So Long, Farewell, Au revoir…

January 5, 2011 § Leave a comment

Nouakchott quickly became our ‘home away from home’, as the days turned into weeks. We found a comfy place to stay and passed the time by researching our next move, hanging out with a lovely group of American expats that treated us to home-cooked meals and lots of laughs, running errands, and getting sucked into the show, Dexter (thank you, Jacque).

Originally, Senegal was next on the list, but we quickly swapped it for Mali after discovering that Senegal is to the French what Hawaii is to Americans. No thanks; we’ll pass.

Prepping for Mali meant getting our Mauritanian visa extended, getting vaccinated for meningitis, waiting for a package from the states, and obtaining our Malian visa, among other things. They all seem like easy tasks, but nothing is easy in West Africa… nothing.

Our visa extension was first on the list. We located the office, but were told to return the next morning to fill out the necessary paperwork. When we arrived, we filled out our forms, handed over our passports, photos, and a hefty stack of Ouguiya, and were told to return at noon. When we came back to collect, we were told that the pickup time was in fact 3:30pm, not noon. Awesome – a fourth visit was just what we wanted.

We arrived at exactly 3:30pm, as instructed. They handed us our passports and sent us packing. While walking back, we discovered that they made a huge mistake. It was November 21st and our original visas were good until the 30th. We requested a two week extension, which would allow us to stay in the country until December 14th, but instead it said December 5th.

Now, we’re not sure if this was intentional or just an oversight, but we definitely didn’t go out of our way for an additional 5 days. We wanted to turn around, but the office was already closed, meaning we would have to return for a fifth time the next morning.

To make sure we didn’t get lost in translation due to the language barrier, I wrote down the specifics in French on a flashcard, with the help of an online translation site. Oh, how I love the internet; I’d be lost without it, and chances are, you would be too.

We woke up early and marched into their office, ready to battle it out, but were pleasantly surprised. They looked at my card, grabbed a pen, and turned the 5th into the 15th; no questions asked. We were in shock. Has the tide turned? A good deed finally repaid (me, not Rich, of course)? Luck of the draw? Not sure, but we’ll take it – thank you, Jesus.

After that, it was time to get cracking on everything else. The Malian visa was a breeze, as was our trip to the doctor. Can you believe it only cost us around $10 for an immunization shot? Unreal. At home it would have been around $150. Our healthcare system is so out of whack, but I’ll save that for another post; I could easily rant and rave forever.

So, despite the various warnings regarding the bus ride to Mali, we packed our bags and said farewell.

Houston, We Have A Problem…

December 31, 2010 § Leave a comment

It’s not over until the fat lady sings… or you commit espionage. Its official – we’re not the three musketeers; we’re the three a-holes. We committed a big no-no. I hate to even admit it, as it was so incredibly inconsiderate, but I can assure you we meant no harm.

We thought it would be amusing to record our next discussion with Ahmed regarding upcoming travel plans. We just wanted a little memento; something to remind us of our constant struggles. Looking back, it was a stupid idea – very stupid. If I could go back in time and change things, I would, but unfortunately it’s never that easy. Oh what I would do if it was…

On our hands and knees, the three of us scoured over a map while discussing our options. Once we were all in agreeance, a camera was setup, and I went to fetch Ahmed. The four of us sat in a circle surrounding the map. Within seconds, Ahmed noticed the camera and went ballistic without letting us explain.

He’s a little guy, but when he’s pissed, he might as well be a ten ton gorilla, huffing and puffing, and beating his chest. I had visions of him whipping out an AK and going to town; who knows what he keeps underneath that blue draw of his. He could hide an entire village and I wouldn’t have a clue.

He had every right to be upset, but his display of distrust was so completely over the top. He was practically spewing piss and vinegar, as he went off in French about espionage and other spy related terms. If I didn’t know better, I’d say he had something to hide; tour operator by day, who knows by night? After all, anything is possible.

We apologized over and over again, but he wanted none of it. We could have easily brought up his disrespectful actions, but alas, two wrongs don’t make a right; something I know very well. It was painfully obvious that our relationship was over. Our dreams of continuing to Tichit were gone – best to sever ties before we’re digging our own graves. So, with that in mind, we ended the conversation with a single word: Nouakchott.

