Crossing the Sahara, Morocco, Oct 13 - 14, 2007

Trip Start Sep 19, 2007
Trip End Jan 05, 2008

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Flag of Western Sahara  ,
Sunday, October 14, 2007

We spent a full day driving south, much of it along the Atlantic shoreline.  The desert scenery alternated between the gray stony desert called hamada and the fields of sand dunes called ergs, overall some of the bleakest, most featureless landscape I've seen anywhere.  The occasional stretches where the road ran along the seashore, though, revealed picturesque rocky bluffs and hid a number of photogenic shipwrecks.  We had a truck lunch (one of those one roll, one slice of cheese, and one slice of turkey affairs that were so common with our group) in a gas station's parking lot near the military checkpoint into Western Sahara territory.  There were only a few settlements south of that line, the largest being Laayoune, the territory's capital.  Laayoune, however, looked like a ghost city that day, the streets almost completely deserted as people were home celebrating the Eid-Al-Fitr feast at Ramadan's end. 
The southern two-fifths or so of current Moroccan territory is also known as Western Sahara or sometimes Spanish Sahara because it was a Spanish colony into the 1970s.  Upon Franco's death in 1975, Morocco and Mauritania both claimed part of the territory.  Morocco took possession of it by marching 350,000 unarmed civilians into the territory one day on signal from King Hassan II.  Over the years Mauritania relinquished its claims to all territory in Western Sahara while Morocco populated it with its own citizens. 
Meanwhile, the territory had been inhabited by an Arabized Berber tribe who call themselves the Saharawis, who had themselves been fighting the Spanish for independence.  Their armed faction was named the Polisario and continued fighting for independence after the Moroccan takeover.  There has been an official ceasefire in the war since 1990, but much of the Saharawi population still lives in refugee camps in Algeria.  Another legacy of the war is that many areas of Western Sahara, particularly those near the border with Mauritania are still full of landmines, a fact evidenced by the many skull and crossbones, "Danger! Mines!" signs we saw along the road as we continued south. 
Our next campsite was another bush camp on some bluffs high above the Atlantic beaches about halfway between Laayoune and Dakhla, Western Sahara's other main town.  We had a pleasant night drinking beer and talking politics around a campfire after dinner, but by morning our tents were soaking wet from the thick, chilly mist that blew in over night. 
Wait, something's wrong; we're heading south along the coast but the closer in Morocco we get to the equator, the colder it's getting!  Actually, the cold Canary Current off northwest Africa's coast keeps the immediate coastal area cool and often in a fog bank.  I was aware of this phenomenon in places like Namibia and northern Chile but wasn't previously aware of it on the Sahara's Atlantic coast.  
Land mines were the theme of the last day of driving through Western Sahara to the Mauritanian border.  As if the giant scorpion I almost stepped on two nights before wasn't scary enough, I wandered a distance from the truck in a fog at a pee stop near the turnoff to Dakhlah.  Dead ahead of me I noticed a round disk-shaped thing about the size of a CD partially buried in the ground.  The region around Dakhlah is not reputed to have been mined, but I wasn't about to investigate to prove the authorities wrong; I tiptoed back to the highway in my own footprints and peed from the side of the road. 
The safety concerns at our lunch stop were similar and no one dared venture more than a few meters from the road even though there were not warning signs for land mines in the area.  A little further on we did come across a roadside sign that was somewhat faded and read like, "Dan  ! Mines!!"   
"Hey Dave, Ben, it says, "Dance, Mines," we need to have a dance.  Turn on the ABBA full blast!"   
Chris didn't quite get my attempt at humor and informed me that the other side of the sign clearly stated, "Danger! Mines!!" It's not that many in this group would be up for a dance under any circumstances, but nonetheless I kind of liked the idea of a midday dance in the desert. 
Mauritania was the first of numerous difficult border crossings with bribe-seeking officials on both sides.  The Moroccan border guard's main goal seemed to be to make us surrender our booze, since alcohol is illegal in the Islamic Republic of Mauritania and they insisted any we had would be confiscated.  The little alcohol we had left, though, was well-hidden, and by the time we got to the Mauritanian border post it was nearly dark and the guards were too tired to be bothered ("couldn't be arsed," to use a term I've learned from the Brits) to search Daphne for such contraband.  Supposedly filled with landmines and having the appearance of a national dump, the five treacherous kilometers or so of cratered dirt road in the No-Man's Land between the border posts were a serious adventure.  Fortunately, we picked up Ahmed, our Mauritanian guide in a big turban and a full flowing powder-blue robe, at the gate on the Moroccan side, and he pointed the safest way through the mine fields to the Mauritian side.
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modernnomad67 on

Re: Information on entering West Sahara
Hi Rose,
Western Sahara is effectively part of Moroccan territory despite this site's using the opposition flag and characterizing it as a different country. If you need a visa for Morocco that should get you through western Sahara. Americans don't need one and I think we just went right through, although there may have been a police checkpoint at the entrance to that territory.


issam on

hi guys
western sahara its moroccan and no one can take it , vive morocco

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