madnomad.com dispatches aperture poste restante etcetera

Big Boys and Tonka Toys
By Evelyn - 16 Jun, 1999

Page 2 of 6

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I can appreciate desert beauty but up to that point, little of the scenery had captivated me enough to warrant a return visit. The terrain is a mix of gray rock and dust-like sand that resembles (what I imagine) the craterous surface of the moon. There must a kind of thrill in commanding your vehicle up, over and around these hilly dunes. I didn’t really get it.

A soldier in army fatigues and combat boots sat guard in his crude military outpost made of rock and hollowed by penetrating winds—another reminder of the inhospitable environment. We were about to cross the infamous no-man's land—6 kilometers of disputed territory between Morocco and Mauritania. It is riddled with landmines that are constantly relocating with the shifting dunes. Passing one twisted corrugated casualty, we were told this accident had happened not long ago. For that reason, each convoy is required to have a Mauritanian military escort across this stretch.

The 6 kilometers is slow-going because cars are constantly getting stuck in awkward sections. During one of these waits, I needed to poop. I looked around for a higher dune to hide behind someplace nearby, but the thought of wandering into a mine deterred me. I stuck close to the main piste, stepping carefully on stone not sand, and got down as low as I could. This is not an adrenaline rush -- no, I do not need to do this again.

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Then there is the male-bonding aspect, men with a common mission whose job it is to see the convoy through to safety. Sections where the sand is soft and deep we found ourselves on our hands and knees digging out sand and pushing 2-ton of metal to unstuck a vehicle. It was almost as though every time a car got stuck, it was an opportunity for everyone else to pitch in. When we stood around waiting, members of the convoy would pass around cigarettes and trade stories of previous crossings—the brotherhood of veterans. Everyone but Roger and Thierry.

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Gregg and I had limited contact with the other convoy members, partially due to language barrier, but mostly because our ride wanted no part of the comraderie. They’d frequently remind me how lucky we were to be picked up by them, otherwise we would have ended up with "one of those guys". Roger and Thierry never got out of their cars to help another vehicle. They had their own private means to communicate areas to watch for via their CB radio. As far as they were concerned if you weren't properly equipped, you had no business being there.

Not to be an ingrate, but it was a bit of a bummer not to like these people who were nice enough to give us a ride. Their contemptuous manner and unwillingness to help others had a souring effect. I felt the constant need to contribute monetarily, but since we had all necessary provisions with us, instead I just had to be pleasant.

Gregg and I split up for most of the journey; I rode with Thierry and Laetitia in their new Mistubishi Pajero, while Gregg rode with Roger in the older Nissan Patrol. Laetitia played bad pop much of the way and more than once made me touch her hair to see how hard and dry it had become (back home, she was training to be a hair stylist). Worrying about her white shoes and pants getting dirty, or sand getting inside the car, caused her migraines a few times a day. Thierry was going to Dakar to live and this would be their last trip together. As much as I wanted to feel bad for her, I couldn’t. She insulted Mauritanians and the way they dressed. Her hair deserved to get hard and dry.



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Big Boys and Tonka Toys
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