April 24, 1998

Mauritania: 20K south of Keffi

God, it's hot. Still well above 30 even at this hour. At lunch today it was pushing 50 in the shade and the sun was like an anvil. We're heading towards Kayes, "the hottest town in Africa."

At least it's a dry heat.

Eastern Mauritania is a desolate, squalid wasteland, where shrivelled trees and mangy goats and crowds of dangerously skinny people try to eke out an existence in an environment too harsh for grass. The kids in town demand presents while we're there and fling stones at us when we drive off, and it's hard to feel outraged.

The sight of a fridge is a cause for celebration.

Brian has gone: he claims he'll return, but we have our doubts. He left us yesterday, returning to Nouakchott to marry a woman he'd met the day before. I will refrain from editorial comment.

"Do you have a cadeau for me? Something small, like a wristwatch?" - a cop one of the countless roadside spot checks.

A hard day of sand-matting under the baking sun took us to the coast, where we paused for a well-deserved swim and birthday cake. Would have eaten dinner too, but we had to dash off at low tide and ride the beach for half an hour to get to the Nouakchott trail. Stopped for a sodden B-day party for Angela + Andrea, and finally crashed around midnight.

Next, drove into the wide, low, relatively thriving metropolis of Nouakchott, with wide boulevards, large Mediterraneanesque buildings sporting satellite dishes, and at least one good cafe. No newspapers or magazines younger than 2.5 years tho. Stopped at the French embassy for a visa, shopped, and free-camped by a sand dune, which seemed like a good idea until we discovered - at 4 AM - that it was a sand quarry, open 24 hours. Moment of blind panic as I wake to lights and truck noises...while sleeping under the truck.

Back in for a day in the city, another good meal followed by a long walk, and a brief stop at the fishing port; stacks of 4'-5' fish. New free camp because the campsite arbitrarily tripled its price at the last minute. Swim and beach volleyball, then a disastrous meal - remind me not to change cook groups again - overshadowed by Shirray's fainting spell.

Final morning in Nouakchott, long afternoon waiting for diesel at a service station, and then we got stuck looking for a campsite and had to dig and sand-mat out, what fun. Slept out-out, because it's too dry for skeeters or rain, too hot for tents, and not windy enough to be impossible; much better than a tent. Must buy a mosquito net, aka moustiquerie.

Yesterday and today, deeper and deeper into nowhere. We must be in the middle by now. One-camel towns with no name, and mile after mile of shrub-spotted desert. No terrain until some New Mexico-esque ridges today; this afternoon wasn't quite as unbearably stark as the previous few hundred K.

Last night, volleyball, a route analysis & explanation, and sleep under the stars again; not bad. Today we ran out of primary-tank diesel while stopped in Keffi for water, and had to transfer-pump in front of a crowd, what fun.

Free-camped again tonight. Tomorrow night is our last in Mauritania, and I've written less inspiring sentences.

Two meals at once at the Nouakchott restaurant, after a forced-march seek-and-devour mission with Mike + Chong. Heidi's "I love sand-matting" bizarrerie. The four-star Novotel out of town, another world entirely. Clothes + trinkets in the Grand Marche. Abandoned at the Prince Cafe. The raging coastal currents, keeping me at a standstill (swimstill?) even while doing a full crawl. Huddled under a Tuareg prayer-tent for shade.

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