If you have ever looked at a map of western Africa, you have probably noticed some dotted lines. Those deadlines are the disputed border of territory that morocco claims and territory claimed by a quasi-independent state called Western Sahara. It is also known as the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic.
This country doesn’t have full international recognition, but it is recognized by multiple member nations of the United Nations. Because of this disputed claim to the territory, that’s why lines on the map are always dotted. The drawing of maps is an inherently political activity, because where you draw the lines depends on whose claims to the territory you accept and what political concepts you are working with.
All of that leads to my short trip to Western Sahara. A former Spanish colony, I was intrigued and wanted to visit.
Because of a lack of hotel options where I could use my points to stay, I decided that the simplest was to do a day trip from Casablanca. That turned out to be an excellent and a horrible idea.
My flight departed at lunchtime, and I got to the city of Laayoune in the afternoon. Given that this is a disputed territory, there were a lot of questions at the airport. Even more questions came about when they asked for my return ticket and saw that I would be leaving the same day. I told him that I just wanted to check it out and see a new city that I had never been to before, but I had a hotel reservation in Casablanca already that I didn’t want to lose money by canceling it.
After some back-and-forth and providing my contact information, I was out of the airport. From looking at a map, I realized that the town was not very far away and decided to just walk. Walking was the main theme of my visit.
I had marked a couple of places to visit but mostly wandered aimlessly. I also had a tough time finding vegan options, so a lot of my meandering was an attempt to find a place to eat.
I walked down the main street lined with palm trees, which was really nice. I stumbled onto this large square, and I liked it a lot.
Past some stores, I came across the main mosque, but it was closed.
On one of the side streets, I laughed at these cats sitting here, patiently waiting for something to fall from the butcher shop.
After settling on a dinner of just french fries, I passed into the more residential area of town. This plaza is definitely pro-Morocco.
Continuing further, this church surprised me—as did its Spanish signage.
I walked without a real plan, just seeing whatever I happened upon. The town has a laid-back vibe and lots of small squares where people sit around.
I stumbled into this market and decided to buy olives from a guy selling them by the bucketful. I tried to ask how much to buy some, and he indicated a price that I figured was “per kilo”. Never having bought olives in bulk, I definitely overestimated. I gave him enough for half a kilo—about a pound.
A pound of olives is…a lot of olives. I snacked on my plastic bag of olives as I walked and eventually made my way to the airport. After a while, I was sick of them. I tied up the bag and kept them for later. It’s a lot of olives.
I passed the main square and the local stadium, then arrived back at the airport in time to check in for my flight.
Oddly, I passed passport control on the way into Laayoune and on the way out. Seems odd when it’s supposedly “still Morocco”, right?
This is where the problems started. The fact I had come here for half a day seemed very suspicious to them. I gave the same information I had provided on arrival (oddly enough, it was the exact same agent at the booth as when I arrived). Eventually, she gave my passport back to me and let me pass through airport security.
A bit later, while sitting in the waiting area, 2 cops and a guy in a suit showed up asking me to come talk to them. They wanted to know who I visited, what I was doing here, why…all that good stuff. I repeated my exact same answers as before, saying that I was interested in visiting a new place, I was already in Morocco, I didn’t want to lose money to cancel a hotel booking I already had, so I just turned it into a day trip.
Amazingly, the place where I’d eaten my fries had given me a business card, so I was able to pull that out and also show them the pictures I’d taken.
Eventually, after some phone calls in a back room, they returned my passport and told me I could go. Until I actually left Morocco 2 days later, I wasn’t sure if I would have more questions at some point from border guards or police coming to my hotel, etc.
It was an interesting place to visit. Glad I went. However, no one should ever do a “day trip” to Western Sahara, unless they want problems with Moroccan police.This entry was posted in Africa, Laayoune, Western Sahara