Chaos in Western Sahara


Words and Photos by Dane Faurschou

A month of surfing through Western Sahara wasn’t exactly smooth sailing.

This country is completely impersonal. It is a landscape without physiognomy, no traces of life, men or bodies of recumbent animals. Dull yellow and gawkily bending shrubs and trees give way to expanses of sand and the horizon. There is relentless, unyielding road for as long as anyone would care to see. Having said that, it’s completely unparalleled to anything I have experienced before. There is a raw beauty hidden amongst the harsh desolate nothingness.

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Arrested in Spain.

Our van broke down in this tiny town. I’ll never ever be able to find the name or location of it ever again, but there were about 200 people living there. There wasn’t even a hotel to stay in, however we found the local mechanic and needless to say he didn’t speak a word of English, no one did. My basic South American Spanish did almost nothing to help me understand his Castilian Spanish, he may as well have been speaking Latin.

We found a hotel in the next town over and spent the night. The next day we all split up to do our own things and that’s when everything got a little chaotic. Two of the group went missing. Without phones we had no way contacting one another and had no idea where they could have possibly gone. Eventually, the police arrived at the mechanics saying they had our friends in custody. We figured they wanted to search the van, and maybe it was drug related—we knew the other guys had some hash on them but had no real idea what was going on.

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We found out later that as the guys were being escorted down the street by four or five police, one of them managed to get the hash out of his bag and eat the whole block. They searched the van and found nothing, and eventually they left and brought our friends back. I asked if we were free to leave, and they said, “Yes.” I asked if we still had a problem, and they said, “Yes.” Eventually they got sick of trying to explain the situation and left.

I later realised they’d been arrested for having fake documentation (just an Indonesian driver’s license) which could have caused them a bit of trouble if they’d been taken to court. We were gone as soon as the car was fixed and apart from a minor issue on the border of Morocco with one of our vans, it was pretty smooth sailing for a few days. We headed straight for Western Sahara from Morocco, camping a few nights along the way.

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Western Sahara is a large, sparsely populated desert country. It was a former colony of Spain, but they pulled out in 1976. Troops from Morocco and Mauritania then occupied the country, but the Mauritanians pulled out in ’79 and Morocco has occupied Western Sahara ever since. Technically, no other country recognised this annexation and the rest of Africa knows it as Republica Sahraoui.

We crossed the border into Western Sahara and the first thing we noticed was the police checkpoints. They were literally everywhere. Entering and exiting every single town and intermittently between them at just completely random points in the road. They stopped you every time. Sometimes you would hit 10 or 15 in a day if you were trying to cover a large distance.

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Chased by the military.

After a few days searching the coastline, we decided to head almost as far south as we could and try and surf this point we had read about. When we arrived at the wave, we all ran for the ocean as fast as we could in complete disbelief. It was so next level pumping, just 3ft grinding down this beach, barreling non-stop the entire distance. We were taking a couple of photos when the military came running up the beach yelling at us.

We tried to explain we just wanted to surf but they wouldn’t have any of it, and asked us to leave. We went to the police station and government buildings in town trying to get permission but no one would let us. We went back and the swell had gotten bigger and it was so stupidly perfect, we decided just to get ready and make a run for it. There was nothing they could do once we were in the water except wait for us to get out.

They came from both sides running, yelling and screaming the whole way up the beach. I’d had to deal with this before in Ecuador, crawling on hands and knees through bushes in a military base to get to a wave. It ended up in me being arrested and escorted to a truck by large men with AK47s, so I felt like this couldn’t really end up any worse.

We all hit the water and paddled as fast as we could to get out the back. The wave broke so close to the shore we could hear everything they were yelling, not that we understood what they were saying. We decided to pretend we didn’t notice them—dont look, just surf. After a few hours and countless tubes shared between all of us, they had dispersed back to their huts, so we decided to all get out at the same time and run back across the beach hoping they wouldn’t pursue.

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Six man spray circles.

We all got super sick. It took about two days of doing nothing. Just six men on top of a cliff in the middle of a desert, in a massive circle all watching one another doing unspeakable things. It was so beyond disgusting but we didn’t really have anywhere else to go. There was no mountains or hills, so no matter how far away we went we could all see one another. We had to accept our fate, picked our corners and then tried to laugh off how disgusting it all was.

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Almost killing a police officer and running.

We started driving north trying to make it to a spot we surfed on the way down. We were just driving along listening to music, then there was the smallest pinprick of light, followed by a man leaping out of the way trying to save his own life. Turns out it was another one of the seemingly deserted checkpoints we’d come across in our travels, except this one was manned. The guy came at us with no warning, he just stood in the middle of the road with an old Nokia phone using the screen to try and pull us over. He didn’t even have a torch.

My friend Kain started to slow down, but I yelled at him to drive and don’t stop. We got a kilometre or two away, turned hard right off the road into the desert and killed the lights. We drove as far as we possibly could off the road, looking for signs of anyone following the whole time, then decided to sleep where we were. Luckily for us, the guy had no car and couldn’t pursue us, so he just had to watch us disappear into the darkness of the night.

Every day was something new and outrageous. Coupled with some pretty amazing waves, non-stop camping and adventure, Western Sahara was one of the more memorable surf trips I have ever been on and luckily everyone managed to make it out.

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Check out more from Dane on his Instagram @holidayfromwhere or on or his website here.

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