan curios at the Adventure Travel Film Festival next weekend at Mill Hill, north London.
curiosOver the years I’ve picked up numerous artefacts on the desert floor – from the tiniest, finely chipped arrowheads in the Bilma Erg to grinding stones on the Admer Plain, Palaeolithic hand axes in the Gilf Kebir, bizarre hematoidal concretions inarchers the Libyan Desert, salt cake from the lost salines of Seguedine, fulgarites from the Tenere and the Great Sand Sea, and stone-age tools spanning eons of homo sapien activity from the Mauritania’s Adrar plateau to the Akakus and Jebel Uweinat beyond.
Lots of other great stuff to see at the ATFF too.

curio

‘V’ is for Vintage Sahara Maps

Part of the occasional Sahara A to Z series
Hang around long enough and you’ll get the full set

A look at some old Sahara Maps to see what obscure places or routes were once conspicuous, as well as which ancient places survive today.

Medieval-saharaThe earliest old map I have looks like it’s from the medieval era, but was probably based on Herodotus’ Histories which was getting on for 2000 years old by this time. It was he that brought terms like ‘Libya’ (North Africa) and ‘Aethiopia’ (sub-Saharan Africa) into common usage.
On this map ‘Mauritania’ is today’s Morocco, while the chariot-riding Garamanteans are correctly located around present day Germa in the Libyan Fezzan. It’s probably coincidental, but the ‘Barditi Montef’ (mountains) could be the Tibesti around Bardai – actually only 700km southeast of TimMissaoChariotancient Garama. (Left: rock art depicting chariots at Tim Missao well, 1200km southwest of Germa on the way to Mali. The Garamanteans are said to have got around.)
This map may have been the best that Moorish wanderer, Leo Africanus’ (BBC doc) had to go on Jonathan-Swiftfor his 16th-century travels across the region, venturing as far as Timbuktu, Cairo and possibly even Mecca. Along with Ibn Battuta’s travels a couple of centuries earlier, it was Africanus’ Description of Africa (1550) which expanded knowledge of the Sahara. But despite the efforts of Africanus, even by 1700 or so, satirists like Jonathan Swift (right) were said to have quipped:
                       So Geographers in Afric maps 
                       With Savage Pictures fill their Gaps


medievalmonsFast forward a few centuries and there be no dragons or other medieval monsters (right) on this map of Africa dating from an atlas produced in 1803. It’s credited to William Kneass who later became Chief Engraver of the U.S. Mint in Philadelphia. Instead, the advent of scientific enlightenment had brought us longitude, latitude and the ‘Equinoctial Line’.

