The second leg of Simon Reeve's journey sees him dodge the Moroccan secret police in Western Sahara and travel on one of the world's longest trains.
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The Tropic of Cancer marks the northern border of the Tropics,
the most beautiful, brilliant, and blighted region of the world.
I've already travelled around the equator and the southern border of the Tropics,
but following the Tropic of Cancer will be my toughest journey yet.
This Tropic cuts through central America, the Caribbean,
North Africa, the kingdoms of Arabia, India,
and on through Asia, to finish in Hawaii.
It's 23,000 miles across deserts, rivers and mountains.
Along the way, I encounter extraordinary people,
and some of the most stunning landscapes on our planet.
This second leg of my journey will take me across North Africa.
I'm travelling east, more than 2,500 miles
across the Sahara, to Libya's border with Egypt.
It's a forgotten land of bitter conflict
and extraordinary natural beauty.
Thank you, my God.
As I journey east, I ride one of the longest trains in the world...
..learn the art of camel trading...
-What do you think about this one?
..and race across some of the most spectacular sand dunes on the planet.
I'm starting another leg of my journey around the Tropic of Cancer.
I'm next to the Atlantic Ocean in the little-known land
of Western Sahara and, on this bit of the trip,
I'm travelling across North Africa.
One of the most sparsely populated countries in the world,
Western Sahara is mostly windswept desert.
But a few hardy travellers do make it out here.
The windy conditions are perfect for learning to fly.
Simon, you're welcome in my secret place,
I hope you will like it for this.
I hope I'll like it, I just hope I'll survive!
Present your kite, man.
'Aziz Oakhrin agreed to give me a crash course in kite surfing.'
-..kite surfer man.
-Kite surfing man like you.
-Yeah? Like me.
-A champion, a champion.
-You will be more than me.
Aziz, you remember I've never done this before.
'It usually takes several days to get good enough to stand on a board
'but Aziz reckoned he could at least teach me to bodysurf.
'I wasn't so sure.'
-Aziz, I feel like you're holding on to me.
-For dear life.
Not, no, no.
Aziz, I feel like you've let go!
-OK, let go your bar, let go your bar.
-Let go of the bar.
-Let's try again.
Yeah. Left side.
-Left side up.
-Just when you pull, push then, push then, push. Yeah.
Slow, slow, yeah.
-The power in this!
How the hell are you supposed to do this when you're in the water?
Yeah, yeah, yeah, we'll see.
OK, well, at least I'm keeping it up.
-Up, yeah. OK, good.
'It was time to brave the ocean.
'The powerful winds can take these guys 50 feet into the air.
'I was just worried about being dragged out to sea.'
-Here we go.
-Come in before you...
You can start now.
Like you swim and your legs behind you,
like you are swimming, yes. More up, more up.
Yes. Not so strong your hand.
'It was great fun, but sadly I was rather lacking in natural skill.'
We're going to break him!
Just along the coast is one of Western Sahara's few towns,
Dakhla, almost bang on the Tropic of Cancer.
This remote outpost, an edge of the world sort of place,
was founded by Spanish settlers in the 16th century, and
it later became one of Spain's many colonies throughout the Tropics.
When the Spanish finally left Western Sahara in 1975,
the Moroccans moved in from the north,
claiming the territory had originally belonged to them.
There was a bitter and bloody war between the Moroccans
and a guerrilla army made up of the indigenous Saharawi people
who wanted Western Sahara to be an independent country.
The Moroccans won and annexed Western Sahara.
But should it be part of Morocco?
My Moroccan guide in Dakhla, Aziz Rafiq, has no doubts.
Aziz, I'm a bit confused.
Are we in...are we in Western Sahara or are we in Morocco?
Yeah, we are in Morocco in a city called Dakhla,
which is situated in the south of Morocco.
So, where we are now, for you, this is Morocco?
Yeah, this is Morocco.
OK. So what is this place Western Sahara then?
It sounds like then it's...it's a colony of Morocco's.
Yeah, it used to be a colony, but now it's Moroccan territory.
And, so, what's drawing Moroccans south from the cities in the north,
what's drawing them down here to Western Sahara, to Dakhla?
Many activities, especially the sea, the ocean.
Tens of thousands of Moroccan settlers have now moved here,
drawn by the lure of jobs, especially in the fishing industry.
The fishermen have settled all along the coast of Western Sahara.
