On 17th of July I leave Agadir and the friends in Taghazout, where I used to spend most evenings, near the beach.
South via Tiznit and Mirleft to Sidi Ifni. Here the piste starts, but it is some 120km of driving further south to where starts Plache Blanche.
And it is blanche, white. The moist and damp make photography not easy. There is no colours, just lots of white, from the sun and the sand and the dunes and the haze and the sea, even in mornings.
Plage Blanche itself is some 50km long. I wait a day, before driving it, write down the times of high and low tide, to be sure. I lower the tyre pressures and off I go on 20th of July, at 3 p.m. I should have 5 hours from now.
The beach is pretty soft on the left (land inward) side. Driving is easier near the waves, where the ground is still moist, more compact.
And I drive at more then 50km/h, the waves to my right. The white sun straight ahead. A few fisher men I meet, and a couple of rusty ship wrecks are the only welcome interruptions.
Always a good time to check the car. A break down here can mean the loss of the vehicle.
That is what keeps my adrenalin pumping, the knowledge that I would have only limited time to recover and get going again. There's roughly 6 hours between high and low tide.
After driving to the end of Plage Blanche I have to return some 10km to the Oued Aoreora, which is the only place to exit the beach. I help pull out a military vehicle that got itself bogged down on the beach.
At an old military fort which is on the top of the Oued I spend the night. Fishermen, that I have met on the beach below bring me two fried fish, a perfect meal. I give them two cans of beer in return. An unequal trade but who cares.
The next day I work my way along the coastal path, on the top of the cliffs. Some where along I run over some forgotten tanks, forgotton in whichever war, left to rust in the ocean's moist.
I reach the mouth of the Draa river and follow the Draa land inwards. It is a paradise for birds and some big gray ones I spot.
Later I reach Tan-Tan and even later Tan-Tan plage. Neither town inspires me much and I continue my journey south unwilling to spend the night in a busy place.
The solitude and quietness of Plage Blanche and the attached coastal strings north and south affected me much. It felt good to be on my own after these social times in Essaouira and Agadir.
You just wonder why Mirleft and Tan-Tan Plage are that crowed, filled with Moroccan vacationers up to the limit when next door, in between the two the coast is empty for 200 kilometres.
But people everywhere in the world like to stick together. I have known for a while I am different.
Laayoune is my first stop after entering the Sahara. Moroccan or Western, this questions doesn't lead anywhere. Morocco controls almost all of its territory, (the UN-map helps a bit).
Many of the rest of the world see it differently. It is a case of "Realpolitik". Down here, we say it is Morocco.
At first it seems a strange place, to have come to altogether. On 22nd of June I celebrate the one-year anniversary of my trip here. I work the Internet while outside a dust storm is in the making.
I park opposite the Hotel Al-Massira, the (Green) March, The inside is decorated with large, impressive photographs of the Green March, showing hordes of people with fanatic looks on their faces, some the Koran in their hands, others are flying huge red Moroccan flags overhead.
King Hassan II sent 350.000 civilians across the border in 1975. So the legend. The military played a key role too. Thousands fled with just their clothes on, separating families. Many have since lived in the refugee camps that were raised in and around Tindouf, in Algeria. Bizarrely, the hotel Al-Marssira, houses many UN staff, many of their large white, shiny Land Cruisers are parked outside. MINURSO - the UN Mission for a Referendum in the Western Sahara counts some 230 staff in the Western Sahara.
But actually, here in Laayoune the mood is good, and Saharawis are extremely friendly, most rather speak Spanish than French.
The town itself is busy, clean. The UN and military are economic factors, the Moroccans have invested billions over the years. Saharawis, it seems relax, mostly, just May and June saw some demonstrations with some Moroccan flags burnt and some arrests.
- And all Saharawis either drive a Land Rover or would like to drive one. I have never seen such dominance of Land Rovers. It is their vehicle which they regard superior to all others. Naturally mine is of the greatest interest to everyone.
The desert is beautiful
It is its vastness that inspires. The emptiness, quietness and loneliness.
On 24th I leave Laayoune drive south, reach Galtat Zemmouer some 250km away, near the Mauritanian border, where the road finally ends. The gendarmerie says the piste north is inaccessible (because the military is there) and dangerous. Mines they say.
Never listen to the police or gendarmerie. They know nothing. I have a GPS, and the knowledge that where there are tyre traces in the sand there possibly cannot be many mines. I find a Bedouin tent and a Saharawi man, who lives with his family, wife, 3 beautiful adult daughters and 2 youngsters in Laayoune -- and here. "Sometimes here sometimes there".
I don't speak any Spanish. He does not speak any French. But quite clearly he said to me. "Always keep the mountains on your right", because behind it is the military and then the Polisario and then the Mauritanian border.
After 3 glasses of tea. I am released, and - on my way north. It is best piste driving. The flat terrain allows speeds of up to 80km/h. The mountains, I keep to my right and I follow the tracks in the sand that are sometimes several 100metres wide and all over the place. This piste is extensively used, if by the military or the Bedouines, or by both.
Later I camp. And it is a bottle of red and Spaghetti and the quietness and the dark desert and myself.
And - If I had a model, my model with me, there would certainly be less pics of me.
And - Sending your Land Rover round and round, to do a few turns on his own is actually very funny.
Next day I keep following the mountain range and tracks and they lead me right to where I expect to reach the road again. Smara (El Samara) next, followed by some excursion into the unknown, south of Smara.
