Thursday, March 31, 2011

Lazy Doesn't Pay

I was up before the sweeper today at Sleeping Camel. Ugh, too early. Misery.

I gobbled up the pain au chocolat I'd picked up the day before at Amandine. Just before seven, I sweet-talked Patrice out of some Nescafe and hot water from a Thermos. (Breakfast starts at seven.) The only coffee-related thing worse than Nescafe is a mid-afternoon splitting lack-of-caffeine headache.

I slipped out the gate and walked to the main road to hail a mini-bus to the Sogoniko bus area. The Bradt, Lonely Planet, and Rough Guide all agreed—there were lots of eight o'clock buses to Sevare and Mopti, the gateway to Dogon Country. So I figure that by getting there before 7:30, I'd have no problem finding one with a seat. I could also see the buses so I could avoid the sealed bus with no air-conditioning in hundred-degree heat problem that I'd encountered from Senegal to Bamako.

But when I got to the main road on the other side of the German Embassy, I was perplexed. All the traffic was going one-way. The wrong way. Over the bridge, past the statue of the green hippo kicking a soccer ball, and into Bamako, not away towards the bus station.


Fine. How was your day?

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

In Residence

Whisk. Whisk. Whisk.

Every morning at Sleeping Camel, I woke early to the same sound of the patio being swept by a young Malian woman with a teensy bundle of sticks.

"Why don't they use brooms?" I'd asked Bill.

"I bought them proper brooms. They won't use them!" He shrugged. I chalk this up to being used to whiskbroom-like bundles of sticks, like people who insist that flinging laundry at rocks is better than using a washing machine. (To which I say that I prefer my clothes to last longer, thank you very much, and I'd add that my back likes tall brooms as well. I know, Marie the Cultural Imperialist and her brooms and washing machines. Bah.)

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Bamako Bridge Video

If I actually got my Ghana visa, I'd be leaving Bamako soon. So it was time to take care of an errand. I needed to try one last time to get rid of my Gambian money.

I walked across the bridge over the Niger. It connects the suburb that Sleeping Camel is in—Badalabougou Est—to the diesel-choked downtown. On the money-changing front, I was semi-successful. At least, I got rid of it. I took a huge hit, but it was enough that the money changers took it off my hands. And as a bonus, I got to ride back in a bus with a windshield adorned with an A4 printout of Gaddafi's face.

I won't be walking across the bridge again. There's almost no curb between the oncoming moped lane and the sidewalk. It was a little scary, and the air quality at rush hour was gross.

But I was interested to see that during rush hour, the bridge is one-way, and there is a moped lane that is separate from the car lanes. Here, see for yourself.


I finally got my meningitis vaccination. There's a private clinic just down the road from Sleeping Camel. Pricey--when they quoted me 20,000 CFA (about $40), I'd been okay with that. But they totally neglected to tell me I had to pay another 20,000 for a "consulation" with the doctor.

Of course, there was no offer of just getting the jab without a doctor in the room.

I had this problem once in New York too. I had a long argument with the staff at the international clinic, and they kept going on about how I needed to talk to the doctor so I'd know what was safe to do abroad, but of course, I have had bajillions of these "consultations" in the past and yes, I know mosquitos come out at dusk and not to drink the water and not to lick the street or stick my hands down a strange dog's throat.

Monday, March 28, 2011


The power is off. The power is on. The power is off. The power is on. The wi-fi is off and the power is on.

Bamako is screwing with me. And I paid for air con. Dammit, Bamako, stop the power cuts.

Nevertheless, I dutifully dressed as well as I could given the state of my wrinkled clothing, and hurried down to the Embassy of Nigeria this morning. The application process took moments.

"Come back tomorrow at 2:30."

Sunday, March 27, 2011

National Museum in Bamako

Here are more photos of the National Museum in Bamako, Mali. Second-to-last is bissap juice, a regional favorite.

Lazy Weekend

I was looking at an entire weekend without motion. Longer, given that I had to turn my passport in at the Nigerian Embassy on Monday, pick it up on Tuesday, and then go see what the Embassy of Ghana had to say about their new visa policies.

I wasn't really at loose ends though. I was in a classic backpacker's lodge, which means there were plenty of other travelers to shoot the breeze with. It was almost distracting, given how much work I had to do and how enticing sitting down and chatting was.