Vast quantities of fish are drawn to the warm, Tropical waters off the coast,
and settlers are also offered tax breaks by the Moroccan government
if they move down here.
Aziz arranged for us to go out to sea with a Moroccan fisherman.
We're going to sea, mate, we're going to sea.
Yeah, we're out at sea.
Abdul Haq is one of the thousands who've moved down here from the north.
What brought you to Dakhla, why did you want to come here?
Was it for the work, was it for the fishing?
TRANSLATION: Yes, I came to Dakhla to work.
I had a brother who was serving here in the army.
My brother's a soldier. I came to stay with him here
and I started to work as a fisherman.
Many countries around the world seem to view Western Sahara
as being a colony of Morocco.
Do you see this being part of Morocco the country?
Well, the Sahara is Morocco. Why?
Because, when you look into history, you'll see that those who say
this is Western Sahara rather than Moroccan Sahara are wrong.
It is 100% Moroccan.
As Moroccans, we are here in our own country.
This land does not belong to foreigners, it belongs to us.
It is the homeland of our ancestors.
'It's also a very lucrative area.
'On a good day, a single boat can bring in up to 200 kilos of octopus.'
You got one? Oh, look at that!
Not small either, is it? I was expecting it to be...
I was expecting it to be a small one.
Oh, you poor thing.
'Once caught, the octopus are frozen for export to Europe and Japan.
'It's hardly surprising Morocco was so keen to stake its claim to Western Sahara.
'The fishing industry here is worth tens of millions of pounds each year in export earnings.
'The Moroccans are determined to keep hold of Western Sahara.
'But they maintain control with a heavy police and military presence
'and wherever I went I was followed by plain-clothes secret police.
'Many of the local Saharawi people have fled into exile since the Moroccans took over.
'Those who are left now claim they've been sidelined in their own land
'by what they say is an illegal occupation.
'In order to meet up with some of these Saharawis,
'we had to give our guide and the secret police the slip.'
We've heard one side of the story of Western Sahara so far.
So, we've rented a car and we're heading off now
to try and meet up with some people
who can tell us the other side, the Saharawi side.
And we're desperately trying to avoid being followed,
really to avoid getting anybody else into trouble.
So we only know the first name of the person
that we're going to be meeting.
And we're going to be meeting them, I think, in this petrol station,
so I think we're just going to pull in here...
..and wait for them to come and find us really.
I think over here in the darkness, don't you?
Let's go over there, there's a...
Here we go, we're slightly just on the edge of the petrol station,
this is quite nerve-racking, actually.
So, I'm just going to send a text message to our contact,
and hopefully they'll come and find us and take us to a meeting.
There's cars driving around.
MAN: This is them.
-Do you think?
That's him. OK, let's go.
-That's him, that's him.
-Are you sure?
Put on your lights, yeah, put on your lights. That's him, I'm sure.
OK, OK, that's him there. OK, let's go.
So, we're now in the back streets of Dakhla.
God only knows where he's leading us.
I'll tell you, this is quite tense business.
-We're going to stop over here.
-Ah, switch off.
'Our contact, Rashid, who campaigns for the human rights of the Saharawi people,
'had led us to a safe house where other activists were hiding.
'Rashid says he's prepared to risk arrest, or worse, at the hands
'of the Moroccan authorities to tell his story to the outside world.'
Finally get to see you in some light. Shukran, shukran.
Well, the Moroccans say that this is Morocco.
They say that this is Moroccan land.
Who do you say this land belongs to?
HE SPEAKS IN HIS NATIVE TONGUE
TRANSLATION: What we have to say about the Moroccans
is that, as everybody knows,
they came to this country and occupied it in 1975.
We're still asking for our independence, no more, and no less.
There's a lot of oppression here. The secret police are everywhere.
There's no freedom of speech.
We can't campaign for independence openly.
We can't even raise the Saharawi flag
or talk about the history of the Saharawi people.
'Morocco has been accused of committing human rights abuses in Western Sahara,
'and Rashid said he had been picked up by the police and beaten
'for attending a human rights convention a few weeks previously.
'All the activists had stories about police brutality.'
So, these are photos of BLEEP here.
Some really, really quite severe bruising on his body.
I mean, here you can see bad bruising
and what looks like almost whip marks or beating marks on his back,
and bad bruising on the back of his legs here.
Very bad bruising here.
'I couldn't verify their stories but a recent report by Human Rights Watch
'accused the Moroccan authorities of using arbitrary arrest, violence
'and harassment against activists like Rashid and his friends.
