Morocco and Western Sahara


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Africa » Morocco
March 17th 2018
Published: March 17th 2018
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“I haven’t been everywhere, but it’s on my list.” – Susan Sontag

With much trepidation I board my flight for this trip. For me this time has been really hard to make the decision to leave New Zealand. New Zealand is home, its a place of relative comfort and most importantly routine and a sense of worth. The decision to put this aside for a time just gpt really tough. Although I have made this decision a number of times before I feel with age it just gets harder to disconnect. I heard a great quote the other day and it was something like:Life begins at the end of your comfort zone. Think this makes sense in many aspects and in travel so much more-so but everyones comfort zone is different; whats important is stepping over it. Anyway with a bag full of apprehension and a few pieces of clothing I board that flight and take off.

First stop for me is a layover in Buenos Aires for 2 days. I have been here before and it is a welcome relief to be here again and speaking Spanish a language I know fairly well. I spend my days here surrounded by Argentinian passion and pride. Every day there are protests, one with over 25,000 people marching. These people live with such energy and put it all out there on the table for all to see. Second stop for me is Frankfurt and I tell you what a change. Firstly from 30 degrees to minus 1 degrees but also a big drop down into depression and somberness (apologies but its true). Anyway you can learn something from all cultures right. After 10 hours here it is time to board my final flight to Morocco, finally into Africa. I definitely went the long way, 29 hours flight time; but due to my round the world ticket it was the only way, I had to go round. Anyway who cares have offically broken free and straight into travel life.

Morocco

Ok first up, I have been here before. Second up, I was quite young and definitely got into mischief (partner in crime, you know who you are). All I can say is that praise god there was no Facebook back in those days. After arriving in Casablanca at midnight I get a taxi along very nice roads to my very nice hotel to be greeted by very nice people. Travelers tip number one, always stay in a nice-ish hotel to start especially if you arrive late; most have 24hr check-in and nothing worse than fresh off the plane and fresh into a grovel or spending that first night on the pavement!

Casablanca is a very modern city with a cool Frenchish architecture buzz going on. Strangely enough the famous movie Casablanca was never filmed here, it was shot in a studio in Hollywood!! I get acquainted with travelling via public transport again and lose myself in the Medina (old town). Also I visit a massive mosque with the largest tower I have ever seen and indeed it is the largest mineret in the world. My belly is playing up again so have to take it easy and am just inhaling copious amounts of tea to try to settle it. It is also at this point where I decide given the state of my belly that im going to quit coffee for the next month. Now for those whom know me I A) eat a lot - not giving that up, but B) partake in more than my fair share of coffee. So this is big but why not, think its worth a crack and I dont really have anyone to get cranky with apart from myself as the caffine deprivation kicks in.

Next I take the very nice train, 1st class to the city of Marrakesh. Marrakesh is a old town of epic proportions, spanning many many city blocks. Covered with a Medina, tiny alleys, street sellers galore and at nights the performances and music start in the big square; it is straight out of an Indiana Jones film. I check into a Riad which is a local Moroccan house. It is unlike our houses in that it doesnt face outwards but inwards into a little courtyard. It allows complete privacy and a welcome sanctuary from the craziness that envelopes the city. It is also designed to shield female members of the family from prying eyes and allow them to be themselves. As a Muslim country Morocco is fairly conservative but not the most I have seen. They are still somewhat liberal and in the cities females go unveiled. Anyway I do and I don't have an opinion on this, just have to breathe it in and accept when travelling.

Western Sahara

From here I board a number of buses to get into the Kingdom of Western Sahara. I do back to back 12 hour bus rides through the seaside town of Agadir and finally enter the Sahara. The Sahara desert literally smacks you right in the face. One moment I was asleep with rolling hills, an hour later I awake to a sand dream. After 24 hours from Marrakesh I pull into the "capital" of the Western Sahara, Laayoune. A very brief history lesson, the Western Sahara is a country and its not a country. It has a local population the Sahrawi that was put down by Moroccan in the mid 70s and thus claiming the land for itself. The country is listed as a contested territory however Morocco has essentially gained control apart from the desert regions in which they have installed a wall to keep the locals out; sounds very familiar. All that aside Morocco has been pouring money into the territory to entice its residents south, even removing taxes for those that make the move. In essence the territory is filling up with Moroccans. Again travel is about breathing in the experience and just being cool.

