WR250R 4000-km review
WR250R Stage 1
WRing about in Wales
WR250R ready for the desert
Morocco 4000-km trip report, 1–9
So where were we? Leaving Smarai.
I pull in for cheap fuel. In Western Sahara they subsidise it by 30% (as well as cooking oil, sugar and flour) to encourage northerners (like the bloke in the cafe last night) to relocate among the indigenous Saharawi in the middle of nowhere and help consolidate Morocco’s stake on its part of the former Spanish territory it occupied in the 1970s.
Matey here by his ancient Landrover told me he was an extra in Harry Potter III. There are loads of these old Series IIIs in WS, used by nomads to move from camp to camp, wherever the pasture is.
More wind-trees. Handy for nav: they always point south.
Talking of south, in 2015 I had some fuel buried in the WS – a place I call the Dig Tree. One of my aims on this trip had been to take an ambitious ride right through inland WS to Dakhla. This would have been 600km with very little likelihood of seeing anyone or anything; not even sure where the wells are. A fuel cache halfway made this less risky. Until things get desperate, fuel is always more important than water.
I even brought my 10L fuel bag. The WR has proved reliable and easy to ride so far. Even with my worst recorded consumption of 71 mpg (25kpl; usually high 80s mpg) I could just make Dakhla on tank + 10 litres carried, without digging up the cache.
I reach my marker on the Smara road and follow the track south for a few kms. But even though the weather is 10° cooler (= reduced water consumption), it’s clear that heading to the Dig Tree alone across unfamiliar terrain would be nuts. As I now know well, all it takes is one sandy oued to spanner things up. And the tension of keeping it together for two days or more would not make it at all enjoyable. I have been there and I have done that.
Out of curiosity I call up the Dig Tree waypoint. Only 200 clicks, south by southwest.
I’ll head for the Dig Tree, another time. But not alone on a moto.
Further on down the road, tucked in against the usual headwind, I spot the famous Bou Craa phosphate belt. Part of Morocco’s motive to grab WS was to get its hands on the largest reserve of phosphate in the world (or so I read in the internet).
The belt (or series of belts) runs some 100km towards the coast, bridges the N1 highway and dumps the rubble at a deepwater jetty south of Layounne.
I inspect the half-inch-thick belt and polished rollers. If the rozzers caught me looking and taking photos of this they’d flip their lid. I was told later it only runs of windless days so the phosphate doesn’t end up like the trees.
Someone very generously offers me a stay in their house in Layounne. I get my laundry done, am fed like a fois gras goose and catch up on admin.
The house is on the very edge of the city, overlooking the Saguia el Hamra (‘red river’).
Recent storms (which brought on the desert wildflowers), broke through this dam-bridge on the N1 highway into Layounne.
Hold on, I’m going the wrong way if I want to take the new coast road north to Tarfaya, not the main N1 desert highway. The Garmin map puts me right. It’s a marvel to have routeability in the desert.
Initially the coast backroad is not so interesting.
Lots of grubby fishing shacks and the Atlantic.
I pull into the lee of a barchan (crescent) dune on its southward march. Yes, it’s a new direction now but the headwinds adjust themselves and turn on me again. What gets me is why don’t all the barchans end up in Mauritania? It is the mystery of dunes – or maybe the Atlas mountains are a huge reserve of raw rock to grind down into grains.
Diggers keep rogue dunes off the road.
Trucks use this road, as it bypasses the steep climb in and out of Layounne if headed far south.
Up ahead I spot a strange thing in the sea, is it an island? Turns out to be the famous beached Armas ferry which ran aground a few years ago.
Iirc, it was to serve a a route to the Canaries which lay less than 100km northwest, but it didn’t make it past it’s maiden voyage. Smells a bit of a fishy insurance job. Plus a ferry to Spanish Canaries would bring up all sort of issues with migrants trying to get to Europe. Up north, Tan Med port is like Alcatraz. So are the Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla.
Tarfaya was known as Cape Juby in the French era, a refuelling stop on the early Aeropostale service to Dakar (or St Louis) in Senegal. St Exupery wrote of it evocatively in Wind Sand & Stars mentioned earlier – an existentialist classic, fyi. He would have been based in the white fort behind the monument.
St Ex was lost at sea during WWII and they built this plane sculpture in commemoration, but it looks a bit crap, like a big toy. Maybe its supposed to; he also wrote the famous Little Prince childrens’ book about a pilot lost in the desert (as happened to St Ex one time). Its one of the most read or translated books in the world which I finally read recently. I didn’t get it. W, S&Stars was more my thing.
And just off shore there it is: the famous Mackenzie trading post set up by an enterprising Scot in the late 19th C. Built on a tidal reef, if was perhaps exempt from taxes, or at least immune to Reguibat raids.
This is how it looked back in the day. I approach the ruin for a better picture. Locals boys are gallivanting on the rocks and, seeing my camera, assume I’m some sort of perv. They start shouting and throwing rocks: ‘Fak-off, peado-scum!!’
I ignore the onslaught; they don’t realise I’m much more fascinated in the historical monument behind them than their skimpy beachwear. Been wanting to see this place for years, a few jibes won’t stop me. I get my shot and scarper before they call the police. Mackenzie cooked up a bat-shit scheme to flood the Sahara so freighters could sail to Timbuktu. Read more about that here.
Up the road I pull in for the last cheap fuel in Afkhenir. Normally I try to skip lunch, but after the generous gorging in Layounne my stomach has expanded and will take a day or two to re-shrink. I order an omelette, the guys suggests fish. Oh, go on then, I’m right by the seaside after all.
He yanks a sole out of the fridge, grills it and brings it over with lots of lemon. Seven quid for a whole battered sole with side salad. Quite a lot but well worth it for a treat.
A fisherman drops in with his catch and rests his Moby on a plank.
Just up the road is the Gouffre Afkhenir, a collapsed sea cave fenced off right by the road.
Below the cliff edge the heavy Atlantic swell is booming against the wave-worn cavities, crashing in and rebounding in all directions. Nice to watch. Hypnotic.
That’s a radar station on top. I think they built the new whiter one back from the edge a bit, just it case it got ‘gouffred’.
Where shall I stay tonight? I can go back to the place in Tan Tan, but that would be too easy. Let’s see what El Ouatia, right by the sea, has to offer? Hotel de France? That will do nicely. 230d half board, great wi fi and a nice Spanish-continental ambience and old-school waiter. (Spanish influence still persists on this coast).
They help me push my bike up the steps for the night.
And proper coffee too. Nice spot.