Sunday, December 02, 2007

Western Sahara

Western Sahara is kind of like Tibet in that it is occupied by a foreign (non-US) country and nobody really seems to care much so nobody ever expects it to become an independent country anytime soon. It seems fine on the surface but then only because the occupying country has pumped its people and money into the area to make it look like something beneficial for the area when in fact the indigenous population has been seriously marginalized and is watched quite carefully. Or so I've been told. From Marrakesh it was a long 15hr overnight bus ride down to Laayoune, the "capital" of Western Sahara. It is largely a Moroccan population now and tons of money has been pumped into infrastructure in recent years so it is much newer and cleaner looking than many cities in Morocco. There is a sizable UN presence in Laayoune and one of the most obvious sights is that of the UN vehicles driving around. We were in Laayoune only for the day and didn't really do much since we were just waiting around for the next overnight bus to Dakhla further south. Jake did manage to meet a UN doctor from Malaysia so we got a little info on the situation as he is there to monitor it all. It seems that they are trying to take a proper census of Western Saharans (they are different and darker than Moroccans and apparently have more in common with Mauritanians) so there can be a referendum on increased autonomy. The outcome is obvious and the Moroccan government has been stalling and rejecting all attempts at this so things are kind of stuck. Jake was feeling really sick and wanted to stay in Laayoune with the Malaysian guy so we temporarily parted ways at that point.
The overnight bus to Dakhla was a miserable 9 hours. There were so many police checkpoints needing to record our passports that it was impossible to get any sleep. We arrived just before 6am and decided we'd stay a night in Dakhla because we were too wrecked to continue the next hard leg to the border. Unfortunately that meant waiting around a couple hours in the cold, watching the sunrise before we could check in to a hotel. Dakhla is a lot smaller than Laayoune but much the same story, obviously rebuilt and quite clean by standards out here. The people are quite a bit more friendly and nice too. We met a few overlanders heading south and tried to find a ride to the border. The border with Mauritania is over 300km away but Dakhla is the end of the public transit route so the following morning we walked several km out of town to the police checkpoint in the hopes of finding a ride south. With a smaller group the thing to do is try to hitch with foreigners heading south but we ended up paying for a ride in the back of a cargo van with a few Moroccans. It was a pretty miserable 11hr ride but probably nothing compared to what's to come :) We were in the back compartment, sitting on the floor playing cards most of the time but there were no food stops and it was pretty hot and stuffy in there. There is nothing along the road anywhere. It's just a mix of rock and sand desert with very little vegetation of any kind. Fortunately the dust wasn't bad as the road is now paved pretty much the whole way. Unfortunately dad has been having big problems with a pinched nerve in his back that is affecting his arm and is giving him a lot of discomfort so he's not having much fun. It started a little while ago but doesn't seem to be going away and we haven't had much time to rest it. I guess it's from his head dive in Malta though it took a week after that to start. No other major injuries to report at the moment.
Mauritania is a whole other world and things have changed quite a bit already. But that comes next time.


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