Day 28: Sun, sand and Sahara

Soutpiel Safari
John & Jenny
Thu 2 Dec 2010 20:10
Day 28: Thursday 2 December 2010.  Desert bush camp between Terrfoute and Marabout N30 38.522 W004 43.597.  Distance driven 167 km of which 92 km were off road on the piste.
We were up at 0630 and straight out on to the sand to watch the sun rise over the dunes, and very spectacular it was too. We joined a group of tourists who had slept the night in a Bedouin tent, together with their guide who I found a bit of a pain.  I'd hate to be in a tout group!  After breakfast in the hotel we drove the 14 km piste back to the tarmac, and then into Merzouga where we were quickly picked up by Ali Mouni who recognised our UK plates and announced that he looked after all the Brits! It was fortuitous as we were looking for him, having been told of him by Vince Cobley of Protrax, the company with which we did some off-road and recovery training.
Ali took us for tea at his Nomad's Palace and was a great help with information about the piste routes from Touaz to Zagora.  He took us to meet Hassan, one of his guides who gave us a sheet of GPS points along the route.  Ali was charming and couldn't have been of more help - what a wonderful man! Once we had entered the GPS co-ordinates we took off onto the piste and found it mainly pretty straightforward. The route corresponded to the route on our South African "Tracks 4 Africa" electronic mapping software but it was good to have Hassan's co-ordinates as a check. The surface was mainly hard and ridged, interspersed with some sections of soft sand but nothing serious.  In one village we lost the route and the locals warned us that the "piste principale" was very difficult with soft drifted sand after Monday's sand storm. We hired Hamid as a guide and he took us on an alternative route for 5 km, whereupon he walked home after having had his photo taken with his arm round Jenny!
I was quite surprised to find a number of very well constructed "auberges" along the route - maybe 10 in the 90 km we drove today. Pickings must be pretty lean as we only saw one other vehicle all day, a Land Rover coming the other way.
We are camped tonight in open desert with just a few lights in the distance from a small village.  It is eerily quiet with no wind, a clear sky, and millions of stars, but much warmer than recent nights in the mountains.