Africa 2009 Overland in Des, Safari

Africa 2009 – 04 Mauritania


Desert Shower
Desert Shower

Forms and Frontiers – Name, First name, fathers name, mothers name, date of birth, place of birth, numbers of identification each time recalling the colour and texture of another time, place and person. What does Norwich mean here, or Ross my fathers name?

At the Morocco frontier the playful customers officer offered me a tangerine.

‘You need all the strength you can get to go to Mauritania’ he laughed seeing my surprise.

As we left I handed on the gift given to me, the bag of Bonbons from Jean Claude (Mr Happy).

A wild west haphazard no mans land. The familiar safe Moroccan tarmac road ended unannounced in a maze of dusty rocky tracks, not a sign in sight and guides eagerly running towards us to seize the moment. But B would have none of it.

Reaching the Mauritanian frontier with I-need-no-guide-Barry, we were plunged into our first combat: the Mauritanian customs guard refused to allow us to take in our filled up cheaper Morocco jerry cans.

‘We have petrol in Mauritania,’ he declared. ‘Everyone coming through has filled their jerry cans.’

As B struggled to fill our car tank with the heavy jerry’s determined to leave as little as possible, a man sauntered across with a lighted cigarette and I fled in over dramatic style, effectively alerting the big boss man, who ordered us to pass. Theatre works. Despite searching  the car thoroughly, inside and underneath, they did not find our secret stash of wine and beer.

‘No, my husband does not drink,’ I say as B noticeably held in his tummy.

Back on tarmac road, we see our first seas of sand between scrub and desert villages, stark oblong blocks apparently empty. Rusting petrol stations.

NOUADIBOU in the dark

B’s nose found the only drinking hole in town. Propping up the bar we couldn’t have wished for a better introduction to Mauritania than a South African engineer out here building a gold mine in the desert.

‘There are only 12 licenced premises in the whole country and you’ve found one on your fist night!’

On Mautitania! He kept repeating: ‘It’s a life experience. I’ve worked all over Africa, Russia, the Far East, but I’ve never met what I’ve found here’. I could not make out where the judgement fell, positive or negative. ‘You could not find a kinder gentler people, but you cannot train them. They live only for today, they have no interest in tomorrow. I’ve seen people fight for land all over the world, but I would not lift a finger for this land.’

The gold seam is substantial and only 30 meters into the seam, and of excellent quality. Will it change the country? Like Congo, SL? Why not, all the world is changing. The engineers pension was in diamonds.

Indiginous to Mauritania are Berbers, Arabs, and Black Africans.


Unprepared, (and against my wishes for the record) we left Nouadibou the next day.

In retrospect, we could have stayed a day to acclimatize to this surprisingly different new country, (neither black nor Arab). We could have stayed a day to change money, relax, get into the grove, meet the people, hear the news, clean the honey from the bag, get mobile phone sorted, settle the email, put to rest outside connections, send love, eat local, drink Mauri tea with bubbles, sleep well and set off the next morning. But we did not. Instead we began a hasty tour of Nouadibou banks: what shock horror, our English Pound is not KNOWN here. Each bank an empty room bereft of business, with a token dinosaur old computer, or in one sat a woman sorting bank notes into correct side up (as Jan does in MS with the Queen facing forward). They just smiled at the idea of processing my visa card. Back into the olden days of India 10 years ago. But not to know and have fear of the English Pound? This rocks us both. Even the dollar is not welcome. Here the EURO is king. At the 7th bank I spotted a niftily dressed man with a BLACKBERRY – he changed for us, gaining a good commission giving us a rate of 300 oogies – less than a Euro.

My first purchase was £5 for banana and melon. B promptly gave them back.

‘I’ve worked all my life! I’m not giving my money away! I’m not from treacle bumstead or off the banana boat!’

