Day 3 |
Sep 18, 2012

 Dakla, Western Sahara 

By Patricia Silva Rodriguez, Ornithologist


Co-ordinates: 23º 39’N, 15º 57’W
Weather: clear sky and no wind
Air Temperature: 18ºC, 64ºF
Pressure: 1018 hPa
Wind:19.27 km/h

It was a nice morning as Silver Explorer rounded the Punta Durnford and entered the large Bahia de Villa Cisneros, sheltered by a long sand spit. The new pier, built with funds from Morocco, is basically a fishing harbour and many colourful vessels were tied up along one of the jetties.

At 10.00 am our onboard Anthropologist Olga Stavrakis gave a lecture entitled “Great Civilization of the Sahara” which was very well attended and hit on many interesting topics.

In the harbour a couple of larger fishing vessels were on the same pier as Silver Explorer; their catch of sardine was in evidence and great gushes of water cleaned down the equipment. Some of the fishing boats were of the conventional type while others were reminiscent of Arab Dhows – made of wooden planks with a very high prow. All they needed was a sail!

After lunch, 23 comfortable 4x4 cars met us and we took off for our visit to this little-known part of Africa. Cars, trucks and the occasional donkey cart mingled on the outskirts of the town. The new buildings were mostly painted in muted shades of salmony pink, dusty beige and terracotta. There were many small pavement cafés but the shops were mostly shut as we drove out towards the head of the bay. Red Moroccan flags with a central green star decorated many of the buildings along the palm-lined wide main street.

Boys and men were dressed in typical, flowing, traditional dress for men in the Sahara, called a Darra. Women in the street were all decently covered in their traditional way called a Malhafa. Out of the sand rose all these tunnels growing tomatoes for the European market. It was an enormous operation and 30 tonnes a day are produced! Seems a lot for me. All the water comes from the desalination plant outside the town.

The cars stopped at the White Lagoon, our destination after an hour and a half driving. A group of large tents had been set up on the desert and I could see tables covered with glasses, soft drinks and other things too distant to make out. I was impatient to see what it was all about! Everyone followed the invitation to go into the tent for refreshments and to see the dancers and singers. Hot sweet tea was being served with the most delicious Moroccan sweetmeats. Cushions hugged the tent walls and carpets covered the floor. Ladies were playing typical music and would occasionally burst into an ululating sound. Also beautiful art crafts and souvenirs were display by the locals.

It was fascinating looking their favorite sport – kite-surfing. It is apparently one of the very best places, as the wind blows at a steady 80 kilometers per hour or about 25 knots near the camp.

My birding tour set off to join their 4x4s at 4.30 hrs to start a short trip to look for birds. Three or four guests were on each vehicle and we travelled a few minutes along the coast. The first stop was made to admire the stark sandy scenery and the Greater Flamingos and African spoonbills; it was a very low tide though, and the birds were far away. We saw Caspian Terns (the largest tern in the world) soaring over the water, a few tiny Sanderlings (the smallest wading bird), Flocks of gulls – young and adult Lesser Black-backed gulls as well as a small flock of Ruddy Turnstones. We walked into the mud to take closer pictures of the birds and after that we returned to the camp. What a fantastic desert experience!!

We returned to the ship in the evening and Silver Explorer set sail for two days at sea before reaching our next port. I don’t know but somehow the afternoon flew by and in no time we were all in The Restaurant enjoying another fine dinner onboard.