Over the next few days, I got a mani/pedi, shopped for road snacks (snacking stops me from vomiting from dehydration), went around the corner to a Lebanese hairdresser and got perfectly matched color. Perhaps it helps that Paola, my colorist at home, wrote out my formula for me and I was carrying it around. Maybe it's true what they say about the Lebanese making good hairdressers. Certainly, I've been to one in Kuwait, one in Cairo, and now one in Bamako, and they were all pretty good.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Mali Morning

Sleeping Camel offered something I hadn't seen in weeks.

Breakfast with more than just bread and jam.

I devoured eggs and real coffee. Yummmmmmmm. I picked a good place to have to spend a weekend.

"How long will you be with us?" Bill the part-owner had asked me this when he was showing me rooms. I'd taken an A/C room with shared facilities down the hall.

"I don't know. I have to get visas."

"At least the weekend then. Have you heard about the Ghana visa? They've quit handing them out except in your home country."

Thursday, March 24, 2011

The Bar Hits Me On the Head

At six in the morning, someone knocked on my door at the crappy, overpriced Hotel Niji in the dust-ridden Senegalese town of Tambacounda.

I ignored the knock, then eventually changed out of my pajamas, walked down to the front desk, and inquired as to why exactly someone had been knocking on my front door.

"There is a leak from your bathroom into the backyard."

Oh. Okay. I thought they'd want to fix it, so I suggested they come take a look.

The clerk motioned for me to follow him to the backyard. He showed me my window and said "That is your room." He said a man from Gambia had called him about the leak. We looked, I shrugged, and he left. What was I supposed to do? Fix it with my utility knife I'd forgotten back in Jersey City?

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Bar Moves

The Dutch family and I had Bird Safari Camp breakfast at seven this morning. Sigh. More baguette and Nescafe. I admire that Bird Safari Camp has a bread-baking oven in the backyard, but I'm so sick of bread that I don't even have any words left that could satisfactorily disparage it. Nescafe doesn't rate as having ever been good, so there's no point in disparaging that at all. I used to carry around my own coffee and travel press, but in time decided it would be easier to just give up coffee. That, of course, hasn't happened, and I now consume any rancid product that involves caffeine in the mornings.

After breakfast, we all went through the chaotic and laborious process of settling our drink bills, then loaded up the two Peugeots. The burgundy station wagon still had a dented back, and the rear passenger doors didn't open and shut quite right, but the mechanics of the car were sound.

The Peugeot with the smashed radiator had been returned to us yesterday afternoon, with some of that epoxy you'd get at Wal-Mart sealing up the leaks. I wished the Dutch family M well with their journey back to the coast. They'd go north this time, maybe stop at Wassu on my recommendation, and they could probably drop the cars off in Barra and take the ferry without the cars. A bonus of taking the north road was that they could avoid the policemen who'd watched the accident, and also another cheeky one who'd wanted to marry one of their daughters.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Wassu and Me

After waking up early in a tent with a toilet, I went out looking for hippos who don't actually come out into early evening, and then proceeded to discover that if you have a field of rice, you need to build a scarecrow to stop the elusive hippos from not being elusive. Hippos, I learned, love to tear up rice fields.

And that's the single most important bit of info I picked up from our spotter during the bird-and-no-hippo-viewing boat ride this morning, where I accompanied my new Dutch family, the spotter, and a boat driver out on the Gambia River near Bird Safari Camp.

We did not see any hippos, which made me sad but let's face it, I'm not going to see any hippos closer than I did in Murchison Falls, when the hippos grazed at night in the yard next to my bed on the screened verandah. And we did see some nice birds, and got a breeze out there on the water, though I cowered in the migrating square of shade under the boat's canopy. The Gambia was scorching. Or so I thought at the time. I'd soon learn what real scorching was.

Mom, Dad, and MM of the Dutch family were heading to the nearby town of Bansang where they'd lived almost 20 years ago. Uncle G and Fireman A were dealing with the broken radiator from our car accident yesterday. LM was teaching a local teenager how to swim in the Bird Safari Camp pool.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Going Dutch

I'd arranged with young taxi driver Yaya to pick me up at 8:30 to drive me to meet my new Dutch family this morning. At 8, when I was going to breakfast, I noticed his car was already in front of the hotel.

