Our plan yesterday:
Why it’s controversial (more on that later):
Even more controversial? Our last night in Agadir . . .
After nursing our hangovers and saying our goodbyes to Crystal, sorrowfully dropping her at the airport to the tune of “Time To Say Goodbye”, we set off for a long drive to Western Sahara and city of Laayoune at 8am in the morning.
This 12 hour drive to Laayoune from Agadir thankfully included a few photo stops along the way.
This road to Western Sahara is as romantic as it is romanticized.
Let it be known that the best lamb tajine is at some random rest stop called Café & Restaurant Al Fay in the middle of nowhere.
I’m not sure if you’ll ever find it but I’m glad we did when we stopped here for lunch at 1pm.
At 5pm we took a break for coffee and an ATM withdrawal in a town that felt straight out of an old Western.
By 6pm we reached the coastline that begins West Africa:
An hour later we drove through a surreally massive windfarm as the sun began to set.
Then at 8pm we stopped at the town of Tah, where we took a photo at the monument to the Green March — the moment where thousands of Moroccans came to what was then the border between Spanish Sahara and Morocco to cross and claim their land.
It has thus been an ongoing war zone and conflict region ever since for the past 49 years between Morocco and the Polisario Front/Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR).
And to this very day this exact location serves as the contested border between Western Sahara and Morocco, which controversy seemed apparent when we were held up at the military border for up to 45 minutes as they looked through all our passports.
We then drove for another hour more, finally arriving into Layounne at 9:45pm in the evening and checking into our central hotel Rimal Sahara.
Once the capital of Spanish Sahara, Laâyoune or El Aaiún are respectively the French and Spanish transliterations of the Maghrebi Arabic name Layoun which means “the water springs.”
Although Laayounne as the capital (and the rest of Western Sahara) is claimed by the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) — a territory recognized by only 28 other states in the world — in reality the area has been considered a geographic and political annexation administered by the country of Morocco. Harder to believe as everyone here prefers speaking Spanish as opposed to the rest of Morocco (even while they also speak French, Arabic, and English).
We celebrated the end of our 14 hour journey with a scavenger hunt for food at 11pm at night, walking through nearly the entire city and seeing UN workers and jeeps everywhere.
The next morning we woke up nice and early where I noticed across the street from our hotel was a miniature replica of Tatooine.
We first set off for one of the last remnants of Spanish Sahara before Morocco took over — and old defunct post office.
You can try to send a postcard from here; it might just take never.
We then drove to the Saguia el-Hamra River, Laayoune’s aquatic lifeline, where we took a walk as far as we could into the water.
If you’re lucky you can find native flamingos in the river:
Just up from the river crossing is a Military Zone sporting pro-Morocco propaganda:
We then drove into town for a morning stroll through the “busiest” souk in Western Sahara.
That isn’t saying much because all of Laayoune otherwise felt like a ghost town.
From there we swung by the great mosque – apparently designed under the guidance of Spain’s Franco.
The mosque is a simple yet very peaceful symbol of the city situated next to the central square:
The Spanish Catholic Church would be our next stop: In 1940 Spain designated Laayoune as the capital of the Spanish Sahara and this is the best relic leftover from colonial times.
If you are lucky, you could meet with one of the 3 Catholic priests in charge of all of Morocco and Western Sahara, and who are quite eager to talk about their experiences having lived in a country where everyone else is Muslim.
And as another off-the-beaten stop, we finished our day tour of Laayoune by paying respects at the former residence of the famous international author Echo Sanmao.
Appropriately for this blog, her works inspired a generation of Chinese women to “live their best life” and travel the world, notwithstanding her tragic but true stories of persecution, exile, international travel, and finding true love beyond literal and figurative borders.
You can tell this house has become a site of pilgrimage by the numerous Chinese scrawls on her building number:
After a hearty lunch in the city, I then chilled outside at a random café by the hotel enjoying an afternoon espresso.
At 4pm the group congregated back at the hotel and headed to the dunes for late afternoon mint tea in the sand.
We then returned for dinner back in Laayoune, after which we enjoyed a round of drinks at probably the only legal place in town for alcohol consumption: Hotel Al Massira.
Around this time, this ghost town suddenly came alive with the streets teeming with families, teenagers, and even people on camels.
Tomorrow we head further south on a 6 hour drive for Dakhla!
- At time of posting in Laayoune, it was 24 °C - Humidity: 35% | Wind Speed: 23km/hr | Cloud Cover: clear