Monday, March 14, 2011

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.

The day shift English-speaker showed up right before the Frenchman did. Both simultaneously told me the cost of my breakfast, and then the English-speaker—who may have been named Amadou—walked me out to the main road so that I could catch a taxi.

Tick tick.

"It's time for everyone to go to work," explained Amadou after we stood on the corner for five minutes and no taxis would stop.

"Rush hour," I added.

He nodded. We waited. He told me that he too aspired to travel.

"In Africa, where it is less expensive. Not Morocco though. I think they will treat me different because of this." He pointed at his dark skin.

"Maybe." I am in no way versed in the likelihood of encountering racism in Morocco.  

Eventually, a driver was willing to brave the traffic jams to slowly get me to the gare. I was an hour behind, but still, there was plenty of leeway to reach the border on time.

But then, at 9 a.m., I'd just missed the last sept-place. The up side is I got the passenger seat in the next one. The down side is I had to wait for the other six seats to fill.

Tick tick.
Waiting for the taxi to fill

Six people took an hour to materialize. Still, I should make it. Well, depending on which closing time was correct.

Finally! Ten in the morning and we were on our way to Rosso. That is, after we stopped for some maintenance and petrol. Then, on down the road-of-potholes towards the border, on to Rosso, one of the most notoriously corrupt borders in this part of the world. Swell.

And then we'd stop. And start. And stop. And gingerly ease our way around craters.

I nursed my bottle of water, having learned from my previous bout of vomiting that dehydration and starvation did not agree with me.

Then, up ahead…a cyclist?

"I know that guy," I announced.

"Your friend?" I said "oui," as my French skills are not good enough for me to explain the subtleties of acquaintance-versus-friendship.

We pulled up next to the Swiss-German cyclist I'd met two nights ago. He didn't see me at first, and he launched into his spiel.

"I am cycling from Spain and I have no money and…"


"Oh. It's you."

He sounded disappointed.

''How is your trip?" My driver and the other passengers were quite curious as to why this madman was cycling in the desert under the blisteringly hot sun.

"This is a bad road."

We all nodded.

"I have run out of water."

I had no choice. I handed over all my water. I was bound to regret it, but the cyclist needed it more than I did.

We drove on, everyone in the car exuding a mixture of horror and respect for the Swiss guy cycling alone through West Africa.

"He is crazy," I muttered. What kind of lunatic cycles with no water and no money through a part of the world where others are cash-strapped but honor-bound to help?

But the crazy cyclist broke the ice. The driver then chatted with me all the way to Rosso.

"Where are you from?"

"USA," I said.

"Ah, my brother lives in USA. In...Ken-took-ee. His wife is from there."

"Really? Kentucky?" He mistook my confusion for not knowing the location of Kentucky.

"Yes, Ken-took-ee. It is near Canada."

I smiled and on we went, bouncing down the terrible road towards the closed-or-maybe-open notorious border with Senegal.

No comments:

Post a Comment