Ways of Seeing by Claire Corkins: A trip to Mauritania, via Nashville
I love books about old explorers and travelers. I get to tag along on their adventures as I read accounts of a type of travel that no longer exists, trips that lasted for years and covered vast areas.
The word travel can be a noun or a verb. These old exploits are all about the journey and the act of moving from place to place, in other words, the verb. Today, travel has become a noun. A destination. A place you go, rather than the journey to get there. We don’t spend weeks, or even months traveling without a set destination as old explorers and travelers once did. Travel was the experience, not just a destination.
While the destination can be the whole point of travel, for me the journey has also always had its allure. The point isn’t to drop out of the sky to see a new place, but to savor the experience of getting there. This is why I love long train and bus rides, and even waiting in airports. While the actual travel part of any trip can be long, tedious, frustrating, and imperfect, it is always memorable.
We have been taking family trips for Christmas the last few years. Last year we decided to take a road trip down the east coast: Washington, D.C., Ashville, Charleston, Savannah. One of our goals was to enjoy some warmer weather. Instead we had to laugh along with Mother Nature and see how many times we could make a joke out of the phrase, “we brought the cold with us.” Temperatures of minus-30 followed us to D.C. and snow dusted the streets of Ashville.
An ice storm delayed our progress to Charleston for a day. When we arrived the streets were covered in ice. They didn’t have any plows or salt. People were out sledding down the man-made hills of interstate ramps. It wasn’t until Savannah that the snow melted and hats and mittens could finally come off.
My daughter and I continued to Texas with my dad to visit our relatives there. From there our plan was to fly to Africa to spend the winter months, seeing family and friends in Mauritania and Ghana. When planning this trip I thought I was being smart by flying out of Texas; we wouldn’t have to worry about any winter storms. But we were foiled once again as the cold weather culminated in yet another snow and ice storm the night before our flight.
We braved the un-plowed roads, passed accidents, around road closures, and finally made it to the airport — frantic and late — only to find our flight had been cancelled. There was no way to get to our next flight (New York to Casablanca, Morocco) on time. Following lots of conversations, frantic online searches, and consultation with not particularly helpful airline employees, we found that the best way to continue would be to book the next available flight from New York to Casablanca in four days time. We could drive from Texas to New York to catch that flight. So we did.
We spent an extra day in Texas getting to celebrate my daughter’s birthday with relatives. Then we packed up the truck again for several long days on the road. Luckily we found a bookstore to replenish our book supply, as we had been forced to dig into our books originally reserved for Africa with all this extra driving. And you need a lot of books when you don’t have any electronic devices to entertain you. After two long days driving up through Memphis and Nashville, the third day had us driving into New York City to the airport.
We had a long wait, as our flight was in the evening and my dad wanted to get home to Bristol that day. We finally boarded the Royal Air Maroc flight to Casablanca for an overnight flight and arrived to a cold, wet city. Flights from the U.S. to Mauritania have not changed since 2006 when I first flew there. You arrive in Casablanca at 6 a.m. and the flight to Mauritania does not leave until 11 p.m. Americans and others who do not need visas to enter Morocco are afforded a room in a hotel, meal vouchers, and a bus to and from the airport for what one might argue is the longest layover ever.
Late at night we boarded our last flight, and we arrived in Mauritania at 2:30 a.m. One of my favorite things about landing in small airports is walking from the plane directly down stairs to the runway. There is an unmistakable quality in the air that lets you know you are in Africa.
In the airport, tired and groggy, we waited in line for at least an hour at a tiny office to apply for a visa, collected our bags, and at last exited the airport. Outside we found our amazing friends who had been waiting for us all that time. Around 4 a.m. we collapsed on a mattress, grateful for friends, clean clothes, and to stop moving.
We had already had an incredible adventure, yet we had just arrived at our destination.
Claire Corkins grew up and lives in Bristol, Vt. She studied Human Ecology at College of the Atlantic in Maine. After college she worked abroad teaching English as a second language. She currently works with her father in such various endeavors as painting houses, tiling bathrooms, building porches, and fixing old windows. She hikes, reads, plays ice hockey, travels, and wishes she could wear flip flops all year round.
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