Monday, November 15, 2010

Desert tales

After the Gorges du Toudgha, we had a stop-over at Boumalne for the Gorges du Dades, and then headed for Qalaa-Mgouna, to try a mountain track through the Jebel Sagho. Starting very easily, it climbed up the first passes and then descended towards the tiny village of Tagmout, in a green valley between the peaks. While passing through, we are invited by Hadjou, Fatima and Mina to drink tea and why not stay for the night. Son, brother and husband Said welcomes me while Isabel gets dressed up in traditional berber attire. We spend a lovely night eating, pointing/smiling/discussing and playing cards. The bad feeling that haunted us just a few days ago has disappeared completely: these encounters are what makes travelling so rewarding. Our good mood is undestructible now, even when the following day the narrow and steep track leading out of the valley is packed with dusty, rolling and gliding boulders, hairpin loops and badly eroded sides. I drop the bike unexpectedly, breaking the left pillion footpeg, but luckily the tires strapped to the side prevent further damage. We spend 3 hours climbing just a few kms out of the valley (Isabel rightfully reminds me of my words: 10min down and 10min up with the bikes) and again we are thinking of giving up and going back, but then the track gets better and we cross the most beautiful and colourful landscapes, greatly rewarding us for the hard work.

After a few days in Agadir to recover from our adventures and arrange for the camera, we plan to head south, direction Mauretania. At the very last moment, Isabel discovers that visa regulations have changed recently, and visa are no longer available at the border. Instead, we have to get back to Rabat, some 550km back north. We curse about everyone potentially involved, but there is no way around this. Next morning, we take the highway to Rabat. Pretty empty. After 25km, we understand why: the first "aire de péage" shows up and it is more expensive than in France. No way locals can afford this, but the few fully loaded (international) trucks and modern limousines that we meet on the way to Marrakech. From there, the road is more crowded, but again we notice so many cars parking on the side lane. If not for a puncture or an overheated engine, it is for a human need or to pray. The government has found it useful to put signposts every few kms reminding drivers that it is forbidden to park on the side line...

Rabat is very Mediterranean, modern and expensive (including metered parking!), but its geographic location shows in many things, not at least in the heavily pouring rain. We don't mind heading back south after 24h with the visa for Mauretania well pasted into our passports. We spend the night south of Agadir and now enter into the Sahara. In Goulmim, we stumble upon a huge sheep market, in preparation of the celebration of Eid Al-Haida, when sheep are slaughtered and cooked for family, friends and all those who happen to be around or need it. PETA, or our own Belgian GAIA has some work to do here on the market...

  After the horrible concrete dromedaries at the entrance of Tan-Tan, we meet the first police check point. As always, they are very friendly and polite, but it will not be the last time we have to show our passports. We wonder why they want to know our profession, after all they have to take our answer for real, and what profession could possible be perceived as a threat?
The night falls when we enter the National Park of Khenifiss, with its magnificent sand dunes along the cliffs bordering the Atlantic. It would be a shame to continue now, so we just take a side track that seems a bit less sandy than all the others and hope for a nice camping spot with less wind and a bit out of sight from the road. It leads to a construction area however, and we are standing in doubt when Brahim shows up. He is supervising the construction works and comes for an inspection of the heavy equipment while the workers are home for the holiday season. He is as kind as to provide us with a construction shed for the night. The guard helps us with gas and water and keeps an eye on the motorbikes (and bulldozers and cranes) during the night.

 Only the next morning, we find out what a beautyful location we have chosen as our camp site: the construction works are needed to divert the road from a sandy oued. We start the day with an extensive photoshoot, before biting away the many many kilometers south. Seven hundred forty kilometers later, we have crossed the unearthy town of Tarfaya, the luxurious city of Laayoune, the pleasant village of Boujdour, only a handful of tiny villages and for the rest: endless empty plains, sandy valleys and rocky mountain plateaus on the left and the Atlantic on the right, as far as the eye can see. Our destination for today, Dakhla, is probably going to be a dusty border town, at least that is the impression we got from other travellers' stories and guidebooks. We are shocked to find a lovely lively little beach resort town, full of local tourists celebrating Saturday night around the souk and a small square near our hotel. Children are playing on the streets until late at night. We decide to take a day off here, before heading into the unknown.
Taking a day off at the peninsula of Dakhla with a beautiful view on the mainland.
For more pics, see the "Desert tales" album.
Tomorrow, we will try to cover the last 350km towards the Mauretanian border, and spend the night in Nouadhibou. Mauretania is officially to be avoided nowadays for tourists, even the main road between Nouadhibou and the capital Nouakchott, due to threats by Al-Qaida in the Maghreb to kidnap foreigners. There is no alternative, however, so we will take our chance. We had hoped to spend a few days in the country to visit its main attractions, but that will have to wait a few years it seems. We can only rely upon the advice of the authorities, regardless of what the atmosphere might be like among ordinary Mauretanians. After all, we have found out that it is sometimes necessary to consult the internet to know what is going on: while we were crossing the Western Sahara, the Moroccan army has raided a camp of political activists and there were several dozens of casualties. Not a single word at the police check points... the only rumour we heard was from a Belgian that we met on the road, but he didn't have any details. We hope for the best.


  1. Wilfried en Rita24 November, 2010 23:40


    Leuk om lezen!
    Als Senegal ook op jullie programma zou staan, een kleine suggestie: onze groetjes gaan doen aan Lisa Op de Beeck.
    Ons nichtje, verpleegster, werkt als vrijwilliger 6 maanden in Dakar. Misschien een ideetje voor de 2 dokters????
    Het adres:
    Dispensaire Saint Martin
    32, rue de Reims

    Het zou voor Lisa wel een volledige verrassing zijn :) !

    Amuseer jullie en geniet ervan!

  2. Dag Rita en Wilfried,

    Leuk dat jullie onze blog zo trouw volgen en af en toe iets posten!! We zijn op jullie aanraden inderdaad eens een bezoekje gaan brengen aan het dispensaire. wel vrijdagnamiddag, dus erg veel werk werd er niet meer verricht. We hebben wel Lisa gezien en wat gebabbeld. Zij stelt het erg goed, goed ingeburgerd al zo te zien :)maar daar hebben jullie al van gehoord blijkbaar?

    Dikke zoenen en blijven volgen hoor! :)