Mauritanian Tea – Atai

Mauritanian Tee – is not just a beverage but has an entire tradition attached to it. As a guest you are served three times. Each glass of tee that is served is prepared from scratch, i.e. fresh tee, water, mint and lots of sugar.

Qualities: Sweet, foamy, less, 3 glasses as tradition, wait between serves

I think the video explains better than words.

No Man’s Land – Morocco-Mauritania border

When you are travelling on a highway surrounded by the vastness of Sahara, one wonders if the vastness will ever end. And as a rude shock it ends – in a border between two countries. Without sounding political – it just goes on to show the absurdity of the imaginary line drawn on maps dividing people into countries, and spreading hatred.

Anyways, Day-5 of our journey brought us one such line – “Morocco-Mauritania border”. Did I just say Morocco though it is Western Sahara. Well there is a reason for it. The last check point before the border corssing is manned by the Moroccon Gendermaerie, and the relationship Morocco-Western Sahara-Mauritania is too complex, just read the wiki here.

 

Driving alone on the higway came to an end as we neared the border. From here the procedure is simple and listed below:

  1. Get our passports exit stamped
  2. Cross the border into the UN-Buffer zone
  3. Drive through it
  4. Enter RIM territory
  5. Get our passports entry stamped
  6. Customs check of the goods (if we have any thing illegal)
  7. Get tourist permits
  8. Get insurance for the car
  9. Drive away into RIM

So to the step before the first step… get ourself at the end of the queue – and wait, and wait, and wait.

Apparently the computers broke down so we could not get the passports stamped. Some how after a three hour wait, it was done – I will not go into the details, but being a vetran of this route, Abdallahi got it done which involved a shouting match, emotional blackmail of the guards by showing Mohammad, and some “GIFTS”.

So time to kiss the asphalt tarmac good bye for the next 2-4 km. There, infront of us is – what is called “No Man’s Land” or “UN Buffer Zone”.

We could see the Mauritanian flag – our destination…

This strech of road is not maintained by anyone. And we could see “the way” littered with vehicles stripped to the chassis. If a vehichle breaks down here and cannot be repaired, then the only way is to save all you can.

Did I say about landmines – ohh, yes there are landmines. Check out this collection of landmine information. If we dont wander too far off we must be safe, say every one. As we started out unfortunately there was no one in front of us to tail them. So we were to chart our own way. Abdallahi took the wheel and Murat was directing – locking ourself to the destination, but keeping an eye only for the next 10-20 m.

After about 45 mins, I guess we took an extremely strange route, we were suddenly right infront of the RIM gates with all the vehicles that reached there before us waiting in the queue behind us. The RIM border police had a huge laugh about it, and let us in immediately after the initial formality.

That is the “No Man’s Land” or the “UN buffer zone” part of our journey. It was a thrilling 45 mins drive, passing by vehiches that could not make it.

In all the thrill I didnt manage to take sufficient pictures or video, and had a total of 35 sec video and some pics which was plugged into iMovie trailer project to elongate it… resulting in youtube video at the beginning of this post.

Lamb grill and Porridge & bread

Our lunch during our “Day out in desert” was a nice three course meal:

1. Appetizer – Lamb grill over coal

2. Main course – bread with porridge

3. Dessert – Mauritanian tee is sweet enough to doubles as a dessert

And here is the recipe for the grill, porridge and bread. For the Mauritanian tee I will dedicate a separate post.

Course-1 Grill:

After the Lamb is prepared, the pieces were separated for grill and porridge. The grill pieces were the legs and shoulder. Remember we dont have big knife to cut the bones, so the size of the bone was the size we could get to. Now this grill is pretty simple, we used salt-stone to salt the meat, and what else, throw in the fire. There you have the best grill – smokey.

Note: The fire was kindled on a heap of sand, using the dry twigs – The reason I mention this, you will know shortly when you read about the bread.

Course-2 Bread with Porridge

Preparation of the porridge must begin along with the grill, as the meat will take longer to cook.