Some Saharawis (a group of 8 or so young men) that I meet when leaving Smara and have tea with, give me great directions. But before they explain me which parts of the Western Sahara are Moroccan held and which parts Polisario held. And they say that only 20.000 Saharawis still live in Smara, "but Moroccans (are), like the Indians", they say, to explain many and getting more.
And - this time, they seriously warn me of land mines. "Not right from the piste, not left from the piste. Just stay on the piste". So there are mines.
But as I had a puncture the night before, one that sent one of my tyres to the rubbish bin. My excursion will be rather brief. I want to make my way back to Laayoune.
60km before Laayoune I then have another flat tyre. With two spare wheels, this is not a problem, but one more puncture would ground me.
So the decision to return was the right one. In Laayoune the next day I buy 2 new tyres, but actually should not have done so, as they did not have what I wanted.
But at least I am on my way again. On my way back to the desert. El Hagunia is where I receive directions (tea, camel milk! etc.). I spend the night shortly after. And the "Landy go round" action is done here.
Another great night and another great morning. Desert mornings are sometimes a bit like Sunday mornings at home. You listen to loud music, play the guitar, shout and dance and - clean the dishes from the feast from the night before.
Around Tan-Tan, Oued Draa.
On route from El Hagunia to Tan-Tan I have another puncture (one of the new tyres). Number 3 in as many as 4 days. Repairs in Tan-Tan.
I have long intended to drive the Oued Draa and gathered some good waypoint information for the GPS on the net.
I set out, leave Tan-Tan, on 27th of July late in the afternoon. I don't intend to drive far and spend my first night already in the Draa valley.
But the rough territory of the next day is not good for the tyres. Some are just old. Another puncture (4), now in extremely difficult and unknown terrain, sets a serious blow to my confidence...
I would have to rethink the whole tyre problematic. If you cannot trust your tyres you cannot go anywhere. The Land Rover can climb nearly everything. But if the tyres don't hold....
But as very often in down situations, when you're completely dispirited, something wonderful happens.
Changing my tyre I did not even use a jack (see pic above). Just reversed the vehicle's back left tyre onto a large rock.
About ten minutes after I meet Fadele, a 15 year old Saharawi, at a waterhole and he invites me to come along. Tired and depressed as I am, I am longing for a rest, some peace. And the tent I am invited to seems to offer just all that. Friendly caring women, offer tea and later pillows and blankets."Sleep!"
And a great number of happy children let me forget quickly. I have been moving around too much recently....
Tea, goats milk and tea and fresh bread and tea puts me back into good mood. When the tent is open on both sides the breeze cools temps down nicely. And it does not take long and I doze off, forgetting my tyres.
Later I follow the two brothers back to the waterhole, The water is for animals only. The hole is emptied twice a day to maximise the return. Drinking water they get from a spring elsewhere. Animals they have. Goats about 50, a donkey, and a couple of chickens and a cat to keep the little squirrels and mice away.
With Fadele I burn a baby goat that has died the night before. 5 goats have died recently before. Stomach problems. Some baby goats they feed with cooked carrots (healthy, but expensive) just to keep them. So meat is rationed at the moment.
It is only the woman (Mbarka ~35, Ralia 41, and Fatma >60 grandmother, the only one that prays 5 times a day) and children that are around. Father Mohamed is with the goats, somewhere. Other cousins/uncles are in Tan-Tan and Laayoune and - Spain.
Mbarka (the mother) I watch making the dough and baking the bread. Cooking is done outside.
Women here wear the traditional Melhfa, all show their faces and hair and all have impeccable clean white teeth. And they smile a lot and they joke and tease all the time. Ralia of course wants to marry me. Though I could not establish why she never found her man.
The tent gives the impression of a harem. Traditional Islam keeps women at home. So maybe that is the reason she never found the right one.
A walk to the top of the hill reveals a magnificent view onto the Draa valley below. But actually everyone came along to use my mobile phone. There's network coverage up-here.
The women have used it to call Tan-Tan and Laayoune earlier in the day.
Dinner, vegetable and meat stew, is served with bread. The men (just the 3 boys and me) eat first. Father Mohamed does not return tonight from wherever he is with his goats
Women eat afterwards.
All is followed by the obligatory rounds of tea. Tea in Saharawi tradition is poured much more often then elsewhere in Morocco - and it tastes better.
100 times and more, from the pot into the glasses and back. From one jar into the next. Every glass is being brought up to temperature. And the foam of sugar gets stickier all the time. A fascinating ritual to watch, a full time job for an hour for the person doing it. Ralia turned out to be the real maestro.
I am invited to sleep in the tent but actually prefer the Land Rover.
I leave the next morning after breakfast with a vague promise to come back, In'charlah.
Tan-Tan is reached, Tyres repaired. and another road tried in search for a southern passage to Assa and eventually Zagora.
2 more punctures (5 and 6) are had in the afternoon. forcing a second return to base Tan-Tan.
This is a sign. clearly this is a sign not to risk too much right now.
Nevertheless the next morning the 30th of July I try it one more time, look for another passage. take the road to M'Sied (Messied) and look for the pistes there. The desert is wonderful and beautiful. The Land Rover can drive all that. But the current tyres not.
I figure out how long it would take me to get to Ouarzazate via my planned route. 5 to 10 days with tyres that I trust. No way I make it this time.
Around lunch time I turn around. Back to M'Sied, Tan-Tan, Goulmine, Tiznit and Agadir. Back in civilisation I have a shower, the first one in 2 weeks.
And I better get my car cleaned. Cannot meet neither Hasna nor my parents with a the Landy dirty like that.