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I spent a day in Nouakchott, Mauritania, mustering the courage to do the border crossing from Mauritania into Senegal. The choices are Rosso or Diama. All reports indicate that Rosso is the worst. From what I could gather you will be engulfed by obnoxious touts as soon as you arrive in Rosso. Then, as you try to clear customs and immigration, and also sort out the ferry thing, you are subjected to petty thievery by kids, while all the time you have to deal with corrupt officials who demand bribes. When you finally make it over to the Senegal side the whole thing is repeated. In addition you now also have to exchange money and buy insurance.
The alternative is to do the 97km piste from Rosso to Diama, but nowhere could I find any reports on the condition of the piste. It’s desert all around and I’m concerned that it’s going to be 97kms of deep sand. My map doesn’t even show a place called Diama. Fortunately I stumbled onto a cyclists blog that had pictures of the piste taken in February, and I also learned that Diama is actually west of Rosso. This was good news because all along I thought I was going to have to go east and hence do a 200km detour just to avoid Rosso.
Anxious about the next days border crossing I packed before going to bed. The plan was to leave early, make it to Rosso as quickly as possible, talk to some people in Rosso to ensure that the piste does not have deep sandy sections, and make it to corruption-free Diama.
My plan started falling apart just outside Nouakchott when I encountered the first police checkpoint. They wanted a ‘fish’ which is a photocopy of my passport. Because I didn’t have ‘fishes’ they had to write down all my passport and bike info. This took a lot of time and happened on average every 40kms (and it was damn hot!). I was about 30kms from Rosso when I got ‘hit’ by the first tout. It was at a checkpoint marked with a customs road sign. It was the tout who stopped me, not the customs officer. He was selling insurance, and the customs officer wouldn’t return my passport until I heard the tout out. After I was quoted a ridiculous amount I demanded my passport back and left. When I entered Rosso I filled up at the new gas station as you enter town. My plan to enquire about the piste never saw the light of day. As soon as I left the gas station it was like a feeding frenzy. A gazillion touts swarmed me, but it’s ok as long as you don’t stop. They were running next to the bike directing me towards the Rosso border post. By now I knew I missed the piste turnoff because the road seemed to end about 30 meters ahead of me. I abruptly made a u-turn, forcing a few touts to jump for safety and sped back in the direction I came from. I spotted the piste and confirmed it with two police officers in a pick-up truck.
The piste was nice and easy and I could feel the stress lifting while averaging about 70kph (It does look like the road could get really muddy when it rains though). There were three more police checkpoints on this 97km stretch. The scenery was nice with a lot of wetland and a variety of birds, monkeys and warthogs. There are so many warthogs that they actually cause a risk because they dash over the road when they hear the bike coming. It was at the last police checkpoint (2kms from Diama) that the first corruption surfaced. For the first time while in Mauri the policeman asked to see my temporary import permit. Surprise, surprise, he found something wrong on it. Wouldn’t you know it, the motorbike’s temporary import document was for a different vehicle! My plate had the numbers 967 on it and according to him the document shows 961 (Because in this part of the world they write a 1 like a 7). After arguing with him for about 20 minutes I got pissed off and grabbed my documents out of his hand and announced that I was leaving. There were two cops and one guy who wanted money because the piste runs through the national park…..everybody was pissed off now and tempers were running hot, almost getting out of control. They aggressively blocked my way and I had no choice but to pay them 1,000 Ouguiya for a ‘park entry fee’. As I was covering the last 2kms to Diama I decided that I played that one wrong….the worst thing one can do is lose your temper. Five minutes later I rolled into the Diama border post with a new gameplan. Mauri Customs: I strolled into the customs office with all my papers. One of the four guys lying on the mattresses got up and beckoned me into his office. He did all his recording and stamping and then demanded 10Euro. My first reaction was to ask him why……because it’s a Friday and it’s a religious day! Well, I don’t have money…….why not! Because I’m poor. That’s when I decided to play my I’ll-have-to-camp-at-the-border-until-tomorrow-when-it’s-not-a-religious-day card. He