THIS IS AFRICA !!!
Actually there are two Africas, the north which is Sahara Desert and Arabic and the south. We were really ready to get out of the Desert. It was a GREAT adventure that wouldn’t have been possible without a lot of help from our friends, Les Gendarme Royal. The point of change is the Senegal River and the change comes suddenly. One minute you’re in sand and dust, the next sugar cane, trees and grass. There are fewer pictures per page here, due in part to the fact that is a lot sameness on the desert. Also, we were in sensitive Military areas a lot and photography is prohibited. There are moments of DANGER and INTRIGUE in this chapter. We felt threatened a couple of times but never felt danger for our lives. Hope you enjoy this write as much as we enjoyed the RIDE!!!
September 30, 2003
Feelin’ Nifty, Cat turns 50, in Agadir
I tried to talk Cat into a Camel ride for her birthday. She nixed the idea. They served scrambled eggs at the buffet so she was pretty excited about that. Funny how little things begin to mean so much when you’ve been without them for a while. Our tablemates, James and Pat are here from England. They came for the sun and are really disappointed. They’re well traveled and like to spend time in sunny places when away from Jolly Old. Agadir in the fall is like Oxnard in June. They call it June Gloom back home. Though they were young they have concise memories of WWII and think that is why so many Europeans including what they feel is a majority of Brits, are against the war in Iraq.
We heard on BBC that the two teenagers who plotted to blow up the liquor section of Marjane in Rabat were sentenced to 5 years each in prison today. They were lucky, there was a charge that they also plotted against the Royal Family. That could have brought the death sentence!
Cat’s birthday would turn out to be a working day. Of course the first stop had to be the Poste Office. The cab driver started away from the Hotel and I reminded him that he forgot to turn the meter on. Thinking that we were typical tourists he said, 10 Dirham. I hit the seat and shouted, “Stop the cab!” The shock made him reach down and start the meter. The ride costs 7 Dirham, we have done it before. It isn’t the 3 Dirham, that’s only 30 cents, it’s the principle of the thing. He wouldn’t do that to a local and he shouldn’t try to hustle me or any other unsuspecting visitors, either. (Shades of Marrakesh!)
The Poste Office experience was a typical Post Office experience. The customers here have a hard time staying in line and tend to push or elbow their way past if you’re not aggressive. The door that closed in our face yesterday isn’t part of the Postal Service, it’s the Customs Office. They have to check the contents before you can seal the package. The fairly nice guy even gave us tape and the uniformed officer helped secure the boxes. They both made it clear that they don’t supply tape but were doing it this once as a favor. Maybe they heard how upset we were last night.
Next stop, after a light lunch, was the Internet Suisse where we spent two hours. We did give up hope of finding a Lonely Planet Guide to West Africa and e-mailed our Base Camp Manager, Charlie, to have him send that and 20 mini CDs for the camera. When we came in the guy at the desk recognized us and then said, “Hey Rosalie, these guys are from the America.”
What a small world, when she asked where we did our usual, “California”. She said, I’m from California, too”. She is from Ojai, just 20 miles or so from Oxnard. She came here several years ago as a Peace Corp Volunteer and liked it. After her tour was finished she went home but couldn’t get Morocco out of her mind. Now 20 years later she is back, teaching Drama at the American Language Center. She offered names and numbers of a couple of friends who might help us when we get further south.
The Cab we hailed had the driver you should always hope for. He was courteous, listened to our needs then set off on a last ditch effort to find Mini CDs. He took us to 4 shops, even came in and asked in Arabic to speed things up. The last place asked to see the CD then the guy put it into his computer and started pulling the pictures up. He thought I wanted to have prints made. Once we got past that juncture he still wouldn’t let me have the CD. He was enjoying our pictures and copying them. He even made a screen wallpaper of one floral picture.
Our Taxi driver was young, handsome, dressed in nice Levi’s and a Ralph Lauren shirt. He shut the meter off each time we stopped. He was great and he got a GREAT TIP.
Cat was on a mission to get the recommended Malaria pills. He dropped us at CNSS Clinic where Cat had spoken with a Doctor yesterday. Dr. Jarib speaks pretty good English and explained what had happened yesterday when Cat thought he had sent her on a wild goose chase. The Doctor was in a time consuming procedure and was sorry he had missed Cat. Alas, he wasn’t available today so Dr. Jarib called the Pharmacy and arranged for them to get a 6 months supply for us. They didn’t have that much stock on hand but will have it at 6:00 PM tonight.
I sat at the keyboard composing these lines while Cat went back for the pills at 6:00 PM.
Cat’s BD Dinner was at the same place we ate the first night in town. It’s walking distance and the food is good. A single guy came in and sat a few tables from us. When we asked if he was French he nodded yes. Within minutes we were best of friends and Dominique moved to the adjacent table and joined our celebration. He is in the midst of divorce and came here, just to get away for a few days. We had a great time, he told us all his problems and we toasted to his new life. Then we lifted a glass to Cat and I got the duet to do Happy Birthday, we all joined in.
The waiter gave Cat two roses as we left. She can’t take them with us tomorrow but didn’t want to turn his gift down. Pat and James came down the stairs, headed out for a walk and Cat gave them to her.
October 1, 2003
Agadir to Tiznit
Though we woke up early enough we seemed to be moving in slow motion. Packed, we had breakfast at 8:00. Our friends, James and Pat were there but seated a few tables away. We ate the boiled eggs and bread with juice and filled up on croissants and coffee. We did see them on the steps and they wished us good luck with our voyage. When they said that they admired us we told them it was mutual. They seem to have a very good life.
It was 10:10 by the time we were checked out, loaded up and rolling. We took a right and looped around to the main highway. A nice fellow on the corner pointed south and said, “Oui, Tiznit”. We were on to the next leg of our Odyssey.
The road was wide, smooth and flat. Traffic was brisk and fairly thick. We stopped at 16 Km to get some cash. The suburb is called Ait- Melloul and it is intense. The road narrowed to two lanes and the traffic thickened to a steady slow moving stream. This lace is the opposite of Agadir, it is cluttered, dirty and the car fumes burned our eyes. Cat went across the street to an ATM while I stood guard at the bikes.
Onward, we broke free of the smog and city traffic and began a long flat, bumpy ride. We hesitate to say boring but it is a lot of sameness. We rode without stop for another 15 Km to Sidi Bibi and turned onto a side street lined with shops. One had beautiful bananas so we bought a small bunch. The café across the street was preparing for lunch. It was a little early but we decided to eat rather than chance being hungry, out in the middle of nowhere. Tajine, lamb with a few vegetables and very good bread. School must have let out while we were seated there because we became the center of attention to several groups of boys aged 6-7 to early teens. Two of the young ones kept walking back and forth until we finally stopped them and gave them our cards.
More long, straight, flat road but the wind began to hamper our progress. It blew in from the Atlantic and pressed against our right temples. Then at 60 Km we hit a dip into a riverbed and a few little ups and downs.
Our legs were tiring and our butts burning. We both had pain in our knees, too. Cat blames it on being off the bikes for too long! Soft drinks at a table next to the highway as the dozen or so guys at the little stand sat and stared. We still have 33 Km to go and we’re both tired. Maybe Cat’s right?
The road flattened again or should we say it began a long almost impossible to notice climb. We had to keep shifting down and it wasn’t all the wind. We did stop and try to take a picture of a girl on the roof and her Mother with her little brother and sister out in front of the house. By the time we got the camera out the girl was down and out front and Mom had hidden inside.
More of the long and lonely road. Well there are no people along the road, just open space and rocky farmland. There were plenty of trucks and cars but they all gave us space and cheers, honks and thumbs up.
We could see the buildings of Tiznit from 5 Km out. It was still a long pull into the steady wind. Once in town we pulled into the first Hotel we came to. Hotel Idou Tiznit looked closed from the street. As we rolled into the parking lot a guy came out the door. Cat asked in French if the place was open and he said, “Oui, oui”. She went in and I stood by, he stopped and tried to make small talk. He did figure out that I was telling him that we had cycled from Agadir and he seemed amazed. My butt says that it is amazing.
As bland and stark as the exterior was, the lobby is beautiful and our room is very nice. A great value for 460 Ds. ($46)
October 2, 2003
Tiznit to Bouizakarn
The Tail of The Atlas
Yes, breakfast was included so the 460 Ds was a very good deal. Of course breakfast was just orange juice coffee and bread but it was enough to get us going. A young western looking guy came in and sat across from us. Cat struck up a conversation in French but it turned out that he was from Cadiz, Spain, originally. Pablo lives in Tangier now and works with a Medical Company. He travels most of Morocco and Mali, too. He says that we will have no problem with Morocco and Mali is Tres Tranquil.
We carried our own bags down and loaded in the luggage room then rolled down the ramp and parked to get a picture. I did a sweep with the video around the traffic circle then as we prepared to go another ROAD WARRIOR came rolling across the street.
Christian is from Freiburg, Germany. He is here for two weeks, cycling the coast and enjoying life. He started in Agadir and camped here last night. He is headed toward the coast this morning. We talked for a few minutes, got a picture taken by a local guy who had never seen a digital camera then he rolled west and we pushed off to the south.
We did pick up a bottle of water to top off our supply then came the hill. It was up, out of Tiznit, a 3% to 4% grade for 22 kilometers. The scenery is pretty bland. Desert at its driest. Pedaling hard, it took two hours to get there. We decided to find food in the event there was none along the road ahead. We could see that the grade was going to get steeper.
The young boy in the Café was very interested in us and could speak a little English. He enjoyed practicing and we liked the attention. It was another main street void of females. The buildings were new looking but it was a typical Moroccan village. They weren’t serving Tajine yet but he offered an omelet and we ordered. It was very good, we shared it. Actually it was a pan with three eggs fried well done with a sauce of tomato base that had a touch of vinegar in it. Very tasty brunch and it hit the spot.
Onward and the up did become more challenging. We went from the 4% to an 8% in just a few kilometers. Then came the real challenge, it took us an hour to ride then push up the 5 kilometers of switchbacks. It was steep and Cat was feeling a little queasy. That and the grade made for a long slow morning.
I continued my policy of waving at all the trucks, both going south and north. They will pass us several times in the next two weeks and I want them to know that we appreciate them. It reminded me of my first bicycle trip, a tour with China Passages back in 1985. One of the guys, a Rock Musician from Canada, Neil, kept a journal and published it for members of the group. He noted that I rode through the Chinese countryside like and American Ambassador, waving to all the people along the road. I told Cat the story and added a byline. Just as in China my waving arm gets pretty tired by mid afternoon.
After a steady pull that included another 3-kilometer switch back road we stopped at a village at kilometer 42. I’m sure it has a name but I don’t remember what it was. We actually thought about spending the night there. A sign directed us to Hotel and Restaurant Agadir. When we pulled up in front we knew that we wouldn’t be sleeping there. It was pretty basic looking. We did have a Tajine, I went upstairs to the kitchen with the waiter and looked at all the pots that were left from the lunch rush. It was 2:00 PM and they only had a few. The waiter told me that he would choose the first one. He spoke a little English, I told him that his choice was good enough for us.
The basic food was good but over cooked. The pot smelled like my old wood-burning set when it was over heated. We relaxed and enjoyed the stares of the locals, especially the kids. When we were finished eating Cat went to the bikes to slosh water on her hands, to clean off the grease. As soon as she left the table an old, weathered, wise looking wrinkled woman on crutches hobbled up and took her chair. She looked at me then spoke words that were over my head. She did hold out her hand once in the begging gesture but the waiter scolded her so she pulled it back and kept chattering. Of all the things I wished I had done today the greatest is that I should have paid her as a model. I could have given her 20 Ds and had a classic picture. Even better, she would have had enough to get a good meal. Sensing that I wasn’t a soft touch she moved on to a couple of locals who gave her a drink of their water. We cycled away as she drug her crippled legs up the hill. We both lost a chance for a fair, equitable trade.
Though we thought we had topped out we slowly pedaled up another 6 kilometers. Tired and sweaty we stopped in the shade of a tree. Cat noted on her map that we were in the Atlas Mountains, no wonder we were struggling so. I called it the “Tail of the Atlas”.
Rest and a pee in the bushes then back for the climb to the summit. It was mostly downhill from there. In fact after a few nice gliding kilometers we came to the steep decline that would test our brakes and staying power. We were both feeling so sleepy that we feared our eyes would close and we’d crash over the steep cliff on our right. The sight of a truck or what was left of it at the bottom of the ravine brought us both to our senses.
Cat was having trouble with her shifter most of the day. Climbing isn’t a problem because we were in the lowest gear possible. Flying down hill wasn’t a problem because we were going to fast to pedal. The steep downhill took us right up to a Gendarme roadblock just outside of Bou-Izakarn.
We’ve passed hundreds of these since Tangier and the officers just salute or wave and motion us to pass. This time the man in the uniform signaled for us to pull over. He had us park the bikes then began to interrogate us. At first it was just wanting to know where we were going. When I told him Mauritania he had us pull the bikes over and follow him to his little shack, office. He pulled out a pad of paper, took our Passports then asked a stream of questions. “What is your Fathers name, your Mothers maiden name?” He carefully wrote down each answer then asked the same of Cat. When he finished I asked a guy there who spoke a little English if they would radio ahead and let the Gendarme know that we were riding south? He said, “It is for your protection, we like American but we don’t like your Government!”
The Policeman that had asked the questions told us to follow him then stood at the side of the road. Cat asked if we were free to go and he said, wait. A Gran Taxi pulled up, he got in and said, and “You follow”!
We did of course and were glad that we did. He led us to what he called a very nice Hotel, the only one in town. It looked closed but he assured us it was available. He went in a side gate and came back with a young guy in Levis and a western shirt. We were really thankful. Without his help we would have never found the Hotel Anti Atlas. Our room cost 80 Ds, about $8.00. A bargain but it turned out to be a lot like camping. The toilet, shower and sink in the room have no water and are non-functional. The shower and toilet we’ll use are at opposite ends of the courtyard.
It took a lot of trying to get the point across that we needed towels. He finally found two but we’re sure that they usually don’t provide them. Cat took first shower, I followed. It is rough but the water was hot and the room large enough to make drying off easy.
Cat asked our young friend whether it was okay to go into the town in shorts or not. He indicated that it was okay then asked what we wanted. We were hungry, he suggested a place then said that the best was Tajine. A short attempt to route us turned into a trip for him to the place and a return with a bubbling pot. We ate in, at a plastic table. Thanks to Cat’s foresight we had a bottle of Gazelle Mogador wine on board.
Dinner was close to perfect. We did act a little like hi-school kids with the wine, we hid it and pretended to be drinking water. Of course he could smell it but he went along with the ruse.
Back in our Cell Block #4 it was hot. I asked if we could open the non-functioning bathroom window? Our friendly benefactor got a tall stool, I held it while he balance precariously and popped the lock. We had a cross draft and it felt wonderful.
Cat read a little in our LP Guide Book. She found that they divide the Atlas Mountains into 2 categories. The High Atlas, that’s where our friends Mandy and Asesha, who we met in Marrakesh, had gone trekking. The High Atlas rises up east of Agadir to their tallest peak of 4167 meters. (About 13,750 feet.) The slopes to the south, the tail of the Atlas, are actually known as the Anti Atlas. We crossed the Anti Atlas today and now we’re living it up at the Anti Atlas Hotel.
A Two Cockroach Evening!
Cat made a trip to the Squatter toilet before dinner and reported that she had encountered a huge cockroach. She used water and flushed it down the drain. I told her that I thought Roaches could hold their breath for hours and it probably stayed down for dinner and enjoyed the meal. When I visited it before bedtime he was back, on the wall. I left him alone because all things living, even cockroaches, are sacred. Cat had to go as we began to settle in for the night. I used our headlamp to guide her, as the place was pitch black. Oops there he was hanging on the wall right where she would have to squat. I tried to get him with my foot and missed. He fell to the floor and scurried under an old broom. I stomped on the broom and that was the end of his reign of toilet terror.
Back in the room I decided to type a little on the journal. When I opened the closet there was the Toilet Roach’s big brother. I took my shower shoe off and tried to hit him but missed. He dropped to the floor and scurried under the armoire. I shooed under it with my shoe and he took off on the run toward the unusable toilet. The chase was on and I cut him off at the bidet. This time I didn’t miss. We had experienced a two-cockroach kill!
Of course that set the pace for the rest of Cat’s waking hours. I typed while she lay back, sure that she would never get to sleep, fearing the Roach Invasion. She began to snore, lightly, lady like, as I completed this report.
October 3, 2003
Bou-Izakarn to Guelmim
Neither of us slept very well, visions of Roaches danced in our heads. I made a headlamp dash to the squatter at 2:30 then lay awake for a long time. I finally gave up and took an ant-acid. The fat of our Tajine had won the battle with my stomach. I sat and drank water, we talked about our strange life, and how we wouldn’t have known about this place if the Police hadn’t stopped us. I woke up at 6:00 AM but lay in and listened to Cat’s soft breathing. She finally stirred and we set about our tasks for the day. First, coffee and breakfast. Our friendly clerk was still sleeping in the entry area near the front desk. He awoke, as we started past. We were pushing Cat’s bike, we unloaded the bags so that we could have the bicycle shop help us replace the shifter.
Not wanting to bother him, I just asked if we turn right or left to find the bikes repair shop. He jumped up, slipped his sandals on and walked out to the street with us. We could see the bike shop almost directly across the street. Since we’d decided that it was breakfast first he suggested the Blue Awning Café.
We pushed the bike up the street and had bananas, orange juice, bread and coffee. Good food and service, the flies seemed to know that, too. They swarmed around as we waved them off and slipped bites into our mouths trying to beat them to the nutrition that we were competing with for.
The cast of characters was classic. From Berbers in turbans, some very nicely dressed in crisp looking Jellabas and others in blue working mans look. A violin like string instrument player came in and entertained for a while. A fellow in a nice looking western style suit and sandals without socks rode up on a bike and made quite a stir. We thought that he must be the Mayor because everyone stopped as they entered and shook his hand or kissed the top of his head.
Other than the fight with the flies it was a fine breakfast. The bananas are the small bright yellow ones and they’re very tasty. The juice was in a box with a straw to stick into the top. Cat had a catastrophe, she must have squeezed the box because the juice squirted out, all over her leg and the floor. It did draw the flies away from us.
The bike repair guy stopped his work and immediately understood and began disassembling the old shifter. It was bound up tight so he pounded and pried at it. When he left to get another tool I took a turn and turned it. He got it off and in 20 minutes had the new one installed. We took a picture, he got excited and asked for a copy. I tried to explain but failed so we took his address. What a nice person. He showed us his identity card and like that of Mohammed our goggle wearing friend, it said that he was a professional cyclist. El Habib indicated that he had raced when he was young. I must try to find a way to get a copy of the photo back to him.
Oh, the cost? I asked and he just shrugged. I pulled out a 50 Dirham note and handed it to him. He dug in his pocket and pulled up a hand full of change. I put my hand on his shoulder and indicated that I wanted him to have the 50. He grinned from ear to ear. It was probably the most he has ever earned for that short amount of work. Definitely worth it to us.
We pushed down the street to a shop with bottled water and while Cat bought and filled our water bottles I lubed the chains. They were really dry. Kids on the way to school started to gather. A nearby merchant took it upon himself to chase them away. He threatened to take of his belt and whip them. I tried to tell him that I liked talking with the kids, he didn’t get the message and continued to shoo them off.
It was 10:00 AM by the time we pedaled off to the south. It was market day and the stalls were doing a brisk business. At the edge of town we stopped to get a picture of one of the over burdened hay trucks that have been passing us. In fact, like the stalls, it was a hay market. Several trucks were selling by the bale. A young man pushed a bale up the hill on a cart and put it in the trunk of a Mercedes while we watched.
The edge of town was the edge of civilization. At the last building it was just rocks, brush, a long straight road, and us. The road was flat and we were making good time. A short way out of town I remembered that we had taken a new belt for the shifter with us this morning but decided not to pull the wheel if the old one worked. It did so I handed it to Cat while we tightened everything back up. As we rode I thought of it, she sat it down on the bench when she took our picture. Oh well, we still have a couple of extras.
More plain brown desert but we were riding in a wide valley between two ridges of hills. At 18 kilometers out a car pulled by and the guy motioned for us to stop. I slowed but pulled out and we rode on by. He honked and waved so I motioned for him to come along side. He stuck his hand out the window and held up the belt we had just written off. What a nice thing. Apparently El Habib knew that Balido was driving this direction and asked him to catch us and give it to us. Of course we took a picture of him handing it to Cat. He gave us his address and asked for a copy of the photo. Now we really must try to get copies and mail to both of them.
From that point on it was a little up and a little down but generally flat. I waved at all the trucks and we flew. The 40 Ks were ours in just 2 hours including the stop for the belt and picture.
Confusion reigned as we rode into Guelmim. Out guidebook suggested a couple of Hotels. We thought we were on the right track to find one but finally had to give up and ask. It was another ask, ask, ask but we did see it on a side street and rolled up across the street. It looked pretty basic and we were pretty tired of basic after last night. A young guy standing there spoke in French to me. When I told him that I only speak English he got excited. He’s an English language teacher and has a cousin living in The Bronx, New York. We enjoyed a good conversation as he led us down the street to the Hotel Bahich. Boushabe and I talked while Cat checked us in. He told me of another US connection, he has a girl friend in Kentucky. She has been married and has a 2-year-old baby. They met on the Internet? After a picture he left but said that he would like to join us later for perhaps a cup of tea.
The room is basic but we have out own toilet and shower. They are in close proximity and the toilet will definitely get a shower when we shower but it is clean and the water actually runs in the bathroom.
It was 1:00 PM by the time we got the bikes secured in a room downstairs and carried the bags up. We chose lunch before shower. Down stairs the waiter tried to explain that they weren’t serving food then took Cat down the street. She came back and told me that we were eating at a different place, no AC but a nice guy who joked with her and spoke good English. Our second Habib of the day was another great find. `He studied English at Hotel School. He is an unemployed waiter and a character. He’s as full of stories as I, and loves to tell them.
We talked as we ate and I bought him a Coke. Cat asked about wine and he told us that there are only two stores in town that sell alcohol. They are next to each other, one is owned by a Jewish guy but he is closed on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. That was disappointing to us then he laughed, he loves to joke, and told us that there is an illegal store just a couple of doors away from the Jewish guys, run by a Moroccan. He is only open when the other shop is closed. Habib thinks they are in collusion?
He offered to walk with us, as he was sure that we would never find the place. He was right and what started out as only a quest for wine turned into a tour of Guelmim. We walked down small streets, past a school where the kids all shouted out to us in French. He led us into the produce market, most of the stands were closed but it did have the nice smell Habib described.
The story of the Alcohol Store is worth telling, too. Muslims are frowned upon if they drink and to sell alcohol is forbidden. The store is closed on Friday and Saturday to observe his Sabbath. So, how do we buy wine today since it is Friday? There’s a Moroccan guy that has a stand next door to the Jewish guy. The Police look the other way when he’s open and he’s open, you guessed it, on Friday, Saturday and one other day that the Jewish guy closes. Habib says that they work together? I wonder if the Jewish guy actually owns both? When he finally wound us through the streets and alleys to the Alcohol store we knew he was right, we would never have found it on our own. The Moroccan guy only had Red and Rose wines. We bought two bottles of Red and a small bottle of Water of Life, a schnapps like drink made of distilled fig and anisette, for Habib.
Another side trip, we climbed up to the old falling down walls of the original Kasbah. Habib told us that in its glory days the walls were so thick that they rode horses around the top on guard duty. We could see the roof tops of old Guelmim and all the way out to the Camel Market. He dispelled the pooh pooh the guide book had put on the Camel Market west of town. It isn’t as big as it used to be but he feels that it is one of the most impressive events here and we should see it before we leave. He wanted to go now but we were tired and decided on a cool shower.
Back at Hotel Bahich we opted for a stop at the Internet Café across the street. Habib suggest that if it was too hot the one down the street will open at 4:00 PM and it has AC. I spoke quietly to Cat about asking him to join us tomorrow and take some pictures of us at the Camel Market. He seemed delighted and suggested that he would meet us later at the Hotel and show us a good place for dinner. Maybe even a place where they serve barbequed Camel! We were delighted, he suggested that he was a Muslim but, like many, he enjoys red wine occasionally. We had a date.
He was really right about the Internet place. It was sweltering inside. We just dumped the junk and read through the other messages. The machine was slower than Christmas and we were sweating like it was the 4th or July.
The shower was good, it really took the edge off of the near heat strokes we had felt in the Internet place. After, we just journalized and enjoyed a cool cross breeze.
Thinking that Habib would be there at 7:30 PM, we went down and sat at a table in the street front patio. It was almost 8:00 and we were hungry when Boushabe showed up. He had another guy with him, Hammoui, who works at a restaurant. We gave up on Habib and followed. They led us through a shopping alleyway to Mohammed V Street. When we crossed Habib mysteriously showed up. He asked why we didn’t wait? I told him that we gave up, we were hungry. I asked him to join us and he did.
Dinner was fun but there was a definite rivalry for us between Boushabe and Habib. In fact Habib told us that Boushabe wasn’t a teacher, he works in a tourist shop. He told us that many things aren’t what they appear to be here in Morocco. Earlier Boushabe admitted that he wanted us to come to the shop but we told him that we wouldn’t buy anything and weren’t interested. We now felt that he was getting a commission from Hammoui for having gotten us to his restaurant. That probably meant that Habib was beat out of one? He did tell us that with the economy in Morocco he could live a good life on 1,800 Dirham per month. ($180 US)
Boushabe had to go back to work in the shop. We talked then with Habib’s help we ordered Camel meet brochette and our second Tajine of the day. He had a small salad and a couple of bites of the meat. Camel tasted like beef to us. Hammoui had promised wine and he delivered. We think he sent a runner to the Moroccan guy while we waited. It was the full liter, cheaper bottle of red, Cat and Habib drank most, I just had a couple of glasses. Red wine doesn’t set that well with me. Hammoui even came to the table, glass in hand, and poured one for himself, with our approval.
Boushabe came back and cornered Cat in a conversation about Muslim beliefs. I was glad that I had Habib to talk with. We were tired, they wanted to move the party. We opted for bed and walked toward the Hotel. They all went in different directions after goodbyes. We made a date to meet Habib at 8:00 AM. I asked him to be our guide and cinematographer. He seemed pretty happy about the idea.
Habib told me of his plan to have his restaurant someday. It isn’t easy but he has his eye on a place and is trying to get some money together.
We broke up the party, told them all goodnight and started back to the Hotel. On the way we took a side trip to the Internet place. The machine was slow and the room still hot. After cleaning up junk and reading other we decided to hold the messages and answer later.
As we entered the Hotel room I opened the armoire to check the computer and my heart sank. Someone had been in the room and the black case was open. I grabbed it up and opened it. The computer was there. It appeared that someone had tried to open the bag and got the zipper jammed. That in it’s self was a problem but just knowing how close the computer had been to someone else’s dishonest hands and that we still have it brought a sigh of relief. Then Cat checked our toiletry bags and sure enough the bumbling burglar had scored, he found the 100€ we had stashed there and made off with it. A quick inventory left us feeling that the Euro was all that was missing.
We took the bag and went downstairs to complain. The desk clerk denied that it could have happened. I was angry and showed him the broken zipper. I told him that w wanted to speak with the Police. He went into his tiny office then returned and said that he had called the Patron. He asked us to wait. We sat on the stairs for almost an hour. No Patron. At last the clerk confessed that he thought the Patron was sleeping. I demanded that he call the Gendarmes, he said that he had but the Commissar was out and wouldn’t be backing until tomorrow morning.
I was so upset that I decided to take matters into my own hands. Cat continued to sit on the stair while I went down the street looking for a Policeman. Funny how faces in the night take on a sinister look. I felt like everyone was watching me and knew what had happened. Paranoia was setting in. I caught a Policeman and tried to tell him that I needed help. When he found that I couldn’t speak French he turned and walked away. I was really pissed by now.
We decided that our only option was to get some sleep and deal with the problem in the morning. I rigged up straps to secure our door. We know that someone out there has a key to this room!
October 4, 2003
Guelmim to Tan Tan
100 Kilometers on Bike, 30 in a Tiny Van
Police and Camels then Darkness Set In!
We got the bags down and loaded then had breakfast at 8:00 AM. Habib hadn’t shown up by 9:00 so we began to wonder if he might have been implicated in the robbery? Maybe his dream to have a restaurant brought him to a life of crime to raise capital?
The Patron failed to show, the girl at the desk didn’t know how to reach him. She also said that the Police weren’t coming either. Obviously they wanted us and our problem to just go away. So, in the spirit of, “Always do the right thing,” we backtracked up Blvd. Mohammed V to the Gendarmerie.
The reception was cool and they had us leave the bikes under the watchful eye of a guy with a machine gun. A guy at an Arabic typewriter tried to ask questions. We tried to understand them and answer. I wrote our story down to save time. Then I learned that he was typing something that had nothing to do with us. Cat was getting nervous, we had a long ride ahead of us. When we told them that we were going to leave they took us into the inner sanctum of the Station. One guy who looked familiar turned out to be The Patron. Somehow he got the message and showed up, something he seemed incapable of at his Hotel?
They found a young officer who spoke some English and he kept saying, “It is our job to learn all we can about your problem”. They took our Passports and Cat got really nervous. It was almost as though we were being suspected of something? Then the English-speaking officer said, “This man owns Hotel, he says it is not possible, what you say”.