After a quick stop in Laayonne I head south to the real life actual dreamworld of Dakhla. It is another 12 hour bus and arrive at a random as Kite boarding Oasis that borders the town. The super consistent wind and wonderfully scenic spot attracts the best kite boarders from around the world here. I stay at a very laid back retreat and am amoungst it with heap of great people. However I think little do they realise how bizarre this is. They are sandwiched right in the middle of the Sahara in a contested territory Kite boarding in a paradise of sorts and drinking alcohol. Why many of them don't realise this is because they fly direct in from their countries and direct out. It is just so bizzare but utterly fantastic. I spend the days unwinding, eating and recharging the batteries after a marathon few days of bus-ing it down here. Even get to start running again on the sands of the Lagoon so all good (note: my knees and hips and back don't agree with this statement). Now travelers trip number 2 Hydration. Drink electrolyte infused water for the first week or so, especially if its hot. Standard water just doesn't cut it, better still go for the drink sachets used for treating Diarrhea. You will feel much better!

With that oasis done I move into the final stage of my trip here, heading to the Mauritania border. Borders for me will be my nemesis for this trip. In all I have like 20 odd borders to cross and like 16 odd Visas I will need to get and all of them range from somewhat hard - very hard - dont even try! What makes these things worse is that you are essentially at the mercy of the authorities and their rules (or their made up ones at the time). It is at their discretion to let you in, there is no right. Of course I don't also need to mention that corruption is rife and you never know if bribery is common or needed. Normally I take a hard stance on bribery but when there is official bribery its hard to put a line in the sand, so again flexibility. Throw in that they speak Arabic and French and I don't, well you get the picture.

The trip to the border takes almost the whole day and even getting out of Morocco is a chore. Then at the end of the Moroccan gates there is a 2-3km stretch of no-mans land. Here there are no roads just Sahara desert and the area is littered with car bodies, tvs, tyres; it is just crazy. Literally it feels like a scene from Mad max and that doesn't help the nerves. We arrive and there are people everywhere, just chaos. Luckily my driver is a beast and pushed us into the main spot and with much waiting and explaining I get the Mauritania Visa for $55 euro. It was all very official as you take photos and fingerprints however it was not easy; and apparently this is one of the simple ones I will face! So have made it to Mauritania and the dusty port city of Nourhibou where I crash on my bed in lovely AC (the bathroom is disgusting with holes everywhere but who cares, i'm tired).

So that's it from me, essentially from comfortable lounging then avoiding the pot and heading straight for the fire. However travel is like that, it opens you up to experience whether you intend it to or not and pushes that comfort zone. I think it definitely makes you modest as you start seeing how grand the world is in comparison to your standard. With that being said it can be rough however once you break free from the normal and get into it you see your first up fears were always unfounded and you were ready. Actually the hardest step is always just booking and then getting on that first flight, the rest is just well.... cool. Thanks for reading!

Next bog: Mauritania

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22nd March 2018
Night bottle game, Marrakesh

Crossing the Saharan sands
This is a trip!!! Morocco, Western Sahara, Mauritania...then? Hope you make it to Mali...to dance with the Tuareg in Timbuktu? We were invited to do this trip in the Caravan of Peace about 5 years ago with a convoy of West African Musicians to Timbuktu to thumb their noses at terrorism...but was cancelled due to terrorist threats...bummer! You are heading into Adventure with a Capital "A"...I envy you.
25th March 2018
Night bottle game, Marrakesh

Mali
Hi Dave, Mali sounds amazing however not on my trip list for this time but it is on the bucket list. Unfortunately it is still a red zone. You can visit Bamako and it’s surrounding areas but the must-see of Timbuktu is off limits. I will return!

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