'And after we met him, Rashid says he was
'questioned about talking to us and severely beaten by Moroccan police.
'Then, last October, Rashid and other activists were arrested again.
'Amnesty International has described their imprisonment
'as a serious attack on freedom of expression.'
'The Moroccan government wouldn't comment on Rashid's case,
'but, in the past, they denied widespread police abuses
'and defended their human rights record.
'Following the Tropic of Cancer was showing me this forgotten conflict.
'I wanted to follow the Tropic east,
'to where more than 100,000 Saharawi refugees are living in desert camps.
'But, to get there, I had to embark on a dangerous diversion that
'took me deep into the Sahara.
'First, though, it was time for a stop on the Tropic.'
We're basically very close to it now.
It doesn't look as though anybody has marked it here
with a little Tropic of Cancer monument, unfortunately.
-It says it!
Hey. Right by the road.
Come on, let's go and have a look.
I actually find it quite exciting
because this is quite a nice simple sign.
It's not a big flashy thing, it's not a big tourist resort here
in the middle of the desert, as far as we can see.
But it says what it is. This is the Tropic of Cancer.
This is it.
I'm following the Tropic of Cancer east,
but I can't do that here
because the Moroccans have built a vast fortified wall through
Western Sahara, and surrounded it with millions of land mines.
It divides Moroccan-controlled territory from the area
held by the Polisario, the Saharawis' independence movement.
To get to the Saharawi refugee camps,
we have to head south to Mauritania, to go around the wall.
They really have got the kitchen sink up there. Look at all that!
So, this looks like the border
between Morocco and Mauritania just up ahead.
We can't really film at borders, but you can see the flags fluttering
and it looks like we're going to be
leaving this country and heading on to our next.
'But, before entering Mauritania,
'we had to cross three miles of no-man's land.'
'We had a new driver and a new guide, Mauritanian journalist Hamdi El Hassan.
'This stretch of no-man's land was also heavily mined by the Moroccans
'to prevent the Mauritanians from seizing any of Western Sahara.'
Just up ahead, there's a sort of graveyard, really,
for cars that have been blown up by mines as they pass through the area.
'Few vehicles make this crossing,
'and the route has still not been cleared of mines.
'We were trusting our lives to a driver we'd only just met,
'and relying on his local knowledge to get us across the minefield.'
I think... Is our driver asking which way to go?
That's a bit frightening.
THEY SPEAK IN THEIR NATIVE TONGUE
Hamdi, does he...does he know where we're going?
No, he doesn't know, but I know.
So, just up ahead, we're finally coming to the gates of Mauritania.
And, honestly, never have I been so glad to see a border post.
Nouadhibou is the second city of Mauritania,
an Islamic state and former French colony.
It's south of the Tropic of Cancer which roughly divides
Arabic North Africa from sub-Saharan black Africa.
From here, an 18-hour train ride would take us to the northern city
of Zouerat and back towards the Saharawi refugee camps.
We stopped by the market to pick up some fuel for the journey
and got a flavour of the culture in this little-known country.
I think we should get some fruit.
We could get some tins of stuff.
So, we just want some normal dates from these young gentlemen.
Get your fingers in there!
You need to get, what? A scarf, a turban?
Scarf and a boubou maybe.
-A gown that most of the people here wear.
Either you take this one, which is not
decorated in such a way, or keep it...
SHE SPEAKS IN HER NATIVE TONGUE
-We don't have any problems here.
Mauritania has lots of wealth.
We have camels, we have goats, we have cattle, we eat day and night.
We have our breakfast, we have our lunch, we eat several times a day.
We are very fat. I have a big belly because I'm eating well.
So no problem here in Mauritania.
-She seemed quite proud, almost, of her size.
You know, it belongs to Mauritanian beauty culture
that the women should be fat here in the country.
Hamdi, what do you prefer then,
do you prefer a slim woman or a big woman?
I like a fat woman, not too fat, overweight, but I like fat woman,
because you have just to use your wisdom.
When you are touching bones,
you are as if touching rocks or stones.
Whereas, when you are touching a fat woman, you are touching smooth flesh
and a little bit, something that is a little bit exciting.
Let me explain you one issue.
She's beautiful when she has big buttocks and big...
Is that what you're after!
THEY LAUGH This is the culture.
'But women's weight has been a serious issue in Mauritania.
