After too many sleepless nights and the promise of a Christmas dinner back home in Longreach, Amy jumped ship and took the 3am London flight out of Nouakachott. Meanwhile, the truck’s itinerary for the next seven days involved nonstop driving and desert camping every day in dangerous Mauritania. Not a problem. But no showers for a week with no plans to stop at anything interesting? No thanks. So we’ve taken matters into our own hands.
Enter the noble Italian heroes: Massimo and Massimiliano (yes, we realize how amazingly Italian these names are), followed by their faithful sidekicks: Tia and Juan. M2 came up with the idea to leave the truck for a 10-day visit to Senegal and fly back to meet the group in Bamako, the capital of Mali. We didn’t take much convincing. A 7-hour drive from Nouakchott, four of which we spent in an impounded car that the driver bribed a policeman to borrow (genius) and three of which we spent packed like sardines into a mini-bus with a goat tied on top, is the first French settlement in Senegal: St. Louis.
Crossing the border with M2, we can see why people get the impression that tourists are easy targets. When I asked Massimiliano (Max) if his pockets were allergic to money, he replied, “I had only 20 euros in my pockets but I feel like I paid the whole world.” For example, they probably would have paid our pirogue driver the original 8000 ouagiyas he asked for, if I hadn’t pointed out that the book said we shouldn’t pay more than 200 each. Which, by the way, got me in big trouble with the friend of the boat driver. “I do not look in a book when I visit your country, I listen to your advice!” Promptly followed by him invading my space to grab my book, me asking him not to touch me, Juan saying, “Leave my wife alone” (in French), and then the guy saying, “Yes, I prefer to deal with the men. Here, we don’t deal with the women.” Wow. We ultimately settled on 2000 but only after the Mauritanian policeman we’d bribed…er, paid…for border assistance intervened. Ultimately it was probably a fair price since Massimo alone had 80 kg of baggage. Across the river at Senegalese customs, after Tia had the passports stamped, Juan was told, Toi, t’es bon, mais ta femme parle beaucoup (“you are ok, but your wife talks too much”).
After arriving at Ocean & Savane and examining our stilted huts built over the river, we strolled 100 meters to the beach on the other side of the hotel and there wasn’t a person in sight. Back at the hotel, the bar was stocked with cold beer and French wine. Max promptly announced, “Tonight, I bush camp.” And we laughed at the thought of where the truck was now.