A brief history lesson:
During colonial times Morocco was French administered, while Western Sahara was Spanish and was, unsurprisingly, called Spanish Sahara. Mauritania was also French. Morocco gained independance in 1956, Mauritania in 1960 and the Spanish pulled out of Western Sahara in 1975. As the Spanish began the process of pulling out, there was a promise made of a referendum regarding independance. At the same time, Morocco and Mauritania voiced their calls of historical claims to the territory
. Being the dominant force, economically and militarily, Morocco filled the power vacuum when the Spanish pulled out, with Hassan II of Morocco orchestrating the Green March of some 350,000 troops to stake a very visable claim to the territory. Given the conditions on the ground, Mauritania dropped its claims to the territory. Since then, Western Sahara has been administered by Morocco, although the UN insists that its status has still to be resolved. Further complications include the displacement of the indiginous people (Sahrawi), with a guerilla war being fought in the depths of this vast territory (the Sahrawi would like independance from Morocco) and the area being rapidly settled by Moroccans from the north, lured here by tax-free living and the promise of high wages.
So a tricky situation then. And this tension is visible. On the journey here I lost count of the number of times we got stopped at checkpoints (although we did cover 1400km to get here from Marrakech). Our British passports did seem to cause some interest (tourist?? going to Mauritania??) but no hassle or problems encountered. My biggest concern was the caged animal feeling I developed after 26 hours on a coach!
What you really want during a 26 hour drive is an interesting panarama on which to feast your eyes
. Well, after 3-4 hours slowly descending through the picturesque Anti Atlas mountains south of Marrakech, the landscape developed into one which would best be described using the old adage "as far as the eye can see": The long straight narrow asphalt ribbon, drifting off into the distance. The flat, dry, featureless, baron, desolate, wasteland of, frankly, nothingness. The endless mile upon mile of empty beaches. The cloudless sky, white in colour, as if the blazing sun had bleeched all the colour of it. This is a landscape that hypnotises with its monotony. Easy to lose your sense of time and distance. With its vast scale and emptiness however, it does have a certain beauty, however inhospitable it might seem.
Dakhla is not a town worthy of any note. It is a great stereotype of a "frontier town". We arrived at approximately 16:00 on Thursday 28th...
Welcome to one of the world's disputed territories. You ask any Moroccan what is the Western Sahara (in which Dakhla sits) and who owns it and the almost universal answer you will recieve is that it is Moroccan: wholley, rightfully and integrally. That might be what you hear about Jerusalem also right, and we all know the difficulties there...