Language, linguistics and travel. A blog that tries to bring them all together.

Friday, January 26, 2007

The Road South

The foothills of the Anti-Atlas finally leveled out south of Sidi Ifni. From that point on the scenery becomes as flat as a plate with only the suggestion of mesas darkening the eastern horizon. On our right was the coastline of the Atlantic, an end-of-the-world place where the sparse, even earth ended abruptly in death defying cliffs that jutted out over a crashing, scooped out shoreline that has become the final resting place for many an ill fated ship.

The road was asphalt and just wide enough for two lanes of traffic if blowing sand hadn't nibbled away at one of the margins. It was much busier than I thought it would be. Many of the vehicles were trucks bringing supplies south to the desert towns of Layoune, Dakhla and the few spartan hamlets in between. A good proportion of the others were the drab green Landrovers and troop carriers of the Moroccan army who continue to make their presence felt in a newly conquered land. And then there were the Trans-Saharan Brigade, amongst whom we count ourselves. So many people make Morocco/Mauritania journey these days that every second car was a four wheel drive plastered with stickers and weighed down by sand ladders and spare tires. Even more off putting were the grey haired retirees sedately driving their RVs deeper into Africa. Somehow their presence struck a death blow to any thoughts of exploring unknown territory.

For comic relief, intermittent, triangular road signs warned us that itinerant camels might saunter across the road at any moment, while on a slightly more serious note we found ourselves being flagged to a halt with alarming frequency at one of Western Sahara's ubiquitous road blocks. Here we were asked to produce our "fiche", a piece of paper documenting all our particulars from nationality to mother's name. The grey uniformed police were invariably polite and professional, though I did start to wonder what offense they must have committed elsewhere to land them in such isolated, barren surrounds. Shortly afterwards we'd be back up to speed and surrounded once again by the unrelenting desert landscape. Sometimes the monotonous horizon was mercifully broken by the familiar form of a single sand dune. For some inexplicable reason it had decided to park itself on that particular spot, though any other would have worked equally well. Other dunes had decided that clustering together was a better idea and, as a unit, created enormous undulating, golden fields that ended as mysteriously as they'd started. For companionship, an endless convoy of electricity pylons journeyed through the desert along side us, its head and tail forming vanishing points at the boundaries of the horizon. Kilometer after kilometer, hour after hour it went on and on.

Three hundred and forty kilometers from the southern extremity of Western Sahara the road split in two. We took the right fork to the peninsula town of Dakhla and, after passing the final road block, suspended our southern passage for a couple of days rest and recuperation.

Dakhla is the final meeting point for groups going south into Mauritania and taking the coastal route. We've lagged so far behind our own group that we now threaten to be lapped by the one coming after us. They're on the so-called Bamako Run and will be taking a left turn at some point and heading toward Mali. We've now hooked up with them for tomorrow's border crossing and beach route. Our story may change once we arrive in Nouakchott, the capital of Mauritania and start gathering information. As the car is now properly equipped, we're considering joining the Bamako Run then turning tail at its completion and heading westward toward the Senegalese border. If possible we'll then go on to Gambia then link up with group 4, who'll be coming out of the Sahara around that time then auction off the car in Banjul along with them. This is, of course, assuming that the Volvo will be able to make it that far and that the border regions of Mali aren't bristling with bandits.


At 5:35 PM, January 26, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Gee, I'll bet Sidi Ifni was probably a great place to buy postcards...huh? BC

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