Sahara-map-1803

The mariners of the era had succeeded in very accurately mapping the outline of the African continent, but the interior, including the ‘Zahara or Desert of Barbary‘, remained blanks. South of the Sahara the most notable inland incursions were made by the early European colonies around Cape Verde and Guinea Bissau, Angola, the Cape and Mozambique. In the north Egypt and the Nile are better mapped all the way into the Biblical lands of Abyssinia.
The Moroccan imperial cities are present: ‘New Salle’ being Rabat, with Marrakech labelled as ‘Morocco’. Never linked those two words before, but presumably they’re both based on ‘Moor’ so it makes sense.
52JSouth of the Atlas ‘Tatta’ appears to be close to Tata, with the Oued Draa known as the ‘Nun’. The 16th-century Portuguese trading post of ‘Mogodoro’ is Essaouira, and Tarfaya at Cape Bojador was then called ‘Tungarzall’. To the east you’d have thought that Sijilmassa near Erfoud might have got a mention. It was the northern terminus on the ’52 day’ caravan route from Timbuktu (left).
Further south in Western Sahara and Mauritania, ‘St Cyprian’s Bay’ became Golfe de Cintra after a Portuguese mariner and slaver got killed nearby at Arguin (also labelled). Inland from here, only ancient ‘Tisheet‘ gets a mention, on the old Dhar Tichit caravan route. I remember going to a talk in Nouakchott about the medieval glass trading links between Tichit tichitaand Venice. Tichit didn’t look like much when we were there in 1990 (right; it’s all in D. Travels), but it’s a historic settlement on a par Caillie_1830_Timbuktwith Timbuktu (left; as seen by Caillé in 1830), Oualata, Chinguetti and Ouadane. The latter may be the ‘El Waden’, misplaced way north of Timbuktu and not far from ‘Ensala’ which could be even more distant In Salah in Algeria.
At this point it was still a couple of years before the American sailor, Robert Adams briefly ended up a slave in Timbuktu. Among other things, his account helped kick off the race to reach this fabled Saharan ‘Shangri La’ and with that, the great age of European Saharan exploration as listed rather Francocentrically on the 1898 map below.
Eastwards on this 1803 map, many places in Algeria are recognisable: ‘Tuggurt’, ‘Guargala’, and over the border in present day Libya: ‘Godemashe’, ‘Mourzouk’ and ‘Ganat’. ‘Zeghen’ was less easy to pinpoint, visited by James Richardson while on the road from Tunis to Ghat and back up to Tripoli in 1845-6. At the time Richardson estimated Zeghen’s population at ‘200 men, GateotHarem-duNouy300 women, and 700 children and slaves‘. Our man Duveyrier (see below) locates it for us a short distance northwest of Sebha in the Wadi Ash-Shati, on the way to ‘Sockna‘. Here Richardson spent some time as a guest of the Turkish Caid and his comely concubines.
bilma2006Berdoa’ is the old name for Kufra in southeast Libya, and south of there, on the page’s fold, is the enduring salt oasis of ‘Belma’ (left) at the base of Niger’s ‘Kawar’ escarpment. The hyper-arid and largely uninhabited Libyan Desert around Jebel Uweinat wasn’t to be explored until the 20th century.


Fast forward a hundred and one years and the Saharan blanks begin to fill up. Below is the ‘Northern Africa’ plate extracted from a Bartholomew’s Handy Reference Atlas of the World dated 1904 (source) and which differs very little from my 1888 version.

Sahara-map-1904

citroen1922The interior is still sparse, but the proposed trans-Saharan railway gets a mention. Running across the flat plain of the Tanezrouft, in 1922 it was the actual route taken by the first cars – Citroen Kegresse autochenilles (half tracks; left) – to cross the Sahara north to south and back.
In the west ‘Shinghit’ is a bit out of line with Atar and Wadan, but in the ball park. To the south is the ghost town of Ksar el Barka and ‘Portendik’ must be early Nouakchott, though you wonder what became of ‘Mufga’ near grubby Choum of today.
Ancient Taghaza (as visited by Ibn Battuta) never gets a mention on any of these maps, but it’s replacement, the newer salt mine at ‘Towdeni’ was a key point on the ’52 days’ caravan route to Sijilmassa.
In northern Mali, ‘Essuk‘ whch hosted the early Tuareg music festivals before they moved to Timbuktu and long predates today’s Kidal. Meanwhile in Algeria the Amadror salt mines get one of their last calls. Wau crater in Libya gets a name check too, there’s brackish water there, but due to the mosquitoes it was never a settlement.
Up in the Mediterranean, Crete is oddly identified by its ancient name of Candia, perhaps intended as a poke at the despicable Ottomans?


North Sahara 1898Left we have Dufrenoy’s intriguing and detailed map from 1898, centred on the southern limits of French-controlled Algeria. The red lines identify the itineraries of that busy century’s wave of Sahara explorers, from Laing’s fatal excursion to Timbuktu in 1826, right up to Laperrine, who in 1898 set out to quell the southern Tuareg with his Méhariste Camel Corps and died in a plane crash southwest of Tam in 1920. Note too the zig-zaging return of Flatters’ disastrous second mission of 1881, (as described in Desert Travels) when the handful of harried survivors sought to out-run the Tuareg who’d trailed and picked them off one by one.


