Camel Herd in Sahara

Desert and camels – where there is no surprise in that. But what was surprising to me was how the herd was taken along in the caravan and how they were managed.

During the day the herd grazes along what ever green is available and share the oasis with the other animals. During the night the camels are collected (well actually forced) to stay at a place. The way the camels are prevented from wandering away is by tying one leg of the camel at the knee – this would prevent the camel from straying away from the herd – Well small trick with a small piece of rope and you have the camel completely at your control.

Now, we were lucky enough to observe one such resting ritual for the night. This also gave us the opportunity to milk the camel. Wiki say some thing about the camel milk -but I can say from my experience – it tastes wonderful, very much unlike the cow/sheep milk. What amazed me what that we could dring it straight after milking the camel – directly from the pot collected.

Check out the video which we managed during out PAD-NKC trip.

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.

Weekends Mauritanian style

The city dwelling folk in Nouakchott have a favourite pass time of driving to the ourskirts of the city with the entire family and spend a nice few hours under the sky.

There are some spots where a lot of people flock to. In such spots camel milk is sold, and the sellers entertain with some songs. Here is one such song which I recorded. The only musical instrument that I could make out were parts of a plastic canister.

I have no idea what they are singing about – but it was good to hear it. I will try to get it translated and update this post. Meanwhile if any of you can translate it then add it in the comment.

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.