I didn't rush though. I ate everything I could for breakfast. My travel days in West Africa usually involved a lot of endurance and not much eating or toilet breaks.

I went out just after 8:30 (I was packing!). I went to put my gear in the back of the station wagon when he motioned me to put it in the backseat.

"You're a little late." Yaya chided me gently.

"And you were a little early. Why did you get here so early?"

He hesitated, then motioned at the stuff in the back of the station wagon. Some sneakers. Some neatly folded clothes.

"I sleep in my car."

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Down Time in Gambia

The Gambia is renowned for it touts, but I found them worthless. Maybe it was the heat, but in Gambia, if a guy tried to sell me something and I ignored him or said no, he'd just stay where he was and forget about me.

"Hey, Missus, taxi? No? Oh well, okay."

They'll never make any money that way. Don't they know they're supposed to follow me down the road pestering me until I chew their heads off?

What I'm saying is that Gambia was pretty sweet. Well, aside from the disturbing sex tourism. There are men in Gambia for the prostitutes, but there are also oddly enough a lot of older women, many overweight, in search of hot young Gambian men.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Happy Ending

The Senegalese stamped me out and I walked across the border into Gambia.


I ignored the cue.


Keep walking, towards passport control. Probably a money changer.

Then I saw six people waving frantically at me, and that's when I noticed I was the only one moving. Like a flash mob was doing a performance art piece and forgot to let me into the secret to freeze.

I wondered if this was something about prayers, and then I noticed people in uniforms standing next to the flagpole.

Going to Gambia

I woke up early, intending to head to Gambia on the double. But first there was breakfast—a wide assortment of bread products—to be had, and then I ran over to the ATM to get money. I wouldn't be able to use my bank ATM card in Gambia as only debit-cards with Visa branded on them work there.

And then while I was out anyway, I noticed that my Kindle-guidebook map (ugh, what a pain the maps are to read on a Kindle) showed a clinic right down the street from the ATM. My meningitis vaccine expired a few years ago. I'd intended to get it at home, but at $140 a shot, I only intended this long enough to be horrified. My last one had been twenty dollars at The Surgery in Kampala in 2005. I'd searched for a place in Melilla without luck, and with a clinic right here, it seemed foolish to pass up the opportunity.

But luck wasn't with me. The clinic receptionist instructed me to go to the big Pasteur Institute down by the Corniche. Or something. I actually have no idea where I went. He wrote it on a slip of paper and told me the taxi fare. I hailed a taxi and shoved the paper at the driver.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Ile de Goree

Here are some more photos of Ile de Goree.

Day in Dakar: Part Two

Gambian visa acquired, I headed to Ile de Goree, a calm-and-pretty colonial-style island with a reputation for having been a major site in the slave trade. The slave trade part of Goree's history has been proven to have been short-lived and overstated (this was a slave trade port, complete with dungeons, but "only" 300 people a year were traded here of the 20 million wrenched from their homes and forcibly taken overseas) but it's still an interesting and scenic "must-do" when you visit Dakar.
Interesting name

"Is it safe for me to walk around with this?" I motioned to my handbag at hotel reception.

"Of course," said the desk clerk. He looked baffled that I'd even asked. Maybe Dakar's reputation was as overstated as Goree's role in the slave trade?
I got a little lost walking to the ferry in the hot sun, but finally stumbled over it in time to discover I had plenty of time to wait for the next ferry anyway. And the tourist price had skyrocketed since the guidebooks were written. 500 CFA, or a dollar, had become 5000 CFA. Ten dollars. I crankily forked over the dough at the ferry desk.

Day in Dakar: Part One

I'd just gotten to where people were recognizing me in the cafe and striking up conversations when it was time to leave Saint-Louis. I had to get to Dakar to get a visa for Gambia, or maybe I didn't. Seems I could just get something at the border. Or maybe not. I'd prefer to show up with my papers in order, though.

I haven't heard particularly good things about Dakar, and hotels aren't cheap there. I decided to go early, to try to stay only one night. And I scoured hotel websites and the guidebooks. There were some in the fifty dollar range. Okay, that one. It's got a restaurant that serves hummus. Good enough reason to shoot for a place.