Henri Duvyerier Map 1864Back-tracking a bit, the 1881 Flatters Mission – partly intent on reconnoitring a railway route between the Maghreb and France’s territories in West Africa – wouldn’t have got half as far as it did without Henri Duveyrier’s amazingly detailed map of 1864. It was based on his journeys there a few years earlier, described in Les Touaregs du Nord.
Tamanrasset was merely a oued; Silet, In Amguel and tinhinIdeles on the other side of the Hoggar were established settlements. The tomb of Tin Hinan (right) even gets a mention, though it’s a bit misplaced from actual Abalessa.
Further out on the Tanezrouft the strategic well of Tim Missao (the chariots, above) and the waterholeinziza at In Ziza (right) are labelled, but in Libya the Murzuk sand sea is just an ‘unnamed hammada’ separating the Tuareg from Tubu. There’s plenty more mouth-watering detail if this area means anything to you, and Duveyrier’s inset helpfully lays the ancient geographical names alongside their modern counterparts.


Sahara-map-1933

How time flies. It’s now 1933 and France’s African colony encompasses half the Sahara and most of West Africa. Tamanrasset and Djanet, which even then must have been the biggest towns in southern Algeria, are still missed out, but then this isn’t a French map. In Mauritania Tidjikja makes an appearance, so does Iferouane in the Aïr and Tindouf up in Algeria. ‘Marakesh’ looks like it’s still ‘aka Morocco’ where the Spanish cling on to protectorates in western Sahara (Rio de Oro), Sidi Ifni and on the north coast, but not for long. Within 25 years the Sahara would take on the borders and principal towns with which we’re familiar today.


Who can resist the superb ‘Uweinat’ map originally published by the Survey of Egypt in 1945. One of the most fascinating corners of the Sahara, much of its detail was based on the sahara-maplidintrepid explorations of Ralph Bagnold in the 1920s, as well as later Brits, some of who were fictionalised in The English Patient movie.
The last time we travelled there, it was still the best paper map available for that area (right), notwithstanding the newer aeronautical TPCs.

Uweinat 2006


Old Saharan mapoholics will be familiar with the Austin TX university’s comprehensive online database of full-sized Saharan maps dating more or less from the early 1940s. Click this to get to the index pictured below and thank you Austin.

texasindexer


And finally, a forerunner to the famous 4-million scale Michelin 153 map (now the 741) that covered the French Sahara: an ageing Michelin 152 from 1948. It was the best photo I could manage – scanning will have to wait for a very rainy day.

leclerctibestiYou get the feeling that this may have been a commemorative special edition to celebrate General Leclrec’s heroic achievements in the Sahara during WWII, when a small column managed to take Kufra and then Murzuk from the Italians, and then push north to help expel the Axis forces from North Africa along with the 8th Army.

Like the LRDG map, the 152 has helpful detail like ‘piste tres difficile‘ as well as the famous info on water resources ‘tres mauvais a 50m‘, that we recognise from the later editions which covered the Sahara all the way to the Atlantic.

Mich 152

Too much information? Then this may interest you.
Want modern maps? Go here.

D is for Dust: In Search of the Saharan Climate

Part of the occasional Sahara A to Z series
Hang around long enough and you’ll get the full set

Saharan-dusterConsidering its influence on global weather patterns, very little data exists about the climate of the Sahara. Dust plumes from summertime sand storms can reach right across the Atlantic, having a bearing on the formation of hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico, saharan dust in ukand in western Europe we are familiar with occasional reports on  ‘Sahara dust rain’ that settles on smooth surfaces like car bodies. In March 2014 the Daily Mail reported on the outrage of Saharan dust settling on Prime Minister Cameron’s car in Downing Street (right).

wef

bookmaproadssahara automated weather stationIn 2011 and 2012 Project Fennec set out to expand the knowledge of this area by gathering climatic and aerosol data across the arid ‘Empty Quarter’ of the western Sahara. Covering northern Mauritania, northern Mali and western Algeria, it’s known to meteorologists as the ‘Saharan Heat Low’ (SHL) and is the world’s largest source of airborne dust. Manned weather stations were established in Zouerat, Mauritania and Bordj Moktar (‘BBM’) on the Algeria-Mali border (see map above left), while automated weather stations (AWS, above right) were planted across the 1000 miles between the two bases, in the remote Erg Chech region.
SEQrouteIn 2006 we traversed the southern edge of this ‘empty quarter‘ between Ouadane and BBM, crossing only the infrequently travelled Timbuktu-Taoudenni piste in some 2000 km of off-piste driving. On the way we collected dust samples for what became Fennec.

ewfwef3In the summer of 2012 the Fennec ground observations were backed up by a series of flights at high and low altitude across the region using aircraft crammed with recording instruments (above right).

