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Africa 07/08

Stockholm - Timbuktu

Near Ayoun

English Posted on 2008-01-30 20:00

The very strange boy. The touareg who drove his cattle in front of a careening Landcruiser (with a rooftop goat). Landscape just west of Ayoun.

East Mauretania between Kifa and Ayoun

English Posted on 2008-01-30 16:46

Sandstone formations reminiscent of Arizona.

Eternal struggle against the desertification.

More eastern Mauretania

English Posted on 2008-01-30 14:02

Eastern Mauretania

English Posted on 2008-01-30 13:57

Leaving Nouakchott

English Posted on 2008-01-06 15:59


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)))))))))


English Posted on 2008-01-02 14:39

Nouakchott is the capital of Mauritania and a place that is really hard to describe. It is spread out over a large area with between one and two million inhabitants. There are a few modern buildings in what is called le capital but the rest of the city is mainly one and two story buildings. Chaotic is not a good enough description of the traffic, it is like a giant folk race with cars where nothing is working except for the driveline and perhaps a light bulb or two. They don’t just have dents, some cars are more like loosely jointed pieces of sheet metal. Then there are countless donkeys with carts behind them, goats, dogs garbage and of course people everywhere. There are few paved roads, and since we are in the desert here, the roads are running in deep sand and cars get stuck all the time. Anarchy is the rule, you just push ahead on either side of the road or anywhere a car can slip through, honk your horn and use your lights (if you have any) to show you’re coming. Actually, what looks like total anarchy actually is a rather sophisticated system of communication that has evolved naturally and many of the drivers are eminently capable of driving here without accidents. Still, there are a large number of vehicle impacts. Damage is mostly small though because it is nar impossible to drive faster than 20 kms/hr in the sand and the endless traffic jams.

One of the capable drivers is our friend Abou Moustapha Si who met us at a gas station shortly after our arrival. Abu is a great guy around 25 yrs of age, a bachelor of Senegalese descent.

(The complicated relationship between the Moors and the Africans, the so called “White Moors” who may be pitch black but still think of themselves as white, the various ethnical groups and languages, whether there is still a slave trade and other interesting topics and for reading more about the amazing country that is Mauritania I recommend going to Wikipedia or making a search. For Swedish readers, there is an interesting (but probably not wholly truthful) article by Marianne Ahrne here: )

It was obviously a meeting that Abou had been looking forward to since he first met Jon and Joakim four years ago. Abou is one of the hubs on this trip. He will probably join us on the trip to Mali and be invaluable as a driver, a guide, an interpreter and a friend. He is also a man of many trades, and he would help us sell the Peugeot the next day.

Abou lives in the fifth arrondissement where the population is mixed but mostly African. He has a large apartment where we were to spend the next three days. Abou started cooking right away, one of his many trades. Large chunks of salt water fish, a few vegetables, hibiscus seeds, chili, various spices and a long boil and viola. A lovely Senegalese dish, that we shared eating with our right hands from a big bowl, sitting on the floor.

The Peugeot was sold to a policeman named Yaya. His idea was taking my passport and getting a stamp in it that the car I had arrived in had somehow crossed the Senegal border. I reluctantly let him have my passport and was a little bit worried. And more than two days passed before I was to see it again. Being a foreigner in Mauritania without a passport is not a good idea! And getting a new passport would take a while – longer than I would like to stay here.

We spent the days here driving around, doing a little shopping, taking in the scene and talking to the people around the place where we were staying. The men and the incredibly beautiful west African women. An 18 yr old girl named Bongko helped us with cooking and errands. She and her sisters and other women often came by, and for some reason they were changing their clothes every time. We were more than flattered by their attention. :o)

For New Years Eve Abou slaughtered the little goat that someone had given as a gift to Joakim the day before. The legs were put in a put In a stove with the grease and the liver and three hours after the animal had died we were enjoying it as a meal of very fresh, young, tasty and tender meat.

For the evening, we went to the fishing harbor which is actually only a long stretch of beach with an endless row of wooden boats in the sand. We bought fresh tuna and langouste. They had a huge langouste, over 3 1/2kilos that we thought about taking but it was frozen and cooking it could be a problem (I later regretted this). We took two smaller ones instead.

The tuna and langouste were prepared in much the same fashion as the goat – au nature. Natural, without any recipes or anything else. Only a slice of lemon and some salt. The tuna was grilled over charcoal so it was barely cooked and then we let it rest under a lid for a while. The taste was wonderful. Then the langoustes were halved and then grilled over intense heat. Now the taste was sensational. About the best seafood I ever had. I wonder if langouste is even better than lobster? They look the same, except for the fact that the langouste gets along without claws.

We got the Peugeot sold, learning a few lessons like that in Africa “right away” means tomorrow and ”in an hour” means some other day. Insha’Allah! With Abou now we are four drivers for two cars which make more sense. Today is the first of January 2008. It is Tuesday. Tomorrow morning we are ready to go the Malian embassy and get our visas and then get out of this crazy place. ;o)

Actually, the spirit of this place is amazing, the people are colorful, patient and generous.

There’s a lot to like. Perhaps I will be back someday. Hopefully they will then have running tap water and better plumbing.

Northern Mauretania

English Posted on 2008-01-02 14:34

It was getting dark and we were quite exhausted from a very long day. We decided to stay in the first oasis on the left side. There we stayed with the Moors of the area at a simple auberge, where they prepared spaghetti for us served in a huge bowl with a small piece of chicken on top. The spaghetti proved difficult to eat with just the fingers. I guess we should have asked for their regular cous cous instead. The spaghetti was what they figured we would like.

After dinner we were invaded by young people from the village who were very eager to test our cell phones, MP3-players and digital cameras. Not that they didn’t have their own cell phones, just that they shared the interest that especially young people all over the world have for these novelties.

We also swapped clothes, donning their boubous (kaftans) and chech (turbans). One of the young moors was a Burt Reynolds lookalike – photos later….

We left before daylight and drove south to Nouakchott (450 kms), where we arrived before noon.

We were driving all the way through a sandstorm that made the desert look like a painting in the haze. Wooden sheds and small huts with the handwriting “auberge” or “restaurant” on the wall. Wornout tents. A few trucks on the road, the occasional French tourist in a camping car. And the annoying police controls, always looking for booze. One of them searched my suitcase when he fell over and lost his hat because there was a toy that looks a lot like a real snake in there. We laughed and drove into town.

The tragedy in Mauretania

English Posted on 2008-01-02 14:32

Just a few short words about an incident that happened last week in Mauritania. A French family of five was attacked when they were picnicking on the roadside near Aleg in the south. They were robbed and then shot with automatic weapons, including the children. Only the father survived, and he is in hospital with multiple gun wounds.

This was reported all over the world and caused an outcry among the French. Is it safe to go to Mauritania? What had happened? Al Qaida took responsibility for the attack. There were reports of bombings along the Algerian border.

We talked to the French we met and also Moroccans who were discussing what had happened. The conclusion was that this was an act by regular criminal thugs and not an act of terrorists.

On the border station, I asked and one officer became agitated and said it was a shame what had happened for Mauritania. All the people had gone to the mosques and said “NON!”, the president had spoken on television and said “NON!”. This was wrong.

I think that after what happened, the roads in Mauritania are probably safer now than they have been before. The control is tightened and everybody driving around is en vigilant.

Addendum: on the Mali embassy in Nouakchott, the secretary took out the visas he had given to the French family. Turned out they were a father with two full grown sons and an Arab friend, no woman. Not the picture media had given, a nice little family with small children camping on the roadside and brutally assaulted by savages. Hmm.

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