Cat jumped in and asked if they thought we would ride all the way here to tell them a lie. I added that we knew we would never see the 100 € or get our broken zipper fixed, we just wanted to let them know what had happened. Again The Patron mumbled something and the Cop said, “He denies everything, it can not happen in his Hotel”! We were getting real tired of the game and now it was our word against his?
I asked the English speaking one to ask Patron that, if it did happen would he want to know about it? Would he want to know that someone working in his Hotel would help rob a guest? The Policeman said that or something close to it, we assume then he said, “He says it is not possible in his Hotel”.
We demanded our Passports and finally at 10:10 AM they turned us loose on our own volition, we assume. We cranked down the street and away from the problem. In fact my last words to them were, “Now it is your problem!”
The road to Tan Tan passes by the Camel Market. As late as it was we felt that we had to at least get a look at what goes on, what draws the huge crowd? Pushing across the dirt parking lot then into the Flea Market with narrow lanes covered haphazardly with canvas to keep the sun off the produce, merchandise and shoppers, we couldn’t see any Camels. Cat asked a guy in French and he pointed toward the back corner of the marketplace.
They really treat them roughly. Five or six guys grab one by the tail then the head and bend the Camels neck around until it looks like it should break. After they have it forced to the ground they hobble tie one leg so that when the beast rises back up it is off balance and can’t move with the rest of the herd. They told us that these were the Camel that had already been sold. I took a short video of the process from a distance. The picture is small but the Camel’s complaining voice is not.
There they were, probably a hundred or so, milling around waiting to be bought or sold. We pushed right up to the herd and into a herd of German tourists. Then a strange co-incidence, Hammoui, our server and fellow wine taster last night was now the German language guide to the Camel Market. He was a little standoffish but we began talking with the Germans. I pulled out some of our cards and he said, “Yes, you can give cards to these Germans”. As though he had to authorize it? I was trying to put 2 & 2 together and somehow remembered that Hammoui was with Boushabe when they led us to the restaurant. Our suspicions flared wider than the nostrils of the poor camels that they were wrestling to the ground and hobbling.
They took pictures of us and we even got Hammoui to shoot one of us with the Camels in the background. As we pushed through the Camel dung and dust a small voice called out, “Cat and Pat”. It was Boushabe. He was leaning against a pickup truck and made no move to come talk with us. More suspicions!
Movin’ on, we passed through the Tan Tan Gate and out onto the rest of a 130 Kilometer day. The road was fair of surface and flat but Habib had warned us that we would have to pass through some small hills. Nothing like the Anti Atlas but some climbs.
After an hour and a half we found a bush for The Cat and then ate a banana, each. Onward, it is just desert, they call it hammad, hard pack rather than sand, we call it hardpan desert. The wind was picking up and it was only partially friendly. Although we could see the sand blowing in the distance and we passed small sand dunes we were never caught in any. The road began to pitch up and down, each up a little steeper and longer than the last.
Long and Lonely Road
At the top of one long slow pull, like a mirage, a small, dirty café offered Tajine. The two friendly guys got us a nice pot and a large bottle of Orange drink. I had an extra Coke. Cat was a little shaky. We thought it was caused by the nervous Police experience, the late start and lack of food. The Tajine helped. We were only about half way to Tan Tan and it was after 3:00 PM when we got back on the road.
Then came the mountain that wasn’t supposed to be there. So steep that we had to walk more than half of the way. One of our fish truck friends had broken an axel and abandoned their rig in the middle of the road. That slowed the already slow moving trucks even more. We were at 80 kilometers when we crested out and rode into the wind, off to the right, across a ridgeline. After a swooping down in hill in cross winds we enjoyed a long slow drop. The bad news was that in the distance we could see the road snaking up the side of another steep hill.
Across the verdant valley where just a little water brings green and flocks of sheep then we found a second café. Tired and thirsty, we just had soft drinks and pressed onward. The hill was another big push for us. Cresting out on a curve at the 98-kilometer marker we decided to ride around the corner and see what the terrain looked like. Ahead were more hills and a sun quickly setting behind them. At marker 100 Cat pulled up and said, “I think we had better try to get a ride”.
Sorry Terry, The Rubber’s Coming Off The Road!
Back in the States, just before he died, our friend Terry Tintorri was preparing to take over the management of our website. He made me give my word that we weren’t on some embarrassing vacation where we would take boats, planes, buses or a car. He wanted to know that we were actually riding our bicycles around the world. I promised him that we would keep the “Rubber on the Road” unless it would endanger our safety or health.
We talked for a few minutes then a small Suzuki van came careening around the corner. Cat through her hand up and the guy hit his brakes and stopped about 50 yards down the road. She walked to it and a guy got out then opened the back. She came back to me, I had stayed to stand guard. The people in the van, two guys, a woman and baby had luggage in the back. She didn’t think we would fit inside.
We pushed the bikes to the back of the van and I took a look. The driver, Mohjoui, indicated with his hands that we could put the bikes on the roof rack. His brother and sister-in-law were the passengers, along with their baby girl. Our bags filled the remaining space behind the rear seat and we lifted the bikes onto the rack as the last rays of sun dropped behind the next big hill. I used our cinch straps to snug them down. The brother-in-law and I had to push start the van, dead battery. We ran and caught up and I crammed into the back seat, we were off, off the road and off to Tan Tan. Though he’s a good driver, Mohjoui, like so many of his countrymen, presses the vehicle to its limit. Cat was squished between me and the Mom and baby. I held the handle above the door and closed my eyes. It felt like the little van was hurtling through the dark. He passed lots of trucks in hills that I would have been happy to have him wait for longer, wider road space.
After about 15 kilometers we pulled up at a Police Road Block. Waiting our turn, he finally got to the front of the line and a burly looking Gendarme shone his light into the car. Mohjoui spewed a long group of words but we only understood “Tan Tan”. Then the Policeman turned the light onto our faces and asked “Where from, you”?
Our stock answer of California brought the word “America” to his lips immediately then he said, “You come”. We left the family and he took us across the road and put us through the same paces that we had gone through at the roadblock coming into Bou-Izikarn. Fathers name, mothers name, etc, etc, etc. All the while Mohjoui sat across the road, engine running, waiting. The Policeman got the point across that he spoke German not English. Finally when he had flipped through every page of our passports and looked with wonder at the Russian Visa, he let us go. Another Gendarme had appeared out of the black night that spoke a little English. He asked where we go, we said Tan Tan. He asked where we stay, we answered Hotel. He said, “Stay in Hotel Sables d’Or”. Cat had read about the place, she thanked him in French and we made a dash back to the revving engine of Mohjoui’s van.
It was black as pitch, the guys look overdressed and the gal has the sweating baby on her lap. It must have something to do with their ancestry and hundreds of generations here on the desert? Mohjoui had the heater on full blast. We both wondered how we added to the aroma with our sweaty cycling cloths that are now 4 riding days out from the last laundry.
The baby was squirming and fussing. Mohjoui indicted that he would drop them off first. They live in a large place down a small dirt road. The Sister-in-law asked Cat if she would be more comfortable with them instead of a Hotel. We both needed a good nights sleep and privacy. We thanked her in Arabic, “Shukran” and French, “Merci Beaucoup”!
Mohjoui drove straight to the Hotel and into a patio area. Some of the customers of the Café had to move their chairs to get out of his way. I jumped out and ran in, knowing that he had to keep the engine running. The room was clean, spacious and had a nice bath. I had him back out of the patio, careful not to run over any diners, and pull up to the front door.
A guy who looked semi official started grabbing bags and stacking them on the sidewalk. We had the bikes down off the top in just minutes. Obviously Mohjoui was anxious to get home. Cat and I had talked about an amount and decided that we would give him 300 Ds for all the work and wear and tear on his van. He turned to Cat and asked, could you give 100 Dirham for the petrol, the car? I took the 100 Dirham note and handed it to him through the drivers side window. He was just saying thank you in both languages when I handed him the 200 and said, “Pour les battery”. He was astounded but took the bills, folded them and tucked them away then shook my hand vigorously and touched his heart. (By the way, that is a nice little thing they do to show that it comes from their heart.)
Our Hotel helper pushed Car’s bike into a TeleBoutique next to the Hotel. I followed and asked if it was safe. He pointed to the locks and indicated that I should use them but that it was okay. The girl there is open until 12:00 midnight then she will lock them in. Another moment of language problem, I remembered that ouvert means open and pointed at my watch. He flashed a smile and 7 fingers.
It was now 9:00 PM and we were starving. The chef had waited because I told them we needed to eat. The Restaurant is in the basement and has no windows. It does have, like most places that serve food, flies. He sat us at a table and we sweated and swatted. When he reappeared I asked if the Casa Blanca fan above us could be turned on. He pointed to one two tables away, in the corner then went over and pulled the cord. It looked good but we could feel nothing so, we picked up our place setting and made the move. He was surprised when he returned and asked if we wanted him to stop the fan or slow it down. (Must be that desert heritage thing again.) We loved the cool air blowing down on us and, it kept the flies at bay.
Dinner was another Tajine but a large one filled with boneless meat, potatoes, carrots and zucchini. Heavenly and he even allowed us to bring our bottle of Red to the table. We did keep it covered with newspaper to show respect.
Cold shower at 10:20 and into bed, the end of a long, tough, eventful day.
October 5, 2003
Tan Tan to El-Ouatia (Tan Tan Beach)
It rained during the night but we didn’t even hear it. The street was wet and the dirt was mud around the Hotel. I woke up at 4:30 and wondered why in the world I had allowed the bikes to be left in such an open and public place. Another thing to worry about, I figured that if they had been stolen it was probably before or at closing time. It wasn’t easy but I did finally drift back off to dreamland.
As we surveyed the wet streets we made a decision to ride on to Tan Tan Plague, which is actually named El-Ouatia, 26 kilometers to the west. It’s beach and it sounds nicer than taking a day of here in Tan Tan. We’re both tired, physically and mentally. Besides tomorrow is my birthday and we deserve a day on the beach. Pretty much packed we went down for food. I asked if they had Petite Dejeuner and they did but the boy said that they only had some cakes things in plastic wrap or a baguette. That would do but I wanted jam. He said they didn’t have comfiture?
Off we went, in search of breakfast. The place that LP recommends is quite a walk away, we went across the street to a lesser looking Hotel. They had jam and coffee but no OJ? Back to our place, I would just eat bread without jam. When they served the spread it came complete with Laughing Cow cheese and would you believe, a dish of peach jam. Another exercise in language futility!
The ride was anything but an easy 26 K. It is up a long pull out of town, and into heavy side/head wind. At 3 kilometers with Tan Tan still in view it took a turn for the steep. We had to push to the top. There is an Airport behind a tall rock fence at the summit. As we rode past the gate it looked like it was at least a mile to the buildings. We thought it must be mostly military planes? Down the other side was steep and we got a pretty good buffeting from the wind.
We hadn’t left Tan Tan until noon and it took two hours to ride the 26 K.
As we cycled in we passed a guy walking who looked very western. Stopping, Cat opened conversation in French, he returned a few words then broke into and Irish brogue. Patrick works with a huge fishing company. They have boats and processing plants all over the world. He is here about once monthly to check on their operation. We were excited to hear the English language. He pointed out the Equinox and told us he would stop on his way back from his walk. We went directly to the Hotel hoping for a room for two days and a big lunch. The big lunch was no problem, I had a fried fishplate with potatoes. Cat opted for the omelet, it too was a plate full and surrounded with the same wonderful potatoes. The couple that own the place are French and the food shows their heritage.
Cat went in and asked about a room, they had one for tonight but are booked tomorrow. Madam said something about a group of private planes going to Senegal then back to Toulouse, France. They make several stops and this is one of them. Patrick joined us for a few minutes and suggested the Hotel Bellevue, right next door. He had stayed there before his company rented a house for him.
Cat said that a mouse ran down the wall behind Madam as they were talking. She was almost glad that we were staying elsewhere at that point. The guys were nice, the room they chose for us had a double bed but was interior, the window opened to the hallway. We wanted beachfront, we'd have to settle for two beds.
They helped us haul bags and we were in and preparing for a hot shower when Cat pulled back the covers and found dead bugs on the sheets. In fact, the sheets hadn’t been changed since the last guest had departed? She marched down, he came up, acknowledged the bugs, brought clean sheets and made the change.
The shower does run hot but the toilet runs continuously, so he told us that we would have to turn it on when we want to flush. Small discomfort for the sound of the waves and the smell of the fresh sea air.
Après a nice hot shower we went back over to Equinox to try their Rose wine. Madam had broken the news that they only had Rouge and Rose. We sat on a couch with several Moroccan surfers and watched TV Deejay. Most of the songs are very sexy and the boys had their eyes glued to the tube. There are a couple of cute girls who work here and the guys sort of flirt with them. Interesting, I thought the surfers were drinking beer but it was Sprite. They serve the wine in a pitcher. I chuckled and told Cat it was probably box wine. She thought it was served in pitchers to avoid having a bottle on the table. She ended up being correct.
I got up and looked at some of the hanging artwork, paintings by local artists. Madame was fiddling with a fake plant and I asked if she collects or sells the art. She got the point across that she collects the things on the north wall and sell those on the east. In fact one of the Artist, Salik I think was his name, was there, leaving two more of his works on consignment. A French guy at the end of the bar brought him over and introduced us. I thought the French guy was the Husband, owner. No, he was just a bar customer. He wears a shabby sport coat and sits cross legged like Julio and Ramon and so many end of the bar guys we’ve seen. This Ramon or Julio has something going? He talks on a cell phone often and told me that Tan Tan was a dangerous place full of drugs and prostitutes? He urged us to buy some of the art, I tried to explain that we were traveling by bicycle and couldn’t carry it. He either didn’t get the point or I couldn’t get it across in French.
As we sat, watching the TV and drinking our Rose’ a second mouse scampered across the floor and under the couch. Hey, mice don’t eat much and this is the BEST restaurant in town! Patrick joined us for a soft drink and talk but had to get back to work at 8:00 PM. The fishing boats come in the late afternoon and if they have a reasonable catch the women who work at the cannery grab a bus and come to work in the evening. He offered a tour but I asked for a rain check, we were both tired and enjoying just sitting.
Dinner was really good, fish soup for both and pasta for me. Cat had a piece of almost boneless fish that she bragged about. We had a little more Rose. They started closing the place, dragging the plastic chairs in etc. about 9:30. The crowd was gone, we were the last hanger-oners. I asked if they could get BBC, the tech that seems to run the TV system got it but the signal was broken up. We did hear that a Palestinian Bomber had struck in Haifa a day or two ago and Israel struck back by bombing a suspected Hamas training camp, in Syria. Most of the UN members were opposed to the bombing and the raid. The cycle of stupidity and violence goes on and on!!
October 6, 2003
Pat’s 64th and a Day off in El-Ouatia
Scratching In The Night!
During the night we felt like bugs were crawling all over us, we got up and found the insect repellant and sprayed our bodies and beds before trying to get back to sleep. When we awoke, I didn’t have any bites, but Cat had a few. They seem to like her better than me. We had breakfast downstairs at an outside table overlooking the ocean. Patrick came down and took us to his house where we gave our laundry to Samdi. She works for SardiSud, Patrick’s company, but when he’s there, she cleans his house, cooks his meals, and does just about anything he wants her to do. She said our laundry would be done by nighttime. Patrick went to work and we had our birthday haircuts! Mohammed has his shop, Salon Ait Baamran and would do my cut, but sent Cat up the street to Elalam. (We guess that men don’t cut women’s hair, here.) Mine cost $3.00 and Cat’s cost $4.00. That’s including tip!!!
This very small beach community has nothing to see or do. I wanted to catch up the journal, but Cat can’t just sit and do nothing. She walked to town to see if there was anything going on. After our experience in Guelmim, we don’t want anyone to know we have the computer, so I closed the door to the room and worked away. Cat got back and reported that there is absolutely nothing in this town except a lot of garbage and people wandering around doing nothing. Once you get to the promenade on the beach it’s like you’re in a different world. It’s beautiful and they keep the beach very clean.
At 12:30 I packed the computer up and we carried it over to Patrick’s place. He has invited us over for a birthday lunch. I thought he might like to see some of our pictures. Samdi was there and our cloths were fluttering in the dry breeze, on the rooftop. Patrick came in, gave us a tour of the place then we sat at a table in the living room and enjoyed conversation and food. Unfortunately, Patrick had to get back to work so, no pictures. We did decide to leave the computer there rather than at the Hotel, it seemed safer.
Late in the afternoon we walked back over and collected our clean clothing. We paid Samdi the equivalence of $5.00, US for her work. She had everything folded and stacked. When we got back to the Hotel we found that it was still damp so Cat spread it around the room
We went back over to the Equinox. The Club of private pilots had landed and were checking in. There are 70 people in the group, from France, Germany, England and Ireland. I struck up a conversation with a few of them and learned that they are re-enacting the trip that Author/Aviator Antoine de Saint-Exupery made on his Toulouse, France to Saint Louis, Senegal mail runs. He is famous for his story, The Little Prince. He also wrote a book about these flights called Southern Mail. Tan Tan Plague or El-Ouatia was one of the stops then and it is again, now.
The cute, sassy girl who works here gave me a stone camel as a gift for my Birthday. The crew sang Happy BD, twice and Cat missed it on the camera, twice. The birthday dinner was okay but our stomachs are a little off. That great soup of last night was coming back to haunt us. We eased off the Rose’ too, it gave us both headaches last night.
October 7, 2003
El-Ouatia to Sidi Akhfennir
An early start was essential for success today. We have a long ride ahead. The bikes were out and loaded then we made a breakfast decision. Wanting more than just the bread and coffee offered by our Hotel we pushed over to Equinox for eggs. The Pilot’s were on the promenade in force, they clapped and cheered for us. We were surrounded and getting questions from all angles and in several languages. I took a picture of Cat and the most of the group then had a guy standing there shot one with me in it. We felt like celebrities.
They bid us adieu and began boarding their buses as we ordered our omelets. The kids at Equinox gave us a nice, cheering, sendoff as we bumped down the curb and rolled up the street. The early start was slightly stalled when we found nobody home at Patrick’s place. Okay, we’re a little early so we rode to the local patisserie and bought bread and pastries and filled our 2-liter bags with bottled water. This is our first total filling of the bags, which took 7 of the plastic bottles. We stashed them in several of our panniers and I hung some on the outside of the front panniers.
Samdi was there when we returned to Patrick’s place. We grabbed the computer, said our goodbyes to her and began the climb out of Tan Tan Plague. At the top of the tough hill I heard the ping of a spoke. We stopped and checked and there went our early start. At least two broken spokes, we’d never make the 100 Kilometers with the wheel in that condition? I stopped a guy on a bike and we asked about a bike mechanic. He shook his head positively and signaled for us to follow.
Back down the hill, around the block, we were almost back at the Hotel. The shop is a dirt floor with several grungy looking young guys working on a rusty bike and a sad looking moped. They stopped everything, questioned us about our “Nationality” and something about Iraq then set out to repair the wheel. The first order of business was to take an old spark plug from the moped and fashion a tool from it to pull the gears off the wheel. They used a sander to grind down the plug so that they could get a wrench on it. The boy holding the two wires in the 220 volt plug in was taking great risk but then he probably does everyday. Mohamed, the lead guy, tried then ground some more and tried again to loosen the gears. Using a pipe wrench he finally broke them loose. He replaced 3 spokes and put the wheel back together then said, “Shiet”! He obviously spoke a little German. There was another spoke that needed to be replaced. It took two hours to get us apart, back together and on the road.
As we stood and waited our pilot friends began coming down the beach at roof top levels from the south. We think that they may have flown that way looking for us on the road? David and Peter the two who are paid as a sag plane with extra parts told us that there are no rules here and these crazy guys love flying below the European legal altitude. We stood in the street and waved but to no avail, they were flying fast and low and loving it!
Back up the hill to the highway then, at 11:15 AM, we were headed south. Better late than never? The road hugs the coast and the views are great. Most of the time the highway is 200 to 300 feet above the water. It is pretty much plain desert scenery on the left. Flat and fast except for a riverbed that gave us a swift downhill run then a slow, overloaded climb back up.
At a shack, roadblock, checkpoint we sat while the Gendarme looked over out passports. We asked and they told us that there was a small store here in this tiny rundown looking place. I told the Gendarme that we just wanted a Coke. He said something then a surfer looking guy who was seated, competing with several hundred flies over some god awful looking food got up and brought me a glass of Coke. Though I hesitated to drink from the glass, I didn’t want to refuse. The Coke was refreshing.
The Gendarme couldn’t get past my name. It is J. R. Patterson on my passport and drivers license. He kept saying, “I never see this name, GEE AIR (J R), before, ever! Once they released us we pushed through the dirt until we found the store. Sort of hidden, it was very basic. We did buy two tins of sardines, bread and Cokes then took a seat on two rocks, in the shade. Some locals drifted up, squatted, talked among themselves and stared at us. When we finished Cat asked about a trashcan. We thought that one of the guys indicated that we should just throw it on the ground. When Cat shook here head he got up and led her to a hole in the ground. It was filling up with trash. They just dig a hole and bury it later. Sort of a small “Land Fill”.
Back on the road, we rode hard at a fast pace. Shortly we came to a sting of 3 service stations. We thought it might be the outskirts of town. One of the stations looked like it had Hotel rooms above it. I had a Coke and it tasted terrible, kind of musty. At last sip I came to some gushy feeling really bad tasting something. I spit it out and think it was the remains of a mouse that must have crawled into the bottle before they filled it? Just what I needed on my already queasy stomach. The worst news was that it is still 25 kilometers to town.
With a brisk tail wind and slight down hill we flew those 25 kilometers. The final checkpoint of the day was within sight of Sidi Akhfennir. Ali, the Gendarme, took the usual info then when we asked about a safe place to camp he told us that they have a place that he called an Auberge Yves. He told us to go to the Gendarmerie then turn left. There was just a dirt trail and a small sign that beckoned us to hit the dust. The way we felt anything would beat camping tonight.
The place turned out to be Shangri La. A young guy opened the door then took Cat in to take a look. She chuckled when she came out, she had interrupted the boy’s happy hour. He was just pouring a glass of rum when she stepped inside. The room is on the second floor and it is clean. The bath is shared but we’re the only ones here. The place is a fisherman’s haven. Pictures on all the walls attesting to the big ones that didn’t get away. They stand at the edge of the cliff and cast into the sea. I asked Mogdah the boy, if he knew our friend Luis. He knew him and his Father, Raoul. Small world but then I knew that Luis was an avid fisherman.
The place was dark. Mogdah told us that the power would be on at 6:30? He was right on, the lights flashed on and the water heater began to do its job. We had a shower then sat in the living room, drank a little wine that Mogdah sold us, even got a few minutes of CNN before the power failed. He told us that the house is only 5 years old and we can tell you he keeps it spotless. He has been working with Yves since he was 10 years old. After the power failed he put a tape in the boom box. Soothing classical music. It featured the violin of Yves, the owner of the place. He’s a well-known musician in Paris. We must have been enjoying it because Mogdah dug around in a drawer, found another and gave it to us. He was cooking and it smelled great. We asked if he would cook for us but he got the point across that he had several Gendarmes coming. He told us to go to Café France on the other side of the highway.
It was dark, we used our headlights to cross the field. At the highway a car flashed its lights, we thought it was a warning but it turned out to be Ali, the Gendarme. He pulled over and asked if we were going to dinner. Then he got out of his car and introduced us to the owner of the restaurant. He even went into the kitchen area with Cat and chose the freshest fish. What a nice guy. I told him of my need to see a bicycle mechanic, yes, I’ve broken another spoke. He said that he would meet us at the Gendarmerie at 8:00 AM.
Dinner was just fish, no potatoes, no garnish, nothing but fish. It was fried crispy and tasted great but, it was only fish. Well we did put away a loaf of bread and wash it down with the remaining wine Mogdah had sold us. We snuck the wine over in our water bottles then pretended to sip water as though they couldn’t smell it?
Retracing our steps in the dark field by light of the headlamps we found a Gendarme’s jeep parked in front of Auberge Yves. We peeked in and the group was laughing, talking, eating and watching Soccer on the big screen. We were so tired that we just quietly slipped upstairs and into bed.
October 8, 2003
Sidi Akhfennir to Tarfaya
So, we awoke to dark, remember no electricity until 6:30 PM, we assume that is everyday? Yes that meant shaving and washing up with cold water, the better to wake up with. The light from the window was plenty in our room but the stingy little window in the bath made it a tough shave.
Mogdah had coffee brewing and was toasting bread as we brought the bags down. As though to confirm Mogdah’s word, Cat found Luis’ and his father Raoul’s names in the guest book.
Running a little late, we thought we had missed Ali at the Gendarmerie. Another guy who spoke no English gestured for us to follow him. He led us to a locked door then indicated we should wait. He went around the building then came back out and walked away, back up the street. We were just about to give up when he re-appeared with a couple of guys in tow. Nice guys but the same problem that we faced yesterday, they didn’t have the tool needed to pull the gear cluster off the wheel. They tried, they broke the spark plug that the boys had made yesterday. They tried to make another but failed. Finally they bent and pulled the two broken outside spokes then bent and pushed new spokes into the holes. They took the broken inside spoke out then trued the wheel.
During this period of work Ali showed up. He was in uniform but I asked to have his picture, anyway. He removed his hat and sort of posed then changed his mind. He left but was back in 20 minutes wearing a Jellaba and sandals, ready for the picture. Unfortunately I was up to my elbows in grease by then. Just before I finished putting the wheel back on he got a call on his cell phone. He waved and scurried off up the street, an emergency? So, you’ll just have to imagine his handsome face and winning smile!
11:00 AM, another incredibly late start on a day when we have another incredible distance to ride. The good news was our friend, the wind. It blew up our backsides all day and gave us the push we needed to get from point A to point B. We moved away from the coast and into sand dunes. At times our friendly wind was coming from the right and blowing lots of sand across the road. Twice we turned into the wind and it lost all semblance of friendship.
Lunch was a can of the Mackerel that Patrick gave me for my birthday. He told us it would be the best Mackerel we’d ever eaten. He was right, in fact it was the first either of us had eaten and, it was very tasty. We sat on the guard rail, had the fish on left over bread and waved at passing fish trucks and gran taxis.
Angling south, the wind held the promise of sea air but it was a struggle riding into it. It felt like meeting an old friend, having the Atlantic off our right shoulders again. We were soon screaming along with the wind whistling past us from behind. One of the guys at lunch tried to tell us something about boats, now we got it. There were several boats beached along the shore. Must be rough seas or foggy nights?
Paranoia, maybe, but we could swear that a Land Rover was tailing us for a while this morning. Then a dark blue Mercedes began to follow from a distance or pass then stop ahead of us. We hoped they were good guys with a bad engine problem? A rare Café and we stopped for soft drinks. There was a Gendarme and friend sitting, sipping tea and talking. We pulled away and were soon accompanied by the lurking Mercedes again. Cat wanted to turn back and tell the Gendarme. Then, the car pulled slowly past and we were surprised to see the Gendarme in the passenger seat, they were escorting us.
It was 30 kilometers from the drink stop to Tarfaya. The town lies off the highway and we found the Blue Mercedes waiting at the turnoff. The Gendarme, Mohamed, introduced himself and told us they would lead us to the Hotel. This side road was bumpy and sandy, progress was woefully slow. The streets of town were dirt, the main had a strip of pavement down the center but dirt to the buildings. Without a little help from our new friends we’d never have found the place.
This will go down as the worst place we’ve stayed with, yet! The usual tribe of kids, crowding around and asking for food or money, met us. Mohamed sort of pushed his finger on the Hotel Manager’s chest and made it clear that we were Americans and we should be treated well. Well, at least we heard the word American several times as he poked and spoke.
Under his watchful eye several young guys came down the dirty narrow stairs and as we took the bags off they carried them up. Mohamed took leave and I took the bikes up, one at a time. We got both bikes and the bags stuffed into the 10 by 12 room then, we were invited to a meeting in the dingy little office. There was a guy in a white silk looking robe that spoke English. He was definitely well educated and wealthier than most. The others just sat and listened. We told him of our journey and outlined the route. When the business of Hotel finally came up the clerk quoted a price that was three times more than Mohamed had indicated. We complained and finally worked the clerk down to the Mohamed number.
Cat was concerned about a bath. They have a dirty squatter toilet and a shower that has no hot water. The clerk told us that he also runs the Hamman just next door and we could bath there. Reluctant at first, another look at the scroungey shower brought a change of mind. With our own towels and change of cloths in a plastic bag we walked around the corner. It was dark by now, maybe that was good as the place looked pretty rough. Inside, we met a girl who had just finished dressing in the first room. The layout was similar to the Hamman at Hassan II in Casa Blanca but that was where the similarity ended. The first room was cool, for dressing and undressing. The clerk assured us that we would have the place to ourselves. The middle room was tepid and the bathing room steamy. The walls were slick with mold but the water in a tank was almost boiling. We had to use the hose and a bucket to add cold before splashing ourselves.
Though it was strange, we did feel a lot cleaner as we emerged into the eerie, darkened street. There is a guy wearing a Jellaba with the hood up sitting at the corner. He is hunched over a little table, listening to a small radio and offering cigarettes for sale. (You can buy a pack or one cig from him.) He looked like a Halloween ghost or ghoul, hunched over the glow of his weak lantern. We locked the door of our room and headed out to find food. There was only one young guy in the office as we exited. Cat noticed that her hairbrush was missing so she ran back down and around to look for it. Eureka, she found it and a thousand scurrying cockroaches when the guy flipped the light on in the bathhouse.
The streets were dark, shadowy figures seemed to lurk around every corner. Two blocks down the street, around the corner and we found a café with a crowd of men on the front patio watching a Soccer game on a small TV and sipping tea.
