Friday, December 21, 2007

Tabaski in Djenne

It is always rough travelling through new countries. It becomes especially rough when the countries throw holidays at you too. At the end of every Hajj (that's the month for the official pilgrimage season to Mecca for Muslims) there is a festival. It celebrates the day that Abraham was willing to sacrifice his son, Isaac, to God. Here the festival is called Tabaski (dad thinks it's great, but I hope he realizes it's not a spicy food) and although the important day is a single day, pretty much everywhere in the Muslim world takes 3 days to celebrate. Usually the transport during festivals shuts down or becomes totally swamped, prices go up and accommodation becomes harder to find. In this case the former is very true.
We didn't want to get stuck in Bamako so we head north to Djenne. Talk about an ordeal though because there was total mayhem at the bus station. I'm told it wasn't the normal mayhem but retardedly busy instead as everyone was off to their villages to visit family for the holiday as is the custom. There are numerous bus companies in Mali and many have their own station but all are fairly close together and we got to the first one at 6:30am trying to find a ride. All the buses were sold out so on we went to the next, and the next, and the next..... Imagine the main station, which at best is a large lot with a number of buses and minibuses haphazardly parked in front on a number of little tin shacks with destinations and prices on them, completely packed with people sitting and waiting for a ride to anywhere. We were followed by 5 touts that were trying to funnel us into particular shops and the men there would promise you the last seats on a bus leaving momentarily. It was impossible (and foolish) to believe anyone and I got sick of pretending to try to find a way out of there when we opted to go back to one of the other bus companies and wait for their 2pm bus. At least they had buses that we could see and a decent waiting area because it was a long wait from 9am until 3pm when it finally left.
It took us 1/2 hour to go one block down the road because of the chaos at a single intersection. We were lucky enough to be stuck near the front and could watch with amazement at 3 police officers attempted to direct traffic while yelling and screaming at drivers going every direction imaginable. They have no natural sense of direction I guess. The ride was a good 9 hours with the strangest part being all the other buses passing us completely covered with goats on their roofs (more on that later). We got dumped off at the junction to Djenne from the main road (buses don't go there) just before 1am so ended up setting up our tents right there beside the police check post. Why not? The following morning we waited for 4 hours before transport filled up to take us the 30km into town.
Djenne is a UNESCO town, due to it's mud-brick mosque, the largest mud-brick building in the world. It's pretty crazy looking but the entire town is made of mud-brick too, often of 2 or 3 stories, and on an island in a small river. It's not a very big town but very touristy and we were very quickly mobbed by all the little kids and potential guides wanting "gifts" and/or "money". Kind of annoying but we got settled in without too many problems. It's always nice to see a more traditional village style and the ladies washing their laundry and dishes in the river together. Lots of goats and donkeys, a handful of other foreigners but generally not crowded and plenty to see.
The following day was the first and main day of Tabaski. On Tabaski everyone sacrifices a goat and it would be very bad for your social standing to not be able to do so, so of course that means that the price of a goat skyrockets and there are goats EVERYWHERE leading up to it. In Djenne, all the people celebrate by wearing their best clothes, making some bonus morning prayer together and then slaughtering the goats at home. The blood literally runs down the little gutters in the middle of the streets, but the people look amazing in their highly varied and colourful clothing. It was nice because we could wander around without too much hassle because even the touts took the day off. We've just wandered and looked at the people and costumes mostly. The kids are numerous and although they initially come up to you asking for stuff, if you sit and chat with them for a minute they'll end up letting you take some pictures. They don't really care about the money, they just are told that's what to say, and they just want the attention. They have a thing about asking for your plastic water bottles (which they must reuse) and I had a good time last night doing mock battle with half a dozen of the wee beasties in the dusty main square in front of the mosque. It was pretty funny with me beating all these kids with my water bottle with all of us doing mock ninja/fencing stances and a bunch of other locals watching and laughing. Sometimes I find weird ways to amuse myself :)
We are a little stuck here as all the transport has stopped for the festival but we are trying to get out of here soon and make our way north to Timbuktu next.