'In a country where size can equal status and desirability,
'there has been a tradition of force-feeding young girls
'to fatten them up and improve their marriage prospects.
'The practice still persists in more remote parts of the country.'
We've got to the train station,
well, it's not really a station, it's...a siding.
And we need to get our bags onto the train fairly quick.
Hamdi, why don't you go up and we'll pass them up to you?
Yeah, no problem. No problem, I'll be there.
We've got one or two bags.
This is tools kit from the BBC.
Again, the driver is helpful.
Again, again, it's a long queue of baggage,
the BBC has a lot of luggages, like this long train.
The train transports iron ore
from mines in Mauritania's desolate interior,
and we were allowed to hitch a ride.
So, these are empty at the moment
because they're heading back towards the mine.
But, when they come back,
this is what they're carrying.
This is the iron ore, this is what it's all about.
This is what makes our, our cars, our washing machines eventually, or whatever.
TRAIN HORN BELLOWS
Oh, we've got to get back on the train!
The train's going.
But that's what everyone's after and we're seeing...
Hurry up, hurry up!
HAMDI SPEAKS IN HIS NATIVE TONGUE
Come on, come on, come on, get up, get the camera. OK.
So, just over there, that's the front of the train, we're at the back,
and the rest of it is snaking around in a giant arc ahead of us.
'With more than 200 wagons, stretching for nearly two miles,
'this train is one of the longest in the world.'
'Travelling north-east to Zouerat, close to the Tropic of Cancer,
'the train skirts around the border of Western Sahara,
'taking us safely around the danger zone
'and on to the other side of Morocco's sand wall.
'Trundling along for more than 400 miles into the night,
'we were squashed together in a small passenger compartment.
'Hamdi prepared our feast.'
This is juice, and this is chong fish.
-Chong, what did you say?
-I think the tuna is a good bet.
-Tuna is a bad word in Mauritania.
-A bad word?
-A bad word.
-What does it mean in Mauritanian?
-The feminine part of the woman.
It means the what? The family part of the woman?
-Tuna. Oh, dear.
-Ah, pay attention, don't repeat that again.
-Don't say it.
-I like fish, I like fish, I like fish, I like fish.
You like some tuna?
Pay attention, don't repeat that again.
-I don't like this oil, I like just fish.
-All right, sing us another song, though.
Hurry up, hurry up, please, all right, please.
All right, I going as fast as I can, you dictator.
-See on your back, please hide it.
Hide your back.
Stop looking at my buttocks! You leave my buttocks out of this.
Like a wall, no flesh at all. THEY LAUGH
This is...I am already like a fisherman.
-I've got three sardines.
-Listen, you can't have them all.
In the core of my bread loaf, this is a great deal.
No, you can't, put some back. Put some back. Put a fish back.
No, no, no. I can provide you as a gift this iron empty can
to provide it to the UK,
and put it as a sacred relic somewhere in your bedroom.
I'm very hurt, Hamdi, that you're not sharing them.
So, Hamdi is eating all the sardines.
That's all we've got, Hamdi.
I know you've already your empty can, this is enough for you.
Mauritania doesn't have much in the way of industry.
But what it does have is iron ore
which accounts for an incredible 40% of the country's exports.
The desert town of Zouerat has sprung up around the mines in this area.
'We said goodbye to Hamdi, who had to return home to the coast,
'and we were heading on into the desert with Rob Watt,
'a security adviser, because of the threat of kidnap
'by Islamic militants linked to Al-Qaeda.'
So, Rob, how far have we got to go now?
-Today, we're doing about 500km off-road.
We'll be stopping for a couple of days
and then about another 450 after that.
So, from London to Aberdeen,
without any roads.
Put those in the front.
A former Scotland Yard detective, Rob has a passion for Mauritania,
and has worked here on and off for nearly 30 years.
The reason we're racing is because we're hoping to get to a little
village, a little community, it's almost just a dot on the map,
in Western Sahara,
where tomorrow they should be having Independence Day celebrations.
Here we go.
-We're now on dirt and dust for a few miles, hey, Rob?
Yeah, no motorway service stations along here.
'Few travellers enter this endless and lawless wilderness
'where there are no roads and no border posts.
'We were hoping to spend the night camping by one of the few
'settlements in this emptiness, a place called Bir Morgrein.'
So, we're making reasonably good progress
and we're heading in this direction, so we're pretty much bang on course.
-What we need to do tonight is, before it gets dark,
we do not want to be camping out in this,
because the wind blows from Libya, it goes straight across.
