Africa 2000

After it was dark we were in. A few miles after the border we parked the cars next to a little house beside the road to Tanger and spent the night there. We didn't go a long way this day, just about 40 miles, but we crossed the strait and the border and we got involved in an accident. I was OK with that, altough we just covered a short distance.
Our galley was very small and we would have to get along with it after he went back, but for the time being we enjoyed using the Pajero's kitchen. He had not much off-road equipment and therefore a lot of space for food, kitchen utensils and supplies.

The next morning we had a closer look at the Pajero's damage. The hood and the light had to be replaced. But not here. In Germany there would be enough time to get it fixed. We had to move on, following Manstein's commandment: "The panzers must be kept on the move. Delay means disaster". Africa was waiting. To call any of the arab countris "Afrika" is exaggerated, for the real Africa starts at Senegal. Particularly Tunesia and Morocco have nothing to do with what we call Africa, that is something like southern Europe with an oriental touch, mostly made especialy for tourists.

Igl (yellow sweater) after "fixing" the headlight of his Pajero.

Even more important than the Sahara-equipment is the passenger, the navigator, the companion, the co-pilot, however he/she is called. It depends a lot on the person on the passenger's seat, how a travel goes like. I had my experiences, I also have had to sort out and I was extremely lucky to have been on the right place at the right time. Almut and her brothers are the best navigators one can imagine. I never had any problems with and I was sure, not to have a single personal problem during this whole trip, that beyond all doubts would be the most exausing one, both mentally and physically. But I knew they had the strength of body and mind to do it. I didn't know this Almut-brother, I saw him for the first time at the train-station on the day we left. But I trust her blindly and if she recommends him, there is no test necessary. Such people are hard to find and it should never be expected to find them at home. I thought I found them, they were good for Norway, but Norway is safe, now we were heading straight to Africa, that's a completely different story. Africa means trouble and the last thing I need is a tipical german thinking and acting like a german. That's Africa, so think african. I would never travel alone. Not even to Switzerland. I would rather travel without any equipment than without an navigator. The art is to find the right one. At home you can find a lot of candidates. It is easy to dream about distant lands, but reality is different. It has to be somebody how knows what it means to travel by car with low budget. It is not enough, just to imgine how it could be. Once you are on the road, you can't just switch everything off, as if it was a TV-program. Even if you want to return "right now" it will take days or even weeks until you are at home again. You have to deal with it, like it or not - you are on the road, whatever happens. And if it happens to get involved in an accident you have to deal with it, instead of crying for Mum, apart from the fact that it doesn't help to be at home after an accident. It can not be undone, it's reality, not a computer game. And in my opinion the situation of the passenger is not better than the one of the captain. He or she can not do much more than too trust that the driver is going to do the right thing in an unexpected situation and he/she must at least be able to carry the responsibility for his/her own desision, namely to travel with exactly that person as his passenger. That goes specially for travels to that part of the world. Basically everyhthing is different from the world we grew up in. If one goes there, he has to learn. Mother Africa is said to be a very good teacher: Either you learn well and quickly or you fail. That's why it is so important to have a good crew.

The Gibraltar strait. A little rest on our way to Tanger to say good-bye to Old Europe.

Igl's first attempt to find the right co-pilot turned out to be a disaster already. I'm absolutely sure, they talked about an accident that could and can happen. There is no doubt. But the guy didn't realize it and as it happened he saw and felt, that it was no fiction. There he reched his limit, he could not handle the situation, altough it was not even his problem - in Europe. In an islamic country it could have turned into his problem and it even could happen that his life gets in danger in the very next moment. There is this story about a german guy in Libya that made the mistake to carry his german mentality with him. There is one rule, if you get involved in an accident, regardless if it is your fault or not: Just run. This german guy acted as if he was in Germany: He hit a pedestrian that jumped in his way and instead of drive away, he left his wife and hin son behind in the trailer at the scene of the accident to call the police. When he came back there was nothing, no victim, no trailer, just a pool of blood. In a sidestreet he found his trailer, inside the bodies of his wife and son. He should have known that, even if it was not his fault from the german point of view. From the syrian point of view the accident would not have happened if he was not in the country. It's so simple.
Igl was just lucky that he found it out so soon. Although we were in Morocco, Africa was still so far away. It doesn't bear thinking about what would hav happened if the same accident happened somewhere down there. I'm sure, his "comrade" would have taken the next plane and leave him alone there. Then he's really more then well and truly sunk.

