Morocco 2001

Morocco Recce 1999

Imperial College Caving Club


expedition recce 1999

The 2nd of september last year a group from the IC Caving Club headed off for Morocco and the High Atlas mountains with the aim of discovering caverns measureless to man.

Having succeeded in blagging some grants and contacting a person who was willing to put up with us for a month and act as our chauffeur for the trip we departed Imperial in NYA, our ex-RAF 4-by-4 Landrover 101, packed with a minimal amount of caving equipment, food and even less personal clothing. The first leg of our 2000 mile journey was Plymouth and the ferry to Santander in Spain. A nights stay at Jan?s house, for a last slap up meal and ales in the local and the following morning we were starting the ferry crossing to Spain.

Arriving in Santander early the next morning, we immediately started the 2-day slog across Spain headed for the windsurfing mecca of Tarifa, once there we took advantage of the cheap fuel to last us to Marrakech, we also stocked-up on food and most importantly lots of spirits! When I say we, I mean Shed, Goaty, Clewin, Jan and Colm all members of IC Caving and Pete the driver a 50 year-old man whose ability to drive vast distances with little rest and only the occasional dram of whisky was unbelievable. He had been to Morocco several times and knew a lot about the country particularly the desert to the south. The third and final leg of our journey started at 4am driving to Algeceiras to catch the ferry to Tangier passing the Rock of Gibraltar. The customs at Tangier were extremely suspicious of the obviously military vehicle and started a thorough search, they let us go when they found some French literature on caves and Pete had slipped them some fags.

Arriving in Marrakech late that night after parking NYA our first mission was to locate some large scale maps of the Atlas. Unfortunatley they are very hard to get and we weren?t lucky. So we decided to get food, the Djeema Efina is a large square at the heart of Marrakech and in the evenings its packed with foodstalls selling soup, salads, meat, doughnuts and fruit, all you see whilst approaching are crowds of people, the smell, clouds of steam and smoke are the only evidence of food. The stallholders shout at passers-by and each other competing for custom, the place is mayhem and all you have to sit on are rickety benches around the edges squashed in with other people. That night we headed out of Marrakech and camped by the road, we still had to get into the mountains and start exploring for caves.

Though a large amount of the Atlas are limestone we had three main target areas, Jbel Azourki, Plateau Des Lacs and the two gorges Dades and Todra. Regions chosen whilst flicking through the pages of ?the world caves atlas?. We acquired some maps and background info whilst Goaty our expedition geologist acquired some more stuff. Goaty was also our expedition linguist he had been learning arabic for the past few months and mastered useful phrases such as ?I don?t know much arabic?, ?were are the caves?? and ?how much for the little girl?! By the end of the trip we had all mastered a little Arabic and the response we got from the locals was always completely different as a result.

There are only two roads crossing the Atlas, getting into the mountains was done on ?pistes?, these were very rough tracks used by the Berbers on donkeys and 4 by 4 Bedford trucks which acted as a ?bus? service for the locals transporting produce to and from Souks. Our first camp was a fairly busy route with 2 or 3 trucks passing each day. Frequently the ?pistes? were washed away and the only route was to follow the river beds, on one occasion it took an entire days driving to cover just 40km, because the piste followed a river bed strewn with large boulders. In a 4 by 4 this was only just mangeable we thought, and most the time we were walking in front of NYA moving rocks. When we finally reached the next village we couldn?t believe it when were passed by two Bedford trucks full of people and piled with produce.

The large village we had arrived at was just finishing its market day, which gave us a chance to stock up on vegetables. The enclosed market was lined with hundreds of tiny shacks, selling absolutely everything, including several butchers which generally had various parts of goats and sheep scattered in front and the odd severed goat-head lying on the ground, raw meat was hanging in the sun and engulfed by flies. We decided to stick to the fruit and vegetables.

Making enquiries over a fanta at the local café, we were informed of a cave in the nearby hills. So following brief directions given in French we drove out the town in search of it. Not only did we find the cave, but the camp spot was idyllic, a stream which came out the nearby cliffs flowed past our site and followed a long irrigation channel back to the town, the cliffs were barren rock but the valley bottom was a lawn of grass dotted with trees. We made our selves comfortable and spent the next few days exploring the cave and surrounding area, we were helped enormously by a couple of locals, one of whom was the school teacher. Him and his friends had been exploring the cave with torches and lamps, and everywhere they had gone they had left torn pieces of paper to mark their way. One of them told us of passage he had followed for ages but not reached the end of, which was intriguing. We exchanged addresses with Mohammed and left promising to return to carry out a proper exploration of the cave. The Moroccans we met were very friendly but on at least one occasion we had a bad experience.

Pete was concerned about the damage the harsh off roading was doing to the landrover and a quick change of plan meant following the only road going East it resulted in us having to just pullover and camp and unfortunatley we settled down a little too near a small town were the local kids were bored and extremely inquisitive. We had started cooking our supper and setting up camp when some local boys came over and started to hang around the truck, looking in the back and eyeing our kit which was piled up out the back. This was annoying because there was little we could if they started walking off with stuff as we were outnumbered. When they started asking for money we decided to shift it straight away. In an extremely quick pack up operation we had everything packed back in the truck and ready go, except our precious pot of boiling stew which had to go on some unfortunate persons lap as Pete reversed down this river-bed at high speed.

Our diet of tomato and pasta stew became a bit tedious after the second or third week so we decided to stop for a slap-up meal in next big town we came to. This led to another unfortunate event, because it soon became apparent after the meal that one of a group had food-poisoning and he spent the whole night throwing up anything he tried to swallow. In the morning despite looking a bit green he assured us he felt better. We soon forgot about it as there were more important matters in hand, mainly beer, we were approaching a town where Pete assured us he could locate a hotel that sold real beer, this place was a real four star establishment for rich business men so we had look smart and wear our least smelly clothes. We strolled in very casually and took our place on the veranda. Unbeknown to us there was trouble ahead as one of party was having a relapse and while we waited to be served he was leaning over the veranda and with almost comic timing as the waiter walked out he projectile vomited. Fortunately missing most the stonework, but when we asked for our drinks we were told politely but firmly that they did not sell beer. We made our excuses and quickly left.

Our time in Morocco was running out and with the last couple of days we headed south to the Sahara Desert. Pete was in his element for he had many friends and contacts in these parts. The next few days were comparative luxury, we slept in Berber tents and were given guided tours of local kasbhahs, we drank mint tea in ancient houses and took a camel ride to the edge of the dunes (the true Erg), and spent the night camped under a completely full moon playing cards and drinking mint tea with local guides. The next day, our last full day in Morocco, we watched the sunrise from the top of an enormous sand dune. That evening we were back in Marrakech, the next night Tarifa and finally after seven days travelling we arrived back in Plymouth.

-> Bouikzin Cave Survey