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Crossing the Sahara
By Gregg - 15 Jun, 1999

Page 8 of 8

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It was about 4:00 by the time we finally got through the second border post. Soon we were in deep sand and even the 4x4's were getting stuck. Tanguy was having a hard time and was concerned about keeping up. Thierry and Roger made it clear they were in a hurry.

For three hours we continued east and then southeast—in vast empty desert now—but we only covered 100km. Along the way we encountered a group from the convoy. They were moving more slowly so Tanguy stayed with them as we went ahead with his gear. Fortunately, he caught up with us at camp arriving just before nightfall.

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Camp was just two shacks in the middle of nowhere. We moved quickly to set up tents before dark; battling the winds. The French trio would sleep in the tents—Evelyn and I in the cars. Tanguy had a tent but the stakes wouldn't hold in the sand so he went in search of space in a car.

Just then a French guy and his Mauritanian guide arrived in a new, fully-decked out Toyota Land Crusier. We were surprised to see a foreigner arrive from the south as it's difficult (i.e. illegal) to leave Mauritania for Morocco. The vehicle was owned by French tourists who had driven it to Nouakchott. In Nouakchott it had been stolen. The guy now behind the wheel—apparently a veteran of these parts—had arranged to retrieve the vehicle—for a price—and was now returning it to its rightful owner.

Soon after the tents were set up we realized they were useless here. The sand was so fine that somehow it was getting inside—in large amounts. We inquired at one of the shacks—where the guides stay—and found that we could sleep in the second shack (a small lean-to with one open side). The French trio would sleep in the cars—Tanguy, Ev and I in the lean-to.

After an improvised dinner we joined others in the guide shack where we sampled camel milk and camel meat. A convoy of three battered Mercedes cars took off in the middle of the night to continue the journey.

We awoke the next morning to camels, a crescent moon and a rising sun. Quickly, the cars were packed and we were on the move by 6:30. Moving fast now across the desert—the surface was harder and we rarely got stuck. Great expanses of subtly changing desertscape. There's no horizon here—the land just kind of dissolves into the sky. The sky isn't blue or any particular color—it's more like gradients of gray to almost-blue.

We covered about 400km driving pretty much straight through for nine hours. Tanguy kept up the whole way. The route took us southeast and then south along the edge of the Parc National de Bank d'Arguin. About halfway along we reached the coast and there drove on the beach. We saw pelicans, herons and pink flamingos. We came across two vultures at the edge of the water. One was severely debilitated and the other was pecking it viciously. Roger spun the car around and got out—chased the healthy bird away. He picked up the ailing bird by its legs and wings and swung it repeatedly against the tire of the car putting it out of its misery.

We passed poor fishing outcrops consisting only of shacks, boats and fishing nets. During one break, Senegalese fishermen came along by boat and we traded them a bottle of water for some fish. Other Senegalese happened by on foot—hungry and thirsty—we gave them what we could.

There was only one real village along the way—Nouamghar. A surreal place of derelict shacks looking more like the Burning Man Festival (held each year in the Black Rock Desert of Nevada) than a village. Live electric music sounding like American blues wafted out of one of the shacks.

At about 3:00 we turned in off the beach, got stuck one last time, and arrived in Nouakchott—home to one third of Mauritania's three million people.

Tanguy, Evelyn and I took rooms at an auberge called La Rose. The French trio went elsewhere. We thought we might push on to Senegal the next day having heard nothing but bad things about Nouakchott. But we liked it there and stayed four nights—not rushing our tea.



 



 

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


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