We do not want to be camping out. So in about 45 minutes,
we need to start really looking for somewhere to camp,
somewhere a bit more sheltered.
I think this is where we're going to stop for the night.
'We hadn't got as far as we'd hoped, but it was getting dark
'and we had to stop,
'taking what shelter we could from some acacia trees.'
I'm not convinced this is going to work.
Genius, genius! All right, take it all back, it's a brilliant idea.
'Kadi, our most experienced driver, took charge of setting up camp.'
Kadi, is this for fire?
Yes, yes, fire is.
Hot embers in the sand cooked the bread.
Wow, look, it's really hot, baking hot.
Straight out of the sand.
Kadi, it's fantastic.
'And then, suddenly, a Tuareg nomad emerged from the darkness,
'drawn to our camp by the glow of our fire.
'The nomadic code in the barren desert is to share whatever food
'you have with passing strangers.'
ENGINE TURNS OVER
'We left before sunrise, and headed towards Western Sahara
'to meet up with the Polisario, the Saharawi independence movement.'
A rollercoaster ride, this one.
And there's the road, there's a track over there.
'There are no formal marks for the border between northern Mauritania
'and this part of Western Sahara,
'but we were told the root we were taking hadn't been travelled by westerners for decades.
'Finally, we arrived at a Polisario military base in the middle of the desert.'
HE SHOUTS COMMANDS
When the Spanish left Western Sahara in 1975,
Moroccan troops flooded in, claiming the territory as theirs.
The Polisario, formed from the local Saharawi tribes, resisted,
and declared an independent republic.
A brutal war ensued,
until a UN-sponsored ceasefire was declared in 1991.
There's been sporadic fighting since, and the Polisario say
they maintain a standing army here of more than 20,000 soldiers.
There's no formal rank in the Polisario army,
but Fadely Larossi is the equivalent of a colonel.
Where did you grow up, where were you born?
I born in Laayoune.
In Laayoune, occupied today by Morocco, yeah?
That is in 1954.
I went to Madrid for the university there.
I was obliged to join the Polisario for fighting because,
at that time Morocco enter, and I sacrifice my study.
-You wanted to fight?
-By that time you are very young,
so we want to fight and so I chose the army.
But very good also.
We travelled with Fadely back to the refugee camps at Tindouf
in neighbouring Algeria, where he lives
with thousands of other Saharawis.
Our route took us close to the sand and stone fortified wall
built by Morocco that divides Western Sahara in two.
It also divides many Saharawi families,
caught on opposite sides of it after the war.
'The Moroccans have spent years building these fortifications,
'1,700 miles long, which snake across the empty desert.
'The wall is manned by around 120,000 Moroccan troops,
'defending territory which they claim is their own province.
'The area along the wall has been turned into the most heavily
'landmined region of the planet, so we couldn't get too close.'
So, Fadely, this is the Berm, just along the horizon?
Yeah. This is the Berm, the Shame Berm.
Why do you call this the Berm Of Shame?
Is dividing families, one family you will find some son there,
some daughter here, some mother there, father here.
In my case, for example, since 1975, I never have seen my father,
my daughter...my brother, my sister,
all of them, until 2005, for five days.
Under a special United Nations programme,
Fadely was flown to the other side of the wall
for a brief meeting with his father, who he hadn't seen for 30 years.
-How old is your father now?
-Very old man, very old man.
What are the chances that the wall is going to come down
and that you'll get to see him again?
I don't know, this is...
this is my destiny, you know.
It's very difficult for him and for me,
but this is our destiny, we cannot, you can't imagine.
This is...in my case, there are plenty of Saharawi the same thing.
Hours more driving took us across the border into southern Algeria,
to the refugee camps in Tindouf where Saharawis fled after the war.
More than 100,000 displaced Saharawis live in these camps.
Morocco says they could return to Western Sahara at any time.
But these refugees are fearful of what would happen to them under Moroccan rule.
The following evening, Fadely invited us to meet his wife
and children at his home in the camp.
Fadely! Hello, mate.
-How are you?
Lovely to see you. Thank you for inviting us over.
Very well, I am glad and happy to see you at my home.
Come in, please.
When they grow up, do you think they're going to grow up here
or do you think they'll be, when they are adults, do you think they'll grow up in...
-I hope, I hope...
-..in Western Sahara?
I hope, I hope, as all of the wish of all the Saharawi,
to be growing in his homeland.
