Tag: morocco (Page 1 of 4)

Dakhla to the frontier

After our rest day off the bikes in Dakhla we loaded up again and headed north and then east up the spit to the mainland. The wind seems to never stop in Dakhla and comes out of the northeast so the 40 kilometer ride back to the main road was a tough slog into heavy headwinds. We resorted to riding in a pace line just to get our average speed up to about 10 miles an hour. The view of the dramatic cliffs of the mainland made up for some of the headwind. And as we passed a couple dozen kite surfers at the north end of the bay it was good to see that someone was enjoying the wind.

After an omelette and coffee break at the gas station by the main road junction we turned south. The riding improved as we now had a nice tailwind. We stopped again briefly at the small military town of El Argoub. Upon inquiring about the possibility of staying there for the night we were told that foreigners were not allowed to stay the night there. So we rode on out of town for some kilometers, scoped out a section of coast for a possible campsite, but decided it was too tough to get the bikes down and back. A little further along we found a better campsite behind a low ridgeline of sand, dirt, and crumbling rock walls that provided some shelter from the wind and blocked the view from the road. After exploring a bit I think it was an abandoned military fortification of some sort as it stretched east to west providing good strategic views of the flat, exposed desert to the south.

The area south of Dakhla is remote and sparsely inhabited. We saw perhaps up to 10 vehicles per hour on these stretches of road and had no access to water or food for more than 200 kilometers after El Argoub. The next day’s ride confirmed another cyclist’s report that the town of “Ain Berda” on the Michelin maps does not exist. We crossed the Tropic of Cancer and then rode into some ever-so-slightly hilly terrain so the ride was interesting. Our second night on this stretch was spent in a dry lake bed where we found a little wind shelter behind some dunes covered in vegetation.

The third day brought us to the town of Centre Bir Gandouz which is not shown on the Michelin maps, but is at the intersection where the maps show a track going south to what they call Bir Gandouz. I don’t know if there are two towns called Bir Gandouz or if the map simply shows it in the wrong place, but it seems an odd error. A little after the town we saw a warning sign for a mined area and so we headed on a good distance before looking for another campsite in an area that had visible tire tracks and goat herding trails.

The next day brought us through some very different landscape as we approached the Mauritanian border. The road wound around rocky hillocks of sandstone carved into Swiss cheese formations (presumably by the wind) for miles and we caught glimpses of big sand dunes some ways off to the east. This rock garden continued for most of the afternoon. We planned to try to spend the night in the town of Guerguerat near the border, but when we finally reached it we found that it was not so much a town as a gas station, a couple over-priced hotels, and a border post. Maps give the impression that there is some distance from the town to the border, but this was wrong. After grabbing some food and loading up on water again we decided to go ahead and cross the border and try to find a place to sleep on the other side.

The Moroccan-Mauritanian border is reported to be heavily mined and the 3 to 5 kilometers of no-man’s land between the border posts is unmaintained by either country so the maze of dirt tracks and abandoned cars give an eerie, surreal feeling. The unease was compounded by a couple men in a car who followed us for a little ways, then parked and watched us struggle to push our bikes through the sand before driving around and ahead of us. However, whatever their intentions, they left us alone and it was not hard to figure out how to get to the Mauritanian border post — just follow the most heavily travelled tracks toward the cell phone tower to the south.

The Mauritanian side of the border is basically a smaller version of the Moroccan side. The border formalities were straightforward and we found an auberge offering shared tents in the back for a more reasonable price than the hotels on the Moroccan side. We also changed our Moroccan Dirhams and some Euros into Mauritanian Ougiya. FYI, if you take this route don’t forget to get enough cash in Dakhla or Boujdour before heading to the border as there are no other towns south of Laayoune with banks. I forgot to get cash in Dakhla so had to borrow some from Pieter and Julian to change into Ougiya.

 


 

 

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Tarfaya to Dakhla

Tarfaya is a great town to hang out in. There’s not much to do or see, but it’s more laid-back than most towns.

In the morning we met Jean Pierre, an older French cyclist on his way back north — eventually to Portugal — after doing a loop through Laayoune with a ridiculously small amount of gear.