So I did what I do best, I loitered by Chez Ali (dismissed last night by B – mattress on floor, shared toilets), befriended the shop owner, kitted Barry out with mobile phone card, and myself with black Mauritanian head scarf taking my first lesson in how to tie Mauri turban. Unlike the Indian, the Mauri returns around the neck and potentially can cover the entire face leaving a slit for eyes. Protection against sand storms.

Unbelievably, at 4 in the afternoon we set off for the desert, us desert virgins.

The policeman on the road looked shocked – take the tarmac road, he advised, there is much sand this way. Much sand!

No problem, Algeria, Libya, Namibia, my husband has much experience in driving deserts, I affirmed.

A boy aged 15 put us on the right track, literally, as we motored at first on the rail tracks – oh what pleasure the carefree abandonment of Health and Safety!

Recommended by Alex and Ann as well as my Sahara Guru-much-to-Barry-chagrin, Chris, the 800km piste beside the train track Nouadibou to Chorm, is a good introduction to desert driving. This piste (a way marked by other tyre treads) is made easier by straightforward navigation following the straight east desert tracks of famous TRAIN de DESERT, a record breaking, breathtaking 2 kilometers long two composed mostly of bogies carrying iron ore with a few passenger wagons attached at the end, and all pulled by two or thee struggling front engines. (Mauritania has extensive deposits of iron ore, which account for nearly 40% of total exports: CIA Factbook)

This train became our friend, as learn its rhythm especially at night hearing  its slow shunt and following its bright light in the desert night.

Driving on sand is like swimming or ski-ing, the resistance of the grains on the tyres changes with the type of sand. Sinking sand, hard sand, stone mix sand, sharp stone, bolder stone, stone and sand, sand and scrub, sand stone and scrub, tree, camel, sand rivers, sand seas…

‘Il y a beaucoup de sable, mais ses possible. Allez vous’, the old woman said to us. There is much sand. Like the Eskimo’s with snow, do these desert nomads have so many words for sand?

‘Des is in his element at last. After all he was built for this’, I disclaim excitedly.

‘And he’s had to wait until he is an old boy before he finally does what he was built for’, laughs B. How old? 77 in car years? ‘In my youth all I did was back and forward to bloody heathrow!’

Our first night we find a thorn tree which provides us with extraordinary protection from the wind. I’d not considered the wind. It comes from the north. Yes, we begin to feel our north, south, east, west. And every night we watch the stars.

DESERT day 2

Barry is a natural sand driver, confident, quick to react and concentrated. A natural consequence of 40 years investigation of ground surface textures (carpets). All day we are fixated with ground. Rivulets of sand, tufted grass, stone speckled, washboard /corrugated piste. Driving through smooth white sand is like swimming across sand rivers.

Naturally I turn my mind to sand. Sand, the ultimate fate of all land forms. The wearing down of rock to individual grains. Dry, bone dry. Desert of sand. The Sahara acts as a giant sea or mountain range, inhibiting migration and isolating peoples (and crocodiles as it happens).

According to Chris, only 1/6 of the Sahara is covered in sand seas which are called ERGS.

We’ve both perfected the wobble, used when feeling the tyre sticking.

We meet no other cars just an occasional nomad with his goat or camel, although in the distance we sometimes see groups of railway workers working on the line. We keep to the tracks of others who have passed this route, and bless the umbilical cord of the rail track, which keeps us in the right direction when we loose the piste. We search for a tree come evening as the landscape gets more barren, and we find thorn bush and have much fun making Don Lear’s Bhajiman movie: Dal in Sahara.


It was a simple mistake. We stopped to change into 4WD. Abruptly we were going no-where. ‘For every second wheel spin is a minutes digging.’ says Chris the Oracle. One immediate problem, we couldn’t find our spade, probably fallen from the roof at last camp. So I used the veg chopping board and B the umbrella. What a sight. I consulted the book –  Chris the Oracle: First decide which direction you will best depart from. Naturally B and I had differing views. B lightens car while I dig. Hot sand, so clean, so dry, falling back where I dig, sun hot. After two attempts, not working, Des getting deeper and the sump now on the sand. Time to get the sand ladders down. Sand ladders – throw back to World War II, used for making make-shift roads. Heavy traction and heavy duty.

