Friday, 25 September 2009

She Says – Laid-back Laayoune

23-25 September
In Tan Tan, poor Xander came down really badly with a diarrhoea bug, the worst I’ve ever seen. We spent two nights letting him get better before pushing on to Laayoune yesterday. The hotel was good, very relaxed, and with satellite TV we did lots of movie watching on the dedicated English movie channel! I took some of my first forays out on my own, which all went fine and I did not get hassled. My terrible French and useful phrasebook even managed to get me through purchasing anti-diarrhoea drugs and rehydration salts!

Traffic since leaving Tiznit has been easy, there are few vehicles on the road and it is easy to overtake if anything is going slow. The scenery has not been incredibly exciting, but not as bad as I was expecting – the guidebook describes it as many hours of endless hamada (stony desert). There were lots of dunes before Laayoune, some excellent looking coastline and massive beaches that went on forever, plus dried river valleys to cross. In some areas there were sand dunes that have sat so long their tops have become crusted, this only being obvious where the crusts have broken through. All the way from Tan Tan, there have been fishermen’s huts perched on top of the tall sea cliffs. It looks like there would be great exploring to be done around here, with hardly anyone else around to bother you – nice change from Morocco!

We’re now in Laayoune and there is a decidedly different air here. No hassle, only a few kids asked for money and one guy asked if we wanted guide, and people are very friendly. It’s full of soldiers and police, and several UN vehicles have congregated at one nearby hotel (guidebook notes many places are booked out by UN!). We found a decent hotel, same price as listed in our guidebook from about 6 years ago. We have a nice clean room, one of the best we’ve had in Morocco, even if we have separate beds. We were able to park the bike underneath in a room full of remnant plaster decorations! No extra charge for parking for once, which made a nice change. Xander is feeling a lot better, though he’s very tired, but at least he seems to be over the worst part of this bug.

Today, we got our ‘thank you/here’s our blog & email address’ cards made up, amazing! We spoke to a photolab who told us where we could get it done. We were happy when we walked in and found business cards on display! They couldn’t read the Word document Xander had drawn up, so we came back to the hotel, grabbed the computer and took it back to the photolab to show them! They got the idea and in the end Xander ended up using Photoshop on their computer to sort it out. We stocked up on passport photos while we were there because they were cheap and we are going to need some for every country we enter now. The photolab staff seemed to find us amusing for our attempts at French, with their bits of English mixed in, and in the end asked for 2 copies of our card to display in the shop, and the guys who helped us get everything sorted got a photo with us! Very amusing. We now have a stack of 100 lovely photo-quality business cards, using the picture taken of us at Tinfou Dunes, that cost only 100 dirham (less than 10 euros). Nice one!

In the meantime, I have completely unpacked all our gear and am trying to work on complete list of all the gear we have with us to eventually post on the blog. We also need to sort out packages to send home plus the thankyou gift to the lovely Alison and Andy in Spain to encourage them to come here! We didn’t have time to get to the big post office in the end (small one nearby doesn’t do overseas post), so have to hope we can do it in Dakhla, although it’s now the weekend and maybe they won’t deal with overseas posting either.

We got some internet work done, first time we’ve paid for internet since we started the trip! Our readings had us concerned about the Mauritania border crossing, saying there was 50km of difficult road ahead. We confirmed on the HUBB and the Sahara Overland website that it should only be about 5km of rough road, so we hope all goes OK! We’re getting into the territory of less available electronic money now, so while we have a stock of US dollars and euros to get us through, I’m worrying it’s enough. According to our guidebook, Mauri and certain other countries don’t have a lot of ATM access. We’ve been reading ahead to work out our route through western Africa, and have been having some doubts about doing the whole trip overland due to some problem areas, e.g. Nigeria. We are wondering whether to ship the bike to southern Africa and just skip the problem areas to save us hassle. We will have to see how things go! So far, Mauri sounds like a right pain in the backside, with constant police checks (going to have to get even more passport copies!), plus it doesn’t sound like there is a lot to see or do very easily, either because of difficult road access or police checks and having to hand over an itinerary for approval to go to outer areas! We are likely to spend less than 2 weeks in Mauri, just long enough to get our Mali visas in the capital and maybe look at one other smaller city.