Tour de Sahara
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Jun
30

Tarfaya was the southern most town of Morocco when it was separate from Western Sahara. It is about 100km from Laayoune and there isn’t very much in between apart from the small town of Tah where there border used to be. There are some huge granite stones on either side of the road marking the boundary. We had some food there and took a few pictures.

The town of Tarfaya itself is quite an odd little one. Apart from the main road in and out, all the roads are sand and there isn’t very much there, 2 very small hotels, a couple of small restaurants if you could call them that, a fairly large and modern port and then a really nice beach with a mansion built out in the water. It was built in the late 1700’s in the surf on the beach. When the tide is low, you can walk out to it and not get your feet wet and when the tide is high it is in about 6 feet of water. The waves in the little bay can get quite rough so needless to say the place has been destroyed now. Made of stone and 2 storeys high, you can see that it once was quite a nice place. Now the first floor has now collapsed onto the ground floor, the roof has gone and while all 4 walls are still there and even some of the internal walls, there are some rather large gaps that the waves have made for themselves in certain areas. It was quite nice to see the beach filled with people, some swimming even though the water was quite cold, people playing football or just hanging out.

Well today was day 28 on the bike. We crossed what used to be the border between Western Sahara and Morocco and therefore left the desert behind us. The high winds have really set us back quite a bit, we were hoping to be much closer to Marrakesh by now. We are booked to fly out very early on the 6th. With only 6 days to go, we don’t have enough time to get all the way to Marrakesh so we have decided to take a overnight bus up there and spend 4 days looking around. While it would have been nice to ride all the way into Marrakesh, we, against all odds,  have already achieved what we set out to do which was ride across the Sahara into Morocco.

Marc

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Jun
29

We woke this morning feeling pretty good, even had a decent breakfast. The weather was a little odd, by odd I mean extremely thick fog. We actually had a really good average speed for the first couple hours, higher than either of us had seen for quite some time. There is a small town called Laayoune Plage about 40km from Laayoune. To be honest we were a little excited about passing through, based on the name we were expecting a beach resort town. For the last week or so we have had these huge trucks go past us, leaving behind one of the worst smells I have ever come across. As best as I could tell it was rotten fish. Really rotten fish. There would often be liquids draining out the back of the truck as well and as you can imagine we were always doing our best to avoid being splashed on. We always wondered where these trucks could be heading and we found out today. The entire town of Laayoune Plage wreaked of it and it was a fairly large town. We think it must be some kind of fertilizer plant and what ever was in those trucks was being used in the process. Needless to say it wasn’t the the resort town we thought it was. We found a quick bite to eat and got out of there. The road after that turned into a highway which was a little scary, but it did head inland. This meant 2 things, no more headwind and so we were doing over 25kmh but also extremely high heat.

Laayoune was pretty big. It was the capital of Western Sahara before it became Moroccan. We had ridden about 110km and because of the higher average speed than usual we got there with the whole afternoon to look around. We had lunch and went for walk. There are actually 2 sides to the town, the old and the new. Our hotel was in the new part and it seemed pretty cool. According to the guide book the Old was supposed to be the liveliest and there was supposed to be a big market. We saw none of that, in fact we hardly saw a single human being. My best guess is that like most of the towns we had been to, the people don’t come out until it gets dark. Adam had always been saying he wanted to try camel’s milk and heard that Laayoune was the place to do it. We jumped in a cab which went to a number of different places trying to find some for us and we bought a small bag worth. Honestly I don’t know how baby camel’s survive. It had to be one of the worst things I have ever had. It looked more like skimmed milk but it was so sour, almost stale tasting. Not the highlight of my day. We went for one last meal before heading to bed. Adam decided to have a hot dog, of course it looked nothing like a hot dog and more like a ground beef sandwich. I tired some of it, it was quite spicy but the meat didn’t resemble anything I have ever had. I wonder what they mean by hot dog?

