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Sahara

Day 31: Nouakchott to St-Louis

Rosso, Mauritania 
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Rosso, Mauritania. Catching up on notes outside the Pâtisserie El Belediya whilst waiting for the ferry to cross the River Sénégal.
Michael Palin - SaharaBy midday we are passing a network of irrigation ditches and the first glimpse of grassland for two and a half weeks. The fields contain sugar cane, rice and grazing land, grown under a scheme which I see from a billboard is financed by the government of the Emirates, 3000 miles across the other side of the desert. An example of pan-Islamic co-operation, which could prove a much bigger influence on West Africa than anything French, American or Chinese.

At Rosso we reach the river and the next frontier, and take our place in a shuffling line of vehicles, most of which look like survivors of a stock car race, weighed down to the floor with goods, wires hanging out of empty headlamp sockets. We're a captive audience and vendors gather at the windows. It's very hot and hard to be patient in the face of endless demands for cadeaux and bonbons. We are not allowed to film and the ferry gates are shut.

Repair to the Pâtisserie El Belediya, which serves food on metal tables beneath walls of peeling paint. We are the only Westerners. A television set high on the wall is showing women being interviewed in houses reduced to rubble. It's hard to tell if it's the West Bank or the suburbs of Baghdad, recently hit by air strikes ordered by America's new president, George W. Bush, but none of those watching shows any hostility towards us.

After eating a skeletal chicken in casserole, I buy a carton of Nancy's Tiviski brand camel's milk from the freezer behind the counter and drink it outside on a porch where there is, at least, some breeze. Basil is doing his flowing t'ai chi routine, which a couple of locals watch with amused curiosity.

'Kung fu?' asks one of them.

I nod. 'Sort of.'

After three journeys round the world with him, I'm used to Basil being mistaken for Bruce Lee. Three hours later we are aboard the 80-foot floating platform that will take us into Senegal. It runs on African time, leaving only when it is full to bursting point.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Sahara
  • Day: 31
  • Country/sea: Mauritania
  • Place: Rosso
  • Book page no: 103

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