Was it 50 years ago today I stood at the southern end of Morocco and the northern border of the Spanish Sahara? All my newfound friends were in my VW van heading for England. I was going to cross the Sahara desert to try to reach Senegal.
That was undoubtedly the strangest moment as they drove off and I was alone without a map attempting to hitch a ride. Of course, there was no traffic but eventually, a flat deck cattle truck came by and as custom, the fare was negotiated not in my favour and I was pried in to join the other wayfarer travellers heading south.
Black men, Muslim men and me in a blue robe and black turban. I had changed wardrobe as the temperature increased and though I stuck out like a sore thumb, I had mastered the Arabic greeting. salaam alaikum, alaikum salaam, followed by labes, which kind of means: hi, how are you doing, how’s your mother?
The country was sort of like Cache Creek, rocky, dry and you know, desert-like. Travelling was a bit harsh and, of course, we stopped five times a day to pray to Allah.
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Everyone had a prayer mat and would put some dirt on their face to humble themselves and go through their ritual while I, the pagan, would eat a few morsels and drink a bit of dirty water.
We made a village late that evening and I looked for a place to catch some shut-eye. I found an empty shop doorway and quickly fell asleep dreaming of all the fun my friends would be having as they were heading back to Europe.
Next morning, I felt a nudge and looked up to my first real cultural shock. Two cops holding hands were encouraging me to wake up and move on. Seems as women are more or less confined to the home, men had developed a closer relationship.
So, I was up and moving, checking out the town. The daytime temperatures were reaching 115 degrees and most commerce would go on in the evening when temps would drop to a cool 105. Around 10 p.m. that evening I heard some very interesting music (now called desert blues) coming out of what could be a club or something of that nature.
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I sauntered in and took a table. There were dancers on the stage and I sat back to enjoy a peppermint tea. Alcohol is prohibited in Muslim countries. To my surprise, the dancers were not young women but young men. Not being accustomed to that style of entertainment I decided to finish my tea and move on to find a sleeping accommodation.
Next day, I was on the road again into Mauritania. There was a shortcut into the country via a coal train returning empty to a mine. Everyone could ride for free but there was one drawback, black coal dust.
When arriving at the mine site there seemed to be an acute shortage of water and I was given a half bucket to clean off several kilometres of coal dust travel. Needless to say, it took many days to wear off.
Travel continued to be hard as I crossed Mali and finally reached savannah country and the border to Senegal. One more challenge, arrange a fee to cross the St. Louis river. All was well as we made midstream until my captain decided the rate needed an increase. Not much choice on that one for sure.
Finally made the hostel in Dakar, Senegal and while talking with fellow travellers, usually centering around health issues began, I noticed my skin was an off yellow shade, my urine was an off red color and I was feeling very tired.
Oh, oh this does not look good and it seems I had contracted Hepatitis from tainted food and contaminated water.
Looks like travelling days would be delayed for several weeks or longer. These tales are to be continued as this excursion lasted for 11 months before returning to Canada.
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