How Far South?

It’s impossible to live in another country and not go exploring. I have had some opportunity to tour around and see lots of Morocco, but it is a vast country with lots of corners and coastline. As an immigrant, I have to choose how to allot my travel time. I must leave the country and return every 90 days because I am still on a tourist VISA despite owning a company. I work. I have things to do and bills to pay and I can’t travel all the time. So choices have to be made.

Now I’m into my 3rd year here and with a healthy amount of European travel completed or planned, I have made it my business to visit more places in the country that are on my long and growing list. When the opportunity arose to go to Dakhla, I gave it my standard “hell yah” and booked a flight.

Dakhla is very, very south in Morocco. Very. It’s in a place called the Western Sahara which is a disputed territory and has been for years. While technically ruled Morocco, it is contentiously “sectioned off” on maps to show it as a territory. They are waiting on a U.N. resolution to make the “final” determination on whether it belongs to Morocco or Algeria. They have been waiting since the 50’s. No one is willing to stir this particular pot.

In the meantime, there is a wall. And not just any wall. This is a wall that would give Trump a serious case of wall envy. It is 2,700 km in length and separates the Sawaris from the Polisario Front which is the provisional government staking it’s claim. It’s all a rather complicated, very touchy subject. Apparently the wall is more of a berm, and as much as I desperately wanted to see it from the air, we fly in and out at night. Boo.

While looking into logistics for the trip we discovered there are flights from Casablanca and from Agadir. You can fly Marrakech to Casa and then back down again. Lots of air time. We opted for the route from Agadir, taking the “long way” to get there and we’ll take the highway on the return trip. Carla, my travel companion, wanted to take the long way to Agadir to retrace the route she had taken on a bike trip a few weeks ago. Bicycles. For 4 days. In the mountains. There was snow. Honestly.

We agreed she would gather me at my place at 9 or 9:30. I was brushing my teeth when my text machine pinged, 9 am on the nose. (I’m all for western punctuality but this is a little much for a Sunday morning.)

The text read, “Have another cuppa. I’m completely blocked in.” Followed by a photo of a car sitting perpendicular across her bow. “White car has no battery and is in park. It’s not moving. I’ve told them I have a flight to catch so miracles may happen. They are jumping it now with homemade cables.” No amount of western punctuality can surpass the Moroccan surprise factor.

It only set us back 30 minutes thankfully. We got loaded up and head out of town.

For the next 4.5 hours we were dazzled by red hillsides with terraced crops, mountain run off pouring down the sides of the road and sometimes across. There were villages made of mud and straw perched on the sloping hillside. We took in the amazing apple/cherry blossoms. We mused over whether they were apple or cherry. We climbed up past the bikers out for their Sunday morning race. We climbed up some more. Then we climbed up still and wound our way around the cliffs and steep drop offs. Carla pointed out the Tin Mel mosque which is 1 of only 3 that non-Muslims may enter in Morocco. Also high on my list but no time to explore today. The road became more one lane than two in more than a few places.

All the while I am looking at this upward climb and shooting off some serious side eye at Carla. “You did this on a bike? In the snow? On purpose? Are you nuts?” This was an insane several hours of uphill climb IN A CAR!

Anyway, all judgement aside, we had a lovely day to enjoy the journey. We stopped for photos, met some Berbers who were manning their cafes in the literal middle of nowhere and we enjoyed spectacular views and some pretty hairy roads.

As it turns out there was no time to stop in Taroudant for lunch which was our original plan. Too bad. The last time I was there I was VERY ill but find memories just the same and I really want to visit there properly one day. The roads were clear but it took a long time to navigate past the goats and shepherds, markets and villages. We made it to Agadir in plenty of time to enjoy waiting at the airport.

As we sat waiting to board, I googled the Western Sahara. I learned that it is “one of the most sparsely populated territories in the world”. It has a population of 538,000 of which 400,000 live in the northern city of Laayoune. Which is the first stop on our flight south. Oddly noted as a “technical stop,” and never by location.

As I exited the plane there was a 189 year old man behind me in a jellaba trying to exit. Slowly. Well I happen to have soft spot for little old men that shuffle and he fit the bill so I grabbed him by the elbow and literally held him up as we made our way down the airplane steps. One slow step at a time.

Once we hit the ground his companion thanked me and they shuffled off. Since no good deed goes unpunished this same old mans companion hurled herself in front of Carla at passport control and rammed their ID in front of the man that was grilling her. Hajji gotta go.

Now we have arrived at the hotel in total darkness and we are installed in our individual bungalows facing the ocean where the waves are CRASHING about 15 ft from my front door. Can’t WAIT to open the curtains in the morning!

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