dispatches aperture poste restante etcetera

Crossing the Sahara
By Gregg - 15 Jun, 1999

Page 2 of 8

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There were just shy of thirty vehicles—Mauritanians in old Land Rovers, French guys in eurobangers (Mercedes, Renault, Peugeot), a couple of Mercedes 'camions' (oversized vans) and a Belgian guy riding a motorcycle—the Suzuki we'd seen earlier.

The vehicles were grouped and then queued and then requeued. Our passports were collected; to be held until the following day. French was the language amongst these folks but the Belgian biker spoke English.

His name was Tanguy and he had left Brussels about two months prior. His plan was to travel by motorcycle all the way to South Africa. Because of all the turmoil in Africa, this would mean travelling in the western part of the continent for the northern portion and then flying with his bike (perhaps from Benin to Ethiopia or Uganda) in order to continue south in the eastern part of the continent. And then he would put his bike on a boat to Rio and continue the journey to Los Angeles. I raised my eyebrows. And then, he said, on to Asia. Eventually he would come full circle. He was figuring on eighteen months.

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We brought the conversation back to the present—crossing the Sahara. For him probably one of the most arduous stretches of the whole trip as there is no road, at times deep sand, and the Mauritanian military officials can be a major hassle. I was surprised to hear that he had only bought the bike and learned to ride during the past year and had no experience riding on sand. (He had tried a bit for the first time in southern Morocco and had found it tough.)

I thought of the narrative I'd read recently, printed from the web before I'd left the States. It was writen by a guy who had attempted to cross the desert alone by motorcycle and had come harrowingly close to death when he couldn't find the next well. I told Tanguy about this and we agreed that the guy's big mistake was going it alone. Tanguy would try always to be with others. (The escorted convoy was only for the stretch across the Western Sahara to the border. In Mauritania, you were on your own.)

Shortly after noon we departed. A Moroccan military vehicle led the way. The military escort was deemed necessary for two reasons—to protect against attacks by the Polisario and to assure that vehicles don't stray from the path into the heavily mined surroundings.

After less than an hour of driving—north up the penninsula—we turned south to head down the coast and stopped at El Argoub. This was just a few dusty buildings housing a shop or two and the last chance to buy food and water for the next two days.

That whole first day was on paved road. But at times, the dunes encroached on the road and we had to detour around. Tanguy fell once injuring his ankle. The bike ended up on top of him and he would've been in trouble if no one was there to lift the bike. But two French guys in one of the 'camions' were there. They could relate being avid riders themselves. (One had ridden the Paris-Dakar Rally twice.) Later these guys would take Tanguy's gear making his bike much more manageable.

Because the road is paved, the vehicles spread out on this first stretch. In our capable 4x4's, we reached the regrouping point four hours after having left Dakhla. Then we waited. And waited. The last vehicles finally arrived 3-1/2 hours later. Fortunately, it wasn't hot; not what we expected from the desert—especially at this time of year. In fact, it was windy and as the sun went down, it got a bit chilly.

There was nothing to do but stand around and chat; and I didn't speak the language.




  Border Sketches
  The Mosque Alarm Clock
  Big Boys and Tonka Toys
Crossing the Sahara

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