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July-August 2010

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Weatherscapes

Western Sahara – Africa's Loneliest Corner

“Don't go into the Western Sahara,” more than one Moroccan (and a few guidebooks) told me during a recent trip to the country, “especially alone.” However, a large blank expanse on the backside of my Morocco map emblazoned with the words “Sahara Occidental”—showing a few roads and fewer towns—urged me to make the long drive.

After traversing Morocco's midsection, from the Algerian border to the Atlantic Coast, I made my way south to the city of Laayoune, the northernmost and most populous outpost in Western Sahara. From there I planned to head southeast to a small dot on the map called Guelta Zemmur, near the border with Mauritania and dead in the midriff of the Western Sahara. The conditions at Laayoune were clearly moderated by the city's proximity to the Atlantic. As I drove inland, however, the mild coastal temperament quickly became a memory as the subdued gave way to the savagely austere.

The landscape 50 miles inland reminded me of South America's Atacama Desert, the driest desert on the planet, which is characterized by swaths of earth almost completely devoid of vegetation.

ED DARACK is an independent writer and photographer. His latest book is Victory Point, published by The Penguin Group; visit his Web site at www.darack.com.

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