Marc

Jun
28

We got up  and had some breakfast in the cafe across from the hotel  so we could start the day well, before  heading back to the room to  get ready.  We  set off to Lemsid a small town around 80 km away that has a petrol station with a cafe. It was a pretty steady ride with very long straight roads again but we were starting to see very small amounts of shrubbery around again and electricity towers in the distance.  It felt like we were coming to the outskirts of the desert and the worst the desert had to offer us was now behind us.  Though we were suddenly reminded that we were still in the Sahara when a heard of over a hundred camels blocked the road in front of us as they crossed over to other side. With the Camels out the way we managed to make it to Lemsid in pretty good time.  There was not much in Lemsid except for the petrol station with its cafe, it is basically a truckers stop if anything else.

As soon as we pulled up a guy said hello and offered us chairs at his table  followed by two shots of tea. His name was Mustafa, a Greek Moroccan. He moved from Greece when he was young to Morocco with his Dad. He is now working with the construction team laying down the phone lines from the north of Morocco down south to the Border with Mauritania. He spoke pretty good English and so we ended up spending the rest of the day talking with him. Mustafa also happened to be quite friendly with the owner of the petrol station so he arranged for us to stay in a back room for free.

The petrol station was frequently visited by coaches that were either heading down south to possibly Dahkla or up North to Laayoune and beyond. So every few hours when a coach arrived the place would fill up with people and come alive. Due to the high volume of people arriving at a time it meant there was a pretty big bathroom and you could pay about 10 pence to get a bowl of water warmed and then shower in a cubicle. Sadly for Marc we figured this out after he had his cold shower but just before mine! So after my lovely warm shower, we hung out and had some more tea and there was a TV in the cafe that was showing the  Brazil vs USA football final which we watched. Funnily enough there were a few Saharan’s and Moroccans  supporting USA in the crowd.  But they were surely disappointed as Brazil won the match. After watching a football match in Lemsid surrounded by people cheering and booing I am now 100% sure it is the biggest game in the world!

In the early evening Marc did a bit of reading while I hung out and people watched. It  felt like an airport terminal with the coaches  of people arriving every so often and leaving again. We then  hung out with Mustafa and had dinner, a very nice piece of chicken I might add before saying good bye to Mustafa and heading into the back room to sleep.

What could of been a horrible day at the cafe turned out to be a memorable time due to Mustafa. He was a really friendly guy so friendly at first it was a bit unnerving as we are used to people always wanting something it return. Though in the end he was just a good guy and I think meeting great people like him and Salaman along the way has  really added something special to this journey.

Adam

Jun
27

We got up and head out to get some breakfast and had some lovely eggs and some sort of apple milkshake drink. There was a laundry place right below our hotel and we decided it be a good idea to get some washing done so we brought bags of our clothes down to be cleaned. I could not wait to get clean clothes back! We spent the day relaxing at cafes drinking tea of which there was abundant number of cafes. If you think the English like tea come to Boujdour and the people of this small Sahara town will give the whole of the UK a run for its money! We manage to go to an Internet cafe that had pretty good Internet connection and do some posting and check emails etc.

We got back ‘most’ of our now clean clothes and did some shopping for supplies. We spent the rest of the night watching movies on a TV in the lounge area of the hotel before heading to bed.

Adam

Jun
26

Today was quite a nice day. We can really see the end in sight and we are both starting to relax a little bit more. The wind is a little worse than it had been the day before but still not as bad as it was. We had quite a few more mirages today than previous days. Most of the time it just looks as though the road disappears off the end of the earth, or it looks like the road hits the horizon and comes to an abrupt halt, something Jim Carey hitting the wall in the Truman show. Sometimes quite frustrating as you felt like you could see the end and yet it just kept getting further away. Today though they were bigger, a number of times it seemed like there was a complete town up ahead. The chance that we could buy something cold to drink, or sit in the shade. Maybe something other than stale bread to eat. It never happened.

We were riding on the top of a cliff overlooking the coast for a lot of the way and we were fairly high up so we really had a spectacular view, the beaches were gorgeous. We even stopped and had lunch (stale bread and tuna) over looking the beach. Realistically we were probably about 2km away from the water’s edge in a straight line and maybe as much as 300m up but at the same time it seemed like it was right there. We are actually starting to see signs of a few shrubs now as well. Almost out of the desert!

