Diary of the Sahara desert

 

On January second we finally make it: we bike into the Sahara desert. We leave late from a simple but nice hotel. New-year’s eve we’ve spent in a campground right next to partying, drunk Englishmen and we had some sleep to catch up. We depart from the town of Guelmim. When we leave the city, five different signs wish us `bonne route`. This looks serious. Will the desert be that difficult?

 

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We know that we will have to cross a distance as big as from Holland to the south of Spain, with only a few villages in between, though this does not threaten us too much.

 

A few kilometers into the desert we suddenly find ourselves surrounded by fog. We cannot see further than fifty meters. Nothing ahead of us, nothing left, right or behind. The air is humid and thick. As I breathe out I feel the warm air hitting my face.
An hour later, when we can see around us again, we pass by a sign which warns us for trespassing camels. Indeed there are some by the road, although they actually are dromedaries.
Now the wind is picking up, straight into our faces. Today we have 130 kilometers to do in order to reach the next village, but when it takes us five hours to make it halfway, we figure that today is never going to be a 130 kilometer day. Luckily we find a village and we are invited to spend the night in a house next to the city hall. It is only three in the afternoon and the next five hours we spend talking with one of the officials. He lives in Guelmim, and is stationed in this tiny village for a couple of days per week. He seems to be the most informed Moroccan we have met so far in terms of politics and religion. Late that night the village guard invites us to have couscous at his home. We are welcomed with a lot of perfume that he sprinkles over our heads. With only men, Antoine and I have couscous with buttermilk. The other women eat separately. One of the men gives me a traditional Sahara scarf to protect me from wind and sand.

 

The next day we leave early and stop in the middle of the desert to cook breakfast. Again there is much wind and we bike slowly. When we have lunch on the top of a hill it starts raining. We have a hard time making it to Tan Tan, although it is only seventy kilometers. Blowing sand rasps our faces and we bike no more than 8 kilometers per hour. I start having doubts as to whether I can do this. This is only the second day in the desert and I already feel drained of energy. In Tan Tan we find a hotel with a cold shower.

 

The wind only gets worse. When we try to leave the town, it takes us half an hour to do 2 kilometers and we have sand in our ears, mouth and eyes. We decide to turn around and hope for better weather. Today we hear that the Paris-Dakar rally has been cancelled due to terrorist threats in Mauritania. What does this mean for us? Both the French and the Dutch ministry of foreign affairs advise not to go to this country, unless the trip is essential. We decide to give it some more thought. Deep inside an uncomfortable feeling is settling. What have we started? Is this trip a good idea? Can I do this?

 

The days that follow are completely different. The wind has calmed. It is still slowing us down, but we manage to make many kilometers. After a long and intense day we get to Akhfenir where we can camp next to a hotel. The manager shows me around in the hotel but cannot keep his hands to himself. I am in shock and upset and ball him out. The rest of the evening I stay close to Antoine.
From there we go on to Tarfaya, from where we can take a ferry to the Canary Islands. It is a tiny village with only a couple of paved roads. We decide to stay in Africa, because I do not know whether I will want to come back to the dust if we take a week of comfort and luxury. We stay in a hotel, in good company of French and English motorcyclists. Together we eat fresh fish. Our room is barely bigger than the bed. As usual in a budget hotel like this there is a hardly working, common Turkish toilet and a shower that I rather skip.

 

Leaving Tarfaya we are surprised by fog once again. After thirty kilometers we bike into the area called Western Sahara. According to the international community this is a disputed area. However, Morocco claims it as part of their country and calls it Moroccan Sahara. During a break in the shade of a mobile phone tower in the middle of nowhere, a guard welcomes us into the Western Sahara. For us this is a first signal of what the locals think about the situation. During the rest of the day we see nobody. We enjoy the tranquility, which we have missed so much in the rest of Morocco. We get to Laayoune and stay here to rest. Two nights we spend in a very luxurious and comfortable hotel. The manager gives us a special price.

 

In spite of the enjoyment of biking in the desert, I am not feeling so well. I have a hard time with the mentality of many people here. Every time when I do groceries they try to charge too much. I ask how much the bananas cost. They say ‘dix’ and one minute later they claim that what they said was ‘douze’. When we have a cup of coffee and ask for the bill, they always add a few Dirhams to the price, thinking that we will pay it anyhow. And because I cannot cover my body up like the women here do, because I am on a bike, the men stare at me as they undress me with their eyes. Also children are still begging for money and pens and some are still throwing rocks at us, although I am starting to get used to ignoring this and try to have a nice conversation with them instead. I am a guest in this culture so I should adapt to it, but sometimes that is very hard. It is time for me to move on.

 

Our next goal is to get to Boujdour. This is almost 200 kilometers and we sleep behind a gas station. We meet the local guard (or soldier, we do not quite know but he seems to be important) and he joins us inside our tent. At first, Antoine has a hard time having a guest in our tiny tent, but he actually starts enjoying it while Hussein helps him filtering water. Together we sort the beans for next day’s dinner.

 

There is a campground in Boujdour. It is a pleasant village with friendly people. They are not trying to overcharge us and we have nice conversations. Unfortunately the campground is expensive (65DH = 6.50 Euros per night) and after two days we decide to move on. Now we are really getting into the desert. There is nothing for 125 kilometers. At the end of the day we meet Hassan who is an adjutant for the Royal Moroccan Army. In the heavy wind that has been pushing us all day we pitch our tent next to his army tent.
Hassan gives us water and we continue, not knowing when we will see some civilization again. Traffic has gotten much lighter since Laayoune as well. Sometimes there is nothing for half an hour. However, we have to be extra careful as busses still run us off the road. Today we find two gas stations in the first 50 kilometers, but afterwards nothing at all. Right before sunset we reach a village without inhabitants. The guard who does not speak French shows us where we can sleep inside. When we leave we give him a kilo of sugar peanuts which he likes a lot.