Somewhere in Morocco near the coastWe had a break at Larache to fill the Watercans, take a shower and have a picnic. While Igl's companion was trying to do everything to make Igl return, we were trying to get south together. I was thinking, that if we would get as far to the south as possible, he would change his mind, after having a look at the map. I didn't know he was not familiar with maps. He constantly tried to persuade Igl to return immediatly and Igl got more and more concerned about his insurance and he wanted to return also. It was his first and hopefully last accident. Otherwise he should have known, that the insurance company does not mind where he are. But we still kept heading south. It would be very stupid to go all that way and return without having seen the desert. Pure waste of money. Months ago we made up the plan. And the plan was, to drive with us until Dakhla in southern Morocco, have a Spezi together and return then.

One night we were looking for a place to stay. The destert was further in the south, and I could not define which kind of landscape we were in. It could have been be destert, but it also could be just a field. No plants, but straight tracks, that crossed eachother. Very strange. The road was some miles away, so we parked the cars, set camp next to the, which means we layed out our blankets next to the cars. There is no better bed. And no better ceiling than the bright shining stars. Well, that night they were not that bright, as ther must have been a town nearby, but we looked forward to see the same stars in the real desert. I heard Igl asking: "Shall I lock the car?" I laught at him...

The next morning Almut woke me up. She said: "Would you mind to wake up? Somebody sole something", like always very calm and free of any emotion, as if she was reading a recipe. I jumped up, looked arround, and I saw a native hanging arround. Almut and me went there, approaching from two different directions. She started discussing with him in arab. A slightly trembling in her voice, only audible to those who knew her, indicated that there were emotions in her person. I didn't understand a word of what they were saying. "What did he say?" "He said he hasn't stolen anything." Well, if that's true, he would not mind if I search him. I turned him arround and started searching his pockets, first thing I held in my hand was a bundle of Deutschmarks. "That's not this country's currency... What else is missing?" The crews searched the cars, while I was watching him. He had nowhere to run, nowhere to hide, everything is plain and even and we had cars. Igl begged to report: "His camera is missing!" I asked the guy in german, where the camera is. He pretended, not to understand. I went to the car, took my cudgel and asked again. That kind of language is international, quite understandable for everyone. A few seconds later the camera was back. But we were not finished, yet. Almut had more terrifying methods - of course, she is a woman. She said something to him, and I could see an expression of fear in his face. He went down on bended knees to her, kissed her hands and begged for pardon. "What is that all about? What did you say?" "I just asked him, if he knows, what happens to tieves according to the Islam." The cudgel didn't impress him as much as a simpple question... Women are snakes, I always knew that. Anyway, we got our stuff back and he got his lesson.
That reminded me that we were not in Libya. There people usually asked if they could help, if we were having problems with the car, sometimes they gave us food and milk. Now Libya was so far away...
The worst thing of that story was, that it seemed to show that Igl's companion was right. Now it would become harder to convince him to keep going on. But we went on for one more day.
After twenty minutes we were pulled over. We were way to fast. The policemen talked to me and Igl, Almut did the translation job. And she did it way better than she even knew it herself. She looked at me and said, that there must be a misunderstanding, it sounds like "coffee till". She got the word, she just didn't get the message. "Everything all right, there is no misunderstanding, I'll take care of the rest." The others went to the cars, Igl and me made the negotiations of how high the "ticket" should be. Twenty Deutschmarks for both cars and everything was OK again. We went ahead. I asked Almut: "Did you really not understand, what he wanted to suggest?" "No, how should I? A policeman must not ask me about his coffee till." The classical school teaches the grammar and the vocabulary of a language and at the end you get a certificate, but only school of live teaches about the little thing that make the difference - and there is no certificate.
We were heading to Marrakesh. There we went into the nearest cybercoffee. While I was online, Joe was sitting in the car. After one hour I came back and he was sitting at his seat, the hat upside down on his head, looking forward, as if nothing was going on. The car, that was standing in the sun, was surrounded by some Moroccans all windows were closed and it must have been 50°C / 120°F inside. "Doesn't it bother you a little bit to roast in there? I mean, you can also watch the car from outside." But he really looked, as if he didn't even notice the heat, it simply was not his problem. Enviable!
We didn't spent much more time in Marrakesh. We got some gas for the Pajero and went on heading south. From time to time Igl drove alongside and cryed for fuel. That hurts...
But step by step we were getting into the desert. The Benz and it's crew felt well, Igl was amazed and his companion must have been scared. It was not the real desert, yet. We were still to far in the north, but I enjoyed it a lot. At least it announced that from now on we were getting closer and closer to were we wanted to be.
Nearby Ouarzazat we set up camp in the desert. The road was a little bit close, but apart from that it could have been Libya. The peaceful arid rocky desert, the stars and the wind. I got a call from my little girl on Igl's cellphone. That was a strange feeling, this sweet intimate voice seemed to be out of place in this rugged landscape surrounding us. Suddenly the connection went down.

