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Morocco Overland: From the Atlas to the Sahara - 4WD, Motorcycle, Van, Mountain Bike

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Old 30 Oct 2010
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Bandits on the Cirque de Jaffar

Today I came into the south western end of the Cirque de Jaffar piste by tarmac from the N13 road near Timnay 4x4 Centre with the intention of riding north east along the cirque piste back to Midelt.

As I came to the junction (N32 31.780 W4 59.480) some guy tried to wave me down but I wanted to carry on a bit further on tarmac to take some pics of Jbel Ayachi which is currently snow covered. He started to run alongside me, so I accelerated and in my mirror I saw him go headlong on the ground. With what I now know I am guessing he made a lunge for the roll bag behind me just as I opened the throttle.

He was obviously still going to be around when I came back so I followed a truck to hide the sound of my engine, but the entrance to the piste has changed and I was slow to work it out, so he caught up with me. Before I knew it the zip to my tankbag side pocket was open and stuff fell on the ground. Slow on the uptake I thought it was a coincidence, stopped to pick the stuff up and he's on the other side of the bike opening the other side pocket, which was empty. I was incensed and told me to get away from the bike and as I started off he went for the roll bag behind me with such a violent movement that he pulled the bike over. I managed to get the Tenere upright, no mean feat with all the stuff I was carrying.

The guy was aged late twenties or early thirties with what I can only describe as a long face in a perpetual scowl. Then another guy appeared, better dressed in a black leather-look jacket. It was obvious they meant no good and demanded cigarettes. I said no, then they demanded "a dirham". There was no way these guys were going to be happy with a ciggy and a dirham, and giving them anything would make things worse, so I stood my ground.

One of the items that had been in my tank bag pocket that was now in my hand was my small canister of pepper spray. The second guy realised what it was and shouted a warning to the guy with the long face. The second guy then backed off for the remainder of the encounter which makes me wonder a bit--how did he know what it was?

Several times I tried to make a departure but I really needed three hands both start the bike and to stay protected by the spray can. The guy was expert at making quick darting movements to try to open the zip pockets on my trousers and jacket, and was constantly moving around trying to get into my blind spot (I was on the bike). When I started threatening with the spray can he picked up a big rock and made throwing gestures. So I picked up a rock and hit my knee, elbow and shoulder armour hard with it to demonstrate that I wasn't too fazed with rocks. I still had my helmet on otherwise it might have been a different story.

It was ending up as a mexican standoff. I got my camera out which really worried both of them as of course this would enable them to be tracked down by the Gendarmerie Royal, assuming of course, they didn't manage to nick the camera from me. But try as I might, I couldn't get a clear shot as they kept turning away.

Then the guy got too close to the bike again and I transfered the spray into my hand nearest him and gave him a blast. The effect was instantaneous, even though the stream of liquid was off target and I missed his eyes, just getting his lower face. The second guy seems to be getting worried by now and kept suggested they leave.

I'm now not at all worried. They can't touch me whilst I have the spray and this being Morocco someone will be along shortly. And sure enough, a few minutes later down the piste comes a logging truck. The two guys run off and I wave the truck to stop, shouting "voleurs", and pointing to where the villains went. The four guys in the truck gave chase and I decide this is the time to leave.

Riding along the piste, I did think of turning back on foot with some tyre irons and replaying the encounter, but decided leaving the bike was a bad idea.

What did I learn from this?
1. Getting the pepper spray was a damn good idea.
2. Don't let the villains know you have it, then you can get close
3. Have a practice squirt first so you know if it pulls to one side
"For sheer delight there is nothing like altitude; it gives one the thrill of adventure
and enlarges the world in which you live,"
Irving Mather (1892-1966)

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Old 30 Oct 2010
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Nice one, well handled.

Peter, in Oslo
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Old 30 Oct 2010
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Hi Tim,
Good on you mate for standing your ground. Where abouts did you purchase your pepper spray? i never really thought of carrying it before.
I hope to be at the Ceuta-Moroccan border by Wednesday afternoon if your in the area. Cheers Jim
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Old 30 Oct 2010
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Cirque trouble

Hi Tim,

Glad you're OK. I've often been confronted by cheeky boys at the same spot. They've got older and bolder over recent years. I'm in a 4x4 and usually they want to bum a ride to Imilichil and then do the same the other way. Sometimes they've been a bit pesky hanging on to roof racks, rear doors, ladders, etc.

