Since last checking in we have traveled the High Atlas Mountains and the Western Sahara. In the Atlas, we saw fossils, Dades Gorge, and Todra Gorge. At Todra, Lena and Phil rock climbed. Lucy and Chris got adopted by a canine escort that showed them through the gorge and back to the guest house.

We experienced the rather amusing dichotomy of hospitality and thievery from a gin-fiending Berber man that let us spend the night on his rooftop.
We spent a few days in a campsite just outside Marrakech that was home to a large flock of peafowl and a few kittens that the animal lovers in the group (myself included, of course) just couldn’t resist.

In town, we wandered through the market and witnessed the famous snake charmers.

In Essaouira , we spent a day at the little seaside town and wandered along the beach and medina. From there, we headed off into the desert………

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Last night Greg, Chris, Hisashi, and Aussie Sean cooked up a camel stew. We were parked by the beach near Dhakla. There were a few kite surfers in the bay and some European campers on the other side of the lot from us. It was a bit more inhabited than what we’d experienced the previous few nights. Gav and Peter tried a little fishing. Gav caught something. We’re not quite sure what, but it tasted great.

Tonight we have the tents set up on a sandy spot in the middle of nowhere. Literally. We’re no longer in Morocco but we aren’t exactly in Mauritania yet either. We’ve got a roaring fire going right next to the Mauritanian immigrations office. Carolina, German, Peter and Mayumi are cooking up a storm. There’s a lot of eggs involved but I haven’t taken a close inspection to determine what it is yet.

We pulled into Moroccan immigrations a bit before 3. We were there for ages! I went off to take care of the immigration formalities while Gav took care of customs. Everyone had to wait and wait for the truck to go through the x-ray machine. I had to wait and wait to get the passports back. Gav had to run from this office to that office to this uniformed officer to that uniformed officer back to the second office….. it went on like that for a while. Then a police officer threatened to detain Sarah for being too desirable. Fortunately, she knows how to talk herself out of these situations and we didn’t have stick around longer in order to negotiate her release.

When we finally did get all the paperwork done, we were stopped about 4 or 5 times within the space of 100m to have all that paperwork checked and double checked.

At one point, a little old man came over to the left side of the cab, my side, in this truck the passenger’s side.
“Passports” I gave him the passports.
“Papers” I gave him the papers.
“Nationality” I told him our nationalities even though he had our American and Australian passports in his hand.
“What is your name?” He asked me as he looked down at a paper stating the driver’s details and name as Gavin Foreman.
“Summer Wilms” I said
“Not Foreman?”
“No. That is the driver. That is my husband.” I don’t think he was listening.
“Not Foreman?”
“You change! Now.”
Huh? I was confused. “Huh?”
“You change. You go his seat. He come your seat.” He said very sternly.
What?! I didn’t want to drive! “I… um…Oh! …Wait…” The truck is a bit high and I realized that he couldn’t see into the cab very well. I opened the door and showed him that the steering wheel was on the right hand side of the vehicle. Half of Africa drives on the right side while the other drives on the left. We’re usually in the part that drives on the left.
“Oh! English!” The little bespectacled man yelled.
We all had a bit of a laugh about that and he waved us through.

We drove out into No-Mans’ Land, the 8 km stretch of something vaguely resembling a road that we were warned has mine fields on either side. It was creepy. It was a nearly monotone environment. Everything a shade of beige. The place looked like something out of one of those sci-fi movies where most of the world’s population has mysteriously disappeared and only a few hundred individuals are left to fight it out in the barren wasteland that the earth becomes. Dozens of burnt and rusted cars littered the side of the road. There was an eerie, stagnant feeling about the place. It definitely left an impression.

We pulled into Mauritanian immigration around 5:45pm. For the first half hour we were given no indication of what we were to do. That’s normal. The ball finally got rolling and I took the passports to the office. They kept pushing me back in line. I admit, processing 26 passports at the end of the day does look like a daunting task.

Evening set in. The sun just seemed to click off rather than set. I didn’t notice when it did. One minute it was light, then it wasn’t. All this hurrying-up-and-waiting can be very distracting. One of the immigration officials asked me something quickly in French.

“Ummm.. Qu…Ummm. What?” I’m ashamed. I can make attempts to speak French but when it’s coming at me so quickly, I get flustered.