Setting up camp, some miles north of Ouarzazat.

It was a nice night. We didn't talk much. The cars were OK, we had no problems, yet. I and my crew didn't expect to have problems at all and if we had, we were in the right country. I've never seen that much old Mercedes as I saw here, we could get spareparts wherever and whenever we needed them. But we didn't need any. According to Murphy's Law we would need them just there, where we would not be able to get any. For the modern Pajero it could turn into a problem, not only because of the parts - one can get them at the autorized dealer - but because of the fact, that none of us could repair even the ashtray of this car. Too much electronics. And that is something I will never understand. A 4WD, meant to be driven everywhere, should not have electronics at all, it is too sensitive. But most 4WDs are really meant to look like a 4WD and to be driven on good paved roads only. Quo vadis, munde?

The next day we went to Ouarzazat and we were standing right in front of the post office, when Igl knocked on the window and gave me his phone: "There is a call for you." It was Nora again. That was the last time for months, that I have heared her voice. We drove down towards south. In the middle of nowhere we saw an old Peugeot. A father and his son experiencing some problems with french engineering. That was the only problem, the car had and who can fix that here? We took the sun with us and we went to a little town, where his uncle lives. We were invited to have some tea. "Just ten minutes". We spent hours and hours there, of course we bought some Tuareg stuff and after we left, we reminded him, that there was still a guy out there in the desert which was waiting for help - at this time probably waiting to be buried. But they only said "no problem", like the Arabs always say. I am pretty sure, that the guy is still out there waiting...

We went to Mhammid. That is a little piece of the real Sahara. We wanted to drive along the track until the dunes, maybe sleep there an then go back. But as we reached Mhammid, we were immediatly surrounded by hundreds of people, yelling in three, maybe even four different languages including german. It is senseless to ask for directions. We always got 20 different answers. We did the only right thing and started into the direction we guessed it was right. But after a short distance our car got stuck in the sand. I could get it out without the plates with some Moroccans pulling. As soon as we got out of the sand I headed back towards. First gear, full ahead and always swerving about, trying to get rid of the children on top of the trunk. No chance, they didn't fall off. We drove into and though the village without reducing the speed, whirling up tons of sand and dust. At the end of the village I said to Igl, that I won't do that to my clutch. I would need it really badly in Mauritania and I really was not in the mute to deal with that people while trying to get somewhere. That's not my understandig of desert.

We went back to the road where we came from, found a nice place where nobody would disturb us and set up camp. Tomorrow I would go to the dunes with them, without the Benz. For today we were done. Igl tried to cook, but the result was terrible.

Camping in the desert near Mhammid.

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by Markus Besold