Thursday, 24 January 2013

Hitching the Sahara

I met my travel partner for the next part of my trip; Wojtek from Poland who I met through Couchsurfing.  We met up in Agadir, collected some supplies for our trip, got some extra rest to prepare, and I finally threw out many things from my backpack to minimise the size.

8am Sunday morning we began.  Two minutes later we were stopped in our tracks by a homeless man who wanted Wojtek to buy him a coffee.  After a short bustle, we managed to get away and make it to the road heading south.

A Senegalese man stopped for us, even though he was almost home, and took us to our hitching spot, not before laughing surprisingly at our plans to hitch through the desert as well as giving us the address of his parents and thirty-seven siblings in Senegal.

Minutes later, a man in a very expensive suit took us further on.  We didn't talk much.  He was scary because he was important.  He worked at the airport, possibly the manager, but I'm not sure.  It did feel like he took it all very seriously, as if stopping to pick up foreigners and chauffeur them around was part of his job.

All of this luck meant we had no time to stop to eat our breakfast.  So we found a spot, put our backpacks down, got our food out... BEEEEEP "Where are you going?!"  Luckily, before starvation set in, this guy let us eat in his car.  He was French (and friendly) and owned a spa business.  That's about it really.  Oh, and he told us about the terrorists currently taking over the desert towards Mauritania.  Little side note.

We waited a little longer for the next ride, and somehow ended up in a taxi.  For free.  He took us through a few towns before finding paying passengers and dropping us off.

Then our longest ride of the day came in the form of a Coca Cola truck.  Two men, two seats.  So Wojtek and I sat on the bed in the back.  They gave us fruit, bread, drinks, cigarettes to Wojtek, and in return we hid behind the curtain every time a police checkpoint came up.  That way they didn't have to answer any awkward questions about why they had two Europeans in their truck in the middle of the disputed territory of the Sahara desert.

Whilst Moroccan music blasted from the stereo, the driver danced with such enthusiasm that he didn't always have time to hold the steering wheel. [See video]

The journey continued into the night; the over sized truck drove on the narrow road with only two dim headlights leading the way in the darkest sky in the world.  To add to the darkness was the slow, bass-ridden Moroccan music now playing. [See video]

We arrived at a truck park on the outskirts of a town called Laayoune and after the drivers washed their feet and prayed, we all sat around sharing a dinner of traditional Moroccan tajine.  Wojtek and I set up the tent in a corner where the truck would shield us from the wind, and before sleeping, reflected on the incredible day we just had and were filled with excitable laughter for what tomorrow would bring.

We awoke in the morning to say goodbye to our truck friends then an easy ten metre walk took us to the road we would continue on.  Not entirely sure where we actually were meant that we took a chance on a man who said he could take us to a better spot.  He gave Wojtek a cigarette and had one himself, a beer each was next, then a block of hashish was offered.  It finally clicked that he was stupidly drunk when we arrived in the next town;
"I take you to beach. Beach is here."
We explained that we had no time and needed to go south, not to the beach, so naturally he drove us into a port filled with shipping material and armed guards.  A few handshakes and salutes explained to us that he was some type of official; a high ranking one who was obviously above the rules of drink- and drug-driving.  After a few hours of weirdness, we finally managed to convince him to drop us at the side of the road to look for our next ride.

The lack of traffic meant we waited for around an hour in the blistering wind; our eyes, ears, noses, mouths, hair, pockets, and shoes were dotted with sand that would stay with us for the rest of the day.  A car eventually stopped, driving it was a man dressed in traditional desert clothing, a full headscarf, and equipped with a long straggling beard.  With only his local Berber language to go by, I somehow managed to communicate that we were hitchhikers and where we wanted to go.  Once inside the car, our stereotypes got the better of us;
"We've been kidnapped, definitely" we thought.
He stopped in the next town and picked up a man who had lots of bicycles, then bought us a sandwich each.
"This is just too strange.  Has he kidnapped us or what?"
The police checkpoints put us straight.  Giving his identification and explaining everything to them for us, we knew that we had not in fact been kidnapped, but instead hit the jackpot with the kindest taxi driver the Sahara has to offer. [See video]

When we reached Dakhla, 540km later, he dropped off the other four men he had picked up (seven people to a four seater car) then insisted on finding a hotel for us.  They were all full, except the one nobody wanted to stay in.  We guessed that the bedsheets were changed every ten customers, and we were probably the fifth or sixth this round.  The following morning we were awoken by the gruesome sound of a man in the neighbouring bathroom snorting and spitting the snot which he had recently gathered from his own journey through the desert.  He left it all there for us to see when we used the bathroom later.

We spent the rest of the day getting informed and incredibly worried about the current situation of the terrorists who were spreading from Mali to neighbouring countries, including Mauritania - where we were heading to the next day...

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