Monday, December 17, 2007


Now I feel that I can say that I've really arrived in Africa. Mali is very different from Mauritania, as I expected.
The ride out of Mauritania wasn't as bad as I thought it would be. We separated from Jake again as he didn't feel up to the long bus ride and wanted to stop off part way to see some Koranic school in a little village somewhere. I mentioned before that they are not the same kind of Muslims that we've seen before. It's strange but Mauritania is one of the few Muslim countries I've been to that actually has banned all alcohol (of course you can still get it if you look hard enough) and the transport we've been on has actually stopped for all the prayer times too. That's actually pretty rare, believe it or not. And yet, the blacks are much more lax about the clothing they wear, with a lot more colour and females totally showing skin, even going so far as to wear tank tops. After so much time in the middle east this year, I must admit that it's a radical concept for me. And of course the sand is unbelievable, the entire country is a beach, with sand basically stretching from the water inland for thousands of km. But here I am talking about Mauritania again so lets get to Mali.
We arrived at the bus "station" at 8:30am to take a 9am bus out of Nouakchott. That's just the time they want you to show up by. The bus didn't actually leave until 11am because it took so long to get completely packed with people and luggage as everyone brought a ton of stuff, including table tops and giant pots, amongst other random items. In the end the underneath compartments were full, the roof rack on the back half of the bus was full and the steps area of the rear door was completely full and we still had to step over bags to get out the front door. There were a couple of people sitting on the floor by the driver too. They drove with the front door open to get a little airflow because the windows couldn't open and it was so hot. And there was even a guy with a bunsen burner making tea in the middle of the aisle.
The road was surprisingly good but the bus stopped all the time. There are so many police checks on the road it is crazy. I don't think they really check anything as the driver's assistant just jumps out to pay the bribe and off we go. It always seems like we stop more at night than during the day though so it is hard to get any sleep. The terrain was interesting to watch because when we left we were fully in the desert but gradually we got into the grassland zone with the odd tree here and there and then gradually more trees to finally get into the savannah zone which is still pretty dry looking but has slightly more trees than grass. By then we were in Mali and the villages we passed were mud huts with straw roofing. I really wished I had my own transport like a bike or was hitching at that moment so I could stop and check some of the villages out. I'm excited to get off the beaten track somewhere. Right now the most frustrating thing for me is the language barrier and I suspect we will have more interesting and informative encounters with the local population when we finally get to some of the english-speaking countries out here.
We crossed the border early in the morning, so early that the assistant collecting the passports skipped Bre and Savannah because they were sleeping and obviously forgot about them because they never got stamped out. Oops. We didn't realize we were at the border area until a little later when we had to get out on the Malian side. It was a little concrete hut surrounded by a couple straw ones and certainly didn't carry any air of intimidating authority. Nevertheless, the guard wanted a bribe to stamp our passports. We got through that without paying but did see the rest of the bus forking over some money. The annoying thing was that a little later the drivers of the bus started collecting money from everyone to bribe the customs guys and we ended up having to pitch in. The customs post was even more ghetto and was just two little shacks. That's the disadvantage of travelling on transport that will cross the border (many don't out here and you have to walk across) as nobody wants to wait while you argue with the guards. They all willingly pay up and since we are rich, we're expected to pay up even faster. Our bus ended up collecting over $100 (remember that this is the 4th poorest country in the world and the majority of people live on less than $2/day or so they tell us) to bribe the customs guys. What do the customs guys do? They immediately ask for double. I know life is tough out here but honestly, do you have to pay them so fast? It only encourages this type of behaviour. If it were up to me, well, ok, let's stop that line of thinking because I am abnormally stubborn about these things..... Africa will be tough for me in this regard. The bus took "only" 31 hours and we were lucky to be picked up by our host in Bamako, a nice family from China.
Bamako is a lot more developed than Nouakchott was and to me it feels a lot more like South East Asia than anywhere I've been in a long time. Not sure why but I'll take it as a good thing. Maybe it's because there are so many people on motorcycles and scooters again. Being out of full desert and yet still having that hot weather (that doesn't go down to freezing at night) is nice, as was the unexpected return of wildlife. There are lots of lizards and ants and it is so nice to hear birds, crickets and frogs again. The ground isn't quite sand anymore, it is a mix of red dust and sand so it puffs up a bit as you walk so now we are definitely in the wash-off tan kind of area. Your feet and legs are covered by the end of the day and need the shower to get it off and become pale again. Bamako itself doesn't have a whole lot to see except maybe it's markets. They are pretty chaotic and the centre's shops all seem to be little tin shacks on the side of the road. Sky and Bre went out to enjoy the nightlife on Saturday (it is supposed to be pretty good here actually) and dad is renewing his passport in Mali so we had a little business to take care of there. It is so much easier, faster and cheaper for Americans than Canadians to renew a passport. I'd be jealous but I have both :)
We are heading north again to the desert for a bit. Gotta get to Timbuktu, but first we'll stop in Djenne. Jake was supposed to meet up with us again today but I guess he'll have to race to chase us down now.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Cultural Exhange