A truckload of rail workers saw us and an opportunity for a little earner. They danced through the negotiations, lifting out our heavy sand ladders as if a leaf.

How much? Lifting baggage. A deal struck, we were out for £12, and we learned our first lessons:

Never stop in soft sand. How to put sand ladders on wheel tracks, one back one front. Great digging not necessary. Momentum vital. It was bad sand, they said, they knew the sand patch well. How can they know the sand in this desert when it all looks the same to us?

We camped at 5. I lost my camera or was it taken by rail workers? Oh Doubt. B found it. Joy and definite desire to improve scattiness. In love all over again. And we found the spade.

DESERT Day 4 Chorm

I’m testing the GPS in anticipation of leaving our crutch of the track today. Swam through tufted dunes, rivers of sand, out to Chorm plateau, and into our first village.

We are welcomed by the petrol attendant-come-school teacher with obligatory Maritanian tea (very sweet, made with green tea and mint, and poured a hundred times from pot to glass, giving the Aero effect). Here we buy petrol, having discovered Des eats petrol diving on sand, and set off waiving farewell to our Train de Desert to follow a well trod piste with a high southern ridge down to Atta. The best camp that night by a small desert outcrop. Climbed the stones to find a dead looking bush, which when cut, bleed white milk. Branches like fingers with green like finger nails. Dinner: prochuto from Seville, Olives from Bilbau, redwine (Carrefour Seville), Rice (Bungay) Vegetables (morocco), Garlie (Nouadibou).

Lit a fire to burn our rubbish. After three days all we take back are empty cans and a bottle of wine.

Whereas we regretted much when we set off (no corkscrew (how could we?) short of matches, bigger boxes etc, now we begin to enjoy what we have. Our sand coloured curtains bought from Lowestoft on a cold rainy day;  Tony’s crafted toilet seat and his desert shower with watering can head; our pillows from Green Street market; our blanket from Morocco; our Moroccan tagine dish to protect food against sand and flies.

B increasingly concerned with security. ‘They come from no-where’ he warns. ‘Put out your torch!’ So we must sit in dark until he is sure the light is not coming our way. I star gaze and bemoan how little I still know.

DESERT to Atta

Tom, he calls me, or Sarg. You are more Tom Boy than Girl!

I’d dared to suggest another place for the water as he was packing the car. Packing is Barry’s domain and I must learn to keep my nose OUT!

‘I do not tell you how to cook!’

So when that morning preparing for some sand dune yoga, upside down, I spotted a flat wheel, I said

‘I’ll not interfere.’

Chris the Oracle: If you have never changed the wheels on your car before, do not practice in the Sahara’.. Which was, of course, exactly what we were doing. With luck and B’s old skills, he managed to find both jacks and using sand ladders as base support, changed the flat wheel.

A dramatically unfolding landscape. After the flat expanse of the 4 day train track journey, we climbed the Chorm ridge driving through oasis and finally onto TARMAC road to Atta.

Hotel Wa Ha (Oasis) hot water, en-suite (naturally) huts, we washed clothes and body. What is it like to live 24/365 in the sand, ears and clothes permanently sanded?


We experience heat for the first time on our voyage, and sleep in the afternoon as does the rest of the town which closes giving empty streets.

Morning altercation on usual old chestnut:  the hotel owner wants his boy to take us to tyre menders. B says: I can find my own tyre menders.

Last year the mantra was ‘La voiture est perdu la force’

This year’s mantra: ‘Mon marie n’aim pas les guide. Il est tourjour la meme’

We have to find our way in this town, where once again the women in the market want to charge us thousands of oogies for carrots.

B has not come from treacle bumsted! Atta is historically accustomed to tourists, having an airport with direct flights to Paris. But tourism has recently taken a hit and we meet few others. Tour operators reacted nervously after a recent coupe d’etat and the murder 2 years ago of 4 French all toped with the cancellation off the Paris Dakar rally.

