The Kiffa Trip


Day 3 towards Kiffa         
( continued )         

After 4 hours we eventually embarked .. sitting or standing amidst sacks and baggage in the back of the Mitsubishi .. unlike the previous Peugeot 507's  3 - 4 - 3 seating plans .. a 3 - 4 - 11 system seemed the norm.  5 minutes later we stop at a compound on the edge of the village ... everyone disembarked .. the baggage was unloaded and reloaded, with the addition of three more sacks of rice and two more people, which were redistributed in the rear. Now perched in a space suitable for a small child on three layers of baggage, I vaguely remember one of my Gambian friends telling me to willingly pay anything demanded, to ensure a seat inside. Curiously, many people had large, thick and brightly coloured blankets in their possession ... very unwieldy and taking up precious space."Strange that, in this heat," we thought !

The route to Selibabi was a rough track through sand and stones and across large boulders
in numerous steep sided and long since dried-up river / creek beds. Making it very slow and uncomfortable progress. Standing, sitting or just plainly trying to hang on to anything in the rear, made the thought of a two hour gym workout pale into insignificance.

On the outskirts of Selibabi ... as with most Mauritanian villages and towns, in the middle of nowhere ... we were stopped at a Customs Post where passports were asked for and then retained. "Oh, you can pick them up in the morning when we have stamped them," was the answer to my request for their return. "Regulations, you know." 2.00 pm and no intention of staying there overnight .. various phrases came to mind !! However true British forthright politeness took over and with a suitable amount of begging the officer concerned, finally relented and promptly handed over our precious identification papers to a non-uniformed, complete stranger who headed off into the distance towards town.

A mad scramble to keep said individual in sight, remember to get all our baggage from the Mitsubishi and follow our only means of identification, resulted in our arrival at the police post in the corner of the large open square in the town centre . Lunch was in progress .. everything stops for meals .. and despite our entreaties for prompt service so that we could continue our journey .. "Please come back in 3 hours," was the best we could achieve. Directed to seemingly the only Hotel / Restaurant in town .. aching muscles and not a little heat exhaustion forced us to eat a hearty meal of lamb, chips and onions ( cooked in a big pot on an open fire outside the front of the building ) ... drink copious amounts of local water ( from a big earthenware pot ), Cokes and coffees and relax on a series of thick foam mattresses lining the floor of a large carpeted, but otherwise empty, room adjoining the restaurant ... in the company of other "stranded" passengers under the welcomed relief of a ceiling fan.

As always, pretty soon we were in deep conversation with some local lads, wanting to practise their English, and our previous concerns over delays to our travel were assuaged. Mauritanian bush-taxis, we were told, never travel between midday and around 4 or 5 pm, due to the heat. Their houses are traditionally only furnished with carpets and these thick foam mattresses.

 A major effort was necessary to return to the heat of the market square, find our new
bush-taxi , repeatedly ensure an inside seat and recover our, now-stamped passports. By now, experience and a little more confidence in understanding the mixed French / Arabic language, gave an opportunity to have some fun with the taxi drivers in insisting that we leave at a European 5 pm at the latest .. not an African one !

At 5.30 pm their time, we eventually loaded up and set off, totally overloaded as normal and in company with the other taxi in the picture ( see link above ). As we arrived at each village .. a mixture of Arab tents, thatch-roofed round huts or earth-walled, windowless block houses .. many kilometres apart .. we would stop, offload and on-load passengers, goods, messages and the occasional animal. Speeds of up to a "staggering"45 kilometres per hour were occasionally obtained and "flying" was a regular occurrence ! Somewhat more comfortable inside .. especially when one is so packed together .. takeoff is a combined event and landings produce a unified groan .. The "Dinosorarse Syndrome" was much in evidence !!

Suitably equipped with a further Selibabi purchase of 4 meters of headgear ( two meters being insufficient ) and wearing wraparound sunglasses against the dust and glare .. each village, call of nature or prayer-stop was an opportunity to fall out of the cab and stretch our legs. Locals and many children would miraculously appear from nowhere to see who had arrived on their only form of contact with the outside world. They would even more rapidly disappear, with shrieks of horror, if I took my sun glasses off .. "Mon Dieu, a devil with blue eyes !"
 Sheer terror indeed !!

It is almost impossible for a first time traveller in the Desert to estimate distances and distance-bearing signposts, or indeed any signposts, are conspicuous by their absence.
As darkness fell, we thundered over yet more indistinguishable tracks.  Well deserved tributes to the toughness of the Toyota  and the navigational and driving skills of our driver are due. Unerring driving over seemingly endless kilometres of indistinguishable terrain, in areas so remote, without aid of any navigational instruments and in pitch blackness, has my undying admiration. For safety's sake, convoys of at least two vehicles travel closely together ..
I now know what "eat my dust" really means !!

Around 45 Km before Kankossa and at 9.00 pm we arrived at a village shrouded in almost total darkness .. climbing out into the gloom we were taken to a small Nomad encampment .. lit by candle light .. and informed that this was our resting place for the night. In foreign lands, and as we do in  our home surroundings, no one bothers to explain what is normal practise ..
normal bush-taxi practise, we now discovered, is not to travel late at night either.

The significance of all the thick, brightly coloured blankets slowly dawned upon us.

For a very reasonable price, food had been prepared in advance by the family in residence .. sheep or goat meat, so tough that it was almost impossible to chew, on a bed of cous. Water, both to drink and to wash your hands and face with, was supplied from 40 gallon oil drums.
I don't think the en-suite showers were working that day !!

Both taxi's compliment of passengers searched for room to sleep. There were two smallish nomad-type, canvas-sided tents, already full with sleeping bodies and no other covered choices. We squeezed onto the corner of a large rough blanket, which our new found friends and travelling companions had spread on the ground .. and settled down to sleep under the stars ...  in the, thankfully falling temperatures of our new "hotel bedroom."

Waking up at 4.00 am in the morning, shivering with cold, despite a fleece jacket and two pairs of African trousers, to a gale-force wind and a sandstorm thicker than a London Smog ..
was no joke !!  Still .. dawn would inevitably bring the warm sunshine
and tomorrow was another day ..........

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Day 4