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Day 21: Mejik to Zouérat

Mejik, Western Sahara 
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Recording fond farewells to Bachir at Mejik, near the Mauritanian border.
Michael Palin - SaharaSlept soundly and am now packing to make ready for the crossing into Mauritania.

The border is only 15 miles away. Bachir says that we will be the first foreigners ever to cross it at this point, after negotiations made possible because of the currently cordial relations between Mauritania and the Polisario.

Over a last meal of bread and coffee he expands on this.

'We have nothing in common with the Moroccans. We have everything in common with the Mauritanians - culture, language, songs, dance.'

The UN mission here, frustrated by both sides in its attempt to organise a referendum on the future of Western Sahara, has run up costs of $250 million and may well lose patience. Doesn't he think there will come a time when they will have to reach a compromise?

Bachir doesn't hesitate.

'There can be no compromise. We will be like a camel's thorn to the Moroccans.'

He is smiling, a little grimly perhaps, but not without some relish.

'The more a camel tries to get a thorn out of its foot, the deeper it goes in, and the harder it is to get rid of it.'

At eleven, a line of vehicles emerges from the swirling sand to the south and soon we're shaking hands with a new set of escorts. Compared with the Saharawis, the Mauritanians, marked out by their billowing pale blue robes, which they call boubous, carry with them a worldliness, a touch of confidence and panache, which comes, I suppose, from having a country of your own.

Cassa is dark, attractive, in his thirties, I should imagine, and seems to be in charge of the operation, alongside an Englishman, Bob Watt. Abdallahi, pale-skinned, more Arab than Berber, is our official helper from the Mauritanian Ministry of Communications. Rumour has it that he's the Minister himself.
Mejik, Western Sahara 
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The team that brought us safely through our first test in tough desert travel. Mohammed Salim is on my right, and next to him is the gentle Khalihena, who looked after me at my lowest ebb.
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  • Series: Sahara
  • Day: 21
  • Country/sea: Western Sahara
  • Place: Mejik
  • Book page no: 75

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