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A bargain: $200 for a piece of rope.

Meanwhile, while I’d been having my out of body fish experience, Rick, Ryan, and Alioune were having a merry old time, drinking tea and taking Polaroids for the women that we could give to their relatives some 30 miles away (3 hours) in Chinguetti. Rick bought a bracelet but to our surprise when we left, the women gave US gifts. A toy stuffed camel for Ryan, a little drum for Rick, and a ring for me. Add the secret brew to this list, and this one goes into the category ‘oh for the kindness of strangers’.

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We bid the women adieu and continued our journey across the desert to Chinguetti. Alioune, bless his heart, led us slightly (an hour) astray, but thanks to Rick insisting we pulled out the GPS. We stopped to look at it and I couldnt sit any more. I lay down in the sand, right in a pile of camel poo but I was too ill to care.

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My usefulness was limited to being a prop to rest the GPS on, of which Alioune was extremely suspicious. However she got us back on track and between the two of them we found a nice hotel. Alioune had told me there was a swimming pool, which kept my spirits buoyant enough to stay alive for the rest of the journey, but it turned out to be a well. Lost in translation.

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Surprise, we found a lovely auberge run by a French lady named Sylvette. I immediately collapsed, ate stale, chewy water crackers for dinner, watched an episode of Game of Thrones, and fell asleep. I didn’t realize how sick I’d been until I woke the next morning and found that while I’d been in repose in the comfy auberge courtyard, I’d been surrounded by spa menus. The only spa in Mauritania and I’d missed it! Shocking oversight on my part.

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Next, we drive back to Atar, where we are told that now we can get official wedding papers. Awesome. Don’t know what changed between today and three days ago, but awesome nonetheless. Oh, wait a minute…it’s going to cost $900 to pay off the imam, the judge, and the governor, who should be doing it for free. What do you want to pay? they ask. We don’t want to pay anything. They are not accustomed to our new style of bargaining. Screw that. We are sick of funding the national economy of Mauritania, and at the rate we are traveling, spending 90% of our time being stopped by police or lost or stuck or lost and stuck, it’ll be June 2015 before we make it to Mali, let alone Ghana. Let’s completely change plans, drive through the desert for the next few days to find crocodiles, back to Nouakchott for visas then Senegal, Guinea Bissau, The Gambia, Senegal again, and off to New Zealand to get the official marriage certificate! Wedding #3! Our decision was cemented when leaving Atar we tried to buy some rope. For 9 meters of an old, ratty, used piece of string they quoted us 50,000 oogyas – $200US. Anyone who thinks Africa is cheap, it’s a lie.

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Leaving Atar we drove past fields of broken glass and breathed a sigh of relief. The weddings had been spectacular, but we are solitary creatures and it was relaxing to be out of the hubbub, although we did miss Ryan’s sarcastic sense of humor and running commentary on Rick’s [insert anything]. As usual the police were out in force, but always friendly. At the next stop they waved us through after the usual ‘Je suis desole. Nous ne parlons pas Francais’ until we heard “Stop! Stop!” They are running after us. Oh god, what have we done now. “Why you not speak French if you Canadian?!” they demand, but nicely. Because Rick didn’t listen in school, that’s why. Then, “How many kilometers to Canada?!” 12,000? Satisfied they let us through.

More getting lost down confounded alleyways, in the very middle of nowhere now, with children’s mouths dropping and eyes like saucers as we wind our way through backyards and rubbish and goats. We are both sick now, Rick, and maybe Ryan, catching what I had. More getting stuck, severely entrenched this time, no village any more. But then a man appears from nowhere, grabs our shovel and digs us out, expertly. We drive three feet and get stuck again. He grabs the shovel and digs us out again. We make pitiful attempts to help but are too weak to do much. Then a third time. He wants nothing. Speaks no English, no French. I offer him water and a Coke which he accepts gratefully but not expectantly. Again, the kindness of strangers.

We pull off the road several miles later to camp. Rick can’t eat. I have two cheese slices. So sick we can’t even manage Game of Thrones. We sleep in our clothes, both ears open listening for predators. Life is scarier in the dark. The tent feels like pulling a blanket over my head as a kid, so the monsters won’t get me.

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