There was some discussion during our rest over period in Dakar about the expenses of our trip. We were fairly confident that the trip would have been a whole lot cheaper a year or two ago, based simply on the stronger dollar then.
Well, I did the research. It turns out that the exchange rate between dollars and Euros hasn't changed all that much over the last two years. Based on my rather slipshod math, it appears that the same trip a year ago would have saved us about 10% of the cost. That's real money, I know - but it's not the halfing that we thought it would be.
Do the math yourself, if you want. Here's the table I looked at.
After all that, I realized that euro to dollar might be easier for some of us.
Here's all the numbers, inverted for your pleasure. ( I think the math works).
Here's the main page of the site: http://www.oanda.com/convert/fxhistory
you can run comparisons on the Moroccan Dirham or the CFA yourself, thank you very much.
BTW, I'm going to get seriously PO'ed if I'm the only yank posting in the future. You better be careful, or I won't invite you to my goat stew brunch.
Wednesday, February 28, 2007
There was some discussion during our rest over period in Dakar about the expenses of our trip. We were fairly confident that the trip would have been a whole lot cheaper a year or two ago, based simply on the stronger dollar then.
Monday, February 26, 2007
No, I don't think so. It appears that our experience of the chaotic Dakar airport has continued. I showed up last night to check in and made it as far as getting the baggage claim strip affixed to my luggage before Air France realized that the plane was full. I'll be taking the same selection of flights home today, getting in a day late - hopefully. On the plus side, I got to spend a night at the nicest hotel in Senegal (which is nice, but not as nice as you'd expect), got some flight credits and an exit row seat guarantee (not sure if i believe that one). On the down side, itùs another day until I can see Amanda and Ethan. 6 hours from now, I'll try it all again.
It sounds like the rest of the team made it through the tough part of getting out of Dakar. I hope they make it all the way home in one piece.
Scott, Kara and I are spending the day in the Almaides region in Northern Dakar. Mellow feel to it - definitely a well heeled area.
Saturday, February 24, 2007
Sorry for the dirth of updates, everyone. We've all been busy running around, trying to soak up as much of Senegal and Dakar as we can before we leave. I, personally, have spent the meager time in front of the computer trying to post pictures that we've taken recently - all to no avail. We'll just have to wait until our return state side before adding any more pictures, I think.
Half the team returns home tonight (or early tomorrow morning). The rest of us get into Washington on Monday or Tuesday. By random chance, this means that the stragglers get to witness the presidential election tomorrow (on Sunday). Should be interesting. We're thinking that most everything will be closed for election day, so we'll spend our remaining time on the Northern end of the Dakar penninsula, at one beach bar or hotel or another.
Many things have been happening since we've been in Dakar. Most of the things entail convincing one persistent seller or another that we're not interested in their knock off products, or their brother's store (just around the corner), or a phone card. Then again, we do end up buying almost everything that's for sale from someone or another, so one can understand their motivation.
We made it out to the DIG project yesterday. We were able to spend some time with the outpatient women who are developing one of the DIG gardens and we talked to Steve at length about his plans and dreams. It's an interesting project. Lots of pictures and personal experiences will be coming from the other team members in the near future, I imagine. As for me, I was amazed that they have been able to grow anything in the area - the ground is pretty much sand and scrub. They are using peanut shells as the ground soil in the beds. Interesting, too, that the hard part isn't necessarily in the vegetable production, but in getting outpatients to change their diet, and eat vegetables they've never seen before.
Last night was spent eating at a great little ethiopian restaurant, followed by a night of checking out the local music scene. The local music is called Mbalax, and chock full of myriad drums and african rhythms that you'd expect. What wasn't expected is the communal nature of the music - people come up from the crowd and take a turn on the congas, or sign a verse or two of the song, and then go back into the crowd. We were also able to witness some pretty intense dance offs throughout the night. Guys flail and stomp, showing off their skills and making fun of their competitors. It's difficult to describe, and fascinating to watch. Interestingly enough, it's the men who show off on the dance floor -- the women tend to be very understated, sticking to some basic knee bending and hip shacking. However basic it may be, easy it is not.
That's about it for the update. Tourist stuff is on the agenda today - last minute shopping for family and friends, and maybe a short trip out to one of the islands around the city. Pretty soon, we'll be able to update everyone live and in person. We all look forward to it.
Posted by Jay at 9:29 AM
Thursday, February 22, 2007
We met one of the guides who takes teams across the desert while we were waiting to cross the Mauritania to Senegal border a few days ago. He was on his way back from taking a five person team across the desert and mentioned that another team had lost a car during the crossing. They were eventually found and are doing fine, but put quite a fright into people. Nice guys, and we're all very happy to hear that they will be okay.
Here's the article:
I guess there are worse things than breaking down in a tourist town.
Wednesday, February 21, 2007
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.
Posted by Scott at 10:04 AM
Saturday, February 17, 2007
We're still in Dahkla. We're spending the day(s) talking to people, identifying our options, talking to more people, and spending an inordinate amount sitting in the hotel lobby waiting for news from one of the many people trying to help us out.
There are 2 main considerations and/or problems that we are trying to address. The first is how we get ourselves, and the bicycles, from here to Dakar, in Senegal. There are a number of potential solutions to this problem, all with their respective costs and benefits.
The second, and more serious, concern is how to deal with the bus. The Moroccan government is fairly strict about foreigners not leaving their vehicles in the country. Right now our options are to either A) "temporarily seal" the bus in a customs house, where it will sit until Ed returns to Morocco with the needed parts for repair or B) towing the bus out of the country. There's a three kilometer no man's land between Morocco and Mauritania where the bus can be left (the assumption being that someone will retrieve the bus once it is abandoned and claim ownership of it and do what they will with the whole or parts of Thomas). There are costs and benefits associated with these options, too, which we are deciphering and assessing.
