Southern Morocco and Western Sahara

Agadir

My host and I went for a walk around the city area and decided to head to the nearby souk, but he had forgotten that it was closed on Monday. We decided to walk down to the beach area instead. The beach area had a carnival kind of atmosphere, with a ferris wheel and dodge ’em cars, people selling their wares along the promenade, expensive brightly lit restaurants and even a casino.

The beach

Paradise Valley
I made my way to the Ibatwar area to get a taxi to Paradise Valley. The taxi was super old, like from the 1970s, and looked like it was barely holding together. A couple on a short holiday in Morocco were already waiting in the taxi, which was supposed to be a 5 seater, including the driver, but it wouldn’t leave until there were 6 people, not including the driver.

After waiting for what seemed like an eternity, but was probably only 30 minutes, for the taxi to fill up, we decided to go to a closer town, called Awrir instead. With the destination change, we were full up and ready to go a few minutes later.

Lovers in the front seat?

A very squeezy and bumpy ride to Awrir ensued, where we were dropped off right next to the roomier green taxi that we needed to take the rest of the way to Paradise Valley.

Cosy

Upon arrival at the Valley, we started walking to the trail and were offered the guiding expertise of some locals, but as we already knew the trail was easy to follow, we declined and continued on our own.

The first part of the trail was slightly uphill and very exposed, but fairly short. Once we got to the top we had a lovely view down into a valley lined with palm trees. A small steam could also be seen meandering through the trees, presumably running to, or from, the rock pools we were heading towards.

Another 5 Minutes on the trail brought us to a part of that steam where a small artificial swimming area and waterfall had been created by sandbags used to dam the watercourse. There were several stalls there, offering drinks and Tangin, a local Moroccan dish, in clay pots.

Sandbag waterfall

We continued along the trail for a few more minutes until we reached another area with stalls. A portly man from one of the stalls ushered us towards him to show us his food, but once we advised him we were heading to the pools first, he showed us the way and directed us on where to go when there was a junction. He also strongly encouraged us to come back to see him when we were finished.

Following his suggestions, we were soon looking down on people swimming in small pools and sunbathing on the surrounding rocks. There were even some people camping in the area, as well as kids jumping the 5 metres or so from near the trail, down into one of the pools. Once we’d walked to the end of the pools to see the small waterfall, we were feeling a bit hungry, so we returned to the portly man’s stall for some food.

After filling up on food, I returned to the entrance to grab a taxi back to Agadir, while the portly man showed the couple I was with the secret swimming hole where they could enjoy a peaceful, secluded swim away from the crowds.

Once I’d made the short trip back to the road, I found a green taxi to take me all the way back to Agadir for only a few dirham more than the taxi I’d gotten to Awrir earlier. I was already sold on that fact alone, but then the lovely driver offered small glasses of cold water to all his passengers. Given how hot it was, they were very appreciated!

While I wouldn’t say that Paradise Valley is spectacular in any way, it is still quite lovely and it was nowhere near as crowded as I thought a popular tourist destination would be. Also, considering it’s free to enter the area, I think it’s definitely worth the visit. At around 30 dirhams, or €3 each way for transport and 45 dirhams, about €4.5, for the portly man’s food, it certainly is a cheap way to spend a day with nature and relax for a while.

Laayoune, Western Sahara
There were a couple of things I noticed about Laayoune straight away. One was structures on roundabouts. These normally took the form of fountains, sometimes accompanied by tress. The other was the sheer amount of Moroccan flags hung on street lights or in other public areas. Obviously, this is the Moroccan government trying to assert their rule over the area because technically it’s a different country under Moroccan occupation.

Roundabout fountain

Locals here do not consider themselves Moroccan and would rather be formally recognised as a sovereign state, but the occupying government has policies in place that mean their families and livelihoods could be under threat if they make their true views known. I guess that’s why you never really hear of protests in the area, despite local sentiment. Another reason could be the police checks along the roads aimed at finding out if journalists are in the country.