Needless to say, we all slept with one eye open. The next morning, we said our goodbyes to Joris, as he decided to stay for another night, before attempting to hitchhike south. It took all day to reach our final destination, but by the time we arrived in Nouackhott, Ahmed was singing a different tune. Apparently he felt bad for the many hiccups we experienced along the way. He blamed it all on miscommunication due to the language barrier, which was a copout, but we didn’t have the energy or desire to set him straight. We’d had our fill.

Guelb er Richat…

December 29, 2010 § Leave a comment

Desert nights can be cold and last night was no exception. The three of us slept on the floor of a thatched hut with large openings, making for a very cold, sleepless night; I shivered, sniffled, and coughed the whole way through. The chickens awoke with the sunrise, so naturally, we did too.

We scarfed down breakfast (bread and coffee) and then made our way to Ouadane. Our plan was to drop off our belongings at the Auberge, and then drive 40km north to Guelb er Richat. Ahmed was well aware of this, but when we arrived in Ouadane, it was obvious he wanted to call it a day; keep in mind that it was only 10am – not going to happen.

He looked exhausted and I could sympathize, for we were all in a disheveled state. That’s what happens when you’re sleeping on the ground, shitting in the sand, living off of bread and rice, and not showering for days. Oh, did I mention we’re in a constant state of sticky, sweating all day, every day? It’s enough to suck the life out of anyone, but if we could hang, so could he – he’s been living like this for years.

When we asked if we could proceed, he turned and said, “Small problem”. He went on to explain that the journey should begin around 7am, before the sand is ‘too hot’, so it’s best we postpone the trip until tomorrow. Wait…what? Did you just say the sand is ‘too hot’? Is that a joke? Of course the sand is hot – we’re in the bloody Sahara for Christ’s sake; the mother of all deserts, and we’ve been driving in the hot sand for days, so shut up. Wow – I’m sorry. I’m not usually like this, I swear. I’ve become a cynic and its all Rich’s fault.

We said we’d take our chances. After all, it was Ahmed that originally suggested the itinerary the day before. If everything falls apart and we’re stranded in the desert, left for dead, at least we stood our ground; principles my friends – principles.

Guelb er Richat resembles a giant meteorite crater, but it’s actually caused by natural erosion of ancient uplifted rocks. We traveled through three levels, but didn’t make it to the center, due to you know who. The vast rocky terrain was difficult to manage, but well worth it. As we made our way down, I felt as though we’d been transported to another planet. If you want to feel like you’re the last person standing, this is where you go – complete isolation. It ignites a kind of out of body desolation, for lack of a better explanation.

That feeling stirs your mind, at least it did mine. I’ve spent so much time trying to make sense of things, trying to find myself, when maybe I’m not ready to be found. Maybe, just maybe, I need to be lost – at least for now… then again, what the hell do I know?

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Uno, Dos, Tres…

December 27, 2010 § Leave a comment

Never, and I do mean never, underestimate the female powers. They come in handy regularly, but I do my best not to abuse them. I only reach into my bag of tricks as a last resort, and well, this was one of those times.

The next morning Ahmed informed me that Joris would not be joining us. He blamed his sister, insurance liability, and of course, our previous ‘contract’. I listened to his explanation, but wasn’t convinced. I knew that if he wanted to say yes, he could. My guess is that he saw Joris as another person standing between us, and happily ever after; a roadblock if you will. With a quick tilt of my head, a few bats of my eyelashes, and the best pouty-face I could muster, we went from duo to trio in a matter of seconds; as easy as one-two-three.

With Joris in tow, we made our way to Chinguetti, considered one of the holiest cities in Islam. We stopped for lunch and a visit to one of the ancient libraries in town. I’m very fond of any and all libraries, so this was a treat. Not only did the caretaker give us a tour of the grounds, but he also explained the importance of the manuscripts and how they were recorded. After letting us peek around, he recited a lovely poem in French, which Joris so kindly translated. There was something about his voice and overall demeanor that was so gentle, perhaps even magnetic. It’s rare that I feel that way in another’s presence, but there was definitely something about him… something different.