We'll keep you posted on developments. In the meantime, if it's any consolation, the wind has picked up dramatically, and it's not quite as warm here as it was yesterday. We're thinking that the high winds will be an issue if we end up taking a flat bed truck, or hitching a ride on the roof of a freighter across the desert. Talk about sand in your face.
Friday, February 16, 2007
The Ottoman Empire has officially given up, and Thomas is beyond repair. As of noon today, Thomas bought a one way ticket to the great bus station in the sky, or wherever buses go when they exceed their utility. Apparently, one suh place may be the campground down the street, and the Yanks collectively are moving faster and more definitively than we have in weeks. Current focus is also on our evacuation strategy. Apprently, it is quite easy, for a price, to get from here to the Mauritanian side of the Senegalese border. it's a whole different story from there, and we are still trying to determine if we can do it with the bikes that we have been entrusted to deliver.
Though not without hope, and definitely not without options, things seem decidedly bleak despite the shining sun and beautiful weather. Though, we are still all thankful that we are in a safe comfortable place, and individually gearing up for an adventure of a different sort. maybe riding the bikes to Senegal isn't a bad idea after all. More news as it breaks...but we are fine, mostly well, and planning how we might pick the bus up and finish next year.
jenna and the Yanks
Posted by The Yanks at 12:06 PM
Thursday, February 15, 2007
Today was a day of hurry up and wait. Thomas was relieved of all her accessories as planned, and we anxiously awaited the arrival of Dakhla's master mechanics to remedy Thomas's ailments. 10 am came and went, as did 11 and eventually noon. Discouraged that our optimistic east coast concept of time was incompatible with local custom, the Ottoman Empire was phoned, and he arrived on the scene only to inform us that there would be no tow truck available until 3pm. Foiled again by the Moroccan lunch, we attempted to embrace the rest in the middle of the day, and ourselves went for sustenance. When in Rome....
With nothing to do but sit and wait and eat, we did just that, and attempted to adapt to local tradition. There was much deliberation in typical Penitent Yank style about a lot of dfferent scenarios. Anxiety about timing, and the need to meet other deadlines...flights, meetings, dropping off the bikes monopolized the conversation, and the optimism of last night's heartfelt team decision was replaced by more practical matters: can we make it to Dakar or Banjul in 6 days? The math was inescapable: 3 days of mechanical work + 6 days of driving = 0 wiggle room in the itinerary. Armed with a fistful of logic, and in line with our adjusted perception of time, we returned at 3:30, figuring that we perhaps might have mastered Moroccan time. Alas, we were wrong again, and our arrival met with Utman apparently trying to adapt to our concept of time, and we both just threw our arms up in disbelief.
With the Empire waiting, there was harried discussion about when it would be done, if it could be done, and that if it wasn't ready, we would be hitching the first camel out of town. i'd prefer an ATV myself, and after eating camel kebabs for dinner this evening (tastes like beef) I would be leery that my local ride would know I dined on his second cousing twice removed. New reassurances were given, and we got 3 down to 2.5 days, and we plan to depart from our new home away from home, Dakhla, first thing Sunday morning. In the meantime, evacuation planes by plane, train, automobile, ATV, camel, slow boat, and long bus ride are being hatched, Funy thing though, Kayak wouldn't load for me to check when and how this would occur, and refrains of Hotel California echoed through my mind. But Thomas has left the building, and we sit with fingers crossed in a semi-leap of faith that Utman's mecanical wizardry will get us and Thomas to Banjul as we planned.
Posted by Jenna at 4:23 PM
We spent the afternoon doing the British colonial thing - sitting on the veranda, playing cards (cinch is fun!), and drinking gin and tonics.
By 9 pm, we were ready for news, of any kind, from the mechanics. They spent the day running around town, looking for spare parts and trying to devise a solution. Here's what they brought back:
The good news is that the mechanics are fairly confident that they've found parts that can be modified to fit Thomas.
The bad news is that it's going to cost an arm and a leg to get done, and it's going to take at least three days of around the clock work. Based on our conversations last night, it sounds like most of the cost is going to the parts, and the labors pretty cheap. Based on this morning, "around the clock" work translates differently in Arabic. We took the bikes off the bus and all the perishable supplies into our rooms by 10 this morning, as requested. It's now past noon and we're still waiting for the mechanics to show up and tow the bus to the shop.
We had the longest team decision making session we've ever had last night, trying to come to an agreement on what to do. That's saying something, too, given how much we all love to talk. We've decided to go ahead with the repairs and continue our efforts to get Thomas to the Gambia. We all feel that we've come to far to stop now.
If all goes well, we'll be up and running, and loaded back up, by Sunday morning. This will put us well behind the rest of the PDCers, but we're hoping we can push ahead and that we might make it in time to join some of the teams lounging poolside in Banjul.
Keep your fingers crossed, and we'll keep you all posted on developments. A huge thank you goes out to everyone who has been doing so much to give us a long distance helping hand. Your efforts, your prayers, and your words of encouragement are all greatly appreciated.
Wednesday, February 14, 2007
Well folks...the mechanique came by this morning and took our oil pan off. There was an immediate reaction in Arabic and the three guys came out from under Thomas shaking their heads. It sort of felt like when someone opens a conversation with "I have some unfortunate news...".
We have a broken crankshaft and possibly blown pistons. Very bad news indeed.
We are exploring all options and if anyone has any resources in the U.S. to acquire and ship parts please post in the comment or call us at 00 212 072 08 94 25.
