Return in the Sahara

I've noticed it's often a lot harder to leave a foreign country than it is to enter it. Because it's a three day journey each way to Mauritania, I only had a couple nights actually exploring the culture down there. Then it was back up North. And because it's a three day journey, much of my experience is....well, the journey.

Now I'm fairly familiar with traveling through Morocco. Due to gender and natural prolictivities, I've traveled in country probably more than any other single teacher at my school. I'm comfortable getting a train, bus, taxi, or even a Mercedes (chicken bus). I figured it would be fairly easy to set up a cab to go back North to Morocco.

I took a cab to the International Cab Station, and communicated that I wanted to go North to Morocco. They said that's fine, and they'd be leaving soon, and took my passport, for they had to get permission for me to leave the country. I knew from my experiences in Morocco that "soon" is the Arabic word for a couple hours, so I sat down with the other travellers to wait, and read a book.

I finished that book and started the next one. I'd left early in the morning to catch the first cab, around 8. And now it was 1030. So I asked when we'd be leaving. Soon. A German guy came up to join our party. I waited. We needed to get enough people to fill up the car. No- the two cars. No- also the big van that was brought in. More cars, so we could wait more, for more people. Now it was 1130.

At 12, some excitement. We were piled into a Notice the sign is leaning?very nice cab and driven to the police station, 400 feet away. We waited about half an hour, and then were told to get out. We got into the back of a paddy wagon, with wood slabs for benches, and waited. At 1 in the afternoon we left. And remember what I said about the roads in Mauritania. This time it was on the wood slab. We got to get out ocassionally at check stops, but couldn't walk too far, as the sign graphically demonstrates.

A couple hours later we were at the Moroccan border. Ironically my paperwork was in order, but the rest of my compatriates had more difficulty. We were waiting a couple more hours there at the border, so I talked to some of my traveling companions about splitting a Moroccan taxi to get to Dakhla. They were up for it, so I told them to wait, while I ran and got my Visa, still being held by the border police. I got it, no problem (he remembered fondly from two days prior), and ran back- to find that the taxi had left. They couldn't wait the extra five minutes; they were in a hurry. Oh how I'd learn to rue that missed opportunity.

We finally got going again. But there was a problem with our van with the wooden seats. It couldn't go above 40 kph. So we sat there on piles of luggage and merchandise that the drivers had brought in with them to increase their profit on this journey, and we sat through the night, as I and the other Westerner made comments to each other in German about the state of mass transit. It grew dark, and we were still on our way to Dakhla. Until the car broke down.

We all climbed out and stretched while the driver looked at the car to make sure we were truly royally screwed. "Yup," he said. "We are truly royally screwed." Except it was in Arabic. After fixing the car for an hour or two, we were off. At 40 kph.

And then came to a screeching halt. We hadn't been the lead car in the caravan. Another had been. And his merchandise was strewn all across the road. Along with some of the passengers, sitting there, waiting for us. There are so few cars on this international highway that they could wait for us for two hours, knowing that we would be the first ones to arrive. They were waiting because the police had stopped them, and realizing that they were carrying contraband items smuggled across the border, had seized the car, some of the items, and some of the people.

So they clambered in, and we began to move again.

We arrived in Dakhla, a five hour journey from Nouadhibou, if you're on bad roads, at around five in the morning. I know because roosters were just starting to crow. If you've forgotten the beginning of this post, I left Nouadhibou at 8 in the morning. Or tried to.

We weren't in the main square of Dakhla, but somewhere off in the suburbs. But I recognized the area, and grabbed my stuff. I think the drivers were feeling a little guilty about how long it had taken, and tried to get me to stay with them, but I needed a more comfortable rest after that night in the back of the van, so I declined, and walked to the center square to grab a hotel room.

After a bit of a rest I walked around Dakhla and explored, as I hadn't had as much time coming down. I was very impressed with the intricate beauty of their spooling machine. I wandered around aimlessly, coming to this large domed building I'd seen in the dark on a previous night. As I rounded the corner I was shocked to see it was a church, and there, larger than life, a giant 40' cross! If you're not aware, you just don't see this in Morocco. They hide the crosses. The churches are behind high walls so you can't see them and no one would be tempted into Christianity. As dhimmis, it's even hard to get permission to do repairs on a church, not to mention building one. But here, in the middle of a large city, was a gigantic church, with a gigantic cross, and it was new!

Later that evening I was off on CTM, the national carrier busline of Morocco. (Not to be confused with sutiem, the Moroccan word for the brazziere. Ah, that never gets old...) This was high living. Occasional air conditioning, unlikely to break down, and a straight shot up North to Agadir, the most Southern city in the Northern half of Morocco. It's a long road to Agadir, and it's all desert. But the desert is not uniform. It is ever, changing, shifting, beautiful. And has some suprises. I watched the sand blow across the road during the wind storms. And then saw that evidently, this desert is harsh. It's even too hard for the camels to go it on the hoof.

It's a desert, but that doesn't mean without water. I watched the mist come in from the nearby ocean, covering the land like something out of a King Arthur legend on the moors.

And then, so wonderful, for the first time in my life, I saw it. Or rather, thought I saw it. A mirage. And I had never realized you can catch them on film. I'd always thought it was a trick of the mind. But there it was- water in the distance, beyond the reach of our bus.

The desert was ever-changing and wonderous. For the first four hours. Then it got long, and I still had another twenty hours to go. I talked with people near me, but there was only so much I could discuss in my limited Arabic. Then I read my books I'd been carrying with me. All of them. I got down to the last one, Railroaded. This was a book the author had sent to me because I was a top 1000 reviewer on Amazon. He'd sent it to all the top reviewers to try to get a higher rating on Amazon. In the first two pages a guy with my namesake dies. Now I'm uncomfortable with the author sending me this book.
Those first two pages were the best part. I do think this may have been the worst book I ever read in my life. It was filled with cliches and flat characters and stereotypes. It's the story of a black football player who gets played by a white hussy, who tries to make it look like he forced himself on her, but he's always good, so he never did anything like that. It's so bad that every time there was an item, it wasn't a sneaker, it was a Nike. With a "TM" written afterward. There was no description in the book- it was all telling. It was so bad that I was literally getting a headache after every few pages- from the book. But I had nothing to do for twenty hours, so three pages every ten minutes made me get through the book.
And then a nice little reward at the end. I love it how Moroccans practice art in their produce.


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