A monotonous viewEss-Agadir-Laayoune-Dakhla
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...
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 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...
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
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