We have been calling the embassy, the consulate and even US AID to see if thy might have parts. In some late breaking semi-hopeful news another master mechanic came by an hour ago and said he is going to drive all over Dahkla today and see what he can scare up. He is returning to the hotel at 9PM tonight with any news. He seemed hopeful.
On the good side, all the folks at the Sahara Regency have been ace in helping us. They have reduced our hotel rates to semi-permanent resident status and there is a Valentine's Day BBQ on the roof top tonight. Freia and her husband, Colin, are ex-pats living here and have been a great source of information, mechanics, and pretty much everything else. Without them, and the fact that we got the bus to Dahkla, we would absolutely be sunk.
More later. Keep your fingers crossed.
Posted by Scott at 8:29 AM
We definitely picked the right place to break down. Plenty to do while we wait. Mike, jenna and I went 4 wheeling in the desert, down the beach and along the lagoon.
Other options we may need to consider - surfing on the atlantic side, kite surfing in the lagoon, frying ourselves on the beach, deep sea fishing, reading books, writing home to Mom, plaing a major Cinch championship. The list is endless.
Tuesday, February 13, 2007
You've heard the story before, and now you've got some pictures to go with it.
First, the bus stopped working.
Then, these local guys came along ( and you ask yourself, 'can there be a hoodie without a hood?'). These guys were unbelievably friendly and helpful, sticking around with us for hours and doing everything they could to keep our spirits up and the bus running.
Then a passing semi stopped for a while and tried to help out, too. This guy was hauling a large load of small rocks. In the desert!
'So, Scott, what's my motivation in this scene? Do I actually fix the thing, or just look like I'm trying to get it working? Union regs say we get a break now, you know.'
This is your brain in an internet cafe.
This picture was actually taken a few days ago, in a different 'cyber cafe' in a different town. Jenna's now wearing a greenish shirt (actually, it could be the same one). The place may be differen, but the ambiance definitely remains the same.
Posted by Jay at 7:58 PM
After leaving Jay and Eddie in the dust...literally, Mike and I hitched a ride with Tanya and Zoe from the middle of nowhere to Dakhla. Scott and Kara did the same, but with Emma and Alice. After getting in the car and hitting 120 km per hour for the first time since I left the States, I began to feel like I was in a race car, not a banger Alfa recovered from a farm in southern France. It was hard to believe that 200 km would only take 2 hours, not the 4 that Thomas takes, but as we sped through the desert to Dakhla, we kept our eyes open for anything remotely resembling a tow truck. Fortunately, my perception of what a Moroccan tow truck looks like is inaccurate, or slightly so, because as we hit the halfway mark I thought to myself that Jay and Eddie were in for a long night. Fears were slightly allayed when we were informed that the truck had left about an hour and half ago upon our arrival to Dakhla. Still, towing the bus would be, and was, a long arduous task, and the Yanks that were left in the desert arrived to the swanky Sahara Regency around half past midnight.
While Jay and Eddie were having a harrowing journey to Dakhla behind a tow truck driver who was apparently visually challenged, I was busily chatting up our future mechanic, Utman, or as Scott called him, Ottoman, at the lounge on the rooftop terrace. Important team business. Although the Ottoman Empire offered up pistachios and what I believe were assurances that he would get Thomas back in tip-top shape, apparently we were not first in line for his legendary mechanical skills. The Ottoman Empire showed up at noon as he said he would, looked at the bus for 5 minutes, and promptly took a two hour lunch.
Fortunately, some of the Yanks were given a leave for some R and R, and what better way to wait for the Ottoman Empire than to spend the afternoon riding quads up and down the peninsula. Jay, Mike, and I joined the Norwegian Army for donuts, jumps, hair-raising dunes, coastal flats, and a lot of sand. It was exactly what was needed, because, face it, how else would we pass the time whilst waiting for the Ottoman Empire to come without pulling out our hair?
As we splashed through the surf, kicked up the dust, and got various wheel in numerous configurations off the ground, the grins returned to our faces and we temporarily forgot that we were actually unable to predict how long we would be in Dakhla, or how much it was going to cost to get us out. Several hours later we returned to the hotel, showered, and the Ottoman Empire appeared. Covers were removed, electricians brought in, but no real progress was made. With a promise to return tomorrow, the Ottoman Empire himself cleaned up for another evening at the rooftop lounge, where Hotel California was eerily playing in the background. You can check out anytime you like...
The remaining teams joined us in our attempts to troubleshoot the state of affairs with Thomas. Considering the multitude of mechanically adept individuals who just cannot resist a proper challenge, and the kind and generous spirits of those who also feel that trekking through the Sahara in a banger is a smashingly good idea for charity, Thomas was poked, prodded, and unhinged anew. Although Thomas did not spring back to life, a number of things that are not wrong with Thomas were discovered, including the fuel pump. The diesel coming out of the engine looked good, and so the puzzle of Thomas remained.
Now, we sit and wait for the return of the Ottoman Empire, and hope that tomorrow brings clear news. In the meantime, there is a Valentine Day party tomorrow evening to keep us busy, and a whole lot of beautiful desert yet to explore. Maybe off to see some monolithic dunes, and hopefully news that the Ottoman Empire has conquered Thomas. so that we may continue our journey.
Posted by Jenna at 7:48 PM
So, we're still alive, but the bus ain't kicking yet. We had one more valiant effort with the bus from some fellow challengers before they settled in and prepared for a very early start tomorrow morning. The last five or so teams (besides us) will be heading out into the desert tomorrow morning. We'll be meeting with the town master mechanic. Things aren't looking too good in our cup's tea leaves, but we're keeping our hopes and our spirits up for the time being. With nothing better to do than watch the computer take fifteen minutes to render a webpage or a half hour to send an email, and being quickly bored with counting the number of flies crawling across my arms (five at last count), I thought I'd load up some more pictures onto the blog. Who knows, maybe the added bandwidth will actually cause the entire western sahara backbone to collapse, depriving countless local young men of their daily intake of illegal music videos and causing a massive upswell in civil unrest and political instability. If only we could be so lucky. One of the few upsides to our current mess is a roof top bar and pool at the hotel that would make a worth set for Miami Vice. A strictly Muslim Miami Vice, sans bikinis (or women), booze or smokes. And, in the case of our hotel, without any chlorine in the pool.