In the end, I didn't go early after all. The electricity in the hotel was off, and when it came on at 7:30, I raced through some work. Late start.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Caleche and Croissant

Saint-Louis, Senegal, was a decent place to stop for a few days. I'd gone off-schedule by a day in Essaouira, then lazed around an extra day in Dakhla, so I didn't hang around more than I'd planned in Saint-Louis. Just two nights, and I didn't really even do anything in this UNESCO site. I was just enjoying the coffee and pastries of the patisserie on the street level of the Hotel du Palais. Breakfast in West Africa had so far been bread and Nescafe. Espresso and chocolate croissants were a godsend.

The flies liked my pastries too. I'd swat them away while drinking coffee and using the café wi-fi. Ah, my tax return showed up! Another month of life without going into my savings. I'd panic when I thought about the inevitable slowdown of cash.

In the afternoon, after I'd tired of pretending to be a customer when mostly I just wanted somewhere to use the wi-fi (by that time the only other "customer" was watching soccer on the television), I opened up my guidebook. Or rather fired up my Kindle. What were the must-sees here in Saint-Louis?

Soaking up the atmosphere was the must-see. Well, I was doing that.

I walked around the old streets and looked at brightly colored, deteriorating buildings. I checked out the bridge, the only one onto the island from the mainland. My taxi had crossed it yesterday, but I'd been too sick to care.

Walking wasn't getting me the tourist thrill I needed, so I decided to go on the tourist circuit in a caleche, or horse and carriage. Sure. Why not? I'd be a little embarrassed, but maybe I'd see something I wouldn't see otherwise.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Intro to Senegal

One disadvantage to being in the passenger seat, I learned as we pulled into the Mauritania side of the Rosso border, is that you're a sitting duck. Bait for the wanna-be guides.

I was spotted instantly and by the time our Peugeot parked near the line of vehicles and the closed gates across the border (looks like the closed for lunch rumors are true), a gaggle of young men in their twenties surrounded the car.

The taxi driver chose one and chased away the others.

"You go with this boy. I know him. He will take care of you."

Okay. The best choice in a situation like this is to choose one guide so that he will keep the other aspiring guides at bay. I followed the guy, whose name I've forgotten. Was it Mohammed? He shouldered my backpack. Hell, I'd tip him for that alone.

"You change money?"

Geography Lesson

I swatted a roach off my backpack to load up and head to Senegal, then made a relatively harmless-but-amateur travel mistake this a.m. I foolishly assumed that I could easily check out of the lodge first thing in the morning, in order to make an early morning run to the Senegal border.

Ha. Right. The guy on duty at the desk was the night clerk/watchman.

"Je vais au Senegal," I told him. "Combien pour dejeuner?"

I'd paid for my room in advance but I still had to pay for yesterday's breakfast.

This led to the desk guy staring at me in horror as I butchered the French language, then shuffling through a book of names of guests. Finally, he ran to wake the French guy who sat at the front desk during the day. I kept an anxious watch on the clock. I'd read in the guidebooks that the Rosso border with Senegal, which I was aiming for, closed for lunch at either noon, 12:30, 1 p.m., or maybe 2 p.m. I'd woken early so as not to arrive during this elusive time period.

Tick tick.

More Fish

Here's an album of more photos from the fisherman's place that I visited yesterday in Mauritania.

And here is some video. 

Saturday, March 12, 2011

A Day With the Pesh

The Bob Marley soundtrack kicked in early, and when it started its second repeat, I finally got out of bed, only to laze about my room a while longer. I heard the Swiss cyclist arguing with someone outside about...his bill, maybe? I opted to hide out a bit longer. People who have been alone for weeks can be tough to chat with.

So. What's a girl to do with a free day in Nouakchott, Mauritania?

I wasn't sure. Track down some food, maybe? I finally emerged from my room to have an auberge breakfast. My standards had slipped. I was delighted to see a greasy plain omelette and croissant in addition to the standard West African bread, jam, and Nescafe.

I headed out to a pizza place in late afternoon, when the lodge internet fizzled. I walked through the sandy streets—past young, hip men in jeans, who looked like young men in New York aside from their filthy hems and shoes—to the corner to flag down a taxi. 