That first night in Atta with my usual errand of finding a restaurant suitable for B’s ‘i am not fussy’ taste, we were both drawn to the confidence of a larger than life man leaning easily on a carpet outside on the pavement (as these Arab Mauritanians do), with his friend, watching the Atta world pass by. He took charge immediately I presented my problem

‘What do you want to eat? Go with them, take them to such and such’, So one of the women near by was sent to be our guide.

After we’d eaten (somewhere else) he passed us in his Hummer

Allez! bien manger?

‘Bein, mais mon marie n’aime pas le poulet. Il voudrais chercher un bier.’ He laughed.

As we were on another errand to find a place to change our much unloved pounds, we saw the Hummer.

‘He will know’ said B, and I thinking the same.

Eager to help us, keen for the challenge of a spot of business, they swept us into the Hummer. Beside Mustapha sat a Moor and it seemed at first like the two principal tribes of Mauritania, Moor and Black. A few phone calls are made. We drive out of town to get petrol. More phone calls are made, a few cigarettes smoked. A man is summoned to sit beside us. Calculators from the pockets of the Mauri robe. The rate is embarrassing – 250.

It transpires they are tourists like us and leaving for Nouakchotte tomorrow. Mustapha is from Cote d’Ivoire where he works for an American cigarette company as the West African negotiator. The Hummer suits him down to the red sand earth. As we pass we see the heads turn, he is a peacock in this chariot, as we were for 20 minutes.


Put on my Sarg outfit for hopeful travel but we encounter obstacles to surmount from our start of day: tyre repaired yesterday gone flat (‘I told you! I did not trust that boy”! I can find tyre places myself!). Not possible to extend visa until visa has expired. And where to change our beloved and unwanted pounds?

We began with our familiar encounter with the tribe of tollermen, (engineers) the game of language.

Wh-ha / ith-nay / lea-ther / al-ba-ha / ham-sa / sit-a / seb-a / man-ya / t-sa – ash-ra /One to ten in arabic. Can I remember Wolof? Russian? Hindi? Kiswahili?

Just as we commence the climb of Ebnou pass: bang, rattle, rattle. Tyre burst (I told you! We should have got two spare wheels!)

More counting in arabic practice as another tribe of tollermen mend the wheel.

As the sun is setting we drive up the street of tyre repairers (which must say something about this landscape) and tentatively ascending over stones we climb the Ebnou pass and camped on the plateau. Not as remote as before for we are joined by local nomads passing who happily drink a fruit juice. One in the middle of a conversation gets up, faces Mecca, and begins the simple ritual of prayer, then resumes the fruit juice and conversation, with sand still on his forehead.


We’re driving on the ADRAR plateau.

Chingetti  is on the ancient caravan route linking the old kingdoms through Mali to Chad, and also linking other well known stopping points, Ouadane and Timbuktoo. Today Chingetti is on the 4WD caravan route, sadly for locals in demise but happily for us who pass through finding easy hotel spaces.

‘It’s the best place to stay here but run by a French woman, what to do?’ shrugged Thomas. We’d met Thomas briefly in Atta, turned a corner in Chingetti and found him here. He took us comfortably under his wing and led us to Mauve Blue. He, who apologises for the French, is French. From Marsailles. His prejudice against the French made us laugh, and he agreed to join us for dinner that evening.

Our host is Sylvie, who B and I both warm to immediately (no it wasn’t the generous gift of drink). She’s a grafter. A nomad like us, she has been in Chingetti 11 years building up her business, Mauve Blue, clearly the best place to stay in Chingetti. Our age, skin hardened by the sun, always on the move, she is pleasantly relaxed and without controlling tension, happy to delegate to her staff – run by a Mauritanian called Speedy – while she places the bottle of Pernod on the table for us to help ourself to, and gives Barry free beers. She seems to like our company. Perhaps because we are not French.

