January 14, 2004

Western Sahara

Yesterday evening I arrived at last in Western Sahara, and I now find myself in Laayoune, which is about halfway down. After 300 miles or so of desert, it was quite surprising to find a town of 200,000 or so people just sitting here.
Western Sahara is pretty much run by Morocco. The Spanish left in 1975 (formerly Spanish Sahara), and since then people have been arguing and fighting about who it belongs to. There is now a ceasefire, backed by the UN, and it seems pretty tranquil at the moment. There is supposed to be a referendum sometime to decide it's future.
The town is full of little white jeeps with UN marked on the side. Most of them are parked outside 2 mid-price hotels in town, which have apparently been block-booked by the UN for years.
I scored quite a comfortable bus for the 8 hour trip down here, and among the flat, stony, boring kind of desert, there were sections of sandy, hilly, lots of big sand-dunes, exciting kind of desert. The road down here involved passing through 5 police checkpoints. At the first one, the policeman came on the bus, looked at my passport, then asked me my occupation. The next three, we were waved on. At the one just before Laayoune, the policeman took my passport away with him, and didn't come back for 5 minutes. I sat there in a small panic, wondering what I would do if the bus driver decided to drive on before the policeman came back with my passport.
He came back eventually, and asked me if I was tourist. I said , 'No, I'm a traveller, man' - (not really - again). He also asked my occupation. It seems very important around here. Every time I check into a hotel I have to declare it.
It seems odd, as anyone with a dodgy occupation (photographer, journalist, criminal, blog-writer), would certainly lie about it.
Tomorrow I head for Dhakla, apparently 550km south through empty desert. The last stop before the Mauritanian border. I was angered to find that the only buses leave either before 8am, or at 8.30pm and travel overnight. Both options break my 'Get lots of sleep' rule, and tomorrow I have to get on the bus at 7.30am. Bastards.

Posted by paul at January 14, 2004 09:01 PM


I was glad to see that you have recently become angry. We were worried about the title of your website. Travelling probably makes you too chilled out.
Anyways, hadn't you better be speeding up your trip?? You appear not to be moving very fast.

Posted by: tom at January 14, 2004 09:22 PM