Deserts are not that inspiring anymore

The issue of the Western Sahara has long been a central topic of the political debate in Spain’s foreign affairs. Here’s a vague summary of what happened: it was once a Spanish colony and in the 70s, Morocco, taking advantage of Spain’s instability after Franco’s death, invaded the territory (which they claim to be theirs). The Western Sahara is not recognized as a legitimate part of Morocco by most of the international community (except by the US, surprise!) but Rabat continues to occupy it and sending Moroccan settlers. For a while, Spain had been opposed to the Moroccan occupation, however, in 2022 Madrid changed its position and declared that the best option for the Western Sahara is to become a part of Morocco. I had long wanted to travel to the region, but due to the previous tensions between Spain and Morocco, visiting the territory was a high-risk task for Spanish journalists, as they were often prosecuted and expelled. With the policy change, I finally had a chance to visit the Western Sahara.

I spent around three weeks non-stop organizing my trip: the script for the video, the research for my article and the itinerary across the dangerous region. I decided to fly to Morocco and then move by bus towards the occupied territories. I wanted to see how everything changes — the landscape, the people, the level of development…everything. Starting from Agadir, I made my way down to Tiznit. Then, I continued on to Tarfaya, the last Moroccan village before entering the Western Sahara. The village seemed dead, completely swollen by the desert sand. The people, although friendly, seemed to be living in a complete different reality. The level of development in terms of infrastructure could be compared to that of parts of West Africa — it lowkey reminded me the small towns of The Gambia. I still was not sure of what I was about to do — Spanish journalists have been heavily prosecuted in the Western Sahara. I had a full alibi prepared pretending that I was going to the beaches of Dakhla to surf, however, a quick search on the Internet would show them that I work for a media outlet that has heavily criticized Morocco in the past. I was scared, but with determination, I jumped on the bus that headed South, towards the capital of the Western Sahara.

I was born and raised in a very green region in Spain. It is one of the areas where it rains the most in all of Europe and I grew up walking across forests and hiking in environments full of mounts with trees and dense vegetation. I still remember my reaction when I first traveled to Madrid — seeing the Central Spanish plains for the first time was a shock for me. I just could not believe how regardless of where I looked I could not see any mountains or trees. That is why since I was little I have always been fascinated by deserts. Big chunks of land full of sand, rocks and nothing else. Big, dry plains where it never rains. It just seemed surreal in my imaginary. Part of my devotion for the Western Saharan issue was precisely because of this — deep in me I found the desert to be an exotic place, a landscape that I had to check out by myself. As the bus entered Western Sahara, all I could see was precisely that — kilometers of nothing. A long, arid and rocky plain which was only interrupted by the sea, electricity poles and police huts. During the journey, I could see some of the memories of the war as well — cars destroyed by landmines (it is not recommended to walk across the desert as the presence of mines is quite big), abandoned huts with bullet holes…etc. And that continued on for hours.

It was only after my third bus across the desert that I started rethinking my stance on the beauty of deserts. However, it was not because of the monotony of the landscape or me having enough of it — it was rather because of what that part of the Sahara Desert had been through. After weeks of researching the horrors that happened in the region, I was now crossing the desert where all of that had taken place. The desert was a perfect metaphor of war: destruction, emptiness, desolation, hunger and a big void. Everything was now clicking in some way. I was unintentionally linking the historical event (war) to the landscape (desert). It felt bad to be surprised by the vastness of the Sahara where so many tragedies had taken place. It is hard to explain how I felt during my trip — it was a combination of fear, sadness and impotence, which traveled with me across the arid plains of the Sahara. The sunset became the only moment when I could think about the beauty of the nature that surrounded me without linking it to something inherently negative.

Humans are so arrogant that they will fight for the most useless piece of land on Earth. We have the capacity to wage war on regions just because the existence of some natural resources in them, without caring about the people that inhabit in it. We would rather kill and force thousands into exile rather than losing control over a wealthy industry. This is the reality of the Western Sahara — the prove that war can come to the most remote places on Earth. I decided to fly back to Europe directly from Dakhla instead of crossing the desert back to Morocco. I told everyone that the reason behind this decision was to avoid more police checkpoints. To be fair, it was not the only reason. I just did not want to traverse again the desert where everything happened. It was enough sadness for me in one trip, after all, deserts were not that inspiring for me anymore.

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