Thursday, June 20, 2013

Western Sahara Convoy - Departing Tuesday and Friday!

Have you ever needed to wait for an overland convoy, anxiously completing endless paperwork and passport checks simply to continue your overland adventure?
Bike Brothers - Convoy
Today, there is no need to join a convoy to complete your trans-Africa overland adventure.  The closest gathering of overlanders, in a very loose sense, is a convoy on the Wadi Halfa route.  Twenty years ago, it was a very different story.

A convoy had transitted about six weeks before but nothing had happened since. Some people had been waiting the full time - Under African Skies

After four days of paper work we can join the convoy that will take us to Mauritania. It is an international group of travellers. Germans in a Unimog, Australians in a Land Rover, Spanish in an old Peugeot, Dutch in a very old VW bus and we on our Suzuki motorbikes - The Bike Brothers

What a fantastic experience the convoy was - Hujambo Africa

Welcome to The Atlantic overland route heading South through Western Sahara towards Mauritania.
It is worth noting that this was not the primary route South during the early 1990's, with majority of overlanders opting for the route South across Algeria and into Niger.  It was, however, a route gaining popularity especially after Algeria closed its borders mid 1990's thus forcing overlanders to keep West along the Atlantic.

In this blog post, I highlight a decade of commentary on the route.
Wikipedia has a lengthy history lesson on the disputed region called 'Western Sahara' and why the military and police were insisting on a convoy:
Western Sahara is a disputed territory in North Africa, bordered by Morocco to the north, Algeria to the extreme northeast, Mauritania to the east and south, and the Atlantic Ocean to the west. Its surface area amounts to 266,000 square kilometres (103,000 sq mi). It is one of the most sparsely populated territories in the world, mainly consisting of desert flatlands.
In 1991, the UN instigated a ceasefire and handed governance over to Morocco.  
Historical information via the internet is rather scarce, with a few websites mentioning the convoy South from Dakhla, along with older travel guides providing guidance on the departure days (normally Tuesday and Friday) and the paperwork involved.

The Route

The first edition of Chris Scott's 'Sahara Overland' (published 2000) refers to the convoy:
'The convoy mainly comprises of Euro-bangers being taken to West Africa for sale, a few Mauritanian traders and a couple of motorbikes.'
It was and currently is an easy route to follow - simply head South and keep the ocean on your right.

View Larger Map

From the Archives...

1992
Under African Skies (Derick Lean) was an overland trip South from the UK to Cape Town via the Atlantic Route. The team, traveling in two Land Rover Series III vehicles arrived in Dahkla, only to end up waiting 10 days for the convoy to form and all the paperwork to be completed:
Rumours of convoy setting off tonight. Filled up with fuel & water just in case.
'Yes there is a convoy going on Saturday and we're not on it'. Authorisation will not be through in time. Perhaps next week. Perhaps when we have waited long enough.
It's worth reading Derick's letters home and the anxious wait for the convoy to form.  Follow the link to his website: http://african-skies.africa-overland.info/

1994
Charles Jacoby, in his book "In Search of Will Carling" writes the following about Dakhla:
The town of Dakhla mraked the end of Morocco. It was a haze among the images that filled the time between our departure from Agadir and arrival in Mauritania.  It was a little like an airport terminal.  People only came there to leave as quickly as possible, especially us.
The Rugby World cup was taking place in South Africa later in the year, and with that in mind, Charles and his fellow travelers were eager to head South and not miss the opening ceremony.
We waited at the campsite for two days, working out which among the other vehicles would make it and who would fall by the wayside or give up and fly.
The condition of the road, the start / stop nature of convoy plus the military tended to abandon the convoy added an extra level of adventure:
After Dakhla the road became more and more ropy and our momentum ever more fitful. When the Moroccan military abandoned us to make our own way over the last few miles to Mauritania, it was just stand. 
With a real sense of British humour, the author writes the following about the French getting stuck in their rusty sedans (which would be sold later):
Whenever the French dug themselves in, the British among us mounted a British-led expedition in the Land Rovers with a few places allotted for observers from European nations. 
1995
The Bike Brothers only had a four day wait for the convoy to form...

1999
Hujambo Africa write about the experience:
Hujambo Africa
The campsite at Dakhla looks as if it is meant to keep the campers in rather than the locals out.
What a fantastic experience the convoy was. It is worth going to Mauritania just for this adventure. There are so many stories I could write a book. There is a threat of bandit attacks between Dakhla and Nouhadibou (Mauritania) because of the lack of ownership of the land.
Consequently all vehicles going south are escorted by the military. It took over seven hours to go 37 km (Checkpoint to Border)
2000
Jim Rogers, the author of 'Adventure Capitalist' traveled around the world in his modified Mercedes Benz G-Wagen / SLK (a very unique combination). He describes the convoy:

Jim Rogers
"It was the strangest convoy I had ever seen in my life. Everyone just started tearing down the highway, across the desert. The soldiers soon disappeared from sight. It was every man for himself, and that was fine with us, because these military convoys were dangerous. They telegraphed your intentions to the enemy." (Adventure Capitalist pg152)
A few videos describing the convoy and the route:




2001
Drive the Globe reports:
We have finished day two of the convoy, cleared minefields, and entered Mauritania.  We are the only Americans ever to bring vehicles on this route!
Drive the Globe
A brief video:

2002
Eleven Years after the UN instigated a ceasefire and handed control over to Morocco, the requirement for a convoy South finished and thus ended a decade of patiently waiting for a convoy to form.

It was an end of an era and the need for a convoy to safely complete the 400Km transit to the Mauritanian border.  Officially, during the 1990's, the Mauritanian border was closed to overlanders without a valid visa, however, officials would normally accept an 'air-entry' visa. Continuing South through the notorious landmine-ridden was an adventure on its own.  A topic which I will describe in another blog post.

2005
My personal journal entries on this route South hinted at a few check points along the sealed road. I recall my old Land Rover Defender Tdi struggling to get out of 4th gear as we battled 400km's of  howling head wind. We ventured off the main road exploring minor roads down to the ocean, something which was not possible during the convoy years.
BigSky Adventures
Currently... 2013:
Kapp 2 Cape hardly mention the route South, rather focusing on very long border crossing they encountered:
After a good night’s rest, we started early the next morning to reach the border and cross by lunch time.
So, imagine our surprise when we reached the border and were number 125 in the queue!
Do you know anyone who traveled South along the Atlantic route and joined the convoy?  The people, the vehicles and the endless paperwork are slowly fading into overland history.  Let's keep the historical route information alive.

Sources:

Various books I referenced: