Helen Lloyd recounts the Western Sahara leg of her UK to Cape Town cycle tour. She’s using the trip to raise money for the Welbodi Partnership in Sierra Leone. Learn more at her website, Take On Africa.

It took six days to cross the Western Sahara by bicycle. In the 900km between Morocco and Mauritania in North Africa there was a lot of sand and not much more — what there was only added to the feeling of desolation this disputed territory evokes.


Bicycle in the Sahara

1. You feel very small and insignificant when you're surrounded only by the sand and the huge, blue desert sky.


Camels in a truck

2. The trans-Sahara road isn't the busiest, but we were passed regularly by trucks, overlanders, and traders. This load was one of the slightly more unusual. Camels are well adapted to crossing the desert and it seems this pair have truly mastered the art of Sahara travel.


Abandoned ship

3. The road across the Western Sahara follows the Atlantic coast. The feeling of abandonment extends even to the sea. This ship, like so many others, has run aground and now lies rusting and fading.


White desert sand

4. The desert comes in a variety of colours -- from dull grey, stony hammada, to sands in infinite tones of gold.


Tropic of Cancer road sign

5. Me and my bike in front of one of only a few road signs in the Western Sahara. At least we knew we were making progress south!


Mine warning sign, Western Sahara

6. Although a ceasefire agreement now exists between Morocco and the Algerian-backed Polisario, evidence of conflict still exists.


Deserted town

7. The Moroccan government has built towns in the Western Sahara and offers tax incentives to move there. It didn't appear to be working, though, as all these places were deserted.


Mosque, Western Sahara

8. Typical architecture of mosques in this region. Not many worshipers here yet since this one is in one of the derelict "towns."


Sandy road, Africa

9. The wind could be fierce. Fortunately, it usually blew in the same direction we were cycling. Occasionally though, it would whip across the road in snaking patterns and deposit into small dunes.


Abandoned building

10. One day we were fortunate to come across an abandoned building in the heat of the midday sun. We weren't the first to make use of it; there was a makeshift table and "chairs" already arranged in the corner of this graffitied room.


Bike through the window

11. View of my parked bike from the window of the derelict building in the photo above.


12. There was the occasional gas station with adjoining restaurant or a small roadside cafe where we could get a coke, omelet, and refill our water bottles -- a good thing.


13. The cycling could be very tedious, but I always looked forward to the end of the day, when the sun, a massive golden orb, would sink into the haze and below the horizon.

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