Gouray is a tiny village with a small market, a few provision shops offering little choice,
a Police and Customs post and a small Taxi-Garage for onward journey connections.
visitors to Mauritania should stock up on the basic essentials of items of food, drinks and cigarettes etc., that they are familiar with, before leaving Bakel.
Having completed Immigration formalities of passport and papers being lengthily scrutinised and eventually stamped, we were ushered over to the Senior Customs Officer to give an account of our
intended journey, moneys brought into the country ( which have to be listed and signed for in yet another office ) and taken to a local shop to exchange our CFA ( Senegalese currency, easily obtainable at a
reasonable rate of exchange anywhere in The Gambia ) into Ouguyia ( Mauritanian currency .. pronounced "ugeeya" .. which is almost impossible to obtain outside Mauritania ). A receipt should
always be obtained for any exchange transactions and retained for inspection when you leave the country.
That crossing a few metres of water makes so much difference in the habits and customs of peoples, separated by such a short distance, is amazing. In Senegal, The Gambia and countries further
South .. as a traveller, one is met with broad smiles, tons of extraneous chatter and the firm conviction that nothing, but nothing, is ever any problem !
Mauritanians, especially those in
authority, have the North African / Arab initial approach of complete seriousness, rigid adherence to the rules and a straight face. All the problems are pointed out first and the solutions come later ! Don't be
put off by this, seemingly, unfriendly attitude. Experiences in Morocco and Tunisia have taught me that these people are every bit as friendly and helpful as their counterparts further South .. and so it proved
to be with all the Mauritanians we met throughout our journey. They really are super people .. it's just that their initial approach to strangers is not so open and smiling.
The local dress
changes from the brightly coloured tie-dyed and batik in Senegal to lightweight pastel coloured material for the ladies and incredibly wide lengths of mainly blue or white heavier cotton for the men. These "kaftans"
stretch at least from fingertip to fingertip, when opened out, with a deep centre pocket and everything from plain stitching to ornate decoration, depending on the cost and the occasion. The male ensemble is
completed with very baggy trousers and a few metres of cloth wrapped around their heads for protection from the heat and the very fine, sandy dust.
Having found our transport, this time a fairly modern Mitsubishi 4 wheel drive pickup, for the next leg of our journey, a short distance to Selibabi, we found ourselves with a few passengers
in front of us and were "ticketed" for a "seat" in the rear. Assured of only a short wait before departure by the enormous, but friendly, taxi-controller .. we settled down in the shade ..
sharing the boiling water for making our coffee, which he was brewing on a wood fire and studying our future travelling companions as eagerly as they studied us.
As the hours went by, repeated requests as to "Are we full yet ?" were met with "Soon, soon my friend". The hottest part of the day bought with it the realisation that more
bottled water was not available, fruit was an unknown quantity, apart from a few scrawny oranges the size of hen's eggs .. and no one was in a hurry to go anywhere. I was happy to "eat my words" and
apologise for all my complaints about hauling heavy bags of full-sized and luscious oranges, all the way from Brikama !
The idea that a suitable purchase of some material for a Mauritanian head-dress for
myself .. would pass the time and probably come in useful .. lead me to retrace my steps to the local money changing shop, which was Arabic speaking only .. attempting a first purchase with my new currency and
no Arabic. Sometime later after a lot of sign-language and not a little amusement amongst the family running the shop, 2 metres of black, Chinese polyester material had been purchased, quite cheaply .. and
lessons partially learnt in how to wrap it securely in place.
On emerging from the outfitters, now a "proper Mauritanian" and adjusting the wing mirror of the nearest Landrover to achieve
a more "Lawrence of Arabia look" ... I was met with a barrage of laughter from the assembled crowd of people which one usually finds, waiting in the shade at most crossing points !!
Some of my new audience actually fell back off their log seating in hysterics.
They reckoned that it was the best entertainment they had had for years !!