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Nouakchott: Korean game shows and Senegalese bureaucracy

One of the benefits of backtracking was that we came across a nomad and were able to give him a ride (squashed between a bucket and the wedding dress) that probably saved him a day of walking. He looked about 120, possibly even older than me pre-Botox, so for all we know we could have saved his life, or failing that given him a few hours more to say a proper goodbye to his great-great-great-great grand children. I’d like to say we spent the time educating ourselves about nomadic culture, but unfortunately, as usual, we could not understand a word of what one another said. Anyway, the power of rationalization, this confirmed we were doing the right thing. To Nouakchott (Mauritania’s capital) we go, for visas for Senegal.

Hitch-hiking nomad looks seriously terrified of us

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Something explodes, but fortunately not us

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We passed the policemen we’d met the day before. Canada, Canada! They laughed at us, weren’t we off to see the crocodiles? A hot, dusty, and thoroughly unsatisfying stop for bread and sardines and tea, but at least we got to use our awning, affixed to the side of the car roof. I wet my hair with our shower hose and it dries in two minutes. Impossible to relax in this heat. Dust storms, cute goats, shaggy goats, a man named Ahmed at a crumbling boutique (store) where we purchased over sugared mountain dew. More dust devils, pieces of the now-sealed road disappearing in a mist of sand as the wind washes it over the highway. People pulled over to pray. Nouakchott, getting dark but traffic nowhere near as bad as one would think. It is a relatively new city. Boys selling socks, boxes of tissues, flip flops, and phone cards. Women with no legs in wheel chairs parked in the middle of rush hour traffic. Which came first, sitting in traffic or losing ones legs? Hotel Accord in Nouakchott completely devoid of personality – one towel, no chair, no soap, no other guests, no reception in fact – but soft toilet paper and an endless loop of depressingly addictive Korean game shows. The letters T and V written on the wall above the television in case we were mistaken as to its purpose. And hark! A mirror. I long for the desert. The desert doesn’t care that I have wrinkles.

Senegal makes it difficult to enter (yet complains about the lack of tourists):

1. First you start to fill out an online’pre-application’ form that tells you to wait for a confirmation email. When you get that email you can then complete the online form, and are told to wait for another email. When you get that email, you are supposed to print it out, and the printout tells you that you must bring a third email with you to the Senegalese embassy (to anyone trying to get a visa, I never received the third email, and no one asked for it).

2. The next day we head to the Senegalise embassy. Not, as one would think, located on the road ‘Rue de Embassie du Senegal’. We are told it is closed, return tomorrow at 9 with a copy of our passport, photos, and the online form printout.

3. The next day we returned at 9, only to be told we needed to provide copies of the first five pages of the passport, not just the main page. Why couldn’t they tell us that yesterday?

4. We are told there is a photocopier across the street, but of course the machine is broken. We spend an hour finding a photocopier and return with all the correct documents.

5. We hand over the correct documents and told to come back at midday.

6. We return at 12 and our visas are ready!

We find another hotel the second night, Hotel Jeloua, which had an extremely pleasant outdoor courtyard with WiFi, a welcome oasis after our time in the sand. Tranquil, with large leafed palm trees and a sandy floor. A variety of refreshing juices. I have pear and orange. Rick opts for kiwi and lemon. Kiwi should not be a juice. Nor should kale. A cute cat that climbs on Rick and then starts biting him. We took the opportunity to catch up on email and do some much needed laundry (did I mention that back in Atar Rick’s superior negotiating skills netted us 5 pieces of shrunken laundry for the mere sum of $40). The Jeloua lets us down on dinner though. No menus, they heft over a blackboard. There’s one thing written on it. I guess we’re having le veau, veal, then. They hand us the drinks menu, dozens of juices, but only one available here too. Ditto for desert. Such variety!

Breakfast at a cafe, coffee, orange juice and stale croissants, like Starbucks. Then finally, visas in hand, the quest for Zebra Bar begins!

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