Now is six year here in the exile,
so I want the rest of his life to be in his homeland.
My children and I, their grandfather is in Laayoune, all of their family
there, because in the exile are just me and my sister.
So, my son and my daughter, all of them they are very interested
to one day to see their grandfather or their uncles.
They never has seen them.
But there's little sign of a solution here.
Morocco has offered a degree of autonomy to Western Sahara,
but the Polisario want full independence.
Without more help from the outside world, I wonder
whether Fadely will ever be reunited with the rest of his family.
'After a week in the desert, it was time to continue my journey along the Tropic of Cancer.
'That meant catching an internal flight across Algeria.'
Algeria's about five times the size of France.
We're going to fly over part of it now and get back on the Tropic of Cancer.
But our flight is at three o'clock in the morning.
Apparently, it's because the Algerian government
doesn't want people flying during daylight hours,
so they don't see secret military installations on the ground.
I was heading for Tamanrasset,
an ancient city on the edge of the Sahara desert.
'We finally arrived at five in the morning.'
OK, we're off again.
'During the 1990s, tens of thousands of people died in Algeria
'during a bloody civil war between the army and Islamic militants.
'The war's now over, but there's still a threat from suicide bombers
'linked to Al-Qaeda and, as foreigners, we were given a police escort from the airport.'
But Tamanrasset seemed peaceful enough.
The city is a crossroads in the desert and, for centuries, it's been
an important trading post for the nomadic Tuareg people of the Sahara.
'Said Chitour was going to be my guide in Algeria.'
Where have you brought us today?
To the camel market.
And this is the biggest one in the area, in the region.
It's a junction in the middle of the desert, middle of nowhere, really,
it's the middle of the Sahara.
And it's the place where basically there is a big transaction going on and trades of the camels.
And here they are. Bloody hell, look at how many!
'Said took me to meet Brahim Yaya, one of the most successful Tuareg camel dealers in the Sahara.'
Oh. Oh, I don't like it when camels look at us.
Brahim, can we ask you, you're a camel breeder and a camel trader?
Is that correct?
-I have several hundred camels,
I'm one of the biggest breeders in Algeria.
So that makes you a very rich man?
Yes, yes. Because, for nomads all around the world,
wealth is not about owning banks or aeroplanes.
It's about having camels, livestock.
But you're a city man, you're not particularly happy around camels?
Yeah, you don't know how the reaction.
THEY SPEAK IN FRENCH
He needs to have big balls!
Can we ask you about this camel, what do you think about this one?
Good for breeding? Good for buying?
THEY SPEAK IN FRENCH
Yeah. He's not old.
-MAN SPEAKS IN FRENCH TRANSLATION:
When he was four, he only had two teeth.
And when he's six, he'll have six.
So come on, Brahim, are you tempted by this fine beast here, are you tempted to buy this one?
If you buy it for me I will accept. THEY LAUGH
In the age of the four-wheel drive,
camels aren't used a great deal as transport any more.
Most of these animals will be killed for their meat,
which is eaten across much of North Africa.
While camel caravans are now rare here,
Tamanrasset remains an important crossroads for other travellers
on an extraordinary journey out of the Tropics.
There's a lot of African faces on the streets of this town,
and they're mainly illegal immigrants from sub-Saharan Africa,
who are travelling north through Algeria, trying to get to Europe.
Up to 30,000 African migrants
are said to be in Tamanrasset at any one time.
Many of them have literally walked hundreds of miles across
the Sahara desert to get here.
But we couldn't stop to talk to them because we'd been warned
they would be arrested.
It's quite an extraordinary story, actually,
because, what they go through, what these guys, and they are mainly men,
go through on their journey, the suffering, the harassment,
they cross deserts, they cross mountains,
they're constantly facing the threat of arrest.
And they're aiming to reach the promised land, Europe,
the land of jobs and employment.
'Our next stop along the Tropic
'was the beautiful Algerian oasis town of Djanet.
'This used to be a tourist gateway
'for adventure holidays in the Sahara.'
-What does Djanet mean?
Jannat, from janna. Djanet.
So the actual name of the town means paradise?
Yeah. Paradise in Arabic.
'Said worked as a tour guide until 1992.
'But, when the civil war began, the tourists stopped coming.
'Said retrained as a journalist,
'assisting foreign correspondents who came to report on the conflict
'and the terrorism that still blights this country.'
Said, Algeria has a bit of an image problem, I think, doesn't it?
