When you sit in the window seat you can build an initial judgement of the city you’re about to embark in. You can see the greenery, the cars, the little-ant like people, the architecture. When you sit in the aisle however, you can only learn from what you casually read on Wikipedia the night before. In the case of arriving in Dakhla, I sat in the aisle, and as I took my first step off the plane and into the sunlight, my jaw dropped and I realised that “Holy shit. We’re in the desert, in the middle of nowhere”.
The first sight you see when you step off the special flight (currently it’s not possible to fly directly to the small southern city) is vast shades of tan and blue. Apart from one lonely building that says AEROPORT DAKHLA, there’s just tarmac, desert and a clear blue sky. When you’re used to living in Hertfordshire your whole life, sand is a rare sight that even “the amazing Brighton” can’t provide. Being flown and thrown into the Western Sahara makes you develop an empathy for all the small things the children in ‘Honey I Shrunk the Kids’ came across, slowly building a realisation within your tiny head that the world really is incredibly vast,full of ominous barren lands.
The whole two days there were spent essentially fuelling this realisation, with the majority of time invested sitting somewhat comfortably in land rovers for hours on a straight road, and then somewhat uncomfortably (I loved it really) off road following rocks with a subtle ‘x marks the spot’. When you’re hanging out the window like a happy Labrador,indulging in a cool breeze surrounded by nothing but the most beautiful representation of emptiness, everything becomes oddly serene, taking you to a place where only a cigarette and your thoughts seem necessary.
So what’s there to do in Dakhla? Kitesurfing and windsurfing are immensely popular on the sandy shores, attracting tourists from all over Europe seeking to revel in the empty,windy waters. Dakhla seems to be relatively unknown, which is why it attracts only the keenest of thrill-seeking individuals. The population is round about a humble 75,000 bodies (every source varies), though over the two days of walking through the centre, I’d imagine we saw less than 1% of these individuals, with the majority having been during prayer time at the Mosque. It feels like a bit of a ghost town,which only seems fitting for how vast and barren the desert actually is. I would hardly say this is a negative for anyone who has experienced the London Underground, and people are far, far more friendlier in Dakhla than most on the central line.
People were very friendly, which I think was aided by the fact that tourism is still very much a new thing. I always find in foreign countries Chinese people are considered intriguing, and I found more people wanted their picture with me than those who would let me take one of them. In a place like Dakhla, that’s really no surprise, where there’s very very few foreigners, let alone 169 European journalists and 1 Asian guy. Once you got past people’s intense staring,of which was purely down to curiosity rather than aggressive intentions, the locals were both welcoming and well, smiley.Considering it’s a city which seems to accept all, no matter their religious beliefs nor first language (French and Arabic are the main two), this is of little surprise.
The architecture was pretty surreal as well, reminding you of London’s Brutalist architecture with its very geometrical flat buildings, rarely taller than four floors high. The pastel colour scheme and random pink walls felt like the brainchild of someone who decided the grey walls were much too depressing, and that shades of cyan and red were more exciting. It all sort of worked though, as any ounce of colour and oddity would do so when you’re in the middle of the desert. No two parts of the town felt similar, and everything often felt dreamlike.
There’s plenty more to say about Dakhla from the oyster farms, the fishing environments and the colourful veils – Dakhla is a bit of a world wonder. Thanks very much to the tourism board for a surreal and beautiful trip.