Africa 2009 – 05 End of Mauritania – Matmata and Nile Crocodiles

Conversing with two English engineers working here, 6 weeks on, 4 weeks off. They’d worked with each other 30 years, and were like a married couple with their swift responses. One, the operations fixer, down to earth, canny bright, was married and could not imagine being otherwise. The other, the geological brains, was separated, and could not imagine ever getting married again. We naturally exchanged engineering news of meeting Evan the South African gold miner, and who should walk in by Evan. The beer no doubt the denominator. The most expensive yet, £16 a pint. They spoke together of the size and costs of cranes.…………………………Our easy dance has become a sparing fight here in Nouakchott. A very strange arguement over a BLUE ROBE purchase. A straight misunderstanding? How could you buy that religious robe, as if declaring ‘I am a Muslim’ And a man. You are more Tom than Girl. And you don’t even like blue.Meanwhile back in UK, another misunderstanding dominates B’s business, wrong carpet cut and laid. B cannot agree both are linked by same root of misunderstanding. I burst with frustration. Unable to talk through, metaphore. I think we need some time out. Problem is we must do all together, as B has no French.

 

……………………….

Matmata

Two pointers bring us to this place: Petra with her knowledge of the Nile Crocks and it is one of ‘Chris Sahara Overland’ Mauritanian piste routes. No mention in Lonely Planet all the better. It’s on our journey down to Bamako, turning off the main tarmac road to Moujerra.

In the days when the Sahara was savanna and rivers flowed, these crokodiles, originating from the Nile, made their way across African land, using rivers and underground water tunnels. They are now trapped, well west of their origins, in these diminishing water pools.

More delays with B&P phone calls. Camera lost and found (‘You are so lucky!’). GPS confirms the piste which was well defined after finding, through villages still unconnected by tarmac and reached over sand dunes. We skirt a rock plateau village, cut through a small oasis, ver left and there, in front of us is a narrowing canyon. Africa is full of suprirses. We drive through the sandy oued (dried up river bed) and park. Another car is already there. It feels like a film set. Huge rock walls and at their based, unusually, green palm trees growing. Boulders litter the oued. We meet the contents of the other car as we start to explore into the canyon, and find two French teachers, (gone happily native), exploring the land they’ve adopted with motor bike and landcruiser. They camp near by in a Mauritanian tent, and talk with Barry while I star gaze, and map out the constallation, 7 sisters.

Morning walk to Crocks. Our bad temper with each other cannot be sustained in this landscape that happily draws us out of our mean streets. B understandably furious he had not worn proper walking shoes and struggles in his sandles. It is indeed a tough scramble over the rocks in unrelenting heat with no shade.

However, all is forgotten one hour in when we see the apex of the canyon with lake beneath. B mistakes for log, but through bins it’s unmistakably a basking crock on the shore. Sitting under the shade of the tree for an hour we observe the lake, and watch the ponderous progress of these primordial crocks across the water. They are notoriously shy. An ominous childrens shoe is by the lake side.

The wind takes my hat and we watch, hopelessly, as it falls into the water. Neither of us run to save it. At first it is taken way into the lakes centre, but the wind changes, and the hat blows back to shore. Saved.

Tough walk back. Collapse under shade of palm trees.

In the morning local boys pass by. They are naturally inquisitive, squat in the sand and observe us packing the car, talking in their African pattoir I imagine as David Attenburgh would observe an animal: And see they put white liquid in their tea, how horrible, they need special pillows for their delicate heads, they are very strange these white tourists’. As we share our water melon with them, they tell us the crocodiles here are not man eating. One of them proudly declares he and his father had planted the palms. Barry disappointed it was not a natural landscape, and not happy with the boys staying: ‘I knew it. They always do, you’ll get the whole village. Don’t encourage them. What chance have i of a pony and trap with them here? If you give them juice, don’t put it in cups’. Oh B!

The last Mauritanian night

Passing moments on the Kiffa road

Billowing blue robes. Three men walking, adjustiing their robe on their shoulder. Kid squatting. Goat crossing road. Two girls looking, hesitating, waiving, laughing. A camel reaching for a thorn bush. Two boys on a donkey. Garage boy wheeling balanacing rolling two wheels up the street, laughing. Man re-tieing black headscarf around face. Bush desert. Early moon. Dead cattle on road side. Customs/Army/Police check points at every town. Cadeau?

 

 

 

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