There's been another suicide bombing just in the last few days.
What is the security situation like at the moment here?
If I compare the situation, security situation today,
and yesterday which is during the last decades, black decades,
it was really, really seriously dangerous to come to Algeria.
-Tens of thousands have died here, haven't they?
That's quite extraordinary.
Yeah, Algerian people suffer.
You couldn't imagine how the Algerian people suffer from terror.
Nobody knows how Algerian, our people suffer here.
Mens and womens been innocent people, killed,
slaughtered, kidnapped, raped.
It was awful.
And do you think life is getting better in Algeria?
Can you imagine a day when you'll be able to stop hanging out with
journalists or TV crews like us, and you'll be able to go back to your old love
which was hanging out with tour groups
and taking people out to see the wildlife and nature of Algeria?
I dream really about it,
because I wish that one day the peace come back
totally in my country, and no more attacks, no more suicide bombers.
And then the people will live normally
as anybody around the world.
From Algeria, my root east took me towards another country
with a tarnished international image - Libya.
It was just a few hours' drive through some truly stunning scenery.
Relations between Libya and Algeria have long been tense,
and this border has been closed to foreigners for decades.
But, after endless negotiations,
the Libyan authorities had agreed to let us through.
Just a couple more hours of paperwork, and we were across, and
aiming for the Libyan town of Ghat, just north of the Tropic of Cancer.
First impressions were very positive.
Hello, my friend. Welcome to Libya.
Libya is very nice country.
Do you think we're going to have a good time here?
And we've arrived.
This is Libya.
This is the Acacous Tourist Hotel.
The gentleman behind me, though, is our government minder.
He looks like a mini Colonel Gaddafi.
Anyway, this is where we're staying tonight,
and then we start heading east.
DOOR BELL RINGS
Bloody hell. Broken the bloody door.
Look, well, if there's any doubt about where we are, the man himself.
I'll just fix the door.
'With guides and drivers, we'd picked up quite an entourage.'
This is Mr Tariq, who's travelling with us.
Mr Tariq is the money man.
And look how much money he's got.
That's how much I get.
Mr Ahmed's getting out more money.
Five dinars. And on that there's just a camel.
Well, thank you very much.
South west Libya has some of the most beautiful desert
in the entire Sahara.
It was time to head off-road.
And there was one place we just had to visit.
This is extraordinary.
This is like something from a dream almost. A lake in the desert.
You'd think you'd found paradise.
Maybe you have.
Even though it's a bone-dry ocean of sand,
there are vast reserves of water deep beneath parts of the Sahara.
Here, the water table reaches the surface to form an oasis,
the Ubari Lakes.
The water's salty and buoyant, like the Dead Sea.
-Can I ask you?
Has anybody told you that you look like Colonel Gaddafi?
-My, my grandfather before...
OK, back. Yes, yes, in Mecca, in Mecca.
-Yes. My grandfather and grandfather Gaddafi.
-So not only do you look like Colonel Gaddafi,
but you are related to Colonel Gaddafi.
Gaddafi. And we're going to go swimming together.
Swim's easy, very easy, Gaddafi.
-It's very easy?
-Yeah, I am, I'm Gaddafi same same in Libya.
-Same same, but different?
-Yeah, not, not different.
-Yes, I am Libyan, I am Gaddafi Libya. No problem.
-Is good. Excuse me.
-It's good, but it's cold.
Any crocodiles here? Snakes?
No, no, no, no, no, no, no.
No, no, no, no, no? Are you sure?
Yeah, very nice. In this.
Swim, swim, my friend. Swim.
-All right, whoa.
-It's all salty here.
-Sahara water, oh, my God, it's good country.
Yes. Sun and water,
And my friend, good friend.
Thank you, my God.
My journey through the Tropics takes me across the region of the planet
already bearing the brunt of global climate change.
Even out here, in the middle of the world's largest desert,
there's worrying evidence
of how humans are affecting the environment.
Some of the Ubari Lakes have mysteriously dried up.
Opinion seems to be divided about what's happened here.
Some scientists blame this on global climate change,
while others say that it's the result of farmers in this area
overusing the water supply from the ground water, so the pool of water
that exists deep underneath the ground across this entire area,
but, either way,
the result is a dead lake.
Water has always been one of the biggest issues
for the countries of North Africa that straddle the Sahara.
But the parched desert holds many surprises, as I would discover
as my journey took me on to the far south east of Libya,
and the biggest water project on Earth.