Porridge:

The rest of the pieces go into a pot with water and salt and cooked till the meat is tender. The baked bread is crumbled into small pieces and mixed with the porridge. That makes for the healthy meal.

Bread:

Here are the steps.
1. Flour with water
2. Make it into a nice smooth dough
3. Clear off the ashes till you get to the sand
4. Make the kinda small pit in the sand
5. Lay a piece of wet paper (the paper is only there to protect the dough from the sand)
6. Spread the dough in flat and lay on the wet paper
7. Cover it up with another piece of wet paper
8. Push back the sand and ashes over the paper
9. Leave for a good 15-20 mins
10. Clear off the ashes and sand to recover your bread
11. Now remove the paper which is now dry, if it sticks to the bread wet the paper again to remove it
12. Remove the big pieces and spread them over a plate
13. Crush the bread into the porridge and spread the crumbled bread with the porridge over the meat pieces

That is the the recipe for self made bread in a self made oven in the middle of a desert.

Day out in the desert

Desert has a Fascinating romance attached to it, add to it the nomadic bedouin on his camel with his caravan – and one wonders, isn’t it an interesting life.

Well I can vouch for the interesting part of it and can also at the same time confirm that the city life (almost since my childhood) has just not prepared me for such a nomadic and hard life.

We decided to have a day out in the desert, i.e. really move out of the city into the sand. The ideal location was chosen – an oasis – about 250 km away from Nouakchott. We took the needed things for our stay, and bought a sheep to be our lunch. And had one big canister of water and about 2 liters of water each. If you are wondering oasis and still carry water – did I say we were city spoilt. Lets just say we didn’t have the “guts” to try “that” water.

Early rise, quick breakfast and in the car. This time accompanied with Mohammad, Abdallahi’s brother-in-law. The drive takes us again on the same kinda highway which resulted in the flat tires – and no surprises we did have a flat tire. Only one. Driving at about 100 km skim out of asphalt and viola – you have a flat. The difference over here, it was day and only one flat. So, quick change to the spare and we were good to go. Stopped at a small town on the way and bought a (believe me or not) second-hand tire for about 10 EUR.

Still some travelling further, the highway passes along a rather small watering hole, and we saw some (many) camels taking their break. The leader of the caravan let us take a ride on his camel. After perching myself on the saddle (which itself was not easy), the movements that the camel takes to get up from its sitting position throws the rider either forward or backward – and for me the first camel ride, was definitely not easy. It was an achievement for me just to still be sticking on to the camel back. Well, the same goes for getting of the camel too.

Some distance before our destination we bought this small sheep, which had to be transported along with us in the car. Panic, perhaps, it excreted in the car, and we were trying to catch it with our hands so as not to spoil the car.

Finally close to the destination, the change in scenery was breathtaking – from the dry desert sands suddenly there are lush trees and grass which looks like a wonderful green carpet spread out. And to highlight the change are herds of animals that come to the watering hole, first a group and some how they know when they are done they move off, then another herd and so on… All kinds of domestic animals – sheep, cows, buffalo, donkeys, camels, horses were on parade one after other.

Found a nice spot not far from the oasis, spread out the blankets, slaughtered the sheep in the name of Allah, kindled a fire, shot a few pics., started grilling on fire a few of pieces while the rest were used for cooking a kinda porridge. A classical Mauritanian bread was prepared, check out the recipe here. After a hearty meal, just lazed around for a couple of hours.

By about 16:30 it was time to search for a sleeping spot. As we were driving away from the watering hole we passed a herd of camels which were being prepared for the night. If you are wondering what is preparing for the night – I will post soon with all the details along with all about milking the camel and about its milk.

Now, darkness falls pretty fast here, and we had not yet found our sleeping spot, luckily for us Mohammad knew approximately where we had to head to reach a nice place to sleep. Passing along some shrubs – which have small thorny things which cling on to clothes, fur, skin (some one with more botanical knowledge can point me to the name), we got a lot of those. These thorny things are not irritating – but down right painful. The technique to get those off is to wet the hand either water or spit and slowly rub along the pants to get them off. The collected thorns are not to be thrown around, but covered with sand – so they don’t get on you again.