I know that some of you out there don't understand the benefits of hosting, so I thought that I would show you a few (too many would bore you) of the comments that we have received from some of the people with whom we have stayed and become friends with. We love the exchanging of stories and life styles. So here we go.......

We met via Couch Surfing, and I hosted five of them for several wonderful days! I love this family, and I hope to meet them again anywhere in this world--or the next. I would trust any member of Watkins Travel with my life, my home, my car, my money--you name it. These folks live their values, and their values are the finest. I hope to know them forever and a day!

Watkins are the BEST guests, so host them--even if you live in a bed-sit. They have perfected the art of travel, and they have more integrity, honesty, respect, generosity, and humor than any folks you will ever meet. North America could not have better goodwill ambassadors, for they embody all that's good about it and none of the bad. I really cannot find enough fine things to say about this truly amazing family. And they have so much love and respect for one another and themselves that it's contagious. A day with these folks will change your life for the better, and you will learn more about our planet from them that reading a library of books, and you will understand what the term "family values" really means. And please, if you are lucky enough to host them, please treat them with kindness and respect. I can't wait for the book, film, and television series of their lives and adventures! As for the passport check, Ammon's passport tells a tale that will blow you away! I've seen tons of passports, but his is unique and deserving of a novel. You really have to see it to believe it! Be well, my friends! And come back to Ireland anytime, for you will always have a place in my home, just as you do in my heart! Thank you for enriching my life!

They were our guests in Malta for just two nights.
Hosting them was indeed an experience I'll be talking about for a long time. Every one of them is quite special and they have lots of tales to tell. Good luck in your journey and I hope to meet you again in Malta or even Turkey.
We met at an HC meeting in Malta

They're such a wonderful family. The bonds between them must be really strong to manage this long trip around the world together with the least of glitches. Keep it up and enjoy travelling. I hope that our paths will cross again some day and I'll keep you in mind for a trip on my ship once I become a captain :)

met them at Mario's place on Gozo and then "stole" them from him and took them with me to Gokhan and Seyda on Malta
what an amazing family! I was fascinated immediately - I had never met a family like them that traveled the world for such a long time. Never even heard of one. Apart from their great stories and outgoing and friendly personalities, it was a pleasure to sit back and observe the way they communicate among themselves, which is probably the real wonder or secret of their amazing journey. So if they contact you: don't worry about hosting the 5 or 6 of them at the same time, if need be, they all fit into a closet or a small room. You'll be rewarded by getting to know a group of travelers like no that I certainly will not forget and which I'll probably talk on and on about to other people. Simply amazing. Good luck in Africa and if you change your mind and come back to Europe - you're always welcome in Germany!

These people are definitely an inspiring bunch. I am sorry I couldn't spend more time talking to them as they have a unique perspective on certain things and are a source of courage and determination for the rest of us. I hope they pass by Bulgaria again in their wanderings.