I walked over the sand wadi that divides the old city with the new, and took refuge from pestering traders under a tree, watching a man cure a goats skin by rubbing it with salt, folding it up and leaving in the trees shade for the process to take its course.

‘Can i take a photograph?’ I asked tourist-like in French

‘Yes, if i can take one of you.’,

‘With what?

‘With my camera, of course, he said, and such challenge amused me.

‘Of course i have no camera’, he said, after I’d taken the photograph

We passed a happy hour, sitting watching the Chingetti world pass by, many knowing him. It did not take long for him to find my nub: Why do you have no children. He himself had ‘Between 6 and 7 wives’.

Our evening is unexpectedly rich in company and food. We provided Serrano ham and Rjoca wine, while Sylvie openly declared her hunger for our good company in this desert of her life. Thomas, our fixer, gave us so much laughter (have you taken your commission?), my eyes watering – something about consome soup. In between we talked of progress, and the idea of suspending belief in progress liberated the anxiety from always expecting something that will never be delivered: change for the better.

‘Sorry for the dentist talking so much. He was French’, Thomas continued his contra-French view. The dentist did indeed talk much – and eat and drink in equal amounts. He was in Chingetti organised by some charitable ING, 15 days in total, and in the 5 spent so far he had extracted 150 teeth: Too many dates, he said.

I imagined life in Chingetti was like my mothers friend who lived in Walsingham: ‘I couldn’t go to the toilet without someone looking through the window!’ Sylvie complained. B took photos of locals pretending to take of me. They’ve seen it all before.

Three cups of Mauri tea with my Bedouin skin curer, while inside sitting on the floor, flies buzzing. He offered peanuts, asking me about prejudice. He had no interest in talking of inconsequential things, like why is the Mauri robe blue?

Despite the arrival of a gaggle of French from the Embassy today, Sylvia again spends her evening with us, Beer, Pernod and ice on the table. She spoke of how in the Loir valley where she comes from, there are people living once aristocratic but now with no money, living in huge castles with no heating, wearing holy jumpers, eating off silver plates. This, of course, is her family she describes. So we three sit, from opposite backgrounds – Barry from Nissen Hut, Sylvie from Chateau, but both here in Chingetti, free from the constraints of birth.

‘I think I would not have been happy had I stayed. Here I have tried to do something, in a small way it has worked. So now I know I can do something, it gives me confidence. I did not do it to make money, but to see if I could do it. And I am restless, I always want to do better. And now I want to move again, 11 years is enough. Where I do not know. When I am old? I do not know. Perhaps Morocco, but not France’.

On our evening stroll we’d happened upon some over-landers. Our first. And two English, Jennifer and Kim (Toyota Landcruiser) traveling with an Italian in his bespoke converted lorry. They turned up later, with two French who wanted to go the same way as us, over sand to Tidzika – 3 days and not advisable alone. But we are just sitting down to dinner so we agree to meet tomorrow, at Ouadane or travel there together – depending what time Barry got up in the morning.


I watched the 3 overlanders leave the ouad at 9.30. B had no intention to join them. We finally left at 11.

It was a sublime landscape, driving on smooth but ok sand, through classic oasis, and desert villages, boys herding goats. Our first real dunes. We’re both surprised how much grows in sand.

B driving, relishing sand driving, confident to climb a dune or two until SIS again. Sand-ladders out, and so are we. Lost the piste then SIS again. A wind blow up. Piste disappeared. While B gets Des out all on his own, I climb dune and through bins can see tent. Put down bins but cannot see motor or Barry. That’s how easy it is to get lost in the desert. Shout but wind in wrong direction. After a few circles lost all sense of direction. All footprints disappeared in sand storm. I mark with stone then walk 20 steps in different directions. Overjoyed to find B and Des.

The tent occupants very welcoming, and we’re ushered in, served Mauri tea while 10 women unpack trinkets outside. B feels very uncomfortable with all this effort, and feels pressure to buy. We are offered a guide. The piste will be difficult to find, they say. Naturally B declines. A Ouadane trader who has just arrived, generously drives with us to the beginning of the piste to Ouadane –

‘Touts droits, touts droits, 35km’ he pointed.