Under their watchful stares, we took a seat inside. Ordering was a point and ask kind of affair. Soft drinks and chicken Tajine in reasonable discomfort, being the focus of the crowd’s stares during lulls in the game.
Back through the spooky streets, up the narrow stairs, past the now vacant office and we locked ourselves in behind the flimsy door. I put the bikes side by side near the door and stacked some bags around them as our early warning system. The small beds had dirty linen so we decided to break out our sleeping bags. Finally at 9:00 PM we turned off the light and crawled into the bags. We were in for the night and tomorrow Tarfaya will be just another journal entry.
Terror in Tarfaya
We lay and talked about the day, the progress we were making and the distance we had come. Drowsy, we had both just dropped into slumber land when voices then pounding on the door jolted us back into the night. There were three or four guys outside the door, we could see there feet under the old barn type tongue and groove door. It rattled again as they pounded, boom, boom, boom. “Open the door” one of them said.
“What do you want”? asked Cat.
Then a different voice, “We want peace”! This time in almost perfect English.
I moved to the door, quietly shifted the bikes for a little more security the said, “We want peace too”, with as much force as I could muster. “Go away, let us sleep”!
They talked among themselves for a few minutes and shuffled their feet then left. We lay in the darkness for a long time, listening for steps on the stairs. Then we got up and fortified the door as much as possible. We lay back in the dark, still a little shaky from the event, and talked in the light of one of our headlamps. We decided that they were probably just some young guys from the Cafe downstairs full of mint tea and strong feelings. It probably took all the nerve they could muster to come up and make a statement to the American strangers, here in their midst. They were probably back to their tea, bragging about how they scared us.
I worried that we had been trapped in this tiny space without a phone and no way to reach out for help. It is one thing to put myself at risk but quite another to put Cat in harms way. I decided, in the dark, that we must try to get a phone. Also, I thought about defense tools then got back up and dug out our Swiss Army Knife and the cylinder of Mace that our friend Cindy had given us the day we left Oxnard. I put them and the headlight on the floor next to my bed.
We had just laid back and begun to relax when footsteps, running feet, came up the stairs again. Bang, Bang, Bang they pounded on the door but said nothing. I got up, weapons in hand and assumed a stance of defiance. Cat whispered, don’t answer them. I stood in the dark ready to try to kick the door back at them and spray mace in their face when the shuffling stopped and the steps retreated, back down the stairs.
This time we were pretty shook up. It was only 11:00 PM., would they continue the hourly assaults? Would their boldness increase with the waning hours? Would more tea or whatever they were drinking to bolster their courage make the next trip up the stairs the one that would bring the door down? Were they moved by the Muslim extremists call to kill an American? You can see how the mind will vault forward when under stress.
Again, we lay in the dark, talking in whispers and waiting for the next assault. Sometime after midnight we dozed off but both woke up several times. At 2:00 AM I sat and hoped that, like the Bars at home, the bad boys and surly moods would have headed home by now.
We’re usually pretty good about taking pictures but we have none
of Tarfaya, the Hotel, the Room or any people there? FEAR????
October 9, 2003
Tarfaya to Laayoune
Sleepless is the best way to describe last night. On top of the fears of death or injury as if to add insult to injury, I woke up at 5:00 AM consumed by the urge to go. Yes, diarrhea was paying a visit at a most unfortunate time. In near panic I began to tear down our wall of defense when it became obvious that I wouldn’t be able to make it to the squatter. When the urge turned to a surge some of it leaked down my leg. We had been sleeping in our cycling cloths since the first door-pounding incident, now they were soiled. In a panic, I pulled them down and put my fanny up on the edge of the little sink in the corner of our room. WHOOSH, the sudden release was a physical relief but it filled the sink. Cat tried to help but what could she do? I had to plunge the brown chunky material down the drain. It was an icky, smelly job but someone had to do it. Then, Cat had to go #1, the sink was full and too high a stretch for her, anyway so she used one of the empty water bottles. As bad as I felt and as bad as the mess was, I think we both felt relief in not having to open the door before dawn. After wiping the worst of it out of my shorts I pulled them back up and lay on to p of the sleeping bag.
Another hour and a half of fitful sleep then in dawn’s early light we began to get the bags together and ready for a ride out of this place. Dawn is 7:00 AM here, we had the bags on the bikes and were ready to roll a little after 8:00. None of the helpful guys showed up to help us down the stairs. Fortunately down is easy and we were motivated.
The kids were on the way to school so they swarmed us, asking for a stilo, a pen. We were in no mood but tried to be pleasant. A fat older guy waddled up and watched then he too asked for a stilo. When we shook our heads, no, he asked for Dirham.
Down the street, past the closed café of our dinner and into a tiny place for breakfast. Surprise, they had fried eggs. My stomach wasn’t really ready for greasy eggs but they would provide some protein. As we sat the locals stared. The same waddler we said “No” to in front of the Hotel had made his way here and stood in front of us, holding out his hand to us as we ate. I noticed that he had normal fingernails except for the little finger on his right hand. It was at least half an inch long.
I finally, forcefully said, “No”, loud enough that the waiter came out and confronted him. He resisted and they scuffled. The waiter is a young guy, the waddler no match for him except, when waddler put his secret weapon, the finger nail, into action. He gouged the waiter’s wrist, so deep that it bled. The waiter recoiled then threatened waddler verbally enough to make him waddle on. I could see that the cut on his wrist was pretty deep. Not into an artery but I could imagine how bad it could be if it had. Maybe that is another weapon that we should consider adding to our puny little arsenal?
There was a society at work here. Trash gatherers brought full wheel barrels to the corner across the street. Each was a loner but they all helped each other lift and unload their loads into a truck. The smell didn’t add much to the taste of the greasy eggs. We rolled past the trash truck and out onto the desert at 9:30 glad to have survived a tough night and looking forward to 100 kilometer ride. This will be our third 100+ kilometer day in a row.
The road that started off toward the south made a turn for the east and the worse. We were in a strong headwind headed up wind. The sand blew hard enough to sting our bare legs. Off to the left we saw a huge camel leading a small herd into the wind. Even the local fauna seemed to dislike the blowing sand. It took us more than an hour to ride the 11 kilometers, back to the main highway. Funny but seeing friendly fish trucks and taxis gave us a feeling of security. We waved, they honked, the road swung southwest and we sped along with the wind.
At 30 kilometers we crossed paths with the blue Mercedes. Bentahmi, the driver stopped and waved to us. He had a woman in the back street and seemed to be telling her the story of two crazy Americans? We shouted a hello and flew onward with the wind.
A quick stop at a wide spot called Tah for a soft drink. Another small place, Doura would be our lunch spot. Hopes for a Tajine were dashed, they had only canned sardines in the little store there. We decided to have another tin of “Patrick” mackerel. They did have yogurt and laughing cow cheese so we had our usual fare, there.
As we ate in the shade a local came over near us with a can of water. He squatted, bathed his face, hands, arms and feet then went through a door next to us and made his mid-day prayers as we munched. When finished he came out and began asking questions in French. Cat did her best to understand and answer while I went searching for a toilet. The squatter was a stinker but I needed it, badly. Food hadn’t tasted very good and whoosh, breakfast was gone in an instant.
There is a monument to visits to this God Forsaken Place in the middle of the road. It commemorates visits, the first recorded in the 1303, another in the 1886 by Mohamed V we think and a third in 1986 by Hassan II. There is a huge natural depression nearby, we guess that was the attraction? I set the camera for a self-portrait and a boy standing nearby, watching, walked into the picture. I liked it and he loved the picture when we showed it to him. It was probably the first time he has seen a picture of himself.
A roadblock and a smiling Gendarme. We think that he knew who we were but he started asking the questions, anyway. Cat had taken Ali’s suggestion and written down the answers. He looked at the paper, put it aside and continued asking the same old things. Feeling weak and queasy, I took a seat in the shade and let Cat sort out the details.
Rolling down a fairly steep hill, we crossed a small river then climbed the other steep side. This is a military town. Hundreds of soldiers swarming in and out of the gate of the base and down the street. This area is still a center of dispute and there are supposed to be a bunch of UN Peacekeepers here, too.
We found the Hotel Parador that Lonely Planet recommended and pulled up to the door. There was an armed Gendarme on duty. He told us to leave the bikes there and check in. I felt pretty bad, Cat did the duty and had a Sprite delivered to me. I sat on a couch, wondered if my B.O. would seep into the fabric, and savored the cold drink.
After a little dispute about having to leave the bikes out front they decided to let us park them in a little courtyard. I got them locked together while the lady at the desk and a guy there carried the bags to the room on the second floor. Interesting, this is a fairly big Hotel and they have no elevator.
We seem to be the only guests and they have a limited staff. Cat got another Sprite for me and a bottle of wine from the bar. Cat found her second wind and organized the room while I lay on the bed. After a soothing shower she went down, ordered pasta and we ate in the room. It was good to be at home. It was good to feel clean and safe.
Cat was now acquainted with Nordin, the bartender and Hamid, the waiter and room server from the restaurant. She really has moved in here. We did have the luxury of CNN, so we lounged and listened to English language news.
I called our friend, Abdellah in Rabat, and told him about the events of last night and my fears. He promised to e-mail the name of a friend with the Police here who he was sure would help us.
October 10, 2003
Day Off, a Doctor and The Commissaire in Laayoune
A good nights sleep and a too expensive Continental Breakfast but the Hotel is too far from other cafes to walk and look. The Tourist Office is just across the street. A perky young girl had answers to all our questions. She had a map and located the Doctors Office, a Laundromat and an Internet place.
We carried our dirty laundry and went directly to Doctor Abdelfettah Daoudi’s office. The receptionist had me come into her office, just off the crowded waiting room and sit on a couch. After getting me signed in Cat and the bundle of laundry headed for the washing machines.
She was back before I got in to see the Doctor. The laundry isn’t self-service but the cost is about the same. We sat for a few minutes then were called into Doctor’s office where he did a little exam, temperature, blood pressure and a look up the nose and into the eyes. He listened to my heart and indicated “Strong”!
His assessment was that I am in great health for an old guy with the exception of the diarrhea and slight dehydration. He prescribed two different medications then asked about our trip. Conversation was tough, he spoke French and Cat did her best to tell him about travel around the world. We exited past staring eyes of the waiting room full of sick folks and went to the Pharmacy just two doors away. The lady there spoke great English and explained that I was to mix two packets of powder in water and drink it before eating then take two capsules after eating.
The Internet place was just another few doors away and it is over a nice little café. We had lunch, I chose rice and carrots as suggested by Dr. Daoudi and the Cat had Couscous. The servings were large, we ate what we could and Cat had them package the leftovers. A quick check of messages and we headed back to home base. One of the e-mails was from Abdellah. He sent the name and phone number for his friend in the Security Force, here.
I called the number and asked for Mr. Mouzouni. He wasn’t in so I left a message for him. I lounged and typed journal entries, Cat went off to the Super Marche. In an hour Commissaire Mouzouni called and asked me to come to his office at 5:00 PM. Sure that Cat would be back by then, I agreed.
At 4:45 I scribbled out a note telling Cat of my appointment and took a cab to Commissaire Central. Yes, Commissaire Mouzouni is Chief of Security for the Laayoune Region. A guard at the door, with an automatic weapon on his arm, had me wait while he called the Commissaire. After a few words on the phone he motioned me through the door with the muzzle of the gun. Up the stairs, a guy met me on the first landing and led me on up and around to the office.
We Owe It ALL to Abdellah
Commissaire Mostapha Mouzouni seems too soft spoken for a law enforcement officer of his stature. He explained that in his earlier career he was Chief of Police in Kenitra, the town where I first met Abdellah. That happenchance meeting would now turn out to be the key to our being able to cycle into the Sahara.
Commissaire Mouzouni told me that they had been watching out for us since the incident in Guelmim. He confirmed that the Land Rover and another car that we had worried about were, in fact, Gendarmes. We talked about our plan and the distances we could cycle each day. He felt that we would have to skip some areas due to the long stretches of desert between places where there’s food and lodging. After a look at our map and a larger framed map of the Sahara he had to hurry off to a meeting. We made a tentative appointment to meet again on Monday.
Cat’s trip to the “Super Marche” was disappointing. It is a small corner store with limited goods. This town and in fact most of the other established villages in the Sahara are new towns. The Hotel has pictures on the walls that tell the story of the “Green March”. The Spanish controlled Western Sahara until 1975. The area was a war zone for almost 20 years after they withdrew. In 1989 Morocco sponsored the “Green March” and 350,000 people flooded out onto the desert to establish towns like Laayoune. The issues of the conflict are still disputed and the other Hotel here houses the United Nations Peacekeepers.
Cat had her Pals in the kitchen put together a rice and veggie plate. We mixed the left over chicken into it and feasted in the room, again. CNN, good food and a bottle of wine in this Muslim desert outpost, who could ask for anything more?
Just as we basked in our feelings of safety and security the phone rang. The woman at the front desk said that the rental car we had ordered was here. When I told her that we hadn’t ordered a car she said that the guy was here and he was to deliver the car to “the Americans”. We felt those old feeling of paranoia as I asked what name he had on the paperwork. She talked with him, I could hear their voices, then said that he just knew it was Americans who had ordered the car? I was upset, I asked if there were other Americans staying here. She said there weren’t. I was pretty upset, somehow, someone had learned of our presence and I wanted to know why a car was sent here. I told her that I was coming down to talk with the Rental Car guy. She then said that it was a mistake, she knows the guy and it was a mistake. Again I insisted on coming down but she said that he was leaving. Boy were we upset!
I went down and confronted the clerk. She was apologetic and said the confusion was that another couple who look like us had ordered the car? “You do have another American couple here”, I asked?
She stammered then said, “No, they’re from Switzerland but look like you”.
“Then why did the Rental Car guy say he was to deliver the car to the Americans”, I almost shouted?
There was no answer, which really fueled our paranoia. I complained that they should never tell anyone that we were Americans. Also I demanded a lock be installed on the inside of our door. I had asked a day earlier but she told me that none of the rooms had them. There is a chain dangling from the doorjamb but no place to attach it to the door. The clerk assured us that know one would ever enter our room without checking with her and she would only allow housekeeping to enter if we had left our key with her.
Back in the room, we stacked a chair and bags in front of the door and lay in wait, watching CNN and wondering what the entire event had meant? Sleep didn’t come easily!
October 11, 2003
Healing the Bike and Body
The meds are slow to take hold, I still don’t feel too good and still have to stay close to the toilet. The restless night didn’t help much. Then, as we dressed and prepared to go down for breakfast the door burst open. A woman took one step in then as we called out she backed out. The housekeeper, we thought. I called the desk and complained. The clerk said that it had been a mistake. Another mistake? I argued that we wanted a security lock so that we would know if someone tries to enter while we’re in the room, especially while we’re sleeping. She stalled and again said that they didn’t have the chain locks anymore and our key lock was broken.
As we started down for breakfast I checked the door of a room where the maid was at work. You guessed it, the chain was holding the door open and it was functional when the door was closed, too. I was pretty upset and made it clear to the woman at the front desk. This time I demanded the lock be fixed and she said that she would have maintenance check the situation.
Between the two incidents my stomach was pretty upset. I didn’t want coffee or juice so Cat went on to breakfast and I went to the room. She brought pastries back for me and I just started to eat when the haphazard looking maintenance guy came in. He pounded and pried and in just a few minutes we had a security chain. Why the BS? Why the delays? What was going on here? Yes there’s paranoia in my voice, can you understand why?
I took the rear wheel off my bike and we walked to a bicycle repair place that Hamid, the Gendarme assigned to the Hotel recommended. As we started out he called to a young guy and told him to guide us to the shop. Hamid is an avid cyclist. He and friends ride together every other Sunday. They go out to the village where he grew up, have lunch then ride back. Just a bicycle ride until you know that it’s 100 out and 200 kilometers, round trip.
The two boys there knew what to do but they, too, didn’t have the tool to pull the gear cluster. They struggled, I sat on a shaky chair and Cat went to get the laundry. One of the guys grabbed the wheel and jumped on a motor scooter. Off he went with my wheel. I objected but lost the message in language. I think the other was saying he went to use a tool. Sure enough in 20 minutes he came flying down the street with the wheel separated from the gear. They quickly replaced the spoke, washed the wheel then spent almost too much time truing to perfection.
Cat came back, laundry in hand as they finished, I paid the small amount they asked for and we grabbed a cab. I had to put the wheel on the roof rack but held onto it with one hand out the window to ward off thieves and keep it in place.
Lunch at the Hotel just because it is such a hassle to go elsewhere. A walk to the Internet Shop and 2 ½ hours on line then back to our computer and the journal. The young girl at the Internet Shop has been cordial and is interested in our journey. Usually she has been dressed in western styles, pant suits or a dress. Today she had her head covered in traditional style. I had to have a picture.
Dinner in, again. Getting to be a habit but it is relaxing and we feel the food is safe. My meds are finally having a positive affect and we don’t want to risk a set back.
A couple of things to note here regarding something that Abdellah said about the Islamic Religion. It is very young compared to Christianity. We forget that it too went through centuries of treating women differently from men. In fact do you remember that women couldn’t even vote in the USA until after WWI, in 1919? Or that at least one Religion condoned polygamy well into the 20th century until the USA passed a law against it? So, what’s my point? Two points;
1. Today King Mohamed VI formally announced the end of polygamy in Morocco. Muslim men have traditionally been able to take as many as 4 wives. If his wife objected he had grounds for divorce. Our friend and guide in Casa Blanca hinted that it was in the works, she said, “ The Koran says that a man must be LOYAL to his wife and it isn’t possible to be loyal to more than one”! Abdellah put it in context by saying, “We have only one heart therefore we should have only one wife”.
2. Today an Iranian Lawyer, a woman, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. She was in tough company. The Pope and Czech President Havel were among the front-runners. She represented several women in Iranian Courts on issues of Women’s Rights. The most controversial was the trial of a Father and half Brother that killed their daughter/sister. In Iran a Father may kill his Daughter without question or penalty. They often do when they feel think their daughter has had sex out of marriage and insulted the family. She won the case but spent time in jail over it and others.
A couple of small steps toward the 21st Century.
Sunday, October 12, 2003
A Year and A Half ON THE ROAD! Crankin’ Out The Journal
I was feeling almost human this morning. We went down to breakfast together and were surprised to find about a dozen others there. All men, clustered in 3 groups, doing business. I asked the front desk how they could be almost vacant when the Al Massira down the street is booked with all the UN Peacekeepers? She laughed and said, “We are the same owners, and they choose to keep Al Massira full so that these rooms are available”. Well that was interesting.
Yes, this marks 18 months since we rolled away from friends and family into this strange and interesting lifestyle. Yes, we do miss them but not our old life. This has been an Odyssey of personal growth and test of physical ability. We’re proud of our progress and way we have learned about the people and places here and in Europe.
The rest of the morning, in fact today, was spent at the computer. I am dedicated to finishing the Tangier to Agadir leg of the journal before we leave Laayoune. Cat spent time at the Internet Shop then walked back and we had lunch together.
She set off to shop for food and other items but found that the shops here are closed from 1:00 to 4:00 PM. She came back and fidgeted while I finished the text of the journal. After 4:00 she went back out and did find most of the items we needed. She’s been looking for a pair of long pants to wear when we camp but failed on that one.
Dinner in, again. It is almost like being at home. I had a great pounded veal steak, Cat stuck with Pasta. I kept pinning pictures into the text until my shoulders ached.
When you sit in front of the computer all day you hear and see the news at least 10 times as it rotates through the hours. So, what was in the news today? Another
big bomb in The Baghdad killed 10 and wounded 30 people. When will it ever end?
On another sad note, Willie Shoemaker the famous Jockey, died today at age 72. They held a memorial for him at Santa Anita. The trumpet player, you know the guy who starts every race, played Amazing Grace. (He played Happy Birthday to our Daughter Lori when we joined Cat’s parents there last year.)
I spent the wee small hours working on the pictures. We psyched up as I worked, getting ready for the next few weeks of cycling.
October 13, 2003
Meeting the Commissaire, Again
We did a little pick up shopping this morning then met with Commissaire Mouzouni at 11:00 AM. Again we poured over the map and he gave us the name and phone number for his Chief of Security in Boujdour. We will cross into his domain there. Mostapha is curious about our trip. He was able to ask Cat a few questions in French. The meeting was great. It really helped having Cat and her limited French skills there. He posed with us for a photo, I invited him to lunch but he already had an appointment. We left his office feeling like we had a new friend.
Cat arranged lunch in the room and I continued my quest toward the finish of this leg of the website. It is beginning to feel like a chore. I always agonize over it then love it when it is published and we get e-mails from friends around the world. Cat spent the afternoon at the Internet Shop and worked the more than 100 messages down to 0. This is a first for us!
We walked back to the Internet Shop later in the afternoon and I e-mailed the finished chapter of “Tales of The Trail” to Web Master Wally. The relief doesn’t last long because we are now behind several days in the new leg but it does feel good to have it under my belt.
Our last dinner, in the room. A rice and veggie dish that Cat had cooked up special for my healing stomach. No journal tonight just CNN and early to bed.
October 14, 2003
Laayounne to Lemsid
The Commisaire asked what time we would leave, yesterday. I told him that we would strive to be on the road by 8:00 which meant that we could make it by 9:00 but it was probable that it would be 10:00 before we actually started in earnest.
Walking into breakfast we noted that a table of guys had eggs. That was pretty exciting, we ordered, Cat had fried and mine were soft boiled. Too bad it was on our last day here that we discovered them.
We walked the bikes away from the hotel, down the street and across to a little store for bread and water. So, it was after 9:30 but we were still ahead of 10:00 AM. Then my chain jumped off the low gear as I shifted down and wrapped around the crank. It was stuck hard, I got my hands good and greasy but finally pried it loose.
The road is narrow and the shoulder just soft sand. Traffic was a steady stream in both directions at first. Just outside town we were overlooking an oasis, the riverbed and beautiful sand dunes. A slight turn to the left and we were in blowing sand. The side wind was brutal and full of fine sand. There was a skip loader pushing and moving the sand back off the highway like we move snow in our mountains back home. We had to stop and endure while they loaded a scoop and swung across the road in front of us. We were in a cloud of sand for a moment or two.
Another slight left and the wind was our friend. We were now on flat, rocky, trash-lined desert. Awe those black plastic bags, it’ll take a thousand years for them to disintegrate. Among the litter was the decomposing carcass of a very large and very unlucky camel.
With wind assistance we were riding 20-25 kilometers per hour. Good thing because there was no scenery save the harsh soil, rocks, occasional brown bushes and of course the never ending trash. We had tuna and bread with our backs to the wind then rolled on.
It only took 6 hours to cover the 110 kilometers. We were in Lemsid by 4:00. Well I should say we were at the checkpoint by 4:00. They took the usual info then told us to wait at the Café across the road in a service station. We sipped sprites and stared back at the tea-sipping guys who were staring at our bikes and us. Yes, we are an anomaly in these parts. The server heard that we were Americans and shifted the channel on their TV to CNN. We were almost glad when the power failed and the screen went black. News of Iraq doesn’t seem to enamor the locals to us.
The Chief Adjutant Officer of the Gendarme told us we were waiting for what we thought he called the Sheriff? He showed up and a group stood and chatted, glancing at us occasionally. We weren't sure whether we’d be pitching our tent or not when a small pickup truck with a camper shell full of mattresses pulled in. I followed then toward the mosque, Cat waited at the Café.
They unloaded the mattresses, sheets and blankets, even a carpet and we carried them around behind, through a gate and into a series of rooms there. The guys put the carpet down then the mattresses and put the sheets and blankets on them. We had a room. They suggested that we could keep the bikes in the adjacent room. There was a squatter toilet and a cold water shower. The toilet didn’t flush, they showed me how to get a bucket of water at the lavatory and pour after use. These are rooms where the workers at the Café sleep.
I went back, got Cat and we pushed the bikes to our new home. She was impressed, we both were when they gave us a key to the room. I walked out and got a photo with the guys then they all disbursed in different directions.
We did move the bikes from the next room into our bedroom. The door next door doesn’t have a lock on it. We took a spit bath, Cat actually had a sponge bath. There is a nice guy sitting outside, watching his garden grow. He has tomatoes, flowers and sunflowers growing in the tiny space between the Mosque and rooms. We learned that he is a Security Guard at the building project across the highway. What a nice man, we took a picture of him with his pride and joy sunflower. He gave us a lesson in planting sunflower seeds and told us the growing time of them and the tomatoes.
Dinner in the Café, Tajine and soft drinks. They had CNN playing again. It was 7:30 and dark when we made our way back to our lair.
We lounged, shuffled a few things in the bags and made a toilet call. It was lights out by 8:30 PM. We’re on the road, again!
October 15, 2003
Lemsid to Boujdour
The room is dark but I feel that it is later than 4:00 AM. I used my headlamp and was surprised to see 6:20 AM. Cat was snoozing so I just lay back and relaxed. There was activity, someone was taking a quick shower in cold water and the toilet flushed a couple of times. That made me feel the need to head down the hall and my stirring around did awaken her. The morning whoosh was done at half squat position again. The legs are feeling pretty strong. We washed faces, I shaved and we brushed. Repacked we locked the bikes in our secure little room and walked to breakfast at the Atlas Gas Station and Restaurant.
Strange, the TV was still locked on to CNN? The 3 locals had their eyes glued to the pictures of the bombing of the Turkish Embassy in Baghdad and the news of another incursion of tanks into Rhamala in Palestine. They must be like us when we watch Arabic TV, we pick up a word or two. They must surely have been catching Iraq, Baghdad, Palestine etc. They murmured mongst themselves when the picture of Arafat came up. We were wishing they would change the station when the power went out, again. We were relieved.
So the only thing we could pay for during our stay here in Lemsid was the two soft drinks last night and our breakfast. We had those pan fried omelets with OJ, bread and Café au Lait. The total tab came to 46 Ds. We gave the young waiter 5 and headed for the room. A 51 Ds day yesterday, Charlie will be proud of us!
Wanting not to wear out our welcome we folded the sheets, blankets, even the rug and stacked them next to the mattresses. Our friend Abderrahman, the gardener was back from his all night duty and cleaning the kitchen.
Pictures of the classic ladder leaning on the Mosque, the crew including the Manager of the Atlas, then we pedaled out the gate at 9:05 AM. The wind would be a definite factor today, it was blowing 25 Kmph. The good news, it’s goin’ our way again. It carried us along the flat, smooth surface at record speed. We stopped at 10:30 and ate a couple of the pastries the server gave us yesterday at Hotel Parador.
As we pulled out we heard that familiar ping, another spoke had bitten the dust. I checked and sure enough but the good news is, it’s an outside spoke, even I can change it. Well, I wouldn’t be able to true the wheel but I could get the spoke installed.
Onward, as 6 buses passed us headed south. The cars and trucks are all honking and giving us the thumbs up. It is a beautiful day to ride a bicycle. A twin-engine plane flew over at low altitude, also headed south. We thought it was another plane, the engine noise was strange and we couldn’t see a car in our mirrors then 4 motorcycles, dirt bikes, roared passed, honked and waved. Maybe a rally? 2 more honked as they sped past and they were followed by a pickup truck with another bike and a dozen spare wheels, they must be a rally?
Shortly another group of 4 came up from behind and slowed. I waved and tried to talk with one of the guys who slowed and rode alongside. Finally I got them to stop. They’re from France, here for a cross-country motorcycle adventure vacation. They started in Marrakesh and will turn east out of Dakhla and go into Mali then circle back to Marrakesh. Nice guys, Cat was able to talk with the one who stopped first. One of the others took a picture of the map on my shirt with a tiny digital camera.
The rest of the ride was just flat, under blue skies with scattered puffy white clouds. We rolled through a checkpoint after 50 Km and they waved us over. The Gendarme had us step into his little hut and he quickly wrote down our vitals. The quickest of these stops we’ve experienced.
It was only 12:30 as we neared Boujdour. Another Police Security Checkpoint and another guy, wearing a reflector vest and suit asked for our Passports then said, “Follow me”. He commandeered a van and they took off toward town. The other two guys asked Cat about our problems in Guelmim and Tarfaya. Geez, they do all know.
They took us to the Gendarmerie where two different plain cloths officers took the same info again then the second told us to follow him. He walked and we pushed down the street to a Hotel. As he filled out the paperwork he told Cat to look at the room. When she came back down he asked and she said, “It’s okay”. Then she told me that they don’t have hot water or towels. Just as she whispered that a chunky guy in a brown sport coat jumped out of a Land Rover that pulled up in front. He spoke to the Officer we were with then told us to follow him to a nicer house. We told them that the Hotel was okay for us but they insisted. Then a nice looking young guy in a crisp, blue double-breasted suit drive up and told us to follow. The brown coat guy loaded the bags we had taken off into the blue suits car and we rode back u the street. The wind that was our friend all morning was now a struggle.
Wow, a house, a 4-bedroom house all to ourselves. The handsome blue suit explained that it is owned by the county and used for traveling guests. Just when we thought we had it as good as it could get he said, “My men will bring food for you!”
Lunch was heavenly, Brown sport coat and another guy delivered salads and two plates of barbequed chicken smothered in French fries and olives. We sat in our living room and savored real food.
While Cat showered she rinsed some of our cloths and I wrung them out and hung them on the line in the courtyard. I hauled the computer out and began to try to catch up. A knock on the door and there was another handsome guy, a man in black. Black casual clothing that is. He introduced himself, another Mohamed, and said he would be outside the door for our security? This thing may be a little out of hand?
