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Location - North Africa (south of Morocco); Capital - Laayoune; Population - 500,000; Currency - Moroccan Dirham (and Algerian dinar)

I took an overnight bus from Marrakech to Smara in Western Sahara, via Agadir, in December 2009.

Western Sahara is a former Spanish territory occupied by Morocco. In 1975, before the Spanish left in 1976, Morocco and Mauritania moved in. When Mauritania moved out in 1978 Morocco took control. Western Sahara's Polisario Front, backed by Algeria, still campaigns for independence for the Saharawi population. The UN has called for a referendum on self-determination. More background & history. Info on the 2700km wall (aka Moroccan Wall; The Berm) dividing Western Sahara.

Most world maps show Western Sahara as an independent country occupied by Morocco, while all Moroccan maps swallow it whole within its territory.


mornoteWestern Sahara uses the Moroccan Dirham, while in Sahrawi refugee camps on the eastern side of the dividing wall the Algerian dinar and Mauritanian ouguiya are used









westsaharanote1westsaharanote3Though commemorative only, several Sahrawi peseta coins have been minted










westsahara6From Hotel Amine take a peek at the Spanish-built oval domes of the military barracks - Smara


westsahara8A portrait of Mohammed VI, King of Morocco, stands at the entrance to the military barracks - Smara


westsahara21Women in Saharawi dress - Smara
















westsahara20The colourful Saharawi dress remind me more of Mauritania than Morocco - Smara
















westsahara1Ma el Ainin's Palace lies on the west side of Smara. I couldn't find anyone to let me in.


westsahara2Ma el Ainin's Palace - Smara



westsahara9Smara's main street is Avenue Hassan II















westsahara10More military remnants of the Spanish era - Smara
















westsahara11Though there's not much to see I enjoyed the town, with its relaxing roadside cafes and evening souq/market - Smara


westsahara12Local children on the streets of Smara


westsahara13Decaying buildings in a Smara sidestreet















westsahara14..And a more colourful one - Smara















westsahara15One of Smara's arches


westsahara17Walk through the arch to see this mosque - Smara


westsahara16One of the shops on Avenue Mohammed V - Smara















westsahara18Another portrait of King Mohammed VI, outside the Province, Smara















westsahara22Many of the oval-domed buildings are now residential homes - Smara


westsahara24Join the locals and have a wander around the evening souq - Smara


westsahara29Though not strictly part of Western Sahara, the small coastal town of Tarfaya, north of Laayoune, was a Spanish protectorate















westsahara30It's got a pretty good beach - Tarfaya
















westsahara31Tarfaya is known for the Casa Mar, a fort built by Scottish merchant Donald Mackenzie following his arrival in 1879


westsahara27The abandoned Casa Mar (also called Dar Mar) - Tarfaya


westsahara32On the beach is a monument to Aeropostale, the airmail service. Tarfaya was a staging post for Aeropostale's pilots, among them pilot & novelist Antoine de Saint-Exupery.














westsahara33Outside the Antoine de Saint-Exupery museum is a painting of the Green March.
In 1975 King Hassan II instigated a march of 350,000 Moroccans from Tarfaya into Spanish Sahara (Western Sahara) to claim it for Morocco - Tarfaya


Wikipedia Green March entry












westsahara34More colourful patterns - Tarfaya



westsahara35Unsurprisingly most of the town's streets are very sandy - Tarfaya


westsahara36The streets of Tarfaya
















westsahara37Moroccan tajines are usually made up of potatoes, vegetables, lime, meat or fish and served mouth-burningly hot. Lovely! Tarfaya
















westsahara38Fishing boats coming back to shore - Tarfaya


westsahara42The cathedral in the lower town, Laayoune















westsahara43The square opposite the cathedral - Laayoune
















westsahara44Let's have some more oval-domed roofs - Laayoune


westsahara46The lower town leads to the Seguiat el Hamra, a valley containing lagoons and a variety of birdlife - Laayoune


westsahara47Birds in the water at Seguiat el Hamra - Laayoune















westsahara49It could be a beautiful area but it's used as a rubbish tip - Seguiat el Hamra, Laayoune
















westsahara50'Ceda el Paso' - A remnant of the Spanish era in the lower town, Laayoune