He mimed sleeping and pointed to a patch of sand next to the small white building where passport formalities were done. He was inviting us to sleep there for the night. Seemed like a good idea. It was clearly going to take a long time for them to finish hand-writing all the information from each individual passport into their logbook. By this time it was 7:30pm and definitely the best option. So, here we are: Somewhere between Morocco and Mauritania, sitting around the fire, about to eat dinner. One of those memorable if not unusual “bush” camps.

We’ve had some good “bush” camps over the last few days. This is night 5, I believe, since we’ve seen a campsite. We’ve visited civilization during the day when we’d pass through a town but otherwise, we’ve been living in the vastness of the Western Sahara.

It’s been cold but the nights have been excellent. Our first camp we found ourselves on the top of a red, rocky hill dotted with cactus. OK, as Pommie Sean pointed out, not the most ideal place to set up a tent, but it worked. Peter braved the outdoor sleep for the first time that night.

The next night we found ourselves in another unique spot. Dunes lay ahead of the truck. The beach was on one side with a little estuary on the other where a flock of flamingoes had taken up temporary residence. There were a few European campers there as well as some Berbers setting up large tents for an upcoming festival. Jeremy followed Peter’s example and slept by the fire that night.

Another camp found us in the middle of the desert where some of us wandered off on short walks to experience the place. It was hard not to. The wilderness seemed to be calling out for attention.

There, Dave decided that he would “upgrade” and slept in an unused camel trough. It was cold and windy and the trough was dry with high sides so it did made a lot of sense to sleep there.

As we set up camp in that spot, a convoy of tanks passed us on the road. Where they were going and what they were doing, I can’t even begin to imagine. They were excited to see us though and gave us a few friendly beeps and waves as they went by.

As you can imagine, with all this roughing it, most of us are starting to look a bit….well…. ragged. Dirty doesn’t really describe it but we’re that, too.
Aussie Sean came up to me the other day and said, “I changed my clothes this morning. It just isn’t worth it, is it?”

At this, I mentally inventoried myself and realized that I had been wearing the same jeans for well over a week, maybe 2, and the shirt for no less than 4 days. It occurred to me just then that that wasn’t really normal, was it? I usually go a couple months without washing my wardrobe (underwear being the exception, in case you were wondering. I’m not THAT feral… yet. ). It hasn’t occurred to me in years that this might be considered gross by a fair portion of the population.

“No, Sean. Definitely not worth it. When the clothes you’re wearing start to disintegrate, then it’s a good time to change them.”
He nodded in agreement. That seemed to make sense.

The jeans I was wearing at the time have no less than 9 holes in them and are starting to wear very thin. The crotch area has an emergency patch on it. I couldn’t find a sewing kit at the time of repair so some fabric and Super Glue did the job. Yeah…. I might be due for a change in leg wear. In addition, despite the fact that we’ve been eating well, I’ve already lost enough weight for walking in these jeans to become difficult: Step, step, yank up on the belt loops, step, step. It’s beginning to slow me down.

I may dress a bit like a cast member of “Oliver!” these days but I’m comforted by the fact that I know I’m not alone. Gavin is the guru of Overland fashion. He has a knack for keeping garments that most would have long considered dead on a kind of life support for textiles. Soon, it won’t just be Gav, though. By the time we get to Swakopmund, Namibia, we will all have forgotten about dress and decorum and will be looking as ragged as a bunch of Depression-Era hobos. And we’ll be proud of it. We’ll have earned that look! (Except for maybe Lena. She may make it all the way still looking like she’s remembered to shower. She’s been wearing a white shirt for a few days ago and it still appears to be spotless! I can’t wear a white anything for more than an hour without it being soiled. I don’t know how she does it. I’m in awe.)

We head through Mauritania next. It probably won’t be much of a visit. There isn’t a whole lot to see in Mauritania outside a national park and the fish market in the capital city. I think what everyone is most looking forward to is the showers at the Auberge Sahara.

Since the situation is a little uncertain here in Mauritania we’ll be personally escorted on the road by armed military and police officers at least until we get to Nouakchott. Possibly when we head south as well. That’s great, but it might mean we rush to Mali even quicker than anticipated as they’ll be setting the pace. That’s one of the great things about Africa, though….. and one of the worst: You never know what to expect!