A first of the Odyssey, I took the broken spoke out of my rear wheel and replaced it. It was an outside spoke so the easy one to do. I learned that the spoke wrench we’ve carried for more than 15,000 kilometers is too small for these spokes. I had to tighten it with the pliers. Well, I got it on and tight, maybe a little too tight because it pulled the wheel slightly toward it but I didn’t want to tempt fate by trying to true it.
We went out to walk to the Internet Shop and Mohamed C, our new friend, asked if we wanted a tour of the village. We politely refused then walked to the Internet place. It was open but the machines wouldn’t connect to AOL? Oh well?
Back at our mansion we just settled in when someone knocked on the door. I asked what they wanted and the answer came back in Spanish. The man's voice asked for someone by name. We told him no, he wasn’t here. He persisted, knocking and talking, too fast for my feeble Spanish abilities. We went to a window near the door and peeked out. It was a guy in military looking fatigues and another in a Jellaba. The Jellaba was the one speaking Spanish. We tried to tell them that we were the only ones here and they must have the wrong place then shut the window. They went away.
In about 20 minutes the Spanish voice and heavy knuckles were at the door again. I peeked out and saw that he was alone this time so I threw caution to the wind and opened the door. Keeping it blocked with my foot I tried to tell him that there was no one here named Shoferie or whatever it was that he kept saying. Just as I was about to slam the door in his face Mohamed C. came around the corner. The guy had been asking for him by his last name. The guy turns out to be like the Mayor of Boujdour District and a pretty nice guy at that.
We talked for a while then Mohamed C. asked come with him to the Gendarmerie to meet Chief Hassani. We walked in language locked silence. Oh, Cat can have a halting French conversation but it is difficult. We were escorted passed 4 guys sitting on a bench looking guilty. One had a bandage across his nose and one cheek. They may have been the result of the malaise we witnessed as we came into town?
Cat, Mohamed C., the brown coat who turned out to be another Mohamed, another guy and I clustered around Chief Hassani’s desk and talked about a plan. Mohamed C. got paper and drew a map. They all contributed possible ideas then the Chief called the Royal Gendarmes. Brown coat Mohamed and Mohamed C. escorted us to the Gendarmerie and we met the Chief there, you guessed it, another Mohamed, who agreed to the map and rough plan from here to the end of his responsibility. We were on our way across the big desolate Sahara.
Mohamed C. led us down the dimly lit market street on a spree for vegetables and meat for dinner. He escorted us back to our 4 + 1 and left to go to his home and cook for us. This all seems a little above and beyond the call of duty to us but why complain?
It was after 9:00 by the time he got back with the food. Mohamed B. stopped back and we talked while the food got cold. He has arranged for a car and will take the bags for us tomorrow. He went on his way, we ate and talked with Mohamed C. he is really a nice guy, 34 years old and engaged to a girl who is 21. Cat told him that we are the same age difference. He said that he had eaten while he cooked for us. I told him that she was a lucky girl to get a guy who is a good cook. Not sure he really got the point there? I suggested that when he retires he can open a restaurant, I know that one went over his head.
Cat finally let him know that it was after 11:00 PM and we would need sleep to be able to cycle 140 Kilometers tomorrow. He took a few bites of the left over food then bid a goodnight. The guy in the Military fatigues was back at the door as he exited. He’s a security guard that will be here at the door, tonight.
I blocked the door with the bikes. Even though we’re covered I have this feeling of paranoia? Most of the Police types I have been around are always prepared for the worst. We wondered if this place is really that tough or if they were just extremely security conscious? I like they will now assume the worst!
October 16, 2003
Boujdour to Labouir
Flies and Butterflies
Cat slept well, I stirred with every little sound. Paranoia even with a security guy outside? I pulled the bikes off the door, we light loaded the bikes and stacked the heavy bags in the living room. Handsome Mohamed C. was there, waiting for us at 8:00 AM. He checked and counted the bags then told us that Mohamed B. would bring them to us in Labouir this afternoon.
He locked the door and we walked with him to a Café at the south end of town for coffee and bread. We had saved the yogurt he brought list night and had it with a banana.
As we mounted up I asked if we could have a picture with the Light House across the street in the background. Mohamed C. liked the idea. We pushed to the center of the street and he got a nearby Soldier to take it. As I showed the Soldier how to work the camera another across the street objected and began yelling as he loped toward us. Mohamed S. told us that the Lighthouse is adjacent to the Army Base. He talked with the Officer then I showed him the image on the back of the camera. He agreed, we posed, the young Soldier shot the pic and I showed it to the Officer. What a ring around the rosy for such a simple picture.
We waved until we rounded the corner then put our minds and muscle into pushing against the wind and slightly uphill. Even with the light loads we were struggling. At about 10 Km we took a turn for the better and began to fly.
A team of two Gendarmes sort of lurked behind us as we rode. We stopped for lunch and they pulled over about 300 meters behind us. We sat on the cement base of a signpost and ate our tuna, Laughing Cow cheese and bread. As I unwrapped a piece of cheese it flipped out of the foil and onto the ground. Disappointed we continued to eat then I wondered where the cheese had gone? It was stuck to the sole of my shoe. Good for a laugh then a scraping in the sand to try to get it off.
Cat, Almost Caught With Her Pants Down!
Cat had to go so we shielded her from the road with the bikes and she squatted. As she finished and was squirming back into her sweaty shorts the Gendarme pulled up to us. They almost caught her with her pants down! They just wanted to be sure that we were okay. She was worried that they would see her residue and she would be embarrassed. If they did, it went unsaid. We covered the evidence of her passing with rocks and dirt then mounted up and cycled on.
In just a few kilometers the Gendarmes in the Jeep turned back, honked, waved and left us in the solitude of the Sahara. It felt good to be on our own again until a car began stopping behind us then slowly following. Was it another Gendarme or Bad Guys? They passed and we couldn’t tell. Then as they pulled up and we passed, I caught a glimpse of uniform on the passenger side, we were in GOOD HANDS, AGAIN.
We want to mention flies and butterflies. Flies seem to be everywhere out here, even in the most desolate spots. They buzz around, a dozen or so at a time until the wind shifts enough for us to brush them away and ride fasted than they can fly. Another companion of our Sahara ride has been butterflies. At times there may be as many as a dozen of them. They fly with the wind, in front of us, like dolphins running ahead of a boat. The wind carries them at our speed and they seem to be playing with us.
A small herd of Camels was grazing on the right side of the road. Then we saw a big guy on the left. He raised his head and locked his eyes on us. We got the camera out and took his picture then I mounted up with the video rolling and we cycled toward them. As we neared the big guy snorted then turned and ran away from us. The ones on our right began to run parallel to us then crossed right in front of us. A truly exciting and rare moment caught on the little video. These once mighty ships of the Sahara are pretty much doomed to the butcher’s block these days.
It was 3:40 PM and we were running out of steam. The car with our sentries aboard pulled up in a roadway and as we passed we asked how far to Labouir. One got them got the meaning and yelled back, “4 kilometers”. We cheered and clapped. They clapped and gave us a thumbs up. We would make it ahead of Mohamed B. and the bags. Our original plan had him meeting us at 3:00 PM and loading the bikes into his car if we couldn’t make the distance. We felt that we could do it and convinced them to leave Boujdour at 2:30 so that he would catch us about 4:00 PM. We were elated with our stamina and summoned up strength to push hard to the finish.
A guy in sweats and a Nike cap walked up as we pulled in and introduced himself. Mohamed S. was the Chief of this Region and our new guardian angel. The station is a Sahara Petrom. The restrooms are squatters and not too clean. Our room is a 10 X 20 cement garage with a steel door and no windows. To top it off it was swarming with flies. We found a can of insect spray so I fogged the place then we closed it up and sipped soft drinks, swatted flies and watched as Mohamed S. Drew a new map of our route for the next two days. He is a fun and funny guy. His English is pretty good, too.
He asked about the sleeping room and we told him that we would pitch our tent inside. He thought that was pretty funny until I explained Cat’s aversion to bugs.
Back in our windowless cell, the flies were dead and gone, pretty powerful spray. They should use some in the restaurant. We got camp set up then went back to the Café. They had all the chairs stacked and were mopping the floors. Mohamed S. bid us a good evening and told us that he’d see us at 8:00 in the morning.
It was cool, almost cold. Cat had to put her jacket on. We sat in the wind and made notes of our days adventure. When they re-sat the tables we moved in for dinner. Tajine, of course but pretty good chicken Tajine with fries. We joked that these Gendarme were really getting to know us. When they pulled the top off of Cat’s Tajine it was a full breast. I said, “If there’s a leg and thigh in here they really do know too much about us”. It was the hindquarter, my favorite.
The sun was setting fast, we dug into the food and the power went out. It was dinner in the dark, not even the flicker of a candle. Maybe the food looks better in this very subdued light?
The tent felt like home. It was hot in the room but we couldn’t leave the door open. Cat found and dumped a lot of old food on a shelf then I strapped the chair she had been standing on to the door for security. We were in for the night.
There was the noise of locals laughing and talking and cars coming and going but we were tired, we went to sleep before 9:00 PM.
October 17, 2003
Labouir to Aarich
We both stirred at 1:00 AM and peed in the bottles. What a life, eh? The cars and trucks come and go outside the metal door. People talk and doors slam but they don’t bother us. We slept until 4:00, listened to the comings and goings of the truck stop night then slipped soundly back to sleep until 6:45. We peeked out to a bright new day. It would be another test of our endurance and stamina but we both felt good, strong enough to accept the challenge.
We broke camp with the doors closed rather than let the neighbors know what was stored in our bags. Everything packed, we were surprised to see a bevy of Gendarme, even Chief Mohamed S, all in uniform, seated around a table having breakfast. The same swarm of flies and their few thousand fresh offspring buzzed around and dove at our food. We covered, shooed and ate fast to keep them at bay. To show our appreciation we bought breakfast for all the Gendarmes and it only came to 80 Ds. ($8) A good investment, we thought.
They all hovered around, worried and talked in Arabic about the door where we had slept not being lockable then carried our bags to the office and locked them inside. The plan is that Mohamed S. will accompany us to the Locale boundary then come back and put them on the 1:00 PM bus. They will be in Aarich before we are.
Out the driveway and into a fairly friendly wind by 9:00 AM. Mohamed S. told us that it would be flat but he was thinking flat, for his car. The landscape changed, erosion left tall mesas on both side of the road. We were riding in a valley then back up to mesa level and back down. The ups and downs were a nice break from the endless Hammad ( Hard pan, flat dirt with scrimpy brush, occasionally.) Scenic was a bit more physically demanding.
Mohamed S. was our security this morning, he pulled ahead and waved then just a few minutes later Mohamed B pulled up in the big white Rover. He asked about the other Mohamed then drove off to catch him. Soon, Mohamed S. drove by headed back to his base. He slowed and waved, indicating good luck and that there was someone waiting for us at the Locale Agency line.
We though that we’d seen the last of Mohamed B. but there he was, on the side of the road with two uniformed Gendarmes in a Jeep. We stopped, he had the bags and we transferred them to the Jeep. This was a surprise, we thought we would have to try to go the distance with them on the bikes. The other Gendarmes had not liked the idea of having our bags in their vehicles? Mohamed B. is now very interested and involved in our journey. We think he either didn’t like the idea of our bags being on the bus, unguarded, or just wanted to see us one last time? Either way, we actually hugged and he posed for a picture with me. What a wonderful guy!
The new Gendarmes are sticking to us like glue. They go ahead a few hundred meters then wait until we pass then move ahead again. Cat mentioned that Mohamed B. Had forgotten to give us the fruit that was with the bags. Just as she mentioned it the big white Rover roared up from behind. We all pulled over and lo, he jumped out with the bag of fruit in hand. The bananas were smashed but we did take the apples with us. More handshakes and hugs then he headed north and we, along with our Guardian Gendarmes rolled on to the south.
The sun was high in the sky and it was warm. We pulled up to have a bite of food and our shadows pulled up to see if we had a problem. They moved ahead and parked while we sat in the sun and ate our canned tuna, Laughing Cow Cheese and chased it with water. We had forgotten to get a big soft drink to bring along.
Back on the road, our Gendarme friends were up ahead, stopped and talking with a guy on a motorcycle. It was Duncan, from England. He’s been all the way down to Togo. He didn’t think that we would have much problem in most places but offered that you can’t get into Liberia or Ivory Coast. He didn’t know about Sierra Leone, he had detoured around those three places. Cat rode on ahead, I wished that I had the camera with me. He was a cool looking young guy, the rugged type.
At a stretch stop Cat called out in alarm, “Look out, a Sand Snake”. There was a green animal inching it’s way under the warm sand. It didn’t look like a snake’s head or tail to me so I pushed it with my toe. The snake turned out to be a huge Caterpillar. What in the world could he eat out here in this brown landscape to get so big and green?
I was feeling spent so we pulled up with 30 Km to go. We shared two of the apples and small talk. It was just a year ago today that we took the plane out of Finland, away from the ice and snow, to Portugal. Wow, how the time flies.
We were both worn down and burned out by the time we reached Aarich and the Service Station. It is smaller than either of the ones we spent the night at before. However, the room where we will sleep is larger. Someone sleeps in it, I asked if they would also be sleeping there and Abdessamad found enough English to let us know that the one who sleeps there will sleep in the Café tonight. We’ve taken someone’s bed?
Fighting fatigue and slight nausea we sat and drank Sprite and Mango Juice. I tried to pay for the Gendarmes coffee but they would not allow it? In fact when he paid, Abdessamad handed the guy a 200 Dirham bill and got no change? Did he pay the guy to give up his room for us?
To fend off flies and bugs we pitched the tent inside again. There is no shower but the guys at the Station Café heated a pot of water and we stood in the toilet, straddling the squatter, and took spit baths. Pretty stinky but it felt good to wash the sand and sweat off our face, arms and legs.
Cat now has the African Guff Guff. She made 2 quick trips while we reworked the bags. We had thought about cooking pasta but it was now after 5:00 PM and she didn’t feel well. I nixed the idea and we had the best thing on the local menu, you guessed it, Mutton Tajine!
Three local guys did stare downs with Cat as we ate. A dozen dogs circled and licked their chops hoping for a taste to the tasty Mutton. Abdessamad had told us earlier that there is one dog for every family in the village. By the way, we did see quite a few small houses down near the water as we cycled in. Also, there is a new housing project about 4 Km from the station. It is for the Gendarmes and their families. Not bad looking places, especially if compared to the village near the water.
We sat in the Café, stared back at the locals and wrote about today’s experiences in our notebook. By 8:30 our eyelids were drooping. We built a bicycle barrier in front of the unlockable door and were in the tent, lights out, by 9:00 PM.
October 18, 2003
Aarich to La Dakhla
Not a great nights sleep, car and truck lights came and went lighting up the room. Awake at 4:00 and we couldn’t get back to sleep for sometime. Awoke at 6:30 with an extreme need to make a nature call. The café wasn’t open yet? Maybe because we have the guys alarm clock here? I began to know that I was in trouble so I decided to unstuck our bicycle warning system and go outside. The strain of untying and moving the bikes took a toll, soon I wasn’t able to hold on, anymore. What a crappy way to start the day! I got outside and left evidence of my natural need on the ground near the block wall. I poured the bottles full of pee over the fence then used them to clean up most of the mess, on the ground. My cycling shorts were a real problem. No water, not enough paper, they would be terrible to have to wear all day. Luckily I had the pair of tight shorts, we hadn’t sent them home. We bagged the crappies, I used Handi-Wipes to clean off and sealed the soiled into a plastic bag. If this is all to graphic for you, sorry, but a memory that I don’t want to forget. All too often I dwell only in the pleasant. This was not pleasant.
We re-packed the bags to normal and loaded them on the bikes. Breakfast at 8:00 AM, our Gendarme escorts, Abdessamad and Soulaiman, were already here having coffee. We had yogurt, juice, coffee and bread. It was 9:20 by the time we hit the road.
The wind wasn’t our friend at first. Strong and from our left, it slowed progress. The added weight held us back, too. We were back to normal in abnormally strong wind. The road did take a turn to the right and though not completely friendly the wind was better to us. Our Escorts stayed very close again, today.
At 20 Km out we came to the fork in the road, one way to Mauritania, the other to Dakhla. There is a service station here and they had cold soft drinks. We sipped and tried to talk with a couple of local boys. I asked if they were surfers because they had cloths like surfers wear. The police laughed and explained to them. They don’t surf, never have, sand locked I guess? Another older guy kept asking Cat our Nationality. She ignored the question then he asked if we were from Alemagne, Germany. She just said no, he didn’t persist and we were glad. It just isn’t good to spread the big "A" word, even when you’re under constant surveillance.
We did have to pass the Passport ritual at the roadblock there, even though we were in the company of armed guards. It was a hard ride in heavy head wind to the top of a hill then a fast down, across a 2 km flat at water level that reminded us of Utah’s Salt flats. There was even an alligator rock in the water but no Salt, just silty light tan sand. The water in the distance was a beautiful range of blues. Another climb into the wind then a turn for the better. A few ups and downs along a fabulous looking coast and the cliffs of the mainland across the blue.
Tired to the bone, we were like old horses headed for the barn. Our legs were burning but we were inspired to get to Al Dakhla and a bath. Our guardians recommended the Sahara Regency but pulled up and suggested that we look at the Hotel Doumss first. We decided not to go in, we could see the Regency just a few blocks away and it had a much better look.
Our personable personal Gendarmes stood curbside for an awkward minute or two then we shook hands. Abdessamad put his hand on his heart as men often do when they shake hands. I put my hand on my heart then put it on his and said, “Thank you, from my heart to yours.” He seemed almost embarrassed but smiled and accepted the compliment. He then said, “Can I leave my e-mail with you?” We were surprised and pleased to find that he had an e-mail address. They are both nice guys but we were closer to him because he spoke some English.
The room rate was 800 Ds. ($80) The Gendarme at the town limit had said it should be 500? I tried but the girl was adamant. Cat said, “Maybe we had better try a different Hotel.” I told the girl we would stay 3 nights and she dropped the price to 600 Ds and included breakfast. We were home for a few days.
A guy in sort of traditional dress and a very western looking young guy helped with the bags but required that the bikes be left in the garage. I objected and they asked me to take a look. It wasn’t a public garage and there is a 24-hour guard on duty. I relented and they helped carry the bags.
The English language TV they had promised wasn’t there. The water was shut off? We couldn’t get an answer as to when the water was expected to run again. Finally the girl at the desk said it would be on in an hour. We went down to lunch smelling sweaty, one of us even smelled a little stronger than just sweat. Well, it wasn’t our fault they didn’t have water. Cat wanted anything other than Tajine. They didn’t have much so she settled for salad and soup. I had chicken Tajine and French fries, it was great and very filling.
The water was on but the hot was only luke, at best. We squatted in the curtainless shower and got water all over the floor. Again I went down and tried to explain that we needed a shower curtain. The curtain rod is here so they must have them? Another exercise in futility.
We lounged around until 7:00 then went down for dinner and our first wine in 5 days. What a treat. Dinner was just okay and the wine was expensive but we needed the treat. We were in bed by 9:00 PM. Our bodies were demanding rest.
Sunday, October 19, 2003
Well Earned Day Off in Dakhla!
Sleep, safe and restful sleep, sleep, sleep. Nothing like the feel of clean sheets and a bath after days of deprivation. Well, it felt like days! There are a couple of things missing but we are working on them. English language TV would be nice and they keep saying that they have it? A shower curtain would be the difference between squatting and a real shower. We have squatted enough these past few days.
Laying in, relaxing until 8:00, heavenly! Another bath just for the sake of feeling the water run off our backs. I took a hike for yogurt and bananas to supplement the included breakfast while Cat luxuriated in the curtainless bath. Breakfast was continental and served in the same dining room as dinner.
A taxi ride to the Internet shop and 2 ½ hours on line, almost 200 messages, Wally got the Madrid to Morocco journal posted yesterday. The machine was fairly fast to begin with then the shop filled up and the phone line did too. We gave up and walked next door to Restaurant Samarkand for lunch. A very nice young server, Omar, spoke a little English and would work with Cat and her French. She had soup and salad I went for the all American, burger and fries. Well, it was close and pretty tasty.
We walked to Hotel Erraha because the Lonely Planet book said that they had information about crossing the border into Mauritania. Long walk, short on info. Taxi back to Hotel Doumss because it is purported, again by LP, to have a selection of take away wine. Wrong, again, they only have Rouge and Rose, no Vin Blanc.
Caught another cab and I dropped off at our Hotel. Cat went on to the Marche. I walked to a TeleBoutique and called Abdellah. He sounded pressed and when I asked if I had caught him at a bad time he told me he had just crashed his Mercedes. He is okay but thinks the Mercedes is totaled. We made a date to call back at 7:00 PM.
I put the hotel staff through their paces about receiving CNN. One of the fellows we met as we came in yesterday, perhaps the Assistant Manager, came to the room. He checked the wires then pulled a panel open in the bathroom then told me that we would have to change rooms to get English language TV. I decided to wait until Cat gets back to make the decision.
She came in just minutes later and we went looking at rooms with the young girl from reception. The rooms weren’t as nice and none had CNN. I left the girls to work on the problem. They will see if the signal can be picked up and transferred to one of the other rooms. I rested, Cat and the girl tried everything but finally had to give up. We will be newsless here and from now until we reach Mauritania.
Cat headed back to the Internet, I hit the pages of this journal. She also did marketing for lunch things. It was 5:45 PM before she returned, I was getting worried. She a made a wine stop at the Restaurant. We shared a couple of glasses then took the bottle, in a bag, to Samarkand and had Pizza. Life is good, Omar was his personable self and the Pizza was passable.
I called and did reach Abdellah but caught him in a moment of trauma. He had just crashed his Mercedes. He wanted to know about our adventures so we made an appointment for him to call us at the Hotel at 9:00, tonight.
Back by 9:30, we had missed Abdellah’s call. He left a message for us to call later but the girl made it sound like he wanted us to call tomorrow. Of course we are interested in his problem but we also need him to help us talk with Commisaire Kouzouni about meeting the Gendarme here in Dakhla. We watched a French movie about a German submarine until Cat dozed, then I turned off the lights and we slept.
We have meant to get a picture of our drug supply and today Cat pulled them all out of the bags. It is quite a pile but they have to last for the duration of our African ride. So here, you can see what a $1000 drug deal looks like.
October 20, 2003
Day Off in Dakhla
First things first, I tried to call Abdellah but to no avail. He may be sleeping off the effects of his collision or at a Doctor or the Body Shop getting an idea of the damage to his Mercedes. I took a walk to the local small store and got yogurt and water. The street was alive with students on the way to school at 7:45 AM. Interesting, as many girls as boys and the clothing ranged from quite western to very Middle Eastern.
Having failed to reach Abdellah we decided that I must call the Commisaire. He was in and in our limited ability to communicate he got the point across that someone would contact us from the Gendarmerie Royal.
We did the bananas and yogurt in the room then coffee, juice and croissants I the restaurant. The waiter was a very nice young guy. We were so impressed that we even tipped him.
The Petite Taxi took Cat to a laundry while I transferred pictures to CDs to send home. When Cat returned she had some really sad news to share. Last night we had taken our corkscrew to Samarkand and left it in the bag with the empty bottles. We’d thrown away our favorite tool, the one that Gustav gave to us in Greenland. I finished off the pictures then we caught a cab and went directly to the trashcan, hoping beyond hope that it was still there. No such luck!
Internet from 10:00 until noon then I came back while Cat cleaned up her messages. As I entered the Hotel I asked the girl at the desk if we had any messages. She didn’t understand. The Manager was there on the phone and he jumped in, “You want to pay”? “No”, I told him, “I want to know if I have a message from the Gendarmerie”?
He looked confused then called to a guy coming through the door to see if he spoke English. When I told him that I wanted to know if I had a message from the Gendarmerie he said, “We are Gendarmes”. Wow, three of them, the Captain and Chief of the Gendarme, the one who spoke some English was Chief of Military Police and the other was Chief of Security Police.
We began a conference that started with, “It is not possible to ride a bicycle to the border, it is too far and too dangerous. You cannot camp on the Desert, it is too dangerous”. As we talked I got a piece of paper from the Manager of the Hotel who was now deeply involved in the conversation. I drew a map of the route and told them that we would pay to have a truck come with us and the Captain was emphatic, “You will not pay”! Once they saw the illogical logic of my idea to take the bikes to the cross roads, start from there and be sagged they all put their heads together and soon we were drawing a map that included an 88 Km ride from the cross roads to a service station where we will sleep tomorrow then a dash of 140 Km +- day after tomorrow then a ride in the Gendarme’s car to the Hotel that is 300 Km from here and near the Mauritanian border. The next morning they will take us back to where we leave off and get us to the border. We had a plan and the Captain kept saying, “You no worry you safety my responsibility, you have no problems.”
Somehow I got the point across that we wanted to find a ride from here back to the crossroads. We had already ridden that 40 kilometers and didn’t need to ride it again. The Manager volunteered to take us back out there. We had a plan!
Cat walked in just as our meeting broke up and she got to meet the entire group. They said it is their job but we felt that they are proud to be a part of our CRAZY Odyssey!
We decided to lunch in the room. Cat went shopping and I jumped back into this darn journal.
On the way out to dinner at Samarkand we met a young guy who said hello, in English. Younes introduced himself as the Manager of the Hotel. He speaks great English because his Mother is from Ireland. He has spent his youth and school years there. His Father is Moroccan and owns the Hotel. The guy we thought was the owner is his Uncle. Younes told us that he would be taking us, in his Uncles car, to the cross roads tomorrow.
Chicken couscous and Omar for dinner. One of the guys, the Chief of Military Police, joined the group next to us. He either didn’t see us or ignored us. They were busy talking so we decided that we wouldn’t bother him. After a last check of the Internet next door we took a taxi back and it was another early night to bed.
October 21, 2003
Dakhla to Ponta Chica
Younes led us out to his Uncle’s Mercedes, his dog, a big one, was in the front seat. He must have read dismay on my face, he said, “The dog won’t be coming with us. We loaded the bikes in the trunk then he took us to a copy store and we made copies of our vaccine records because we had began to fear that it would cause a problem if we lost them, somehow. Then, we set off, retracing our route across the flats, along the seashore. It was hazy, almost foggy this morning.
Younes is the product of a cross-cultural marriage. His Father met his Mother while they were both studying in Paris. She is from Ireland, he from here in Morocco. They fell in love and the rest, he said, was history. I asked if it presented any problems for him, his Mother being Irish Catholic and his Father a Muslim. He said that his Father isn’t religious so it was never a problem for him. When we talked about Ramadan a he spoke of the difficulties then, almost under his breath he said, “God I hate Ramadan, it’s so strict and people watch each other to make sure they don’t eat or drink during the day. Even though we don’t practice religion we are careful about eating or drinking in public. I could cause problems with our help or our business.”
The Chief of The Gendarme was waiting at the crossroads. There was an old Renault and two-uniformed Gendarme there, too. We off loaded the bikes from the trunk, were introduced to the two, Hachad and Hajib, by Capitaine Mohamed El G. They took charge of the bags, put them in the trunk then Younes and the Capitaine bid us adieu. We were off on the final leg of our Moroccan adventure. They had warned us that this would be the longest distances between places and perhaps the most dangerous part of the region. We rode, they followed, as Cat put it “Like flies on you know what”.
With a slight headwind, we still made good time over the first 40 kilometers and were in El Aargoub in just 2 hours. Amazing how fast you can ride without the weight of the bags dragging along. El Aargoub is just across the bay from Dakhla. A few drops of rain began to make little dust clouds around our feet as they hit the parched earth. We stood and collected drops on our shoulders as we discussed our trip and provided the usual info to the Military Police there.
This place is a Military outpost. The adjacent village has the look of a hastily constructed row of small businesses that are now deteriorating. We cycled a hundred meters or so then, as the rain increased, decided to stop for a soft drink and cover for a few minutes. Our guide, guards, found a small café, we left the bikes in the rain, that was pelting down pretty hard now, and went inside. Cat couldn’t control here laugh as we stepped through the door. There was as much or more water coming through the roof as there was outside in the rain.
The place was dimly lit. Several guys were sitting, sipping tea and watching us. The rain poured, outside on the bikes and in the center of the café. We took a seat at a table in a dry area. I brought the bikes inside and put them under an eve that held back most of the rain. It was after noon and though we weren’t hungry, we decided to eat, because we could. The Tajine was pretty good when washed down with soft drinks.
There was a very nice guy, 40 years old, he said, who spoke good English. He has been stationed here for 3 years. Married, they have 3 kids, 2 girls and a boy. All are young and all attend school here. He wishes he was nearer his home in Marrakesh but will have to stay here for at least another 2 years. I have wished often that we had taken his picture. He had a very western look in his sport shirt and baseball cap. He told us that this was the first rain they’ve had during the 3 years he’s been stationed here.
Raindrops were fewer and farther between as we pushed through the mud, back up to the highway. Onward, southward we rode. Dakhla was barely visible through the haze, across the water.
There would be no sun this afternoon but the rain stopped, the wind didn’t. In fact it picked up in intensity and we really had to push hard, into it. The Gendarme are so close that we had to flag them up and ask them to move ahead so that we could take a toilet break.
The Tropic of Cancer
Somewhere along the route here we unceremoniously crossed the Tropic of Cancer. There was no sign or marker but we know that it’s about 30-40 kilometers south of El Aargoub. Amazing when we think back to March 20 and Vaasa, Finland. We were just 200 kilometers south of the Arctic Circle when we set of in the ice and snow those 7 months ago. Now at an unmarked landmark, we have crossed into the tropic zone. We are becoming impressed with ourselves, we’ve come a long way, baby!
