Western Sahara: December 2010

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Africa » Western Sahara
December 9th 2010
Published: January 4th 2011
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As there is no official border crossing on entry into the disputed Western Sahara, it’s difficult to tell exactly when you get there, there were a couple of giant camels in the middle of a military outpost which seemed likely, but everyone’s GPS suggested the border was in fact an empty patch of sand about 400metres further on... personally we preferred the camels.

We had to be pretty careful in Western Sahara because only about 3 weeks before conflict had risen up again. The Sahrawi refugee camp had been broken up by the Moroccan authorities, with a dozen civillians killed in the process. Jeepers, best not to mess around with Moroccan military.

The first town we stopped at was Layoune, which is a heavily military dominated town; the place was crawling with soldiers and training facilities, parade grounds and barracks. We saw and heard several deafening fighter jets take off from the air strip in town to patrol the area... geez, these Moroccan’s certainly don’t want to give up this particular patch of desert! The town was an absolute no-photo zone, which was fine as it wasn’t that cool. The highlight was the price of gas, 5 dirham a litre – which is about GBP= 42p or NZD= $0.84! We filled the truck with 1777 Litres, crikey. We also filled all of our jerry cans from a tap in the gas station toilet, which was painfully slow and took almost as long as the refuelling... mmm standing for 30 mins next to a fly blown squatter... lovely. Don’t worry, we have special water treatments to add to it (and Kent, those special filter bottles are definitely coming in handy)!

Our bush camp that night was behind some large dunes and rock piles, we got some cool silhouette photos of Martin running around in his jellaba with a machete... nice. Bunny also helped compose some cool long-exposure photos, using head-torches to create light trails – they looked pretty cool – hopefully we can get some copies from Brian the American guy who was behind the camera :-)

The next morning the two of us and Lindi headed off a bit early to have a walk before being picked up by the truck later. We’d done it the morning before too, and it was great to get some early morning exercise – in the middle of the desert! A lovely morning for it as the whole area was covered in a dense mist, trucks would pop out of nowhere, the drivers flabbergasted to see 3 whites wandering along the Sahara with no gear or water... classic.

The first morning a friendly guy had pulled over and looked really worried, saying he thought we needed help – that’s how weird we looked ha ha. We stopped in Tantan, which was preparing for the ‘festival of the camels’ which for some reason involved a heavy military presence... we guessed it was just the whole ‘western sahara’ issue. The markets at Tantan were sparse and felt a bit sketchy, as did the large groups of boys following Bunny and Kirsten with adoration and awe. Bunny also was happy to find a vanilla slice that tasted just like home :-)

That evening we camped in the crest of a giant sand dune out in the middle of the vast open expanse of the desert. It was a magic place to camp, the dune was epic, we spent ages climbing it trying to slide down... but the angle was just not enough to develop speed... still great fun and an awesome place to be.
The next morning we had a relatively short drive to the serious military border into Mauritania. Western Sahara was exactly what you would expect, vast expanses of rocky sand stretching into the distance where it would eventually become the endless rolling dunes of the Sahara proper. We spent a fair amount of time driving along the coastal edge of the Western Sahara, it is a beautiful and fiercely impressive place to visit.

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