Always in the deep woods when you leave familiar ground and step off alone into a new place there will be, along with the feelings of curiosity and excitement, a little nagging of dread. It is an ancient fear of the unknown and is your first bond with the wilderness you are going into. What you are doing is exploring. -- Wendell Berry

The TRIP: GUINEA - wonkifong --> MALI - bamako, djenne, douentza, Dogon Country --> Burkina Faso - ouagadougou, bobo-dioulasso, bala, ouagadougou --> GHANA - tamale, mole national park, tamale, yeji, volta lake ferry, akosombo, accra, green turtle lodge, elmina, cape coast, accra, hohoe and wli falls --> TOGO - kpalime, atakpame, lome --> BENIN - cotonu (transport stop) --> NIGER - niamey, tahoua, agadez, camel trek in aiir mtns, niamey --> BENIN (abomey, grand popo, ouidah, ganvie, cotonou) --> CAMEROON (douala, buea, top of Mt Cameroon, limbe, sangelima, yaounde, kribi, douala) --> MAURITANIA (nouakchott, atar, chinguetti, camels into the sahara, terjit, choume, ride the coal train, nouadhibou) --> MOROCCO (western sahara, dakhla, agadir, essaouira, marrakesh, imlil, summit of jebel toubkal, fes, chefchaouen) --> cross the Strait of Gibraltar --> Malaga, Spain --> fly to Geneva, Switzerland --> Les Grangettes, France
Click for a map. Updated April 30, 2007

mardi, mai 29, 2007

On the Coal Train

"It's coming don't worry. Maybe 6:00. Maype 6:30. It will be here. Just wait," was the advice given to me when I asked about the train.

I was in the small desert outpost of Choume, Mauritania waiting for the ride known as the coal train to arrive and take me to the coastal town of Nouadhibou. Choume is desolate. The heat soars and a midday glance down the main street may provide you with a view of a goat strolling about but nothing else. Daily, a train arrives from the east laden with iron ore. Stopping for 10-15 minutes, people are able to board for the 12-hour overnight ride to the coast. There are two boarding options:
(1) buy a ticket and fight for a space in the passenger car
(2) climb up and into an open air cargo car containing iron ore

Guess which one I did... A little after 6:30, Patrick and I were throwing our trash bag wrapped backpacks into the top of a car and climbing into the iron ore. We were in luck. Our car contained a mixture of powder and small cobble to pebble sized chunks of rock. The rock was small enough to sleep on and there was not so much powder to give us the appearance of coal miners after a long, hard day in a dirty mine.

The train soon began moving and I was provided with a preview of the upcoming night climate: cold and windy. The iron ore had been dumped into the center of the car creating a pile that peaked in the middle and tapered on the edges. The ore level in the front of the car was quite low and I was able to sit snug against the wall and be somewhat sheltered from the wind. But first, there was a beautiful sunset to watch. As the train chugged west, the sun slowly dipped under the horizon. A combination of the wide open desert only sparcely occupied by large rock outcrops and the western travel extended the sunset for what seemed an eternity. Then, without any artificial light blurring the view, stars began to pop out and glow with a brilliant twinkle.

Without the warmth of the sun the air quickly chilled and I positioned myself in the ore at the front of the car. I was wearing pants, a shirt, jacket and long robe and was then wrapped in a blanket to stay warm. My head was completely covered in a turban (sunglasses still on) to keep me warm and to minimize the amount of dust entering my eyes, ears, nose and anywhere else. Surprisingly, I managed to get some sleep on the rocky ore waking occasionally to glance up at the stars. The Milky Way was truly a glittering path in the sky that eventually gave way as the warm glow announcing the arrival of the sun began to color the day.

Sixteen hours later, the train arrived in Nouadhibou where a couple of Peace Corps volunteers allowed my ore covered body into their home and hot shower.