Guilmim (Fort Bou Jerif), Morocco to Laayoune, Western Sahara
350 miles / 560 km
Wx: Clear skies, mild.
Well we managed a ‘four to a tent’ night in our Bedouin tents last night with a minimum of snoring from anyone. It doesn’t sound like much, but it is a major accomplishment with this crowd. I crawl outside. The sun is just coming up over a hill to the east and lighting up the bikes. Another beautiful day for riding.
Sunrise At Fort Bou Jerif
Today we are leaving Morocco proper and crossing into Western Sahara. Western Sahara used to be a Spanish colony back in the day. However, the Spanish pulled out and abandoned the place in 1975. When that happened it was on for young and old and all the neighbouring countries (Morocco, Mauritania and Algeria) rushed in for a land grab and years of fighting ensued.
Ever since a UN sponsored cease fire in 1991 Morocco has controlled most of the territory. However, tension and suspicion still run high in the area and the place in still littered with left over landmines. The trip is about to get a bit more interesting. Giddyup!
We head out of Fort Bou Jerif and back to Guilmim to fill up on petrol before heading south towards Tan Tan. Tan Tan is famous for the statues of the kissing camels that mark the (more or less official) gateway to the Sahara desert.
The Kissing Camels
We have some more mountains foothills to cross and are treated to more twisty roads and spectacular scenery. Morocco is an absolutely beautiful place and I reckon I could drive around for weeks and weeks and not get tired of the landscape.
As we descend out of the hills to the north of Tan Tan you could see the beginning of the real Sahara. Desert stretching away to the horizon complete with strong winds and blowing sand. We make our way through the horizontally blowing sand, riding with our bikes on an angle, leaning into the wind. Finally we are greeted with the sight of the famous kissing camels as we approach Tan Tan.
You just have to stop and get some cheesy tourist photos with the camels now don’t you? Come on everybody is doing it.
As we enter Tan Tan we encounter our first military check point. “Papers, Passport”. Things are getting a bit more uptight now that we are getting closer to Western Sahara. We gas up in town, this is the last major centre before our campsite and from here on out fuel becomes a bit more of a consideration as the towns get further and further apart.
We proceed out of Tan Tan along the coast for our last few miles in Morocco. All along this part of the coast the desert pushes right up to the edge of 300 foot cliffs that drop down to the Atlantic. As we ride along the top of the cliffs the views are magic, absolutely magic. Every so often along the cliffs there is a small gathering of huts where the locals will fish off the tops of the cliffs. Amazing.
We come across more military checkpoints and finally cross out of Morocco and into Moroccan controlled Western Sahara. We pass through a little town that has a dodgy looking café and a petrol station, but it is a bit before lunch time, we still have half a tank of gas and the map shows another town between here and our stop for the night. So, we decide not to stop and we press on.
Okay that turns out to be a mistake. You see maps of this area prove to be a bit unreliable. Almost as unreliable as the petrol stations in these parts. This is the real Sahara now boys and girls, on your toes.
The Real Sahara Now
As we continue on, the “town” on the map turns out to be just a wide spot in the road. And the petrol station turns out be less of a ‘petrol station’ and more of a plain old ‘station’ as it doesn’t have any petrol… or food… or water… or anything really.
We do a little quick math to see how far we can get on the fuel we have remaining. We could go back to the last station, but then that would put hours, plural, onto the day. We could go forward to the campsite and hope we pass something along the way. We could go past the campsite into the next town, Laayoune, get some petrol and turn around and come back. However, we may not actually make it to Laayoune on the petrol we have, and if there is none there then we are really screwed. Oh yeah and my clutch is starting to get pretty loose and feel pretty dodgy.
So we decide to go to the campsite and hope that there is enough fuel left in the tank in the morning to get us to Laayoune. We get to the turn off to the campsite and are a bit confused and suspicious. There is a sign pointing to our right but no real road and nothing as far as the eye can see in any direction. Really? Down here? After exchanging a few glances we shrug and trundle off across the desert in the direction the sign points.
After about 15 minutes of tentative riding through nothing with a capital NO we come over a rise and find the ‘camp’. It is a few building and semi-permanent tents in the middle of frikkin nowhere. I mean WTF? Why would you put anything here of all places? You would have closer neighbours if you lived on the moon. But hey, we are hungry, tired and almost out of petrol so it’s, “My what a lovely place you have here”
Really Just Nothing And Nowhere
We beg some food as we haven’t had any lunch, but all the owner has is bread and sardines. Oh yeah, and beer, score. Yummy. The rest of the troupe shows up about 45 minutes later. We unload the truck and set about cooking dinner. Huuuungry. After a feed and a little small talk, we all wander off to our tents, worn out from the day. I fall asleep to the sound of wind howling outside my tent. How awesome is this trip!?!?