......Again we would love to thank all our great hosts !! Without you our trip would never have given us the same feel of the world, its people, and their fantastic hospitality. Hopefully some day we will be able to reciprocate.
Maggie and the rest of the family

Saturday, December 15, 2007

A Savannah Journal Entry

I mentioned before that Savannah had amazing journal entries so I've stolen her journal, hee hee, and will give you an example of a day that she wrote about (minus all the sappy stuff about her boyfriend Grady, and all the bad stuff about me too. And that other stuff about Bre and the weird dream sequences and the song and dance about Rhett Butler, lol). Anyway, this day is the 9th of December and was the day we spent 11 hours in transit from Chinguetti to Nouakchott. Doesn't sound too terribly exciting right? This is totally raw but, well, check this out.....

Yay, travel day.....not. The guy changed the departure time from 10am to 9am and we didn't have anything for breakfast. Everyone packed up their backpacks and prepared for the journey ahead. Once again we let ourselves get rushed for nothing. We are taking transport out of here from the hotel because it is cheaper. He promised us a 4WD but at the last minute decided to arange a small mercedes for the first trip. Squishing is nothing new to us but there's a point where you've got to draw the line. I can't stand being around idiot people. They actually looked surprised when over 200 lbs of baggage and 6 people nearly crushed the poor car. The first driver said forget it and left. We sat and waited, with me cursing all stupidity, for the next car. We paid the driver his share then crammed everything into the car. I don't think it was any different from the first. There were three in the back with Bre and day packs thrown on top of them and Ammon and I shared the front seat. It's a good thing we're both toothpicks. It was terribly uncomfortable but I had a good view :) The road wasn't too wild but it was dirt and every so often my head would tap the roof or already cracked windshield. Luckily the road isn't anything like coming from Choum to Atar or I'd've been riding with my head outside of the car! There's no escaping the broken windshield here. They've probably made it fashionable to have huge cracks on the windows, haha. Plain land speckled with a few trees, rocks and roaming camels. My favourite are the graceful white camels. It took an hour and a half to get into Atar. Our plan was to pick up/meet Jake on the outskirts of town at the police checkpoint. We were driven to the station in town and as we pulled in we were promptly attacked by all sorts of drivers. It was at that moment that I knew for sure there wasn't any arranged transport for us out of there. The driver was hanging out of the car discussing and negotiating with them. Abdu had given us the impression that he had talked to someone and knew who would be taking us. Oh well, as long as we get it for the price we agreed to and get there alive. I wasn't going to complain. But before we could start worrying about that, we had to find Jake. "Jake and his damn bike!"-Bre. After unloading the packs, Ammon went back with the driver to look for him. As we waited we were offered tea and were annoyed. That didn't last too long because a policeman came by and got rid of a lot of the people. Ammon came back shortly after with Jake and there were no more delays but that didn't mean it was easy. There were no delays, we had all the stuff packed in, we all fit in without being too crammed and we had it all to ourselves (except for a small quiet guy in the front beside Ammon for a little while) for the next 436km on a beautiful, smooth, paved road straight through the desert. What could possibly go wrong? Right? Ha, was I forgetting that this is still Africa?? Shame on me! I didn't think it was possible to go 40km/h on such a perfect road. "Good for them, they managed a sneak attack on us"-Ammon "I honestly don't know what's worse, going insanely fast on a deadly bumpy road or going painfully slow on an empty, straight one"-me. It was a day of "I just don't understand...." but then if we understood even half of what they do, it wouldn't be Africa. I always seem to get stuck in the middle of things.....quite literally. I was in the back squished between Bre and Sky! Poor Sky always gets the short end of things. The worst part was when another car would not only pass us but would WHOOSH by like a bat out of hell! Every time brought me one step closer to boiling over and losing all control. Oncoming traffic was a smack in the face. The cars or trucks swept by so fast that we'd nearly get knocked off the road. "We're going so slow I can count the bugs on each blade of grass as we go by." - Dad. It was almost true. We knew from the start that we weren't going to make it there in the 6 hours but more like 10. It took us forever just to get 55km to the next town. Sky was worried about our safety and was getting paranoid. Who can blame him when the car has no side mirrors, rickety seats, no window handles, a cracked windshield, a broken clutch, missing lug nuts on 3 of the 4 wheels and not to mention a very questionable driver. He kept touching his right ear, slow motion like he was a zombie with an ear ache and I swear we caught him with his eyes closed a couple times. "I think he's got a brain tumour!" - Sky. It's like in "101 Dalmations" where the people look like their dogs, this guy matched his car! We only got to stop to buy food and water once in a tiny town. We had only prepared for a short ride. We started to worry about poor Jake's bike when we found out how it was tied to the roof. They carelessly strapped the rope to the tires then fastened it to the car so it is totally bent now. We stocked up on water and cookies because that's all there was. Mom passed out nice chocolate chip cookies. I was starving, as were the rest of us, but too many cookies made me feel sick. I would choose healthy food over junk any day. At the stop there was a donkey that Sky spotted standing like a prince with his cart. "Now there's a prize donkey!" - Sky. "Ya, it's like it's been airbrushed by the sand." - Jake. "Wow! No, seriously is it just my shades or is that donkey actually perfect?"-Sky
Sitting inside the car was like sitting in a caterpillar. We were all quiet and reading most of the way. When it started to get dark we were all a bit worried. "This guy probably doesn't even have working head lights!"-Jake "Well, they do try to avoid driving at night, headlights are optional." - Ammon. "Uhhhh, you guys why isn't he driving on the right side of the road?" - Sky. "I just hate arriving in a new city at night." - Dad. The night was dull and dark and even the stars seem faded. There was nothing but silence and darkness in the car. I was left to my thoughts only to be brought back to reality by blinding light! To Sky and me it was like a flash before death. Our driver drove with his lights on half the time and asked to borrow Jake's flashlight. I don't get that. I spend the day creating a perfect picture in my mind, only waiting to spill the words onto a page. If only my mind had a pen and paper of it's own. Bre and I listened to music after it got dark. I was leaned up against Bre sideways, legs across Sky's lap and over the bench in Jake's face. We all knew that the end was going to be difficult. We already had the driver ask for money because he had to pay a bribe. Well, damn, it seemed to us like he wanted to get pulled over. He was the only one that ever stopped when everyone else went zipping by. We finally arrived 9 hours later, exhausted and bitter and now had to figure out how to find our host. We originally wanted to borrow the driver's cell phone and have our host give him directions. It was the least the guy could do after being so late. He turned out to be a retard and had no intention of even pretending he wanted to help. A few people came and went until someone that spoke english came by. We got to use a public phone and the host had a taxi driver friend that could come pick us up. I'll never understand it but transport days wear you out.
The driving in Nouakchott is hectic, cars coming from all angles, cutting each other off and running pedestrians off the roads, AND sidewalks, haha. The streets are very dark at night (no streetlamps) making it nearly impossible to see the black people, especially by those who choose to drive with their headlights off.