Below is a short film about the Fennec project.

itc

Morocco Maps

Updated May 2019

M3-coverm3regionsReviews below only relate to the ‘Morocco Overland zone’ (left) and only the most useful maps are mentioned. The north of Morocco is not considered, although you assume any map will be OK up there too.
Med ferries and Morocco port access maps here. For maps for the whole Sahara click this.

Short version:
Get the current Michelin 742 map to use in a car, or a grided, more robust and waterproof 2019 Reise Know-How (RK-H) map for a bike. Then import the free OSM or the Garmin North Africa (£20) digital map into your GPS/satnav. Both these GPS maps will be more useful in Moroccan cities than you might expect, and are vaguely routable, like a car satnav.


About paper Morocco country maps

allmapsGet a paper map of Morocco: they’re inexpensive, light, compact, don’t need recharging and give you the big picture which is great for planning at home, or deciding where to go next once out there. You can’t do that on your smartphone or GPS, handy though they are.
There are up to a dozen Morocco country maps in print and taking into account scale, price, clarity, date of publication, presence of a long/lat grid and so on, the maps below are recommended for on and off-highway travel in the south of Morocco.
One thing quickly becomes clear: while you won’t get lost and die of thirst relying these maps, they’re all surprisingly inaccurate and tend to copy each other’s mistakes. Some minor routes shown as sealed are in fact little-used pistes, and some pistes depicted
identically on several maps do not match the orientation shown, or don’t exist at all.
What also becomes evident is how many more interesting and easily navigable pistes there are in Morocco which don’t appear on these paper maps. The same can be said for villages; many established settlements on a par with other locally depicted places are missing, while some towns are given excessive prominence for what you’ll find there. This inconsistency with road and place ‘hierarchy’ is probably as old a complaint as mapping itself.
For navigating along the main ‘N’ highways in a motorhome the recommended maps are fine. But using them for reliable navigation and accurate position-finding on more obscure southern Moroccan back roads or tracks may be a hit and miss affair. For that a GPS or phone with a map is better (see below). Once you accept this limitations paper maps not so bad.


rkh-19

Reise Know-How 1:1m 2019
Best for regular use and motos – £9.95

  • The 11th edition published in 2019 may have the same ‘old man in the mountains’ cover but appears to be a genuine update while retaining the usual errors.
  • The main changes:
    • New Moroccan road numbers given alongside old ones. Nice touch
    • Many more red RN roads added, finally
    • Provincial names and boundaries shown (not so useful)

Flaws
• Fuel station info inconsistent (unless they mean ‘village fuel‘)
• Many tracks (grey) are easy-to-drive gravel roads/pistes (white)
• Many well-established pistes are missing; others are sealed roads (yellow or red)
• Some sealed roads are tracks (eg: RN14; off limits, anyway)
• Some villages missing or misaligned

rkh19-2upIn the end, recognising all these paper maps are flawed in some way, the German RKH was the one I use most. Why? Because unlike the Michelin, it won’t fall apart after less than an hour’s accumulated use, the accuracy and clarity are good enough once you know the pitfalls, and the double-sided printing makes it compact and easy to use in a crowded lift, shove in a bike’s tank net (right) or open out in a gale. tankmapI also find the intuitive 1:1m scale good for quick distance estimates (1mm = 1km) and the grid lines work well for estimating a position on the map off a GPS. They even squeeze an index round the edges and now, some pretty, touristic pictures.
Cartographically, the RKH isn’t the best design for me, but the 2019 is a bit lighter and if necessary you can eat your lunch off it, use it as an umbrella, origami it into a bowl and generally rough it up rkh-rodneywithout it ending up like Michelin confetti. Plastic paper maps are the way to go.
The biggest drawback with the RKH was the vague alignment of roads and tracks and not keeping with pistes which were sealed years ago. For regular tourists heading out in rental cars or campervans towards a sealed road on the map which turns out to be a piste is irritating. But they’re also missing out on many great backroad drives.
This map is also available for around €15 as a pre-calibrated digital download direct from RK-H (PC apps only, last time I looked).


