"We shall not give up one inch of our beloved Sahara, not a grain of its sand"

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May 21st 2007
Published: May 21st 2007
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27 loooong hours on buses...

A monotonous viewA monotonous viewA monotonous view

The view of Western Sahara through the bus window...for about 1000 kilometres...

Tom Griffith
When is a country not a country? According to Morocco, and 25 other countries, and the Arab League, Western Sahara is not a real nation. It is simply the large, sandy, camel-infested, southern provinces of Morocco. According to the Western Saharan government in exile, 45 other countries, and the African Union, Western Sahara is the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, an independent country under Moroccan military control. And, according to the UN, it is a non self-governing territory, whatever that means.

Whatever it is, and whoever actually owns it, it is basically just a huge patch of desert, and is one of the most sparsely-populated parts of the world. There are only about 350,000 people in the whole place, and 150,000 of them are Moroccan soldiers. So why would Morocco want to expend such effort in holding onto this godforsaken stretch of desert for over 30 years? Well, I did miss out the adjective "mineral-rich" just before, so maybe that has something to do with it.

Until 1975, WS was a poor backwater of the Spanish empire known as Spanish Sahara. That year, when the Spaniards did a runner on their colonies, they made a deal with Mauritania
Almost in Dakhla...Almost in Dakhla...Almost in Dakhla...

Suze has a rest on one of the distance markers to Dakhla
and Morocco, allowing them to split the place between them. King Hassan II rallied his people, and had over 300,000 of them storm into WS in the so-called 'Green March'. Not surprisingly, the Sahwaris weren't so keen on these developments, and fought against both countries, with the support of nations such as Cuba. They buggered the Mauritanians up, and they withdrew, but the Moroccans are made of sterner stuff. To this day they run the place, and dissident Saharans are persecuted, or forced to flee to refugee camps in Algeria.

The attitude of Morocco's current king, and supposed all-round modern man, Mohamed VI, towards any calls for Sahwari independence can be discerned from the quote of his that makes up the title of this post: "We shall not give up one inch of our beloved Sahara, not a grain of its sand". Based on that, it looks like WS is stuck being an economically backward, militarily repressed part of Morocco for the foreseeable future.

We have only had a fleeting glimpse of this semi-country, in fact, we crossed the border at about 5 this morning and have spent the day crossing the desert by bus, so I can't
A real Saharan camelA real Saharan camelA real Saharan camel

OK, maybe not, but it's the only one we could find near Dakhla
really call myself well-placed to comment on the intracacies of modern life in the province. However, it does have a peculiar atmosphere, and feels different to Morocco proper. Cruising into Laayoune, the surreal inland capital, this morning, all we could see were pink concrete buildings, and lots of soldiers wandering around. There are police checkpoints before and after every town (and there are only about five towns), where the main question addressed to visiting tourists seems to be, "What is your profession?". The main industry seems to be fishing, and there are small fishing villages and sardine canneries scattered along the coast. Mostly, though, it's just desert. Lots and lots of pure Sahara. I realised just how deserty it was this morning, when our bus slowed to a halt on the one and only highway, to make way for a herd of wandering camels.

We left Essaouira yesterday at 2.30pm, and put oursleves through a silly ordeal of 27 hours on buses to get to Dakhla, literally the end of the road here in Morocco. Here, all public transport ends, and the town feels like some sort of Mad Max settlement at the arse-end of North Africa. From here
27 hours to go...27 hours to go...27 hours to go...

Me sitting patiently on the bus through Western Sahara
we have to hitch a ride to the Mauritanian border, still some 350km south. Luckily, that is one of the few boom industries in town, and we were met off the bus by an enterprising Mauritanian with space for two in his taxi tomorrow morning. We shopped around a bit, and have a half-promise of a lift to Mauritania with a Portuguese overlander we haven't met yet. There is a sort of set price for the trip, but you basically cough up expenses of around 20 to 30 euros for the desert journey.

I wish I could tell you more about WS than that, but we have only been off the bus for about 3 hours. The people of Dakhla seem a wonderful bunch though, and we even had a free ride given to us when we hitched back into town from the police checkpoint earlier, which is pretty special in Morocco.

Speaking of Morocco, I guess with the last entry for the country, it is that time again...

Tom and Suze's Top Six of Morroco

1. The food - from mouth-watering tagines full of prunes and olives and raisins, to fluffy couscous garnished with fresh pumpkin and zucchini. Yum yum pig's bum.

2. Chefchouen - a cruisy town in the hills south of Tangier, with a beautiful medina and a laid-back vibe.

3. The souks. Just when you thought it was safe to go shopping, along come the markets of Marrakech and Fes. Bring lots of cash.

