#07 – Sand, straight roads and nothingness in the Sahara

Published by Bas on

Cycling as meditation

I left my camping spot and turned back on the road. My navigation told me it was another 120 km till the next roundabout. Normally I cut the day in smaller pieces by passing some checkpoints as villages, mountain passes or rivers, but today I had to give my day another approach since this wouldn’t work. There was not a small village or a river.

I turned off my GPS and told myself to just go and see how far I will come today. Neither did I listen to music, an audio book or a podcast. I listened to the silence of the dessert and watched its pure beauty. I sunk in my thoughts and entered in a meditative state of mind.

I found a spot to camp behind the wall of a large transmitter. To my surprise there was someone inside the small building. For him it was not a problem at all to have a neighbour for one night.

Helping a truck driver

After sleeping next to an noisy engine generator I was happy to dive into the fresh air and the silence of the dessert. I happen to have tailwind which let me consider to do the three day trip of 240 km to the next city in two days instead.

In the afternoon a truck driver was stranded and with body language he asked me to give him an extra hand. I wasn’t sure if I could help him, since my knowledge about cars is limited to opening a window. I only had to turn the key and hit the gas pedal while he put some volts on the battery. After a while another car appeared and would be of greater help, so I told them “au revoir” and continued.

I managed to do 120 km today. I found a good camping spot in the flat dessert, behind a pile of rocks. After cooking a delicious couscous meal I read The Alchemist on my e-reader. Somehow I was afraid of turning on the light in my tent while it was dark, because there are small houses and tents scattered in the dessert, and I would reaveal myself. But I turned it on anyway and went outside. Suddenly a dog barked and a light was shining towards my tent from a distance. As it came closer, it appeared to be a guard for the heavy machines around the pile of rocks. He didn’t mind me staying here and we even had a short talk, and I became friends with the dog.

Ghost towns

When I woke up and packed my stuff, I was accompanied by a very happy dog. The guard of last night was replaced by two other men, but didn’t seem to bother me either. I continued my 120 km ride to the next city with a massive tailwind.

There were just two small villages on the road, and I hoped to get some food here. However, now with Ramadan the time tables of local life are completely different. The villages turned into ghost towns. But luckily there were one or two small shops still open, at which I could refill my stack of bread.

Ramadan truly amazes me. The many road workers I saw today, must have hard times. And when I was watching football in the cafe that evening, and it was time to eat, everyone stood up and left the cafe. They are all so dedicated, and it really seems to create a bond. Half an our later everyone returned to watch one of the most thrilling matches I’d ever seen.

I stayed in Tarfaya for a couple of days to finish video #3 and to rest a bit. The days seem to pass very quick, like snow in the Sahara. I have a hate-love relationship with editing days. I often loose myself in time and I create an uncomfortable rhythm. But I very much to capture my adventures in video format. It’s also good to have something else to do than just cycling, it will definitely help me to keep motivated.

Meeting soldiers

I was happy to be back on the bike after four days of editing my video. Soon I passed a 150 year old house, located in the ocean, which is a former trading post of the Spanish who occupied this place once. Shortly after, I stumbled on a rusty boat, which is broken and layed at the same spot for 10 years. The boat functioned as a ferry between Tarfaya and Gran Canaria, which is just 100 km away from here.

The road and its surrounding were pretty lonesome. Only every few minutes a car passed, and every few hundred meters there was a house. The houses were sometimes made from stone, but more often from rubbish. At the end of the day I stopped at one of these houses to ask if I could pitch up my tent here. “No problem, just put it between our house and the tent over there”, said the man who appeared to be a soldier and was guarding the coast.

While I was making a fire to cook, the neighbours from the tent offered me fish and bread. Half an hour later, the neighbours from the army offered me breadsoup and some sweets. Refusing was not an option, but sharing the melon I brought was.

Pizza and milkshakes

It felt very safe to have soldiers as neighbours. I thanked them once again and they wished me a “bon route”. People like them really color my day. And so do the horning truck drivers, who seem to support me and often wave to me like a little girl. It really is amusing to see.

And you’d be surprised how cyclable the Western Sahara is, physically at least. The roads are well maintained, the temperature is just below 30 degrees Celsius and if you’re lucky like me, you have tailwind. Mentally it’s a different aspect. The boring straight roads are a true test for the mind.

I found another camping spot near an army station to spend the night safe and allowed. There was a giant cliff between my tent and the ocean, and in combination with the amazing sunset it was a great place to be. Not to mention the enormous hospitality of the soldiers, who shared water, tea, a milkshake, pizza, cake, eggs, dates and bread. They refused my melon. When I returned to my tent, I noticed there was a plate with breadsoup and sweets waiting for me, which left me stoked.

Nothing but cycling

“Do you want some water?”, one of the soldiers came to ask me in the morning. I was glad to get a refill for 2 empty bottles, so I handed the bottles to him and he went to refill them. He came back with the bottles, including some more dates and milk.

I cycled about 120 km today. There is nothing really else to do than just cycling. Due to Ramadan, the option to drink a tea in one of the few desert villages is now gone. A nice place to sit and relax, to read a book, is also difficult to find. Instead I just keep pedaling and try to arrive at my next destination a bit faster than usual.

“Where you gonna sleep tonight?”, asked the police officer at one of the checkpoints. “Well, if it possible I’m going to ask one of the many soldier stations along the road”, I responded. “And that is excactly what you gonna do”, he friendly commanded. And so I searched and found another safe place to sleep. The soldiers pets became my personal guards for the night.

Enough water

One cat and two dogs were playing around my tent, while I was packing. The cat clearly seemed to be the alpha. When I threw them a leftover, it was the cat who would eat it. When I was ready to go, I thanked the soldiers and got back to the main road.

Having enough water isn’t really an issue. I passed a total of three gasstations and at all of them I was able to refill some bottles. Nevertheless I always try to carry enough water to survive for more than a day. And if that’s not enough, every now and then a car stops to ask if I need some water.

As soon as my shadow grew large, I stopped at another soldiers station. I really felt privileged to be able to camp at these spots, because they provide a stunning view. From my tent I could see the beach 30 meter below, with a spectacular sunset at it. The decaying cliff between us, was of great beauty too.

The soldiers story

I left the camping spot and thanked the soldiers. And another long dull day was awaiting for me. The highlight of the route was a waving man, who invited me to stay at his house. He proudly showed me all kind of written notes from other cyclists who passed his house and stayed with him. However, it was in the middle of the day and I was about to cycle some more kilometers.

At 6 pm I passed another soldiers station. Once again it was no problem to spend the night around their place, and they even helped me with setting up my tent. They also gave me lots of food, to which I was very thankful. And for the first time a soldier took some time to have a conversation with me, so I came to know a lot about the way they do things. They work for four months at a station, and get one month of holiday. After holiday, they will work in another station for four months, and so on. They guard the coast in order to keep immigrants out of the country.

Arriving in Dakhla

The soldiers surprised me by giving me hot tea, bread with olive oil and some cream cheese for breakfast. It was a great start of a sunny day, in which I cycled to a city called Dakhla. The city is located on a bulge in the ocean, which makes it a great place for kitesurfing in some of the calm waters.

In the afternoon I arrived in the city and got welcomed by my hosts, who are family of an old colleague of me. Both the parents are Arabic teachers. The 13 year old son is in his last year of primary school and already knows he wants to become an architect. The 15 year old daughter is in the second year of primary school and knows she want to become a veterinarian. I was just amazed by their dedication.

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