westsahara51aA market area between Souq Djemal and Souq ez Zaj - Laayoune


westsahara53The grounds of Riyad Fes, ideal for children to play while enjoying a drink - Laayoune















westsahara52aPictures of the Green March hang in the Hotel al Massira, one of the few places that serves alcohol - upper town, Laayoune















westsahara40The fountain at Las Dunas restaurant in the centre of Place Dchira, Laayoune


westsahara52A water tower in the upper town, Laayoune


westsahara60Take a 5/10 minute walk beyond the airport heading towards Dakhla and there's picturesque scenes of lagoons, birdlife and sand dunes - Laayoune














westsahara64Sand dunes and water - Laayoune
















westsahara58The best sand dunes I saw were a few kms further south of here, beyond the police checkpost and before Foum el Oued/Laayoune Plage - Laayoune


westsahara59The fenced off areas are apparently to prevent erosion and promote plant growth - Laayoune


westsahara65The older Saharawis I spoke to appreciated a conversation in Spanish rather than French (or better still Hassaniya).
I found the younger Saharawis spoke French rather than Spanish, in line with Moroccan schools. One exception was a taxi driver who claimed to be Polisario - Laayoune













westsahara69The fancy-looking Place Mechouar in the upper town, Laayoune
















westsahara68Canopies and seats encircle Place Mechouar, Laayoune


westsahara66Next to Place Mechouar is the Laayoune's Great Mosque


westsahara70Don't bother going to Laayoune Plage, it's a waste of time
















westsahara72I didn't realise it's an industrial town, about 20kms from Laayoune proper.
I was hoping for a nice beach but I think nearby Foum el Oued is the place to go - Laayoune Plage














westsahara114The landscape between Laayoune and Dakhla consists of sand, scrub, rocky outcrops and more sand - Laayoune to Dakhla


westsahara74After an overnight bus ride I arrived in Dakhla at sunrise
















westsahara75Dakhla is built on a peninsula, with most of the town facing the inland shore rather than the Atlantic















westsahara76Dakhla was known as Villa Cisneros in the Spanish era


westsahara76aIt has a small promenade area, ideal for an evening stroll - Dakhla


westsahara77A boat on the calm waters of the inland shore, Dakhla















westsahara80Boys at play - Dakhla
















westsahara111On the Atlantic shore is the old Spanish lighthouse (known by its Spanish word 'faro') which can be reached via a long walk through wasteland. I couldn't be bothered - Dakhla


westsahara83The view from the Sahara Regency Hotel, Dakhla


westsahara84The skyline of Dakhla
















westsahara85The tiny pool at the Sahara Regency Hotel, Dakhla
















westsahara86The Green March Cup of Break Dance. Are you serious?! Dakhla


westsahara109Drying out sheep/goatskin. Outside homes in Smara and Tarfaya I also saw what looked like small bones (still covered with some meat) hung from clothes lines.


westsahara81Dakhla is famous for its kiteboarding / kitesurfing (is there a difference?).
Some links to give you an idea - here and here















westsahara87And PK25, Dakhla is where some of it happens


westsahara88As you can probably tell there wasn't much wind on this day; in fact the air was completely still - PK25, Dakhla



westsahara91The water here is sometimes called Dakhla lagoon - PK25, Dakhla
















westsahara102It's a beautiful area, 25kms from Dakhla, hence the name - PK25, Dakhla
















westsahara104I was surprised to see over 20 luxury campervans all parked at the beach, mainly owned by 'mature' Europeans - PK25, Dakhla



westsahara101And yes there was something on my camera lens around this time - PK25, Dakhla



westsahara105There really is a Best Western hotel in Dakhla















westsahara105aThe inland shore view at Bab al Bahar (a Best Western hotel) - Dakhla















westsahara108A market area in the evening - Dakhla



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LINKS - Sahara Press Service - UK based campaign group - arts & human rights charity - lots of info on Western Sahara aswell as Morocco - click on 'Train Times'. There's no trains in Western Sahara but ONCF supplement their trains with buses, especially in Western Sahara. - download the CTM bus timetable under Telechargement - 'Horaires & Tarifs CTM'


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