4. The Atlas Mountains. Stunning alpine scenery and great walks.

5. The spice shops. Pop in and browse the plethora of herbs, that do everything from spicing up your couscous to curing erectile dysfunction.

6. Essaouira: fresh seafood, lovely town, relaxed atmosphere, nice beach. Perfect.

And now...the bad bits:

Tom and Suze's Bottom Three of Morocco

1. The skulkers. Way too many sleazy blokes hanging around, trying to make a dodgy buck.

2. The lack of beer! Morocco brews two top-notch beers, Flag and Stork. So why is finding a place that sells them so bloody hard?

3. The guilt trips. "What, you come in and look, and no buy? You very bad for business, blah blah blah". We can't spend our money in everyone's shop. Get over it and don't make us feel bad.

Tomorrow? On to where North Africa meets subsaharan Africa - the land of the Moors, Mauritania...

Africa Country Count: 2 (and a half if you count Western Sahara)

Morocco Overland Kilometre Count: 3185km

Africa Overland Kilometre Count: 9035km

Next Country: Mauritania


22nd May 2007

OK Computer
Well Western Sahara might not have much going for it but it does seem to have internet connected computers. Since I bought my new computer two weeks ago, I haven't slept or eaten or left the house as I am glued to the screen. Love ya, dadxxx
22nd May 2007

Freedom Fighter
Tom! Me and the other rightful brothers of Western Sahara were relying on you to rekindle the revolt and lead us to freedom. Bah, back to posting resistance vids on youtube and waiting for our Rambo. Take care of yourself boyo, and that girl of yours. If not, get a good price for your kidneys.
22nd May 2007

Some bits of info
Hi there Tom! I am an idependent reader of the travelblog website and I like visiting these travel pages. I have come across yours precisely when talking about the WS-former Spanish Colony- however we Spanish never liked the term and considered it as a province. That was the reason why they all had Spanish iID cards and the same lack of civil rights as we peninsulars had because we were all under Franco´s rule, a dictator not better not worse than others - Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin and the rest of the bunch. Definetely, tehy fought ahainst Spanish troops but they made a great mistake, better to say two major ones: first of all not to wait till Franco died and then they could have achieved independence, secondly they trusted the Moroccan secret service when promised them military assitance against the Spanish. Finally, as I can see you are a teacher, some more bits of info that might help you: Spain did not runaway from its "empire", that one had not existed since 1899; King Hassan II was a very clever man who took advantage of the extremely delicate political situation of Spain in 1975; The so-called Frente Polisario- WS Popular Liberation Front- could get rid of the Moroccans not because their army is better trained or whatsoever but because Moroccans are USA´s best friend in the area; Uncle Sam had and has loads of economic interests in WS - mines, phosphates, even fishing grounds. Many people in Spain remembers WS and even miss that land with all its beauty and nakedness. Many Polisario members speak Spanish and they keep on teaching it in the liberated areas. There are still close ties between them and us.
23rd May 2007

Thanks Pastor
Pastor, thanks for your comment. I am always interested to hear the real story rather than my hastily-researched-on-wikipedia version. I was only in WS for two days so didn't have a chance to get to know the place properly but the Sahwaris were a very friendly bunch. Wasn't intending to be anti-Spanish at all...sorry if it came across that way. Cheers for reading.
24th May 2007

Spanish Pastor
That wasn't weird at all... I think I liked Tom's version better: "That year, when the Spaniards did a runner on their colonies..." Short, quick, snappy, and straight to the point...thats what being a history teacher is all about innit?! Seriously, I thought this travel blog is more about reading an individual's travel experience, and not about some random BIASED rambling about a historic event that happened yonks ago?!
24th May 2007

tasty delights
Geezer, I have just caught up with a few entries..snails, snakes and a mere 4000 m peak. All sounds a fair journey. Sounds as if Mauritana doesn't want you- stay longer and see what happens....
28th May 2007

Hey chico - love ya work mate - nice work culling the history lessons from wikipedia, but really you're overlooking the most obvious source - the CIA handbook! (FYI - the Western Sahara is 'about the size of Colorado'.)
2nd December 2007

How can you not give up what isn't yours?
It's hard to refuse to give up something that isn't yours. Shame on the King of Morocco for terrorizing the Sahrawi people. They grab people off the street who dare to protest the occupation. They take them to detention centers where they are brutalized. There are many pictures online showing the results of beatings. They even beat children. They throw out any journalist who tries to go there to see what they're doing. It is shameful and disgusting. Free Western Sahara! Watch this film: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=86mvXy-8wjY "Morocco's campaign of oppression against Sahrawi students through the eyes of filmmaker Carlos González, as he is detained, interrogated and accused of being an agent of Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez."
20th September 2010
Almost in Dakhla...

yes thats as.for ever.thanks for your interesting.

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