With daylight dwindling, Ahmed was chomping at the bit to make our way to Tanouchert. We desperately wanted to soak in the sunset while perched upon one of the many dunes, but the answer was no. Making our way through endless mounds of sand was tricky enough with daylight, so imagine it without.

Once again, the scenery was overwhelming. The colors so bright, so vibrant, that the sand and sky almost looked fake. In some areas, green grass sprouted up, making for an interesting contrast. We all agreed that if we were going to partake in some kind of mind-altering activities, this would be the place to do it.

Under the cover of moonlight, we realized we were lost. Spinning in circles, following various tracks, Ahmed refused to admit it, even though we asked the same nomads for directions twice. The three of us were secretly hoping we could setup camp on our own, but we knew that would never happen. He would rather drive aimlessly all night than admit defeat. After all, he’s an experienced guide, the best there is; he knows the area like the back of his hand. My favorite part was when he said, ‘Just look for a big dune’. Umm, okay… we’re surrounded by big dunes. Hell, we’re driving on one as you speak.

In the end, we eventually found our way. By this time, it was obvious Ahmed wanted to line us up for some good old fashioned guillotine fun. It’s unfortunate, because the situation could have easily been avoided. We would have happily stayed in Chinguetti, but he insisted we press on. Hopefully, he’ll think twice next time. Doubtful, but one can hope, right?

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The Adrar (Car Problems, Colds & More of Ahmed’s Crap)…

December 21, 2010 § Leave a comment

I was wrong; all was not right with the world. You can imagine the look on our faces when the car wouldn’t start. Yesterday we had a blown fuse, now today a dead battery. Top it all off with Ahmed’s trickery and you had two very unhappy campers.

He assured us it was only a ‘small problem’; nothing a pair of jumper cables couldn’t fix. He set off on foot to enlist some help from the nearby town. As he walked away, he turned back and said, ‘I’ll be back in five minutes’. To him, ‘five minutes’ is somewhere between 20 minutes and two hours. If he said anything above five it might as well be all day.

He returned, jumped the car, drove five feet, and it died… again. By this time, the help was gone, so he set out on foot once more; is all he needed was ‘five more minutes’. The second attempt was a bust, as the car battery wasn’t strong enough. Awesome. Luckily, the third time’s a charm. He pulled up with an entire family in tow. It took a while, but eventually the battery was brought back to life, and we were good to go.

We stopped in Choum to purchase fuel and attempt to resolve our mechanical issues. Several men took turns fiddling underneath the hood. Sparks, plugs, fuses, batteries… your guess is as good as mine. They huffed and puffed to no avail. We passed the time by playing with the local kids. Chasing, high-fives, and silly faces; they love that stuff. Well, at least they usually do. My playmates ended up running away from me in tears. What can I say? Sometimes I have that effect on people.

A few hours later we arrived in Atar. The scenery along the way was stunning, as usual. If it wasn’t for Ahmed, and the unforgiving sun, I wouldn’t mind breaking down. Mauritania is the kind of place you almost wish to get lost in. If I didn’t have a family, I would see to it that I do.

Within a few minutes of settling into our Auberge, our fearless leader informed us that the battery was in fact toast, and we needed a new one. Great. He hesitated, but eventually asked us to lend him the funds. Normally, this wouldn’t be an issue, but we had limited access to money due to the lack of ATM’s throughout the country. We had just enough money to cover our desert escapade and make it to Nouakchott, where we could replenish our stock of Ouguiya. We were once again backed into a corner.

Rich explained the situation to him, but said we’d be happy to lend him the cash. At this point, Ahmed’s story changed, as it often did. He said we could get a temporary fix to tie him over until we reached the capital. This would cost a fraction of the price, so it seemed like a win-win for everyone. We handed over the O’s, and spent the rest of our evening nursing our colds (yes, we had horrible colds in the desert), doing impressions of you know who, and attempting to make something eatable for dinner.

We spent the night sneezing, sniffling, and suffocating, in an oven of a room, while getting attacked by relentless mosquitos. Needless to say, we weren’t exactly cheery the next morning. While eating breakfast, we noticed Ahmed struggling to get the car started; surely this had to be a joke. I tried to convince myself that he had grown a pair, and wanted to get a rise out of us. I secretly gave him props for getting a sense of humor – Ahmed the jokester. Clever. Very clever. Sadly, I was caught up in a delusional fantasy, and we were F’d.

