Desert Towns

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Flag of Morocco  ,
Tuesday, February 4, 1992

Breakfast stop Town

No transportation on south from Tan Tan Plage, so have to backtrack to Tan Tan proper to continue my journey on south… I still have a LOT of miles to cover if I want to snag those towns deep in the desert that I’m still missing.

My next stretch will be sitting on a bone jarring wooden seat in back on an antique Land Rover heading to El Ayoun. This stretch of desert I’ve usually crossed at nighttime, so there might be something interesting to see—although I’m not expecting much. The highway follows a rugged cliff coastline where periodically you see a lone fisherman dangling his rod over the ledge—some of them come by car, but others just by scooters, crossing long stretches of desert to find a peaceful spot to fish.

Suddenly the ground drops out in front of us, and there is a beautiful, peaceful lagoon with tranquil waters surrounded by a ring of sand, and cliffs and crashing waves beyond. Not a person in sight—just beckoning for you to come and enjoy and experience its magic.

For the first time in my travels in Morocco, I wish I had a car. This is the sort of place you’d really need your own vehicle to enjoy because, although I could get off my ride here, find transportation out of here would be a whole different situation. I was wrong: the southern desert of Morocco does have it’s charm with untouched and seemingly undiscovered places like this… If a beautiful, completely isolated desert beach is your thing, than this is the place to go.

We stop for breakfast in little roadside village of Akhfenir, (November 14, 2011, 4 hrs, 0.9 kms). Normally I would not count a "pit stop" town as a discovery, but this time I decide to make an exception. Trusting that the driver is going to take his time eating his breakfast, I rush down to the coast to take my video clip with a cliff backdrop, play a very quick 5 songs, and then zigzag past the scrappy houses overlooking the sea, the back to the main road with its row of grilled meat eateries. I walk 0.9 kilometers… not much of a hike… but there’s not much to see here anyways…

Desert Makeover Town

As we continue deeper into the desert, I start to notice, every couple hundred meters a brand new, identical cinderblock building that looks like a tiny two room schoolhouse. As there are numerous clusters of shacks probably used by fishermen, I assume it’s a new government program to provide education for the children of fishermen… but there are just way too many of them…

Later I learn that these are meant for soldiers, stationed to guard the coast. It’s a program partially sponsored by Spain to try to stop illegal immigration (mainly by Subsaharan Africans) to the Canary Islands which aren’t too far from here. Most of the buildings it seems are empty, so I don’t know how well this project is working… The whole thing kind of has me scratching my head…

Tarfaya is another middle of nowhere town with little transportation in or out of it, but it’s a historically important town. This will possibly be my last journey to the Southern Desert, so I really need to explore all of its important towns.

Tarfaya (1104, 4 hrs, 2.5 kms) is a sleepy little town, but surprisingly spruced up, with new lampposts and houses freshly painted in blue and white, the traditional colors of Moroccan coastal towns. But on closer look, I realize that only the neighbourhood to the north of main street is fixed up—the neighbourhood on the other side isn’t even paved yet. Later a guy tells me that Tarfaya’s makeover only started a year or so ago—before that it was a pretty neglected town.

I follow the quiet side streets to… what’s is that? A museum!? In Tarfaya?! Apparently Saint Expury the writer of "the Little Prince" lived in Tarfaya once, and there’s a museum about him—although it’s closed now. Beyond are a couple of crumbling Spanish structures, relics of when this was a Spanish colony, and a nice new city hall. Then there’s a beach next to the port—and yet another surprise: a two storey stone building… all by itself out in the middle of the sea!

This is actually the symbol of Tarfaya—I’ll see it later on political campaign posters… not sure what the story is, but it’s definitely something unique about this town.

Heading back to town, I pass a group of fellows playing football and I can’t help wonder what it must be like being a teenager in a town like Tarfaya, where the rest of the world feels so, so far away…

A Refreshingly Modern Town

From Tarfaya I continue on to El Ayoun, the capital of the Sahara region, but I don’t tarry long. I already explored this city back in 2009 on my way to Senegal and now I have another priority: Boujdour (1105, 14 hrs, 11.2 kms).

Boujdour is one of the few sizeable towns in the South Sahara area (there are 4 to be exact), and even though it’s well out of my way, I don’t feel I’ll be able to say I thoroughly explored this part of the the country until I pay it a visit. And so, in El Ayoun I wait for a collective taxi to fill up that’s heading that direction, and as dusk approaches we finally continue along the coast south to the Middle of Nowhere.

After a couple hours of riding through empty desert on a solitary narrow road, we reach the turnoff to Boujdour, and the narrow road turns into a well lit six lane boulevard. We reach the town and I’m pleasantly surprised to see a classy main street with upscale cafes, a plaza with music blaring as the political parties do some last minute campaigning… a refreshingly alive city.

It takes me a while to find a hotel, as most of them are either full, closed down, or too expensive. A couple young fellows offer to help me out. They explain a little bit about the history of the town. "Boujdour used to be just a tiny little fishing village, but now a new port has been built and many people from outside have been brought in to work here—we are actually Berbers from Agadir region. The goal is to make this town a major fishing center."

Then next morning I head out to get a better feel of the town. There’s a cool lighthouse and the coast, which is a little ways away... nice sight. Most of the streets are still just wide strips of sand and dirt—reminding me of towns in Senegal and Burkina Faso… clearly Boujdour is still a work in process. But it does seem like a liveable place, and considering the high rate of employment there is elsewhere in the country, it seems like it might be a place of opportunity for people.
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