Brighton2capetown - Western Sahara

Brighton to Cape Town Overland by Motorcycle









Western Sahara

16th October

The disputed territory of Western Sahara, as viewed from the main North-South road is so close to featureless as to make you wonder why it was disputed in the first place.  This is not to say the place is without merit, but it is clear why so many of the overlanding population blast through with barely a stop.  This we did, almost by accident as it's not clear from the signs to non-arabic readers where the line is. In fact can be found in an utterly unremarkable little town, not even listed on our map, 30km south of Tarfaya (which is shown on the Garmin GPS), between Tan-Tan and Laayoune. On each side of the road stands a pillar with stylised barbed-wire running vertically up each one, both appearing linked by a pattern in the tarmac which you drive over.  We're not sure what comfort these symbols afford the town's inhabitants but at least they appeared to be enjoying its shade in the early afternoon sun.


On leaving Tan-Tan on Monday 15th October, we set off for Laayoune with the expectation of arriving in time for a late lunch and plenty of time to locate a campsite.  Around 200 miles later, sure enough, we rolled into the police checkpoint on the outskirts of Laayoune, explained where we'd come from, that we were going to Dakhla (a reputedly lovely coastal resort on a peninsula in the south of WS) and that we'd perhaps drop into Laayoune for a meal on the way.  It was at this checkpoint we first met a group of French Euro-banger vendors, hacking their way south in three ageing Merc diesels, headed for Mauritania and perhaps beyond.  The french seem to have a kind of disregard for the Moroccan authorities, taking the approach that the country owes them a lot, and shouldn't be taken too seriously.  One of them apparently owned an Africa Twin back home, and so was keen to pester us about our trip and about the bikes whilst we were trying to deal with the questions of the police in our own way.  We've been playing down our trip at the checkpoints - whenever we're asked where we're going, we simply give the name of the next big place.  How long are we away for?  A few more weeks.  What do we do for a living? Well Ed's a computer technician and Dan's a mechanic.  All to try and make ourselves seem more like ordinary Joes having a relatively normal holiday.  So a french guy asking whether we were planning to go to Nouakchott (capital of Mauritania) on our way was not really helping...


We rode into Laayoune, were immediately struck by the fact it's a military town - where normally you'd find the suburbs, they had military bases, where you'd normally find shops, they had military bases...   Not spotting the quiet cafe/restaurant we sought, we kept on moving and headed out of Laayoune towards Laayoune Plage - anopther little seaside resort near a proper town.  Here we found bread and cheese for lunch and a spot of lovely, soft sand for Ed to rest his bike for a moment, but no campsite.


Faced with the choice of rough camping near Laayoune Plage, or simply heading off and making some progress towards Dakhla and either finding a campsite or perhaps rough-camping on the way, we picked the latter and once again, hammers were down as the bikes stretched their legs on the road to Dakhla.

Western Sahara continued it's them of ever-changing but not very dramatic scenery, and we passed through a few more checkpoints and a few more little settlements, but no campsite was forthcoming.  As the sun sank in the sky, we were faced with the choice of either pressing on into the evening to get to Dakhla and a proper campsite, or simply pulling off the road, doing our best to keep out of sight and pitching our tents in the wilds.  With Ed leading the way, throttles were pressed firmly into action and we made haste in the direction of town, the promise of a full day relaxing in the resort the next day being hard to resist.


As we arrived in Dakhla, we started to see signs for camping, but before we'd worked out where to head we found ourselves in another Police road-block, with more questions on occupation, nationality, destination and so on.  After a lengthy wait to receive our passports back, we discovered that we'd passed the campsite just before we'd got to the checkpoint so could have done all of this in daylight some other time.  Another campsite, another squalid shower block (though this time with the very rare feature of scalding hot water) and another friendly proprietor, this time with the offer of fresh tyres for which he'd do us good price.  The tyres declined, we cooked up a satisfying pasta meal on the trusty camp stove and settled for the night.

19th October

The next day in Dakhla was spent looking around, buying some food for our evening meal and updating this site from an internet cafe.  Dakhla itself is a new town, most of which is only 5 years old or so but which has a longer history as a fishing settlement.  Even as a new place, it still suffers from the same litter that blights Morocco and particularly Western Sahara generally.  Fishing still prospers, but with Western Sahara's tax-haven status, there's good money to be made by large western european firms setting up farming operations (tomatoes etc) and reaping the benefits of the predictable climate, good new road link, cheap labour (approx £3 a day) and no taxes. 


There are certainly some people living a great lifestyle there however - moneyed westerners with the cash to set up businesses and bring in tourists who can get there easily via the canary islands, can make good money taking them fishing, kite surfing, wind surfing and so on.  There are also probably some pretty strong mafia connections...

The trip from Dakhla to the border with Mauritania at Nouadhibou was mostly more unremarkable motoring across a desert scrub landscape.  There were however some beautiful rock formations and great coastline views and we stopped a couple of times to take photos lest we forget.

The exit formalities at the Western Saharan (Moroccan administered) border were more relaxed than the entry at Ceuta, and there were many fewer people hassling us.  Sure, there are the opportunist money changers there to get themselves good deals on your Euros or Dirhams in exchange for their Mauritanian Ouguiyas before you learn the good rates, but the officials are calm, unhurried and the gent who stamped our passports had even declared dress-down Wednesday and turned up for work in blue jeans and a yellow polo shirt.  We went to see the customs officers to get our temporary import forms stamped, and whilst the camper van in front and the 4x4 behind had a thorough going over to check for contraband, our bikes attracted no such attention.  After showing our documents to two further sets of police and having our details entered into yet another Moroccan ledger, we were free to venture out past the armed guard, into the couple of miles of no-man's-land separating Morocco from Mauritania.