As the wind slackened at 3:00 PM, my rear wheel has begun to wobble. I found 2 broken spokes. We rode past a new community that Hachad told us was built for the Gendarme. Both he and Hajib are stationed here and live in the village. Below the cliff near the ocean there is another village of shacky looking houses. Hachad told us that it is the home of local fishermen.
We were given the room where the Atlas Service Station Manager and his assistant usually sleep. We thought that Hachad and Hajib would go home for the evening but they indicated that they would stand the guard. “Hachad said, “Your safety is my responsibility”. Thinking they meant sleeping in the car we told them that we would set the tent for privacy and they could sleep in the same room with us. (We didn’t tell them that we wanted the tent to keep the bugs out.) We threw the rain fly over the top to give us privacy then invited them in to take a look. They laughed and called the Station Manager in to take a look. He too laughed then took his bedroll under his arm and walked away shaking his head. Hachad told us that they would sleep inside with the Manager, we had the room to ourselves.
There’s no bath so we stood in the stinky toilet area, sponged off then joined the Gendarmes and a few others in the Café. They have satellite TV. The Manager is an intense remote control freak. He continually flicks from channel to channel. Finally landing on Arabic news, they all watched the Iraq war report with interest then talked among themselves. They said nothing to us about it.
Hachad went out to have a smoke and cruise the village. He told us that their presence there was enough to insure peace. Hajib sat with us. When the cook delivered our Tajine and the left over Restaurant Samarkand couscous he joined us and ate in the traditional style with his bread. Hachad returned and between us we cleaned up the plate.
More TV news, Hachad told us that Arafat had fled to Egypt. When he explained to the others a real conversation, in Arabic, erupted. Finally he told us that he was mistaken, Arafat was still in Rhamala.
We removed the rain fly, I found a broken screwdriver that they use to secure the door. We stacked the bikes in front of it and strapped them, just as an additional early warning system then crawled onto the sleeping bags at 9:00 PM. We just lay, talked and wrote a few notes then turned off the headlights at 9:50 and slept.
October 22, 2003
Ponta Chica to Lamhiriz
A skillet full of eggs, sunny side up but cooked hard, a loaf of the round, flat bread that was at least 3 days old, and we were on the road. Virtually sameness as far as scenery, for as far as we could see. There was no wind, almost eerily still. Drops of rain began to spatter then thicken to drizzle. We rode, it got heavier. The skies ahead looked clear but as we got closer they darkened and it really began to pour.
We took an early lunch break in the back seat of the Renault Gendarme Cruiser. Soaked to the bone, Cat shivered as we ate our canned tuna, Laughing Cow cheese and hard bread. We stalled for a little then stepped back out into the elements and rode in rain most of the rest of the afternoon.
At 5:30 PM we called a halt to the madness. Hachad thought we needed to go 6 more kilometers but one way or the other, this was our ride for today. The Kilometer marker tells us that we have 165 to go to Nouadhibou. So, tomorrow we will back track to this place and make the final thrust to the Mauritanian border. They estimate, based upon the marker, that it is 25 Ks to the Motel and another 80 or so to the border.
We studied the situation then ended up just stuffing the bikes into the “too small” trunk and strapping them down. The bags were filled in around them and on them. Several filled the back seat on the driver’s side. The door doesn’t open on that side, anyway. The cart, by the way, has seen better days. It is running pretty ragged and lots of things don’t work.
The sun was on the horizon by the time we got to Motel Barbas. This is really a far-flung outpost. We thought about leaving the bikes on the car at first. The manager, Hassan, told the Gendarmes that the only guests and people at the restaurant are locals and they know them. Also, there is 24-hour security. I still felt uneasy and as the cast of characters began to gather around, Hachad made the final decision. We would take the bikes to our room and lock the bags inside the trunk.
Cat was chilled to the bone. She shivered all the way to the room and wrapped herself in a blanket. Hassan came and told us the bad news, no hot water. Hachad couldn’t believe it when we told him then sort of shrugged it off when it was verified by Hassan. Having been in this situation before we asked for a bucket of hot water and he agreed.
As Cat sat shivering water began to drip into the room through the ceiling light fixture. She called the girl who was sweeping the deck to take a look. She immediately moved us, bag and baggage, to the next room. I guess that water and electricity don’t mix any better here that they do on the other side of the world.
I went to the bar and arranged for a cup of hot tea for the cool Cat. At first she didn’t want it but at first sip she enjoyed the warmth. The hot water, a huge plastic tub full of it, arrived and we took turns in the shower. It was so hot that we had to run cold water in it before rinsing down. What a treat, it made the shower room steamy. It felt great to warm up and wash down at the same time. Cat took so long that it was after 8:00 PM by the time we got down, into the patio area for dinner.
I had placed an order for two Tajines. We sat, talked with Hachad, Hajib and a guy named Marino. He spoke a tiny bit of English, he’s like a construction foreman. Hachad asked him then they called another guy over and arranged for a truck to take us back out at 7:00 in the morning. The truck is going to Dakhla and will drop us on the way. Both the bikes and our bodies will be more comfortable that way. A great idea on Hachad’s part. Not only smart, he’s also considerate.
It was after 9:00 by the time we finally coaxed the Tajine out of them. It was pretty good and we were pretty hungry by that time.
We fell into bed, fed and warmed, by 10:30 PM.
October 23, 2003
Lamhiriz, Morocco to Nouadhibou, Mauritania
110 Kilometers Cycling, 60 Kilometers in Van
Anxious to get on down the road, we woke up at 6:00 AM and were ready to go by 7:00. The plan is to take the ride out to where we stopped yesterday and cycle back in then have breakfast. We did drink part of a box of orange juice then loaded the bikes by 7:30. Hachad drove the car, Hajib rode in the truck, to keep and eye on the bikes. The fog was thick and the windshield wipers didn’t work. Visibility was non-existent most of the time. Hachad drove with his head out the window. It reminded us of Jim Carey in “Ace Ventura, Pet Detective”.
The truck followed then finally took the lead and made his driving a little easier. The guys handed us the bikes, wished us well and disappeared into the pea soup fog. We took pictures then pedaled. The 25 kilometers were under our wheels in an hour and 20 minutes. They made omelets for us. Those along with bread, juice and coffee fueled us up for the finish of our “Tour du Maroc”. They even got the guy who runs the little grocery store out of bed and had him open the door, just for Cat. She’s worried that if we have to spend the night at the border waiting for a ride across “No Man’s Land”, we’ll need food, for tonight and in the morning. There was no bread, okay, we’ll go and do the best we can! We’re pretty excited, we’re off to the next leg of our journey.
A picture of Hachad, Hajib refused to have one. Most of the Gendarmes have been camera shy. We’re glad that Hachad isn’t, he is our favorite and we want to remember him. Some of the staff, there to see us off, posed for a picture in front of the Motel sign then shouted encouragements as we cycled away. It was 10:30 by the time we got on the road.
The fog had retreated, the sun was bright, and we hoped that it was an omen of good things ahead. It was just more hammad until we got to the mountain that Hachad had warned us was 10 kilometers out. It wasn’t really a mountain, more like a down through a dry riverbed then the pull back up. The terrain became rockier, the road pitched up and down and we rode in a valley of rock and mesas. Though it takes a little more energy Cat liked the change of scenery.
It looked like someone had spent a lot of time stacking rocks, some in very artistic piles, along the road. As we took pictures the guys pulled up and Cat asked who had spent the time and effort. The answer shocked us, the Army stacked them to mark the safe area. Everything beyond the stacks had been sown with LAND MINES! So, this really was a war zone. Yes, the conflict has lasted more than 20 years and the Polisario are the leftovers, the losers who still haven’t given up.
This is a little aside about good people, we were passed by our Gendarmes then some cars from France. We thought the French pulled over thinking that it was another roadblock. Then we realized that one of the cars was locals, they had brought some fresh bread for us. Again, Hachad was thinking ahead and the others were kind enough to drive all the way out, just for us.
Well, our Gendarmes did share the fresh bread. Lunch was a standup affair, roadside. We had a can of tuna, some laughing cow cheese and the fresh bread. They had nearly the same except they had chosen Sardines as their main course. When they finished they just threw the trash into the gutter. Cat told them about our anti litter laws back home. They have heard of them but they think there is a lot of space here so it’s not a problem. I dug a small hole with my shoe and buried our trash.
At 3:30 Pm we were at the Moroccan Border. There is a Police Checkpoint. We passed that test fairly easily then moved on to the next. This was a group of stacked rock shacks and a big cable strung across the road. Oh yea, the pavement ends here, too. Ahead lies “No Man’s Land” and Mauritania.
Hachad had told us that a great friend of his from school was stationed here and would have an autobus waiting for us. As we pulled up a clunky van stopped, too. We had seen them at the Police Checkpoint. A guy, 3 women and 2 little girls. Cat whispered, thank goodness we won’t have to ride with them.
The Gendarmes and Soldiers talked and laughed, we hoped that they weren’t laughing about us. Then the bad news, we would be riding in the clunker. The people were Mauritanian and agreed to take us with them. Hachad told Cat that they wouldn’t charge us anything.
Then the moment that is always tough. The goodbyes often momentarily overshadow the excitement of the adventure that lies ahead. It’s hard to believe how attached you can become to someone who was a stranger just three days ago. We didn’t get to know Hajib very well, maybe the language thing or just that he’s a more quiet person? Hachad shook my hand and I said, “You will always be in our minds and in our hearts”. He pulled me closer then I hugged him. Cat hugged him and they exchanged cheek kisses. We both felt that surge when you feel when you begin to well up and you get that familiar lump in your throat. It was time to go!
The Van Ride Into HELL!
The guy is small, we felt okay that they were family, not a bunch of guys. He opened the back door and we stacked some of the baggage in then put the bike on their sides. The remaining bags were packed around the bikes and on some of his things. They have been shopping for household goods. There are several cushions, like something that would go on a chase lounge. He threw one of them on top of the entire load and invited us to get in. Surprise, we thought we would be up front with the family. No room!
Cat takes moments like this in stride. We struggled up, trying not to step on our bike wheels or his box of tomatoes. We could peek out the two slit windows in the back. I even took some illegal pics and video of the Moroccan Border as we bumped away. Ah well, it’s just 18 kilometers, the bumps and dust will soon be behind us and we’ll be home free in Mauritania. The Gendarmes, especially Hachad, had warned us of graft, terrible roads and bad people. We chalked the warnings up to the same things we had experienced at most other borders. In Spain they talked that way about the Portuguese and in Portugal, vise versa, same thing in Russia and Poland. We decided that it was even more so here because of the war.
The reports we had read about the road being bad were an understatement. This wasn’t even a road. No one maintains it, the old van lurched and the wheels spun in loose dirt and over big rocks. Then, the first Mauritanian Border checkpoint. Another small, stacked rock place with a canvas roof. We went to the door as the driver of our van indicated. A guy outside told us to stand there but the guy inside waved for us to enter. When we did the guy outside barked at us but was obviously outranked.
A lot of the soldiers are Middle Eastern looking but about half are Africans. All seem to be Muslims. This guy was pretty nice, he did the usual questions as though they had learned them from the Moroccans of vise versa. After the normal delay and looks at our passports eh waved us on. The back of the van looked pretty good to us as we pulled away from the olive drab uniforms and guns. It wasn’t exactly the friendly welcome we had hoped for.
The next hurdle was a little tougher. We had to wait, our van driver led us into the rock shack. The Soldier at a desk there asked for our passports, in English. He did the same drill then turned and said, “This man says that the Moroccan Gendarmes told him he had to bring you here. Where are you going”? When we told him Nouadhibou he said, “This man wants money to take you there, will you pay or stay here”?
Now we were nervous. “How much money”? I asked.
Without hesitation he said, “1000 Dirham”.
“That’s a lot of money,” I complained.
“You can stay here if you prefer,” he spat back. He seemed angry with us or life or something.
Cat said, “We’ll pay”. She was really nervous. We could dig up that much but would have little left.
The soldier snapped, “Go”, we went back to the dust, bumps and safety of our expensive van.
There were three 4 wheelers from France waiting for their turn to see the man. They are from St. Remy and one of the guys owns a restaurant there. We told them about our bike ride over the mountain from Arles and lunch at Chez Momo. They know the place well, his is just across the street. They called it the Crepe place. We talked with a young guy, gave him our card and he snuck a picture with us behind the van. They are on a hunting trip. He didn’t seem like the hunter type and when Cat asked he said in French he said, “They hunt birds”, then shrugged. As though he couldn’t believe that they would drive this far just to kill a few birds. He was a little nervous too, they were camping for the first time, tonight. He promised to send an e-mail and keep in touch with us once he’s back home. We thought about asking them for a ride but they were packed to the gills, inside and on the roof of their vehicles.
The next stop was one where soldiers gathered at the door then had us step out. There were some guys, guides they said, who wanted to help us. They asked where we would stay and when we told them Palmiers, the Hotel that Hachad and his friend Medini had recommended they all told us that we should stay at Hotel Al Jezira. It is near the center and very good. Then one of the soldiers told me to take both of our passports and come to the little shack. I didn’t want to leave Cat alone but she told me to get it over with. She would yell if she had a problem.
This guy, a tall muscular African, looked at the passports, opened a book and started writing the usual things down in the dark little shack. He had to light a candle to see his book. The flickering glow added to the strange feeling of the place. When he asked my job and I told him “Imobilier”, Real Estate, he asked, “Did you bring a gift for me”?
Slightly shocked, I tried to look calm as I said, “I didn’t know I was supposed to bring a gift for you, what kind of gift would I bring”?
He looked at a guy who was hanging around just outside the door, like a signal for him to join us. Then as the even bigger guy leaned down with both hands on the end of the desk he said, “100 Dirham”.
“I don’t have any money, I have to pay the driver of the van and it will take almost all I have.” I told him with as much conviction as I could summons up.
The other guy leaned closer, the one seated squinted his eyes and asked, “What kind of car do you have”?
“I don’t have a car, only a bicycle”.
“You don’t make enough money to have a car as an Imobilier”? He snarled.
“Do I have to give you a gift?
“No but it won’t be nice if you don’t”.
I opened my wallet and let him see that I only had 320 Dirham. I pulled the 20 out and said, “How about this”? He almost laughed then asked if we were taking the train or driving back this way. I told him we’d be back in 4 days. (This and the 320 Dirhams is what I like to call “creative truth”.) He counted the days and said, "I won’t be here on Sunday". Since I had already mentioned Hotel Al Jezira I suggested that he stop by and I could buy tea and we could talk. He seemed to like the idea. I asked his name and he told me, Blil, he even spelled it for me. We shook hands and I headed for what now felt like the safety of the van.
Bumping along in the dusty van again I told Cat of the graft. She was upset, “You actually gave him money”? She said it with a touch of disdain. I had to remind her that 20 Dirham is only $2.00, we were paying our driver a hundred bucks. She had been quick to volunteer that payment. I thought I had been pretty cool under pressure. Of course I was dreading Blil’s visit to the Hotel but then, at least we would be on our turf there, so to speak.
It was dark by now, another roadblock, and more soldiers. They shone flashlights through the slits. We tried to avoid their beams but failed. Our chauffer opened the door and they put the lights on our faces then swept them around the van. Our fear dissipated as they stepped back and the door slammed.
Fear and Darkness
The first time we saw the clunky van the women were in the dirt, foreheads to the ground, praying. They did the same every time we stopped. Our confidence in the van ride eroded when we crossed a particularly heavy bump. We had crossed a railroad track where there was no crossing. The women got out but didn’t pray, they just laughed and talked. The driver turned off the engine, we wondered what the heck was going on. Was this going to be the spot where they take everything from us and cast us out upon the desert?
Once this chain of thought set in it was a downhill slide. The women got back in, the driver started the van and we continued to bump along in the darkness. What little we could see, out the slits, no longer even slightly resembled a road. We spoke confidently to each other that everything was going to be fine but later we admitted that we were both pretty scared. I was sure I could handle the guy unless he was armed, as Cat later pointed out.
What if he was taking us to his hut in the middle of nowhere and introducing us to his family who were waiting for their gifts? Then the outline of a building and another. The road was still just a rock and dirt tract but we could see signs of civilization, streetlight's and in the eerie yellow glow we passed through a herd of Camels.
The van stopped and the driver came to the door. This might be it. We were both hoping for the best but preparing for the worst when he said, “Camping or Hotel?
We were so happy that we said in unison, “Hotel Al Jezira”. He slammed the old door again and away we went. The road was now paved, streetlights shown more brightly, the ride was easier and our fears, a much lighter burden. He made a turn into a tree-lined driveway and I said, “The place looks pretty good”.
Cat stayed aboard while I took a look. The Assistant Manager, who spoke a little English, was a nice guy. The place is run down, a prefab building that looks at least 25 years old. I thought I should look at a room. He grabbed a hand full of keys. Every room had some problem, no hot water, no water at the shower, etc. He finally found one with all the conveniences. I told him that I would have to ask Cat.
She was so ready to get out of the van that she almost yelped, “Take it”!
Our driver helped carry the bags and get the bikes out. We got everything up the stairs and into the lobby then I took the camera and went out to pay him. I asked for a picture first, he smiled then opened the passenger side door and pulled the littlest girl out. I shot, shook his hand and paid the agreed upon ransom. We were so relieved to be here and not under a bush in the desert that the money seemed totally secondary. In fact I felt like anyone who has to drive over that road less tract needs the money to keep his van running. We had been cramped up in the back for 5 hours while he fought the wheel and coaxed the old girl along.
Once inside, we were faced with another dilemma, they didn’t take credit cards. We have about $70 to our name. They signed us in, we faked as though paying was no problem, sure that we’d find an ATM tomorrow.
It was 9:00 PM, we were sweaty, dirty and tired. We were also starving, our tuna had been long since spent by the physical exertion and the glucose burning fear and worry. We wondered what the other few people eating thought of our stinking filthy condition but we didn’t care. They couldn’t possibly know what we had done and endured these past 14 hours.
The spaghetti wasn’t very good but it was filling. The shower was hot and the bed, once I turned the mattresses so that our heads were level with our feet, felt great. We had survived!
October 24, 2003
Day Off in Nouadhibou
We both felt like we were drugged, we had slept so hard. We felt like we had been in a knock down drag out fight and we were the ones who were drug out, too. Moving slowly, we finally made it to breakfast by 9:00 AM
We met a couple there from Holland, Dagmara and Emad. She had seen us come in last night. It was good to have someone to talk with. They are both really tired of Nouadhibou. They’ve been here for 10 days and she is leaving tomorrow. He has to wait for money to be released by the bank. He has a wholesale fish company and has been here buying prawns. He is a native of Egypt and she’s from Poland. They loved our stories of cycling through Holland. He’s a runner or was but now has a torn meniscus. I told him that I had surgery and repaired the same problem but didn’t tempt fate by continuing to jog. He has run Marathons and loves it too much to give up so he will have the surgery and train up, again.
Dagmara and Emad complained about the food but to us it was pretty good, coffee, juice and croissants. We've been in some strange places and had some pretty strange food. To us it was great.
It’s Friday and Friday is prayer day here, most businesses are closed until Sunday. We did find a travel agency open and the nice guy outlined the flights that leave from here to Nouakchott. The Internet Shop nearby was open and they took a 5 Euro note and gave us change so that we could get started. We spent more than 2 hours reading and writing. What fun it is to have so many friends around the world.
Walking down the street we ran into the guy who wanted to be our guide at one of the check points we passed while riding in the back of the van. He led us to a Money Exchange shop where we traded our remaining Dirham and Euros for Ouguiyas. We weren’t back in the money but we did have enough to get us by until the Cavalry arrives.
On the way back we stopped at the Hotel just a short way down the road from Al Jezira. It is very nice, has CNN and an Internet connection. They charge 500 Os per hour for that and rooms are almost twice the cost of our place so it isn’t in our cards to make a move.
Back at our camp we lounged, typed and watched Spanish TV. At 6:00 we decided to go back to the other Hotel and use their Internet. We asked then told our sad story and the clerk allowed us to use the Computer for half an hour then come back in the morning and use the other half. We checked and were ecstatic to learn that Charlie had sent the money via Western Union. We read some other messages but ended our session in the allotted half hour. When you are cash poor every cent counts.
More room time and foreign language TV then dinner. There are four Russian guys who sit together and we think work together. They are characters and have a lot of fun with the waiters about things on the menu that aren’t available, especially the ice cream.
As we ate Jiyed, the Assistant Manager, came in wearing the typical robe. I asked what they call the garment. The one men wear is known as a Daraa. Women wear the thin material that swirls their body and wraps around their head, it’s called a Malfa. I asked for a picture so he posed with Cat then made me put it on over my head. Of course we had to have that picture, too.
It is election time here and the Political Party is partying here. They have tents set up outside and are meeting later tonight. Jiyed invited us to come take a look. We did on the way back to the room but it was too early, there were only a few people milling around. The place looks like a page out of a history book. Tall chairs around part of the perimeter and rugs covering the soft powdery sand. They had a sound system set up but nobody speaking, yet.
Back in the room we saw more pictures of the fires back home. I worked hard to stay awake until 10:00 PM then went back to the party area only to find that it was still lightly attended. I did take a couple of pics and a video then fled to the room before I fell asleep at the party.
October 25, 2003
Another Lost Day in Nouadhibou
Those darned little vermin, mosquitoes, were at it again, last night. I sprayed my face, hands and the pillow at 2:30 AM then awoke and lay for a long time at 4:00, thinking about what lies ahead until sleep drew me into its peaceful place, again.
We got up and about at 7:00, our usual and went to breakfast, our usual. Our friends, Emad and Dogmara surprised us by walking into the lobby as we walked back to the room. Her plane has been delayed from 8:00 to 11:00 AM. She had a hangover from their celebration of her leaving, last night. She was pretty emotional, she says she cries when she is happy, when she is sad, when she is mad, almost for any reason. We had the guy at the desk take our picture then did the hugs, cheek kisses and wished her well.
They came into the breakfast room as we ate. Dagmara gave Cat a dispenser of saccharine that they had given her on the airplane. We thought that they were a couple but she whispered to Cat that he is her boss, she has a boy friend back home in Holland. He is 52 and she just 25 years old. He owns the Wholesale Fish Company and a successful restaurant in Amsterdam. She had make up on so, no crying this time, just more hugs and cheek kisses.
We loaded our laundry then walked next door to check the Internet. I asked to see a little English language news, CNN, while Cat checked messages. The guy tried but Satellite position was bad, The Internet was down, too. We struck out all the way around.
Chic Pressing is a laundry and dry cleaners tucked into a small, falling down building. We tried to explain “Wash and Dry, no Ironing” but the guy couldn’t understand our English or Cat’s French. He shuffled out the door and returned with a guy, Papadialo, who spoke some English. He was a great guy, even gave us his phone number in case we had any other problems.
DHL was open and Mr. Hady, the Manager, in fact, the first Manager, they have been open just a year, checked and found that the package from Charlie had left Los Angeles. He is closed at noon today but asked us to check with him tomorrow morning and he will have the package held in Nouakchott for us. That was a little progress.
Internet was running, Charlie had sent a message that we weren’t in the third world, this is the fourth or fifth world. He didn’t let us know whether he got the cash for Western Union or not. I sent a message to him impressing him with the severity of our situation and urging that he get the money just in case we strike out a the bank, tomorrow. We are both in good spirits but hate this hanging in the balance not knowing whether we can get out of here by Tuesday.
We stopped at the Super Marche, in fact both of them as they are just across the street from one another, for lunch things. We’re tired of the Hotel Restaurant and it is expensive. We looked for a picnic spot and finally ended up in the TV room adjacent to the lobby, inside the Hotel. Canned corned beef, Swiss cheese and bread. Pretty good.
The desk guy said that they would change our room but they didn’t have one in the newer wing. Our friend, Emad, came in with friends as we waited. He told us that the flight Dagmara was booked on had been cancelled. They hoped that she would now get out of here tonight at 10:00 PM. This place is full of people waiting for things or flights or trains or something.
We did change rooms, there is a hard working, hardly working air-conditioner in a room down the hall. The trade off is that there is no hot water in the sink. The shower runs hot but the sink handle is frozen shut. We took the deal. We don’t want another night with the skeeters. I talked them into letting us store the bikes in the linen room. We now have a full room where we can keep the windows closed at night and have room to walk around, too.
Sunday, October 26, 2003
Another Lost Day in Nouadhibou!
Breakfast in of course since we must continue to live on our credit, here. We did see Emad and he confirmed that Dagmara got off last night and was probably in Madrid this morning, waiting for the plane to take her home to Amsterdam. I talked with him a little about the election here. He says that several other candidates oppose the President but none are really serious. The party raged on until the wee hours, last night. He also filled us in on World Headlines, a big bomb in a big Baghdad Hotel but he thought no deaths. A Black Hawk helicopter went down in Iraq, he thought that the crew survived the crash but were shot by Iraqis, on the ground. Five dead! It continues to drone on. I did see, on Al Jezira, a piece that looked like a huge crowd of Protesters in The Mall, Washington, DC. One guy had a hand made poster that had the cartoon caricatures of George W., Dick Cheney, Colin Powell and Donald Rumsfeld. The headline read, “The ASSES of Evil”, a play on W’s “Axis of Evil. Pretty funny if the subject wasn’t so sad.
Our first stop this morning was the Hotel next door. We bought an hour of Internet time but the connection was down. The long walk into town and a bank-to-bank search for one that would advance money on our credit cards was fruitless. We even blew 100 Ouguiya (33 cents) on a taxi ride to the BCMI, Bank Commercial Mauritania International as a last resort but struck out there, too. A nice guy there who spoke English told us that our only hope was Western Union.
A stop at our favorite Super Marche for Bananas then the reverse long walk back to Hotel Al Jezira. I asked Emad what Al Jezira means because it is the same words as the Dubai TV station that was the first to broadcast news as it was happening, from a Middle Eastern perspective. It means “The Island”, this place is a lost Island.
Lunch on our “Island” then we walked back to the Hotel next door and connected. Charlie didn’t say that he got the $700 but he did hint at it. We sounded as urgent as possible in our message back and virtually begged him to send today, if at all possible.
I typed the afternoon away, Cat relaxed, wrote some notes to help jog our memories.
Dinner at our usual table, nothing left on the menu except fish so we had fish. Our Russian foursome was there and of course they ordered Ice Cream then laughed when the waiter told them that they had none.
The pictures in the news from Spain and the word, Mort, tells us that more US Soldiers and one Spanish guy have been killed. Oh yes, the big news on the Spanish and Al Jezira stations is of brush fires sweeping into the houses in San Bernardino and Fontana, California. FYI, I went to High School at good ole FOHI, Fontana High School.
October 27, 2003
“We’re in the MONEY!!
Shopping in Nouadhibou
Breakfast was a lonely affair, Ramadan has begun. We ate fast then took the long walk to Western Union. The guy there wouldn’t check to see if the money was in by using our name, he wanted the code number. That irritated us so much that we decided to use the nice guy up the street at BMCI Bank.
The Internet was up and running. The message from Charlie was Good News and Bad News. The good news, the money had been sent. The bad, Western Union exchanges dollars to Ouguiya at a 256 to $1.00. The moneychangers here will give 50 Os more per dollar. We had a lot less money coming than we had been counting on.
When we walked into the Bank the same nice, English-speaking guy got up and waved us to his counter. He did the paperwork while we waited and listened to a fellow with terrible sinus problems snort, suck and spit. When completed he had me sign then sent us to a cashier’s window.
There were two guys at the window trying to cash a check. The clerk behind the bulletproof window held his hand out to me. I had to push past the other two who were leaning on the counter writing more info on their check. They could see our paperwork and that made me a little nervous. Then a couple others came up from behind. They all craned their necks and watched as the clerk stacked 18 bundles of bills, had me sign for them then push them under the glass to me. Cat wanted to stay at the window and count I wanted out of that intense moment.
We moved down the counter, turned our backs to the guys and counted the bundles. Yes, we had 179,934.40 Ouguiya, so much that it bulged in the money belts. We both looked like we were wearing Colostomy bags. We walked out and stood on the corner feeling very nervous having more than 6 months wages for the average person tucked in our belts. The first Cab that stopped was a big Mercedes. Cat asked how much to our Hotel and he quoted 200 Os. She began to argue because the small cabs only charge 100. I opened the door, got in and told the guy we wanted Hotel Al Jezira. Cat and I had words as he pulled away. Funny how we lose track of reality, the extra 100 Os is only 33 cents.
We went directly to our room and spread the piles of money out on the bed. We felt rich and in Mauritanian terms, we were. The bills range from almost new to ragged and torn. We checked the amount again then shuffled through and separated the clean bills out. The money has a distinct smell like perfume or insect spray. Some of it is so worn out that it is covered with scotch tape to hold it in one piece.
With the worst of the bunch mixed into the few good bills we put 90,000 in a bundle to pay our Hotel bill and headed for lunch. I had the guy at the desk run a copy of our current bill while we ate. Emad came in and joined us. He is still waiting for the bank to release his funds. While we ate I told him of our meeting with Abdi at the airport but he thought we could just buy our tickets for the flight right here at the Hotel. I convinced him to call Abdi and let him know that we had money for the tickets. He told Emad that he would be here in half an hour. What a boon for us to have Emad with us. We were so happy, to have money and his friendship that we bought lunch.
When Abdi arrived he seemed disappointed that Emad was still with us. Their conversation soon concluded and Abdi left. Emad told us that he works with the Airport and doesn’t sell tickets. He was going to wait for us at the Travel Agent desk in the lobby. When we joined them they had good news and bad news. The tickets were, as Abdi had indicated, were only 13,740 Os, each. He also confirmed that we would pay 217 Os for excess baggage over the allowed 20 pounds each. Bad news, the flight at 3:00 PM was full. He would book us on the 6:00 PM flight and Abdi would try to get us on the one at 3:00.The agent wrote the tickets and Abdi said his goodbyes. I asked Emad how Abdi would make any money on the deal and he said, “Be prepared to grease his palm tomorrow”.
