western sahara adventure 2014, day 8

Three weeks in North Africa driving as far south as latitude 23

Camera: Canon EOS 1Ds MKIII
Lens: Canon EF 16-35 mm. f/4.0L IS

Yesterday evening we heard a truck in the far distance, the noise went and came back from time to time, and we did not take further notice of it. But after a while the sound grew stronger, and we saw a very old Land Cruiser appear over the hillside at our camp. Apparently the LC would be a military vehicle because there were no glass on it at all, thus preventing any reflections from the sun to bounce off and reveal it.

We were briefly interviewed by the personnel with questions about our route and our planned heading for tomorrow, and whom we were. After a while they seemed pleased with our answers and took of again. But this would certainly not be the end of it; later that evening in the dark we spotted a set of headlight approaching us in the far distant. And sure enough after a while a Hummer in military colors arrived at camp with two soldiers and a local chauffeur in it. This time one of the visitors were a higher ranking soldier, and he spoke better English than the previous visitors we had.

This time the inquiry became more thorough and he wanted to know if the trucks were owned by us, if any in the party had a military background, what we were doing here and where we had planed to drive the following day. It was quite a long conversation but during the hole session they were extremely polite and he also had initiated the conversation by welcoming us to Morocco, numerous times actually. They warned us that there could be animals like snakes, scorpions and lizards in the sand, - and that we please should take care. It seemed to us that they mostly were concerned about our safety, and not from the danger from wildlife, but actually due to the fact that we had camped only a few kilometers from the border to Mauritania. Or maybe we were potential smugglers to them, although I don´t actually think so.

After a period with polite conversation we were informed that they had been instructed to escort us out from the area because it was a military area. They would escort us 60 km. away from the border in a westerly direction the following morning, onto a paved road leading towards Laayoune. We naturally had to agree, and so the three soldiers took of again in their Hummer. Shortly after the Land Cruiser with no windshield reappeared and parked in the dark on a hillside above our camp. I later learned that they would stay all night to watch over us.
We were all then satisfied and went to bed, some in their rooftop tents, one in a ground-tent and myself inside my Geländewagen. I slept wonderfully all night long until sunrise; to realize that the soldiers were still on the hill; and to be told the story of how another more superior officer had arrived around midnight to perform yet another inspection in our camp. We were all asleep when they arrived and they had woken Steve by knocking on his car window, not realizing he was sleeping in the rooftop tent. Steve naturally had pointed them to our guides truck, they woke him up and then demanded that we should all rise and present our passports. Paul naturally did not want to fulfill their request; and somehow managed to satisfy the officers by showing his own passport and a list with detailed personal data on the full travel-party.

So in the morning we were escorted 60 km. west until we met the tarmac. Again the military personnel were extremely polite, and actually made excuses for thier superiors invasion of our camp at midnight. Since we were actually not headed for Laayoune, we simply crossed the tarmac and made a big arc back south-east as we wanted to go further south into the Western Sahara. As far south as our amount of fuel would alow us to.

Upon this adventure the Western Sahara still had yet another surprise up the sleeve; a quite annoying sand-storm rolled in from the west, it was to bee seen many many kilometers before it hit us. This middle section of the Western Sahara is extremely desolated and unbelievable flat. Driving here on the flat plain there´s simply no features to be seen in the horizon, and only a very few scattered bushes and small trees will brake the monotony. I have never been in such a place before in my life, you have a unobstructed 360 degrees view as far as the earths curvature will allow; - that is when a sandstorm is not interfering. And I have never experienced that the clear blue sky would turn from dark blue to dull grey within minutes. All the colors in the landscape is desaturated during the sand-storm, and it feels like your´re looking though a opaque piece of glass.

As you drive further south the distance between signs of live decreases and becomes very obvious, the population of trees and bushes also belittles until it is close to zero. And so we had to drive around quite a while, in order to find just a minimal amount of cover from the wind on the flats. Luckily the wind died just after sunset, and it all became yet another lovely evening in camp.