In preparation for my journey back to Nouakchott from Nouadhibou, I was convinced that it would be an easy ride. Not only had I read so in my recent travel guide, but people had assured me there was plenty of traffic between the two main cities of the country. I even heard there were air-conditioned minibuses that had something similar to a timetable. When I boarded a local taxi to the garage Nouakchott in Nouadhibou, I counted on leaving the city in less than half an hour, and have some time in the capital before I would fly home in the evening. When I arrived, I did not see any minibuses, but sure enough, a tall guy with his face wrapped in cloth, called me, and as he put my bag in the trunk, told me that only three more passengers had to show up. It was the first regular day after the Tobaski religious festival, and I was convinced we would be on our way soon. Talked with one of the passengers, who made me feel old when he told me his mother was younger than me. After more than an hour, one seat still had to be filled, and finally, the driver took off to the "big" gare routiére to find him. Meanwhile, I understood that the minibuses did not leave from this garage at all, but from a different location. Again, African reality had beaten my European logic.
Within minutes, our taxi showed up: he had indeed found a passenger. Now, we would be on our way. Or, so I thought. However, after I made sure to be on the middle row of seats, on the door side, the ladies in the back row started to complain. There were two big ladies, a guy, and a big girl on their lap. Nothing really special, I thought: cars are always filled up well beyond the imagination of the designers decades ago. To my big surprise, the lady with the girl got off the car. We were back to square one: looking for someone to fill the last seat. Surprisingly, he showed up within minutes, but to my even bigger surprise, he, too, refused to sit in the back once he was installed. After all the trips on overloaded taxis, I could not believe this was happening - especially not on the day of my departure. Fortunately, a third person showed up, took his seat, and we were off: three passengers on the back row, four on the middle, and two on the front seat. To drive 10 metres and take fuel. For some reason, drivers only do so when their car is full. But of course, after 200 metres, we stopped again. This time, half the passengers got off to buy water and bread - which had been for sale all along just where we had waited before our departure. A few minutes after leaving the entrance arch of Nouadhibou, a car from the opposite direction signaled us to stop. The driver got off, and got a few big bags that were added to the other stuff on the roof. The bags must be heavy: we were now very low. I could not help but think that the added weight would only make the risk of a puncture higher.
When we were finally on the way, my watch told me I had waited more than two hours. I still had a margin to catch my flight, but my stay in Nouakchott would be quite short. The best travel investment of the entire trip had been to make a so-called fiche, a page stating my personal details, and a copy of my visa and passport: it made passing the many security posts a breeze. I thought I had enough, but within an hour, I had given away five; I wondered if my remaining ten copies would be enough. Like other major roads in Mauritania, the one to Nouakchott is in an excellent condition, and I calculated that with the speed at which we were driving, we would be in the capital before 6pm. I felt more relaxed, and even though the window of my door did not open, enjoyed the views of the desert we were driving through. The driver was not too bad, but had the habit of arranging stuff while driving. Calling on his mobile while overtaking a big truck, trying to help the guy on the middle seat to put a cloth on the window to protect against the sun while dangerously veering off his line - that sort of stuff. Before reaching a security checkpoint, he would fasten his seat belt, to release it immediately after leaving. Soon enough, when he grabbed his seat belt, my reaction was to take our yet another fiche. At one moment, we saw a nomad standing on the side of the road, stopped, and the driver handed him a box with a new mobile phone. One of the reasons to love the Mauritanian people, is that they always find a way to make tea, and they always share. The two guys sitting in the front seats took care of it: they were the only ones with a little bit of space in front of their legs. They used the ubiquitous gas stoves all Mauritanians seem to carry with them wherever they go, mixed the tea, and provided all passengers on the car with a glass - at least once an hour. We made steady progress, but I also knew that many things could still happen. Indeed, at the halfway point, we stopped for a lunch break. A tent in the desert, the passengers and driver washing their feet for prayer, while in an adjacent hut I saw a guy cutting meat from a goat hanging from the ceiling. Within minutes, a big bowl of rice and the meat I had started to dread was on our mat, and we dug in with our hands. Fortunately, Mauritanians do not take long to eat. When we arrived at the car again, the fat lady in the back decided she wanted to take my seat. I tried to be a gentleman and let her get in first, but I was told that women cannot travel in the middle seats. The solution was that I travel on the window seat on the other side. I soon found out that was not a good idea: I was on the sun side now, the window still tightly closed, and with the fat woman replacing the guy, we were now really squeezed in for the remaining 235 km. We stopped once more for a prayer break, and several more times for broken down taxis. The sun was setting just as we stopped again for another car. To my dismay, the driver took out all the luggage from the trunk, to tie the car to ours. The other car was overloaded with bags and people, of course, and I was afraid towing them to Nouakchott would slow us down; my margin was getting slim now. I gave away my last fiches; when we arrived, I had exactly one left. I quickly took a taxi to town, had my traditional pre-departure shave, and reached the airport just in time for check-in.
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