When we mentioned that we wanted to get bags, rope and tape for shipping the panniers and bikes Emad called his friend Hajib. Asking where to go for the items, Hajib told him that he would come over and help.
In half an hour Hajib and a couple of other guys pulled up in a little white pickup truck. They had Cat and I sit in the front while they crouched in the covered back area. It was open to the cab so they began to ask what we needed. The driver knew how to get through traffic and did it aggressively. We visited streets that we might not have even known existed. Stalls of hardware were scattered among shops of all kinds, from meat and produce stands to Insurance offices.
They asked as we walked then found the very bags we had hoped for. Watching them negotiate was a real treat. The merchant quotes high, they start low and in the end we only paid 500 Os each for them. (About $1.75 US) What a bargain. The rope and tape were the same process and the same great bargains.
They asked what else we needed and I said, “That’s it”. Then Cat told them that she would like a whistle like the Police use. We had talked about having one to blow if we feel threatened. That set off the most fun search of the day. Asking and moving from stall to stall they found and blew several pretty funny horns but couldn’t find a whistle. Ebad approached a Policeman and offered him 500 Os for his whistle. He acted offended then told Ebad to go away he would talk to the foreigner, Nabil. They did make a deal, Cat became the owner of a shiny Police Whistle for the grand price of 1000 Ouguiya. (About $3.00)
Our shopping guides dropped us at the DHL Office, we thanked them profusely and laughed with them again about the Police Whistle. Mr. Hady called Mr. Abou in Nouakchott and asked him to stop the package from Charlie there and hold it for us. With that task completed we hit the Internet and let Charlie know that the “Eagle Had Landed in Nouadhibou”! Ruth at LandRider was ready to send wheels to us, Brad had sent the rear wheel tool to here this morning. We were really getting things done today. We felt ready to head out and get back on the road.
Walking back to the Hotel under thickening skies we stopped for water and cookies at our favorite Super Marche. We thought about taking a cab, the smell of rain was in the air. Awe, we’re still not out of the woods financially, we continued to conserve cash and walked. Wind and dust but no rain.
Tried to understand the Spanish news, pretty easy to see that California is aflame. We think our families will be okay, none of them live in fire hazard areas. Dinner with our Russian friends, another request for Ice Cream led to another good laugh. Again, they only had fish. My brochette was good, Cat’s sole was not. They took the plate back to the kitchen and cooked some of the same fish I have. It ended up being an okay meal.
Blood and guts, the movie Black Hawk Down was on the French station. I watched until Cat requested that we turn it of and turn in.
October 28, 2003
Nouadhibou to Nouakchott
We slept lightly, that syndrome of not wanting to sleep late on departure day kept waking us up. Breakfast, we ordered cheese omelets only to be told that they had no cheese. That wasn’t too surprising. The nice breakfast server brought cheeseless omelets out with a cover of French Fries. He laughed and called them Mauritanian omelets.
On the way back to the room the desk clerk had our bill prepared. At went on as I looked it over. He had added more than 13,000 Ouguiya, tax to the 91,000 we thought we owed. I was pretty upset and let him know it. We were quoted that number when we checked in but they conceded that the total for the room would be 12,200 including tax daily because we would be here 3 or more days. It did no good to argue with him, he claims he has no authority? He says the manager is sick? I refused to pay and stomped off to the room. That amount, 13,000 O’s is more than $35.00 to us and we need every penny we can get to pay for the excess weight and get a place in Nouakchott.
I wanted to give Jiyed, the Assistant Manager a copy of the pictures we’ve taken of him and the staff. In a flurry of copying I also made a CD for Emad of our photos taken on the shopping spree and with Dagmara. I threw in some of our pics taken in Holland, too. I took his to him at his room. He has been so helpful, saving us hours and a ton of Ouguiya. I invited him and his family to come visit us when we’re back in California.
Packing, reworking the bags, we put our toiletry bags and sleeping shirts in two front panniers. We’ll carry them and the computer on board. Emad and Habil stopped by, they were headed back to the bank still hoping for the money to come in. We said our goodbyes and again gave them our thanks for all their help. These are the kind of people who make us know that the world is full of good and caring fellow humans.
I got the bikes out from the storage room and we loaded the bags. Ready to go, we went in for lunch. As we passed the desk the young guy told us that the Manager had conceded and we would pay 95,000 Ouguiya, total including tax.
The Russians were there and we got a photo of them, ordering Ice Cream. They are here for a month supervising repairs on boats. Probably Russian built boats? Nice guys, like most guys who work with guys in all guy situations. The Ice Cream thing has become one of our favorite memories of Nouadhibou.
Bumping down the stairs was a real show. Several locals and staff watched with intense interest. It was a push to the airport. Once inside we got the zipper bags out and loaded the panniers in them. Abdi came over but it wasn’t clear to us whether he thought we would get on the 3;00 pm flight. Also, we didn’t know if they would want to look in our bags, either.
I decided to break the bikes down and get them ready. A guy with a jacket and head wrap insisted on helping. I liked him and he knew what he was doing. We worked together turning the handlebars down and taping the wheels. I worked up a sweat in my tee shirt, we can only imagine what it would have been like, wearing the coat and scarf.
Abdi surfaced again and caused a flurry. He had us drag the bikes into the baggage check in area then our helper pulled the open bags in. Abdi looked at the panniers inside then zipped them up and had our helper tie the handle straps down. They through them on the scale and he noted 65 kilos. Then they put one of the bikes on the scale, it was 17 kilos. Abdi looked me in the eye and said, “Excess 65 kilos, okay”?
Who was I to argue with the fellow who has all the authority? He stuck the five baggage claim stickers on our tickets then led me back to a private office as they threw the bags and bikes out the door to load on the plane. Once the door closed Abdi sat at the desk and watched as I dug around for Ouguiya. I counted out the amount, 65 kilos X 217 Os = 14,105. I put 14,100 on his desk then asked if he could get us on the 3:00 pm flight? When he said yes I put another 4 thousand on the stack. He smiled then pulled it over and put a book on top of the pile.
Our business was finished, he went back to the pushing and arguing of everyday business. We were told to wait here until prayers were finished. There were 20 or so guys down on their knees in the doorway area between the waiting area and us.
Prayers completed we took a seat and watched the activity as flies buzzed around our faces. The plane banked and came straight in as we watched through the window. We were getting excited, we were finally getting out of Nouadhibou!
As passengers disembarked several men and women came down the stairs and walked to the perimeter wall where they did their prayers in the dirt. This is really an interesting culture, definitely devoted. When they had finished and returned to the plane the pushing match at the door began. We took a spot in the line and enjoyed the look of those around us. A well-dressed woman was allowed out first. She too must have greased a palm? Several uniformed guys came and went. Three women in traditional dress pushed their way ahead of us only to be repulsed by the guard.
Our tickets were the same as everyone else’s in the line. We had assigned seats numbers 23 and 24. Though we’ve never seen a numbered configuration like that for seating we hoped that it wouldn’t be a fight to get a seat. Four women in typical Malfa dress tried to get in but the guard repulsed them? We could only wonder why? Then he signaled us to the front of the line and let us out the door. We hustled to the line that had begun to form at the stairway leading into the tail section of the airplane. Abdi was there, checking tickets. He smiled, shook our hands then moved us up the stairway.
Inside the cabin we were surprised to find more than half the seats available. The flight attendant told us to go toward the front and sit anywhere. Okay, we had been hustled but it felt so good to see Nouadhibou passing under the planes wing and finally out of our lives that we didn’t care.
The Boeing 727-200 was almost new. It felt good to be inside something that had come from good old Seattle, Washington. The flight was smooth and fast. We were on the ground and at the terminal in only 45 minutes.
The Fight Over Baggage and a Stolen Bike!!!
As we walked inside a young guy came up and tried to take the panniers out of my hands. I resisted and he indicated that he wanted to help us with our baggage. I nodded yes over Cat’s objection. The guy led us to the security desk where the guard immediately pushed him toward the door followed by a tirade of Arabic. He waited just outside the gate while we stood in line.
The guard asked the usual questions then let us move on. There were at least a dozen more baggage-handling hopefuls waiting like vultures. The young guy again grabbed at the panniers. I refused his help then another wiry looking guy challenged him and grabbed at the panniers. He got a pretty good hold and I had to push then pull to shake him off. These guys were serious. The original gutsy guy indicated that a big African guy was his partner and he swooped into catch the bags.
Cat had checked the Internet for hotels in Nouakchott and found Novotel, the one that Peter and David, the pilots we met at Tan Tan Beach had told us was the only good place in town. There was a guy holding a sign for the Novotel. That was a divine sign. Our decision was made. The place is also the most expensive in Nouakchott but we felt we needed a nice place for a couple of days. We’ve lived the past 5 in less than mediocre surroundings and want a little nicety in our lives.
The sign carrier moved in to help but the guys wouldn’t yield. They had all 3 bags and one of the bikes off the conveyer already. For some reason the pushing and shoving between them and the others continued as they retrieved. The shuttle van driver for Novotel came in and the sign holder introduced him. We all stood and waited for my bike to arrive. When it appeared that all the baggage was off the plane we went to the window and looked into the receiving area for it. The guys working there were just finishing.
The sign carrier ducked out through the conveyor door and walked around the receiving area. He came back empty handed. We went to the counter and tried to complain. A guy in his flowing Daraa worked his limited English to tell us that it was in Nouadhibou. We challenged him because we had seen it on the luggage cart at the plane as we boarded. He got his point across that they had to leave it because they didn’t have room. BS, the plane was less than half full. We began to insist that he call Abdi. When he finally conceded and got Abdi on the line he talked then handed the phone to Cat. She tried to understand his fast French. He told her that the bike was loaded and had left there and then he hung up on her.
The Daraa guy told us to come back at 8:00 PM and get the bike. He was still trying to say that it would come on the plane, then. The sign carrier ducked back outside to search and the driver was looking pretty nervous, like he wanted to get going. He used his limited English to tell us that Mauritania Air would replace the bike. We knew better, they would give us a little money and it would take weeks to have another LandRider outfitted to carry our bags. No, we weren’t leaving, we felt that someone had taken the bike from the baggage receiving area and we wanted it back. The sign carrier was probably right, someone had stashed it?
I told the Daraa guy that we wanted a Policeman. He waived his hand toward the entry like we should go get one. I almost yelled in tongue foreign to him that he should help us get a Policeman. He turned and walked away. Okay, I’ll find one. I went out front but couldn’t see any uniforms? The place had been crawling with them just a half hour earlier?
We were making a lot of noise about Police when two guys came carrying the bike in through the entry doors. It had been removed from the baggage receiving area like we thought. Somehow it had been pitched over the 10-foot high wall? The two guys held it temptingly with one of their hands, extending the other toward us. They wanted a reward? They may have been the ones who took it? I refused at first but they turned angry, one came close to my face and said, “5 Euro”!
I recoiled but the crowd of hanger oner baggage guys was thickening. I handed one of them a 500 Ouguiya note and grabbed the bike. He was pretty unhappy and the others laughed at him. The big African guy was still there, clinging to the baggage cart. I gave him 500 Os, too. He accepted but refused to leave.
The driver took one bike, I carried the other and he pushed the cart. We got the bags on board then struggled with the bikes. A tall guy in robe and head wrap stood with his crusty hand extended. He was showing us some terrible affliction and wanting money. It was getting easier and easier to say “La, la”! (No, no)
The brawny African guy held his hand out and I almost had to slam the door on it. Wow, what a warm welcome to Nouakchott! The driver wheeled through the crazy traffic and we were soon checking into a true oasis. Manoel, the Manager came out and introduced himself, he’s from Belgium. Yes, they have wine, not legally but for guests only. He is a nice guy and has several helpful hints for survival here in Mauritania. He says that the people aren’t known to be violent and theft is no worse here than any large city. Hard for us to believe after what we’ve just been through!
Welcome to the Oasis, All’s Well That Ends Well!!
When I told Manoel that we hadn’t had wine in 8 days he understood. He too loves wine but for his staff and in the spirit of Ramadan he has given it up. This is day 5 and he has 20 more to withstand. We know the feeling, we invited him up for a sneak but he said that he wouldn’t cheat, a promise is a promise.
Cat got the bags to the room while I went to the bar and got the first bottle of wine we’ve seen in 8 days, we needed it. We deserved it.
What a day! We relaxed and reflected in our fantastic lair. We have a big bed, a couch, a patio, a desk for the computer and a big screen TV with CNN in English. The bath is beautiful and the toilet’s clean and doesn’t smell. We’re home for a couple of days!
Dinner in the restaurant was very good. We were tired, it has been a long and at times tough day. We lay in bed and counted our blessings. As my Father always said, “All’s well that ends well”!
October 29, 2003
Day off in Nouakchott
What a treat, soft clean sheets in air-conditioned atmosphere. The Breakfast Buffet costs 10 Euro each. I walked down the street and bought bananas and yogurt. We ate those in our room and watched CNN. Most of Southern California seems to be on fire, now. There are 13 wildfires burning all the way down coast from Simi Valley in our own Ventura County to the Mexican border. In fact they just reported that there are 3 fires south of the border, in Mexico.
Good strong coffee and croissants in the bar and we were ready to face a new Mauritanian day. A gal and guy at the front desk called DHL. It took three calls to find that the package was sent on to Nouadhibou last night. Guess the call from the Manager there went unheeded?
We spent two hours reading and answering e-mails at the nearby Cyber Spot. The machines, at least the one we chose, was slow and hard to coax into reply mode. A bit frustrating. Escrow sent a Statement of Information but we couldn’t open the file. Cat let her folks know that we were okay and I sent a message outlining the interesting day we survived, yesterday. Brother Bob sent one urging us to come home or at least be careful.
It is windy and dusty. We walked to the American Embassy. Our Morocco Guide Book had said that the US didn’t have an Embassy here? It is fairly close to the Hotel. There is an Embassy row and ours is the last of the row. It is the most heavily fortified. We walked through a concrete barrier and started through the parking area when armed guards, a local guy and gal in blue uniforms stopped us. We had to walk back out and around. A guy working on concrete barriers at the Spanish Embassy next door commented about the “walk around”. Paul, from France, is a Concrete Contractor. He has done a lot of work here during the past two years. Quite a character. He said, “If this stuff took a hit like the one we had in Beirut, Lebanon it wouldn’t mean anything”. He’s been fortifying Embassies in various locations for more than 20 years. He’s living proof that some good comes from all things.
The Embassy had the usual metal detector and they checked our passports then had us leave our drivers licenses before going in. Actually we visited the Consulate, just a few steps through the detector gate and off to the right. A US looking woman in the first window smiled then indicated that we should go to the next. A very nice Mauritanian lady handed us registration cards. We want to register just in case we have problems. The card asked who we want notified in the event we are arrested or injured. Funny, we couldn’t remember Cat’s Mom and Dad’s telephone area code? Been away a long time, eh?
Hungry, we hoofed it back to Novotel. Good food and not bad prices. The manager who was going to get us a meeting with the Chief of Police had some good advice. The Police told him that we have to stop and show passports at each roadblock, like we did in Morocco. If we have a problem they know which sector we were in. Cat told him that a lot of Moroccans and some people here ask for our nationality. I told him about speaking Spanish and gave him a sample. He was kind, said, “You’re accent is pretty good but you should just say, South African”. He’s right, South Africans speak English and are accepted more easily than we Americans.
I had a huge mound of rice with mushrooms and lamb. Cat chose the salad bar. As we ate the Chef, Ali came to the table to introduce himself. He asked if we were the bicyclists. After we did the quick version outline of our route we asked about his life. He is from Senegal. Starting his career in food prep there, he got a job with the Hotel group, spent 3 years there then came here as a prep guy when they opened the Mercure Hotel 3 years ago. He worked his way up to Su-Chef and finally Chef. He’s proud of his position and rightfully so.
After lunch it was journalizing for me and back to the Cyber Shop for Cat. I pecked around for almost two hours then got the camera out to take a picture of the dust storm going on outside. I noticed that Cat had not taken her wallet so I decided to put mine on and meet her. She was way ahead of me, she had taken money. She was also way ahead on the Internet, she had worked the messages down from 59 to 6. I spent a little time looking at our web site. There were a few little things I would like to see changed but overall it looks great, as usual, thanks to Web Master Wally.
It was 6:00 PM, wine time, by the time we got back to camp Novotel. Cat went across to get some water at the Super Marche. There was a guy sitting on the ground with tiny, shriveled legs stretched out in front. We have seen a lot of these kind of afflicted guys. I dug out 200 Os for Cat to give him. I watched as she worked her way through the steady stream of traffic then went in to get that wine that was getting beyond it’s time.
Manoel, the Manager here was seated at the bar. I asked him if he thought we could reach the Auberge he told us about that is half way between here and Senegal. He felt that we could call in the morning. The package didn’t arrive as promised by Mr. Abou of DHL? Curious, I asked him too, about the young guys with bad legs. As I had thought, they were victims of modern medicine. Cat and I had remembered the Thalidomide Babies of the 1960s. Remember, the Mothers were given Thalidomide during pregnancy and the babies were born with hands and feet attached where there arms and legs should have been. “They were immunized when they were young and the vaccine was bad”, he told us. Polio shots to protect them had caused their legs to stop growing. The only income they have is handouts and Manoel says that they have to make most of it now, during Ramadan.
Six days off the bikes and as we sipped we decided that we would have to spend another day in paradise Novotel. With the DHL package still in limbo and the bikes needing to be re-built we felt we had dredged up enough excuses to warrant it!
Two lazy cyclists talked about dinner at a small Café that Manoel had mentioned then decided that it was so easy to just go down stairs and the food was so good, that we did just that. Chef Ali came to our table again. He is such a nice guy and curious too, about our crazy lifestyle.
Chicken Roti for both. It’s better chicken than we remember having about a year ago in Lagos, Portugal and it’s the same price. TV, lounging and early to bed.
October 30, 2003
Last Day in Paradise
Cat went out for bread, I ordered coffee. That along with our juice and yogurt made a great, low cost breakfast in the comfort of our room. I was up early and at the keyboard, trying to get the journal caught up. Tired of typing I went down and untapped the bikes and got them ready for the road. Bad news, the shifter on Cat’s bike was bent during the trip. It was jammed into the spokes and the wheel couldn’t turn. There was a young African just hanging around and watching. Every once in a while he would try to express an opinion about the problem. He did catch my mistake with the handlebars on my bike, step up and turn them to the correct position.
While I worked Mr. Abou from DHL pulled up and delivered our package. I took time to open it and verify, we now have a Lonely Planet Guide Book and Michelin map of West Africa. There are also 30 mini disks, enough for more than 3,000 pictures. All thanks to Charlie, our Base Camp in California and lifeline to the rest of the world!
We pushed the bikes back inside our Novotel Oasis and talked with Manoel about our route. His driver knows the road well and suggested that our best bet was to stay at the Gendarme Station for security. There is a store and restaurant next to it and it’s right on the highway. I told him of our problem with Cat’s bike and my thought that a washer would fix it. He called one of his other people over and they talked. Then he said, “This man will take you to a store that has the part”.
The guy pulled his own car around and drove us across town to a really well stocked Hardware Store. The guys there, friends of his, dug around and found several. I chose two and pulled out a 500 O bill. They smiled and waved me off, No Charge. What nice people, I gave the guy who drove us there the 500. At first he said “No, I no taxi”. I told him it was to buy a little petrol. He finally accepted. ( Manoel had told us that tips or gifts of 500 to 1000 are big for here. The average person only makes about 20,000 Ouguiya per month.)
We had lunch in the restaurant and another nice chat with Chef Ali. He filled us in with some tidbits about Senegal and the road that we must take to get there. For us, we’re still conserving cash. We can eat here and put it on the credit card. Our pal, Manoel has given us a true Cadeaux, a gift of 10,000 Ouguiyas. Well, not for free, he is allowing us to put them on our credit card bill here at the hotel. With that and what we have we should be able to get to Senegal, even if we have a problem, well maybe a little problem.
I put the washer on and the bike seems to be running great. Cat came back down and we pushed inside. At the front desk we asked for a place to re-inflate the tires. We had to let some air out when we put them on the plane. They talked a lot then a young guy joined in and convinced them that their was a place just down the street. They showed Cat on a hand drawn map that it was near the DHL Office. We rolled back out and down the street. Across the street from DHL we gave up and pushed to their office to ask. The same wonderful girl there came outside and pointed back to a tire store. Of course, Michelin would have an air hose.
The guys there were lying on the floor, taking a siesta. At first they sort of told us to come back later then a Mercedes pulled in and they jumped into action. The one who wanted us to leave now worked fast to get us out of there. He pumped the tires to 4 Bar then pulled the hose back inside. Cat held a 500 O bill out to him and he seemed perplexed. We decided that from now on we would ask if there is a charge before offering a gift.
Our afternoon was spent I the room, enjoying the AC while I wrote journal entries and Cat did accounting entries.
A glass of wine and dinner. I tried the Camel Steak that Chef Ali had recommended. Cat had the Thursday special, Paella. Both were good, the Camel was tender and juicy but only came with French fries. Cat sent hers back for more heat but she loved it once it returned. Oh yes, we shared a bowl of Lobster Bisque Soup, truly decadent!
Finished, we asked for a picture of Chef Ali in the kitchen. He agreed then the entire crew, including our hardware driver, gathered around and we got a wonderful shot.
Cat had an urge to purge so we had to hurry back to the room. She almost made it, the Guff Guff strikes again. We watched TV and I returned to the typewriter. We’re both a little tentative about tomorrows ride. I have decided to get up early and switch the rear wheels, to help us get from here to Dakar and the new ones.
October 31, 2003
Nouakchott to Tiguent
The African Guff Guff now has us both in its gruesome grip. Both of us spent quite a bit of time on the toilet and we got only fractured sleep. There were moments when we first got up that we thought about staying another day? We think that it may have been the yogurt we bought around the corner that got us? It’s the only thing that we both ate.
Down with the bikes by 7:00 AM I switched wheels and discovered that Cat’s shifter had loosened up? Maybe it’s the lack of lock on the washer? I tightened it and we seem to be roadworthy. Cat got coffee and we had breakfast in our room. This has been the most expensive 3 days we’ve spent since leaving home. In fact Mauritania will be the most expensive place we’ve visited when we figure in the ransom cost of the van ride, the 5 nights in Nouadhibou waiting for money and the flight to Nouakchott. All that for just today and tomorrow’s rides.
A pretty shaky, late start but finally in the street by 10:00. It is a long ride through terrible dusty busy streets to the Rue du Rosso. Two trucks had pulled up side-by-side at one point, some sort of protest or something. It was causing a huge traffic jam. Even the donkey carts couldn’t get by. We were able to slip through between them but felt intimidated by the crowd. At one corner I asked directions and the guy, upscale looking in robe with expensive watch told us we could go straight or turn here then bear left again. It seemed like the wrong direction to me but we wanted off the dirty street and out of the traffic.
At a cross road with traffic circle we asked directions at a Total Gas Station. I was right, we had been going north but we got to the highway. Cat caught sight of a Boulangerie and while she bought bread I talked with a Policeman who pulled up in a pickup truck. Nice guy, he had his wife and daughter with him and liked introducing them to us. A small crowd of rag tag kids gathered round as we talked. One aggressive little guy got his hand on Cat’s mirror. The Policeman shooed them away then wished us well. At that point, off we went, gurgling stomachs and 127 kilometers of desert ahead of us.
We did pick up a fair tail wind and we needed it. After about 10 kilometers we were back on the deep desert. Though it is mostly sand there are little villages, many made up of tents and small buildings. This stretch of road had more road kill than anyplace we’ve ridden. Camels, donkeys, cattle and goats from skeletal remains to fresh carcasses. It looked terrible but the dry air must have taken the smell out of them quickly. Some look like skeletons with cloth stretched onto them. These moments always give us rise to ride defensively. In fairness though we have to admit that the traffic gives us plenty of room.
Lunch was a terrible affair. Both of us had to squat behind a bush then we shared a tin of tuna. Pretty dry and tasteless. We didn’t put any soft drinks on board so it was water, bread and tuna. We found a small stand a ways up the road and did get two fairly cool Coca Colas. They use gas refrigerators and like those before, this one was full of cool cockroaches. The store was full of young women, some with babies. They were sitting inside, enjoying the shade and each other. It was heating up outside so we joined them, Cat sat on a bag of grain.
As we were leaving the kids gathered on the step and I liked the picture. When I took the camera out a guy standing nearby objected. I tried to tell him that I just wanted a picture of the kids but he crossed his hands and clucked, no. I really wanted to get the kids and the posters plastered all over the front of the store touting President Maaouya Maya, for re-election.
I haven’t mentioned him before, he has tents all along this highway with people lounging in them and music blaring from speakers. There are also trucks racing up and down the road between them with speakers blaring, too. The music that has become so awful to our ears and the promises he must be making to get the vote. He has been President since 1984 and was the only candidate for many years. Recently they have allowed several competing Political Parties though none have the strength to do much good, at least not for now. By the way, we’ve learned that President Maaouya and his government were allies with President Sadaam Hussein back in 1991. You remember that one don’t you? We called it operation Desert Storm. No wonder so many ask about our nationality?
Another stop for soft drinks, we are so dry, both of us are dehydrating. The day is warm, in the sun it’s now hot. This store only had one woman inside and she was in repose. She never got up off the floor just indicated for us to get what we wanted from her refrigerator. Her price was higher than we’ve paid but it is the old, 2only game in town2 syndrome. Alas, as we sat and tried to communicate we decided that she wasn’t getting rich here. In fact it looked like she was barely getting by? She didn’t speak French so there was just sign language but she was nice to us.
Another stop in the bushes then we finally rolled into a shack city, Tiguent. Manoel was certain that our unique arrival on bicycles would be enough to make the Police want us to stay at their Post. Well, the Chief, according to him, was lying on a cot near the door of a mud hut that serves as the Gendarmerie. He spoke French but Cat couldn’t understand. He was curt and not polite at all. He barked and one of his flunkies scrambled away then came back with a young African guy in tow. Karim spoke very good English and began translating for us. Albert (pronounced Al bear) like my sunglasses. He took them off my head and looked them over. When we asked if they had a place we could stay tonight Chief Albert told us, through Karim, that they had a room in the building across the street. The owner lets them us it and they would allow us to stay there for 6,000 Ouguiya ($18.00 US)
We looked, it was just like a storage room with three small windows. No glass, just a wrought iron grill. The door was metal and lockable from the inside. The floor was dusty and littered with trash. Albert told us they would sweep it, he growled and a couple of young boys came running with handless brooms. The dust flew as Albert took my sunglasses again and in what felt like a threat, he told Karim that he wanted to trade his glasses for mine. His were cheaper looking and fit too tight. I said no at first then reconsidered as he glowered at me. I asked how much the room rent would be if I gave up my glasses and he instantly lowered it to 5,000 Os. We made a deal, I had paid about $6.00 for the glasses. I felt like it was a small victory and Albert knew that I wasn’t a total pushover.
Karim also talked with a woman in a tent behind the Gendarmerie and she agreed to cook chicken and potatoes for us. Karim thought it would be 2,000 to 2,500 Os. ($6.00 to $7.50) So, in this desolate place we now had a room of sorts, and dinner on the way. Karim had been waiting for a ride to Nouakchott and finally got one. God how we hated to see him leave. As a parting shot Albert asked him our nationality and when he learned that we were from America he said, “I like Americans, they protect the world”. We were sure he was being facetious. I wanted a picture with Karim but we were afraid to take the camera out. We were sure that if Albert saw it he would want it and only one of us has a gun!
We sat, tired and weak, on the bags with the tent and sleeping bags in them. We just didn’t want to take anything out until we were ready to lock ourselves in. When we walked across and checked on dinner. The woman spoke no French. Her five kids were clinging to her as she cooked. She had gone to town for the chicken. Her youngest son, probably 18 months old was scared to death of us. When he looked at me he screamed, cried and ran. When we asked about the cost she called her husband, a guy in uniform, and he said, “The Professor told them we would pay 2,500 Os. So between room and board, Tiguent was our home for $22.50 for the night.
Fear of Loss??? Afraid that Al-Bear would want the Camera,
rules against photos of Military Checkpoints, due to these
and the fear factor we only have this one photo of Tiquent.
It’s taken out the back window of our cellblock room.
Dark really gets dark at 7:00 PM. I worried that someone could lock us in by slipping the pipe into the hasp outside. I used our little bike lock, wound it around and passed ti through the loop twice to thwart that possibility. Yes, we are paranoid but wouldn’t you be too with a guy like Albert lurking around? At dark we set up the tent and prepared to eat and sleep. Our cook and her oldest daughter delivered the food on a tray at 8:00 PM.
Just as we got down into our camping chairs good old Albert came banging on the door. He wanted something, I thought he was after some blankets left in the corner. He did shine his light in but I stood at the window, hoping to block his view. I tried to shove the blankets through the window but he objected. I told him we were eating and I didn’t want to open the door. Finally he said something about torch. I showed him that we had a flashlight then he pointed to the pile of blankets and said, “Rouge torch”. I picked them up and shook a red flashlight out, handed it to him and thanked him for providing security, in my best French accent. Reluctantly he took the light and disappeared into the dark.
