We were now travelling south and east – away from the coast towards Samara, passing north of Boucraa where they mined phosphate. We saw in the distance a section of the 60 mile long conveyor belt that transported the phosphate to the port at Laayoune.
We were quite accustomed to seeing police manning road blocks in Morocco but, as foreign tourists, we expected to be waved through with a cheery salute. It was quite different in Western Sahara. During one day’s travel we were stopped six or seven times by uniformed police. Each time they took our passports for checking and examined our vehicle registration document. One officer asked us why we were in the area. Each hold-up lasted between five and ten minutes and began to get tedious as the day wore on. We were not accustomed to this level of surveillance and it gave us an uncomfortable feeling.
Officially we were told not to wild camp in Western Sahara so we found a camp site wherever possible. If the police found you camping, we heard, they would escort you to a “safe place” – usually a fuel station. As the terrain was flat with no trees, you would have to travel some way from the road to find somewhere to stop out of sight of the road. One evening we tucked ourselves behind a building and nobody bothered us but, as a rule, it was more relaxing finding a camp site, however awful.
Apart from the police, the only living things we saw were camels. Previously we had seen groups of four or five but on the deserted road between Laayoune and Samara, camels appeared in larger numbers – twenty or more and often walking leisurely along the road. We twice drove past the corpses of camels, one was a baby. It would have been traumatic if you hit such a large creature.
We found a better than average camp site outside Samara where we were welcomed with mint tea and later we had, we think, a goat tagine – but it may have been camel.