didn’t budge and we both just sat there staring off into space for an uncomfortable few minutes. I decided to pull out my camera and take some pictures of the little desk flag while talking flag-nonsense with him now. It ended with him posing behind his desk (all puffed up) while I was taking photos of him and the Mauri flag. He liked this and told me to go…..but next time its 10Euro he still threatened! I shook his hand but mumbled and insult when I left the building. Mauri Immigration/Police: Same thing. He stamped my passport and demanded 10Euro. I’m sorry but I cannot pay you because I don’t have money……yes you do! No, I don’t, I’ll just have to camp next to the building……did you pay customs? No, I don’t have money……a very long silence, then: ok, next time it’s 10Euro! I thanked him and shook his hand with a smile but mumbled my insult as I left the building. Ok, that’s Mauri done, now for Senegal……. The bridge: I crossed over the short bridge and noticed a boom at the other side with a guy waiting there (for money off course!). I stopped right against the boom and waited for him. Yes, he wants 3,000 Ouguiya. I decided to play my I-don’t-have-money card and showed him the 500 Ouguiya in my wallet. He shook his head so I offered him 2,000 Ouguiya which he accepted and lifted the boom. Some you win and some you lose…….. Senegal Immigration/Police: Another friendly guy who stamped my passport and demanded 10Euro. Why I asked, they told me at the Senegal embassy in Rabat that it was ‘Gratis’ (Now I’m just praying that Senegal has an embassy in Rabat)…….you must still pay 10Euro! No, the guy at the embassy said it’s ‘gratis’ (I emphasize the ‘gratis’), why don’t you call him? You have to pay the Euro10. But I don’t have money, I’m from Africa like you, you know those Europeans have money but us Africans are poor……you’re not poor! Yes I am. He doesn’t budge and we both start staring at the Africa football scores that start showing on the television. Since I’m from South Africa and he knows it I decide to play my Bafana-Bafana card. Where’s the Bafana-Bafana score I ask…….he mumbles something about Senegal and Bafana-Bafana and I knew I got through to him. Ok he says, I’ll not charge you the 10Euro but you’ll have to pay customs for the bike. I thanked him profusely, shook his hand and walked out while mumbling my now well rehearsed insult. Senegal Customs: The border crossing gods must have noticed that corruption fatigue was setting in now and took pity on me with this one. My middle name is Charles and while writing the stuff from my passport the customs guy tells me his name is also Charles. Naturally I capitalized on this with the main theme being that we must be the only two Charles’s in Africa. We both know it’s bulls**t but we play along. He finally gets up, shakes my hand and informs me that usually the fee is CFA2,500 but it’s free for me……all these years I knew that name was going to come in handy one day……. Senegal Insurance: The woman who sells insurance is also the only money changer. She gives me a really crappy rate which I reject. She stubbornly sticks to her rate and I only change enough to buy a Coke (which she also sells in her little shop). Now for the insurance negotiation! I have a rough idea what others have paid and keep it in mind. Her rates are higher and I want her to lower it…..she stubbornly refuses and I foolishly decide to do the then-I’m-afraid-we-cannot-do-business-today routine and leave. She doesn’t care because nobody else sells insurance and she knows I need it, so she lies down on her bed again. Two minutes later I walk back in with my tail between my legs and want to buy her insurance. I put on my best smile and ask if there is not a way we can lower the price…..that’s when she offered me West-Africa insurance from Compagnie Generale D’Assurances for about half the price (CFA22,500 for two months) of the ECOWAS insurance. It covers the same countries (printed on the document) and she assured me it’s good…..I guess we’ll have to wait and see. And yes, I had to change money at her crappy rate to buy the insurance…….some you win and some you lose…….
The Diama crossing is every bit as corrupt as they say the Rosso crossing is. The advantage in Diama is that you can question the bribes without worrying about your unattended bike and luggage. There are also no touts at the Diama border and you don’t have to ‘employ’ a ‘facilitator’. Excluding the insurance and the bad exchange rate, my crossing at Diama cost me approx Euro8.50
This was my 14th Africa border crossing on my bike and the Diama border post is by far the most corrupt one. I’m glad I’m through and hope I don’t have to deal with such blatant corruption again. The touts are harmless but you have to be decisive when you’re dealing with them…..they’re just part of the African way.
