Sunday, February 22, 2009


Mauritania! I love the energy of this place, the colors, the action. I am heading to Chenguetti tomarrow and then hopefully off into the Sahara on a camel, so no internet for a few weeks. I will be looking for petroglyphs, of which there are several known areas around. I have not yet found an internet with good anti-virus so have not uploaded any photos. I hope I can find a place to upload them before I do another long post so I can share everything through photos as well as words. Check back in three weeks or so.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Into Mauritania

Heading into the heart of the South Saharan territory really does feel as if you are going to the end of the earth. The landscape is dry, bleak, but beautiful. On one side is the deep turquoise of the ocean. On the other is a vast, empty landscape of brown. Scrub brush dots some areas and then gives way to rock and sand. Here and there are buttes and towering sand dunes. The sun is relentless and the wind a constant sculpting force. Occasionally, next to the ocean, a fisherman's hut stands in defiance against the harshness of the land. They are made of anything that the inhabitants can get their hands on; scrap wood, mud bricks, plastic, fabric, and are held together with fishing nets stretched over it all.

Every 100 kilometers or so is a military checkpoint. This is still disputed territory, but currently occupied by Morocco after a UN brokered cease fire in 1991. UN presence is still heavy here. At each stop I show my passport and answer the question " What is your job". "Estudiante" I answer, although I probably am getting a bit old to say that! After Tan Tan, it is 9 or so hours to the next stop, Layounne. Here I am again invited to stay with a family that I meet on the bus. The hospitality is amazing. Mom wants me to go to the Hammam and get my hands decorated with henna with her but I have already purchased my bus ticket for the next day. "on my way back through, Inshallah" I tell her. We feast on a traditional Moroccan Cous Cous dish which I have watched being prepared. The women give me gifts-a ring and the traditional Moroccan gown to sleep in.

The next day is another 9 hours to Dahkla, located on a peninsula surrounded by ocean. I have taken the government run bus this time, which is more comfortable but also a bit more boring. It takes me to the door of my hotel, where reservations have already been made for me. I have the room just next to the reception so that an eye can be kept on me; this hotel, like most in this town, is full of men. The bathrooms are shared and my long gown for sleeping comes in handy. I really must get a pee bottle! The hotel management helps me arrange transport for the border the next day.

To the border is more sand, more rock, more desolation. It is almost 400 kilometers and the journey to Noudabou in Mauritania ultimately takes nine hours. I share the taxi with a Mauritanian woman and a Moroccoan man. As we get closer to the border, I begin to see lone military standing straight and tall on the higher vantage points in the desert, surrounded by nothingness. At Moroccan customs there is one checkpoint after another.
"What ees your joba?"
At one checkpoint the officials hand me an orange.
It takes several hours to go through this five or six times. Finally we pass through a gate in the razor wire. Here the road stops. For the next two kilometers there is a maze of dirt tracks through the desert. The tracks are littered on either side with rusted out car shells, trash, and land mines. A group of 'guides' wait in their cars for hire to help you find your way to the Mauritanian checkpoint. Our driver has done this route many times and races past the guides before slowing down to crawl our way to the Mauritanian checkpoint. Here, we only have to stop one time and then we are headed to Noudabou and another part of the journey is complete.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Porn man and the men who chase.

Essoiria is a town of souvenir shops. Everywhere you walk "Mademoiselle" "bonjour" "just look" etc. etc. If you make the mistake of stopping you are sucked in. I stopped in one shop. I couldn't help it. The proprietor was beautiful, in long black robes and a huge black turban with the ends loose and flowing down on either side of him. He spoke decent English so I finally got to ask the question I have been wanting to ask someone since day one.
"Moroccan men, what are they thinking when they chase me down the street?"
He is embarrassed and plays dumb.
"What? What is this you say they do? They chase you? What then, do they want to talk to you?"
"Yes, they run down the street after me and want to talk. What are they thinking?" I persist.
"Oh, they must love you" he tells me.
I should really feel bad now for embarrassing him, but I can't stop.
"But do they run after Moroccan women"
"No" he concedes, and I let him be after that, as he is a healthy shade of pink.

