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Sahara

Day 31: Nouakchott to St-Louis

St-Louis, Senegal 
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Having crossed the river, passengers and freight wait to disembark in Senegal.
Michael Palin - SaharaThe river, about a half-mile wide, curves languidly towards us through what might almost pass for meadows, which dip down to tall reed beds. Occasionally, the slim, wooden canoes they call pirogues will put out from either shore, precariously packed with foot passengers, all standing.

On the far side are low buildings, a single palm tree, a water tower and a small crowd watching us as keenly as we're watching them. The fact that the town on both sides is called Rosso seems to misleadingly minimise the difference between the two banks. In fact, the Sénégal river, rising over 1000 miles away in the mountains of Guinea, is an important boundary. It separates not only Mauritania from Senegal, but also Sahara from Sahel, the transitional land, half desert and half savannah, whose name means 'shore' in Arabic. More significantly, the Sénégal river divides Arab Africa to the north from Black Africa to the south.

The last few passengers hurry aboard, urged into a sprint by the long-awaited rumble of the diesel engine. We move stiffly out into the stream. I want to stare into the dark brown tide and think romantic thoughts of Saharan rivers, but it's impossible. I've been trapped by a cheerfully persistent ten-year-old boy called
Lallala who wants something, anything, from me.

I try to shut him up by giving him a tin of Smith and Kendon travel sweets I have with me. It doesn't work. He wants me to translate all the words on the lid.

'Ken-don? What is Ken-don?'

On Senegalese soil just before four o'clock. Our minders engage in a long negotiation over equipment and visas at the handsome customs shed, built like a small French town hall. It bears not only the inscription 'Directeur Général des Douanes de Republique de Sénégal', but also a motto, 'Devenir Meilleur Pour Mieux Servir' (Become Better to Serve Better). Very un-African.
Smith and Kendon travel sweets 
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Sahara
  • Day: 31
  • Country/sea: Mauritania
  • Place: Rosso
  • Book page no: 104

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