madnomad.com dispatches aperture poste restante etcetera

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

Page 3 of 6

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We reached the last military checkpoint before entering Nouadibou the second day. Bureaucracy is big industry in Mauritania—a close second to fishing after mineral export. As such, the red-tape is interminable. Things are kept mysterious so as to support the spill-over economy of local 'handlers'. Often these handlers are the same guys who run the auberges in Nouadibou, who arrive with an entourage of solicitors to greet the incoming convoy at the last checkpoint.

One such handler, Abdellahi, recognized Thierry, which still baffles me because Thierry, in his turban and dark sunglasses, left little of his face to recognize. Abdellahi had helped with formalities for Roger and Thierry three years ago. He now had his own auberge, how many rooms did we want? Thierry answered automatically, "Two". He forgot he had extra baggage (us). Earlier in the day Thierry had asked me how Gregg and I were planning to travel from Nouadibou to Nouakchott, making it clear that our ride went as far as the convoy, which disperses in Nouadibou. To my surprise, Thierry turned around and asked if we also wanted a room at Abdellahi's auberge. I was reluctant to say yes, but completely unmotivated to get out of the car and feed myself to hungry touts. "It would be nice, if it were possible." Abdellahi has been doing this for years and therefore has an in with the border officials. Within 20 minutes, we quit the post—a process that can easily take 1-2 hours.

First thing we did when we arrived at the auberge in Nouadibou was talk about what guide services would cost with Abdellahi. A guide is not obligatory but advisable. You do not want to get lost between Nouadibou to Noukchott where there are no road signs, much less a road. A guide, “Mouhammed le Mine", sat by quietly and passed us a stash of worn folded papers. They were his recommendations written by past travellers, which he kept carefully in the pocket of his boubou. One read: “M. le Mine provides the finest in guide services (his words). He is tireless in his pursuit of recommendations." No joke.

It came up as to whether Gregg and I were continuing the journey with our French patrons. Thierry quickly offered and said it would be no problem. At this point we had left the others in the convoy behind, and it was uncertain if and when we might be able to find another ride. It would be wiser to stay with our intrepid leaders and offer to pay the guide fee. They negotiated the final price with Guide le Mine (about $100). Thierry graciously accepted and we were all happier for it. Gregg and I no longer felt completely indebted to them now that we were contributing in a measurable way. We could not feel badly about not liking them.

Roger and Theirry offered to take care of the paperwork for all of us the next morning before we could leave. They’d get the Mauri car insurance, pass through customs, have an 'official' date of entry stamped in our passports, enter our names in the registration book for passage onto Nouakchott. Gregg, Laetitia, and I stayed behind to enjoy a leisurely morning. Estimated departure time was noon. Our leaders wanted to cover more than half the distance to Nouakchott, Mauritania’s capital city, before laying down camp that night in the desert.

They didn't return until noon and we still had lunch and packing of the cars to do. To our pleasant surprise, Tanguy appeared with his motorbike and all his equipment. Gregg and I had worried about him given his limited experience riding desert terrain, but at least others in the convoy had helped him out the days before. He knew he would never make it through the sand without help to cargo his equipment, so he’d asked Roger and Thierry when he ran into them at customs. At least they didn’t turn him down.

Over the next hour we ate lunch then stood about the courtyard of the auberge trying to be useful as Roger and Thierry stressed over packing the cars. All there was left to do now was get gas. This would be the beginning of a very long 24hrs to follow.



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