On the way, we passed through the city of Sabha.
It's only real claim to fame
is that it's where Colonel Gaddafi went to school.
Propped up by oil money,
he's ruled this country with an iron grip for more than 40 years.
Surly or smiling, in Libya you can't escape his domineering presence.
Apparently, this is the hut
where Colonel Gaddafi used to live
when he was a student in the city.
And they've immortalised it
here on a roundabout in the middle of the city.
Let's have a look inside.
Well, it's a simple little hut, as you can see.
But they've got a visitors' book here.
Just checking through it.
There's an entry here from somebody,
"Thank you very much for the visit to the historical place,
"and the opportunity to hear of the early life of Colonel Gaddafi.
"It is greatly appreciated." Robin Seeley, I think that looks like.
General? General Robin Seeley?
British Prime Minister's representative for defence and security matters.
Blimey. It's interesting, though, that he's been here,
because, in the last few years,
Libya's really been brought in from the cold.
Tony Blair came here,
lucky Libyans, as a reward for them
changing some of their policies on nuclear matters.
Ahmed? Can you call...
Can you call the Colonel?
-We need to get him on the phone.
Can you call the Colonel?
Not telephone, but...
-It doesn't work.
With endless desert stretching ahead of us,
we decided to enlist some help.
So we're heading south and east from here to a place called Al Kufra.
But, if we were to try and go overland, we wouldn't make it or it would take us months
because there's a giant sand sea between us and our destination.
So, instead, we're going to get a bit of help
and we're going to hop some of the way.
Our last stop on this leg would be the remote town of Al Kufra,
close to the border with Egypt.
'We headed straight back out into the desert.'
Looking around, it looks as though there's absolutely nothing here.
It's dry and it's arid.
But there's water out here.
My God, look at this!
What a sight.
The Great Man-made River Project
is one of the biggest engineering schemes ever undertaken.
It's described by Colonel Gaddafi
as the eighth wonder of the world and, for once, he might be right.
Water was first discovered beneath the desert in Al Kufra in the 1970s.
In the years since, the Libyans have begun building
a vast network of pipes across the desert.
When it's finished, this part of the project will pump
more than one billion gallons of water a day from aquifers,
vast underground lakes deep beneath the desert,
to Libya's growing coastal cities.
'The scale of this project is breathtaking.'
How much does each section of pipe weigh?
The weight of the pipe, 80 tonnes.
That's quite extraordinary to see,
because everything about this project is huge. It's colossal.
The number of pipes, the size of the sections,
the amount of water it will take, the length of the trench
and the length of the pipeline. It's extraordinary.
'They're working around clock here, but it will still take them
'another three years to complete this section of the pipeline.'
That's precision work, look at that.
Just imagine this, filled with water,
flowing that-a-way towards the cities on the coast.
This is just one branch of the Great Man-made River Pipeline Project.
And when it's all completed and connected up, the flow of water
heading towards the sea, heading towards the coast,
will be equivalent to the flow of the River Thames.
For all the justifiable criticism of Gadaffi's dictatorship,
the country's oil wealth hasn't been completely wasted.
Libyans are the wealthiest in Africa.
And this grand water project
is likely to be a huge benefit to this country for decades to come.
We've travelled from the Atlantic coast to here in south east Libya.
It's been a long, hard, but amazing trip.
East from here, that-a-way, is Egypt, and that'll be my next stop
when I'll be travelling from the River Nile to mysterious Oman.
'Next time, among the treasures of southern Egypt,
'I share a meal with some local Bedouin boys.'
I'm amazed they didn't get the bit that's in my mouth!
'From the underwater marvels of the Red Sea,
'I cross Saudi Arabia to Dubai.'
They're building the tallest building in the world.
'And head on to meet the wildlife on the edge of the Arabian peninsula.'
Simon Reeve continues his epic journey around the world following the Tropic of Cancer, the northern border of the tropics region.
The second leg of the journey sees Simon dodge the Moroccan secret police in Western Sahara, travel on one of the world's longest trains in Mauritania, visit a forgotten refugee camp in the Algerian desert where more than 100,000 people live, and take a swim in a Libyan oasis with a government minder who bears an uncanny resemblance to Colonel Gaddafi.
After travelling around the Tropic of Capricorn and the Equator, this series completes Simon's trilogy of journeys exploring the amazing tropics region with his toughest, longest, most ambitious challenge yet.