Tuesday, October 27, 1998

Saharan Mis-adventures

Hi everyone

Sorry for the delay in sending our monthly e-mail but it´s been a hectic 2 months (even by African wanderers standards).

When we last wrote to you we were chilling in the Medina (old city) of Bamako. At the time Dave had contracted Hepatitis A (we didn´t want to worry you!) and Lance was still recovering from his bout of Malaria. A few days later we caught a rough (and expensive) train ride to the capital of Senegal, Dakar. This is a notoriously expensive city for accommodation but luckily we were given a tip by a Peace Corps friend (thanks AfricanZen- you´re a legend) and we ended up staying with a musical family in the poor outskirts of town.

At most times of the day we would hear the sounds of a djembe (drum) saxophone jam which took our minds off our various maladies: Dave had turned a darker shade of yellow and was forced to drink the foulest, most disgusting traditional cure prepared by a wise old Marabout as there´s no western cure while Lance´s Baobab concoction turned out to be a more effective and better tasting cure for his constant spraying of the toilet bowl. Yellow Dave also had to try and convince the British Embassy officials that this was just a temporary change in colour and that it would be o.k. to issue him with a British Work Visa. That hurdle successfully surmounted, we headed North to St Louis, the old colonial capital of Senegal-Mauritania. It´s a delightfully dilapidated town in the centre of the Senegal River (hey, you gotta love Africa) with lots of pastel covered buildings and paved alleyways. We loved it until the 2nd day when our hotel room (where unbeknownst to us, one key fits all) was burgled. Fortunately only one thing was stolen: just the computer! (Yip Dad, get on to the insurance guys - I´ve got a police report in French that they may be interested in.)

The next day we continued North to Mauritania - which is basically a desert trying to be a country. The capital, Nouakchott, was only built 40 years ago and the desert has since successfully mounted a counter attack on the outskirts. This is another notoriously expensive city and we were preparing ourselves for $20 a night accommodation.

That is until we heard about the monkey on the tree!

This was the only information we were given with regards to a mysterious place which seemed to hold within it cheap accommodation. Armed with this knowledge we walked the streets of Nouakchott for an hour until, there it was, a monkey tied to a tree! It turned out to be a restaurant with no accommodation but the Iraqi owner kindly sent us over the road to the Auberge des Nomades.

This place hadn´t officially opened yet, but the guys were so enchanted with us that we became there first clients at a cost of $2-50 each per night. In Nouakchott, Dave had to get Moroccan and European visas which forced us to spend 2 weeks in this funky desert capital. Obviously there´s not too much to do in your average desert capital so we set about turning our new, temporary home into a thriving business empire. We and the owner sat down for a few days over more than a couple of glasses of Nomad mint tea and developed a comprehensive marketing strategy (brochures, internet, traveller´s book, business letters, etc) for the Auberge. We don´t want to blow our trumpets (we would never do a thing like that) but by the time we left his little place was the busiest hotel in Nouakchott! The "what goes around, comes around" principle proved true as our marketing attracted an overland truck which was heading North to Morocco. The problem with the Sahara, amongst other things, is that traffic is notoriously light and extremely expensive. So the truck´s offer of a free lift through the Sahara was miracle that only the Travelling Spirit could deliver (hey, even Dave believes this New Age stuff now!).

Bouya Ahmed & Houdi and us at the Auberge, Mauritania

But it looked like the Wanderers were about to split up as Dave didn´t yet have his Moroccan visa due to bureaucratic delays, but on the day the truck set off the visa came through and in extremely high spirits we set off through the dunes of the Sahara. At that stage, we believed the final hurdle had been crossed: Africa, Jou Moer!

Crossing the Sahara, Mauritania

After three days of desert, dunes, sand storms, heat and laughter we reached the mine field that separates Mauritania from Morocco. Our Mauritanian Nomad guide directed us safely through this zone where one can see the wrecks of three vehicles (they didn´t take a guide!). We eventually arrived at the Moroccan border post and handed in our passports to be stamped and everything went smoothly until the Moroccan military guy finished with the 8 European passports and came to Dave´s African passport. Despite having a valid visa giving that specific border post as the point of entry to Morocco, the Military chief said simply: "No African may pass here, this visa was issued by a civilian authority and I take orders only from the military!"

With that he sent Dave back into the desert minefield to wait for transport back to Mauritania. With tears in our eyes we said goodbye and Lance and the truck headed to Morocco where, the plan was, Lance would contact the SA Embassy for help. Unfortunately the truck was held up at a military checkpoint for 2 days voiding that plan.

So for 4 days, Dave lived in a cave in a Saharan minefield with our SA flag flying proudly above. This part of the Sahara is a sandy plain with scattered rocky outcrops in one of which was a little hollowed-out cave. Every day he had to walk the 2km to the border post, trying as hard as possible to float so as not to set off any mines, to get the military´s generous daily ration of a piece of bread and water and spent the rest of the time trying to build rock walls for the cave to try and get some protection from the terrible sand storms that raged for three of the four days.
Dave's cave, No Man's Land

To cut a long, bleak story short, vehicles heading South arrived on the 4th day and no one stopped! Europeans in empty cars told Dave that they had no place and others simply ignored him. Eventually, the last car in the convoy driven by some Moroccans took pity and gave him a lift to the Mauritanian border post where the Mauritanians kindly ignored the fact that he was technically entering the country twice with one visa.

A cave with a view, No Man's Land

Things happened pretty quickly from there. After arriving in the first big town and sleeping the night there, a kind tourist agency organised a half price airplane ticket to Casablanca and within 24 hours of leaving the desert, Dave arrived in this fabulously exotic city.

In the meantime Lance was working his way North to Marakech on board the overland truck complete with all its typical complexities and personal intrigues amongst the various passengers. Hey we guess we gotta learn this whole social group dynamics deal again!

One day after arriving in Marakech the Wanderers were together again. Africans Unite!

Marakech was lovely, but it all seems so dreamlike now suffice to say that it was 3 days of African Wanderers-style partying. By this stage one would have thought all the hurdles had been crossed, but the fun was just starting.

Dave needed his visa extended by 4 days but his story had hit the SA newspapers and needless to say the Moroccans (Moerkaans) weren´t very enamoured with him. Another long story shortened sees Dave taking a week to deal with, threats ("we want to see nice things in the papers now!"), spies, secret palace (this is a kingdom) officials and a hard working SA Embassy staff in order to successfully get his visa extension.

The Wanderers met up in Fes again for a whole 7 hours before Lance had to head off on his mission. Here´s the deal: Dave had to be out of Morocco in 5 days. Unfortunately he only had a visa for 5 days to cross Europe but England won´t let him in unless Lance is able draw out $1000 in a country with a hard currency at $100 per day (the Credit Card limit) which equals 10 days. So Lance heads off to Gibraltar, a bizarre piece of England in the South of Spain, to start drawing the money. The travelling spirit kicked in one last time and miraculously the ATM just kept on spewing out money which allowed an early Wanderers re-unification in the Southern Spanish city of Algeciras (the first time Dave´s left Africa).

We started hitching with no success and eventually settled for an overnight bus to Madrid.

Europe´s weird, there are too many uptight whities, but the women....! So here we are in Madrid preparing to catch a 24 hour bus to London and complete the final stage of our journey of a life time, which started 17 months and 22 countries ago.

There will be one more e-mail in the African Wanderers series, so stay tuned for our nostalgic summation of the trip from London. In the meantime, would everyone who receives this e-mail directly or via friends please send us a one line note so that we can see how many subscribers travelled Africa with us.

Mayibuye Afrika!

from the proudly African, African Wanderers

Dave and Lance