Someday, boys and girls, maybe you'll get lucky enough to hear what it is like to towed for 175 kilometers behind a drunk towtruck driver on a four foot tow line in the middle of the night on an unmarked and poorly paved road. Let's just say that cars may be real, but semis are scary.
This is what a short school bus looks like when it is broken down in Western Sahara:
This is the view from the broken down bus:
Jay hit save on his previous post moments before catastrophe...our first break down.
We stopped somewhere between Bougador and Dahkla to refuel. Immediately after fuelling up, Thomas started acting funny. We pulled over to check things out and cleaned out our fuel filter, thinking perhaps we got some bad diesel. He started up after a period of re-priming the pump and we were off. 5km down the road the bus just shut down - nothing...we glided to a stop and the reality of our first breakdown in the middle of nowhere set in. We were going nowhere and there was NOTHING on the horizon but sand and rocks...
After a few minutes of trying to figure out what was going on, a posse of merry Moroccans stopped to see how we were doing. With a little French, and a little English we decided to try to bleed the tank of fuel and see if we could refuel with one of our reserve jerry cans. Lacking wrenches and other materials within an hour or so we were convinced we were indeed stuck...and stuck for a while. Talk of tow trucks, a little soccer in the desert with our new friends, and some last ditch attempt by our highly unmechanical team to try jump starting the bus from our friends 1976 Mercedes ate up another hour until we saw some familiar cars driving down the road - fellow PBCers! and lots of them caravaning to Dahkla!
Soon we had a festival like atmosphere around the bus - between the teams and our new friends, there were close to 30 people at work on the bus. The Moroccans left and returned with lunch for the team and we all sort of hung out and had a the best time we could due to the circumstances. Thanks to the Recycled Teenagers and a few other teams expertise, we decided to try to rig a can fuel directly to the fuel filter and bypass the fuel lines - serious MacGyver stuff here.
A few more hours and we all came to the conclusion that we had to tow the bus to Dahkla - about 90 miles. Kara, Scott, Mike and Jenna set off with other teams while Jay and Eddie stayed behind, alone in the desert, with nothing for miles.
Upon arriving, we got to work trying to sort out a depanage - tow truck. After a hairy few hours, a truck was on the way to our boys in the desert, who were apparently cookng food, hanging out with the Moroccans, and generally having a good time.
While the other team settled into a nice hotel in Dahkla, Eddie and Jay began a very hairy night time tow through the desert. The truck arrived, piloted by a semi-inebriated mechanic, and they hooked it up to a four foot long pole. The boys had to steer the bus at night, riding on a hard line behind the truck, crawling through the desert for more than three hours.
They arrived shortly after midnight, looking ragged with lots of stories from the experience.
We are currently stuck in Dahkla - the hotel has arranged a mechanic to look at the bus today. We will know later today what the prognosis is. We are all hopeful, but we have also discussed the possibility of Thomas becoming a permanent resident of Dahkla if there is something seriously wrong. Hopes are high though, and the mechanic who is looking at it is crack guy. This town is full of mechanics and diesel trucks - a good combination for six stuck Yanks.
While the rest of the teams have set off for the desert today, we remain. But at least the hotel is posh, and in a town of windsurfing and beaches, there are worst places to be stuck.
Stay tuned. Hopefully well be on the road soon...Inshallah...
Posted by Scott at 10:02 AM
We arose at the crack of dawn to head out to Dahkla, both because we really want to get there in time to get organized for the sand crossing and because our hotel was pretty damn bad. Communal toilets that had seen better, and cleaner, days. Small beds in dirty rooms with sheets of unknown origin. Ed felt that we were roughing it, and I tent to agree, although I have to admit that I have saayed in worse places before.
Dinner was the sole bright spot in that pretty dismal town. Fresh roasted chicken and fries, and a really friendly waitstaff.
We heard from Benny, te desert guide, through our new cell phone last night. He’s going to meet us at the camp site in Dahkla, and all our questions, and prayers, will be answered. We’ve been wondering whether we should take the desert crossing, or the new road – whether we need a guide or not if we do take the road, if we need to cross on the road with a caravan of other cars, etc. Clearly, we are leaning towards taking the road rather than the open desert, as we would rather make it to Banjul (and dar-es-salaam) than have fun driving a bus through sand (or, better yet, have fun digging a bus out of sand).
The bikes on the roof are still generating an incredible amount of interest from the locals. We are accosted b at least 2 or 3 separate people every time we stop, asking us if we’d be willing to give them, or sell them, the bicycles. Older men have offered to buy them all off of us, and youger kids have asked for a single bike. There must a huge demand for simple modes of transportation around here. We’re thinking that there might be a business opportunity for some enterprising individuals who want to finance their next vacation. Used bicycles from Europe and tshirts from the us would go a long way towards paying for travel costs.
Don’t worry, Jacques, all the bikes we have are still accounted for. We’ve been guarding them with our lives.
Yesterday was a long drive from tan-tan to Boujdour. The terrain has become much more desert like – rocky, with small scrub brush scattered about. It’s not the sand dunes that one envisions when one hears the word “Sahara” – it’s more like the desert out in death valley and the sourthwest us. Except we’re following a rocky cliff face that drops into the ocean. There are occasional shipwrecks (we’ve seen 3 so far). Very few people. Very few towns, and the few that we passed through or drove around seemed desolate.