We got into Boujdour fairly early and found a hotel. We had a real shower for the first time in 3 days and then headed out for food. At the time we thought it was some of the best food we had ever eaten. It was quite a cool little town, fairly busy. The main road was lined with cafes on both sides and everyone just sat by the side of the road drinking tea. Naturally we joined them. it really was crazy to See how many people just sit all afternoon and evening long just drinking tea. It seems to be mainly men though, not sure where the women are.

Marc

Jun
25

Last night was very stormy and the ground was covered in rocks, however we still managed to get a good 10 hours of sleep and had trouble getting up. We had approximately 80 km to get to a petrol station with a cafe that Salaman told us about. We were again pretty lucky with the wind and cycled through quite nice rolling terrain with massive cliffs of rocks on either side. We were very much in the heart of the desert it felt like, I do no think more than 3 cars drove past us all day. I was getting hungry and I could not wait for a meal that freshly cooked or a cold drink. We thought we could see the town in the distance at around the 75 km point and I was so happy to see buildings, I started preparing in my head what i was going to eat first, though when we got up close it was a ghost town of  just old abandoned buildings. We knew the town must exist as Salaman’s little map had been good so far except for N’trift? Which well was closed down. We kept going hoping that the ghost town was not the town we thought we were looking for. Then suddenly we came around a right bend and we saw buildings gleaming white with two big petrol stations! Heaven is a petrol station in the Sahara 100km from anything!

It was not the best food in the world I have to admit mostly onions and bones in the tangine but it still felt nice to be sitting down in a chair in a building out of the sun! We hung around for a while drinking some tea and then we headed over to the other gas station to see what they had. We clearly stopped in the wrong one! The other gas station had rotary chicken and nice variety of stuff. I wish we stopped there first! We bought our supplies as were going to be sleeping in the desert again and set off. The cycle was not too bad and we stopped at another petrol station that was 20 km away and decided to try and eat again so we had a good meal in us before we went to bed. The meal was again not that great but better than the cans  of tuna we bought for dinner!

On the way we started seeing people just sitting by the side of the road I guess trying to hitch lifts but they were like 5o km away from the nearest petrol station. I wondered how they made it there in the first place, did they say like how far can i get for 2 dollars and the driver said well I can drop you 20 km down the road where ever that may be? Very strange, and one pair of guys stopped stopped us asking for water.  Marc poured some water into his container and it must of been filled with soap before or something.  He tried to rinse it out a couple times but even when he was happy and we filled it up for him I could still see some foam and bubbles.  He seemed happy but I felt bad as I still remember that salty water from Dakmar. Bad water is horrible out here in the desert but it is still better than nothing I suppose.

We decided to do another 20km and call it a day, but after the 10km point we all of a sudden got a gust of wind behind us as we came around a big right hand bend and we were suddenly moving at 30km+ it was fantastic. We stopped at the 120km point and decided we try to ride this wind out and do another maybe 20 to 40 km and there was even talk of riding through the night to Boujdour. Though the tail wind died and so did our legs we managed another 12km and decided to call it a night and to rest up for tomorrow.

Adam

Jun
24

Part of me thinks it may have been easier to have not stopped in Dakhla. Having to leave and head back into the desert after being able to buy food at will was pretty tough. We started at about 4am while it was still very dark and very very cold. We had about 3 hours of backtracking to do to get back to the junction where the road heads north, and to make things worse it seemed as if the wind was no better at that time of morning. We got to the gas station at the junction just as it was getting light and pulled in to have some breakfast. They didn’t have very much so we just had some bread and jam and decided to push on to the next gas station 25km away.

On our approach we could see the gas station up ahead as well as a town that we hadn’t expected in the back ground. We had been going for almost 2 hours now and so we were quite excited. We arrived at the gas station which was not only closed but appeared to have been so for quite some time. There were 2 police men standing outside waiting on a ride that informed us that the town we could see just ahead was still under construction and there was nothing there and the next place we would find anything was 140km away. Their ride arrived and they left. We were now very unsure of the best thing to do. It would take us an hour to ride back to the previous gas station that had very little and then a further 2 hours to get back to this point. We knew we didn’t have enough water to get us to the one further ahead. We decided to take a chance and go ahead to the town that we could see and hope that there would be a construction worker willing to spare some bread and water. We were even luckier than that! very very hidden amongst it all was a very small shop for the workers. We were able to buy all the water we wanted and even some bread and a few cans of tuna. Very lucky indeed!

