Jeff, Dennis and I shared a “suite” at a dodgy “hotel” last night in Layoune, Western Sahara. Western Sahara is contested territory under Moroccan control. My use of quotation marks is to let you know both words were misnomers. I would call our "suite" a stink hole and our hotel an ant trap. Anyway, after a rough night of little sleep I woke with a minor cold and my persistent tooth ache. Oh well, no time for being a suck as we had a long, important drive to Dakhla to meet with the rest of our group. The idea was to form a proper convoy with all of the nine vehicles involved on our crazy run.
Eric had decided to spend the night in another hotel with two British guys who were driving a BMW. Tom and John are realtors in London and I thought they were very funny. I say, I thought, as it took me a whole day to adjust to their thick accents and understand what they were saying. Turns out they are not only funny, but incredibly nice guys. We were lucky to know them. They were not lucky to have chosen to travel with us though. They spent most of the day shaking their heads at the crazy Canadians.
We headed out for the day with our four vehicles; the white 1998 Toyota Avensis station wagon on point, the Carina with Jeff, Dennis and I in the middle, Tom and John in their 1994 BMW 328i and the 25 year old Dodge Caravan turbo Diesel that would enjoy many issues during our trip.
Our vehicles fueled up for the trip ahead and about 10 minutes later the engine of the 1998 Toyota Avensis just stopped operating. Jeff and Garry had switched cars at the gas station and Jeff immediately deduced the issue: had the team filled up their unleaded gasoline vehicle with diesel fuel? Yuppers! We all went into emergency control mode. Dennis and I hoped in my car to get jerry cans and fill one up with unleaded gas while the rest of the group towed the disabled Avensis station wagon into the desert so we could remove the fuel and place the correct fuel in. Garry filmed the movie magic. Tom and John pointed and laughed.
Dennis and I went on a wild goose chase before a local garage owner took pity on us and asked one of us employees to help us find jerry cans. Everyone was so kind to us, it was a great experience. We filled up the can and doubled back to meet the rest of our crew. By sheer good fortune they had found an abandoned gas station that had large truck bays with pits and John and Tom had written a little reminder on the car by the gas tank. Perfect! Jeff pulled out the fuel pump from the rear seat and we siphoned out the diesel which took about an hour. He then cleaned out the spark plugs a few times and finally brought the Avensis back to life. He was in his element and we were all glad he was with us. While this happened, Eric sat in a lawn chair, Allain made coffee, Tom put on a Santa Claus costume, Mauricio tried to prove it wasn't his fault the wrong gas was in the car, Jakub disagreed and I helped Jeff as best I could (which wasn't very much) and the rest of us took photos or just watched Jeff work with breath abated.
So Jeff had done it and we were on our way towards the feared border with Mauritania. As we were leaving the abondaned gas station and feeling great about overcoming the mechanical challenge, Jakub and I decided to horse around with our vehicles. End result was part of his rear bumper got stuck on my front bumper and it came loose and dragged on the ground. The British guys were aghast and laughed a nervous chuckle that seemed to ask themselves "What have we done? We will never finish this race with these Canadians." Jeff moved into action, this time, with duct tape. The newly resdesigned bumper was ready to roll and we were off again with two incidents for the day behind us.
We were making great time towards Dakhla and stopped off for a bite to eat and a bio break. Eric, in a moment of exuberance, reefed open the side door of the van he and Mauricio share and pulled the entire door off the track. He had done serious damage to the door and the window.
Again, Jeff was the star of the show. With a pry bar and some elbow grease he got the door back on track and duct tape was used to secure the window. No one's getting into that car,… we hope! Amussing aside: with the change to the structure of the sliding door, the van now had two functioning entrance and exits; the rear hatch and the passanger door. The driver side door didn't close properly so we had to slam it into place so it wouldn't open on it's own. My guess is this issue came from a combination of metal fatigue and Eric beating on the door. And so, our third issue for the day was defeated and we were certain no more bad luck could come to us this day. We were wrong.
With yet another issue put behind us, we set off for food. We had a delicious meal of roasted chicken, salad, and fries which ended with us watching 5 boys stealing bread from the table as we were paying. These boys were particularly sketchy, but we thought nothing of it as they hung around our cars before we headed out towards Dakhla.
We didn't get very far when we were pulled over by a police checkpoint as we were almost out of the town. Apparently, Jeff, our hero for the day, was caught speeding and the police would not let us pay at the check point. They insisted on having the one vehicle and its occupants go back to the station with them despite my attempt to keep us together. The fact they were seperating us made me very uncomfortable and a I tried "negotiating" with the officers but they wouldn't accept anything but a return to the police station by Jeff and the occupants of the wagon he was driving. The rest of us hung out on a cliff over looking the Atlantic and waited anxiously for the wagon's return. About one hour and a 300 dihram fine (about $45 Canadian) we were on the road to Dakhla. That sucks because it is difficult driving in the dark here. The highways are worn away at the edges, sand drifts sometimes encroach, there is no soft shoulder and the lanes, one going each way, are tight. We had no choice but to push on through as we had to get to the border b y tomorrow so we could meet up with the other 7 vehicles and enter Mauritania as a convoy. The theory was we'll either be safe in numbers or we will offer a really large target.
As we drove through Western Sahara we noticed the changing landscape and people we had seen that day. People's skin tones were getting darker and darker and the scenery was going from the lush, fertile soil of norther Morocco to rocks to rocks and sand to sand to sand dunes.