The chicken was tough, the French fries cold but a side dish of some kind of vegetables was pretty good. We ate then lay in the tent and talked, listening for Albert, hoping he had made his last visit for the night. We both felt lucky that we hadn’t had to head for a bush again. The room was warm but there was a nice breeze. Unfortunately, as it picked up so did the amount of fine dust in the air. We fell into troubled sleep at 8:30 PM.
November 1, 2003
Tiguent to Rosso
A pretty restless night between waking to every little noise hoping it wasn’t Albert sniffing around our things again. The dust had us both coughing. My voice sounded like Clint Eastwood as Dirty Harry and Cat was raspy, too.
Our cook of last night was laying on the floor of the little market having her hair braided when Cat went to check on food and coffee. No such luck so we ate our bananas, some bread and hit the road. A very nice, crisp looking Soldier came to the door as we were preparing to go. He asked in French if everything was okay then wished us well. Not every apple in the barrel is a bad one. Speaking of the BAD ONE, Albert did pop out of the Gendarmerie in time to wave goodbye. We began to think that Albert was only the night Chief. We wondered if the nice guy knew that he had 500 Ouguiya and my glasses? Alas, we had slept and were safe, what more could we ask for?
Health, we could ask for health! Both of us made it through the night without having to go SWOOSH. We did have to go #1 but I just went out the window and cat hit the plastic bottle that we had cut the top off of. Cat did have to evacuate quickly after we got up. She leaned against the back of the building and let go. Don’t fault us for using the dirt for a toilet, lots of people stop at the checkpoint and run around there to go, too. She did cover the evidence of her passing.
The road began with an up and continued it’s up and down undulation for the rest of the day. More carcasses, sand dunes and heat. The terrain wasn’t the only change, as we slowly made progress the fauna thickened. Trees, the thorny ones and some other large leaf types. We saw camels grazing on the treetops. The small villages of tents continued among the trees.
Lunch, we just had water, bread and tuna again. Seated under a tree in view of a couple of local boys in repose. We could only manage to choke down half of the tin of tuna. I buried the remains. The two guys finally let their curiosity get them and walked over as we prepared to leave. They invited us to come and relax on their rug, in the shade. Relaxing sounded good but we are both anxious to get to Rosso and air conditioning.
The rolling hills took a toll. Our pace was slowed to only 10-12 kilometers per hour. Cat was running out of steam. We did find another small store and a soft drink and a little rest.
It was 4:30 PM when we finally rolled into Rosso. Eight and a half hours on the road. We were so tired that we were cranky with the swarm of humanity that pressed around when we stopped at a service station to ask direction. A tall Senegalese guy understood that we were trying to find Hotel Union, the place that LPGB considered the best Rosso has to offer. He told us that we had passed it and started to lead us back. We took his word for it but jumped back on the bikes and out paced the pack.
The pink building they had told us was Hotel Union had a sign, Hotel As Asmaa on the balcony. We would find out later that it has been sold, it had been the Union before. Cat checked out the room. It was pretty rough. We thought about going on to the other Hotel but decided that it was probably the same of worse?
The clerk wasn’t friendly nor did he negotiate price. The rooms a the top of the stairs were 600 Os. They did have a suite on the ground floor. Cat looked then asked me to check it. She felt that it was dirty and overpriced. It was dirty and overpriced but it suited our needs, we could keep the bikes I the living room area and it did have a tub with shower. Well, when I asked the clerk did get the point across that there was no chaud eau, hot water. All that luxury for only 12,000 Os, about $36 US bucks?
There was air conditioning in both the LR and Bedroom. We kicked them both on and lay on the couch. Within minutes Cat had to put her coat on. As we lay it became obvious that someone had been staying in the room and it hadn’t been cleaned. I went out and there was a tall handsome guy behind the bar. I tried to talk with him, he asked if I spoke Spanish. When I tried to answer my English shone through and he said, “You speak English”?
Though Mostopha’s domain was the restaurant, he was a great resource for us. I told him about the trash on the floor, and in the bathroom as well as the rumpled bed linen. He came in, took a look then said, “This is not as it should be,” and he brought the desk clerk and cleaning lady in to see. They sort of grudgingly acknowledged the mess and the girl began to sweep the carpet with a long bristled broom. She told us, I sign language, that the linen was clean and just remade the bed.
Our next request was for towels and toilet paper, you’d think they should be included and finally they did show up. When I shut the door after taking them a mouse ran across the floor. I hated to tell Cat but figured it would be better to tell now than to have her make the discovery on her own. I told her that when I lived in Boron, California, we had lots of the little vermin. They only want water and food so all we had to do was protect ours and we should be okay!
Our next request was for a bucket of hot water. Mostapha misunderstood and brought a pail of cold water. I thanked him then got the point across that we would like it to be hot. He laughed then left and re-appeared in 15 minutes with a steaming bucket for our bath.
Sunday, November 2, 2003
Rosso, Mauritania to Ross Bethio
Up early and anxious to end our days in Mauritania, we packed then had breakfast. Mostapha was among the missing. He is fairly new here but has been most helpful and I wanted to have a picture with him.
As we wheeled the bikes out and down the stairs I asked the girl if he was here. She went in then came out and indicated that he would be right down. We had a good time together, laughing and joking then he said, “My friend is coming and he will help you in crossing the border into Senegal”.
The friend, Alex, was nothing like Mostapha, he was small and had that “I want money” look in his eye. We said our goodbyes and pushed the bikes along with Alex, toward town. He told us that the entire process, Police and luggage, would cost 50 Euro. We objected, that was more than we had. I did have $50 hidden but that was all we had to our names. We felt that we would be stuck without any money, again. It’s 100 kilometers to St. Louis and we have no idea whether we’ll see an ATM, even there. We told him that we had a Visa Card. Later we decided that when he said, “Yes, no problem”. He was talking about our Passport Visa to visit Mauritania.
The border here is delineated by the Senegal River and the only way across is an over crowded ferry. We followed Alex to his tiny, sparsely furnished, bad smelling office. He took our Passports and all of our Ouguiya and walked away. When he returned all but 1000 Os was gone. We had 11,000 Os but he only had 1000 left in his hand. Just then our knight I shining armor, Mostapha, walked up. He talked with Alex then scolded him. Alex left, we chatted with Mostapha and when Alex came back he had a hand full of Senegalese CFAs. Another discussion between he and Mostapha and he handed them over to us. Thanks to Mostapha we would ride into St. Louis with 13,500 CFA to get us started. ( CFA is the currency of several West African Countries. They’ve banded together much like the countries of Europe have with their Euro. CFA is initials for Communaute Financiere Africqine. Some of the time it’s called FCFA, the word Franc is imprinted on the notes.)
Alex and Mostapha led us through the maze then at the boat they made us make a dash, in front of a truck, to get on board. Alex came along, Mostapha waved from the shore. I had given him our address and an invitation to visit us when we get home. I hope that he can, someday.
On the Senegal side of the river Alex got us passed most hurdles then he had to have me come to the Police shack. The Border Guard may have wanted money but he was satisfied to see that I was the guy I the photo on the Passport. At that point, in the crush of humanity, we were on our own. We had struck up a conversation with a couple from France, Eric and Sylvie, who live in Dakar. She gave us their phone number and invited us to call on them when we get to town. They also gave Cat a heads up on the road conditions we would ride between here and St. Louis. A wiry little guy who had been along with Alex followed us then asked for another 1000 Ouguiya. I questioned why and he said, “Passport”.
We had our Passports in our wallets, it sounded like a scam? As we pushed along through the trash and traffic he continued to insist. We passed the French family and I asked if they could help. Eric talked with the wiry one then a Senegalese guy he had been talking with took up the argument. It was a scam. As Mr. Wiry whined to the others the Senegalese guy looked over and said, “Go, go”! We went!
There was very little traffic on the road. Eric and Family drove by, honking and waving. The other cars and trucks from the ferry trailed, then we were really on our own. It’s 100 kilometers with only one small town between St. Louis and us.
The change is instant and wonderful for us. No more sand dunes, we’re now cycling through sugar cane fields, trees and grassland. Swampy places with lily pads and floating flowers. Though we’re both feeling queasy we also feel relief at having gotten through the fray and into the “Real Africa”.
The road is long flat and straight. It’s warm, a humid sticky warm. We’re not complaining just explaining. Both are hungry, we have what we thought was the left over chicken and some bread on board that Mostapha saved for us. It didn’t sound good, at all. The bag of raisins went after two stops. Cat began to weaken and her pace slowed. She was now shaky and emotional. We stopped and decided that we’d have to catch a ride. The first guy along was on a motorcycle. I waved and he pulled up. We asked how far to Ross Bethio and he told us it was 5 kilometers. Cat decided that she could make it, we would get some food and try to go on.
The motorcyclist said to stop at the shell station for food. I had in mind a station like those in Spain I guess? The Shell in Ross Bethio is not air conditioned or clean. In fact they don’t have any food. They sent us next door to squalor that they called a Marche. The kid there did have two cold Coca Colas. We sat on a dirty step, in the shade and savored the cool beverage. There is a Total Station across the street that looked cleaner. We pushed over only to find that the only thing in the Boutique was soft drinks in bottles. We had picked up an entourage of kids who hovered and touched the bikes as we rested.
It was obvious that we wouldn’t be able to continue riding. No food and Cat was completely depleted. Between the diarrhea and lack of food she wasn’t able to continue. It had taken us half an hour to ride the 5K into town. I asked about a ride and the guy in the station shrugged. I pointed to a small pickup truck and two cars in the driveway and indicated putting the bikes in one to go to St. Louis. Just when I thought we were doomed to the lack of ability to communicate the Station guy whistled and a yellow taxi pulled into the driveway.
Abdellayah Douf, the driver, listened then had me follow him across the street. Back at the Shell Station he had a guy try to talk English but the process was failing. I pulled my pad and pen out and wrote, CFA---St. Louis. They huddled and then the other guy wrote 10,000 on the page. I wanted to know that was the total because it was most of what we had. They huddled again and agreed that it was the total fee. I felt that we had a ride into town and could pay for it.
Back at the Station, we took the bags off the bikes and helped Abdellayah load them in the back seat. We got the bikes into the trunk and were ready to roll when Abdellayah took his prayer rug out and indicated he had to pray before we go. It was hot, the kids continued to hover. I had Cat get back out of the car because it was like and oven. When Abdellayah finished his prayer he walked to the trunk and started talking with the Station Manager. Then he got his point across, he took the pad and wrote, 5000 CFA for bags. I was pissed, I grabbed the pad and pen and scribbled out the 5000. He stood there dumbfounded then I acted like I was ready to take the bikes out of the trunk. He caved in and we were finally off to St. Louis.
The road is bumpy and full of potholes. He swerved and swayed trying to avoid the worst of them. The rear seat had long ago given out and I was sitting on the metal bar under the cushion. My back hurt but, we had a ride and we were going to find money and a place to stay. Our Lonely Planet that came to us thanks to Charlie at Base Camp, suggested Hotel de la Poste was old, almost historic and had a restaurant. We hoped that they would take one of our credit cards so we told Abdellayah to take us there as we came into the city. He baulked, it is farther than he thought he would have to go. Here we were, negotiating again. I yelled, “Take us there and we will work it out”. The streets were similar to those in Ross Bethio, littered and dusty. They were also jammed with throngs of people. Then Abdellah turned and we crossed an old looking metal bridge. At the end of the bridge he pulled up, we were in front of the Hotel.
Cat jumped out to make sure that they had a room and would take our credit cards. I stood and argued with Abdellah. He began to complain about waiting. Cat reappeared and said we had a room. They don’t accept credit cards or their machine isn’t working but the clerk told her that there is an ATM just around the corner. We were at our new home. I was so happy that, after he helped get our bags and bikes out of the cab and into the hotel I gave Abdellah the other three hundred CFA. He looked at the last remaining bill in my wallet, smiled and said, “Boisson pour moi”? (A drink for me?)
What a gutsy guy. I didn’t give in but almost admired his persistence. He was out of our lives, we were into an air-conditioned room. Life was good. Our first task, after storing the bikes and bags, was to get food. We savored our first ham and cheese sandwiches in almost two months and washed them down with fresh squeezed juice. As I signed the tab to our room the bartender shook his head, indicating that the bar and the Hotel were separate. Mr. Fall the very nice desk clerk said, “It’s okay, you pay when you get money. Okay, we walked to the ATM. There is a guard at the door. He wanted to see our card. I showed him our ATM and he said, “NO”. I whipped out our Visa Card and he nodded approval. He was right, I tried the ATM card first and it was rejected. The Visa Card seemed to want to work but we couldn’t get past the need for a three digit pin code? The bank was closed, we were lucky to have a Hotel that had a restaurant.
The shower had almost too much hot water but it was refreshing. We also have CNN so as we rinsed off the dust we listened to English language news. The AC is noisy but we’re not complaining.
The Flamingo Restaurant is detached from the Hotel. You pass the swimming pool on the way in. It and the tables are riverfront. Little lights line the railing. Very festive looking and the best news is that they have white wine. The food and wine weren’t cheap, not even reasonable but it was the only game in town for us. We ate and drank with fervor then took our last glass of wine out and listened to a jazz combo play. Three young people seated next to us took the stage and did vocals, some local and some cover songs. They were pretty good but lost the note from time to time. My experience with our band made it clear to me why they were having a problem. They didn’t have monitors, they couldn’t hear their voices. I wanted to tell the guy who was jumping up and down, shaking hands as people came in. Obviously the manager, he had a good sound system but missed one of the most important pieces of equipment.
We walked back to our room in the balmy evening air and finished our plan to take tomorrow off then go back and cycle into St. Louis. The road is great and so picturesque. Little villages of huts, really the Africa we have been looking forward to. All the people we’ve met have been very nice. There is a group of hustlers in front of the hotel but once you get the NO point across they seem to fade.
Sleep came quickly and easily.
November 3, 2003
Day Off in St. Louis
Still on borrowed money, I went down and checked out the Petite Dejeuner, it was pretty plain so I ordered two coffees and one juice and basket of bread. We sat on the bed, watch the news for the tenth time and ate.
We walked across the bridge to a service station bank combination and were ecstatic to hear the cash start to click down when we inserted the card. We were back in business! Yikes, the exchange rate for Euro to CFA is 640 to 1. The US Dollar is looking rock bottom and it is affecting our lives. We got 500 CFA for one of our Dollars? What’s happened to the STRONG DOLLAR POLICY? Even at the reduced rate we split 300,000 CFA between our wallets. This money is like Monopoly money, it takes a lot to do a little. The only good news is that 500 to $1.00 makes it easier to figure out what we’re spending. 10,000 CFA is $20, 5000 is $10, etc.
Exiting the bank we met an Italian guy who is riding his motorcycle from Rome to Dakar. He didn’t speak much English but got the point across that he had seen us on the road in Mauritania and he thought we were crazier than he is.
There were women sorting their catch. They had just come in on their pirogues, the long wooden canoe looking boats they fish from. I took a couple of distant shots then a gal came walking toward us with a big pan of fish on her head. As she neared she shifted here blouse and said, “Photo”? I said, “You want me to take your picture”? She then held out her hand and said what sounded like one thousand. I shrugged and thanked her then we walked on. Funny how cocky we get when we have money in our pockets. Of course, we still lose track of reality, 1000 CFA is about $2.00 US.
Getting rid of the money problem was a big load off our minds. Twice now we’ve been stuck thousands of miles from home and penniless. Both of us worry but Cat is a veritable “what if” machine in these types of situations. She had already started counting how many days we’d be here if we had to have funds wired from home, again.
The Syndicat d’ Initiative, Tourist Office, is just at the Island end of the bridge and across from our Hotel. The office had a map of the City but the only Senegal map they had was framed and on the wall. The nice lady suggested that we could buy one at the Hotel. We did buy the St. Louis city map and she pointed out things to see although there aren’t that many. The Hotel Gift Shop had the map and I wanted it but not 6000 CFAs worth. ($12.00) These pictures are pictures of pictures from the Tourist Office walls.
We walked through the streets, took a few pictures and ended up on the beach. It is littered with tons of trash that looks like it had accumulated over years of dumping. The beach could be beautiful. It runs for miles and has lots of the local fishing boats pulled up on the sand. Goats graze on the trash, there were more goats than people on the sand.
We stopped at a Cyber Café a few blocks away from our “usual place” and tried to check messages. The machines were cutting in and out, a young guy working there tried to help us send some mail through his server. It was time consuming and we couldn’t see proof that they went through. He tried hard then asked where we were from. I gave him our card and he got excited. He in turn gave us his e-mail address.
There were three western looking girls sending and receiving at the machines. The one next to us offered help during our frustration. Small world, she is from San Jose, California, one of the others is from San Diego and the third is from Virginia. They’re Peace Corp volunteers serving here, about 300 kilometers inland. The two Californians are headed home in two weeks the other has until December to fulfill her 2-year contract. They are all tired of Senegal, love most of the people but they’re ready to go home.
There are two Catamarans moored on the river. We walked by hoping to meet the wayfaring adventurers. A couple walked off the ramp and away as we turned the corner. There was a guy on deck but he was sleeping. We walked on.
The French Market has wine. We bought a bottle and some lunch things for a picnic in the room. Bread from the bakery, we walked inside and watched them pulling it out of the oven then stacking it on the floor. I had to have a picture, they yelled at me as the camera flashed. They didn’t want a picture of the place? CNN and sandwiches while sitting on the bed, under the air-conditioner, this is livin’.
Back to our favorite Cyber Shop only to find that they too were having connection problems. It was hot there, too. We retreated to the AC then Cat went back to answer e-mails while I journalized. I walked over only to find a very frustrated Cat. She had all but wasted an hour and 500 CFA.
Restaurant La Louisianne was our objective for dinner. It is at the far north end of the island. We walked, the streets were well lighted and virtually deserted. A guy did step into stride with us and remind us that he had helped move our bags inside the Hotel yesterday. He had lots of ideas where we should eat but we finally made it clear that we had already made up our minds. Having spent 10 years playing the music of Louisiana, how could we eat anywhere else?
The place is attached to a small Hotel. We were the only customers and chose a seat outside. Little frogs jumped around on the patio. A Sister and Brother run the place, the owner lives in France and also has a similar place in Togo. The Sister seated us then disappeared. Oumar, the Brother served our dinner and was a treat to talk with. They did get a couple of other groups, four French women and a couple, probably French, who really kept to themselves. The women were artist types, one was sketching a piece of art standing nearby. It is like a woman with beads and she’s carrying a wooden dish on her head. We liked it too and got a pic of it with Cat acting the part, behind it.
The food was very good. We stood for a while at the wall that is the north end of the island and listened to the rushing water as it splashed below. A picture with the La Louisianne sign and we walked back to Hotel de la Poste.
November 4, 2003
Sick Day for Cat!
What a tough night! Cat was up and down and spent most of it in the SAND BOX, if you know what we mean. She even soiled the sheets. There is no worse feeling than loosing total control.
We delayed our plan to taxi back to Ross Bethio and cycle in to complete that leg of the journey. Bananas in the room then coffee and croissants at the little patisserie around the corner. We walked directly to Doctor Venn’s office and the receptionist told us to come back at 10:00 AM. Off to the Cyber Shop to retrieve and answer e-mails. Cat spent a half hour and we returned messages to our Base Camp, Charlie. We’re trying to get positioned for the close of escrow on the house and to access other funds in the event it fails.
Cat went back to the Doctor’s office and I spent the balance of an hour on the machine. When I finished and walked back she was just sitting, waiting in a room full of other sick folks? Not a very healthy place to hang around but she needs something prescribed to stem the flow!
I retreated to the room and the keyboard. That damn demanding journal. Cat stopped and got lunchmeat and cheese for an in-room picnic. We took some pictures downstairs and on the street, as we walked to the Pharmacy. Cat got some medication similar to what I got in Laayounne, Morocco. Pills twice daily and packets of powder to take before each meal.
This Hotel is a special place. Remember the pilots that we met at Tan Tan Beach in Morocco? They were recreating the route of the old mail planes that flew from Toulouse, France to here in St. Louis. We talked with a gal whose Grandmother and Grandfather started the Hotel in 1926. The bar has mounted heads of things that were politically correct to shoot, back then. The first planes were landed on water, floatplanes but they called them boat planes.
Adja, the girl who is working the desk today is just great. I had asked her to do “You must be Crazy” in Wolof, the Senegalese language spoken by 70% of people here. At first she didn’t want to have a picture then a guy from the back room came out to speak English with me and figure out what we were trying to accomplish. He got it but she still didn’t want to be involved. I ask him to say “You’re riding your bicycle around then world? Then she agreed to say, “You must be Crazy”! What fun it was, once she saw the video she made me take it around and show it to everyone that works here. Her sister came in and loved it. I convinced the two of them to pose for a still photo.
Must Be Crazy" Wolof
Lunch in, again, then a walk to the Cyber Shop at 3:00. The machines were
agonizingly slow. We tried to answer the first message and were kicked off after
waiting 12 minutes to get in. Very frustrating and in a hot, sticky crowded
room. Maybe crowded is the key? Cat stayed on and I came back to journalize. I
picked up the computer which we have been leaving at the front desk for security
and started up the stairs when I realized that Cat had the key. Back to the
desk, the guy, our least favorite, looked then said, “No key”.
“Yes, my wife has it”.
“Get it from her”.
The argument escalated until Mr. Fall, one of our favorites, came in. He looked then said, “Sorry no extra key”.
I know that housekeeping has one but he said that they were gone for the day. Damn, I had to walk back to the Cyber Shop. I did give a guy out front my little handful of change. He is always there and always laughing and smiling even though he’s bound to a hand pedal wheel chair.
At 4:00 I was finally at the keyboard and stayed chained to it for almost 2 hours. Concerned, I walked back to the Cyber Shop. Cat was still at that keyboard and frustrated. The machines are moving at a snails pace and have lost connection a couple of times. At 6:00 we ran out of time and they ran us out the door, closing time.
A quiet hour in the room then we walked to Restaurant “La Signare”. It is colorful and LPGB says it’s the best place in town. Strange, on the way there the guy who helped get our bags inside the Hotel caught us and began talking. He had walked and talked with us on this stretch of Rue last night, too. Cat went in but he held my arm and asked for money to feed his family. I declined so he said, “Maybe tomorrow”?
We sat inside and were the only customers until 8:30. Several French couples came in and took seats in the patio. The food was quite good as advised and the people who run the place were interesting to talk with. Jack and Gilberte are the managers. A friend of theirs bought the place and they came down from France just last August.
Jack speaks a tiny bit of English, we think that he tried to tell us that he had ridden his bicycle from Banage, about 40 kilometers north of St. Louis. He carries his little dog around like a trophy and has a look that says, relaxed. Gilberte is African, Jack said that St. Louis has a history of the good-looking women marrying rich Europeans. I said, “That’s good for the rich Europeans”, and he laughed.
We took pictures of them and our server, Marie. Then I turned the camera on Dou Dou, the guy who shot the group picture for us. All in all a nice evening with nice people. As we parted they presented us with a map of Senegal. We had wanted to buy one but the gift shop at the Hotel charges 6000 CFA, $12.00. Though it’s the same basic map this one has advertising on it. Jack pointed out there ad and said that La Signare are the women he talked about, the lucky, good looking ones that get rich French husbands.
November 5, 2003
Another Sick Day in St. Louis
Ross Bethio to St. Louis
We were tired last night and it was lights out by 10:00 PM. Cat felt pretty good, the food seemed to set well and she fell quickly into deep sleep. So deep that she couldn’t wake up fast enough when the Guff Guff struck at midnight. Another night of soiled sheets, another night of hourly trips to the toilet.
At 7:00 AM we decided that we would try to get the kitchen here to cook some of the rice we have with us. Both of us have the queasies but Cat definitely has lost a lot of fluid. I got lucky, the girl, one of the owners who speaks English, was in the restaurant. She was really helpful. She took the rice then had me take a cup of tea back up to Cat. The rice arrived at the door and we ate, only rice. Not bad.
I took the long walk and returned with bananas and Sprite. Now we’re doing all the right things and hoping it is affective. As for the taxi to Ross Bethio and cycle back, we decided to play that one buy ear. If we’re feeling stronger this afternoon we may give it a shot, if not we defer to tomorrow. Another day in St. Louis, Cat is climbing
Okay, the walls got the best of Cat, we will ride this afternoon. We’ll just carry the handlebar bags and a bag with the left over rice on the back. The crowd was thick and curious as we came out pushing the bikes into the bright sunlight. The guy with the “Ronald is My King” t-shirt, who hangs around out front pushed into the conversation. When he understood that we wanted a Taxi to Ross Bethio he grabbed the first one passing and talked to the guy through the window. Then he came to me and said, “This is my friend, he will drive you to Ross Bethio”. Of course I asked the price and he said it would be 40,000 CFA! What a JERK! I laughed and told him we would pay 10,000. He said “No, no, it is at least 30,000”.
I stepped out into the street and started to hail another Taxi when the driver said, “10,000, okay”! So, Ronald the King was trying to squeeze several thousand out of the stupid tourists? I think that 10,000's probably generous but I didn’t want to ague. I hope that our unwanted mediator was cut out of the deal. Who needs help like that?
Bikes in the trunk, off we went across the prairie. The only difference we could see in Ross Bethio was a change of attendants at the Total Station. The new guy stared in disbelief as we pulled the bikes out of the trunk, adjusted the seats then pedaled out of his driveway. We didn’t even have our little boy cheering squad there for the sendoff?
The ride was fast thanks to a very brisk tail wind. We stopped in the shade of a tree for a bite of rice. As we choked down the dry rice two big African cattle crossed the road just a short way from us. A dog followed and then the herdsman. When he saw us he stared in disbelief then disappeared into the bushes behind the cattle and dog. Pretty soon the cattle came crashing through the brush and crossed back, very close to where we were standing. The dog had them on the run. The herdsman came to the shoulder of the road just 5 meters, 10-12 feet from us then squatted and stared. The tail wind brought his strong odor directly to our noses. It didn’t add to the flavor of our rice so we packed up, bid him “adieu” and rolled.
With just a couple of stops for photos we were in town in record time. Riding light and with the wind is a treat, even if we’re not completely back up to strength. Once in town we went directly to the ATM. It was temperamental and didn’t want to give big cash. Cat went inside the Bank and a nice guy came out to help. He decided that it was a problem in Dakar and went back in to call. When he came back out he said that the machine is now out of order and we would have to go to the other bank.
It was hot in the blazing afternoon sun. I began to fade. The streets were awash with locals buying and selling. We did get a couple of pictures of the crowds. The other bank held more disappointment for us. Though the machine said it had the PLUS system it wouldn’t recognize our card. Cat went in and I stood the guard. She was in line and I was burning up. I leaned the bikes up next to the stairs and went inside to take advantage of the air conditioning. She did strike pay dirt, the clerk wouldn’t or couldn’t take our ATM Card but would advance cash against our Visa Card.
Back in the money, we headed back to the Hotel. A guy we’d seen stopped and told us that he had heard about Cat’s stomach problems. He insisted that we wait while he went to his room and got some charcoal pills for her. He’s a musician originally from Hungary now living in Poland. He’s here to perform and the gal that owns this place will play violin with them. That’s how he heard about Cats malady. The air-conditioned room felt great. We were both hot and tired.
Dinner in at The Flamingo. The food is as good as the wine is expensive! We ate, savored our victory of the day’s ride and the wine. A 6-piece band was set up on a stage in the outdoor bar area. They began to play as we started back to the room. Of course we had to catch a couple of tunes. Their music was sort of soft jazz. We were sitting next to 4 young people who seemed to be family or friends of the band. Tired, we started to leave when 3 of them took the stage and began to sing a mix of African songs and popular cover songs. Though their voices weren’t great the ambiance of the evening air, the river rushing past and the songs felt like Africa. The 4th person, a gal, got up and did some dancing in front of the stage. Though she was dressed, like all the band and vocalists, in western clothing she had those unmistakable African moves.
Fatigue got the best of us, we gave in and gave up. It was time for sleep.
November 6, 2003
St. Louis to Louga
Breakfast at Hotel Independence, we wanted eggs. Kids stood in the doorway, staring, holding out their hands. The girl shooed them away a couple of times. We guess that this is something we’ll just have to get used to?
As we loaded the bikes the silly airplane with face cutouts beckoned to us. What a funny picture. I wanted a picture of the front of the Hotel and my friend who is bound to the 3 wheel chair. We got both in one shot and one of me with the persistant Pants Salesman.
I loaded the bags while Cat got picnic things. Pics out front with the guy in the 3 wheeled wheel chair and the pants salesman then we walked the bikes across the old classic bridge. It was 11:00 AM by the time we mounted up and rolled.
The town, some rough commercial buildings and houses strung out along the highway. Traffic was tough at first then thinned. The road is flat, it is already hot.
It runs along the river for quite a way then arcs off to the right.
Met a group of young French people who were trekking along the highway. Christophe seems to be the leader, Jann, Aladin, Damien, Rahma follow. They are staying in a house here, just relaxing and enjoying life. Christophe has a house in the Casamance region of Senegal south of The Gambia. He says that we should have no problem there if we stay on the main road. There have been reports of robberies but he says that is pretty much under control.
Lunch in the shade of a tree on the side of the road.
We rolled into Louga by 4:00 PM. First stop, a small market for a soft drink. The signs led us to Hotel Casa Italia. We pulled the bikes up 3 stairs and into a courtyard. The restaurant has outdoor seating there. We checked in and got a bottle of cold water. There was a couple, a Japanese girl and European guy at a table outside. We sat and savored our water then struck up a conversation. They, Hisako and Alain work with different groups but share in the responsibility of assisting the schools here in Senegal. Hers is a Japanese Corp, he is with the French Educational system. Then, another of those “small world” experiences, they both know Eric and Sylvie, the couple who helped us at the Rosso border crossing. They all work together. We got their phone numbers and talked about getting together in Dakar.
