Western Sahara, Camels and Sand

We finally got our Carnet de Passage through to the DHL office in Agadir, it only took 3 days for the package to get to Casablanca, Morocco, then another 8 days for it to get through Customs, (during which it was opened), and then when we went to pick it up, DHL wanted another 1200DH (£80.00) before we could take it. Bearing in mind the whole value of the items was about £65.00 (the Carnet is only paper so doesn’t count), this was a crazy amount of duty to pay. Once I had started “kicking off” about it, it turns out that 600DH was charged by DHL for clearing the package, and believe it or not 150DH was for storage, again charged by DHL. When we accused them of charging us more as we were Western tourists, the Manager just shrugged his shoulders. Its in their small print that basically they can charge what they like at the other end!! Lesson learnt.

Anyway, although the campsite at Agadir is a very nice one, we were glad to move on after being there for 10 nights (the longest we have ever spent on one place in Colonel K).

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So the next morning we were up early (ish), and had planned to head South to Sidi Ifni, on the coast, about 200km away. We filled up with diesel, and called into a cash and carry type Supermarket. While loading the shopping into the back of Colonel K, we noticed a small leak of diesel coming from a joint in the fuel line. We had passed a Daf dealer on the road out of Agadir, so we decided to drive back there as it was only a few kilometres. The Manager came round the front to look at the problem, and despite the fact that they had 2 mechanics standing around doing nothing, he said that they only work on tractor units (the cabs that pull the artic trailers)! This is so unlike the usual Moroccan attitude, where they normally seem to find it impossible to say no to a job.

Anyway we carried on driving out of Agadir, through a couple of small towns, until I spotted a large garage on the side of the road, so we stopped, a very helpful guy told us that they only test vehicles here (to get a Certificate, a bit like our MOT, I guess). I was convinced that they couldn’t have such a thing here as the state of some of the cars, has to be seen to be believed. Anyway he rang a friend of his and arranged for him to drive over to us and take a look, so we parked up and had lunch and waited for about 45 minutes. The mechanic turned up and after putting poor Jac in the back of the truck, he jumped in the front and we drove round to his “garage”.

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We had 2 mechanics and an apprentice working on it for about 90 mins, the total cost about £15.00. They were great blokes and we soon turned into a bit of a tourist attraction (this was down a narrow broken road in a mostly residential area), and it wasn’t helped by the fact Jac kept giving out sweets to all the kids.

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The leak has been sorted, almost, and it seems to only drip a small amount when the fuel tank is full. Anyway I think our little pit stop, has done no harm for Anglo/Moroccan relations.

So after our little detour we had to rethink our plans for the night, so after looking at the map again we decided to head for Tiznit, a fairly large town about 65km South of Agadir. We found a Riad on the outskirts of town that offered parking for motorhomes. Its mostly used for wedding events and the like, but they do have toilets and showers for campers, we were the only ones there, so a nice quite night in store. Not a chance!! In the camping area, there were about 8 peacocks, 10 geese with young, ducks, turkeys, etc etc. The racket was unbelievable, and not helped by an enormous German Shepherd dog that was tied up at the front of the property.

Again, next morning we set off early, and planned to get to Laayoune across the pseudo border in Western Sahara, about 550km South of Tiznit. Now you might think that 550km isn’t much to do in a day, on tarmac, but I promise you that on that road, (with quite a few diversions), in a 2.5m wide truck, it was a long 10 hours drive. Western Sahara is a huge place with lots of nothing but camels and sand. There is a huge military presence here, with lots of check points, all asking the same questions, where are you going?, Nationality?, Passport?, Vehicle documents? etc. To speed up going through these check points, we have printed off a “fiche” for each of us, which has  a photo,  passport details and vehicle details on it, so they can take these and then fill in their paperwork, once we are on our way.

That night we pulled off the road and drove about 4km down a dirt/sand track to a place called Camp Bedouin, wow what a place, the view out towards the Atlantic (about 4km away) was truly stunning.

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They have a number of Bedouin tents for hire, which looked nicely furnished and again offered great views.

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Again of course we were the only ones there! I think that maybe on the way back we will stop here again and stay for a few nights and explore the area a little more. The showers (cold on this occasion as we arrived late in the day,) are fed from the local spring and this means that the water is quite salty, a strange sensation when you are used to clean unsalted water.

The disputed territory of Western Sahara used to be governed by Spain as the Colonial power, then in 1975 the Spanish left, both Morocco and Mauritiania laid claim to the area, then Morocco organised a 400,000 strong unarmed movement of people down into Western Sahara, and this was accepted as a stake to govern the area. Mauritania then later dropped its claim, but the native Saharawi people have been in conflict with the Government through their Polisario Movement. This was first backed by Mauritania, and then later by Algeria. A referendum has been promised by the Moroccan Government in Rabat, but they are not going to hold it until more Moroccans are moved down into the ever growing towns further South. Meanwhile Morocco’s answer to the on going security issue with Algeria is to build the “Berm”, this is a defensive structure thousands of kilometres long, towards the Algerian border, and along the border with Mauritania. You can see this on the picture below taken from the British Foreign Office website.

