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The long road to Dakhla

Sunday, February 24, 2013

If you come to cycle in Morocco you will learn (as I have) the one thing that will determine how far you travel and how hard you work: the winds. Moroccan winds are so unpredictable, yet they have played the biggest part in my journey so far.

The ride to Laayoune had it all; hills, sweeping bends and finally some decent amount of tail winds. What it didn’t have was anything different in the way of scenery (which to be fair is nice enough), just more stony Hamada and the odd fisherman’s hut perched precariously atop the cliff edge overlooking the Atlantic.

Laayoune itself was a little scary if I’m honest; the locals seemed a very mixed bunch and the military and police were everywhere, stopping me several times as I tried to ride through the streets. I suppose it’s close proximity to the (still) disputed Western Sahara is responsible for this heightened security, but I didn’t linger long.

There is no officially designated border between Morocco and the Western Sahara, which stretches for almost 1,000 kilometres. Dakhla, the last major Moroccan town is signposted as 504 km from Laayoune. I was not going to underestimate the crossing so I made sure I was well stocked up with essential supplies, but even so I was almost caught out when I rode for almost two days without there being anything to stop for – no water – no food, absolutely nothing. I passed whole towns and closed down petrol stations which were now silent and deserted.

Finding a place to wild camp in the rocky Hamada is tricky, but on my first night in the Western Sahara I eventually settled on a small gully out of sight from the main N1 road which offered a little shelter from the buffeting winds. The following days camps were much the same as I enjoyed the quiet solitude of the desert. The beautiful night skies are truly amazing as I look out from my tent, with more stars than it’s possible to count. I’m certainly no astrologer, but I can easily make out all the main constellations – even the milky way.

It was hard riding and on numerous occasions I attempted to get a lift with no luck, so just got stuck in and churned out the distance. Approaching Dakhla the scenery changed for the first time in three and a half days, with the stony Hamada now being replaced by soft sand, which blew across the highway.

The rocky landscape changes to sand. 34 km from Dakhla.

As I encountered more police check points, one of the most useful bits of information I picked up during my ‘research’ for this trip was to have pre-prepared ‘fiches’ ready to hand over along with the passport. These fiches include all the information they usually ask about, which they then spend time writing on scraps of paper. However I was caught out by one ‘unusual’ question: “what name is your bike?” it sort of threw me as I’d never even thought about it, so I looked at the name on the tubes and replied ‘Surly’. “Ah Sally” replied the gendarme, “a nice lady yes?” I laughed and nodded.

Dakhla lies on a 40 km peninsular jutting out into the Atlantic. You have to cycle the 40 km to get there, then cycle it again to return to the mainland. It is a kite-surfing paradise because of the winds and a favorite destination for the hoards of French camper vans, who tend to winter here. Lonely Planet gives it a good write up, but I personally think they are using a bit of artistic license in their description of the town, which seems little different to many I have traveled through.

Seafront promenade, Dakhla.

Washing day today (including a bike spring clean), shop for supplies, then pack everything up ready for the ride to the Mauritanian border and the first stop Nouadhibou, which should take me about 4 days if there are no surprises. And finally for this update…

Although I’ve been using GPS mapping throughout my journey, it is not suitable for uploading and sharing the route, because you’d need the original program I’m using to view it properly. However I’ve now found a nice way of sharing in google maps (including images) which is pretty much available to everyone with internet access, but need online time to map my ride. Please bear with me while I complete this and I’ll then post a link with each blog.




Sunday, February 24, 2013 at 5:21 pm

You should get one of the iPhone star map applications like Star Walk.

I had word you were seen south of Boujdour by a HUBBer heading north. Today in Taliouine I met Jean-Baptiste from Switzerland who’s cycling to Cape Town and is probably ten days or so behind you. He knows about your blog and it might be an idea to slow down in Senegal so you can tackle central Africa together.

    Monday, February 25, 2013 at 12:04 pm

    Hi Tim,

    That’s an excellent idea, put him in touch with me if you can. It is certainly getting harder being alone as the authorities are getting more security conscious so I’d certainly be prepared to hook up.

Maggie Gaestel
Sunday, February 24, 2013 at 5:24 pm

I’m using Bing Maps and it’s not too hard to follow you. You can even go to Birdseye view to see the terrain. Great fun. Stay safe. MG

Monday, February 25, 2013 at 6:04 am

Wow! Impressive! Moving on then! the best of luck for the next push. x

Monday, February 25, 2013 at 8:43 am

Very good reports Derek!

I rode that road on a motorcycle in Feb2011 but I guess that using a (non motor-)bike gives you the opportunity to real soak in the environment.

Looking anxiously forward for more updates.

Wish you a nice and safe ride! 🙂

Luís Cabrita

Wednesday, February 27, 2013 at 10:22 pm

Hi Derek (and Tim), this is Jean-Baptiste.
Well done for this fast desert run.
I’m in Tiznit tonight and will rest my legs by the coast, they enjoyed and suffered the various Atlas hills. My blog is at
Good luck for the next step!

Saturday, March 2, 2013 at 1:46 pm

Hi JB, believe me you’ll want to get the next bit of the trip done and out of the way – I found it mind numbingly boring as the Hamada just goes on and on…
Regarding meeting up, (roughly) how long before you get to Nouachott? or St-Louise?

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