April 18, 1998

Mauritania: Somewhere in the Sahara

I tried so hard to work up enthusiasm for the scrub and near-desert we passed through, but it's been completely overshadowed by the real thing in all its windswept majesty.

We finally received our passports and entered Mauritania after a long 24 hours in the convoy. We broke down in the middle of an alleged minefield and I wandered up the road w/ Heidi + Chong + Angela + Andrea + Gav. We irritated the soldier in charge: worth it for the chocolate cookies and Spanish water, because the desalinated water we picked up in Dakhla is ghastly. Then two hurry-up-and-waits, interspersed by a frenzied dinnerless bush camp. Long wait in the morning, time maimed by frisbee and football with the French and Germans and Hamid, briefly our guide, a fellow EE who moonlights as a trilingual guide.

Into Nouadhibou, meaning "Jackal's Well," a long low colourless squalid sprawling city, oppressively hot, where it's hard to tell the endless goat-and-poverty-strewn shantytown from the centreville. Good bread though.

Hours of formalities - no search, no currency declaration, but an "insurance" tax - and eventually a campsite six African kilometres out of town, past camel herds and saltwater pools. Another marathon cook session for us. Up, collect three large freshly caught fish, and out into the Sahara after a brief shopping trip in Nouadhibou.

Endless rocky plains - driving's much more fun with a side up - with only one sand-mat stop. Park in the curve of a sand dune which we rushed up and tobogganed or plummeted down. When we grew tired we discovered that solid rock lurked a few inches below the ground. Only the Belgian girls - more later - got their tent up, and the rest of us prepared to huddle under the truck.

We picked up the Belgian girls - Ingrid and Nicole - at the border, which they couldn't cross because they're on bicycles, because they're spending four years cycling across the world, have written a (Belgian, Flemish) bestseller on it, and have pretty much turned travel into a cottage industry.

Then the excitement: Sam didn't show up for dinner and nobody knew where he went. I scaled the sand dune to look for him and, after being briefly dazzled by more stars than I ever knew existed, was stunned by two sets of headlights, coming at us. In the middle of the Sahara.

Turned out he'd wandered off just before sunset, lost his bearings when the dark hit, and (fucking idiot) wandered off to look for us. Eventually he saw some lights, ran at them, and flagged down two Tuareg Land Rovers about 10K from where we were camped. They managed to find us and delivered him. Then they invited us over for freshly slaughtered lamb - mmm, red meat - with mint tea and a multi-cultural array of songs.

Slept under the truck, after repeatedly bruising my head on the drive shaft. Up and across the wide ocean of sand, dunes and plains and ridges and solitary twisted trees, and repeated sand matting. The heat at lunch was like an anvil, but it didn't affect the hovering lime-green wasp-like bug.

Wonderbat and the Red Spot Brigade. The abandoned and miraculously recovered cookpot. The Case of the Disappearing Lighters. Trowels & TP dangling, we stride into the desert. Sardine sandwiches and oranges when times get desperate on the truck. "Lola" as we cross a white sea of sand.

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