We had time to kill, so while Ahmed set out in search of a solution, we visited the local bank to inquire about getting funds. The internet, our guide book, and every person we talked to, said there were absolutely no ATM’s in the Adrar region. They were wrong. We found two the night before, but both machines were out of order. A man sitting behind a big desk took a long look at my Visa card.  He made a call on his cell phone, but didn’t reach anyone. We stood there in silence as he continued to stare at the card, both front and back. After a good five minutes, he determined it would work, but said we needed to come back in an hour – easy enough.

Fast-forward a few hours and we had a new battery, some extra cash (it turns out the machines do work, they just rarely stock them), food in our stomachs, and a fresh outlook. The tide had finally turned.

Our next destination was the beautiful oasis of Tergit. We made a stop at the Gendermarie station on the outskirts of town, when along came our friend, Joris. We met him at the Mauritanian embassy in Rabat while obtaining our visas. We had exchanged a few emails previously, but I didn’t expect to cross paths with him here… in the middle of nowhere. It turns out that he arrived in Nouadhibou just after we departed. He hopped the iron-ore train to Choum, where he caught a taxi to Atar, and then hitch-hiked the rest of the way. We were mildly jealous of his journey, but his ability to speak French made it much more enjoyable, I’m sure. We’re making headway with our phrasebook, but it’s an uphill battle to say the least.

The Oasis of Tergit was everything we had hoped for, as far as settings go. It’s nestled into a canyon on the edge of town. The trickling sound from the springs, mixed with the swaying palms was enough to put me into a trance. We sought refuge beneath an open-air tent for much of the afternoon, while swapping stories with Joris. When he retreated to his Auberge, we went for a hike in the canyon. We found a perfect spot to take in the views of the village and valley below. Sitting there, perched on a rock, I couldn’t help but feel lucky; not only for the view, but the company too. I don’t know what I did to deserve this, but I’ll gladly accept it.

When we made our way back, we informed Ahmed that we wanted to stay for the night. He was less than pleased with the news. He tried to say that it was ‘too dangerous’ for him due to malaria, but the Auberge staff called his bluff. As usual, he didn’t stop there. Ahmed was cranky and full of excuses. He went on and on about the buzzing mosquitos being too loud and security concerns, but we wouldn’t budge; this was our trip, not his. The only reason he didn’t want to stay was because his friend owns an Auberge close by – end of story. After going back and forth, we all agreed to disagree. We stayed at the oasis and Ahmed went into town.

Before he took off for the night, we inquired about having Joris join us for a few days. We assumed this wouldn’t be a problem, but who were we kidding? This is Ahmed, and everything is a problem – every little thing. After a good game of tug-of-war, Ahmed caved, and said it wouldn’t be an issue; he just needed to clear it with his sister, who assists him with his agency. Apparently, adding a third person would affect the validity of our contract. The contract, if you can even call it that, was basically chicken-scratch on a spare piece of paper; not exactly official, if you know what I mean. We agreed to wait until morning for confirmation. It was a definite maybe.

After dinner, we played musical tents, attempting to escape the bats. I must admit that I squealed like a little girl at first. Bats with their beady little eyes give me the creeps. After finally getting settled, we looked around and realized everyone had cleared out, even the staff. All that talk about security and then they disappear on us. Hmmmmm. At least we had each other.

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Three Strikes, You’re Out…

December 12, 2010 § Leave a comment

The area is littered with Gendarmerie posts. Usually the stops are quick and painless, but every once in a while you come across a cranky fellow who wants to hold you up. This variety was out in full force on day two; perhaps there was something in the air. We spent the good majority of our morning confined to the car while Ahmed hashed it out behind closed doors. To this day, I’m still not sure what all the fuss was about. I can understand ten to fifteen minutes, but two hours? Come on. There had to be tea involved – lots and lots of tea. I’d be willing to bet my life on it…or at least Rich’s.