After a day in Essouria I can't wait to get out. The plush bus does not leave until four and arrives at my next destination in the middle of the night, so I jump on the local bus at noon. I am headed for the Southern Frontier, from where I hope to be able to hitch a ride into Mauritania. This 11 hour bus journey will take me about 1/3 of the way. It is stiflingly hot and the seats don't recline but I am happy to be leaving the main tourist track. I am surrounded by men in turbans and robes and women in stylish jackets and hijabs or long flowing folds of fabric draped over them head to toe. Out the window the landscape is getting dryer and more rural. A pretty young woman in a black hijab smiles at me and gives me some food. Later she blows me a kiss. All is good until Algider. Here, the bus empties and waits for an hour to refill before continuing to Tan Tan.

Enter Porn Man.

The man who has sat next to me is watching cartoon clips on his phone. A minute later,I happen to glance over and he has his hand curled around the phone, trying to block the view as he watches it intently. Unfortunately, I still see it.
A woman is sprawled out naked behind a foot long schlong, which is the main focal point in the video. Freaking disgusting - I am sitting next to Porn Man. I decide then and there that if he touches me I will launch him from his seat.

We eventually make a stop for dinner at a row of roadside cafes. Porn man waves me over. He has ordered food for us and pats the chair next to him. I ignore the chair and take the one kitty corner, moving it even further away from him. As we eat I show him my wedding ring and inform him that my husband will be joining me in Morocco soon.

After dinner it comes. I knew it would. Moroccan men are very forward, and fast.

I should not go to Tan Tan. Tan Tan is no good, but Gourmime, where he lives, is very nice.
He has a very nice house in Gourmime and I should stay with him.
And finally, the icing on the cake; he is not married.
Said with a really disgusting, porn style, suggestive look.
I decline and go to find the toilet.
Back on the bus, I have seen a sign informing me that Gourmime is 30 km away. I am sitting turned towards the window and with my coat shoved down between Porn Man and myself.
Out of the corner of my eye I can see him staring at me.
"Gourmime 5 km"
Porn man begins to elbow me gently.
"Gourmime 2 km"
Porn Man elbows me harder. He is getting desperate. I glare quickly at him and look away before I can see make out what he is mouthing to me in his disgusting way. I already know.
Gourmime finally; and a dejected Porn Man alights from the bus.


At midnight the bus arrives in Tan Tan. Men are loitering all around. One jumps in front of me to try and talk. I avoid him and see the two women who where sitting behind me looking for a taxi. I join them and they invited me to stay at their home. This time I accept the invitation. Hakimas mother welcomes me to the family home with a kiss on each cheek and I end up staying two days with Hakima and her family before continuing south.

Monday, February 9, 2009


I arrived in Morocco yesterday, after two nights of travel, with one night spent trying to sleep in the Seattle airport and the next in a hotel in Madrid. I had planned on trying to fly directly to Burkina but the tickets where astronomically priced-for a foreigner at least-about 600 dollars for one way. This was the "special price, for you" that the Royal Air Mark guy promised me. So I am traveling south by land and will go into Mauritania, possibly Mali and Burkino if there is time.

After my failed bid for airline tickets I headed into Casablanca and immediately wished I had taken the train further on. Casablanca is too big of a city to start out with! This morning I was up at 6:00 AM and had to wake the hotel proprietor to give me the keys for the shower room. Then I was off to the train station where I happily waited an hour and a half for the next train to El Jadida, a much smaller and more manageable town by the ocean with an old walled section and twisty, narrow alleys.

In the evening things get really lively. It seems everyone leaves their homes to wander (women and men), shop (mostly women), drink tea in teahouses (men only), and loiter in the streets (men only again-huge groups of them). A lot of the younger men here are dressed over the top-fancy leather jackets, tight decorated jeans, and highly polished, pointed leather shoes or boots. It's a bit funny to see groups of them hanging out; it reminds me a bit of the movie Greece. As I pass often they will say things to me in French. Well, not knowing much more than a word of French I have no idea what they saying, unless it is bonjour (often it starts with that), but I can imagine where it goes from there. I have to ignore them or they will get encouraged and follow me! I have other problems, too, not knowing any of the language, mainly buying things. Most of today I have just been holding out a hand full of coins or a few small bills and let them take what they want! It seems to be working pretty well; for lunch today-which was a huge meal of a sort of stew cooked in a clay pot called Tajine, fresh baked bread, and lentils cooked in curry and cumin-I held out about 4 dollars of local currency and received about one and a half back in change!