dispatches aperture poste restante etcetera

Crossing the Sahara
By Gregg - 15 Jun, 1999

Page 4 of 8

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We were at the first border post for two hours. Besides pushing cars out of the sand, we spent the time setting up the GPS in the Nissan.

Finally, the last vehicle made it through. It was one of the big 'camions' and it had a hard time making it over the mound. As it struggled, a Mauritanian official drove right past the mound on the flat area—the barricade having been removed for him. The driver of the 'camion' said screw this and followed suit.

We started out again. Now with a Mauritanian escort—the French soldier in the lead vehicle. No roads, lots of soft sand, cars stuck repeatedly. We were heading southeast now, away from the coast and the temperature was rising. The Pajero had a thermometer and so we knew just how hot it was—48 deg C (118 deg F). But it didn't feel that hot. It's so dry in the desert that even pushing cars I didn't sweat much.

Some hours and about 60km later we came upon railroad tracks. The longest train in the world (3km) runs this route bringing minerals mined in Zouerat in Northern Mauritania to the coastal city of Nouadhibou (our destination).

We stopped and the Mauritanians haphazardly arranged themselves in the open space, facing Mecca and praying. In the distance we could hear the train. Sound travels far in the desert.

Soon thereafter we crossed the tracks and rolled up to the second border post. Again just a small shack. And again with the questions and the log book. A short distance later we reached the third and final border post. We'd reached Nouadhibou.

This last border post was crazy. There was a heavy military presence and a swarm of touts moved from car to car promoting their services. We still had two days of desert to cross—guides were needed for this stretch and of course a place to stay in Nouadhibou that night. For vehicle owners, much paperwork had to go through the channels of Mauritanian bureaucracy.

We filled out the notorious currency declaration forms and handed them in (one shack); went through customs (another shack); and were interogated by the police (a third shack). But not before we had met Abdellahi. Thierry and Roger had met Abdellahi on a previous visit—three years prior—and he remembered them.

Abdellahi runs an auberge (guest house) and he's a fixer. In other words he helps you get through all the hassles. We were finished with the chaos of the last border check in about twenty minutes—a process that can take as long as two hours.

The outskirts of Nouadhibou (pop. 200,000) were extremely poor. Shacks constructed of found materials scattered amongst desert marred by litter. But suddenly there's a new, wide, perfectly paved road. This is the new part of Nouadhibou rising from nouveau riche fishing money only in the past two years. Elaborate villas appearing amongst the more basic structures.

The center of town is a different story; donkey carts and congestion. We stopped at a money change shop to get some ouguiyas ('oogs' for short). The money was kept haphazardly in a drawer—various currencies mixed together. The guy behind the counter fished around for my money but couldn't come up with the exact denominations. Abdellahi would give me the difference later.

Heading back out to the new section of town, we settled in at Abdellahi's auberge—a simple but comfortable place. A guide—Mouhammed—was also there and we made arrangements with him for the continuance of the journey—two days across more desert to the Mauritanian capital of Nouakchott.




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

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"Henceforth I ask not good fortune; I myself am good fortune - Henceforth I whimper no more, postpone no more, need nothing - Done with indoor complaints, libraries, querulous criticisms - Strong and content I travel the open road."
-- Walt Whitman
  © 1999/2000 ~ Sit Tight Ben Hur.