Another thing that became very clear whilst walking around was that it seemed to be windy all the time. I don’t think there was any point during my whole stay where there was no wind. The effect of the wind was very cooling though, which meant that even though the sun was quite hot, the ambient temperature was quite pleasant. I was okay with that.

Yet Another Long Bus Ride
Back at the bus station I purchased my onward ticket to Dakhla. I’d been assigned a seat next to some dude who had figured he had 2 seats to himself, so had put his stuff all over my seat while he stood outside the bus. I moved his stuff to his seat and sat down, but he came back into the bus, all angry. I really don’t know what he was saying, but he seemed to think that it was his seat. Pointing to the seat number and my ticket didn’t seem to make him any happier and he tried to grab my bag, then me. I shooed him away and luckily the lady who was sitting across the aisle said something that made him stop and he went back outside.

A few minutes later, the guy was talking to the bus driver and they had called the ticket sales guy out, although I’m not sure why, cause the bus was clearly full. Eventually, the woman across the aisle packed the guys stuff into a bag and put it on her seat, then sat in the seat next to me. Fun times.

Shortly after leaving the station there was a police stop which seemed specifically aimed at checking up on how many foreigners were on the bus, as they only asked for foreign passports. One of the policemen asked me some questions, but his English was so bad that I had no idea what he was saying. At one point it sounded like he was saying, “is this your nation”, but he was apparently saying what’s your destination.

As we were driving along, it was obvious that the ever-present wind had been hard at work moving the sand dunes onto the road. In fact, the whole right hand side lane had been rendered completely unusable for a couple of kilometres. Some of the sand had even started encroaching on the left hand lane, meaning that the bus has to swerve partly into the road shoulder at a few points on the journey. I’d never seen anything like that before, so I was equally amazed and frightened at the power of nature.

πŸ‡²πŸ‡¦Morocco and Western Sahara SummaryπŸ‡ͺπŸ‡­

Travels in Morocco and Western Sahara

In a few words – Tea and amourous locals
Languages – French and Arabic
Currency – Moroccan Dirham (MAD)
WiFi Availability – πŸ“ΆπŸ“ΆπŸ“ΆπŸ“ΆπŸ“Ά
Cafes with WiFi are everywhere. Most will give you the WiFi password without buying something, just check with them first, because some will be sneaky and try to charge you for it.
Transport – πŸš—πŸš—πŸš—πŸš—πŸš—
🚍 Modern air-conditioned coaches are used on all intercity routes, but their cost is on par with European coaches.
Public transport systems are pretty well developed in major cities and reasonably priced.
πŸš‡ There are trains in the north, but they are expensive and rarely run to schedule.
🚘 Shared taxis can be found for short trips and they’re normally reasonably priced, but they will be overcrowded.
Roads – πŸ›£πŸ›£πŸ›£πŸ›£πŸ›£
All main roads, as well as suburban roads, are sealed and well maintained.
Scenery – πŸ”πŸŒ³πŸžπŸ–πŸœ
As the combined area of Morocco and Western Sahara is huge, it offers a great variety of scenery, from coastal plains in the west, to snow tipped mountains in the east, to tree-lined streets in the cities and moving desert sands in remote areas.
Prices – πŸ’°πŸ’°πŸ’°
Most things, except for transport, are quite reasonably priced in Morocco. You can get a meal at a cafe for around 30 MAD, (€2.7). Note that the prices do tend to get a little more expensive the closer you are to an area frequented by tourists. Marrakech and Casablanca, for example, are more expensive than places like Tanger and Agadir.
Checkpoints – πŸ›‘πŸ›‘
I didn’t encounter any checkpoints until I was on the way from Dakhla to Rosso, near the Mauritanian Border. They specifically exist to check that foreign journalists aren’t trying to sneak into a sensitive area. Officers will look at your passport and ask what your occupation is, then let your bus go.
Border efficiency – πŸ›ƒπŸ›ƒπŸ›ƒπŸ›ƒ
The port entry was quite efficient. The land border was relatively efficient, but the lack of signage made it a little confusing.
Corruption level – No corruption was evident.
Overall – πŸ‘πŸ‘πŸ‘πŸ‘πŸ‘

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