MY WIFE and I have just spent six months driving around West Africa, following the coast to Benin, then back through Niger and Mali to Senegal and up into Mauritania and Morocco. It was while heading north in Mauritania that our problems began.

Travelling south from Morocco into Mauritania involves joining the friendly twice-weekly military convoy through the Western Sahara to the border with Mauritania. Returning from Mauritania into Morocco is forbidden, and to be caught trying results in serious baksheesh (a "tip"), confiscation of vehicle and lots of unpleasantness.

The way to avoid this is to hire a Sarewe guide who, for about 1,000 French francs, will guide you through the desert, avoiding driving over landmines and meeting army patrols. At our campsite, we found a guide who agreed to take us, along with two other vehicles. We were due to leave at 2pm the next day.

Early the next morning we heard engines start and watched the others disappear at high speed. We were left wondering what was going on and whether we were now sans guide. After several hours this appeared to be the case, so my wife cursed them, wishing on them mechanical failure and nasty police. But at lunchtime they returned looking fed up, having tried to leave both us and the guide behind, they had been stopped by police on leaving town and accused of trying to exit the country illegally.

We finally all set off together, but we had difficulty keeping up with the others. Our vehicle was much heavier and, in any case, we were in no hurry as we wanted to appreciate the scenery. The others kept disappearing over the dunes at high speed. They would stop some miles ahead, look bored and long-suffering and, as soon as we caught up, off they'd roar off again.

This is how it went until we reached the border, and the minefield. I then asked the driver of the vehicle carrying the guide to drive at our speed. He assured us he would and did go slowly for about five miles, then took off as usual.

By this time, the ground had become 80 per cent rock and, although we caught glimpses of his vehicle a mile in front, there were no tracks and we had no idea how he got there. Sometimes we recognised his tyre pattern in the sand, sometimes we were following other tyre marks. At least they proved the way was safe. But we did spot several trucks blown in half.

After 20 minutes of sweat and swearing, we came to the border. The guide collected his money and wandered off into the desert. I roundly chastised one of the other travellers who had left us behind; he just gave a shrug.

When tempers had cooled, he explained that he had only speeded up once we were clear of the minefield. Also, he had trouble changing gear because his clutch was failing. Remember: never get cursed by my wife.

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