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Showing posts from April, 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

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

No-man's-land, Morocco-Mauritania border

In sight of the shattered remnants of a Land Rover that must have strayed onto a mine. Not surprisingly, no one is exploring the area. About 10K up a winding desert trail with more bumps and surprises than a roller coaster, but we're on a sort of pavement - well, hardpack - now. The convoy is being inspected by the Mauritanian military. Woke up last night to patter-patter on the tent fly and assumed it was a Lariam dream. Rain in the Sahara, who'd'a thunk it? Stopped now, but the sky is still a bright poisonous gray. Dakhla is a hideous military anthill of a town, but I like desert more and more, in its many faces - windswept dunes, straggling chains of rock, endless plains pounded absolutely flat by sun and wind. More life than I expected - tufts of thorn and cactus are speckled everywhere. Camped outside of Dakhla by the ocean for two nights. First was by the beach, a much-appreciated swim. Watched the sunset from the edge of a laser-beam-level stone plateau perched on

Morocco: Past Laayoune, Western Sahara

Our lives revolve around food. We wake early in the mornings, just past the crack of dawn, and have our tents down before breakfast. Drive for a couple of hours and stop for today's and/or tomorrow's cooks to shop, while the remainder have cafes au lait and watch the baked streets and houses or guard the truck from endlessly enthusiastic hustlers selling fossils or racks of semi-precious stones. Drive on, playing cards, listening to music, staring out the window, until we stop for the night. Pitch tents, wander for half an hour, and mark time until dinner. After dinner we crash almost immediately. Spent more days in Marrakesh than expected, due to mech problems. Cafe au laits and a long sonorous night next to Tim + Nick + Mattias, the Place Djemaa el-Fna, usually a riot of people and noise and food stalls and orange juice stands and trinket vendors, cigarette eaters, snake charmers, acrobats, henna tattooists, hasslers, hustlers, and a seething mass of tourists and Moroccans.

Morocco: Cafe Shawarma, Marrakesh

It's amazing how much perspective shift you get from 24h away from the truck; we're so much our own insular society when on the move that it's a reassessing shock to be independent again, with all the other truckers now irrelevant figures Somewhere Else. I understand cults a little better now. Chrono: A full day in the Todra Gorges, spent doing some aimless drifting. Walked a few K up the gorge with an unwell Heidi, then abandoned her to a herd of goats and walked up a little way, perched on a crag at the side of the gorge and listened to music and stared for a while. Hundred-metre walls of red rock scored into layers, like rake marks on sand, ten or twenty feet deep, the lines dipping and swaying in every direction. Dry gravelbed occasionally marked by a pool of water after the creek had run dry, and a road/trail weaving drunkenly from one side of the creek to the other. An old man with leather skin and black teeth leading a dozen camels down into the gorge from the Sah

Morocco: Restaurant Cafe Hotel des Roches, Todra Gorge

Sipping a Coke in the reception/alcohol-free bar room, which, like other rooms here, converts to a bedroom after hours. A grand old dilapidated place, all faded tile and crumbling paint, but with comfy patterned benches/beds and a truly breathtaking backdrop - the Todra Gorge looming above, a crescent moon hanging off the shoulder of a colossal mass of rock. We've seen so many staggering landscapes in the last couple of days that I'm afraid I'm already starting to get jaded. An endless green lawn of grass and moss beneath a canopy of cedars, their monkey-highway trunks ("monsieur! monsieur! le sage dans l'arbre!") impossibly straight and slender, with a creek weaving slowly between the trees. Endless mountain slops strewn with rocks like God's own gravel, grass spilling out beneath the boulders, dotted by conical pits half-filled by water and sinuous glacier-carved lakes. An interminable plain of stones and dirt overseen by a snow-caped range of mountains