But the first "taxi" took me aback. A well-dressed businessman in a suit pulling over in his nice new car to offer me a ride?

Saturday Night in Nouakchott

I left Hadya and her mother and hailed a taxi to take me to Auberge Menata, a hostel/lodge that caters to overlanders and backpackers. The taxi driver sweetly offered me his details on a scrap of paper, in case I needed him to take me around Nouakchott.

Mauritanians had been really hospitable and friendly to me so far. Bamba had passed me off to Musa, who had seen me to the bus, where Hadya had keep an eye on me, and now the taxi driver also was taking an interest in me. He delivered me to the door of the lodge, where another young hotel worker kept an eye on me. I've forgotten his name, I'm afraid. It might have been Amadou. If it weren't for all the desert, dust, and police checks, I would have hung around longer just to enjoy the hospitality.

I was quickly installed in my own room, and I went out to find dinner. The place I'd chose—around the corner—was mysteriously closed, so I walked randomly, ending up at a fast food place where I ordered (crankily) a chicken schwarma. A group of Mauritanian teens sat at the next table, shooting photos of each other with one of them's new digital camera. The waiter sat down and tried to chat with me in English, which was sweet but pretty hopeless. Hunger sated, I hurried back to the lodge. I hate being out alone in an unfamiliar place after dark without a map or any real homing device.

Back at the auberge, I heard an odd accent. Sort of a German accent, but the man was speaking English. Austrian? No, Swiss. Swiss-German.

Travel Day

Musa was at the lodge by the time I woke up. Does that guy ever sleep? He wore the same clothes he'd had on yesterday, which is common with people in these parts who don't have a lot of money. He wanted to make sure I ate my breakfast and got to the bus station.

I considered the shower block again, and opted against carrying around a wet towel. Musa walked me around the corner to a cafe. Which was like a living room with a curtain over the doorway. The owner was sleeping, but he woke up, took a chair off a table, and supplied me with a baguette, some jam, and some Nescafe. I was getting used to the Nescafe, and didn't really regret not bringing my own coffee this time. It was always a hassle to get hot water and to throw away the grains.

I nibbled my bread while the owner turned on his old television in the corner. I heard the sounds of news violence, and went over to see the news. Al Jazeeza Arabic showed violent demonstrations.

"Mauritania?" I asked, nervously.

"Non, Yemen."

He was riveted. Then he spoke English.

"The Arab countries, they are going crazy."

Friday, March 11, 2011

Touring Naughty-Boo

Two guys leapt to their feet in the guard house at Camping Chez Abba. This popular backpacker/overlander place had been sold out when my friend Anne Marie tried to go here some years back, but I'd hit it at a slow time.

"Do you have a nice room for me?"

The older of the two (and by older, I mean about 32 years old) nodded. "Of course."

They showed me an exhausted hostel type room that had about six beds in it, and an attached "private" squat toilet (if you don't include the giant cracks that showed into the kitchen). But the price was right. I could have the whole room and toilet for $11. The shower block was around the corner. And that's when I realized I was poorly prepared for showing down the hall. I had a mini-towel (quick-drying) and a skimpy nighty.

Border Day

Bamba was trying to tell me something. He kept motioning at things. The glove compartment. The dashboard. He wanted me to do...what? He'd speak to me in French, because he'd gotten it in his head that I understood French, though I'd repeatedly said that I did not. Perhaps saying this in perfect French isn't a good strategy.

I fumbled around, trying to help him out. He kept putting one hand to his ear. I dug around in the glove compartment and produced some earbuds.


He pointed to his ear again.

Oh, there was a rattle! He wanted me to find the rattle. Bamba was deputizing me. Co-driver.

I enthusiastically sought out the rattle, but couldn't find the source. Actually, I couldn't even hear the rattle. But you know how drivers are. They precisely know the sound of their cars.


I was at the Hotel Sahara at 7:30. But there was no car in front. I walked up the stairs and surprised the guy at the front desk.

"I'm meeting a driver..?" I was hesitant. I didn't have my road legs yet.

He nodded. A minute later, I heard a horn.

