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.