Sunday, March 2, 2008

Morocco to Mauritania


There’s a line in the sand just below the Tropic of Cancer where we rolled up yesterday around 5pm. It marks the border between Morocco’s Western Sahara and the Islamic Republic of Mauritania. The 200 meters of gates and guard posts at the end of Morocco took us two hours to cross and illustrated as well as anything the difference between my year of solo travel and these four months driving through Africa.

We had our passports and exit forms and the car registrations. We had the carnet de passages for the cars too, which guarantee that we won’t sell the Toyotas while we’re in Mauritania. We brought all this to a window in the building at the border and waited an hour or so for them to copy our info. While we waited an officer in street clothes rummaged through our cars and asked if the flask in the passenger side door was the only vino we were bringing into dry Mauritania.

We got back into the cars finally and drove toward Morocco’s exit gate and were held up again and lined up in the sun on a whitewashed wall where we sat for another half hour. A man at a plastic table under a shady, low-hanging tree was interviewing the driver of each car before departure.

My turn came and as I sat down he flipped to a fresh page in his book and used a ruler to draw columns down the page. When he finished he filled the first lines of the new page with our names and passport numbers and sent us on our way. The power was out and it had become an exceedingly manual operation.

It was just before 7pm when they raised the gate and we drove into three kilometers of unclaimed, untamed desert. Even with four-wheel drive we staggered over the tumbling path, past mysteriously abandoned cars and towards Mauritania.

We weren’t sure if Mauritania would be accepting visitors after 7pm but the guard post was still open and the guards wore smiles. They told us the bandits in Mauritania were gone and we didn’t need to hire security for our drive even though four French tourists were massacred on the side of the road while they picnicked a couple months ago. While the guards looked over our passports we changed a leaking tire on the Tundra.

The sun had set when we reached a kerosene-lit shack a hundred meters down the road, where some other officials took our passports and asked us our professions. The angular man with the turban and giant reading glasses asked me what the Mauritania consulate in Washington, D..C. was like and I had to tell him I got my visa through the mail.

Only at Mauritania’s third shack were we asked for money. When we refused they rummaged around the cars for a while and found a bottle of booze. Steve told the guard he could go ahead and confiscate it but he seemed afraid of what would happen if he took it—or maybe they’re just being nicer to tourists after that unfortunate picnic incident. Regardless, they sent us on our way.

It was after 8pm when we drove on to Nouadhibou. We had covered five kilometers in three hours with the promise of another 15 or 20 borders in the next 100 days.

4 comments:

Alexis said...

Hey Brook,

I saw your documentary on MTV last night and was so amazed by your self travel. I ordered your dvd and read your entire blog last night since I will be traveling to Europe this summer. I have been to europe 4 times before, but I have never been backpacking or stayed at hostels. Im going with a friend for almost 2 months and going to london, prague, vienna, greek isles, cairo and spain but I want to stay longer and im finding it EXTREMELY hard to budget under $10,000. How did you spend almost a year going to 26 countries for $20,000? I cant even manage to get 2 monhts under $8,000! Any advice you can give on money saving, must see places and hostels to stay and getting around would be awesome. I know you are busy in Africa and you blogs have been intersting so far. Are you going to Cairo? Cant wait to get the dvd! Good luck on your trip through Africa and I hope to hear from you soon. I work in the fashion industry and I was even thinking of doing an internship after my travel in Milan, Italy with globalexperiences.com for 3 months. Do you think it would be safe for me to just travel on my own after my friend leaves? (I'm 25 year old girl leaving my job to do this trip!!)

Best,
Alexis

Matt said...

Hey man,

So it was just by chance that I happened to catch your documentary last night, but i was amazed none the less. The fact that anyone could drop everything and travel for an entire year alone completely scared me. And that might sound weird, but that was the knot in my stomach that I had while watching. But honestly dude, it's definitely inspired me. I am seriously considering a trip like this. Also, I definitely think your documentary needs more air time, ha. I hope more people can watch it and be inspired by your story so that one day, maybe I can meet them (:
Take care man, enjoy your travels.

-Matt

Agueda said...

Hi,
Let me tell you I watch you documentary last night I was relly suppost to be studying for this huge Math Test on Tuesday, but i was so inspired about traveling around the worl thatI couldn't concentrate on the y=2x+3. you have really inspired me to do the same thing your doing, Actually I had the dream of backpacking that is one of my life goals and I think i really want to do it know I just don;t know where to start from. Any suggestions, have lots of fun, keep us posted of qhats hoing on in your trips.

Agueda

arlenelassetter said...

hi brook, aunty arlene here and proud of her entrepreneurial nephew. the mtv showing was great but only an appetizer to a gourmet meal, the full documentary. I'm envious of your lifestyle choice and am enjoying your blog. stay safe and enjoy. love, arlene