After 10 meters we’d lost the piste and our sense of direction. A dizzy moment driving round in circles on terrible rock ground, realising we were LOST IN THE DESERT. I got a handle on the GPS. ‘Head for that tree over there.’ So we made our way, occasionally finding a trace of piste to reaffirm our route.

We roll joyfully into Ouadane late afternoon. The three hour drive had taken us 8. No sign of the English Overlanders. I need time out and latched onto a guide (Sid) as B negotiated to stay in best camp (used by Total engineers exploring for oil in this area and protected by the army).

I’m delighted the GPS worked, giving confidence. It would not have happened if we’d had a guide. But I still want guides and respect their local knowledge – this old chestnut with B and I will not resolve.

Ouadane: 11Century fortress now abandoned, but seamlessly joined to living village next door. Built on an escarpment, the city wall is in tact (restored by Spanish), with 3 doors, one for locals, one for animals and one for strangers. The three founders homes have been restored. It is dusk by the time we had adventured through and as we returned we met the old man who is allowed to live in the abandoned city, Sid pressing a 100 bill into his hand.

At the end of the day, 7,000 ougies for a toilet (about £11) for Barry happiness and £5 for a guide for mine, everything relative. But B not happy and suspicious of me with guides!

Ouadane -ATTA

The most spectacular canyon descent. Barry expertly driving steep down a dried up river bed, over huge bolder stones. Health and Safety to the wind. Descending one plateau to another. Extraordinary geology. What do we do with all these images?

Ruins of Fort Saganne, the movie, built in 1985 French Sahara epic, with Gerard Depardieu and Catherine Deneuve, perfect setting. Down finally to canyon floor, patched with desert thorn trees in a dried up ouad, a shy boy herding goats and around us these timeless table top mountains.

Atta -Nouakchotte

A fast tarmac drive out of the Adra plateau through contrasting landscape. I driving too fast.

At the entrance to Nouakchott, camel caravans, donkeys pulling water barrels, Mercedes cars with darkened windows, sand streets, roundabouts, traffic lights (not working), and a very kind garage manger who drew us an excellent map to find our hotel.

‘But we are alone here’ I said, meanly to B, as we arrived at a Maison D’Hote apartment, spacious, clean with bourganvilla abounding.

We should not be traveling together any more, he says. You prefer others company to mine.

Nouakchotte, the capital of Mauritania, is unusually 5km inland, its orientation towards the desert, reflecting the desert original of Mauritania dominant Moors.

An inquisitive saunter down Avenue de General de Gaulle:

A Syrian pharmacist, selling a perfect portable toilet seat for 6,000 oogies, porting the Mauritanian dress because he has to, saying it was 30 years since he lived in  Damascus, where he’d have his head cut off should he return. A Lebanese supermarket with olive oil from the Lebanon, Halva, and clean stocked shelves; a photocopy shop with an animated discussion with an Advocat: ‘The English do not like to learn another language.’

‘But now the pound stirling tumbles, and the euro rises, we may have to change. All the world changes now and we turn upside down, inside out’

‘Yes, il faute fair le Housekeeping – the occidental forgot to keep his house in order, he rested on his laurels!’ The Advocate laughed then told the story of his beloved English Landrover, tracing its recent changes of ownership and fall from one of the most respect cars for dirt roads to now the most unpopular, with the Toyota easily challenging and toping.

Outside we do indeed see a camel in a Toyota pickup – and what does the camel make of it all, crunched up, moving fast on tarmac?

I am a Mauritanian, I eat meat, I wear my blue robe….’


Conversing with two English engineers working here, 6 weeks on, 4 weeks off. They’d worked with each other 30 years, and were like a married couple with their swift responses. One, the operations fixer, down to earth, canny bright, was married and could not imagine being otherwise. The other, the geological brains, was separated, and could not imagine ever getting married again. We naturally exchanged engineering news of meeting Evan the South African gold miner, and who should walk in by Evan. The beer no doubt the magnet. The most expensive yet, £16 a pint. They spoke together of the size and costs of cranes.