 

Our departure today is difficult as we are once again bothered by several mean dogs. We do have several techniques to chase them away, but with these dogs we are lucky that a truck passes us and scares them off. With beating heart we continue. All of a sudden a jeep stops alongside the road in the other direction. It is Jack, an Englishman whom we met in Boujdour. Together we have English tea and talk away. He gives us two packages with army food. It is like Christmas. We get custard with apple, Scottish chocolate and much more. If that does not push us through Mauritania, what will? A camper pulls over. Our French neighbors from the campground hop out. Amazing, we are in the middle of the desert and suddenly a party of five. On top of that we turn out to be at a spot with a large amount of fossils.

 

We have been stopped for over two hours and cannot make it to Dakhla. By the end of the day the wind has turned. I am starting to get frustrated. I am wearing pants over my shorts because there is more traffic and lots of staring men. My legs hurt, I have seat pain caused by the pants and a stomach ache. We generally do not depend on bathrooms because they are dirtier than fields, forests or desert. However, sometimes you need one. In the desert there can be 600 kilometers between working toilets. It is getting dark and there is sand left and right of us. The place where we are supposed to find other campers does not seem to come up. I throw my bike in the sand, cry for a couple of minutes while complaining about how I dislike everything. Now we can continue. As usual every difficult situation ends nicely. We camp at a kite surf school and they even have a European bathroom in the middle of the dunes.

 

Quietly we bike to Dakhla and we find a hotel that has everything we need. A hot shower (it is only dripping water but at least it is hot), we can cook on our balcony (until our stove breaks in two! Oh well, we keep being challenged) and clean sheets on the beds. At night it is very loud in the street but we are tired enough to sleep in spite of that. We have started taking Lariam pills as a protection against Malaria. I have been very worried about it, considering the side effects of this drug. Of course the worry was worse than the pain and we are both doing pretty much ok. We have really enjoyed our stay here, although we spent a lot of time in the internet café again.

 

Dakhla is a modern town, very clean compared with what we have seen before. Yesterday we explored the old part of Dakhla. This part is huge. Many shops, but everyone sells the same things. There is a nice atmosphere. In a small restaurant we have eaten squid and fish for 2 euros 50 per person, since we were still looking for a solution for our stove. We have decided to make what is called a hobo stove from a tin can, until we can get anything else by mail.

 

Traveling is intense. It is not just exploring the world. It is a journey to explore oneself. I feel that little by little I am growing in it. These last days I have truly been enjoying myself. I get more convinced that we can actually pull it off. I am looking forward to crossing the second part of the Sahara desert. We will cross Mauritania because it is crucial in order to be able to continue south. I feel good.

8 Reactions to: “Diary of the Sahara desert”


  1. 1 Tonny en Dolf

    Wij bewonderen jullie doorzettingsvermogen,veel van jullie ervaringen zijn natuurlijk voorspelbaar. Veel komt overeen met mijn (Dolf) ervaringen.Zeker als jonge blonde europese is het extra lastig. Dat je dan een potje huilt is begrijpelijk. Wij leven met jullie mee en wensen jullie een goede en veilige voortzetting van jullie reis.
    Tonny en Dolf

  2. 2 sabine macwaters

    Hey, you Intrepid Explorers!
    Never is there a journey to a stranger land than that which lies within! You are so brave, tackling the deserts of both. It means more to me than I can say to read not just a tourist blurb, but the story of the true adventures you go through. I’ve so much respect for each of you. Today, the temperature is above freezing momentarily. Tonight, the Febvre clan will go watch an old Harold Lloyd (?) movie, silent, complete with live orchestra! We will think of you, and laugh for you… Do you sometimes wish there was a fly on the Handlebar (wall?) who could fiolm some of this?
    LOVE YOU!!!
    Sabine

  3. 3 Judith

    It sounds like you’re having some interesting experience both good and challenging. Keep it up and good luck for the next league of your trip:)

    Judith

  4. 4 Roger und Katja

    Hello Chantal and Antoine

    We’re still following your tracks reading the interesting descriptions of your struggle through the desert!
    Thats a nice way for us to keep a little bit of the travel feeling, beeing back home in Switzerland.

    We wish you all the best for your further trip!

    yours Katja and Roger

  5. 5 Loet en Henny

    Hallo Chantal en Antoin’
    Wij volgen jullie reis met volle bewondering .En toen ik dat verhaal van die mist had gelezen ,moest ik meteen aan het kompas denken dat ik aan jullie in Tarifa had gegeven.Bij zulke gevallen ben je bij geen zicht wel afhankelijk van een kompas.Wat betreft het gevaar van mijnen in Mauritania moet jullie zich niet buiten de wegen treden.Nog veel succes met jullie reis en wij volgen jullie op de voet. Henny en Loet,

  6. 6 Stephan

    Hey you,
    we met you near the Mauretanian/Senegalesian border. We promised to write something on your Website. So… greetings from Germany. Hope you enjoyed the “cool” water.

    Have a nice trip
    Benni,Benni, Gerald and Stephan

  7. 7 paris de anda

    hello this is so correct whaat youre talking about

  8. 8 Marilyse Chaussée

    Hi,

    my boyfriend and I are planning to cross the western sahara desert to go to senegal. We never did something like that before and we have few questions. Is it possible for you to help us?

    Thank you so much in advance

    and sorry for my bad english, i’m canadian and usually speak french.

    Marilyse

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