WE just stopped to take pictures of a pack(?)/pod(?)/herd(?) of wild camels. They’re one humped here, if you’re interested.
The hotel the night before last in Tan tan wasn’t much better than the one last night, although it was better and had cleaner bathrooms. No hot water, though. It is almost camping, except we don’t have to erect our own tents, or break up camp in the morning, and there’s running water, electricity, and a sturdy roof over our heads that won’t fly away in a strong wind (which there’s plenty of out here). I think that we’ll be spending a lot more time camping from here on out. That should be interesting.
We’ve been getting stopped by the police checkpoints much more frequently than before. In Moroco, we were generally waved through. Here, in Western Sahara, we get stopped at every one. Everytime, it’s the same questions: “where are you going? Why are you going there? What’s your name, what’s your occupation?” It gets a little repetitive, and can take up to an hour to deal with, but we haven’t had any real problems with the guards as of yet, they haven’t asked for any bribes as of yet, and they’ve mostly been very pleasant people. I don’t think that we could have asked for any more.
The roads have been much nicer than I expected, as well. We’ve been driving on 2 lane blacktop through most of western sahara. It’s not well paved, but there aren’t many pot holes. The sides are cumbling and it’s fairly narrow, which makes passing semis or passing oncoming traffic an experience, but the road is not very well traveled, so that hasn’t been a problem. I was expecting graded dirt and potholes the size of houses.
This hasn’t been the tough, roughing it experience that we expected so far. Then again, the tough parts of the challenge are still ahead. Maybe I am seaking, or typing, too soon.
Posted by Scott at 10:00 AM
A long over due post about our tire saviors, Kate and Rashid. Upon arriving in Marrakech we checked our email to see that Kate had sent us a note that Rashid had actually found our 8R19.5 tires in Casa! A very excted team mobilized to figure out how to get the tires to Marrakech.
After a few calls, Kate and Rashid offered to bring the tires directly to Marrakech - going well beyond gracious, they were on the road that evening. Upon arrival we unloaded what had seemed almost impossible to find - three new 8R19.5 tires. Rashid had found them at a tire shop. The owner had apparently bought a huge shipping container full of tires a long time ago, and these were in there. Brand new, but at least ten years old! That night we went into Marrakech to celebrate with a nice dinner in the main square - complete with shish kabobs, eggplant, and tea - all in the open air.
The next day, we brough the tires to a shop and found they fit the rims, but were somehow different than the old tires. No worries, with a little olive oil soap and some Morrocan ingenuity, we were on the road in a few hours. We bid Kate and Rashid adieu, as they had to get back to Casa. The whole team is so grateful for their help - again above and beyond the call of duty, and just one more indication of how nice and hospitable the people of Morocco have been during our entire trip. Cheers to Kate and Rashid!
Sorry about the picture, but I cant get it to rotate properly
Posted by Scott at 9:32 AM
Saturday, February 10, 2007
A bitter sweet farewell to Essaouira, partly because we loved the town so much and partly because we left another of our short termers behind. Amanda is heading back to Marrakech and the US today, and the bus - with the six Yanks who will see him to the Gambia - is heading south.
Stopped for lunch currently in the seaside town of Taghazout, just north of Agadir. The entire stretch of coast line here looks very similar to the California coastline, and is chock full of Europeans, mostly surfers.
We happened upon one of the most interesting things we've seen yet on the trip today - goats in trees! The local farmers herd goats and they eat the Argan nuts off of trees (Argan oil is is a regional product here and it is for sale every where). Anyway, the goats have figured out how to literally climb the trees to get to the nuts - some climb all the way to the top! Pictures to follow of this Darwinian marvel...
Hope to make far south today - at least Tan-Tan...
Posted by Scott at 6:51 AM
Friday, February 09, 2007
We have devoted an incredible amount of energy..we have gone round and round...to find tires and tire accessories. Today, Ed, Mike, and I walked aound trying to find a tire iron....because the one we have DOES NOT FIT our tires. The three of us purchased what we thought would work; returned to the bus in our premature glee with a brand new tire key... which did not fit either. I left Eddie and Mike throwing a frisbee on the beach whilst I marched back to the shop for a refund!!!or at least, and more optimistically, an exchange. After Khaled, Kate, and Rashid had exerted so much effort, add to the list now Mustafa and Baub. These two drove me around the entire town, and half jokingly suggested Marrakech. We visited every shop that might have an appropriately sized tire iron, or a reasonable facsimile...to no avail. In the end, after a cup of tea; we came upôn the idea to use a bigger iron size, equipped with spqcers to fill in the gaps. This is our makeshift tool..until we get a flat, or get to the Gambia, whichever comes first...pray for us qnd the Gambia first!!!
Posted by Jenna at 6:24 PM
comments from the pictures:
More images from the bus. Working on the bus and lots of mirrors.
Our dipstick is eight feet long. We have the biggest dipstick in the entire challenge.
Scott filming his apocalypse now homage.
No more western toilets. Be afraid for us.
Pictures with Khalid and the rest of the tire company crew. We took a very nervous Khalid on a three hour cruise through the streets of Casablanca looking for spare tires. He's engaged, according to sources in the know. We replaced a wheel and got a picture zith the staff. pics with Kate and Rashid are forthcoming.
We've made it as far as Essaouira, a little beachfront town popular with the westerners. Imaginge the set from Disney's Alladin and add a patina of third world disrepair, exhaust fumes, and do it yourself construction projects, and you'll have a decent idea of what the place looks like.
