On the
Mali embassy we spent an hour or two and then we had our visas. The last thing
to do was having lunch at the Senegalese woman. Her lunch place lies on a back
street on the eastern outskirts of town. Abou had taken us there once before, a
half hour drive from his home, so she must be good. So good actually, that she
didn’t have a sign up – no need, she would be sold out anyway. The Senegalese
woman lies in her garden like a whale with two giant bowls of food, one with
bulgur boiled with Maggi and bouillon and the other with either fish, meat or
chicken and a wide selection of vegetables. You handed her 1000 Ouguiya (35
SEK/€4/$5) and she would fill a large bowl with bulgur and large chunks, enough
to feed four. She would also take a handful of chili and lay on the edge, and
on the other edge a handful of the crust of the bulgur. Gourmet food.

As soon
as we were out of town, we were in the desert. Sand everywhere. Scattered
villages, nomad tents. A straight, endless, rather rough road, just narrow
enough that meeting traffic would demand full concentration to stay on the
pavement. A ten hour drive to the Mali border ahead of us.

At the
first military checkpoint the officer complained about his diesel tank leaking
and asked for a contribution. Reluctantly we handed him a bill, which turned
out to be 1000 Ouguiya and his face lit up. After this, it was smooth sailing all
the way to the border, no more harassment and no more bribes. But several times
they admonished me that I was not wearing my bou-bou correctly, something that obviously annoyed them. They’re
proud, the people of the desert. You’re supposed to wear a shirt and the proper
baggy trousers under. No skin should be visible between the knees and the neck.
You should sit upright and carry yourself with dignity. Not easy to relax if
you’re a Mauretanian…..

Two boys
offered us a bottle of lait de chamoux,
camel’s milk, still warm. It tasted very nice, resembling cow’s milk but
richer. Abou told me that camel meat is a delicacy and quite expensive. It
should be boiled in camel’s milk and is very good for your santé. These animals are more useful than I thought. Besides being
very graceful to watch.

After a couple hours we passed the town of
Aleg, which is near where the French family was murdered. We filled the cars with gasoil
(diesel) and I asked the locals about it, and they all agreed it was a really
bad thing, but that we shouldn’t worry – this is a safe part of the country.

We kept on driving, and when the day was over
and the stars started filling the sky, we stopped for the night at a
restaurant/auberge. This was in true desert style – mattresses with pillows
strewn out on the sand, with a choice of outdoors or under a ceiling. On a rack
pieces of fresh goat meat were exposed. We only had 3000 Ouguiya so we had to
negotiate, and ended up with some nice pieces of ribs and steak.

We then had tea with the locals. And chatted a
long while with a crew of Malines truck repairmen, who were on the verge of
desperation after having spent a full month in this desolate place trying to
repair a broken truck engine. The trailer had obviously been parked blocking
half the road all that time – without being driven into, which surprised me.
The crew looked oil soaked and unhappy, one almost started crying. We suggested
they find another tractor to haul the trailer away, but their boss had told
them no. They were being skinned by the local moors and they were probably
tired of eating goat.

That is one thing about the moors – they try
to get your money. Even the ones we stayed with the first night, where we
watched football and had tea with them, asked for a relatively outrageous sum
of money (namely 5000 Ouguiya, 175 SEK, €18) for the spaghetti and very basic
lodging they had offered.

The Africans we meet are different; they don’t
try to eat you up. Abou hates the bartering. I was buying shoes at the market
in Nouakchott and the price came down from 6000 to 4500. I showed them 4200 and
after a long verbal exchange, Abou grabbed my money and threw it on the table
with disgust, picked up the shoes and said “allez” – let’s go. Perhaps to Abou, I am about as bad as the
moors. I still have a lot to learn about Africa….

Now we discussed where to stay for the night,
and we decided to just grab a blanket and stay on the mattresses we had dinner
on. These people were hardly going to shoot us after drinking tea with us, eh?
Perhaps that is what the French should have done. If you mix with the locals,
they will protect you. Remember, most people in this world are good people. The
exceptions are a minority of few.

The next day was another long drive that would
take us to the Mali border. The road was straight and endless like so many
other days. The houses and villages we saw looked very basic – cubes with two
doors. Sometimes a mosque. People looked very poor. More reading about
Mauretania here:

in Mauretania

Finally we saw mountains. And some mountains!!
It looked just like Arizona. Jon went wild with the camera. This would be a
perfect setting for an African western. We suggested “The Good, the Bad
and the Mauritanian” or even better “For a handful of Ouguiya”.
Bonko from Nouakchott would be terrific as
the damsel at the saloon, and cool Abou
would play the Clint Eastwood part. :o)

The wildest part of the mountains occurred
just before the last city of Mauretania, Ayoun. While we were busy taking
pictures, a boy in a costume came running down the road until he stopped by our
cars. I noticed he appeared to be freezing, although the temperature was at
least 28 Celsius. He didn’t speak, nor did he appear to understand anything we
said to him. Finally I gave him an olive and some water, which he cautiously
accepted. He looked like a gypsy boy. Strange he was.

A cowboy on a horse came driving his cattle
across the road, again and again, as if he was having fun. Finally a new
Landcruiser came at high speed and veered at the last minute, not braking the
speed, missing the trees and rocks by inches and almost tipping over (they had
a sheep and lots of packing on the roof…). The driver and passengers looked
totally unperturbed and kept on driving. The cowboy gave them a long look.

In Ayoun we fuelled up and continued to the
border, where the douanier quickly
spotted the fake stamp in my passport and demanded a 10000 Ouguiya fine. We
didn’t argue, paid and went on to the Mali outpost. Now everything was different.
We were only minutes away from a cold beer! :O)))))))))