That's enough of that. I am exhausted from all this typing. You get the idea and I didn't even write the whole thing out.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007


I think we were all happy to finally get out of Morocco and start heading into Africa proper. I say that because many people don't really consider the north African countries to be really African because the people are not black and the culture is so different, being more similar to the middle east and Arab or Berber. Mauritania feels like a transition because half the population is Moors (Arab or Berber descent) and the other half are black, usually related to the groups in Senegal. There is actually a lot of Senegalese influence here in the music, tv and clothing. The culture here is a bit strange. Mauritania until just a couple decades ago had legal slavery and it is suspected it still occurs in remote areas. Historically (and today) the Mauritanians have been very racially divided with lighter skins (the Moors) controlling everything. In my interactions with the locals here I'd have to say the Moors tend to have the most attitude and can be outright openly racist to you. Maybe it's the addition of Sky but even I have been called a terrorist. That never happened in the middle east. Conversely, the blacks here are more friendly and it is nice to see the change in clothing styles and all the colour in the clothing again. They are also Muslim (99% of the population is) but more relaxed about it in many ways. The whole country is desert pretty much and I've heard that the goats are fed cardboard because there is nothing green to give them. Not sure about that but there is definitely not enough green and the goats do hang out in the garbage piles eating rags and whatever else they can find.
I am happy someone is now helping with the blog writing. In case you are wondering what has happened to the others though I'll tell you this much, we did the first ever journal reading as a group where we all read the same day from all our journals as a comparison to see how we all write and what we focus on. Savannah's journal entries are so descriptive and detailed it is amazing and she works on it so much that she doesn't have time to write blogs. We'll just use her journal for the book instead. I wish you guys would have a chance to read some more blogs by her though. Dad can't be doing much writing these days because his arm is now more messed up than his back. His nerve into his arm through his funny bone is what's bothering him so he doesn't write much these days. Thanks for the advice Shean but as you know, proper medical attention is pretty tough to get out here. Sky thus far has the shortest journal entries I've ever seen so we are still training him up as a writer :)
Bre covered most of what we've done. The train ride was cool but I would never want to do it again. It was too cold at night and with all the sand blowing around it was very hard to see anything. Maybe if I had goggles and a proper mask. We've all been hacking up so much sand since we arrived in this country it is insane. One other thing I've noticed is that the desert out here is really windy all the time. I don't know why but it is the windiest desert I've ever been in and it is to the point where it just isn't enjoyable. I like running around on the sand dunes as much as the next guy but it is much better when you can open your eyes without the sand blowing into them. Having said that the sand dunes around Chinguetti are amazing. We went to Chinguetti in the first place because it was once an important historical oasis and important centre for islamic learning. It's glory days are long gone and it has shrunk to a mostly ruined town with 4000 people and sporadic electricity and services. Now it's a major tourist trap for French package tourists wanting to do camel safaris and the like. It was nice enough to hide and rest for a couple days with a minimum of hassle and cleaner air (lacking pollution, though lots of sand still). Atar is just the gateway town with the airport and other transport, we didn't stay any longer than to change our rides as I hate it. It is just a town of scammers.
Nouakchott, the capital was a painfully slow 9 hour ride away in a station wagon from Atar. It should be 6 hours but we somehow ended up in the slowest thing I've ridden in in ages. What is worse, a perfect road and slow car or an insane driver in a 4WD offroad with you getting thrown around in the back for hours? I'm not sure but I've had both in the last few days. Nouakchott, the capital, is the dirtiest big city (in a consistent kind of way) I've ever been to I think. And I've been a lot of places. The big difference is that there are so many cars on the road that can barely drive, and so many that aren't driving either. It's like walking through the middle of a junkyard and yet you are on the main streets in the centre of town. It's also got tons of garbage and the streets are mostly sand too. Tomorrow we'll head off to Mali. We are looking forward to getting even more "African".


