Saturday, August 10, 2002

It's kind of hot and I'm kind of in a bad mood and Juliette and I are kind of not getting along and we're kind of traveling in Morocco but kind of too wrapped up in ourselves and our problems with each other to do anything more than kind of.

That was an attempt to kick start some writing. A traveling moment, a slice of life. Fortunately not all the slices taste the same.

Waiting for the bus. They said there would be one, but then they also said it would take half an hour. We should have known better, we admonish ourselves. They just wanted us to take their bus, so they told us what we wanted to hear. So now we're at the bus station between two five hour rides, sitting on plastic chairs at a plastic table drinking thé de menthe and cafe au lait until the middle of the night.

The bus depot is huge, filled with big modern long distance passenger buses parked in diagonal rows until they're full. "When does the bus leave?" one might ask, and the answer is always "Now." A young man in a blue running suit gets up from the table nearby, where he's been chatting for a while with a man waiting for a bus. Blue Suit carries a board with red cloth, on which is mounted an array of cheap jewelry. Astoundingly, the waiting man appears to have bought something. An eight-year-old boy approaches me and asks if he could shine my shoes for one dirham, ten cents. I smile and show him my sandals. Again he asks for a coin, fidgeting with his baseball cap. I jokingly offer him a dirham, tapping the bill of the hat. He gives me a perplexed smile and wanders away, muttering in arabic about the crazy foreigner. The waiting man appears to have bought a gold watch from another vendor. It's a little large for his wrist, but he doesn't appear to mind.

In two days we'll start the difficult portion of the 6000 kilometer trip from Germany to Senegal. What makes it difficult, exactly, we're not quite sure -- that's the most difficult part, emotionally speaking. The twenty hour bus ride to Dakhla, the southernmost city in Morocco, shouldn't be too bad (except for the blazing heat of Western Sahara in the hottest part of Summer). In the past there's been some risk of Polisaria activity, who would prefer if Morocco would get their greedy fingers out of their country, but it seems to have quieted down enough that a few years ago they discontinued the military escort to get to the border. Like our trip into Tibet, we're going an unconventional route into Senegal through Mauritania. It's not an uncharted route by any means -- it's actually supposed to be the most common trans-Saharan route these days -- but there's not much published information about backpacking through the country -- like where there are bus services, guest houses, and even roads through the Sahara. "Of course there are buses," the man at the consulate said, as if we'd suggested that Mauritania were a third world country consisting of little besides endless desert -- which it is, as far as I know. The land mines across the northern border will keep us on the edges of our seats for the first eight kilometers, assuming we find some sort of transport to take us half way through the country where the paved road starts. After the land mines, it's a simple matter of sitting back and watching the scenery go by; counting sand dunes must be fascinating for the first few hours, but the trip is supposed to take at least 30. This is the part we know the least about -- even if, as many people say, there is some sort of bus or 4WD service to take us the 1000 kilometers along the Atlantic coast, how likely is it to get stuck in the sand, is there water along the way, are there oases or villages, and exactly how hot will it be, really? There was a heat wave recently in the hottest part of Algeria, a neighboring country, where the temperature never dropped below 105°F for three weeks straight. We're not likely to be anywhere near those extreme conditions, but how worried should we be about so much uncertainty? So far I've been cautiously optimistic about the trip, and Juliette has balanced my apparent foolhardiness with uncharacteristic nervous pessimism. So together we'll survive, carrying our twenty-seven liters of water on what should be a three day trip through a country that's all beach.