mich742-2015

Michelin 742 1:1m
Only £5.99 and best for planning, but fragile

Michelin, the best map for Morocco, right? It’s OK but the thin paper doesn’t lend itself to regular use, not helped by the fact that at over 1.5m wide, the 742 is a big map. What’s also missing is a Long/Lat grid. Why? Here’s a possible explanation*.
Rather than city insets you get five useful sub-regions at 600k scale (notably Jebel Sirwa south of Marrakech), and even some useful climate stats. What I like most about this map is the intuitive 1:1m scale (a millimeter = a kilometre), the clear, functional Michelin design and the fact that it goes right down to Laayoune which means you can view all the book’s routes on one sheet (apart from the lower halves of Routes MO2 and MW6). And at £5.99 in the UK, it’s the cheapest of the recommended Morocco maps.
Roads and pistes wind around with believable intricacy (unlike the lazier RKH) and we get Michelin’s well-known scenic ‘green road’ feature which is pretty reliable. In places the forest and dune coverage isn’t to be relied on and it’s this sort of detail that you feel never gets updated.
mich-routerAs for the accuracy of secondary roads and pistes – a common failing on all these maps – look carefully at the Key (in five languages including Arabic). Unconventionally, uncoloured (white) roads with solid borders on both sides signify ‘road surfaced’, but one dashed edge means an all-out piste liable to the weather, though they’ve added a new designation: one dotted edge which means unsealed but usable in all-weather by all vehicles. Being vague about the type of surface is a conveniently ambiguous way of saying they could be surfaced with asphalt, gravel, egg mayonnaise or rocks. And of course some of these solid-edged ‘white roads’ are major two-lane highways where the regular yellow colouring would be more appropriate. And as on other maps, plenty of tracks mentioned in the book or on the digital maps below are missing and some white roads don’t exist. In places this data is years out of date but overall they don’t get it as badly or as conspicuously wrong as the RKH, below.
Note that so-called ‘new editions’ often add up to no more than a new cover design but in my experience the 742 is still one of the best maps for overlanding in Morocco.

* Try and draw on a grid and it soon becomes clear the 742 is tilted quite a few degrees east of north, probably because it’s extracted from the top left of their ‘North and West Africa’ 953 map which is north-centred on E16°. Without presumably expensive correction, putting a grid over a 742 would expose this lean all the more clearly and might put customers off. Don’t know what on earth I’m on about? Don’t worry it’s not that important.

satnavorgps

Digital maps for your GPS

garminmapOpen Source Mapping (OSM)
Similar to the much-loved Olaf (below) but now more up to date. On the link select ‘Morocco’ in the
 ‘Africa’ menu and choose to add or remove tiles as needed (less tiles may mean quicker map). You will need Garmin’s free MapInstall and Basecamp software.
Of the three digital map options for Morocco, this is the one I refer to last – and you can see why on the four-screen comparison below. The absence of topographic detail makes it harder to visualise the landscape, compared to the Garmin and Olaf

Garmin North Africa Topo £20.
You will need Garmin’s free MapInstall and Basecamp software. Afaik, this map is locked in your GPS unit so only shows and becomes editable with Basecamp on a computer screen when your GPS is attached to the computer. Click the link for a full review. Below the same region shown on four digital maps discussed here

gar-msd

Marokko Topo GPS – ‘Olaf map’ (now superseded by Garmin Topo and OSM)
Free download
olaffer‘Olaf’ is the adopted abbreviation for the free downloadable Marokko Topo GPS vector map produced by a guy called Olaf Kähler – don’t ask me how he did it, but updating ended in 2009. Olaf was fast and easy and gave you many more routes than the book plus usable city maps. It’s said the Garmin North Africa Topo took many Olaf originals, and its probably the same case with the OSMs which have now superseded Olaf.
Olaf obviously improved on a base map of Morocco you got in a standard GPS (see comparison above), and was enhanced by featuring tracks sent in as track logs by contributors to his project. But Olaf merrily published everything his contributors sent in, whether they were blundering around or following regular tracks, so not all routes are kosher.
satnavbmwSometimes an Olaf track can be out by a couple hundred metres and other tracks appear to be dead ends. Using Olaf on a Nuvi satnav (left), tracks appear as ‘fat’ orange and ‘thin’ grey lines. GPSs like Montanas may display them more clearly, but you can expect problems importing Olaf into Montanas and the like if you’re not that techy.
Problems importing Olaf (not unusual)? Read this.

