During my trip to both ends of the African continent, I did a fair amount of backpacking in Morocco. Part of it involved a bus ride from Marrakesh to El Aaiún (aka Laayoune) and a flight from Laayoune to Casablanca. If you don't know the history of Western Sahara, it's an interesting read on Wikipedia. Morocco occupies the part of Western Sahara that includes Laayoune and has several checkpoints along the road that leads down to Laayoune. During each stop, a police officer would scan the bus, see me (the only Westerner), ask for my passport, leave the bus, then come back five minutes later and give me my passport back. At the last checkpoint I had to get off the bus and they questioned me about why I was going to Laayoune, how long I was staying, what I'd be doing there, if I knew anyone there, etc. Eventually the main officer realized I was just a harmless guy backpacking around Morocco and started rattling off the names of large cities that he knew of in the US and which ones were state capitals. When he said Los Angeles was the capital of California and and Miami was the capital of Florida, it would've been easy for me to just nod in approval but I tried to correct him because I didn't know if this was actually some sort of test. It turned out to just be friendly banter and they let me get back on the bus. We made our way to Laayoune where I didn't have much time to explore because of an earlier incident during the bus ride (I'll explain later). I wasn't up for much exploring anyway after the bizarre checkpoint experience. So I ate lunch, walked around for a while, stopped at a cafe for a Coke, then headed to the airport.
Below is the string of flight reports about the Star Alliance itinerary I booked for the rest of the trip. This flight on Royal Air Maroc occurred between the Egyptair and Portugalia flights.
The airport in Laayoune is small, but very clean and orderly.
You can see the Royal Air Maroc check-in counter at the far end of the picture. They're the only airline that flies here.
There's a small cafe before security so I checked out what they had in the ice cream freezer and discovered the greatest novelty ice cream product ever invented, a KUBA NITO. No way I could pass up this Frankenstein half ice cream sandwich / half Crunch ice cream bar.
After Passport Control and security there's a small waiting area with a meager view of the tarmac. I was able to snap a pic of this Antonov-26B parked outside. Due to the aforementioned political status of Western Sahara there's a palpable UN presence in the city. It's not uncommon to see the ubiquitous white UN SUVs on the street.
Boarding was chaotic. Everyone basically crowds around the boarding pass check and pushes their way through, then walks outside. I'm not sure why all of that luggage was sitting outside. I only had a backpack and did not check any bags. I apologize for the low quality of these night shots outside. I took them on my phone and was snapping them quickly.
Before the flight I was wondering what kind of people would be on such a bizarre route. There seemed to be a decent amount of government/NGO types and maybe some business passengers, so they probably don't have a hard time filling this small first class section. There were also just regular locals traveling. I didn't see anyone else who appeared to be a Western backpacker.
The plane was almost completely full once boarding finally finished. We started taxiing at 19:10.
Shot of the cabin during flight.
They served us this full meal despite the flight being so short.
We made one stop in Agadir where passengers got on and off. We were wheels down in Agadir at 20:05 and started taxiing back to the runway at 20:40, a pretty quick turn. We were wheels down in Casablanca at 21:19. This marks the end of the flight portion of the report. Keep reading for a tourism bonus on Laayoune and the bus ride.
The landscape for most of the 18 hour bus ride from Marrakesh looked pretty much like this, although this was the only time I actually saw a group of camels milling around.
We made a few stops at rest areas like this one which were next to towns out in the middle of nowhere. Usually they'd last about 45 minutes. You can see our SUPR@TOURS bus parked outside and a bit of the ocean on the far left side of the picture. The bus was new and clean, but didn't have a bathroom.
This is a shot of a street near the rest area in the previous picture.
This is the road leading south from this particular rest area. There's a smattering of buildings around the town, but most of the drive was completely desolate.
The actual city of Laayoune was probably the strangest place I've ever been. It just didn't seem to have the buzz of a normal city.
A lot of the streets looked like this with a lot of closed doors and very few people around.
I saw a few of these rugged old Land Rovers which were pretty interesting.
As I mentioned earlier, we got behind schedule due to an incident during the middle of the bus ride. When we were going through the mountains just north of Bouizakarne we had to stop (along with dozens of other vehicles) for this shipping container that fell off its trailer and was blocking the road.
While we were sitting there waiting for something to happen, one of the most bizarre situations of my life occurred. A woman on the bus, who looked to be about 8 months pregnant, started screaming in pain. I still don't know what the deal was, whether she was about to actually have the baby or it was some other complication. Several women on the bus were attending to her and asked me to move from my seat near the back up to the front as they dealt with the situation. At first, I didn't understand what they were saying to me, but I responded in broken French and we were able to get on the same page. Eventually, our bus drove down past all the other stopped vehicles and met this ambulance (pictured below) that was somehow able to squeeze around the fallen container. A couple guys carried her off the bus, put her on a stretcher and wheeled her over to the ambulance. A couple women from the bus accompanied her as the ambulance set off back down the hill.
After a couple hours since we first stopped, this crane showed up. They decided to try pull the container forward and slip it off the trailer, then drag the trailer out of the way.
This is a video of one of the many attempts.
Eventually they did execute this plan and were able to free up at least one side of the road. I don't know what they ended up doing with the container that was now sitting on the road. We continued on and stopped outside the hospital in Bouizakarne to pick up one of the women who accompanied the pregnant lady.
Royal Air Maroc
El Aaiún - EUN
Casablanca - CMN
It's hard to compare this flight on such a quirky route to a normal flight, but overall I have no complaints. Our delay during boarding at Laayoune wasn't bad and we made a very quick turn at Agadir on our way to Casablanca. The food was a pleasant surprise as I wasn't expecting a full meal to begin with. I'd fly Royal Air Maroc again, especially on a route where they're the only option, haha.
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