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Desert Travels - Motorcycle Journeys in the Sahara and West Africa!

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  #1  
Old 16 Jan 2013
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"Mauretania is secure!" - December, 2012

edit - there, I put quotation marks around the above statement made by a gendarmes colonel and everyone should be happy! / priffe

Travelling through Mauretania for a week around Xmas, I got to talk with locals and gendarmes in many places.
The regional commander around Ghami told me the country is now safe, and even as a family we could travel anywhere we liked!!!
He actually said "Anywhere".
I incredulously asked: Nema? Oualata? Fderik?
"Of course".
But if there were Al Qaeda elements crossing into Mauretania, or even attacks? "As long as they stay in Mali, they can do what they like - it is not our war. But if they cross the border, we will defend our territory".

Indeed, there are now checkpoints wherever you go. The highway between Nouadibou and Nouakchott is looking more like Morocco, with gas stations, restaurants and even small cities shooting up from the sand.
The idea of Al Qaeda feels very remote.

In Nouakchott, there are gendarmes and police everywhere.

In Bogue, I stayed with the family under one of the nomad tents where they put out matresses and you can sleep the night for free if you eat.
Gendarm officer asked if we wouldn't prefer a hotel? "No, we're fine here".
I didn't notice, as travellers came in and left through the night, that gendarmes took turns sleeping next to us, without saying a word.

In Selibaby, the local chief of police said in the morning "I have been circulating all night! I was so worried about you!"

Leaving Selibaby for the piste, I had to sign a release where I took upon myself all responsibility for my family. Driving through a small village, we met a bloke carrying a laptop - the local boss. I asked if he had seen any beards ("les barbus") around - - - this question would mostly generate laughter wherever we asked, but he said: "Look, we don't accept any kind of problems here. Everyone has the number for the gendarmerie (116) and would call right away if they saw something suspect".
At the last gendarm post in Melgue on the Mauri side of the oued, I had to sign yet another release - this time that we against all advice were crossing into Mali and that I was taking all responsibilities for what could happen. Had to write it down four times before he was satisfied with the wording.

And so I came to the conclusion that you can actually drive around in Mauretania at this time - something we should take advantage of, no?

There is an agreement from what I have heard that AQ can't have any bases closer than 20 kms to the border. It seems inevitable that the instability and rapidly changing situation in Mali will spill over into Mauretania and they will be dragged into the action. Some say there is a plan already on the table that the Mauries will finish the job when the French and Ecowas troops have done their part.
But at the moment, Mauretania appears to be safe for travel.

Last edited by priffe; 21 Jan 2013 at 13:05.
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  #2  
Old 16 Jan 2013
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Hi Priffe.
Thanks a lot for your update information.
Preparing to cross Mauritania in March 2013. Nice to know!
Rui
Portugal
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  #3  
Old 16 Jan 2013
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I can say that after Agadir, I didn't see even one western family - no white kids anywhere, except for mine (boys age 10 and 14). So of course we drew attention where we went, Mauri - Mali - Burkina.
Didn't see many tourists at all - on the Moroccan side of the border, only one besides us - a Swiss couple in a campervan, really nervous about having to drive through a minefield...
Boys enjoyed the trip even more than I expected - I would unhesitatingly recommend the experience to anyone.
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Old 17 Jan 2013
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Hi, thanks for the info. We're just gearing up to drive north back through Mauritania towards Morocco. We're planning to take the coastal road. What are your thoughts around any increased risk arising from the escalating situation in Mali?
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Old 17 Jan 2013
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Driving the coastal road should be no problem whatsoever, and as I hinted in the above post, Mauri gendarmes really look after you in a way I haven't seen anywhere.

The action in northern Mali will have consequences as we saw happen in south Algeria today. Even in Europe. Need to read the news to stay updated.
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Old 17 Jan 2013
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i just came from my 5th motorcycle tour to mauretanea and south and i did not have any kind of problem, even in the mauretanea interior, i was alone, and everything ok.
there are bed and nice people everywhere, like here in portugal, so to everyone who intend to travel south bonne route
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Old 17 Jan 2013
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Sorry, I don't believe Mauretania is secure, a lot guinea pigs must have driven to Mauretania, until I believe that, and as you write, there are only few westerners coming along.
I've been winter 2008/9 there and from the news, that followed a few months later, I must admit the travel warnings from foreign ministeries were right, allthough locals said, that there ain't be any problem.
Cheers
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Old 17 Jan 2013
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The risk is there - for shure!

We was there during november, and it was nice and relaxed.

But that can change - so be careful when traveling - dont feel too safe...

Surfy
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  #9  
Old 17 Jan 2013
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Perhaps one positive thing to come out of all of this is that Mori has had to pull its socks up and actually be welcoming and helpful to its visitors. I have crossed 5 times in the last 10 years and the police were becoming more and more aggressive and demanding of things, especially after the sealed road was finished and all the yahoo rallies started.

