Nouakchott, Mauritania is among the last places on earth you want to sit around for a week waiting for something to happen. I slept, drank, and watched the street from the balcony of Auberge Sahara, while Mauritanian drivers swerved about on the highway as if each was trying to fulfill a death wish. Then drank some more.
A week passed. Normally a solo motorcycle traveler, I’d been out of the saddle for days while I waited for the Israeli to get his visa renewed. The guys down at the police station are having a good time at his expense, while the rest of us waiting were a little less amused.
What the police didn't know is that the two Israelis had been carrying enough Moroccan hash on them to spend the rest of their lives in prison. A temporary threat, though, since they were consuming the stuff like it was food and water.
There were six of us waiting. Well, eight if you include the dog and the rabbit. The dog was born in India; the rabbit saved from a butcher in Fes. Both traveled in the 1970 Land Rover the Israelis called home. The rest of us affectionately referred to the Israelis as the "Mossad Boys." They were a bit self-centered and careless enough to die out here if left to their own devices, but otherwise a decent couple of 28 year old guys.
The other truck was a '93 Land Cruiser, owned by a 40-something Spanish experimental filmmaker with his friend riding shotgun. They never got inventive names because they were the ones busy assigning them to everyone else. They were fond of packaged Japanese food brought from Spain, wearing black turbans, and blasting twangy Mauritanian music on the Cruiser's sound system.
Number seven of the team was an unlikely addition: a 27 year-old Japanese guy traversing Africa north to south via bicycle, he rode in the back of the Rover with the rabbit. His name was Masato, but everyone inexplicably called him Masoto. He didn't seem to mind. Masato was our young version of the wise old Japanese man that every expedition should have. Full of good advice, he always knew what was best, and was the first one to help when the shit hit the fan.
Then there was me, a 28 year-old aspiring documentary filmmaker touring the Arab world alone on a Kawasaki KLR 650 motorcycle. I had been on the road for six months, having suffered one broken collarbone and several bouts with food-borne illnesses. The Spaniards called me cowboy. Sure, it was a bit trite to call the American a cowboy, but I didn’t challenge it, for fear they’d invent something worse.
This was the first time since arriving in Africa that I was traveling with others. I was apprehensive about teaming up, being a solo motorcyclist with a habit of doing things my way. However, my concerns were assuaged once it became apparent that in a country where the official language is French, not one of us could speak it. These were my kind of people.