Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Western Sahara

Supratours started out like a happening bus company. Computer generated ticket, big comfortable bus, left the station right on time, no goats in the hold. Then...

We wound through downtown Agadir and I marvelled once again at how modern much of Morocco is. The drive-in McDonald's we passed was fancier than anything in the States. We headed on out of town.

And stopped an hour later for dinner. No big deal: everyone would be sleeping soon. The scenery became empty in the dark. Around one am I noticed that we seemed to be driving through mist. Then I figured out that it was a sandstorm.

By the time we stopped in a town at two the effect, with the wind and the driving sand all around, was pretty neat. We started up again and the driver turned off the arabic music around ten to three. I settled in.

At four fifteen we stopped briefly. I got out and stretched my legs, then got back on the bus, where I slept soundly for two hours. When I awoke the bus was...

Still there. The driver had just stopped. At first I thought it was because of the sandstorm. Then I saw that other buses, trucks, and cars were still whizzing by. Which made sense because even though there was a constant 40 mile an hour wind, there was still a quarter mile visibility. The guy next to me pointed out that they have sandstorms just about every morning.

He also pointed out that not only had this been a holiday weekend, but it was an entire holiday week: the Moslem feast of Eid. Sort of like our Thanksgiving. With the same sort of traveling. Which explained the full buses and hotels.

And still we sat. And sat. And sat. Each of the full to overflowing passenger list squooshed in their seat. Finally at nine fifteen I decided I needed a bathroom break, and I laboriously wriggled my boots on and tied their laces. The moment I was finished the driver came on and started the bus.

If only I had thought of that sooner!

Anyway, we started down the highway, and in the daylight the scenery was unrelentlessly ugly. Picture the worstest flattest part of West Texas. Then add varying perpetual hazes caused by sandstorms. At times it looked like the setting of some science fiction novel.

On we went. Not the driver was trying to make up for lost time. No, we stopped for two hours one place, then an hour, then a half hour, then another hour.

When we finally pulled into Dakhla at eleven that night I had spent virtually the entire preceding 36 hours sitting on a bus;


In 1975 Spain gave up its claim to the Western Sahara, due to an ongoing insurgency by the Polisario rebels. Morocco immediately staked its claim, sending 350,000 citizens walking into the place. After a few years it got the upper hand, meaning that the Moroccan flag flies proudly and 100,000 refugees live in squalid camps in the middle of stinking nowhere in Algeria.

The Western Sahara has the world's largest deposits of phosphates. I didn't see any. Nor did I see anything else of the conflict, except for around twenty brand new white UN SUVs parked around some hotel.


At 4:07 PM, Blogger Charles Darwin said...

Weißes Städtchen, blaue Lagune, goldene Nehrung: Als schönstgelegene Stadt der Westsahara blickt Dakhla in eine blühende Zukunft. Touristikexperten prophezeien: Ein Zweig des Touristenstroms der Kanarischen Inseln wird nach Dakhla fließen. Noch ist das Wüstenstädtchen auf der 48 km langen, knapp 4 km breiten Landzunge, die der Saharasaum in südwestlicher Richtung in den Atlantik vorstreckt, ein Geheimtipp für Globetrotter auf der Suche nach unbekannten Küsten.

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