Finally we reached the spot – we could see the city in the distance, other than that it is nothingness. So by 20:30 mats were spread to sleep and within the hour we had finished off all topics to talk and slept.

I didn’t immediately, the clear night sky was just too good to ignore. The still night sky was only disturbed by a shooting star which was a welcome sight for me. Some time later I dozed off too.
Desert has a lot of beetles and some time by 03:00 I was awake – don’t really remember because of the beetles or of the cold. But, I was up. Flicked the torch and there were a lot of these beetles (even inside the mosquito net used by Murat). These are just a nuisance and can be ignored. But the cold I couldn’t ignore. Finally got a blanket and slept.

Why was it cold in the first place? 

The sand dunes have highs and lows – the high places are cold because of the wind that blows across, while the low places are relatively warm. But there is one huge disadvantage of the low places – the wind takes out the fine sand from the high places and deposits on the low places. So we avoided the low places.

By the first string of light we could hear in the distance Muezzin’s call to prayer – and one by one we were up. Offered the Fajr prayer and made our way to the highway where we had some bread with Mauritanian tee. That was our “Day out in desert”.

The fascination still remains – and Inshallah (God willing) I wish to do it again for a bit longer. And, wish to make a small trip too with a caravan.

The African Stage – final dash…

Friday, October 12, 2012

The final dash to Nouakchott was finally upon us, and early we did rise. The ride was pretty good and easy and we reached our destination – finally the city of Nouakchott was there for us. In the city itself, the family of Abdallahi’s sister were playing host to us. We were welcomed to a stupendous meal, full three course. Now the three course meal is as follows:

  1. Dates with milk cream to begin with
  2. Kuskus with lots of vegetables and meat
  3. Mauritania tea (this is a ceremony in itself… I will give a separate post to it)

After some rest and relaxing we went to the wonderful beach in the city.

Nouakchott beach

Thus, with the setting of the sun on the Atlantic horizon the 3 stages were covered, all that remained was to head home.

The African Stage – 2

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Started out early to be able to reach the port city of Nouadhibou as soon as possible. The drive from Ad-Dakhla to the border is one stretch of no-man’s land in the literal sense of the word. This road travels parallel to the Atlantic coast and in some stretches close to the coast. But this coast is very different from other ones in that, the land rises steeply after the coast.

Well apart from the expected delay at the border crossing, a thing to report on this day is the UN buffer zone between the Moroccan and Mauritanian border.

NASA could have also used this piece of earth to test their Mars rovers and if it managed to cross the buffer zone then Mars would be a cake-walk.

After entering Mauritania territory, smooth progress. As luck would have it we were at the level crossing of the world’s longest train, took a couple of pictures.

Journey progressed smoothly till we reached Nouadhibou.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Rest, and look around the city famous for its port, and also as the end station for the longest train in the world. Read about it here.

The African Stage

Since this is the last stage of the journey and the destination I will break down this stage in days, with the initial days all in this post, and I really hope that I get a stable connection for a daily update.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

By now we were almost finished with our ration of home food, which was good – we could eat now “Moroccan Food”. First pit stop was gas for the car, and Tajine for us. It was tasty but such a small portion we were hungry after just about 2-3 hrs. The journey continues, I took the wheel and it was a pretty good drive crossing the well-known cities of Tangier, Rabat, Casablanca till we finally reached Marrakesh by about 02:30 local time on the Monday. We took a pretty cheap hotel – which thanks to Abdullah’s friend who organized it before we reached the city. This was a pretty simple hotel with 3 beds which is all we needed after the long drive. All I knew of sleeping was that my head hit the pillow and Abdallahi was waking me 10:00 in the morning – nice night’s sleep that was for weary travelers.

