Friday, 23 January 2009

Into the desert

We ended up braving the tent as we had to open it anyway to get the sleeping bags out. It was a fairly comfortable night in the end. Unfortunately due to the relentless rain all night long our campsite had turned into a wet, slippery clay pit. Got filthy trying to clear up and put the tent away.

We headed for the coast, ending up in a camp site in Sidi Wassay so we could use and abuse their facilities to wash clothes and ourselves. Spent two days there, met the first other English people we'd seen in Morocco, and had our first real T-Shirt weather of the trip. That lasted one morning until a gale started to blow. We had a relaxing couple of days lazing around, picked and cooked mussels and checked over the car.

On leaving Sidi Wassay we went into the fantastically named Tiznit to refuel ourselves and the car then carried on South having another night of wild camping just south of Sidi Ifni. Got a cracking fire going and settled in for the evening. We then headed on to Fort Bou Jerif. Our first bit of driving that actually required a 4x4. Had a couple of tricky patches but we got through it in the end. Just before we got to Fort Bou Jerif we came across a mass wild camp, stunning location with a crumbling French fort on one side and a picturesque desert river on the other. We went down to Fort Bou Jerif proper and decided we'd rather pay nothing for a better location and went back to join everyone else. That night we managed to bring rain to the Sahara and woke up to a wet and windy morning.

We packed up and headed back in the direction of the coast road taking a slightly different route. The coast road we'd left to go to Fort Bou Jerif had been beautiful tarmac, unfortunately the road we rejoined was most definitely not. It took us about 4.5 hours of tough driving to cover the 50km to Plage Blanche, with the road washed away in places and just disappearing for no obvious reason in others. Upon arrival we found a car park full of motorhomes which cheered us up as we knew there must be a good road back out! The beach was stunning, but the prospect of a night in the tent in a howling gale was not. So after a walk on the beach we headed back inland eventually opting for a hotel in Guelmim, the self declared gateway to the Sahara. Found a busy evening market, so restocked and treated ourselves to a nice meal.

The following morning we wandered off to find a coffee and some bread and got talking to a Mauritanian man, he introduced us to his friend who owned a shop in Camden. He bought European cars, drove them to Mali to sell them on, bought jewellery and flew back to stock his shop. We drank some mint tea with them, chatted and absorbed advice from this seasoned traveller. Upon asking what vehicle we had, when we said a Land Cruiser the response was 'Ahh, a camel' - a reliable desert vehicle. Stanley was starting to feel a little more at home here, there were armies of Land Cruisers all over the place ready for trans Saharan travel.

The next couple of days were mainly long drives, we found some stunning coastal dunes to camp in on our first night just north of Tarfaya. We also managed to run into our first bit of trouble with the Police. We were pulled over to join a French and Spanish vehicle at the side of the road and were told we'd have to pay a 400dh (£33) fine for not stopping at a stop sign. To be fair, they were right... but A. Do you really need a stop sign when you can clearly see down the road you're turning on to? B. Who's stupid idea was it to put a stop sign in the middle of a roundabout in the first place? Still, they had my driving license and we didn't fancy going to court to argue the case, so we just paid up and with the production of an official receipt we were on our way.

We headed into country No.2, Western Sahara, although Morocco seems to think it's actually Morocco now. No border control to worry about, and with people becoming much more scarce the police checkpoints became far more frequent. We're still not sure why we were stopped twice and asked all the same questions within the space of 100m. There seems to be one or more checkpoint at every town in Western Sahara, with a few more in the middle of nowhere thrown in for good measure.

We parked up somewhere in the middle of nowhere today for lunch. Decided it was a nice enough place so upon the decision to stay on for the night we went for a stroll in the direction of the coast. Eventually reaching a deserted beach with an old shipwreck beached on it. Fantastic place! We lazed around and collected firewood to take back to the car. As we were leaving the beach we were fast approached by a Moroccan man. Neither his, nor our French was particularly good, but he kept saying 'post' and pointing. It appeared he wanted us to follow him, so we did, to a little building set back slightly from the beach. Eventually with a very slow conversation using his and our broken French it turned out he'd been posted there by the military. The 'post' was his military post, to keep watch on the coast for people landing in Western Sahara and using it and Morocco as a route into Europe. Apparently there is a military post every 5km down the coast. We're guessing he's not usually very busy as he showed us his impressive collection of flint arrow heads, fossils, and even ancient jewellery he'd found lying round the surrounding area. After the ritual mint tea we headed off to find the car again before sunset.

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