Terjit Oasis: Greenery in the Heart of the Desert
(4 of 4)

By chance, I spot lying in the sand a pinless hairclip with a pair of red glass jewels and when later a small child is being shoved around by a group requesting cadeaux, she gets the item as a reward for not pestering me and a message to the pests. She is happy, but not sure what she should do with it, so I mime placing the studs against her forehead and hammering them in; “Que brutal!” says Ampara.

More offers to enter a house are declined, not that it makes any difference. After five a number of vehicles roll by, but aside from the humorist who wants U1,000 each to convey us to the main road (twelve miles away) to chance a lift to Atar, the vehicles are either filled with family or else disinclined to stop for the likes of us. As well, other family groups are arriving for the night.

Then to my amazement, I see departing a vehicle with Madame Paule Valette, who alas turns out to be bound for Nouakchott. By six-thirty, activity has ceased, so at seven, enough. Although we have had offers of a meal, I just can’t face the thought of boiled goat again so it is time to break into my food supplies. I have some packets of instant noodles that are rather bashed about, and a multi-fuel stove also showing signs of travel as does the billy. The kids are fascinated, and crowd around to observe everything I do most closely. When I extract my tent from the Green Toad they’re puzzled by the strange shape but then catch on swiftly. When I’m placing rocks to stabilize the tent pegs in the loose sand, this is entirely within their experience, and the task is completed by grinning urchins before I can blink. As soon as I’ve inflated my sleeping pad, one grabs it and dives within the tent to lie down. With some difficulty, order is restored and turns allowed to all.

With dusk, it is time to retire but it is far too hot in the tent so the packs have that honor while we stretch out on the sand nearby. As the night progresses, singing, clapping and what sounds like an amplified base guitar continue until midnight, then there is just the breeze and the stars. Since the shared taxi Land Rover was said to be leaving at six a.m., we rise at five-thirty as the light begins. Indeed, the vehicle is early. The sounds heard across the village become a vehicle, so, eager to depart, we pack hurriedly, or rather, cram everything in and pile on to the back, only to advance twenty yards and stop to upload more cargo.

Then away we zoom through the cool dusty morning, the sun barely visible. We reach Atar at seven-thirty for U500 each, and go to the yellow-wall restaurant, which is barely open. The cook hurries over to open the second flap of the door, then leaves to continue his morning errands such as buying bread for the day. While Ampara goes to make a telephone call, I finish off a letter then it is my turn for the Post Office. It is open, but there are no staff just yet at the counter. They straggle in, and advise me that postcards can be found in town. As for the letter, postage is U80 so the U100 each I’d left with Ceikh should suffice.

Back to repack the tent and the Green Toad, then breakfast. The genial cook is from Guinea-Conakry of all places! Quite a surprise, as there is severe racism against non-Mauritanians. We sit, and consider our next move. By now, we know our way around Atar well enough, and can still relate nothing to the LP map.

So, a description: On arrival from Nouakchott, the last stretch of road is straight and sealed as it enters town. After passing the radio mast and Post Office on the left your vehicle will stop by some shops in the right just short of a roundabout. Across the road to the left is an open area where vehicles gather to collect passengers, beyond it are some buildings and past them over a slight rise is the hotel Mourabitine. Ahead and left of the roundabout is the road to Choum, and ahead and right is the way to the vehicle area for Chinguetti, outside the restaurant Azougui.