Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Rainy Night In Mauritania

The next morning it woke up cool and clammy and overcast. Since there is no public transportation into Mauritania, I took a cab five miles out of town to the campsite where all the European overlanders congregate, the idea being to see if anyone heading south had room.

Close, but no dice; they were all full. I had kind of expected that, having arrived in town so late last night. But not to worry. I trundled my backpack 500 yards down to where the Mauritanian truckdrivers hung out.

(You might be wondering how an old, lazy guy like me is carrying around a 40 pound backpack. I'm not. I'm rolling it on its wheels. Which only works of course if there's pavement, and no sand, and no stairs involved.)

When doing the research for this I had imagined that 'Mauritanian truckdrivers' drove everything up to and including a big rig. Uh uh. They meant everything up to and including a big van. And there stood about seven such dilapidated vehicles, though it soon transpired that only two were in play.

One of the guys chose me, and while waiting for the produce to arrive that went into the back of his van, I made the acquaintance of a Mauritanian lady who had shared my bus journey the day before. Her name was Ramata, she was 47, she had seven children, and she owned a small men's clothing store that went along with her government job.

To fill her store, she flies to Casablanca, buys several giant bales of clothing, and then takes the bus back to Mauritania, since that's a lot cheaper for freight. Anyhow, the two of us shared the front of the van with the driver, and we all had a great time heading down the road.

With striking African features wrapped in a billowing robe, she certainly didn't fit the stereotype of the reticient women I had seen in East Africa. And that went double for the Moslem woman stereotype. She was definitely out there, and thought nothing of putting her arm around my shoulders when she felt cramped. Although there wasn't the slightest hint of her coming on to me.

How self confident was she? She had recently visited one of her sons studying in the States, traveled around for a month, and doesn't speak a word of English.

Outside it was the same, flat, ugly desert terrain. Sometimes we were close to the Atlantic and I could see the waves cresting, but it didn't look like a stretch that anyone was going to develop any time soon.

Except that, filled with produce, the driver's van didn't go all that fast. (He was an interesting character, too. Again African features, again the billowing robes, although the effect was kind of lost when he replaced his head turban/scarf with a baseball cap.) And we had started rather late. So we arrived at the Moroccan exit point with ten minutes to spare before closing. The driver was going to have to bribe the Moroccans ten dollars so as to process us before everyone else, and nobody, not the driver, not Ramata, not me, had any Moroccan money left.

Finally he apparently promised to pay them the bribe next time through, and we were on the road again.

By now it was getting dark. It was also starting to rain in the Sahara. As we officially left Morocco, the paved road ended and there were about three miles of dirt road no man's land. Then another paved road and Mauritania appeared.

In the form of a tiny little shack. This was Immigration, and the man wrote my information in his book with the help of a flashlight. This was also where my driver knew everyone, and instead of the two hours that this border can take for the typical overlander, we were through in about three minutes.

And then 40 kilometers on into Nouadizhou, the first, and just about only town, in Mauritania. It was eight at night and it stretched along the road for several miles, all poor and messy like a bad Mexican roadside town. We dropped Ramata and her bundles off at her store, I got dropped off at an overlanders cheap hotel, the hotel guy had an official bank guy come over to change money for me, I went and got a filling though strange pizza, and then found an internet place, where it is now eleven pm.

The ride cost over 40 dollars, which should be my highest cost per mile by far. On the other hand, both my hotel last night and tonight were five bucks each, so I'm still saving money all over the place.


At 8:17 PM, Blogger Charles Darwin said...

"I'm a truck drivin' man from Mauritania"
"I've driven all around the 48"
"I always thought that my life would end up on the road"
"I always thought that that would be my fate"

-m folz (197?)

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