I last came through in the week of Spanish and Italian kidnappings in 2009 and to be blunt the Mori military police were mostly the biggest pack of thieving bastards I meet on my whole west/east coast trip. And I am holding back with my choice of words. 4 times I had a complete strip search of my landy, 3 times in one day. In 25 odd checkpoints only 1 guy was polite, friendly and civil. I know motorcyclists were largely ok, but other 4x4's, especially when alone like me were also having similar problems. The checkpoint outside of N'bou was especially bad, I had to fight the guy off with a machete almost - he walked up looking really pissed and yelled very loudly "You give me!!" to start the conversation.

These are my thoughts over 3 years later and after going through another 45 countries. I was not by any means a African virgin.

I heard a week after the kidnappings everything magically became super friendly after an official dictate, so lets hope it stays that way. Almost everybody in 2009 was just driving through in 2 days, a huge waste of potential income to the locals.

On declaring the Mori 'safe', using this logic I will also declare Somalia 'safe' as I went there, the people were friendly, the locals said nice things about their own country, insisted it was safe and nothing bad happened to me in the small snapshot of time I was there.

Tread carefully, don't announce your plans to anybody, be discreet and if you get a bad feeling, move on.

Good luck ;-)
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Old 17 Jan 2013
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Situation has much improved since 2009, when the Spaniards were kidnapped on the coastal road.
The greater danger starts when you cross the Malian border - I will write more about that shortly. There you can expect no security from army, gendarmes or police - even if they make you pay for an escort.

Roamin', I didn't write about the situation in 2009. Or in 2007, when gendarmes were looking for bribes at every checkpoint. I put one of those wooden snakes in my bag and watched with a grin as a gendarme looking for booze jumped three feet when he found it.
Day after, three French were murdered near Aleg and the Paris-Dakar was called off.

I wrote about last month, driving through with my family.

Mauri has changed sionce 2009, you would be surprised. I see it more and more as a destination, not like it used to be - a stretch of desert you passed on your way to Africa.
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Old 17 Jan 2013
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As I said, I am pleased if that is the case with the police. Also as I said, I heard it changed the week after I was there and seems to have been maintained, from what you and others say - good, I am pleased for Mori, and thanks for the updates and news ;-)

However I think it is wrong to universally declare that a whole country, with a history of kidnapping, is now secure, especially when it borders what is now a war zone with long borders and 'fellow' Muslims (perceived) as being under attack by foreign whities (guessing what some peoples not unreasonable thoughts in Mori could be??)...

The UK FCO doesn't currently share your enthusiasm, but its interesting to contrast the differing information so we can each judge the risks for ourselves, again thanks for sharing:

Mauritania travel advice



"Following French military intervention in Mali, there is a possibility of retaliatory attacks targeting Western interests in the region. We advise vigilance."
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Old 18 Jan 2013
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You could perhaps re-read the last paragraph of the first post again.
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Old 20 Jan 2013
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Boarder security Western Sahara to Mauritania... or lack of.

This is posted by a nervous traveler doing a Spain-Dakar Rally in a back-up vehicle. This will be my first trip through Mauritania and I'm concerned about kindnappings. One of the things that all the travel warnings say is to be especially careful around boarder crossings such as Western Sahara into Mauritania. I would have thought that the boarder which is heavily guarded would be one of the safer places in comparison to the open expanses of desert. Can anyone shed some light on this?
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Old 20 Jan 2013
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Nayladog,
one difference between you and the independent traveler is that you are in a group with a schedule.

Possibly also with a website/blog/whatever with an itinerary. This means someone could plan an attack. The organizers of the rally should be well aware of this, and take the necessary precautions.

I think this is what happened to the spaniards who were kidnapped on the highway south of the border. They left Nouadibou and were driving in a convoy, but it was after dark and one of the cars fell behind. Then it was attacked.
This would not happen today, as there are too many checkpoints and the security level is much higher than it was.

The rule is, never drive after dark.
Also good advice, not letting people know your itinerary/route, or changing it in the last minute. These rules would apply to much of Africa, not just Mauretania.

Work with the gendarmes, they will look after you and not let you get into harm's way.
I don't see the border crossing as a concern, if something happens it will be elsewhere.

Last edited by priffe; 21 Jan 2013 at 06:37.
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Old 20 Jan 2013
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Thanks priffe,
The organisation has not published a detailed itinerary for the actual participants. They won't know their waypoints until the evening before the next day's stage. The backup vehicles must take the only available road south and we will do that in convoy...so I'm not so concerned.
Racing a bike 500km/day offroad, through the desert with the possibility of break downs, getting lost and arriving after dark is a huge concern.
It's very hard to make an assessment of the risks by reading the UK, Spanish, US and Australian Travel warnings which advise you to cancel any trip there and others (independent travelers) who say it's fine.
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