Lucky me, I get to write the next blog. Lots has been happening lately. We left our hosts in Nouadhibou (they were great) to catch the 12 hour, iron-ore train that comes once a day. It goes back and forth from the mine to right outside of Nouadhibou. We caught it on its way back to the mine so it was empty. It is not meant for passengers, there's only one passenger car in the back that costs $10. Of course knowing us, if there's a way to do it cheaper we'll do it the hard way. We did it the way all the locals do, just hop into one of the dirty, open carts for free. The first thing we did was stocked up on food (bread, tuna and yogurt)and water for the ride. We were surprised when Jake showed up right on time with his new bike. He's good at popping out of nowhere. He's crazy (he has to be to travel with a bunch like us) but then again he does seem to disappear on us once in a while....ahah. I imagined that the train would be a bunch of empty passenger cars with a big sliding door just like in that one Simpsons episode. It wasn't anything like that though just big tub-like carts all lined up that we had to climb in to. I was right up there running with the locals trying to claim a cart for our group and chucking luggage up to someone to put in the cart just like everyone else. Even a few minutes after getting in we were covered in black! Quite the sight considering the train is 2 km long (the longest in the world) and drives right through the sandy desert. It was a long, rough and DIRTY ride but I wouldn't have missed it!! An unforgettable experience. It was really bumpy and I kept smacking my head against the wall when it was rocking so violently! Sky would lean over, trying to inspect the track and wheels and was convinced that our cart was the only one rocking, go figure. It really felt like it was going to jump off the track and tip but it was fun at the same time!
The only thing that really scared me was having to go to the bathroom. You can only avoid it for so long. It was pretty hilarious actually and it might sound disgusting... but I'm always the one to go first as the group guinea pig. So there I was in the corner with my cut open bottle trying to balance and pee while mom and Savannah held up a blanket to give me privacy....even though it was pitch black! It was so hard when it was rocking so much, windy, sandy, dark and everyone was laughing at me! I guess it was better than hanging over the edge, haha. Trying to sleep was impossible when I had Savannah's boney back stabbing me, I thought she was going to saw me in half! Sky was super cute always making sure everyone was tucked in and warm. There was so much sand that my eyes were basically glued shut. I felt like sand paper. Jake and Ammon stayed up talking all night. They love sharing their stories with each other....since they're both full of them, having been to sooo many countries. We arrived in Choum at 2:00 a.m. where we hopped a ride on a Toyota truck to the village. Sky, Jake and I were outside sitting in the bed of the truck on the bags. Arranging prices for transport is always hard. Poor Sky isn't used to fighting over only a few dollars. It was 2 hours to Atar from there, crammed into a van. There were four seats for the seven of us! It sucked, especially for Sky who had Savannah's boney butt on his lap the whole time! Then from Atar it was another 2 hours to Chinguetti. That ride was a little better. Sky, Jake and I were in the back of the pickup sitting on all the bags again. It felt like a rollercoaster we were driving so fast on the bumpy, dirt road through the desert.
Chinguetti was quiet. We took a camel ride and it was fun. It was funny because it was Sky's first time. Poor him and Ammon were complaining about their butts being worn raw. When mom was getting on her camel it started standing up too soon and she fell off right over the back. It was super funny and she just bounced right back up not even phased by it. It was fun taking pictures, jumping around in the sand dunes and eating lunch at a little the Sahara desert no doubt. The hotel guy kept feeding us dates and I'm still craving them! Sky and I are still having fun working out and doing our fighting moves on each other. It's really hard when we don't have much space in our rooms.