… and your smartphone or phablet?

Cyclist Alex C says:

orox‘I would suggest you to mention the Orux app for android: it’s a little bit complicated at first but has all the countries in the world. I used it successfully in Mongolia, helping the local driver to find the right track on the Gobi desert. Very detailed and very popular amongst outdoor enthusiasts. Using smartphones or 5.7″ ‘phablets’ like my Samsung Galaxy A8, with GPS there are no more battery drain issues  – handy for oruxcyclists. Coupling a smartphone with a good 10 or 20 Ah power bank and solar panels like Anker works well. The Oruxmaps app compares well with Garmin products.


Other paper and digital/online mapping 

TPC 1:500k
1990s – no longer sold in paper – free download

TPCh2tpcmaroc‘Tactical Pilotage Chart’ sounds cool, but while in the central Sahara the scale is handy, for fast-developing Morocco they’re now way out of date, too big and have all the ingrained limitations of surface detail found in pilots’ maps: OK on relief, very confusing on roads and tracks. Fuller details here – scroll down to ‘US Defense Mapping Agency’.
maroc-tpcHaving said that, two TPCs that might be of use down south are the H1-B and the H2-A, highlit in red on the right. Click top right to see the Moroccan section of the H2-A. Tearing away 3/4s of that map, I used a marked-up copy to help orient myself while exploring less known routes in this part of Morocco one time. To make the map easier to read it helps to ID main roads, rename a few towns as well as mark other POIs.

Soviet Topo
1:1m, 1:500k, 1:200k
1980s – download
The USSR’s equivalent Cold War project to the Defense Mapping Agency’s efforts above. Click the link to search and download topographic maps for anywhere in the world, including Morocco up to a scale of 100,000. All the script will be in Cyrillic of course, and I must say I find the orange colouring and general design of these maps not so easy to read (more here – scroll down to ‘Soviet…’), but they’re free and ready for calibration.

Google and Bing Maps
Can be brilliant for planning 
satgoo
Used as a pre-planning road map, Google Maps‘ map page can be misleading on southern Morocco compared to the more detailed paper maps reviewed above. Click between ‘map’ to ‘satellite’ and you’ll often see how inaccurate the highway overlay is compared to the true satellite image, although the Terrain page can be illuminating. Pistes and roads are as out-of-date, incomplete, not labeled with the standard Moroccan N- or R- road/track designations, satbinginaccurate in hierarchy (closed piste and two lane blacktop shown as the same – the same flaw as TPCs) or are non-existent, just like the worst paper maps above. Furthermore, many town and village names are unrecognisable, presumably taken from non-standard US sources. Zoomed in, you can look at the Google map on Morocco a long time before you find a name you recognise and work out where you are.
However, Google Map’s satellite page (or Google Earth) is particularly effective in vividly dramatising and navigating the arid topography of a place like southern Morocco, even if resolution/clarity on some of the segments appear shot through the bottom of a Coke bottle at F1.8. In that case check out Bing Maps’ Aerial view; zoom in close enough and suddenly it jumps from what looks like overboiled spinach soup to eye-popping clarity.

cheggers Google Chegaga (terrible – far right)
• Bing Chegara (clear – right)

Either platform at its best look as crisp as peering down from a hot air balloon. On Erg Chebbi you can even spot the tourist bivouacs in the dunes. Google Earth needs many of the layers unchecked which often contain wildly inaccurate ‘user-added’ junk, but Bing or Google, on the ground at last you have a WYSIWYG ‘map’ that cannot lie. With My Places you can preview your route or cook up new links between pistes, discover new areas and generally be thrilled at the bird’s eye view of Morocco. Where the res is good, it’s brilliant.