Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Symbols (8961)

There seems to be an inversely proportionate relationship between the degree of security felt by a political regime and the number of its flags it flies.

As you know, we're currently in Western Sahara, the former Spanish Sahara. It's also known as the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic. The king and government of Morocco do not recognise it as a separate entity, claim it as their own and hold sway in 80% of its territory.

In Laâyoune, its capital, I met a man in a bar while I was watching the rugby world cup final. He lives in Bristol with his English wife and spoke the language well. When he referred to his nation by name, I moved closer and asked about that. Yes, he said, it's illegal to say it, he could be arrested if heard doing so. He told me he is Sahrawi - one of the people of this region - and his opinion of the occupation of his country, as he would have it, was clear.

A walking symbol
The Moroccans, for their part, believe the region is rightfully theirs and claim that the Algerians are after it.

The phosphates here and rich fishing off the coast may be factors in all this.

As we've travelled south, more and more Moroccan flags have appeared - especially along roads when entering towns. At the 'Half-Marathon of Morocco' in Laâyoune recently, a very tall man paraded up and down wearing the flag. There are also very many poster-sized pictures of the king displayed.

I noted that, from the balcony of our hotel room here in Dakhla I could, without straining, see six Moroccan flags flying.

Desert road
The desert run
The ride through southern Morocco, Western Sahara and Mauritania is infamous in motorcycling lore. It's not beautiful, it's seemingly endless and the winds are unremitting. It's a bikers' rite of passage.

I like to ride with my visor up. Down feels a little claustrophobic. With the wind coming diagonally from our front right, I was unable to inhale through one nostril which was closed by its strength. I rode visor down. Resisting the wind is physically tiring. It feels like constantly supporting a heavy, falling wardrobe.

Angelika has stamina, and she's showing it on this leg of the trip. Before we met, she had no experience of motorcycle riding, but after this section of our journey she need bow to no one in terms of her pillion experience.

We stopped to take photographs. By chance it was by a marked stone. I wondered what its significance is.

The Pillion in context
The road is mostly new. I think this is a statement of control on the part of the authorities. We entered long sections where it had lost its markings. It's surprising how much harder this makes concentrating on piloting the bike in otherwise featureless landscape. I felt I had to make a deliberate effort to focus. I was glad when they returned.

Often, by the roadside, we saw nomad camps. The tents are the colour of the sand, the places they occupy, to our eyes, bleak and hostile.

How to understand the lives of others?

Considering the now likely turning point of our journey, I began to sketch out a possible new itinerary. The next two to three months could look like this. There's a part of me that feels I will have let myself down by not making Cape Town. There's another that knows the original plan was not feasible.

We live and learn.

And then we have to decide on a route home.

In Laâyoune we finally decided to abandon the package stuck in Casablanca. It's been dragging us back for three weeks now and we both feel better about being free of it. We'll buy a sleeping bag in Dakar.

I've worked out how to get the GPS to navigate the last mile. Previously, town to town, city to city has been no problem. But I've had difficulty getting it to find specific addresses. Four months into the trip and I've twigged it. It'll make life easier.

Angelika has become a much better backgammon player during the trip. Our 'trip handicap' (4 points in 11) is proving too much for me. She tells me she got fed up with being nagged. I liked to think of it as 'teaching'.

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