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Don't Try To One-Up A Mercedes In Africa

Mercedes vs. Salt

Credit: Jeroen van Bergeijk/Chris Rainier

This morning, we aired an interview with Dutch journalist Jeroen van Bergeijk, author of My Mercedes Is Not for Sale. The interview didn't go quite as I'd planned. I began trying to one-up my guest — always an error.

I've driven a section of Africa more hazardous than the one he describes in his account of trying to sell his car. Five years ago, on assignment for Radio Expeditions, I followed the route of the old camel caravans from Timbuktu, 500 miles north to an ancient salt mine called Taudenni in the middle of the Sahara desert. I don't think Jeroen believed me, but the caravans still go because it actually makes more sense than trying to get there and back with a big commercial truck. If they get stuck or break down, there is no way to get them out. We drove in pick-ups and heavy, primitive SUV's. There are no roads — you take a guide who sits beside the driver in the lead vehicle and signals where to go. It takes three days ... and you cover about a thousand years.

Jeroen listened patiently for a couple of minutes and then changed the subject. The interview wasn't about my salt-mine trip — it was about the adventure of trying to sell an old Mercedes. It was his story, and that's what we talked about.

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It wasn't that I didn't believe you. I do. I tried to make the point that those camel caravans are largely obsolete nowadays. Those caravans have very little to do with everyday life in the Sahara. It's been my experience that any nomad worth his salt so to speak is more interested in a Mercedes-Benz than in a camel.

But perhaps I shouldn't be writing this... because, wouldn't it be an even bigger error to one-up the host of the program you're appearing on. ;-)

Sent by Jeroen van Bergeijk | 9:27 AM | 8-27-2008

That's one of the attributes of of a Mercedes...that status look. You know what you're drving, and so does everyone else. It takes a real dromedary man to know one camel from another.

Sent by alex | 1:02 PM | 8-27-2008

It's been a long time since I've been rendered silent by the wit of a web comment... Alex, well done, sir.

And Mr. van Bergeijk, fantastic adventure, fantastic excerpt.

Sent by Justin | 8:42 AM | 8-28-2008