We are now in the capital of Mauritania, Nouakchott. We're staying with a really nice family. Savannah and I are having a lot of fun hanging out with the girls. We just got our hair braided by the host's wife. It looks awesome! Tomorrow we're taking a 36 hour bus ride to Bamako, Mali. The hosts here have been so amazing and I'm going to miss them. Hope everything is good at home. I can't believe it's Christmas already...and SNOWING. I was just thinking about how HOT I am right now.
p.s. Uncle Wade is so mean for coming on MSN and talking about cheese cake and candy and how it tastes so good and melts in his mouth. What a bratt, haha somebody please smack him for me!!

Monday, December 03, 2007


I'll start with Marakesh. I find it very amusing how we were always hearing stories about how awful Marakesh was for touts and hassle. Yes, there was some hassle but not very much at all, in my opinion...but then again maybe I'm immune to it after Egypt, India and other places. One of the most annoying things is how people complain about the hassle when they are the exact cause of it all. The best way to encourage begging and hassle is to GIVE away money to people who have done nothing to deserve it. A lady trying to do henna came and grabed my arm and started drawing all over me lightning speed, saying "Gift, gift. Present for you." Meanwhile I was saying "No,no,no; I don't have any money. I don't want it." Once she was done she said "Ok, now present for me. You give ME present." When I told her again that I didn't have anything (which I really didn't) she smeared it all over, leaving me with a big, orange stain on my arm! Great now I'm stuck with an orange arm. I guess it's not so bad, but it's the fact that she did something against my will.
I really like the markets and all the chaos involved. Walking down the streets you can hear dozens of snakecharming horns, loud story tellers, with horse carriage drivers shouting and mopeds honking at you to get out of the way! I nearly got run over... more than once! It's funny seeing lots of pets for sale on the side of the road.
I always love finding the cheapest hole-in-the-wall restaurants because you can really feel the atmosphere best there! I like the chicken kebabs and yogurt the best. I can gaurantee that the snails were...far from the best, haha. It wasn't that bad, more funny than anything.
Ammon's right about the long bus rides being dreadful. That's where my earphones, book, and patience come in most handy! I felt bad for dad since his shoulder is trashed. At least I can give him a good backrub to help. It was really funny when Sky saw some Moroccan soldiers in uniform wearing sandals. He couldn't believe it and said "You've got to be kidding me!! You gotta love how these guys are wearing FLIP-FLOPS in uniform.....So HEINOUS!!!!" haha.
Everyone speaks French here and I'm not as good as the others with it....but I'm sort of getting the hang of things. Sign language and charades work well enough for me. Everyone just laughs because I look like a monkey.
Mauritania is cool. I almost forgot how annoying flies could be! That's where tolerance is helpful. It's back to sand and bare green, hardly any colour in the buildings, cold showers, hand washing laundry (It's nice that they dry fast in the breeze and hot sun), lots of sand in your food, and little kids following you around. I really like the new style of clothing. The women wear lots of colour and the men wear blue or white cape-like gowns.
It's always great fun staying with locals in their homes. We set up our tents for the first time in the backyard which was fun. The stars are amazing.
We went walking just outside of Nouadhibou and found the ship graveyard! Ships are basically taken here to "die" and be left to rust and sink. As terrible as that's a cool effect. I love taking my self-defense and fighting lessons from Sky and dad on the beach even though it draws quite the crowd. It was all women taking pictures and cheering ME on when I practiced throwing Sky from my hip or shoulder to the ground. I'm a machine! Muaahahaaa. Super fun!
I'm excited to keep moving on. I love having the family together to share all of the experiences!!