Unsettling I know, but at least they've not got AK47s and they're just a couple of d*ckheads in what is a fantastic country.

Happy trails,

Atlas Overland - Specialist adventure tour company providing off-road holidays for 4x4 enthusiasts in Europe and North Africa.
Tours to Morocco, Tunisia, Arctic Circle, Alps, Pyrenees, Eastern Europe, Corsica, and UK weekend tours.
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Old 31 Oct 2010
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Pepper spray in the UK

Originally Posted by jim lovell View Post
Hi Tim,
Good on you mate for standing your ground. Where abouts did you purchase your pepper spray? i never really thought of carrying it before.
I hope to be at the Ceuta-Moroccan border by Wednesday afternoon if your in the area. Cheers Jim
So far as I can tell, it is illegal to possess a pepper spray in most European countries - the exceptions being Germany and Spain. But if you are coming back to the UK with a pepper spray, make sure you drop it over the side of the ferry before you enter a British port.

In the UK, a pepper spray is classed as a "prohibited weapon" under section 5 of the Firearms Act 1968 (as amended). The minimum sentence for being caught in possession of a pepper spray in the UK is five years in prison.

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Old 31 Oct 2010
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1/3 of a mile from where we had problems in 2009. N32 31.908 W4 59.773 and the same area as the barbed wire thread.


Glad you're ok Tim.
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Old 31 Oct 2010
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Glad you come out of that unscathed Tim.

I had an encounter with someone at the entrance to the cedar forest last month. It leaves a bad taste in your mouth and I wondered why I'd come here. But fortunatley it's never too long before you meet other Moroccans who more than make up for these fools.

I shall certainly return next year, and will take on the pepper spray tip.
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Old 31 Oct 2010
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In 4 trips to Moroc I've found the Cirque du Jaffar to be the only place where I've met dodgy Moroccans. On a single day: 1. In one place they tried to flag me down and set a dog on me (it ended with a mx boot size imprint in it's skull). 2. In another 2 blokes (the same ones who interacted with Tim?) stopped me: My mate who was behind me said they were trying the zips on my jacket (got nothing and soft panniers had covers on them, so were not accessable). 3. In a third place coming into a hamlet, kids sprinted after me (I was riding first) and I got away: My mate behind me had his panniers unzipped and they got a pair of very very smelly (I know, I shared a room with him for 10 days ) socks and a tooth brush...

Considering the barbed wire incident, mentioned above and discussed in depth in another thread, and Tim and my encounters, maybe it's worth considering avoiding the area.

I've had no issues with Moroccans anywhere else in the Atlas, nor Marrakesh/Essourira or any other city area, nor the usual offroady Merzouga/Zagora area. Only the Cirque du Jaffar (Cake)....

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Old 31 Oct 2010
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I'm doing some writing about Morocco at the moment and a few days earlier had written about how safe the country is.

In some 35-40 visits over the last 38 years I have never encountered anything so blatent as this. Re-reading my post I don't think I adequately expressed how exposed I was.

I checked all the barbed wire places (some six in total) and there was no sign of recent stringing across the trail. The cirque was something else with not much sign of recent traffic, and little sign of maintenance. I've done it seven times before, mostly going down into the cirque heading SW. I remember vividly the fun I had riding my XR400R up the cirque showing off to some Austrians on KTMs and I thought it would be interesting to take my fully loaded Tenere the same direction on the basis that stony slopes are often best tackled uphill rather than downhill.

This theory might hold normally but the cirque in places has a slope of maybe 20 degrees. And there's loads of places where debris comes over the track and increases the angle of slope to maybe 45-50 degrees. So it was 'challenging' in places. Then part of the track was washed out totally and whilst there was a clearly marked detour if coming down, the detour wasn't at all apparent going up and for a while I thought I would either have to face the bandits again or go the alternate route through the Gorge de Jaffar.

The two rocks partially blocking the trail are still there but the trail has been widened around them and I guess most 4WD traffic can get past.

After getting to Midelt the battery started acting up and I decided on a late night blast to Fez so I could get things checked out. Not realising of course that today is Sunday. And it's raining heavily, so I'm having a day off.
"For sheer delight there is nothing like altitude; it gives one the thrill of adventure
and enlarges the world in which you live,"
Irving Mather (1892-1966)

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