Country number: 59 (if it’s counted as Morocco)
Territory number: 220
When? November 2019, first leg, going on to Mauritania
‘For those of us who have actually been to Western Sahara, there is no question that it is an occupation.’
Professor Stephen Zunes, University of San Francisco
Woken by the sound of the muezzin. We’re on the same time as central Europe here, but on a more westerly latitude. The sky is full of cloud rolling in from the Atlantic, on these wintry mornings, so it’s dark until nine o’clock. The people in the shops are gloomy too – guide Khalil says it because they don’t like getting up when the weather is like this and often stay in bed until midday. I don’t notice that their mood improves as the day progresses.
Layounne is a small, very quiet, but up and coming town, surprisingly modern; there’s a lot of building work, streets being re-laid, pristine plate glass buildings and a huge palm decorated square with those sleek tent style canopies.
Crimson Moroccan flags flutter on most of the buildings and are draped across the facade of anything remotely civic. This is a sparsely populated country with few urban areas, but these are under development as Morocco strengthens its foothold. And this is the capital. (I’ve tried asking guides Khalil and Naji about politics,but as far as they’re concerned this is Morocco and they’ve never heard of any conflict or a dividing wall.)
The more traditional and much busier area, La Zone Populaire, is crammed with tiny booths, market stalls, fruit barrows and open air juice bars.
Dinner is a typical feast, a fried fish platter – a huge heap and very tasty indeed in an open fronted restaurant.. Then my new guides, Naji and Khalil, and I wander round a small community fair, jam-packed with locals. There’s a children’s’ carousel, a whirling waltzer and a brightly illuminated jump-and-smile, while all the passengers scream and ooh and ah. Next door a tented Arab market, stalls stuffed with trinkets, clothes and Turkish delight.