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Western Sahara

Western Sahara is kind of like Tibet in that it is occupied by a foreign (non-US) country and nobody really seems to care much so nobody ever expects it to become an independent country anytime soon. It seems fine on the surface but then only because the occupying country has pumped its people and money into the area to make it look like something beneficial for the area when in fact the indigenous population has been seriously marginalized and is watched quite carefully. Or so I've been told. From Marrakesh it was a long 15hr overnight bus ride down to Laayoune, the "capital" of Western Sahara. It is largely a Moroccan population now and tons of money has been pumped into infrastructure in recent years so it is much newer and cleaner looking than many cities in Morocco. There is a sizable UN presence in Laayoune and one of the most obvious sights is that of the UN vehicles driving around. We were in Laayoune only for the day and didn't really do much since we were just waiting around for the next overnight bus to Dakhla further south. Jake did manage to meet a UN doctor from Malaysia so we got a little info on the situation as he is there to monitor it all. It seems that they are trying to take a proper census of Western Saharans (they are different and darker than Moroccans and apparently have more in common with Mauritanians) so there can be a referendum on increased autonomy. The outcome is obvious and the Moroccan government has been stalling and rejecting all attempts at this so things are kind of stuck. Jake was feeling really sick and wanted to stay in Laayoune with the Malaysian guy so we temporarily parted ways at that point.
The overnight bus to Dakhla was a miserable 9 hours. There were so many police checkpoints needing to record our passports that it was impossible to get any sleep. We arrived just before 6am and decided we'd stay a night in Dakhla because we were too wrecked to continue the next hard leg to the border. Unfortunately that meant waiting around a couple hours in the cold, watching the sunrise before we could check in to a hotel. Dakhla is a lot smaller than Laayoune but much the same story, obviously rebuilt and quite clean by standards out here. The people are quite a bit more friendly and nice too. We met a few overlanders heading south and tried to find a ride to the border. The border with Mauritania is over 300km away but Dakhla is the end of the public transit route so the following morning we walked several km out of town to the police checkpoint in the hopes of finding a ride south. With a smaller group the thing to do is try to hitch with foreigners heading south but we ended up paying for a ride in the back of a cargo van with a few Moroccans. It was a pretty miserable 11hr ride but probably nothing compared to what's to come :) We were in the back compartment, sitting on the floor playing cards most of the time but there were no food stops and it was pretty hot and stuffy in there. There is nothing along the road anywhere. It's just a mix of rock and sand desert with very little vegetation of any kind. Fortunately the dust wasn't bad as the road is now paved pretty much the whole way. Unfortunately dad has been having big problems with a pinched nerve in his back that is affecting his arm and is giving him a lot of discomfort so he's not having much fun. It started a little while ago but doesn't seem to be going away and we haven't had much time to rest it. I guess it's from his head dive in Malta though it took a week after that to start. No other major injuries to report at the moment.
Mauritania is a whole other world and things have changed quite a bit already. But that comes next time.