We were eventually given the green light and continued our drive to Ben Amira and Aisha; two of the largest granite monoliths in all of Africa. Ben Amira, the larger of the two, is said to fall in line behind Ayers Rock in Australia. The contrast between the gigantic formations, golden sand, and bright blue sky was breathtaking. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again – the scenery here is unlike anything I’ve ever seen; I couldn’t dream it up if I tried.

As I stood there, awestruck, attempting to take it all in, Ahmed snapped me back to reality. Rich was away and Ahmed wanted to play. It started with a story about a friend who opened an Auberge with his American wife. Apparently business is good and Ahmed wants in on the action. He has plans to open an Auberge in Nouadhibou next year; is all he needs is a wife to run it. Alas, the wooing has begun.

Whenever Rich wandered off, Ahmed sprang into action, making the most of his time. By early evening, we found ourselves in a bit of a fuel crisis. The tiny town was out of diesel, forcing us to purchase it illegally. We believe it was stolen from the train company, but we didn’t get the specifics. While working out the sale, Rich was skipping along the tracks, playing with kids, and Ahmed saw this as an opportunity to go for gold.

He had a three-step plan. Step one involved telling me, once again, that he’s in need of a young wife to bear him two children, and of course, run his Auberge – I’m sure all of the cooking and cleaning, too. He also wanted to make it very clear that even though he looks old, he’s actually very youthful, and has lots of life and love left in him. I wasn’t buying it.

Step two was to determine the exact nature of my relationship with Rich. We introduced ourselves as friends, but he had his suspicions. Desert nights can be chilly, so we opted to forgo our individual tents the night before, and share a sleeping bag; I was without, and using a liner. This confused him. I thought it best to leave him guessing, so I skirted around his questions using the power of deflection – works every time.

Last, but not least, was step three: denounce ‘Rich’s system’. He frowned upon the fact we were splitting the cost of things. Real men, as in Mauritanian men, don’t let their women pay. Ahmed loves, and I do mean loves, the expression ‘for example’. He uses it constantly; for example this, for example that, just plain for f-ing example. I could deal with it until he said, ‘for example, if you were my wife’. I would rather die.

With the fuel tank full, we circled back to Rich, and then drove farther out to setup camp. Rich could tell something was up, but I thought it wise to wait until we were alone to share the story. Luckily, it didn’t take long for Ahmed to wander off in search of coal, giving us ample time to discuss what had just transpired. Needless to say, we both found it entertaining, but were less than pleased.

We mulled over what to do next. Do we let it slide and hope he stops? If we do that, will he assume I didn’t tell Rich and that there’s a chance? Will I wake up one morning to discover Rich has gone missing? We assumed Ahmed was harmless, but there was no way to know for sure. We were out in the middle of nowhere, in an area deemed dangerous, completely at his mercy.

After weighing our options, Rich decided it was best to have a one-on-one with him. Ahmed had guilty written all over his face. We switched our story from friends to fiancés. He quickly went into defense mode and chalked it up to be my fault; apparently I didn’t understand him properly. Sure. Sure, I didn’t. I could overhear their entire conversation, as I was preparing dinner. It took everything in me not to pounce on him with my frying pan. I swallowed my pride and took one for the team.

We all agreed to let bygones be bygones, but Ahmed felt the need to knock me a few times throughout the night. I showed restraint. Shortly after dinner he decided to walk into town (1.5km away), where he would spend the evening with the gendarms. As we sat there alone, completely exposed, contemplating our fate, we were reminded of the travel warnings; the ones saying ‘stay the hell away’. We both thought about our families and how they would feel if they knew what we were up to. We both agreed it was best that they didn’t… not right now, anyway. They would find out eventually, but we would be out of harm’s way by then.

Once again, we were treated to Mother Nature’s beautiful display of lights. Side by side, we stared at the sky until our eyelids grew heavy. We awoke the next morning to find that all was still right with the world. Nothing had gone awry in the night. Ten fingers, ten toes, and we still had our clothes.

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Meet Ahmed…

December 10, 2010 § Leave a comment

Much of the first day was spent in the car, roaring through the desert plains, as we made our way east. Long car rides usually make me antsy, but I found myself lost in the setting as the hours rolled by. The scenery changed, my mind wandered, and anything that had weighed me down mysteriously disappeared.