An African guy with a shirt that said, “After the Bomb we’ll all be equal” took me around to the back and told me we could keep the bikes in his room. He sleeps on the floor and there was no lock on the door. I didn’t like his deal. They objected at first then approved taking the bikes up to our room. Abdellaya, the “After the Bomb” guy, helped me drag them up the long stairway. The room has AC and enough space to easily keep the bikes inside. He mentioned something about having a bike.
When we got back downstairs he led me around the building to a rusty, dilapidated old bike. Both tires flat, pedal crank loose, front shifter broken. I decided that I would help him fix it. We tried to pump the tires. I looked and found that the tubes were rotted. Digging around in the bags I found and gave up two of our spare tubes. Then, we had lot of trouble with pump, one of the tube was a schreader valve. After a lot of sweat I finally got the old clunker, sort of. He was extremely happy. I was, too.
We chose dinner inside under a fan to avoid bugs and heat. A German guy came in and sat in front of us. The staff had tuned the TV to and English language movie channel We asked the guy if he wanted to change the channel as we weren’t into the movie. He snorted that he didn’t speak English. He was sort of pushy with the staff, too. He decided that he wanted music and kept asking them to turn the volume up. We gave up and hit the bed.
November 7, 2003
Louga to Tivaouane
With our bananas and the Continental breakfast of Hotel Casa Italia under our belts we set off for Theis, some 125 or so kilometers from Louga. Alain joined us for just a few minutes and as we talked about the distance he told us he thought there was a Hotel in Tivaouane that is between here ant Theis. That buoyed Cat’s spirit a little. She is carrying more weight than usual and her bike isn’t running real well.
We were barely at the outskirts of Louga when I noticed that her back wheel was really wobbling. We pulled over and I did what I could to try to pull it back into line. No broken spokes just way out of true. As a last resort I loosened her rear brake so that it wouldn’t drag. I rode behind thinking that all we have to do is make today and tomorrow and we’ll have fresh wheels. They should be waiting for us right now at DHL, Dakar.
More savanna like landscape, green trees and bushes yet dry at the same time. Flat was the good news. The Baobab trees are thicker and bigger here. It has a distinctive look, they say it was plucked from the ground by a displeased God, then thrust back, upside down making the limbs look like a root system. It’s a symbol of Africa. Revered by many, it is thought tot have magical powers. It also produces a fruit they call “Monkey Bread” that is eaten or made into a drink. We just loved the look and size of them. I parked my bike and ran over to one for a photo to put it into perspective.
Our strangest road kill encountered so far is a bat. In fact several of them, lying face up sort of grinning at us as we rolled past. Another unfortunate is what I began to call the “Bluebirds of Unhappiness”. Their remains are scattered along the shoulder, too. They feathers are shades of blue ranging from deep dark to light.
Thirsty, we stopped in the village of Mekhe for soft drinks. I stacked the bikes in front of a bank. The guard came out and flicked his hand, telling us to move on. I tried to explain that we’d only be a few minutes and wanted shade. He was steadfast in his resolve and found enough simple French to let Cat know that this space was for customers only. We began to think, perhaps we’d better get some cash since most places don’t accept credit cards. I stood guard under the watchful stare of the Guard while went inside and got the Visas card to cough up cash. The guy at the counter was great with her, he even came out and calmed the nervous guard.
Several boys gathered round, the tin can brigade we have begun to call them. They all ask and ask for a gift, money, sweets, anything. The Guard was a little tough on them, even pushed one as he tried to shoo them away. I was taken by one who had an infectious smile and not a hair on his head. Was he ill? Was he taking Chemo? The others laughed at him when I took his picture then, after they saw it they all wanted to be in one.
The road got busier, traffic thicker and it was lined with people selling fruit, melons, coconuts and lots of other crafty sort of things.
Cat was fading fast. It was 4:00 Pm when we finally rolled into Tivaouane. I pushed across the street and asked a group of Policemen where the Hotel was located. Once they got the question one of them said, “Theis, 20 kilometers” and he pointed down the road.
That wasn’t the news that Cat wanted to hear. She stopped a woman and in her best French, asked if there was a Hotel, guesthouse, even a private home where we could stay or put our tent up. The woman listened intently, as though she was thinking about the problem. When Cat stopped talking she extended her hand and said, “Cadeau”? She had missed everything but had been patient enough to let Cat finish before asking for a gift.
The guy at he Total Service Station had cold Coke. We got one and sat in the shade. A woman selling some kind of fried cakes came over and did her pitch. I said, “No, Merci” and she asked “Chaud”? Hot? I got the point across that it was very chaud and she did gestures telling us to put water on our heads and cloths by patting herself. She had me follow her around the corner of the station and pointed out a water faucet. That was a treat, cool water over our heads, then we soaked our shirts like she had suggested. She stood smiling with pride then returned to her roadside post with the dozen or so other lady peddlers.
I watched as the other women chided her then approached her for a photo. She seemed proud that I would ask and posed. One of the other women lying on the ground started hollering, probably telling me not to take her picture. I showed the lady in purple her picture then pressed a 500 CFA note into her hand. She seemed shocked, she told the others about her picture but kept the money thing to herself. I watched her sit back down then sort of go into a trance. We hoped that she was dreaming of the nice things she could buy with her Dollar. Yes, 500 CFA, a lot of money to her, is only about 1 US Dollar.
Robert (Ro Bear), owner of the Total Station, began to understand our quandary. He took a telephone out of a locked wooden box and called someone then told us to follow him. He walked with us to the Hotel that the Police didn’t know existed? He’s a minority here and wears his religion on his chest in the form of a big pewter cross.
He introduced us to the girl there then posed for a picture with Cat on the steps of Hotel Aldjantou. When we thanked him he pulled the big cross out to the end of the silver chain as if to say it was the Christian thing to do. To us, regardless of religion, he will always be a wonderful memory. Friends in need, friends in deed!
Hotel Aldjantou is family run. Besides the gal who checked us in the staff consists of her 2 sisters and 4 brothers. Their Aunt and Uncle own the place. We locked the bikes to a pillar in a meeting room and the boys helped us carry bags to the room. There is a rickety little AC but it works. The shower has a hot water tank above. I turned it on then took a luke warm boat shower. It was hot by the time Cat got in but smelled like rotten eggs. Must not have been used in some time?
Dinner down, we are one of only 2 guests here. The other, a Frenchman, walked by, said “Bon Soir”, ordered dinner to be served in his room then retreated. The Chicken Yassa, a Senegalese dish with a sweet, spicy onion gravy was great. After a hard, hot days ride we salted the fries down good and enjoyed the treat.
Mosquitoes, bedbugs, bites, Deet and bed. We were thankful to be here.
November 8, 2003
Tivaouane to Dakar
With some good omelets under our belts and a great photo shoot with the family, we hit the road to Dakar fairly early. We felt fairly rested and the route was flat. The roadside was thick with peddlers along the side and the traffic thickened as we closed in on the big city. Theis wasn’t much to look at, in fact it was pretty bad along the highway. We were glad that we found the family and a room where we did. Cat picked up picnic food and we rode on through.
The kids began to gather as I stood guard and sipped a Coke. Cat and I had talked about what Africa would be like. She had a picture of native people in loincloths with spears. I was more pragmatic, I told her they would be wearing Nike t-shirts. We took pictures of some of them and let them take a look. I particularly like one wearing a faded, tattered, New York shirt. One boy was sullen, they all asked for a gift but he just stood and stared, a haunting stare. I wondered what he was thinking? Was he angry or just curious? When I had just a couple of gulps of Coke left I handed it to him. He continued to stare at me but passed it off to one of his friends?
There were dozens of colorfully painted, horse drawn taxis on the street. They wound their way through the trucks and cars in a sort of blend between the past and present.
The roadside was again lined with peddlers of melons, coconuts and crafts. The traffic was thickening and getting crazy. We were clinging to the edge of the pavement but drivers would swing right, out into the dirt and speed by leaving us in a cloud of dust. I was brushed by one of them and later, in the dust, a huge truck clung to the same space we were in and hit my arm. This is the most dangerous traffic we have ever cycled in, anywhere in the world!
A Mobil Service Station and Mini Mart stop for soft drinks and we found ourselves surrounded by girls selling bananas. They all had a plate or basket of them on their heads. I wanted a picture and learned an important lesson in the process. They are so persistent, almost pushy but when I took the camera out they fled, shielding their faces and saying, “No, no photo”. Wow, they do know the meaning of “NO”. I got a sneaky shot of a couple of them.
A big 4WD pulled in, the driver jumped out and ran in the store, the woman talked with Cat and told her about the road we were facing for the next 30 kilometers. It didn’t sound like things were going to get any better, probably worse, as we enter Dakar.
We took our soft drinks and rode a couple of kilometers looking for the perfect place to stop for our picnic. With none in sight we pulled up and pushed down a little embankment to a dirt road. We just got settled in when a huge herd of those unique looking, huge African cattle came toward us. To avoid their big horns we moved our picnic to the side of the roadway.
Rufisque, the city about 25 kilometers from Dakar, is a terrible looking industrial area in our memory. It was a crowded road, honking horns and dust. At a huge Round Point as they call traffic circles here, we veered to the left, circled around and found ourselves on a divided highway. More space, more shoulder room, fewer cars. Then it became a freeway. We just pressed onward despite warning honks from passing cars and trucks. The road reminded us of the Long Beach Freeway. If you’ve seen it then you can picture what it’s like, riding on it into Long Beach which we decided even looks like the outskirts of Dakar.
Our maps proved correct, we were thrust into surface street traffic at the edge of the city. A stop at a service station and a confusing hand drawn map helped us skirt around the maze of one-way streets but we were soon lost again. Ask, ask, ask and we seemed to get different answers from each respondent? Standing, studying the map, we were approached by a guy who offered to lead us to the Hotel Ganale, a target we had chosen from the pages of our Lonely Planet Guide Book. He flashed his ID Card and told us he works with the Police Department. I think he is like an office worker of some sort. A very nice guy, he led us right to the door of the Ganale then held out his hand. Geez, doesn’t anyone here ever do anything out of the kindness of their hearts? I asked if he earned money working with the Police and he responded that it wasn’t enough to feed his 8 kids. I thought about giving him my sermon on Population Pollution but gave up and gave him 1000 CFA.
The Clerk wasn’t very friendly, he told us that they may not have a room for 3 days but he could guarantee at least 2. The price was higher than our book had suggested but it did have AC and CNN. After considerable negotiation they finally convinced us that the bikes would be safe under the stairway. We took all the bags off and stored the ones we didn’t need then carried the others up the three flights. A couple of cockroaches heralded our arrival in the room. The shower was a strange hose with the shower head hanging at knee level. However, the water was warm and the room cool.
We had dinner in the restaurant downstairs. The food and service were both excellent. They made a special pasta and olive oil dish for Cat, I had steak and it was great. It’s our Grandson Patrick’s 8th birthday today so I celebrated with a dish of ice cream.
After dinner we wanted to check messages and asked the desk if there was an Internet Café nearby. The now semi-friendly clerk told us that there was but wouldn’t advise waling there after dark. We decided to go but he told us to wait then summoned the armed guard from the doorway and told him to accompany us. We spent an hour on the machines and the guard came back to escort us home. It seemed pretty scary out there, maybe because of his presence? There were people sleeping along the side of the street and others holding their hands out toward us in the dark. Dakar is going to be more of a challenge than just a tough bike ride!
A little news on CNN and lights out, welcome to Dakar!
Sunday, November 9, 2003
Day of Well Needed Rest in Dakar!
The window had blackout drapes, I awoke at 3:00, took an antacid and sat up in bed. The Steak, fries and ice cream backfired on me. The couple next door came clattering in at 4:00 AM. The door rattled, the toilet flushed a couple of times then all was quiet.
The room was still dark but a sliver of light made it’s way under the door. It was 7:15 before our eyes opened again. We lounged, the TV was still refusing to give us CNN. The girl at the desk suggested that it would be on at 9:00.
After another refreshing shower we walked to a Patisserie. On the way we were over taken by a guy who asked, “Remember me, I work at the Hotel”? We didn’t but didn’t want to sound rude. He tagged along and talked about taking us to a good place for coffee. Cat told him she had already chosen one that she liked. He stuck with us for a while then veered off and told us he would see us later. (When we returned to the Hotel I asked if the guy worked here, the desk clerk shook his head and said, “Liar”. Apparently this is a common ruse to start a conversation that they hope will lead to a sale or guide fee?)
The Patisserie, La Gondole, is a strange place, no seats just standup bars. They had a wonderful, sort of icy, Mangue juice. We drank that with our banana and had coffee with raisin whirls. The standup bar at the window proved to be too tough for us. As you eat you look out at half a dozen guys sitting on the ground, looking hungry and looking at you. Several had no fingers? Leprosy? Shifting around the corner we stared at the wall and watched the affluent local crowd come and go. This place is like San Francisco in a way. There are well-dressed people coming and going but they have to step over the homeless, lame and wounded as they stroll down the sidewalk. Well, in SF there is room to go around the unfortunates who sleep on the street. Here there seem to be more of them and they seem poorer. There aren’t any drunks, they don’t seem to drink or smoke here.
Cat is disappointed in our Hotel. They told us last night that they wouldn’t have a room for a third night. We walked to Hotel Al Baraka, one that Hisako, the girl we met in Louga, had recommended. The lobby looked pretty seedy to me and the restaurant was plain. We looked at a room, the bath was large but the furnishings were drab and brown. Cat seemed ready to move, I like our place better. It was price that made the decision, they wanted 200 more for the room than we’re paying at Hotel Ganale. We both agreed that it wasn’t worth the effort to make a move.
As we exited a gangly looking guy sidled up and said, “Remember me, I met you at the Hotel last night”. This sounded pretty familiar so I asked which Hotel which made him expose his hand, so to speak. When he said, “The Al Baraka” I smiled and told him that he must be mistaken, we weren’t staying at the Al Baraka. Slightly befuddled he asked where we were staying and we fibbed, “with friends”, then we walked away as he stood dumbfounded, speechless. We had foiled an attempt, we were getting better at this Dakar thing.
Another guy walked up and said, “I have a gift for you”. We objected and told him we didn’t need a gift but he insisted. He said that his wife had just had a baby, there first, and he needed to give a gift to a person of different color skin. He pointed out the difference as he grasped my arm. Okay, we told him we weren’t buying anything and finally took the two necklaces he held out to us. He helped Cat put hers around her neck then turned to me and said, “Do you have a gift for the baby”? So, that’s his scam? I told him that we didn’t but he continued to insist that it would be terrible luck if we didn’t give something to the baby. I remembered that I was carrying a US dollar bill so I dug it out and told him it was a special gift from us to the baby. I made a joke that if the baby held onto it for several years, the way things were going, it would be worthless. That was over his head but he seemed dissatisfied and asked if we had any Senegalese money, I weakened and gave him 1000 CFA. He wasn’t happy with it but I told him not to look a gift horse in the mouth. That one was over his head too and as he mulled it over we walked away. Not too bad a deal, we have a great experience and two okay necklaces for $3.00 US.
The Internet Shop where our armed guard had escorted us last night was closed. Cat had scoped out another sign so we walked and found it not only open but, the machines were even faster and it was air-conditioned. We got a message back from Grandson Patrick, his birthday is on November 18th and he will be 9 not 8 years old. Oops! Two hours of e-mail cleanup then lunch.
There’s a little place next to the Hotel called Restaurant ? #2. We looked in then went on into the Hotel. The restaurant here doesn’t serve lunch but the girl bartender recommended the ? place. A French guy standing talking with her insisted on leading us there. He and Cat had a conversation that was over my head, it was over Cat’s head part of the time, too.
? #2 serves 5 lunches. I had Cantonese Rice, Cat chose Couscous. My rice was pretty good, her Couscous was like paste but the side dish of chicken was good. I ordered a Coke and the young waiter indicated that they only had beer? We tried to tell him that we didn’t want beer then Cat asked if there was a store nearby where we could buy a Coke. He pointed across the street but as I got up to go he talked to the woman in the kitchen then turned and said, “Coke, yes”? Amazing, they had found some?
Lunch was pretty good but I had to make a hasty retreat. Nature began to call and it was an urgent call. I tightened my cheeks and sprinted up to the room. Whoosh, and it had some red, like blood in it? O Boy, the African Guff Guff is back with a new twist?
Cat came in, I sat up the computer while she tried to call Alain, the guy we met in Louga, to ask about a store, things to see etc. I thought we left a message but wasn’t sure. Bad news, my second Guff Guff whoosh followed within an hour. Good news, no sign of the red, we decided that it might have been that great tasting Mangue juice? In fact that may be the cause of the color and condition?
Good news, Alain did get the message and call back. He said that they are working on plans for dinner with Eric and Sylvie. Gosh it’s good to have friends in strange places!
I worked on the pictures while Cat explored the possibilities for our few days here and our down coast adventure. We asked the guy at the front desk about a guide, he didn’t fully understand but did point out several things that we MUST see in Dakar.
Dinner downstairs, our two wonderful waiters and good food, again then early to bed!
November 10, 2003
A Hectic Business Day in Dakar!
So far so good, no lasting Guff Guff, and a good night's sleep for both of us. Not wanting a repeat performance, we chose a local looking Bar/Coffee, The Rond Point, for breakfast. Strong coffee, good croissants and little else.
The first order of business was photos for Visas. Most of the little countries here require a Visa. That means a photo and some money. The money will range between 7,000 to 20,000 CFA for each of us.($14 to $40) The 12 pictures of each of us cost 12,000, about $2.00 each. Sometimes this travel thing isn’t cheap!
A quick stop at Internet looking for messages about the sale of our house but more so, to send a message to Mr. Mactar, the man our friend in Morocco, Abdellah has been trying to introduce to us here in Senegal. Some kind of Government official, we think? Cat called FedEx from the Internet Shop and learned that the wheels sent from LandRider are being held by Senegal Customs. They want to collect what the FedEx guy called “A lot of import tax”? We are hoping that Mr. Mactar, whoever he is, will answer our e-mail and come to the rescue.
Next, an absolute essential, Laundry. On the way we strolled down Avenue Pompidou. The street is crawling with traveling merchants, each trying to get his or her merchandise into your face. As we walked a guy started walking on my left shoulder and asking if I was Italian. Then at the corner another guy moved in front of me, leaned down and touched the leg of my shorts. As he did I felt movement on my left, a third guy had his hand in my pocket. I grabbed his wrist and as he tried to pull away I twisted his arm until he jerked loose and made a hasty exit. The incident was over in moments but the adrenalin rush left both of us high for several minutes. A guy standing there tried to hand me a 1000 CFA note. I pushed him aside not knowing what his scam was. Later I felt terrible for having done that. I forgot that I had put 3 1000 CFA notes in that pocket for small needs. He was trying to give my own 1000 back to me! So, you see, there are good people even in the midst of a few bad ones.
We were still on our adrenalin boost as we checked the laundry in. Cat got confused about the amount they would charge and was ready to pack back up when I looked at the number, 3,500 or about $7.00 US. Cat had added a zero and thought the gal had said $70.00! I guess we’re both feeling a little paranoid?
Our next challenge was getting a Taxi to the US Embassy. The first cab that pulled up quoted 2,000 CFA, Cat had just read, in our LPGB, that it should only be 300-400 for the short ride. When she told him 300 he put the car in gear and drove away. The next Cab pulled up and the guy said he wanted 1000. I said, “No, 500”! He smiled then motioned us in. Every deal is a negotiation.
The Embassy is typical of today’s Embassies. Lots of concrete like Paul was pouring in Nouakchott around the Embassy. The street is blocked to traffic, too. Once inside the bunker we worked our way through the metal detector and had to give up our camera and my Swiss Army Knife. The place was pretty full of folks waiting to be seen and heard. One American was asking how he could get his girl friend here a Visa. He told the woman behind the window that they have baby 16 months old and he wants his Mother to see it. The woman behind the glass told him, “You can marry her”. She said it matter of factly but there was a little sting in her voice.
She, Rita, is a really nice gal. She is originally from Liberia but said, “I call Columbus, Ohio home, now”. She also told us that Liberia had been a beautiful country before all the war and gruesome crime. She really took our questions and needs to heart. Cat is concerned about a place called Casamance, a region just across the border from The Gambia that has had problems. Our book says that it has been pretty quiet since 1998. She recommends against travel there but has never been there. She did give us the name, phone number and e-mail address of an Embassy Warden who lives there. She says he’s a nice guy and really knows the region. That helped Cat a little.
Back to the Hotel, we had a message from Alain and the envelope from FedEx that we have to take to the Airport. Just as we walked into the room the phone rang. It was Alain, inviting us to share dinner at Eric and Sylvie’s home tonight. He and his wife will be there as well as Hisako. He will pick us up tonight and drive to their home. You remember Eric and Sylvie, they helped us through the crisis at the Senegalese Border. Alain also told me that he would get the address of the Bike Shop he mentioned at breakfast in Louga and, best of all, he volunteered to drive us to the airport and try to help straighten out the “Import Tax” issue.
Hungry, we walked back down Ave. Pompidou, daring those pickpockets to try it again. A guy did grab my hand and when I tried to shake loose he got testy. “This is Senegal, not Iraq,” he shouted. “You are my friend”. I told him thanks then we turned into a fast food place and left him standing, stammering and chattering to himself.
What a find Restaurant Adonis is, fast food with a Greek flair. Cat had a roll up called a Charwarma and I had the Tyson Hamburger. Both were great, full of chicken, cheese, French fries, even an egg. Real fast food, and we wolfed it down, real fast.
Citi Bank, our ATM Card Bank has a branch here at The Place de Independence. We went there hoping to find an ATM where we wouldn’t have to pay a fee. No such luck. They were closed but a guy at the door did hold it open a crack, take the card then return and tell us to us the machine at CBAO Bank, just down the street? Maybe they have a business alliance with them or maybe we will just have to pay? We did get 200,000 CFA. (A little over $400 US) Money will be a problem for us. We hate to carry too much but we’re hearing that ATMs and places that take credit cards are few and far between in most African countries.
The SAGA of Lil’ Scotty takes a Strange Twist!
Score is a Super Marche and a pretty good one. They have everything except a good selection of white wine. We bought a bottle of white and red to take to dinner tonight. On the way back to the hotel we stopped again at the Internet Shop. There was a message from the guy who shipped Lil’ Scotty, from Stockholm to Port Hueneme. (Remember Lil’ Scotty, the Renault 4 that we bought in Portugal and drove all the way back to Sweden?) He sadly told us that the car couldn’t be received there and they shipped it back at his company’s expense. He was sort of whiny about it, wanted to tell us that they would try to sell the car or scrap it. We thought it was Poetic Justice, Bengt, the guy, was the one who told me that there would be “No Problem” with shipping the car. Now he has the problem. At least we now know that we won’t have a big bill from our friends at the US Customs Service as we had earlier been told.
So, Lil’ Scotty will now spend eternity in a junkyard, in Sweden. Sorry Scotty, it’s cold there now and you’ll get all rusty!
It is one of those muggy, tropical days today. The sun is hidden behind a heavy layer of cloud and the air is steamy. We were so hot and sweaty that the room and the AC were like heaven. I journalized, Cat read the details from the US Embassy that Rita provided and we watched CNN until it started fading, again. (CNN went out on Saturday and we suffered all weekend without any news, in fact without any TV. Only one channel was working. It was local language and it too faded in and out.)
Alain scheduled a pickup at our Hotel for 6:00 PM. We were down stairs and pleasantly surprised when Hisako walked in. We didn’t know for sure that she was included. Our second surprise, she wasn’t with Alain, she had walked here from her apartment. Alain’s wife Martine came in and introduced herself, we loaded into their big 4WD and he sped through the streets, along the shoreline and out to an affluent looking neighborhood. Eric and Sylvie’s house is really beautiful and beautifully furnished. They even have a guard out front but then so do all the other house on the street.
What a fantastic evening, what a fantastic meal. The also have a cook who really knows what he’s doing. The kids Leo, Emma and Lou had a friend with them. They ate and played in an adjacent room most of the evening. Needless to say, between our wine and Eric’s the flow was constant. It was hard to believe that we had only known them for a few hours. When the party was breaking up we took one last picture together in the small garden and made promises to meet again, in France, Japan or California. A full round of hugs and cheek kisses then we reluctantly loaded back into Alain’s car and retraced our route through the now dark and almost deserted streets of Dakar. It was after midnight when they dropped us at Campsite Ganale.
November 11, 2003
Another Day in Dakar
Alain was to pick us up at 9:00 AM. After included breakfast we waited in the lobby, he was a half hour late and blamed it on the traffic. He knows Dakar and how to drive here. We wound our way through one-way streets and horrible traffic then along the shore and out to the airport. A couple of asks and he pulled up in front of the place where we would start the process. And what a process it would be! He did all the talking, in French. We started at a front counter then a young guy led us on a tour of offices and uniforms. Each had to check the paperwork, each had to approve and send on up the line. Finally we were in the office of the Colonel. He listened to Alain tell the same story he had already told a dozen times then sent us across the street.
Our guide took us to the warehouse where goods held by customs are stored. After they dug around in the piles of boxes for 10 minutes Cat suggested a couple of boxes that looked the right size. Voila, we had wheels. The desk there charged 5000 CFA for storage, we didn’t argue over $10.00. Then we had to carry them back across and go through the same chain of command we had been through at the start of the search. I took pictures of several of the Officers, one had a camouflage hat sitting on the floor. Cat picked it up and put it on for the photo, the guy told Alain that he wanted to give it to her, she accepted. Back in the office of the Colonel we shook hands, he wished us luck and we got a photo or two. Our guide carried the wheels to the truck and I gave him 1000 CFA for the help. He asked if I would take his picture, of course I did. The entire process had taken almost 2 hours. We couldn’t have done it without Alain. Best of all, they waived all cost except the 5000 storage.
There is a small mountain near the Airport with a Lighthouse atop it. Alain drove up the steep winding road to give us a view. The fog or smog was too thick to really see Dakar but we could see out to the Les Almadies. The Lighthouse, Phare des Mamelles, was built in 1894. Cat asked about the name, Alain was a little embarrassed as he explained that the small mountain resembled a woman’s breast, mamelle, as in mammary. Below, on the beach lies the Mosque, “Divinity”. They don’t like to have pictures taken of it so Alain pulled off the road above it for a great shot.
We tried to buy lunch but Alain had to hurry back to work. He dropped us and we walked to a place he had recommended, Chez Loutcha. It is famous for large portions and it’s version of the local dish, Mafe. Cat had a seafood salad, we shared it then she took a few bites of the mound of Mafe. It’s a peanut based stew, slightly oily with a reddish sauce on chunks of meat. Pretty darned good!
A wandering minstrel, they call a Griot, came through playing his Kora, a stringed instrument that he holds out in front. He seems to be making up words as he goes table to table. All in all, as Alain had suggested, a great experience.
We walked to the bike shop that Alain had pointed out and confirmed that they could work on the bikes. The street had the same exuberant feel as Ave. Pompidou. In fact we felt that a couple of guys were positioning to pick pockets so we used our new anti pickpocket defense, we turned into a shop. They stood outside and talked, keeping an eye on us, then gave up and moved on.
Cycling bare bike through the streets of Dakar was a challenge. I stood over the guys as they worked and supervised. As usual, the shifters were a big topic of conversation and curiosity. They all had to try it out and call other guys in from outside to see it work. The owner assured me that his mechanic was the best but I had a hard time slowing him down long enough to explain what we needed. He started taking the front wheel off and for some reason cut the plastic zip tie that we used to hold Cat’s front baggage rack on. I was pretty upset, he saw the error and immediately tried to fix it but it was too late. I decided that this would be a good time to try and remove the broken screw. The owner sent out for a hacksaw blade and we tried sawing a groove in the end like a screw slot. A lot of sweat and effort then the mechanic took control and used a spoke to wrap around the fork and rack. He tightened it down and I had to admit, it would work. They put new tires on the wheels and installed them onto the bikes. The cost including the new tires was 23,000 CFA ($46.00) and he even threw in a spoke wrench. It was pretty intense at times but we left happy.
The ride back was just as harrowing as getting there. We had to take a street a block further west because of the one-way traffic. As we rounded the corner near Hotel Ganale a woman driver hit Cat’s back wheel. No damage, but a pretty good scare. I shook my finger at her but she just shook hers back at me. Yes, pedestrians and cyclists are second-class citizens here.
We took a walk down the back streets to avoid the hustlers and hubbub of Ave. Pompidou and picked up our clean laundry. Stopped at Score and got some food supplies and another bottle of wine.
For dinner we chose sushi, Hisako had recommended. It’s a Korean Restaurant that was expensive and maybe we’re spoiled but it wasn’t very good to us, either. We met a couple and their three daughters there. He is from France she from Korea. The girls have that beautiful look of the blend in their faces. They are Missionaries, stationed in a village south of here. Tonight is a special treat for them. He emphasized that the Casamance area was a very dangerous place that we should avoid? Awe, the mixed signals.
I had to hurry back across the street and up the stairs, the African Guff Guff was upon me once again. Whoosh, CNN and bed.
What a strange place to end a chapter? Well, health is essential when you’re HUMAN POWERED. The greatest dangers we have faced are diarrhea and drivers. Yes, the ride into Dakar was the most dangerous road we have yet traveled in the world. The change to “Black Africa” has been refreshing. Though you will only see a small glimpse of it in this chapter we can assure you that it is everything we thought it would be and then some!!! Tune in next month and we’ll start confirming or dispelling the myths about this DARK CONTINENT.