In the afternoon we strolled out to the beach to see the cazamar — one of the original buildings of the town built in the sea — and met a group of Ukrainians taking a day off from their work as an air crew for a UN contractor in Laayoune. They were wonderfully friendly and we hung out with them for a while, enjoying their home made, very strong, vodka. Finally they had to head back to Laayoune, but only after we exchanged contact information with Yuri who insisted we must stay with him when we were in Laayoune.

That night we lingered outside a kebab restaurant with the owner Khalid; Cherif, a French artist who lives in Tarfaya part of the year; and Jake, an Englishman, and his girlfriend (whose name I forget, sorry).

The next day it was a straight shot through desolate desert from Tarfaya to Laayoune. Laayoune turned out to be a beautiful city on a river with a great view as you come into town from the north. Unfortunately our entrance was marred by a half dozen teenagers who were intent on getting some sort of gift out of us. I’m used to having children and even the occasional adult ask for a cadeau, a pen, a piece of candy, or a dirham, but usually they’re good natured about it and leave you alone if you say no. These kids blocked the road, tried to hold the handlebars of the bikes and kept asking for 20 dirhams. After pushing through the scrum I finally started to bike away, when one guy grabbed my camera tripod out of my handlebar bag. I stopped and got him to give it back to me, but apparently at the same time someone else got my reading glasses or they simply fell out. Not a big loss since I have a spare, but disappointing nonetheless.

Once safely making our way into the city, we were able to reach Yuri and he met us and had us follow his taxi back to the villa where the Ukrainian air crew live. Yuri insisted we take his room and fed us a hearty dinner and an even more hearty breakfast the next morning. He and the rest of the crew work on a contract for MINURSO the UN mission for the referendum in Western Sahara.

Pieter and I had heard from Julian that he was taking a rest day in Laayoune so we planned to all meet up and continue south together. After taking our leave of Yuri, Pieter and I picked up supplies and then met Julian in a cafe in the port of Laayoune.

From the port we crossed what Yuri had told me was the longest conveyor belt transport system in the world (built to transport phosphates from a mine to the port), and then headed on into the desert.

There’s not a lot to say about the next couple days other than to experience them. Long days riding over flat, windy, beautiful, but desolate desert. We camped a couple times in patches of scrub brush off the road and once at the top of the sea cliffs. One night Pieter asked a construction crew if we could sleep somewhere out of the wind and they swept out a room in an unfinished office building where we could stash our bikes and spread out our sleeping bags.

We had originally intended to skip Dakhla since it’s 40 kilometers out on a spit in the Atlantic — requiring an extra 40 kilometers riding back to the mainland — but the monotony of the desert had us looking forward to a rest day in a city, so we took the turn off for Dakhla when we reached it.

Two nights of sleeping in a hotel, washing clothes, taking showers, and even a hair cut for me, and we’re probably about ready to take on the next section of desert as we head to Mauritania.

 


 

 

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Tan Tan to Tarfaya

It’s a two day ride from Tan Tan to Tarfaya and the wind didn’t seem to let up the whole time. Mostly we had a cross wind, but once in a while the road would turn enough to give us a fantastic tail wind or an awful head wind. As Pieter said, the wind can make your day or destroy it.

The road from Tan Tan heads back out to the coast from the inland hills and mesas. Here are the first real sections of sand dunes and we found a somewhat sheltered spot behind some dunes to pitch our tents for the night. Then in the morning found that the wind had changed directions and we weren’t so sheltered after all. Still it was a beautiful area and I slept well on the sand.

We arrived at the little town of Tarfaya in the afternoon and found a hotel in our budget where we could take a rest day. Tarfaya is famous for being the place where Antoine de Saint-Exupery was based for several years when he was a pilot flying mail planes across the desert. There’s a little museum at Tarfaya about him and the early French air mail routes connecting South America and Sub-Saharan Africa with Europe.

Despite being small, there’s a tremendous amount of construction going on in Tarfaya. The town is expected to boom once the planned ferry service to the Canary Islands starts running in a year or two.

 


 

 

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