Tangier to Tan Tan

 “If you see her say hello, she might be in Tangier” Bob Dylan

Having arrived in Morocco with no defined plan, we decide to high tail it down to the disputed border of Western Sahara. The territory is claimed by Morocco, so it’s not an official country, but the idea of driving Eldo to one of the most sparsely populated territories in the world is just too intriguing for us to pass up. The route south to Tan Tan, the last of the official big Moroccan city’s, is over 700 miles. From Tan Tan to our camp spot near Laayoune Western Sahara is another 200 miles of remote desert driving. 

The logic is to hit it running now, while still fresh and before the Morocco Desert radiation takes it toll on us and Eldo. Figuring three days hard driving we waste no time leaving Tangier within hours of our Arrival on the vehicle ferry “Amann” from Algericas Spain. We clear customs, get some Dirahams from an ATM, purchase 30 days of car insurance, and make a quick stop in Tangier proper for a decadent Ramadan meal at the local Pizza Hut.

Maps are all set to follow the coastline south until Casablanca for the first night. Just north of town we find a nice campground, “Mimosa Beach Club” for $7 night. The toilets are clean and the shower is hot, all be it a bit salty. We also can use the washing machine for an additional 40 dirham($4). It’s spacious, clean, and guarded all night. Other than a motorcyclist in a tent, we are the only customers tonight.

The next morning we continue south, and drive right into the heart of Casablanca. Despite being Ramadan, it is busy, crowded, and traffic is heavy. The relaxation we felt this morning at our beach camp gives way to exhausting roads, countless insane round a bouts, and unpredictable pedestrians, bikes, motorcycles, and cabs. We escape Casablanca and decide to hit the N3 highway, pay the tolls, and make up the time lost by our morning detour.

It’s a long hot day of driving. But, it’s mostly all modern highway today and the miles tick away. Although we consider an evening detour into Marrakesh, we opt for the bypass. The notorious Marrakesh Medina, it’s labyrinth maze of shopping, snake charmers, and scammers, will have to wait for our return north. We get off the highway north of Agadir and follow the wind of the local side road in search of our second night camp. We follow and pass several large trucks loaded heavy with onions. Low on fresh produce, we jokingly hope one of the bone jarring potholes will result in a dropped onion or two. Uncannily, as if on cue, a single onion bounds off the truck in front of us and bounces and rolls into the dusty side of the road. We quickly pull over and scoop up the bruised but still good onion. We high five and cheer our good fortune, then continue on driving.

Elizabeth notices a large bunch of onions precariously hanging off the side of the next truck. We decide not to pass, and watch the fate of these onions. Minutes later, the truck hits a pothole and the large bunch crashes roadside. The truck continues on down the hill and we pull over to get the onions. It’s a huge bunch of fresh picked red onions, the long green tops carefully weaved together like a hair braid. It’s a big beauty armful of the sweetest smelling onions. We scoop it up and carry it like a baby back to Eldo. The passenger floorboard in knee deep in the onions and our eyes begin to water a bit as we drive away.

  

Camp night two is the fairly remote Nomand Paradis, just north of Agadir. We pay 90 dirahm, or about $9USD. We are the only customers and enjoy another warm salty shower and the company of the camp dog and cat. Dinner tonight is an incredible onion and garlic stew.. made possible by our lucky windfall and our trusty pressure cooker.

The next morning, after breaking camp, we drive into Agadir to stock up on food, water, and cash for the final leg of the journey into Western Sahara. It takes a couple ATM attempts to get cash, but otherwise that goes smoothly. Looking for a supermarket, we wind up in the local souk, a huge outdoor market where every conceivable item you can sell, is in fact for sale. We buy some fresh fruit and vegetables, several scoops of incredible looking olives, and some fresh ginger from a man who could easily be mistaken for a snake charmer. We don’t practice any haggling skills, and pay asking price for our food. A huge haul for still under $5USD. A quick walk through the chicken stalls sends us running for our lives both thinking that we may never eat chicken again. We emerge from the mazes of the souk, find Eldo still safely parked on the busy dusty street where we left her, and drive away. On the way out of town we pass, by sheer luck, a conventional supermarket and stock up on huge jugs of bottled water, staple pantry items, some eggs…. and shockingly some neatly package chicken thighs.

Night three finds us camping at Kasar Tafnidilt, a remote an exotic place down a painfully bumpy sand and rock road, miles from anywhere . Most would advise you to only attempt with four wheel drive as there are areas where the wind swept sand dunes buries the hard rock road in deep soft sugary sand. Elizabeth and Eldo are fine tuned off roaders now and we find ourselves sand surfing over some impossible to pass areas with relative ease. The camel herds we pass must find it odd to see a pretty young blonde woman skillfully fishtailing her Florida plated Jeep Cherokee up and down these sand dune covered roads. It is arid, hot, and windy here. The camp dog takes a liking in us and sits guard into the evening. Night falls quickly and we sleep well.

   

It’s lready bright even before you can see the sun rise at 0530. Our days start early because of this and we are soon creaking and sliding along the sand and rock road back on our way toward Western Sahara.

It’s another full day of desert, heat, sun, and camels before we finally cross the “border”. Almost every town along the way has a police checkpoint. Further north, we were almost always waved through. Here in the south we are almost always stopped. The police are friendly and polite, check our paperwork, and welcome us to Morocco. They don’t see many USA plated vehicles but the stops are friendly and non threatening.

Western Sahara is  vast and sparsely populated. In fact, it’s population density is one of the lowest in all the world.. approximately 2 people per square kilometer. We pass very few vehicles as we drive further south. Again, we pull off the main road and begin a long drive down a rock and sand road. A mile or so passed when we stop to take a pee break. Just as we stop to get out, a police vehicle appears out of nowhere and pulls up right behind us. It comes as a shock to us to see him as this road is extremely rough a remote. It turns out to be one of the men from the last police stop. He had forgotten to take a picture of our passports. He polity apologized, took his pictures, and let us go on our way. Once again we joke, that no matter where we may get stranded, all Elizabeth has to do is start peeing. Someone will always show up.

Soon we come to Le Camp Bedouin, located on a small rise above the dry salt flats on the shore of Sebha Oumm Deboa. The camp is as sparsely populated as the countryside. We are the only visitors, and there is only a young man working the place. We pay 70 dirham ($7USD) for a safe place to park, use of the bathroom and shower, and free reign to explore the breathtaking landscape. He hike off in search of the shoreline and the possibility of a far off camel herd. The ground is dry and the few footprints we see are old and hard baked into the ground. Another nice evening dinner and a few drinks finish up the day. The wind howls through the night but we are comfortably safe in Eldo. Another night in a another place that we didn’t know existed until we got there. Our hearts are right at home.

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