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Obviously we will have to travel through the red zone, to get to Mauritania, and we are hoping that the British F/O are being over cautious.

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 This is the first view of Laayoune as you drive Southwards, and is quite typical of the money being spent down here.

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There are some amazing sights to be seen on this long road, including hugely overloaded vehicles, sand dunes right up to the edge of the road (and sometimes over the road), and of course more camels.

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The next night we spent in another town, again further South, called Boujdour, this is right on the coast, and as it was a Saturday, there were a few families on the beach.

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Its not quite Camber Sands, but that is a life guard on Surf watch, and although these ladies are covered up, it was very hot in the sun.

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As a sweetener to get more people to move into the area, Morocco has reduced the price of fuel in the Western Sahara, in Morocco its 63p per litre, down here its 47p per litre, but its too far for them to drive down to fill up, so its only an advantage if you live here or are travelling through. Today I bought 127 litres, for 900DH (or £60). I’m not sure how much diesel is in the UK at the moment, but I guess its probably nearly 3 times that amount! I’m also convinced that they have sold off a load of old, very old, Army Land Rovers down here, because there are hundreds of them.

After leaving Boujdour, we continued South for 350km to the Beach resort town of Dakhla, the journey included some fantastic views out to the Atlantic, and of course Camels, lots of Camels.

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About 11.00ish, we decided if we saw somewhere for a coffee we would stop for a bit, and soon enough we came across a fuel station, with a ‘cafe’. It wasn’t much of a place but we were pretty sure that there wasn’t going to be much else for the next 200km. 

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We were, so we thought the only ones there, then a guy appeared from nowhere and pulled up a chair and sat with us. He spoke no English, but it was obvious he was carrying out some building work there. Suddenly he stood up took my hand, and led me off (still holding my hand) to show me the work that him and his mate are carrying out. It is completely alien to us in the UK to walk around holding a mans hand, but here it is a very natural thing that they do. Anyway back to the coffee, we asked him if he would like one, and so he went off to get a pot of tea, and three glasses (one for each of us). He then insisted that we both follow him up some stairs to show us the view from the roof terrace.

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We were then taken into his room (while he was working there), and then we all returned to the tea to finish it. Now, if you’ve ever been to Morocco, you will know that nobody does anything for nothing here, and I thought ‘here we go’. After him giving us his phone number, if we ever needed it, I went off to find the guy to pay. I had 2 x 20DH notes (each worth about £1.50), and was going to give the owner both of them for our 2 coffees and tea for 3. Our builder friend came in and said 20DH is enough, and took it to give the owner, so I offered him 20DH for showing us around (as I was sure he was expecting something). He very quickly pushed it back into my hand refusing to take anything, we shook hands and he wished us Bonne Route. A thoroughly nice guy, that goes to show not everyone is looking to take money off you because you are perceived to be rich.

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We are now in Dakhla, parked on the beach, about 25km north of the town. Its supposed to be a hot spot for kite surfers, and indeed it is one of the first views you see as you enter this strange peninsular, you have the Ocean on the right, and the beautiful sheltered lagoon on your left, and the peninsular is about 35km long.

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We visited the town first yesterday, and stopped for coffee and watched the kids jumping off the banks into the shallow waters here.

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And even here in the lagoon there is the ever present show of Morocco’s military.

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As you would expect, being a haven for kite surfers, its quite windy here, and last night Colonel K was getting buffered quite hard. When we pulled up to the beach yesterday there was a guy on a motor bike putting up a tent near to us. We soon noticed it had English plates, and went over for a chat. This was the first Westerner we had seen since leaving Agadir, both vehicle or person. It was a bloke called John Barrett, whose web site http://www.john-barrett.uk  and details his travels from Wales to Ghana and back. He joined us for a cheeky wine, having agreed to help us get rid of our alcohol before the Mauritania border, and we spent a few hours talking about his trip, and ours still to come. John is supporting the Ebola Orphan Street Child Appeal, and had been to Sierra Leone to see the work being done on the ground. He was originally planning to travel to Cape Town and then fly his bike back, but when in Ghana, he parked up and flew home for 5 days to surprise his girlfriend and propose to her! So now he’s riding home and going to get married later this year. Congratulations to John and his fiancé, and enjoy your honeymoon in CapeTown later in the year. Not sure what time John left this morning, but I got up to say goodbye at 7.00am and he was already packed and gone! Safe Journey back, John, and don’t hit anymore goats!

We woke this morning to a flock of Flamingo’s on the beach! Our total mileage done on trip so far is 5118 miles (8236 km), and we’ve been way for 78 days.

Next stop Mauritania. 


One Comment on “Western Sahara, Camels and Sand

  1. Thanks for a great blog makes really good reading thanks for taking the time and trouble, you will always get highs and lows and I really felt the frustration regarding the fuel line , but hey onwards and upwards regards Rod


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