Wednesday, February 21, 2007

What's Your Cargo?....des Americains....

Well, we are alive and well in Dakar, arriving late last night via our new, reliable friend Abdu and his panel truck. I guess we should rewind a bit...

After almost a week in Dakhla, the Yanks were getting antsy - the probelm being we were meeting tons of people who MIGHT have the solution for us, but stories kept changing, prices kept changing, and we were getting a distinct feeling that we were stuck. The biggest problem with getting out of Morocco was the bus - in order for Eddy, as the owner to leave, he had to either get the bus out of the country or seal it with customs saying it was broken down and that at some point in time we would sort it out and either fix it or transfer ownership. By this past Saturday, we wanted to leave so badly we made one last exhaustive push for a solution and found a man that would both get us out of Dakhla and leave the bus.

The owner of a local campground quoted us a price for a mini-camion (panel truck) and a driver to Dakar and said the bus could "stay" with him at the campground. After six days of meetings, back and forths, and what ifs, Jay stepped up and did what needed to be done: he made an executive decision. We were leaving tonight!

We agreed and literally started cramming things in bags for our exit from Morocco. The plan was to check out of the hotel, stay at the campsite, and get a ride the next morning - a three day journey with two of us crammed in the front cab of the truck with the driver, and four living like sheep in a windowless shipping space in the back - human cargo!

The next morning we awoke with a sense that FINALLY we are moving again, albeit without poor Thomas. We packed the back of the truck with all of our belongings, the top with the bicycles, and left exra supplies with a very happy campground owner, and sadly bid our farewells to the bus. Before leaving, Eddy finally got to live his dream of surfing atop Thomas. The bus was, of course, stationary, but with a high desert wind, it was as close as we will ever come.

We departed at 10AM and stopped to get gas. As soon as we were about to leave the station, we got a call back from the campground to return immediately. A sense of impending doom set on us, as we had no idea what was going on. Did customs decide to step in and halt our escape? Apparently, the campground owner stopped in and was unhappy that we were leaving the bus without papers to support it. After a few tense moments and a sense that we might never get home, we were escorted to the customs office, where Jay and Eddy convinced a very begrudging agent to take care of our paperwork on a Saturday. We were fianlly on our way.

We could all go on (as I'm sure some of us will in subsequent posts) for a long time about our experience of the last three days. Travelling 10-14 hours a day, stopping occaisionally for a bathroom break and lunch - we really were human commerce traffic.

Our driver, Abdu was great and with some French and a little English we wiled away the hours talking to him up front, playing cards in the back, and taking in the landscape when we could open the big sliding door in the back.

Our first night we made it the border of Western Sahara and Mauritania at dusk and barely made it through the border. They were shutting down for the night, but with a little pleading from Kara and some help from Abdu, we avoided having to bunk down for the night at the border. Between Morocco and Mauritania, there is a 4km no man's land that is mined. We drove out of Morocco into no man's land well after dark and traversed a rocky, bumpy stretch - confident that Abdu, who had made the trip thousands of times, knew what he was doing. Once in Mauri, we drove until midnight then camped roadside for the night.

Day two was another long haul - from border to border- and ended at Rosso, the ferry crossing into Senegal. Rosso was surreal - it looked like a shelled German town during World War II, complete with goats wandering the streets aimlessly, random street side fires, and a general air of lawlessness. Abdu decided it would be safest to camp outside of town and we finally got our one night of camping on an actual sand dune.

The third day was the roughest, waking at 5AM so we could get into the line for the ferry. The flies were getting thicker in the back of the truck, no one had showered for three days, and we were all somewhat dehydrated. Hours of waiting, talking to locals, and listening to the prayer calls bellowing from every corner paid off in a quick ride across the river to Senegal. Once on the road in Senegal, Abdu confirmed to us that we had never driven in Senegal, and as we got closer to Dakar, we started having trouble finding our way to where we were supposed to drop the bicycles. One interesting thing of note that we observed was how Abdu was treated by police checkpoints in Senegal. Police were gruffer and gave him a hard time, we think based on the fact that he was obviously a Saharan African. At a few checkpoints we barely escaped fines, but since we were finally in the country that our bicycles were destined to reside, we got a lot of slack for our charitable cause. At one point Kara smoothed out a potential fine with a flash of our letter from the mayor of Carhaix and some sweet talking.

We arrived at the outskirts of Dakar at sunset last night, not knowing where we were or how were to get to our drop off point. After literally hours of traffic jams, asking directions, and driving aimlessly, we realized we were completely lost. Finallt at about 9PM we stopped to talk to a police officer. The funniest thing about the experience was that the cop had no idea himself where he was or how to get where we needed. He finally jumped in the trcuk with us, called our contact (with a conversation that started something like this, "Hello, this is the police. No, there is no problem..."). Thirty minutes later, we were at a random hotel, safe for the night, and completely exhausted from our three days of travel.

More to come about what we have dubbed the "post Daklha" portion of our adventure. WE all miss Thomas, but most important - we got the bikes and ourselves, in one piece, to Senegal.

1 comment:

Russ said...

Hooray for the team! We're delighted to learn that you -- and the bikes -- arrived safely in Dakar. I think we may need to change your name, though . . . to the Persistent Yanks. It's too bad Thomas didn't make it, but you can all take pride in accomplishing the essence of your mission.