A few hours into the drive it was teatime. Mauritanians take their tea very seriously; it’s almost like an art form. They do a series of long pours from a tiny kettle into a set of equally tiny shot glasses. They then pour the tea from glass to glass, and then eventually back into the kettle. They repeat this process a few times to acquire the perfect taste and temperature.

During this time, Ahmed decided to share some of his personal views with us. Perched beneath a tree, the three of us sat cross-legged, sipping our tea, rattling things off in a mix of English, French, and Spanish; simultaneously butchering all three.

Mauritania’s population is mixture of Moor and Black African. The Moors are from Arab or Berber descent and the Black African’s are split into two ethnic groups; Haratin (Black Moore, descendants of those enslaved by the ‘white’ Moors) or Soudaniens, who mainly live in the south along the border with Senegal. It’s confusing.

Ahmed sees himself as someone who embraces all cultures and backgrounds. He claims that he’s against racism and doesn’t care where you’re from, what you believe, just as long as you’re not black. Yes, he’s not racist; he just doesn’t like black people. I’m afraid Ahmed’s poor unfortunate soul is in need of a dictionary. He also shared with us that true Muslims don’t discriminate against other religions or take multiple wives; it’s more of a peace and love moment. Riiiight….

He also thinks that Western men who travel throughout the region are full of ill intentions. He later went on to say the same thing about older Western women too. In his eyes, they’re all trying to take advantage of the younger population; apparently he has to fend off sexual advances on a regular basis. I should probably mention that Ahmed is somewhere between 45–55, and far from bright-eyed and bushy-tailed.

We were surprised to learn that he once married to a younger Ukrainian woman, and they have a 10 year old son together. They met while he was working as a boat captain, in a previous life, but it didn’t work out (now there’s a shocker). She returned, therefore his relationship with his son is virtually nonexistent. He would later express his desire for another Mrs. Ahmed, who could bear him two children. Ideally, she would be young and American; It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see where this is headed.

After our fun filled chat, it was back to the car. Only this time, instead of pleasurable thoughts, my mind was consumed by an ocean of bullshit, or in other words, Ahmed.

As the sun gave way to another day, we setup camp alongside the train tracks. His friend, who provides security for the tracks, was kind enough to let us stay next to his shack for the night. We cooked dinner, drank tea, and spent the rest of the evening relaxing underneath a blanket of stars – surreal is all I can say.

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Decisions, Decisions…

December 4, 2010 § Leave a comment

Our days in Nouadhibou were not of the relaxing variety. We had research to do and decisions to make. Prior to visiting, we both knew very little about the country; I suppose you could say that’s what drew us here – curiosity of the unknown, the overlooked. It felt so close, but yet so far away.

Government issued travel warnings say that all unnecessary travel to Mauritania should be avoided due to security concerns; most of the country is in the red zone. Al-Qaeda/AQIM is to blame, as terrorism is prevalent, especially in the east. In the past few years several kidnappings have occurred, causing the Peace Corp to pull out, and other organizations to scale back. We saw this as an opportunity. Tourism has dropped off, but security efforts have escalated. After much debate, it was time to proceed with caution.

When traveling, we both appreciate flexibility and freedom. We try to have open minds, often steering clear of set plans. We like to take things one day at a time. If you looked closely at our personal lives, you might say this mindset has crept into other areas, but that’s neither here nor there.

We had our sights set on the interior, specifically the Adrar region to the east. The only option for seeing this area is to hire an experienced guide with a 4×4 vehicle. We had the option of making those arrangements while in Nouadhibou or Atar, the capital of the Adrar.

At the border, we met a local guide by the name of Ahmed. He spoke a little English and was fluent in Spanish, which would be helpful, as our French is lacking. We thought it was an idea worth entertaining, so we set up a meeting to hear his shpeel. Little did we know, the discussions would span for three days; it was exhausting, frustrating, and mind-numbing – you name it, we felt it.

