My friend Chris over at Aussie on the Road has been hosting a series of guest posts about Christmases abroad. In four days I’ll celebrate my second Christmas in South Korea and my forth Christmas away from my family. Not bad for 37 years, although the first 17 I wasn’t really in any situation or had any motivation to go anywhere but where my dad was driving for Christmas dinner. The most similar Christmas abroad came in 2001 when I was in Edinburgh, Scotland. My first Christmas abroad was unlike anything I’d ever planned. I somehow managed to end up in the middle of the Sahara Desert going from Morocco to Mauritania back in 1998. To keep a long story short, I finished university, felt like going travelling; once England turned too cold in late November, I caught a quick flight to Faro in the south of Portugal and then ended up in southern Spain and Gibraltar.
It was in Gibraltar I stumbled upon a telling tome, one that would encompass the next five months of my life. Africa on a Shoestring by Lonely Planet. When I flipped through the book and realized I could take a ferry from Gibraltar to Tangier, Morocco… a book was sold. Once in Morocco, as I continued to read I found Morocco and Mauritania had a One Way Border.
A what? Exactly. Essentially the Moroccans found it funny to let people go from Morocco into Mauritania, whereas the Mauritanians didn’t play that game. Get in Mauritania, stay in Mauritania.
So I had to try to do that.
Christmas Eve (24/12/1998)
– A Christmas Eve’s Busride
I’m able to catch the SATAS bus – aka ‘the Racing Camel‘ – to Dahkla. Now this was a joyous 19 hour bus ride – the highlights are; the Harira (traditional Muslim soup) of Laâyoune, second and third place on Amazon Hunt II (pinball) in Laâyoune, discovering that there is a Arabic Comedy Radio show as everyone on the bus laughed the trip away, my mini 1-day Ramadan and, of course, the singing of the Mauritanian women as we were dragged off bus five times between 8pm and 5am for passport checks. Oh yah, lots of sleep THAT night.
Incidentally, if you want to know what the Sahara Desert looks like, sand. Lots and lots of sand.
Christmas Day (25/12/1998)
– A sandy sort of Christmas
I arrive in Dahkla at about 5:30am and I know that if I sleep I’ll miss the convoy and I’ll be stuck in Dahkla until Tuesday,(Christmas Day was on a Friday in ’98) so a lack of sleep wins out. Now being as it’s the middle of Ramadan nothing opens on time, instead it opens late, if it opens at all. In order to join the convoy headed for Mauritania I have to go to three separate and distant places, fill out forms and get to the meetin gplace. The convoy ‘leaves’ at 11am and nothing opens until 9:30am. Do the math. I don’t have time to mess about. With the help of an Italian lady, who is also a late addition to the convoy, we get it all done. Whew!
(Byron 2010: Heh, my writing was very minimal 12 years ago, but it’s kinda fun to see how it’s evolved.)
At the convoy I end up landing a ride with a German fellow named Phillip after I trolled up and down the ranks of cars offering my charm and complete inexperience in desert travel. Philip, who is going to the desert of Mali in a Water Joe van. Water Joe is a caffineated water, which tastes just like water. I managed to grab an hour’s sleep in his van.
The convoy embarks at… 3pm.
Since I had to play “Dahkla Registration Race,” I didn’t ‘officially‘ have time to go shopping for supplies. I’m on short rations for the rest of the day (and next.) Philip and I spend much of the journey talking about the Simpsons.
In German, Homer doesn’t say “doh” he says “nein.” Then I try to pick up some German, much to Philip’s amusement. Philip is a great guy, during the next couple of days he will lend me; food, a thermalrest and most importantly, friendship. In return I think I gave him some laughs and a person to talk to during the desert trek. His tape player broker in Dahkla. Dammit, rocking in the desert to the Scorpions and David Hasselhoff would have been epic!
All I can truly say about the Sahara Desert Trek is that Ian (my brother) would have loved this ‘road,’ if he didn’t snap and curse out the whole country. I have never, ever, ever, ever seen a ‘road‘ quite like this. It was once paved, I don’t know when, or by whom or with what – I’d guess early 15th Century, but for at least 20 kms we experienced a sand-coated roller coaster ride!
This is also where I witnessed the picture above, one of the most amazing sunsets I’ve ever seen.
Around 8:30pm we reached the ‘campsite,’ well, it had 2 cement bunkers and… that’s about it. I was hoping to buy food here, but there is nothing but cement, sand and soldiers.
Oh, about the convoy, there are around 65 cars, plus about 10 motorbikes. These vehicles range from compacts to massive boxes on wheels called unimogs. I’d guess there is easily 150 people in the convoy, likely closer to 200.
Finally, eventually, thankfully Mario from Mozambique cooked up some cous-cous which was filling and good. (It must have been good to warrant it’s own sentence in my journal.)
I’d planned to call home at 8am, but there was no phone in the middle of the desert. But a concrete slab to sleep on inside the bunker.