We did pass one or two other ghost towns or towns under construction along the way. As part of Morocco’s attempt to claim Western Sahara, they have built/are building these huge towns an then encouraging Moroccans and the people originally from Western Sahara to move into them. Some have been completed built with no one taking the bait.

We carried on for another few hours, eventually covering 120km before setting up the tent. Because of the sandy nature of the surroundings the tent stakes never really worked that well, especially in the high winds, so after putting the stakes we would put a heavy rock on top. I sent Adam to get rocks and he happened to lift one up with a scorpion hiding below it. Oops! It ran away and it was never seen again.

Marc

Jun
23

As this was the closest thing to civilization for at least a few hundred km in either direction we decided to take a rest day here. The town seemed quite different this morning. What was a lively place the night before with people in the streets until late and all the cafes filled, now seems quite dead and desolate. One would be forgiven for thinking it was a public holiday and not the middle of the week, it was quite odd. The day probably started a little sooner than we wanted it to as our hotel room was right next door to the airport runway where military fighter planes regularly land and take off, something they neglected to mention at reception of course.

We set out in search of food, and being a coastal town, just about everywhere was a seafood restaurant except for the odd pizzeria which only served “fruits of the sea” pizza. We found a really nice spot, right on the water with outdoor gazebos and food that was reasonably priced. After lunch we spent some time on-line and looking around. We found a pretty cool indoor market only by chance. From the outside all the shops look quite small, little corner shops and convenience stores until we wondered further into one. It suddenly opened out with a number of vendors selling fruit and various spices . It was quite cool.

We headed back to the room and Adam had a rest while I of course spent time working on my bike, the chain this time. Most of the links were now damaged beyond repair and I was left with no choice but to remove them. The chain is extremely short now and I am limited to just a few gears, it took quite a long time and the poor little chain break tool that I had is no longer any good but boy does the bike feel better.

We are hoping to start pretty early tomorrow, now realizing that the wind seems to only get worse as the day goes on, so after dinner we went to bed. We did notice the place getting livelier later on though, so it seems people prefer to be out in the evening rather than the day.

Marc

Jun
22

After last nights big dinner and the lovely breakfast Salaman cooked for us at 6 this morning we felt ready to  make it to our destination today, Dahkla! Which is a sizeable town at the end of a 40 km peninsula. This does mean that we will have to cycle back out making it round trip a total of 80km extra to our journey,  but I think we can do with getting out of the desert for a day! After our first experience with a real Saharan styled toilet last night, which was ummm.. well interesting :s, I am looking forward to one that you don’t manually flush.

The wind pushed against us for the first 40km to El Agroub which is no more than an army barracks with a few shops , a petrol station and some small dingy cafes. We stopped in El Agroub for some lunch and we had some tasty grilled meat from a guy cooking outside and some tea. We pushed on again and fought against some more relentless winds for the next 40km to the junction that turns off to Dahkla. It was funny thinking I would be back here in two days time to carry on up the coast. We went through a check point and then stopped at a petrol station for a quick drink and a chocolate bar, though we could not rest long.  Due to the heavy winds today it was already 7.30 and would be dark in just over a hour. The good news though was that the peninsula pointed out  in a southerly direction which meant all those winds we just fought would help take us to Dahkla. It was so scenic on the route into Dahkla, I wished we had not been so pressed for time and could of enjoyed it a bit more. But we were flying to try and get there before dark, and with the winds behind us we were doing 30km+. I guess this is how it would of been if we were to of started in Morocco and cycled down to Gambia instead having the winds with us not against! We looked like we would make it in good time but we hit another police check point which  seemed to take forever! It was dark when we left the check point and we had to do another 8km to get into the town. Headlights on we arrived in Dahkla at 9.45, into what seemed a pretty big place at the time.

