Stone.  Chondrite, Ordinary (L5)  Tazizilet, Niger

After news that our eclipse trip collection was a bona-fide L-5 Chondrite, five hearty souls would return to hunt for more. The interviews all included the same details; a boom, an object overhead, a hole in the ground and a strange looking stone. With a sample in-hand, the expedition was a must. For no better reason than the precise positioning of the existing meteorite.  Who knew, there could be tons more.  We wouldn't know until we put boots on the ground and looked ourselves.

Our team consisted of 5 savvy and saucy travelers.  Vic Winter had been to Niger twice before.  So had Jen Winter (now Jen Dudley). Each had led their own eclipse expedition in March, 2006.   Dear Sean 'Capt. Sand' League was our live entertainment.  He, too had been to Niger for the eclipse, as had Fred Bruenjes... our technical wizard. Patrick Carr of Ak was our only new visitor to Niger, but he certainly proved his worth a dozen times over.... with some enigmatic phrase, "eat the sandwich!". We must give credit to our stateside partners who were lucky enough, 'er forced to stay behind to hold down the fort.

Fred and I had done our time with a metal detector and endless horizons of flatland on the eclipse trip.  We concluded early on that there must be a better way.  So we concentrated our efforts on designing and building a metal detector array. Vic was more interested in 'the one in the hole'. His efforts focused on whatever recon, interviews, digging or bribery were necessary to find the main mass reported to be in buried treasure ready for our arrival. Capt. Sand was our liaison with the locals.  Patrick was therefore promoted to director, in charge of managerial supervision. He was the most qualified.

Fred and Jen spent a hurried 3 months scrambling to design and build the most technologically advanced metal detector array the world had ever seen.  Sean would be in charge of mounting lasers atop the contraption, so we officially named the devices "sharks". So they were now "Sharks with friggin lasers on their heads." S.h.a.r.k. stands for something... but we forgot what it was. Since Fred, (aka King Fred) designs boards for a living, he cooked up something in his laboratory so diabolically amazing at detecting meteorites, that we can't tell you about it without a non-disclosure agreement. Capacitors and coils and Bondo-Oh my!  I think Fred is still trying to get the fiberglass dust out of his garage 9 months later.

The route this trip took us from New York through Casablanca... (that's right, Casablanca)... to Niamey, Niger.  This route would offer larger baggage allowances for our equipment in; and any finds we would ship out. (Besides, it was Casablanca, duh.)  Our layover offered about 15 hours there, so we had a great opportunity to grab a good nap and perhaps see the sights before another long leg in Niger. So after getting rather lost in the airport, we found a train which could take us to the part of town where hotels could be found.  Mental note.  Casablanca has no airport hotels. Not to worry.  Vic and Patrick took the time to step aboard the 'Marakesh Express' since they were there anyway. On the other side of our colorful train ride was an even more colorful collection of taxi drivers. They all wanted to show us their best taxi.  I held my hand out and waved all 5 fingers.  "FIVE people.  We have five people.  Can your taxi fit us all? "  The most eager soul bounced forward to acknowledge his superior vehicle size.  'Well, that was easy', we thought to ourselves; as we followed him out to the parking lot.  And to the end of the parking lot. . . and in some sort of circle shape at the end of the parking lot... then back toward the front of the parking lot, where lots of busy looking men seemed to be pointing and muttering in our wake.  So it turns out our big car was a typical Mercedes sedan... the exact same car as all the other drivers. After our taxi ride in Paris earlier this year, we were game.  Sean and Patrick, then Vic boarded the back seat.  Then Fred, logically at 6' 5" took the front seat. Carryon luggage filled the trunk except a few precious belongings, like a camera bag, a fanny pack and a camcorder case and of course 1 backpack. So I looked down and saw negative space for myself to sit. Sean and Patrick have been described as bookends. Fred's knees were pressed against the dashboard, feet on the camera bag.  So I ducked my head and dove into the back seat over mostly Vic, but some of somebody else.  I can't imagine how badly the car squatted when it pulled off... but we went.  I guess we were giggling too much, because the driver suddenly pulled over and decided he needed to intervene. So he opened our back door to coax myself and Vic out.  Then, to our surprise, he opened Fred's front door and mashed Vic in beside Fred!  I really don't know how the two men fit between the door and the stick shift.  All we could see from the back was a 4 armed, 2 headed monster holding a camera. At one point, Vic tried to take a picture and had to ask Fred to focus the camera for him. So we emptied like a clown car at the hotel just in time to learn that 2 unmarried people (male or female) are not permitted to share a room in Morocco. On the ride back to the train station we took 2 taxis.  Poor drivers didn't understand we were only going to the train station.  That exchange comparing airport to train station would haunt us the whole trip.

So customs at Niamey was a joy.  We'd worked so hard to make the sharks NOT look like a b*mb.  We'd now rather managed to make them look valuable; and therefore dutiable. (ooops).  Another lesson learned and we were out the door, where our chariot awaited. . . with 12 kids selling pencils and 4 change guys.  In every single other airport in the world, the policy is NOT to buy your currency from some dude on the street.  However, these dudes on the street were officially the official money transfer system. This was the first in a long line of norms and rules to be broken on our journey to the other side.