Our easy dance has become a sparing fight here in Nouakchott. A very strange argument over a BLUE ROBE purchase. A straight misunderstanding? How could you buy that religious robe, as if declaring ‘I am a Muslim’ And a man. You are more Tom than Girl. And you don’t even like blue.

Meanwhile back in UK, another misunderstanding dominates B’s business, wrong carpet cut and laid. B cannot agree both are linked by same root of misunderstanding. I burst with frustration. Unable to talk through, metaphor. We need time out, but – frustratingly for Barry – we we must do all together, as B has no French.


Two pointers bring us to this place: Petra with her knowledge of the Nile crocodiles and it is one of ‘Chris Sahara Overland’ Mauritanian piste routes. No mention in Lonely Planet all the better. It’s on our journey down to Bamako, turning off the main tarmac road to Moujerra.

In the days when the Sahara was savanna and rivers flowed, these crocodiles, originating from the Nile, made their way across African land, using rivers and underground water tunnels. They are now trapped, well west of their origins, in these diminishing water pools.

More delays with B&P phone calls. Camera lost and found (‘You are so lucky!’). GPS confirms the piste which was well defined after finding, through villages still unconnected by tarmac and reached over sand dunes. We skirt a rock plateau village, cut through a small oasis, ver left and there, in front of us is a narrowing canyon. Africa is full of surprises. We drive through the sandy oued (dried up river bed) and settle. It feels like a film set. Huge rock walls and at their base, unusually green palm trees growing. Boulders litter the oued. We meet the contents of the other car as we start to explore into the canyon, and find two French teachers, (gone happily native), exploring the land they’ve adopted with motor bike and land cruiser. They camp near by in a Mauritanian tent, and talk with Barry while I star gaze, and map out the constellation, 7 sisters.

Morning walk to crocodiles. Our bad temper with each other cannot be sustained in this landscape that happily draws us out of our mean sustained streets. B understandably furious he had not worn proper walking shoes and struggles in his sandals. A tough scramble over the rocks in unrelenting heat with no shade.

However, all is forgotten one hour in when we see the apex of the canyon with lake beneath. B mistakes for log, but through bins it’s unmistakably a basking crock on the shore. Sitting under the shade of the tree for an hour we observe the lake, and watch the ponderous progress of these primordial crocks across the water. They are notoriously shy. An ominous children’s shoe is by the lake side.

The wind takes my hat and we watch, hopelessly, as it falls into the water. Neither of us runs to save it. At first it is taken way into the lakes centre, but the wind changes, and the hat blows back to shore. Saved. ‘You are so lucky’.

We collapse under shade of palm trees and rest peacefully.

In the morning local boys pass by. They are naturally inquisitive, squat in the sand and observe us packing the car, talking in their African pattoir: And see how they put white liquid in their tea, they need special pillows for their delicate heads…. As we share our water melon with them, they tell us the crocodiles here are not man eating. One of them proudly declares he and his father had planted the palms. Barry disappointed it was not a natural landscape, and not happy with the boys staying: ‘I knew it. They always do, you’ll get the whole village. Don’t encourage them. What chance have I of a pony and trap with them here?  If you give them juice, don’t put it in cups’. Oh B!

The last Mauritanian night

Passing moments on the Kiffa road

Billowing blue robes. Three men walking, adjusting their robe on their shoulder. Kid squatting. Goat crossing road. Two girls looking, hesitating, waiving, laughing. A camel reaching for a thorn bush. Two boys dangling on a donkey. Garage boy wheeling balancing rolling two wheels up the street, laughing. Man re-tieing black headscarf around face. Bush desert. Early moon. Dead cattle on road side. Customs/Army/Police check points at every town. ‘Cadeau?’ Pages




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