Our other option was to take a 12-hour ride on an iron-ore train, followed by a 3-hour bush taxi, and hope to organize the excursion upon arriving in Atar. The train would be a unique experience, but after much deliberation, we enlisted the help of a coin, and Ahmed won with best out of three. We felt comfortable with this, as taking the train meant we’d be forced to carry a large amount of cash, miss most of the scenery, and there was no guarantee of finding a decent guide in the end.

We felt that Ahmed’s experience would allow us to get the most of our trip. After multiple meetings it looked as though we were all on the same page. He agreed to keep our contract open, give us a discounted rate, and let us pay for the fuel ourselves. It seemed promising.

So, we loaded up his truck and disappeared into the desert. As I gazed out the window from the confines of the backseat, I couldn’t help but think…if it seems too good to be true, it probably is…

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Mr. & Mrs. Moneybags…

December 1, 2010 § Leave a comment

The next morning we set out in search of a ship graveyard we had read about in LP. Unfortunately, and/or fortunately, depending on how you look at it, there wasn’t much to see. The area had been cleaned up and most of the vessels removed. It made for a nice afternoon stroll through the port, though.

 Next on the agenda was a trip to Cap Blanc; home to the extremely rare monk seal. The chances of actually seeing one are slim, but the area is rather picturesque… or so we’ve been told. You see, we never actually made it there. We haggled with multiple drivers (I should probably mention that if you own a car, you dabble in the transportation business, as everyone, and I do mean everyone, doubles as a taxi driver), but no one was interested in giving us a reasonable fare. It’s crazy to think that in a place like this, where poverty runs rampant, people would actually pass at the chance to make an honest buck – taking us to the cleaners was the only option.

We stood on the street corner looking rather dejected, when along came a man in a pickup truck. He was on the clock, working at a nearby plant, but offered to give us a lift. Our conversation was limited due to the language barrier, but Rich managed to get some basic information, like marital status, number of kids, etc. As we drove down the dusty road, away from the city center, we passed a turnoff and he motioned that Cape Blanc was that way. To our knowledge, he needed to swap out his vehicle and clock-out before taking us. As usual, we were wrong. When we pulled up to the facility, the guards seemed concerned by our presence. We were told to get out and wait by the gate. Time passed, but our friend never came back to fetch us; it was turning out to be one of those days.

Eventually another car emerged from behind the gate, and asked if we needed a lift. When we inquired about the cost, the man requested 200 euros. At first we thought he was joking, but he assured us otherwise. Are you out of your F-ing mind? 200? Drop the zeros and you’ve got a deal. Needless to say, we started walking.

We didn’t make it far before another car came by. The driver said he had a friend who could assist us at a reasonable price, so we thought what the hell, and hopped in. We met up with his friend, but as we suspected, his rate was off the charts too; that would be strike three. It was not looking good. His friend left, we drove a few blocks, and then another friend joined us. A serious discussion regarding security and road conditions ensued between the two. At that point, we admitted defeat, and called it a day. It just wasn’t meant to be.

Our new friend was kind enough to give us a lift, free of charge. We offered to pay, but he declined. He was just happy to practice his English; a pleasant surprise.

Planet Nouadhibou…

November 30, 2010 § Leave a comment

We have entered a war zone. Well, not really; it just resembles one. Welcome to Nouadhibou! It’s hot, dusty, buildings are crumbling, and everyone looks like they want to kill us. It could easily double as the set for Black Hawk Down, with its post-apocalyptic feel. The city, if you can even call it that, is covered in shades of gray. Garbage fills the streets, animals are left to roam, and the cars, as well as people, look like they’ve seen better days; though, I’m not sure that’s true.

While driving in circles, looking for a place to stay, we witnessed a young boy going number two in the street. It wasn’t the act that shocked us, but the position he assumed. The tiny half-naked boy was practically upside down in what resembled the yoga position, downward facing dog (thanks, Google). Not a pretty sight, as you might imagine – squatting makes much more sense.

We finally settled on an Auberge off the main road. On a whim, we decided to exchange our Moroccan dirhams for Mauritanian ouguiya with our driver. Trust me, I already know how it sounds; and yes, we got totally screwed. To our defense, we didn’t know the exchange rate, had previously read that the banks would not accept dirhams, and we were suffering from exhaustion to top it off. I know – excuses, excuses.

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