It was very hard at night to get our bearings in the town which feels more like a city, as there were loads of big buildings, shops, restaurants and people all about. I am sure we looked very out of place with our bikes covered in gear and in our cycle shorts and tops and not to mention our shoes  as our cleats hit  every time we walked on the pavement, while everyone else seemed very well dressed and dressed up in ‘designer’ clothes. Luckily a passer by who spoke English stopped an offered us help and directed us to a hotel. We take it! It has hot showers and we have a balcony over looking the happening street below. Pretty cool town, I really liked it. We got changed and head over to the other side of the street an got some nice kebabs and then headed to a smoothie place we saw on the way in before going back to room to sleep in a bed!

Adam

Jun
21

We had a few unexpected surprises today. The fact that the winds were still relentless not counting. We were really suffereing, exhausted from the day before and seemingly barely moving forwards. Each pedal stroke seemed more pointless than the next. I think I remember Adam getting off and walking the bike in frustration and still maintaining our average speed. The cars and trucks on the road are still very supportive, tooting their horns as they blow by. The only problem is as they come past in the opposite direction at 120kmph they create a huge amount of turbulence which stirs up the sand. As they go past, you are hit by what feels like a brick wall of wind bringing you almost to a hault. The sand in it hits you in the face almost like a slap. While there have been many that have done this trip in the opposite direction only a few have started in the south and headed north, as far as we know none have finished. We are starting to realize why. One thing I know for sure, there is only one way I am leaving this desert and it WILL be on my bike.

We have about 90km to get to El Agroub, the next town with food and water. On the plus side the views are amazing, we are along the coast for much of the time and as we are going so slowly we are able to admire much of it.

We were about half way when in the distance we noticed a building. Adam immediately thought it to be a mirage. It appeared to be about 10km away, or 45 mins at the speed we were riding. As time went on we confirmed that there was infact a building but having being told there was nothing until El Agroub we thought it was abandoned. It turned out to be a gas station, it was open, they had hot food and cold drinks. How devine.

After drinking copious amounts of cold water and soft drinks we ordered some food and we were invited to join some guys at a table. One of them spoke English which had become pretty novel in these parts. We chatted over lunch after which I excused myself to a table in the corner and went to sleep. Adam, with his great ability to charm and chat, carried on with this gentleman, sharing Moroccan whiskey, which is actually green tea with lots of sugar and no milk served in a very small glass almost like a shot glass.

The gas station turned out to be a saviour in more than one way. This gentleman, Salama invited Adam and I to stay the night with him, to have a shower and to rest in a comfortable setting. While we had only done 54km that day, it was such a great opportunity especially as we were already so exhausted. We had only averaged 12kmph. We decided to buy him a gift which is more accepted here than offering money, things like tea and sugar are most common. The sugar here comes in a huge 2kg solidified cone which you hit with a hammer and break pieces off. Quite interesting.

Salama is such a great guy, we got to his house, we showered and relaxed all afternoon, he made us more tea which is a a 3 hour process of heating, mixing and drinking at various stages. We talked about Grenada and about his life in the Sahara. He is a 24/7 on call ambulance driver that is stationed on the main highway and responds to car crashes or other wise and gets people to the closest hospital in Dakhla, his home town. While he has a small house on the highway where we were staying, he also has a wife and son that live in Dakhla about 125km away, and he shares his time between both places.

As if everything he was already doing for us wasn’t enough, he informed us that he would be making us a fish tagine. Tagine is the native dish of Marocco, it is a deep dish, usually clay, with a tall cone shaped cover, the meat is put in the dish along with seasonings, potatoes, carrots, tomatoes and the like and cooked very slowly. The food is served in the same dish and is eaten using your hands by scooping the food out with a piece of bread often with everyone eating from the same dish. The one that Salama made for us that night was so amazing. It was exactly what we needed after the previous few days. We chilled out for a little while after dinner before some of his extended family came to visit.  Salama like many others here sleeps on a mat on the floor, with his home only having one small bedroom, we were offered a space right next to him for the night.

Salama doesn’t have very much, he lives humbly and works hard. The generosity that he showed the 2 of us comes second to nothing. Taking 2 strangers in off the street, cleaning us up, feeding us, and giving us a place to sleep next to him, and wanting nothing in return but our company. How amazing. The world definitely lacks people like this man.

Marc