I looked out. There was the early nineties Renault mini-van I'd seen the night before. But the man in the gallibya and head wrap thing was gone. This guy wore trousers, a gray hooded coat, and a shirt that buttoned down the front. And he was packing stuff into the vehicle. Including...was that a 32" flatscreen TV box he was piling into the back?

"Is that him?" I had doubts.

"Let me see." The front desk clerk looked out the window. He smiled and waved at the man in trousers.

"Yes, that's him. Go on."

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Car or Bus?

My dehydration-illness had vanished in the night, and I approached my morning dose of bread and coffee with enthusiasm, then typed away for several hours in the part of the lobby that the hotel wi-fi reached.

I was working on a new invoice-and-pay system for the job I'd just left. I had been the check signer, and there wasn't anyone else to do it, so I had spent a lot of time gathering up info and sorting out a digital system. It was working out well but taking a lot of time as I made various screw-ups along the way of instituting the new set-up.

Fortunately, I had nothing else to do in Dakhla, which is a dusty Saharan town seemingly at the end of the world. My only real mission was finding onward transport. Not so long ago, tourists were required to travel by military convoy to the border of Mauritania, then recently it was done by private hire, and now, rumor had it that you could just catch a daily CTM bus.

After carefully copying down the French I needed from Google Translate, I walked to the CTM office in early afternoon to inquire about this rumor.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

To Dakhla

Four days of tartine in a row. Gah.

Tartine is like toast, but it's baguette bread, not sliced bread. I'm not a big bread-eater, but it's all that's keeping me going these days. Every day, I get tartine and cafe au lait (lots of lait, unfortunately) for breakfast. Ever since I hit the Africa continent, it's been bread, bread, bread for petit dejeuner.

This is not all over Africa, of course, This is purely a French influence thing. I'm pretty damn sick of bread. Though I must thank the French, as at least the bread is, without fail, delicious. And the coffee is generally decent. I didn't bother carrying my own coffee works this time, just put some little packets of instant into my pack. The Nescafe guys were handing out free samples on the street one day, and my tenant gave me a Starbucks sample, so I have at least eight days worth of potential caffeine in my pack.

Monday, March 7, 2011


Couscous. I'm over you.'re lovely but please leave me alone. Chicken schwarma? You're pushing your luck. Mint tea? We're still friends.

In the end, I lazed around an extra day in Essaouira. There wasn't much in the way of formal sights. I wandered the ancient medina, walked around the city walls, visited the fish market, bought fresh-squeezed orange juice, and sipped coffee at a little coffee shop beneath the ramparts. My riad was cozy and comfortable. My laundry came back stiff and not particularly clean, reminding me that I needed to start doing my own laundry in the sink. My search for a manicure and the
rumored 200 dirham unlimited data SIM led me outside the medina and into the buzzing modern city which was, with its open storefronts, streetside kebab vendors, and small businesses, a good deal easier to comprehend than the ancient chaotic city of tiny rambling alleyways.

I chose the post office at the center of the medina for mailing home my souvenirs I'd picked up in Marrakesh, thinking they were used to tourists sending home silly crap. They were, and the clerk zealously ushered me through the process, barking orders at a subordinate who was charged with putting my package together. Easy.

One afternoon I wandered down to the pier where the fishermen bring in their catch. I paid 10 dirham to climb up onto a preserved city wall, where I had the view of the Atlantic on one side, and could surreptitiously snap shots of fishermen on the other. My reward was a seagull shitting on my head, so I did get punished for my attempt at photos-without-asking.

And I wandered into the spice market, where a young man tried to sell me perfume in the shape of soap. That seems like a good idea, and it did smell good, but I don't even wear perfume in the shape of perfume. He also presided over pyramids of spices.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

On to Essaouira

My night in my warm sleeper passed well, and the tap-tap on the door in the morning meant that the conductor thought it was time for me to get up. My iPhone had told me the same thing, of course, so I was already up and waiting for my 40 minutes overlay in Casablanca.

I grabbed a cappuccino in the train station, tried the wi-fi (as broken as the Beni Nsar Internet had been, so maybe it was system-wide), then moved onto one of those glamorous new first-class trains that Morocco acquired a few years back. I flopped into a big, cushioned seat and relaxed for the 3-hours-and-change ride to Marrakesh. So fast! The trains are good in Morocco.