The decision has been to spend a day, today, resting and regrouping for the long trip down the coast roads toward Dahkla. This will put us a day off schedule, but the cost is worth the chance to recharge and fill up our tanks with energy and patience. Expect several updates throughout the day from everyone as we take breaks to upload text and images. This may well be the last time for a while where we will be around any sort of connection, however intermittent and minimal, to the internet.
Had our first dirt and rock road travel experience yesterday, traveling across the plains from Marrakech to here. The scenery was straight out of high plains drifter. yikes -- google brings back all the results in arabic script. yawza. and i can't get to the exclamation point. it's the fourth option over the 1 key.
Anyway, we nearly fell apart on that short stretch of the road, and we think that we may have lost something associated with the suspension or the frame, but we're still rolling.
Staying at a gorgeous riad in the medina for 2 nights. We'll leave Amanda here tomorrow morning for 3 hard days of driving. She'll take the bus - local, not ours - back to Marrakech.
Posted by Jay at 6:58 AM
Thursday, February 08, 2007
A quick note as the internet connection here is slow....we are the proud owners of three new tires. Like guardian road angels, friends of Farahs, Kate and Rashid, who live in Casablanca found us three brand new tires. They were put on this morning and we are off to Essaouira soon. Much relief, more to come with faster internet and less wacky keyboard configuration...
Posted by Scott at 8:29 AM
Wednesday, February 07, 2007
I'm pretty sure that there are several of us, all updating the blog at the same time from different internet cafes, so i'll be brief. We made it to Marrakech with little problems. Spent the better part of a day in casablanca, looking for tires, to no avail.
roads are deterioriating slowly the further south we go. Interstate toll road to casablanca; 2 laner blacktop after that. Only encounter western toilets in the nicer hotels now. I imagine they will soon be a fond memory. Can't wait to explore the medina and souks. will be here for another night before heading to Essouira, on the coast.
Keyboard makes typing very timeconsuming andf error prone. Internationalization of all internet products is^n't helping much, either; web mail and blogger default to the local language __ either french or arabic. Navigating by memory and guesses. Plenty of time during this brief one day break to post more updates, and pics for families.
And so it is written, we are in Morocco.
We arrived in Tangiers, and after a lengthy stay in customs, complete with mint tea service at our bus(for a nominal fee of course) we passed through the gates into a new country, and a new continent.
It took a few hours for the Yanks to start settling into the new culture, many discussions were had about how to do this, how to do that, and we all came to the conclusion that a smile and observing those around you is always a good start.
One thing that is becoming apparent is, that with our schedule, and our primary mission of getting the bus to Gambia being the priority, alot of sightseeing is falling by the wayside. We made the decision not to go to Fes, even though we all wanted to see it, and push as far as we could towards Casablanca. We made it to Mohammedia our first night- a beach town just north of Casa. Mohammedia is largely a summer resort, so the next morning, after waking up to the 7am call to prayer, it was off to Marrakech. As we were drving out of town we decided to ask about tires and actually found a tire shop near the hotel. The guys there were definitely intrigued by the bus and the Yanks and before long one intrepid employee, Khalid, joined to Yanks to drive around Casa to find tires. It was funny at first - he looked nervous to be getting on this bus with eight American strangers and after much ribbing from his compatriots about BON VOYAGE and HAVE FUN IN SENEGAL in French, we were off on the hunt. Khalid was great, and before long, partly in French and partly in English we talked about the trip and about his fiance Fatima.
To make a long story short Khalid led us all over an industrial area of Casa in search of tires. A few hopeful moments, but no dice. We returned to his shop, Pneu Anime, and changed out our worst tire with the one spare left which is in better shape and hit the road to Marrakech. All the people at Pneu Anime were wonderful and there will be pictures to follow.
We are in Marrakech until tomorrow night and just ran into our first fellow PBCers here at the internet cafe. More later its time to go explore the souks in the medina.
We pretty much decided our new tire approach is cross our fingers and hope we make it. Thanks to everyone who helped here and back in the US try to find les pneus.
We are making one last call to Karas friend Kate in Casa who may have a lead. If that works out an advance team will return to Casa for the tires and then we head south, south, south....
Posted by Scott at 7:12 AM
Monday, February 05, 2007
Just a quick note, as we are gathering supplies, doing laundry and spending our last moments in Europe. The bus is going to make it to Africa! We will be on a ferry from Tarifa to Tangiers in a few hours and then the adventure really begins. We are all excited and are so happy Thomas, the little bus that could, will definitely touch African soil...more later!
Posted by Scott at 5:17 AM
The bus has a magical quality - it defintely draws attention on the road, but even our fellow PBCers loved it. So, why not have a party on the bus? Sunday night, while our fellow Americans were watching the Superbowl, we had a great time fraternizing with the rest of teams - Brits, Portuguese, Belgians, and so far, the only Americans in site - The Penitent Yanks. Scott was even made an honorary British citizen by Trevor and Jonas. The one thing everyone expressed was the desire to help make sure our little bus makes it to the Gambia.
Mike here now . . . .blogging with Scott and preparing photos for uploads. Many of the other teams expressed their excitement about our vehicle as it embodies the spirit of the race. Many of the vehicles in the past challenges were newer vehicles and the PBC coordinator was fruastrated with the lack of "unconventional" road machines. Our arrival turned spirits and reignited the passion for many on this challenge- more to come!