Monday, October 8, 2012

We decided to take a couple of hours of the day for Marrakesh. A visit to Marrakesh is definitely incomplete without a visit to the Marrakesh market. We had a wonderful breakfast – Harira with bread. This was followed by some shopping – Tajine dish (my wife will be very happy to read this), and some clothes. That was about the time we had, for a very long journey still lay ahead of us.

Once again highway and drive, drive and drive with break for food.

One big change that happens now as we head down south is the change in road conditions – it changes from being multi-lane highway to a narrow roadway where two vehicles barely fit on the tarmac. To make it more fun this road travels through mountain passes, meaning curves and hairpin bends.

Murat took the wheel and we were making pretty good progress when the first of the disaster struck:

On a stretch with max permissible speed of 80kmh, an overtaking maneuver resulted in 91kmh. How do I know it was exactly 91khm, there was a nice police man (Gendarmerie as they are called in Morocco) with the exact tool to tell us that – a radar pistol. Now 80 kmh is permitted, plus 10% tolerance results in 88 kmh, and the police themself give a tolerance of +-2kmh. So all in all we were travelling 1 khm too fast.

The result

  • 300 Moroccan Dirham fine
  • eviction of Murat from the driver’s seat.

Abdallahi took the wheel and we were making pretty good progress when the second of the disaster struck:

Remember the narrow roadway described earlier… and add more fun to it, after sunset… by about 19:45 in one passing maneuver our vehicle slipped out of the road – couple of seconds panic ensued which seemed like years.

The result

  • Two flat wheels on the right side of the vehicle.
  • Four hours of travel time lost
  • Opportunity for star gaze – Milky Way in all its glory lay before us, couple of meteorites
  • Opportunity to reflect upon our self and the creation and the Creator – Subhanallah…

Well this is something I am gonna talk a bit more in detail… so bear with me, or just skip to the next part…

Two reason lead to the flat wheels, speed and the state of the roadway. Whatever the reason – we had two flat wheels on the right side of the car.

Here is the chronological order of the things we did

19:45 – flat wheels

19:50 – recover from the panic

19:55 – access situation drive down the car away from the auto way

20:00 – try to reach ADAC for help in the situation

20:20 –

  • decide we will get it done by ourselves. Only one spare wheel and we had two flats – so the only thing to be done was to fix them.
  • This means drive all the way to the next nearest city which was Tan-Tan and this was coupled with a huge amount of luck. A tire shop should be open at this time, and, have 2 tires of right size.
  • An additional trouble was getting there with the flat tires, and, back after getting new ones. Luckily a trucker took Abdallahi with the tires for a small amount of money.
  • This is what we did, used the spare wheel on the front and supported the back wheel on stones and the jack.

21:00

  • Abdallahi takes a truck ride with the flat tires; we try to engage ourselves… Stargazing begins…
  • When no vehicle was on sight we turned off the hazard lights, this gave a wonderful opportunity to stargaze.
  • With me and Murat and Muhammad left behind we had to make the best of the situation. We talked, played, star gazed, ate chocolates. And, repeated the entire process many times.
  • Stuck in the middle of nowhere (Tan-Tan was the only nearby city, about 75kms away) was wonderful as well as scary.

23:00 – Abdallahi returns with the fixed tires, quickly put them back.

23:40 – Now we are ready to go again

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Murat decides to take the wheel again:

Now we were making pretty decent progress till we were forced to take a break. The road down south goes parallel to the cost and the Atlantic cost is notorious for the fog. We could see the fog density increase with every passing minute, till the visibility was reduced to only a few meters. At the next check point we took a break and slept in the car. As soon as we parked and turned off the ignition, all of us were out.

Sometime around 07:00 the fog cleared a bit and our journey continued. We decided to take a break in the city of Ad-Dakhla (Western Sahara). A visit to Abdallahi’s cousin not only brought us tasty homemade Kuskus, but also sleeping opportunity.

Ad-Dakhla is a beautiful city, with tourism being promoted. Its location on the Atlantic coast with a bay provides wonderful opportunity for kite surfing, and nice clean beach add to the attraction.

Murat had the wheel for the rest of the journey till the border control Morocco – Mauritania.