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.
Posted by Brook Silva-Braga