Posted by Scott at 5:05 AM
From Cadiz, we drove to Tarifa - a beautiful town famed for its surfing and kite surfing. Eddy was in heaven! Most importantly, it was the first meeting point for the entire Plmouth-Banjul Challenge. Before we got off the bus at the hotel we sensed something...familiar. Ah yes, it was the assortment of crazy looking vehicles with stickers and paint all over them. That night we started to meet the rest of the teams and hear their stories - their cars, their backgrounds, and why they were doing this crazy challenge. We were amazed at the age range of the participants. On one hand, we met Mike and Pete, eighteen and nineteen, respectively. Everyone´s first question was - YOUR PARENTS ARE LETTING YOU DO THIS?! Cheers to them! We also met the Recycled Teenagers team - a group of retirees with very young hearts. A great time was had by all, and we looked forward to NOT having to get on the road in the morning...
Posted by Scott at 4:54 AM
The trip from Madrid to Sevilla started, then stopped 30 meters later, when we couldn´t get our bus out of the Madrid airport parking lot. Somehow, we got in, but the exit gate was lower. Luckily the friendly folks at the car park opened a gate for us, and signed the bus as well. They said they wanted to come along...
Once you leave the mesa that Madrid is on, you hit the plains. Olives, vinyards, and lots of wind. This is "La Mancha" - famous for Don Quixote and his pugilistic attitude towards windmills. Well, all the old mills have been replaced with high tech ones - he would have a much harder time fighting them these days...
Along the way we tried to secure some tires, but the only ones we found were farm vehicle tires. We decided that unless we each wanted to buy a tire, and roll to Senegal inside them, we were out of luck for the meantime.
The rains in Spain do fall mainly on the plains, so we were in the drink after a few hours of driving, a rain that would not let up until we reached Cadiz the next day. After a rainy stop in Sevilla to pick up the final memeber of the team, Amanda, we were off again in a maelstrom of precipitation. We were finally ALL on the bus and spirits were high despite the rain...
In Cadiz, we spent the afternoon walking around and enjoying the sun and warm weather for the first time on our trip. Cadiz is considered the oldest city in Europe, founded in 1100 B.C. by Phoenician traders, now they have a Ben&Jerry´s - who would have thought?
Posted by Scott at 4:42 AM
Spirits were high in Madrid, as we had our first rendez-vous with more Yanks for the bus - Jenna and Ed. The team hit a great restaurant for paella and stories from the road. Then it was time to experience some of the nightlife in the Cheuca district. Drinks and laughs, and even flaming Sambuca drinks. One night, and we were off...Hasta Luego, Madrid, it was fun!
Posted by Scott at 4:34 AM
Friday, February 02, 2007
Pictures taken driving from Bilbao to Madrid, and some shots of the outside of the museum in Bilbao.
We added ¨Bikes for Africa¨to the side of the bus because we realized that observers have no idea what we´re doing or why we´re driving this eyesore around. Mike did a good job of making letters out of tape. Yes, we realize we´ll be in Africa in three days, but I think everyone gets the point.
Posted by Jay at 3:37 AM
We´ve made it to Madrid, where we´re madly researching tire sources before we head out to Sevilla to meet up with Amanda. We´ll probably cross paths with her earlier in the day when we go out to the airport and get the bus out of the long term parking and she´s switching planes on her flight. I imagine she´ll have an easier time getting to Seville than we will.
The bus is handling pretty well. It seems to be running a little more smoothly than before -- Thomas has been getting in shape with all the work it´s been doing.
We´re still looking for a source of tires. Huge thanks go to Kevin, Scott´s Dad, for doing the virtual legwork and searching for spares. It looks like shipping tires is going to be prohibitively expensive (no surprise). We´ll try again in Gibraltar and see if we have any better luck. Some of us also think that we might have better luck with tires in Africa itself, where they tend to drive more U.S. vehicles (from Aid work) and have older vehicles in operation. Anyway, tires are still the number one concern on the bus, closely followed by engine fluids, which is closely followed by the suspension, which is closely followed by...
Oh, yeah, we met up with Jenna and Ed2. I bet there´s a bunch of you who were worried about her. It worked out pretty well, although it was kind of a late night before we all got together. Then they were seven.
We´ve got a long drive ahead of us today, straight from Madrid to Sevilla. No big plans between here and there, but it will probably be late in the evening before we are there.
Wish us well.
San Sebastian is a great little city on the Northern coast of Spain. We had a fairly chaotic time driving through the town, and found ourselves in some pretty close quarters and tight turns, all the while getting some serious stares, smiles, waves and hoots from the commuters around us. the reaction to the bus, if we haven´t said so before, changed radically once we crossed the border. The Spanish, at least those in the Basque area, are much more expressive in their opinions. We´ve been getting a lot of honks, light flashes and arm pumping from cars passing us (They tend to drive much more aggressively than the French as well, so there´s lots of passing going on).
We made it to Bilbao in the morning. The Guggenheim museum is pretty amazing, both the structure and it´s contents. Definitely worth the stopover.
Drove about 400 Km from Bilbao to Madrid. Fairly mountainous travel, and snow everywhere throughout. Not the kind of traveling you want to do on a bus with no heat! I figured out around Bordeaux that there are two small holes near the pedals that blow air right on the driver´s feet. I´ve been wearing three pairs of socks and my boots, and my feet were still blocks of ice at the end of the day. We´re all looking forward to the warmer weather we expect in the South.
Posted by Jay at 1:00 AM
This was written by Scott during our drive yesterday, it encompasses a lot of our French experience, about which I, personally, have been unable to encapsulate or communicate effectively. Sort of like that sentence. The point it - our time with Jacques and his friends was pretty extraordinary.
A DAY TO REMEMBER
Well it’s been a fun and busy few days. Driving, eating, fixing tires, driving, getting gas, driving. I think if there were one thing that we all wish we had on this trip was more time. By the time we get to our destination, eat, and figure out a plan for the next day, we are all wiped out. But it beats the day job!
