844 days, 20,256 hours, 1,215,360 minutes, or 72,921,600 seconds. That is the approximate duration of my world tour. I never wanted it to end and now, in a manner of speaking, I suppose it never has to. If you wish to go by country do so by clicking on one above. They are numbered in the order I visited them, more or less. If you enjoy reading about it even a tenth as much as I enjoyed living it then you will not have wasted your time. Grab a refreshing beverage, settle in a comfortable chair, and make a journey across the world, experiencing it as I did. Then get off your ass and check it out for yourself. You're not getting any younger.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

The Road to Terjit (Adrar Region, Mauritania)

Dec 9th, 2010 - (Nov 11th-12th, 2010) I see people living in this part of the Saharan Desert and think: If the world were to end I'm not entirely sure these folks would notice I had a dream the other night that I was discussing taxes with Newt Gingrich. He told me I was naïve because I said we should tax people who can afford it. At some point in my dreamscape a giant tree came alive and started to chase me but a woman came out of her house and shooed it away. Thanks. Later, I was collaborating on a movie with Matt Damon. Finally, I published my own book by merely hitting 'print' on my computer. Out popped a book in hardcover format. Busy night.

Remember how we had an electrical problem with our vehicle (fuse) and how Ahmed told us everything was kosher? It wasn't. After packing the truck and saddling up we were delighted to discover that the battery was deader than a fargin doornail. Great way to welcome the day.

So Ahmed made his way back to the village of Ben Amira on foot to see if he could round up another vehicle to give us a jump. He told us he'd be back in five minutes. That's five minutes of 'Ahmed time', of course. In Ahmed time five minutes equals anywhere from twenty minutes to two hours. We never did quite decode his formula.



He returned in another vehicle, pulled up along the front of ours and proceeded to bring our Toyota Heliux back to life. Success. We kindly thanked the good Samaritan that supplied the charge and watched as he drove off. Ahmed put the truck in gear, drove approximately 6.2 feet and then stalled. Guess what? It would not start. He exited, walked in the direction of the recently departed truck, and began yelling…..to no avail. This was not surprising as said truck was halfway back to Ben Amira by this time. Awesome. This time we were told the delay would be ten minutes.

Ahmed returned with a different Samaritan whose efforts to revive the Heliux failed. Apparently, the battery in his jeep had seen better days and did not have the power to emancipate us. Back to Ben Amira. Third time's a charm. With an entire family in tow another 4WD pulled alongside and managed to get the Heliux running…..again. We were fine as long we never shut off the engine. Perfect scenario for the desert.

On to the village of Choum where we filled up on diesel and spent more time trying to solve the battery puzzle. After some intense efforts on the part of Ahmed and a local mechanic we were once again informed the fuse was burnt, the battery was dead, something, something, blah, so forth and so on. We had to make our way to Atar three hours south to, in the words of Ahmed, 'solve the small problem with the battery'.


Choum is not the most salubrious of places. (Photo by Leslie)





What can I say about the route between Choum and Atar? More exquisite scenery. More desolate, spell-binding views. End of the earth. Middle of nowhere. Land that time and God forgot. Armageddon, Apocalypse. You get the idea. Perfect place for a breakdown.





I feel a giggle fit coming on.





We made it to Atar and settled at Bab Sahara, a quaint little auberge catering to overland traffic. By this time Ahmed was beginning to grind on us. His prevarications, equivocations, and bullshitations were becoming less and less amusing. I believe much of it had to do with the cold harsh reality that Leslie was not going to be his bride. If I'd known this was the crux of his motivation for the trip I might have advised Leslie to give him a little sugar, maybe put a little extra little sass in her step. Then again, if he thought he had a shot he might have strangled me in my sleep.



Upon arriving at Bab Sahara Ahmed informed us that we needed a new battery. No surprise there. Some time after he apparently then mustered the courage to ask us for the money. Normally, this would not have been a problem but our banking issues put us at a disadvantage. We were relying on our limited funds to get through the next week to ten days. I had to point out this out to our fearless leader because it was he who assured us this would be no problem and that we could settle up in full when we arrived in Nouakchott. The added cost of a new battery might sink any plan for an extended trip. I was only trying to clarify not deny him the necessary funds. He relented a bit and took enough money for a fix, not for a new battery. I have no idea what the hell he was thinking. We wanted to give him the money but we had to be clear that without an ATM we would run out of moola which would be bad for everyone. However, if we needed a new battery, we needed a new battery. Did we actually need a new battery? Apparently not, as Ahmed took only enough money for a fix. In all honesty I was starting to lose my shit.

Leslie and I went for a stroll into Atar to see if we could spot the elusive automatus tellamaticus (ATM). Along the way we met some exceedingly friendly folks that pointed in the direction of a couple of ATMs. We found two candidates but both were out of funds. It appears we were to find no paddle for Shit Creek.


In much of Africa men strolling arm in arm is not even remotely homosexual, rather it is a sign of friendship. When in Rome. (Photo by Leslie)



We also did a little research into finding alternative transport as our confidence in Ahmed was declining precipitously. It was a non-starter. Not only did we neglect to find a suitable option even if we had our money pickle would have put the kibosh on the plan. Ho hum.

