The Atlas Expedition: 1400km across the Atlas from the Mediterranean to the Sahara
“God creates dinosaurs – God destroys dinosaurs, God creates man – man destroys God, man creates dinosaurs…” Ian Malcolm, Jurassic Park
On 20th August 2020, I am off on the final leg of my epic exploration of the whole of Morocco. This is the third part of my trilogy, and if it is anything like Lord of the Rings, I am in for a tough time. The good news is that Brahim and Addi are joining me again and Ali is coming too. He is entrusted with negotiating with the authorities in these difficult Covid days. Three of my 6 trusty camels will be with us: Hamish (and yes he is my favourite) Hector and Sausage and we will have three new boys joining the gang. Name ideas welcome – they have to be Scottish and male but apart from that knock yourselves out. I am considering a Tarquin.
It is always hard to estimate the distances, especially as we may change route if we come across unforeseen obstacles, but at the moment we are estimating we will walk around 1400km from Nador on the Mediterranean coast through the Rif mountains, across the remote and little-explored Rekkam plateau on to Toundout, the lair of the dinosaurs, ending at the Dam of Gold in Ouarzazate where my mission began. It will take between 60 and 78 days.
The Draa and Sahara Expeditions
I’ve already covered nearly 3000km over 6 months: becoming the first woman to walk the length of the Draa River (The Draa Expedition) and then continuing on from Oued Chbika on the Atlantic Coast to the Mauritanian border (The Sahara Expedition).
It has been an extraordinary journey for us so far. I never dreamed that it would be so rich, so varied, so full of discovery and so hard. We discovered a lost city, uncovered the graves of the giants of the Draa, escaped the clutches of quicksand and walked in fear through landmines. This time, though, the big prize is dinosaur traces – I am going in search of dinosaurs.
I’m always asked what the aim of the expeditions are and although, of course, I really hope I do find some dinosaur remains, the underlying aims of all my journeys are summed up beautifully by Maya Angelou, “Perhaps travel cannot prevent bigotry, but by demonstrating that all peoples cry, laugh, eat, worry, and die, it can introduce the idea that if we try and understand each other, we may even become friends.”
Water, water everywhere
Also, at last on my march across Morocco, I should have plenty of water. An over-arching theme has been to look at the effects of climate change on the environments I have passed through and on the peoples that live there. North Africa is drying out and climate change and social change are ending the nomadic way of life that has existed for millennia. In the Sahara, animals and plants are disappearing along with the humans as the water becomes harder and harder to find. I want to tell that difficult story alongside the really fun adventure tales.
I will also be seeing how Corona has affected the inhabitants of these remote villages and regions. The world has changed but has that change reached these far places?
Having to factor in Corona has been a huge headache for the team – especially my Expedition Organiser, Jean-Pierre Datcharry Désert et Montagne Maroc and Dar Daif. He has spent nearly two weeks on the road, meeting with local authorities in the provinces we will walk through, reassuring them and explaining our ambitions. We will be taking good care as we go: wearing masks whenever we meet people. I finally got my test this morning after seven hours of waiting – and it wasn’t as unpleasant as I thought it would be. For myself and the men, it is the uncertainty that has been difficult and still is. We are about to go off for a couple of months but it is still possible to be stopped at any time. It is hard to live with that and has brought a new dimension to the whole experience.
Dinosaurs – the big ticket item
So, why dinosaurs? Well, Morocco is a dinosaur and fossil hunter’s heaven. The climate, geological characteristics and lack of urbanisation have created the perfect environment for the preservation of dinosaur remains. Scientists have been able to build up a fantastic picture of life 95 million years ago from their research into the Kem Kem beds in the east of the country.
Dr Susannah Maidment from the National History Museum, recently found a new genus of the Stegosauras dating from 168 million years ago which she named Adratiklit boulahfa, meaning “mountain lizard” in the Berber language. It is instantly recognisable by the plate-like bones protruding from its spine and spikes on its tail. Susannah has been giving me practical advice for my hunt, “Ask the locals, wherever you are – and take lots of photos!”
This expedition will go through wildly different landscapes. It begins in the verdant, alpine scenery of the Rif where water will not be a problem. The oak and cedar forests here are the habitat of the native (and endangered) Macaque monkey. Then, the desert begins with a 100km crossing of the Rekkam plateau which lies at 1400m – higher than Ben Nevis. Turning further west, we will gain height as we reach the highest villages in Morocco at 2600m – very high for the camels – and go on to the Lakes of the Bride and Bridegroom at Imilchil. Our last little flourish is when we skirt the southern foothills of the Atlas to end at the Dam of Gold where they had their first bivouac of the entire Morocco expedition in January 2019.
I am writing this on the evening before we get in the car and head up north. It will take us just two days – amazing when you think how long it is going to take to get back! I am full of excitement, mixed with a bit of trepidation and a lot of gratitude to my sponsors who have stood by me in spite of the economic ravages of Corona. I am so proud to be sponsored by:
CRAGHOPPERS who are also supplying all my hiking kit.
NTT DATA UK Diversity and Inclusion Team.
The whole trilogy of expeditions has been organised by Jean-Pierre Datcharry of Désert et Montagne Maroc and Dar Daif who has over 40 years of experience in the field and has explored all over North Africa himself.
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Facebook: Alice Hunter Morrison Adventures
Podcast: Alice in Wanderland
Wish us luck and Godspeed!