We are currently en route to Madrid (in Madrid by the time you read this) and have a four hour drive to reflect a little on the past week. We want to keep the blog updated as best as possible so we don’t let too much of our trip fly by without writing about it. Details tend to fade and brief summarizations become more prevalent, sort of like that diary you kept as a kid (or at least mine) – January was chock full of musings and minutae of each day, by March things start to taper off. I personally never made it past April. But I tell you this, I can tell you what I was doing every January-March through most of the Eighties!
It will be a week tomorrow morning that Eddy, Mike, Kara and I landed in London and headed to Southampton, but it seems like a lifetime. Part of that is the nature of travel – new experiences at every turn, so much to take in – it makes a day seem like three days of life when you are in comfortable surroundings, living your “normal” existence. Yesterday we started the day with coq au vin in France, and ended it with tapas in Spain!
I think we can all agree that our time in Breton will be one of the highlights of this entire trip though. We got off the ferry in St. Malo on Monday morning and started the first real leg of driving. It was surreal, partly because we stayed up way too late on the ferry, and partly because we had a two hour drive ahead of us and…well this was it! This is what we have been talking and planning, and now we are actually on the bus going somewhere.
We arrived in Callac, France on time at our appointed meeting spot and immediately saw a small Citroen flashing it lights at us. Jacques and the team’s e-mails were not for naught – everything worked out perfectly. We met Jacques and his wonderful sister Marie Claude and immediately entered a maelstrom of activity that would make anyone’s head spin, let alone five weary (admittedly, the weariness was self inflicted) travelers. We stopped for coffee and discussed the day and got to know each other. We were all immediately struck by the open-heartedness of our new French friends. It was one of those far and few between times when you meet someone and everything just clicks immediately, easy conversation, laughs and cheer all around.
We headed out to Christian and Mireille’s house, where we met some of the other members of the association Solidarite Dar El Salam; Guy Guivarch, the president, Francois, Kara and I’s host for the evening, and a bunch of other people. More conversation, a bottle of wine (this would become a recurrent theme during the day!), and a beautiful presentation of a Breton flag to our team.
As a side note, to our American readers, Breton, or Britanny, is in the north west of France and fiercely independent, much like Wales or maybe even the Basque country of Spain, the language of the area (Breton) is spoken by many, if not most, residents and is taught to school children as part of their regular curriculum. It is Celtic in origin and the area has its own distinct and beautiful culture.
Time for lunch! We headed into Carhaix and had a great lunch with the whole group and got to know each other even more. Then to the local grammar school, where the kids had organized bicycles for loading on the bus. This was our purpose here – to pick up bicycles from the association and transport them all the way to Senegal – to the village of Dar Es Salam. The association has been doing charitable work with this small village in East Senegal for ten years, and we thought it would be a great addition to the bus and in the spirit of the entire idea. One of the original ideas that the team came up with was to transport bicycles during the journey…
The kids at the school were wonderful! It was so exciting to see them engaged in this project to benefit other kids. We all feel by making a connection at an early age that the individual can directly benefit the well-being of another, especially across cultures, is a valuable lesson for kids – and hopefully an impressionable one. In the U.S., where our exposure to other cultures is limited in some ways (geographically), it seems like the spirit of a global culture and connectivity gets lost a lot. Needless to say, our current government isn’t doing much to make that better either. Thanks W!
Trois Ouest, a Breton language news station, came and did a story on us (we got to see it the next day) and we just had lots and lots of fun with the kids. They LOVED the cameras, so we let them ham it up to their hearts content.
Next stop, another social hour at a local bar. We did so much on our day in Carhaix, it was truly amazing that we ALSO took the time after each stop to unwind, have a glass of wine, and chat. A lovely aspect of French culture that is certainly more apparent when we, as Americans, always work, work, work…
We ambled across the street to the mayor’s office to meet and exchange cadeaux (gifts). We gave the entire group of our French hosts Penitent Yanks t-shirts, but that was far outweighed by their generosity at every turn – food, gifts, drinks. We explained that as Americans, we are so used to paying our own way, that it’s hard to get out of that mentality and let your host be just that…a host.
The meeting with the mayor was brief, a little bit of formality, in a very casual day. He presented us with a beautiful book about Carhaix and showed us his Breton mayoral sash, different than the standard rouge-blanc-bleu in the rest of France. More wine and cheese and some photos and we were off again. Drinks before dinner and then out to the bowling alley. Bowling alley, you say? Carhaix is a beautiful farming community, and like rural areas everywhere, there is not a Starbuck’s on every corner and a Quickie Mart. Another wonderful banquet style dinner, more drinks and conversation, then back to Christian’s. We spent the rest of the evening socializing, drinking wine, and comparing differences in language, euphemisms and quirks of respective cultures. I think the highlight of the evening was trying to explain what the term “banana hammock” meant… Christian and Mireille’s daughter, Pauline, joined us in conversation, and got a kick out this wacky group of Americans in her house. Close to 2AM, Kara and I finally retired to Francois’ house for the evening (thanks Francois for the beautiful room and for being the consummate host!).
The next morning we repacked the bikes and headed out for the next leg of our adventure – south to Bordeaux. All in all, we got thirteen bikes, two wheelchairs, and a few walkers on the roof. We would have loved to take every single bicycle in the garage on our journey, but Thomas is a short bus after all.
Jacques, Marie Claude, and everyone in Carhaix were so wonderful – truly something I think all the Yanks are going to remember for a lifetime – and who knows – hopefully it won’t be the last time we’ll ever see our friends and the beautiful countryside of Carhaix. There is a HUGE music festival there in the summer and we all would love to go back. And we all hope to stay connected, and work towards the common cause, of making the world a better place by whatever means we can. So for now…
Kenavo! Au Revoir! See you again!
Posted by Jay at 12:30 AM