Woohoo! I got my Mauritanian visa today. After 4 days of waiting it was a little victory made all the sweeter by the fact that it's a visa de courtoisie i.e. free. Plus I met a friendly couple from the Midlands who are passing through in their Land Rover and have offered to give me a lift. So although I've lost 3 days I have saved 70 euros - not a totally even swap, but at least it's some compensation. So once I finish writing this I'm off to pack for an early morning start.
Rereading some of my posts I think people might get the impression that I'm not enjoying myself here, but very little could be further from the truth. I'm just highlighting some of the problems and difficulties that are found in a country such as Mali which is one of the poorest in the world. There are of course signs of optimism: in a region that isn't known for the fairness of its public institutions Mali is a rare beacon of (admitedly imperfect) democracy, and in this year's index of press freedom (published by Reporters Without Borders) it came joint 31st, above its ex-colonial master France. But its greatest asset is its people who are incredibly mild-mannered and joyous. Today I wandered over to the national museum where there was a free concert by a small, tourist brass band from southern France. The music was decent but far from spectacular, but what made the event special was the gaiety (in the original sense of the word) of the crowd who really got involved with the musicians, cheering and clapping them along. Back home the response would be altogether more staid and placid.
Anyway, that's it for Mali, it's onwards and northwestwards for me now. Hopefully my next post shall be from Nouakchott.