Moroccan Border, Western Sahara

  • Date
  • 10 March 2000
  • Lodging
  • Military Campground
  • Distance
  • 376 KM
  • Total
  • 62599 KM

Today we will join the military convoy to cross Western Sahara into Mauritania. I showered longer than usual not knowing when I’d feel semi-warm water again. Jim and I ate breakfast of eggs, bread and coffee not knowing when we’d have a proper meal again either.

We departed for the convoy around 11 a.m. and found 30 cars in line already. Most were Mauritanians with four-wheel drive vehicles packed so high with furniture and goods to be sold at home; I couldn’t imagine they would be able to cross the notoriously rough Sahara. We passed through a couple of military checkpoints with officers writing down our passport information several times and then an officer checked our car, but not thoroughly.

Then we waited and waited and waited as a line of 50 or 60 cars organized beside the asphalt highway. I met three guys from Holland with an old Peugeot hoping to sell it in Dakar for enough money to buy return airline tickets. Several others – a German and some Frenchmen – were taking old cars and vans to various countries aiming to make a little profit from their sale. (They all carried paint so they could paint them after the grueling journey we soon faced in the Sahara.) People made great profit selling cars like this 15 years ago, but gain has dwindled since supply and demand haven’t remained in their favor. But some people just love the lifestyle of driving, traveling, camping and “living without headaches” as one man told me. Roland, a middle-aged German man is driving an old yellow van filled with a bed, water, a little food and a motorcycle. He plans to paint the car, sell it somewhere and then drive the motorcycle through parts of Africa he’s never visited.

Finally around 3:30 p.m. our convoy pulled away. In the meantime the heat was scorching, but fortunately we had a nice Saharan wind cooling things off, yet not spreading sand at the same time. Oh, simple pleasures. Once on the road everyone tore off in a mad dash and we passed several slow cars. At one point the temperature was 39.5 C. We drove around 350 km in total and then reached a point in the road with a rope blocking our continuation. Around six other cars had beaten us to this point. Here we sat and waited from 6:30 p.m. until 8:30 p.m. Someone said we were waiting for the arrival of the officer who carried all our passports. Who knows what we were really waiting on? But now we were starving. Earlier in the day the heat was so oppressive that we had no interest in eating, but we drank tons of water. Now Jim and I ate canned tuna fish and bread.

After dinner the convoy took off again for camp. In the dark we drove about 50 km reaching camp at 9:30 p.m. Perhaps they held us at the last point because the military didn’t want us to see the border in the daylight. I really can’t fathom the rationale behind the convoy departing in the heat of the day only to pass paved, sealed roads and then wait again for dark before going to camp. Why not start at 7 or 8 a.m. and have people outside the border before nightfall? This seems a bit like the crossing into Mongolia where non-Russians and non-Mongols cannot take the car crossing, but instead have to load cars onto a train for the crossing. This is the way it always has been and thus remains this way whether it makes sense or not.

We pitched our tent (the kind you just throw out and it pops into place) and put our sleeping bags inside. I washed my face, went to the bathroom in the dark and then headed for bed. I sat there listening to the sound of the night and the others outside. I moved every which way trying to find a soft place in the ground but every spot felt like stone. I imagined I’d be covered in bruises the next morning. Then Jim opened some fizzy water, which spewed everywhere, making the tent a damp, humid box. I used a small bag, jacket and pants for a pillow. Jim snored. People talked outside our tent. Others laughed. Moroccan music blared from one car. The wind whistled over the top of our tent. I rolled over trying to find a better spot, which was fruitless. One of the Belgian men (four of them traveling together) snored so loudly I could hear him. Early morning I heard the birds and someone blasted the BBC Africa news in French around 5 a.m.