My final destination for the day was not Marrakesh, but it was the end of the train line. From here to the end of Morocco, it was all buses and shared ("grand") taxis.

Friday, March 4, 2011

The Hunt for the Gare

I walked into Morocco following my memory of a Google map I'd looked up the night before. The rain had left muddy the wide, main boulevard that led from the border, and so I walked along the potholed sidewalk instead of traversing the street, which I'd usually do, since I try to avoid climbing curbs and stairs when wearing a heavy backpack.

Lessee, train station should be just down there and to the left.

There were two train stations in the town of Beni Nsar, or Beni Ensar. (Arabic doesn't have standardized English-equivalent spellings, so it's just phonetic.) One was, according to the Moroccan trains website,) "Beni Nsar Port" and the other was "Beni Nsar Ville." The Port one, according to the Google map, was close enough to walk to from the border.

But I try not to be too stupid, so I stopped and asked a Moroccan man in front of a coffee shop.

"Pardonnez, ou est la gare?"

Crossing the Border

I rose to meet Melilla with a cheerier mood than I'd had when I went to sleep. Hotel breakfast was a few slices of toast, a coffee, and some orange juice. Oh well, it was free.

I went straight to tourist information, looking for info on where I could get the meningitis vaccine. I'd balked at the $140 they'd wanted in the States. My last had been in Kampala in 2005 and had long since expired. I'd intended to get it in Malaga, but had been overcome by crushing weight of responsibilities and it hadn't happened.

The tourist information woman looked at me blankly, so I went to two places I'd looked up online. En route, I gazed up at the architecture along the main street. A man named Enrique Nieto, a disciple of GaudĂ­, had designed many of the art nouveau/modernisme buildings.

Thursday, March 3, 2011


I felt a tiny jolt of excitement as my ferry pulled into the port of Melilla. A crowd of women in headscarves buzzed about the exit door, anxious to disembark after eight stir-crazy hours on the Mediterranean.

I was jetlagged and exhausted, but this was significant. Setting foot onto the African continent, even the Spanish part, meant that my trip had started. (It also means I'm really far behind on designing my site, but one thing at a time.) And Melilla was new to me! I'd never been to a Spanish enclave on the African continent before.

Following the crowd onto the gangplank, into the ferry terminal, and down an escalator, I soon found myself in front of the old city walls.

The road alongside them curved along and led me to my hotel. I'd booked somewhere decent, knowing I'd still be playing catch-up on the wi-fi in my room.

I checked in and got a room number. #328. The hotel room stunk of old sewers. I don't know if you know what that means but it's common in old cities that never quite updated their plumbing. The bathroom had new tiles, and the floor was covered in fake wood veneer, but Hotel Anfora shows it age. I wrinkled my nose a little. I don't mind this in a cheap room. But a 45 euro a night room?


I threw my old jeans and purple sweater into a bag and went down to the used clothing bin I'd seen outside the El Corte Ingles department store, in front of the Citibank. 

I tossed in the bag. That had been my plan, to wear old clothes on the plane to escape the New York winter, then to ditch them in Malaga, Spain.

For a moment, I hesitated. My plan had also been to throw out my winter coat there too. I'd selected carefully, choosing a thin coat I hadn't worn in years. And it struck me that I'd bought this coat from Mango in Barcelona in November of 2004, when the nights got chillier than I'd expected while living there for a few months. From Spain and back to Spain. I'd had to buy an XL size, which had struck me as absurd. In 2004, I was thinner than I'd been since I was 17 years old, due to eating like a Spaniard and living on a sixth-floor walk-up in Barcelona. But Spain has inconsistent sizing.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Travel is the Easy Part

All this is going to fit in my backpack?
The last few days were a whirlwind of no sleep, frantic day job working, and panicked packing. In the end, the kitchen faucet broke and I had a nice visit with the plumber (who replaced it), I contributed $42 to Jersey City by spacing out on the alternate-side parking times, and I threw everything into my car which I parked in my garage. I called a taxi to take me to Newark Airport and carried way, way too much with me.

A night on a partially empty plane (empty seat beside me!), a transfer in Zurich, and a scramble to try to find the Ibis since I hadn't had time to look anything up left me showered and ready to go hunt for a meningitis vaccine in Malaga.

And I have way, way too much stuff with me.