Morocco - Sidi Ifni to Dakhla

January 14, 2004

The Guy from Switzerland

The guy from Switzerland is also going to Mauritania. I run into him every now and then. The first time was outside the Mauritanian embassy. He has a selection of different hats, and a pencil-thin moustache.

The first time I spoke to him, he told me he had been 'mixing with the locals'. He said it was 'very special', then he made a sort of 80's style OK sign, by putting his thumb and index finger together in a circle, and raising the other 3 fingers. 'Ni-ice', he said in a kind of drawn out way. It is possible he raised his OK sign to his lips, and made a kissing sound for emphasis. It is also possible that I imagined that last part...

The next time I saw him was when I got on a bus at about 2pm. He had been on the bus since 7.30am, and would not be getting off until 7.30am the following day. 'That's a long journey', I said. 'Not so-o bad', he said. I neglected to tell him I had been chosing my route based on which buses left after 10am.

This time he had been 'spending time with the local people', and also he had 'not been visiting many tourist things such as monuments'. He made the 'ni-ice' gesture again. This time he definitely didn't kiss his fingers.

He is a man of few words indeed, but as we were standing by the bus at a meal stop looking out into the distance, some cloud had come over, and it got a bit windy. He came over, and said - 'It is not very hot, this desert'. This time there was no 'ni-ice' symbol.

January 14, 2004

Western Sahara

Yesterday evening I arrived at last in Western Sahara, and I now find myself in Laayoune, which is about halfway down. After 300 miles or so of desert, it was quite surprising to find a town of 200,000 or so people just sitting here.

Western Sahara is pretty much run by Morocco. The Spanish left in 1975 (formerly Spanish Sahara), and since then people have been arguing and fighting about who it belongs to. There is now a ceasefire, backed by the UN, and it seems pretty tranquil at the moment. There is supposed to be a referendum sometime to decide it's future.

The town is full of little white jeeps with UN marked on the side. Most of them are parked outside 2 mid-price hotels in town, which have apparently been block-booked by the UN for years.

I scored quite a comfortable bus for the 8 hour trip down here, and among the flat, stony, boring kind of desert, there were sections of sandy, hilly, lots of big sand-dunes, exciting kind of desert. The road down here involved passing through 5 police checkpoints. At the first one, the policeman came on the bus, looked at my passport, then asked me my occupation. The next three, we were waved on. At the one just before Laayoune, the policeman took my passport away with him, and didn't come back for 5 minutes. I sat there in a small panic, wondering what I would do if the bus driver decided to drive on before the policeman came back with my passport.

Photo - Paul Beaton

He came back eventually, and asked me if I was tourist. I said , 'No, I'm a traveller, man' - (not really - again). He also asked my occupation. It seems very important around here. Every time I check into a hotel I have to declare it.

It seems odd, as anyone with a dodgy occupation (photographer, journalist, criminal, blog-writer), would certainly lie about it.

Tomorrow I head for Dhakla, apparently 550km south through empty desert. The last stop before the Mauritanian border. I was angered to find that the only buses leave either before 8am, or at 8.30pm and travel overnight. Both options break my 'Get lots of sleep' rule, and tomorrow I have to get on the bus at 7.30am. Bastards.

January 15, 2004

End of the Road

Well, here I am in Dahkla, where all the buses in Morocco stop running. It's bigger than I imagined. It took 8 hours to get here, and there were 4 police checkpoints. These ones were obviously more severe, as I had to actually get off the bus, and go to a little hut each time. The guy in the hut basically has to write down all my details, including my occupation - obviously. The first 2 guys had a pile of yellow paper, and they just scrawled it down. The last guy was obviously the most important, because he had a TYPEWRITER, and he was pretty quick on it, I might add. He also had some big lists on his walls. 'List of stolen vehicles', and 'List of military deserters to be searched for and apprehended'.

Photo - Paul Beaton

There are army guys all over the place. Less UN, mostly Moroccan soldiers. We overtook one in a jeep today, and he was driving whilst drinking a beer. Well, not drinking it exactly, more like holding it in his hand ready to drink..

The desert was pretty samey today, and I actually fell asleep through a lot of it (7am start - very tiring!).

I am now 200 miles or so from the Mauritanian border, and no more public transport. There is a rumour of some sort of taxi perhaps maybe, no-one seems to know. Failing that, there is going to the 4 star hotel and looking for a tourist driving through. Failing that, there is hitching. Failing that, there is I don't know what...

Think I'll start by going to the hotel...

January 16, 2004

No Foreigners

Yes, I'm still here in Dakhla. Last night's search for foreigners with cars, proved to be fruitless. A quick tour of all the hotels and restaurants revealed not ONE foreigner. The bar in the 4 star Hotel Sahara Regency was especially dire, and was dark and dingy and contained 4 Moroccans only.

I went to a Spanish restaurant to eat, and ordered 'Menu of the day', which was advertised as soup, beef stew, and dessert. The soup and stew were very nice indeed, but the dessert was pretty disappointing, as it was in fact a 'banana on a plate'. To top it all off, I had to listen to Bryan Adams while I was having breakfast this morning.

So, this afternoon I will go to the campsite, a very inconvenient 7km away. I assume all the French cars and caravans I've seen on the road, spend the night there. If that fails, then it's plan B, although I haven't made plan B yet...

January 17, 2004

Still Here

Once again, I find myself here in Dakhla for another day. A trip up to the campsite yesterday afternoon proved successful in locating a lift to Mauritania, but unfortunately not until Monday.

At first glance the campsite didn't look too promising, with crowds of elderly Germans in giant camper vans - 'As you can see, Vee are full!'.

However, I was directed to an English guy in a van called Dave. (the guy was called Dave, not the van). He said he was going down on Monday, and I could have a lift. He was a very personable retired fellow, with an interest in wildlife.

Deciding that there were worse things than hanging out in Dakhla for a couple more days, I said that would be fine.

I set off on the long dusty 7km back to town, past the friendly soldiers who waved at me in both directions, and happened upon 2 French people.

petrol station
You can still get petrol in the desert
Photo - Paul Beaton

They had been upto the campsite without much luck, and were on the way back to town. They very kindly conversed with me in English. They had just come from Paris on the bus, ALL IN ONE GO, those crazy people. They had changed buses twice, but essentially had just spent 4 days and 4 nights on the bus. No wonder they looked tired.

We hung out and had a coffee. One of them had family in Congo, and was heading down there, and was going to spend a year in Africa, and the other was heading to meet a friend in Senegal.

This morning, when I had breakfast, I had to listen to Celine Dion (No, I'm not making this up).

January 18, 2004

Last Day in Morocco!

Well, hopefully if all goes to plan, today is my last day in Morocco. I'm going up to stay at the campsite tonight, and will hopefully be setting off for Mauritania early tomorrow morning.

Yesterday, I did pretty much nothing, except read the history of various West African countries.

not much
Not much down here...
Photo - Paul Beaton

Not many years ago, you had to go with an army convoy to cross the border at Mauritania, once a week, and it could take days. Nowadays you can drive yourself in 6-8 hours.

They are now building a sealed road all the way to Noukachott (Mauritanian capital - you currently have to drive along the beach). I reckon it won't be long before there are regular Europe - Senegal buses, via Mauritania.

Today's breakfast music was Shania Twain (OK, I made that up...)

next >> Nouadibhou - Atar

The Trip to Africa The Route
Tangier - Casablanca Casablanca - Sidi Ifni Sidi Ifni - Dakhla
Nouadibhou - Atar Atar - Rosso
Rosso - Banjul Banjul - Kidira
Kidira - Bamako