Here in the Western Sahara semi-autonomous, free administered territory UN controlled Moroccan owned rebel occupied landmine danger zone surf resort area of the globe, it is really difficult to really tell what is going on. No one really claims this as a country, many people occupy it, laws contradict themselves and roads are actually pretty good here, which would lead you to believe that it is well run. The problem is that it is hard for us to really tell who is running this show.
All of the 8 checkpoints we went through on our way from Boudjour to Dahkla, a span of only 500kms, were managed by soldiers wearing Moroccan uniforms. These men were all very nice and quite friendly, but regularly over the 4-5 hours of time we spent during that day stopped at checkpoints, I wondered how “independent” these checkpoints are. Sometimes we would simply be waived through, other times stopped for as long as 45 minutes. We tried everything from being short with the men to making friends, but overall nothing seemed to really expedite the stops. Since nothing is computerized and many of the checkpoints don’t even have power it is hard to see how this makes anything more secure. We were told recently that they have the checkpoints to make sure that you arrive at the next one. It you do not arrive at the next one, they will search for you as many people have had problematic run-ins with the land mines here. The problem is that I cannot see any search party being sent out, considering that a lot of people pull off to the side of the road to camp here, just like we did the first day. Obviously you would be late arriving to the next checkpoint if you camped for two or three days between them.
Everything is handwritten, nothing is organized, and if these checkpoints are for security, it is hard to see why they waive so many other people by while spending so much time with us. After talking to some of the locals here in Dahkla, we think we have a solution, if we have photocopies of our passports they will take those and send us on our way. I will keep my fingers crossed that this works. The other thing we learned is that being too friendly with the guards will only make your stay longer. These guys are working 100s of kms away from anything in the middle of nowhere, so a little entertainment from the TWBR crew is just what they need to break up their day.
So at the end of the day, 3 Polaroids, 2 t-shirts, a Toyota gorilla, and a pack of cigarettes later we made it through one checkpoint in around an hour instead of a half an hour. We learned our lesson, even if you speak French, you don’t at the checkpoints. Even if you have t-shirts and jokes to tell, you don’t at checkpoints. It was a fun experience and we all had a good time, but from here on out, we are sorry to say, “Border guards, we cannot be friends with all of you.”
Oh and one more thing, thanks to the guard at the second to last stop at 10pm for giving us some fried fish as a gift at checkpoint #7. We liked checkpoint 7:).
For this picture, the extra hour was well worth it. Please note some sort of weapon tucked behind the picture of the king.
8 times in one day…maybe a little excessive?
30 more minutes of my life down the drain, checkpoint #6.