Upon his return Ahmed informed us that the problem was fixed....again. No need for a new battery. You promise? By this time I was in the midst of one of the most terrible head colds I have had in recent memory. My eyes were an uncorked fountain of water and my nose a bottomless pit of mucus. I was miserable. A cold? In the Sahara? WTF? Oh yes for the fine mist that is Saharan sand can clog your shit up, brother. On top of that the room we slept in was exceedingly dry in a 'constant state of asphyxiation' sort of way. Lovely.

Imagine our mood the next morning when we discovered our truck would not start. Off went Ahmed again to do whatever the hell it is he was doing. While we waited we made our way to the local banks to see if we could utilize one of the ATMs we'd spotted the previous evening. Bonzai! We were in luck but Mr. Bank Manager told us we had to wait an hour or so for them to stock it with cash, which, of course, we were happy to do. With oodles of dough we went back to the hotel to meet Ahmed. Upon arrival we noticed a definite hint of consternation in his voice due in no smart part, I surmised, to the perception that we may have abandoned him. Now he needed the dough for the new battery. Shocker. We packed our things and went to buy a new battery. Ahmed's 'ten minutes' turned into nearly two hours.

While wanting for the magic electric box to be installed in the Heliux we loitered in the street nearby for a spell. I noticed Leslie photographing an approaching lorry. Although she missed it one of the gentleman riding atop the truck gave her the warning finger wag to inform her that photographs were a no-no. The warning was about as friendly as the crew manning the truck. It was one of those moments that send a chill up your spine and make the world, at least for a moment or two, a much more frightening place.


Photo by Leslie

Photo by Leslie

We had a new battery. We had more cash. We had each other. We had Ahmed. Our lives were perfect. Off to the oasis at Terjit. The route led us through desert canyons filled with signature Sahara orange and rock formations that I presume would make a budding geologist as giddy as a school girl. Come to think of it I would have appreciated the company of a geologist to explain to me what the hell I was looking at. At one point along our route it appeared that a boulder of biblical proportions exploded into a million pieces which were then equally distributed among the landscape. Fascinating. Mind boggling. Captivating. And through it all we had cell phone service. Can you hear me now?


Camel jam outside of Atar.



At the gendarmie (police) checkpoint outside the village of Terjit we ran into a young Dutch gentleman (Yoris) that we'd met at the Mauritanian Embassy in Rabat. He had taken the ore train from Nouadhibou and just happened to be arriving in Terjit at the same time. He'd ridden in an empty ore car of the train for twelve hours sipping endless cups of tea with the locals and inhaling copious amounts of ore dust. He then took a bush taxi to Atar followed by a hitchhiking stint to Terjit. I was a bit jealous but knew his French language ability made that scenario much more rewarding. He told us how one of the railway workers at the station in Nouadhibou had pleaded with him not ride in the open cars, to instead vie for a seat in the single passenger car for his own safety. Yoris wanted none of it. Terrorism-smerrorism.

The oasis at Terjit is the stuff of fairy tales. It is nestled in a narrow canyon just above the village and instantly instills a sense of peace and calm for all those that enter. The area surrounding the canyon has all the ingredients of a surrealist painting. For me it's the contrast of the semi-florescent orange desert sand with blue hue of the sky and the deep earth tones of the canyon walls that give the region its magical aura. It is a superb place to lose one's self in thought. Actually, it's a great place to just lose one's self entirely. I did. Then I found myself. It took a while but there I was. Phew.

After an afternoon frolic in the canyon above Terjit Leslie and I decided we wanted to stay in the tented auberge inside the oasis. You'd be an asshole not to do so. Shouldn't have been a problem, right? Wrong. Ahmed no likey. Upon proposing this course of action he mentioned another oasis a short ten kilometers away that was the 'same' (i.e. not remotely similar) but upon reiterating our desire to stay retorted something along the lines of 'as you wish'. Uhhhhh-huuuuh.

He then went on to explain that sleeping in the oasis 'would be very dangerous' for him. Why? Malaria (insert dramatic gasp here accompanied with ominous piano score). Now at first we were naturally concerned as we knew there would be many mosquitoes. We reconsidered. Upon inquiring once again (this time in the presence of an employee) we discovered that the threat of malaria was pretty much nonexistent in that area. Ahmed was forced to relent when rebuffed by the folks at the auberge. He is not a big fan of relenting. Then he said something about the place not being secure because anyone could enter from the canyon above. A valid point but brought forth at a suspicious juncture in the conversation. We decided to stay. He then informed us he would have to sleep at an auberge in the village because the buzzing of mosquitoes would prevent him from sleeping. Why all the subterfuge? What did he really want? For us to stay at the auberge of a friend in a nearby village. Fucker.

We ate dinner and then retired to our tent (the presence of bats forced us to relocate once). Shortly thereafter everyone disappeared...like Moorish ninjas. Ahmed and all the employees slept elsewhere. By then an eerie wind had invaded the oasis filling our ears with a myriad of haunting sounds any one of which vaguely resembled someone skulking in the area outside our tent (the swaying of palm leaves in the breeze can be particularly spooky). It was a less than stellar night's repose. The play of light on the outside of the tent combined with the previously mentioned array of audio stimuli left me waiting for Binney (as in Osama) and the Gang to make an appearance. I could almost see the outline of a man holding an AK-47 on the tent fabric. Yes, I let my imagination get the best of me. I'm a silly rabbit.







Photo by Leslie











Mars? (Photo by Leslie)

Our first choice. We were forced to relocate due to bat activity.


Aren't camel spiders just the most adorable creature ever? Awwwww...

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