Still too cold to sleep, sunrise found me lying on one of the raised wooden platforms that we had eaten on the previous evening .. studying the early morning movement of herds of sheep and
goats ... wandering unattended through the village ... in search of their breakfast.
Unlike European woolly sheep, West African sheep are virtually indistinguishable from
the goats. The "best rule of thumb" is that sheep tails hang down and goat's stick up.
As dawn broke
, an early morning walk to discover our surroundings ... whilst a "full English breakfast" was being prepared ... revealed that we were on the edge of our first Desert Oasis. Long strings of
desert cattle wandered slowly but purposefully towards their grazing areas ... against a backdrop of palm
trees, full of the sounds of early morning bird calls.
A hauntingly beautiful sight.
Breakfast had been prepared and served "en suite" ... well, on the corner of our
"interior sand-sprung bead". Our travelling companions .. as yet not fully awake .. had emerged from under their covering of sand and were struggling to sit upright. A scrumptious feast of bacon, eggs,
mushrooms, sausages, fried bread, toast and marmalade ... was all a distant dream ...
so we ate our biscuits
, drank our coffee and prepared for another day of discovery !!
As we waited for our drivers and the taxis to reappear ( these and half our baggage had
unexplainably driven off into the night soon after we had arrived .. not for our drivers a night on the sand ! ) and the start of the never-ending discussions on baggage packing, early morning prayers and the
local Police Post to start functioning ... whilst more large herds
of cattle, sheep and goats with their respective herdsmen, passed through the village.
9.30 am and we were on our way ... into real desert conditions ... sand and scrub, numerous herds of the red cattle,
sheep and goats and our first close-up sightings of large groups of camels.
Stopping at small villages, some no more than a few Nomad tents with their 4 sides rolled up, giving them the look of multicoloured, patchwork marquees.
Arriving in Kankossa at around midday, covered in
dust and very hot, we headed for the welcome shade of the local tented "motorway service cafe" for a 5 hour rest stop. Food and the last of our bottled water were consumed .. my companion settled down to catch
up on missed sleep and just to prove the truth of a Mr Noel Cowards famous lyrics about
"only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun" ... I went for a walk !
Kankossa is a
large town on the edge of a large lake / river that we were to follow for a long distance towards Kiffa. In the distance ... a large, modern, windowless building, complete with many air -conditioning fans .. stood out
amongst the red earth block houses.
Evidently it had been supplied by the Americans, but it was too hot for me to walk over and investigate .. next time, perhaps. The large and sprawling market, however, was
A half hour search produced the only two small bottles of water available. Fresh supplies had not arrived that week and recognisable snacks consisted only of small loaves of tasty, but
sandy, local bread and chocolate spread. Although this area has an abundance of water ...
fruit or vegetable growing was hardly in existence .. whether due to the heat or preference, Mauritanians appear to be
livestock herders and meat eaters, not arable farmers.
The usual crowd of small boys with thousands of questions, desperately trying to remember English words learnt at school, soon accompanied my market
stall browsing. Once the inevitable "where from / where to and how can anybody possibly have blue eyes" questions were dealt with .. the cry of "Monsieur wants old beads" went up and I was gently
in six directions at once, towards likely sources of many hopeful ladies with Ouguiya signs flashing in their eyes.
Kankossa is not a centre
of bead interest in Mauritania ... very few beads of any description were in evidence. However, having discarded most of my "brat - pack" of new assistants to gain some peace and quiet, I came across
a tired and very frail lady who looked about 120 years old. After sending her daughter ( who looked about 90 ) scurrying off back to their home to look under the bed and find their long-forgotten treasured heirlooms
(?), they came up with a few lovely old earrings, a worn bracelet,
this lovely old silver prayer bead string and a brass locket.
My new-found friend then haggled with the strength and ability of a thirty year old car salesman ! In a mixture of French, Arabic and English, we eventually came to an amicable agreement ... well she was grinning with glee when the money changed hands ...
so I assume I paid at least 10 times what she had thought they were worth !!!
Away again around 5.00 pm on the final leg of the journey to Kiffa ... between high golden sand dunes, past many more
herds of camels and with the occasional lone Mauritanian,
riding his camel in the distance, framed by the backdrop of a beautiful sunset over the Massif de l'Assaba. A very wide road had been constructed a
few kilometres before reaching Kiffa, but was so rough that we kept to the sand. Then without warning, we were suddenly driving in the middle of a smooth and wide tarmac road, with a broad central white line.
"Funny that ... in the middle of the desert," we thought !
At the end was the skeleton of a newly constructed building, which, on enquiring, turned out to be the only sign of civilisation to mark
our grand entrance ... driving straight up the middle of the one and only runway of Kiffa International Airport.
At long last ... we had arrived !