Now I’ll have to see if the Senegal police are as corrupt as they say.
Just to give another perspective on Rosso - I went there this March with my Mauretanian friend Abou, who grew up there and has most of his family still there.
I told him the horror tales, and he said "C'est pas vrai - it is a nice place!!!' Huh?
As we rode into town, there was a few touts approaching but I told them we were not going to Senegal, and they let us alone to spend the day.
Town was chaotic even for Africa, because the chinese were busy paving the market road and all side streets were choc-a-bloc with cars.
Went to see the family and they were the nicest people. Sat under the nomad tent they had erected in the courtyard, had a big lunch and drinks, and then tea and relaxing. I gave the elderly family head a nice quality head torch, which he proudly wore the rest of the day. Then he asked for a 'klash'?? Ah, Kalashnikov, sorry, forgot to bring that m8.
They started giving us gifts and we had a nice reciprocity going there for a while. Then we took a tour of the ville and even chatted with the guys by the ferry gate.
With Abou in the car I reckon crossing into Senegal could have been a pleasure.
Going it alone to Senegal on a bike I realize you get a different experience.
Btw, corruption in Mauretania IMO is largely absent now compared to just a few years ago - big change.
The cop South of St Louis pulled me for having a brake light out.
He never even went round the back of the car and the light was working ok.
He wanted to fine me 40 euros and when I said I wouldn't pay he said that he would make me wait all day until I paid ( he of course had my passport).
I ended up paying 25 euros just to get away.
I hope he dies screaming!!!
I never encountered any corruption in Mauri untill I the two corrupt Policemen at the checkpoint before Diama. at the border all the officials (Mauri and Senegal) were extremely friendly......it's almost as if the routine of asking for the bribes has become a legitimate charge in their minds.
As for the Senegal police after the border post: I have passed many of them pulling off busses and trucks, but I have been totally ignored ......so far, the Senegal police has been no different from any other police in Africa......I'm typing this with my fingers crossed
The Temp Import Permit is only issued for two days at the border. Then you have to renew it in St Louis or Dakar......Being focussed on finding a back tyre, I completely forgot about this untill 5 days later. Naturally I thought I was going to pay deerly for my Alzaimers moment. When I got to the customs office at the port in Dakar they bounced me from one office to the next, not really knowing what to do with me, but I was treated with a lot of respect by each and every official. I finally ended up with this guy (in a suit, not a uniform like the others) who read my 2 day permit with a puzzled look on his face, then asked me how long I want to stay in Senegal and just extended the permit by simply writing on it, applying a bunch of stamps and signing it......he just might have been the Minister himself...ok not really!
Senegal is a fantastic country with fantastic people and deffinately worth a visit......
Yeah, that policeman on the road from Diama to St Louis. Pulled me over, said i was speeding.
I got the tacho out of the truck to prove I wanst. Then he said I needed a flurescent jacket in the cab, which I produced. Then he tried it with warning triangles, which i also had.
Then the best. You have no fly spray in the cab. WHAT? Yes, if a fly is in the cab, and you can't kill it, it will distract you and cause you to crash. It's very dangerous.
At that moment i simply got in the cab and drove off!
Glad to see nothing has changed with the cops in St Louis since my trip in 2007 ! And still pulling the same scams too. If you search you'll find my original post which has details of the local police chief-I may even have posted his phone number. Mentioning him worked wonders.......If you're in a truck just don't pull fully off the road as the blocked traffic soon makes the cop give up. Oh and don't speak French either.
The national park 'fee' is a scam. The park borders run immediately north of the Diama piste and you don't enter the park if you're on the piste.
The maximum on the spot fine in Senegal is 3000 CFA, about €4.50.
The checkpoint at the south of town is notorious for this with tourists and it looks like noting is being done about it. Take a photo of the gut and tell him you're making a complaint to the Ministry of the Interior via your Embassy. Or tell him to get in and you'll both head back to police HQ in St Louis.
The main difference between Rosso and Diama that I have found personally is that Diama officials are corrupt but chilled. Rosso is corrupt but they can be very aggressive indeed. I always recommend Diama and I have done that crossing 10+ times now.
As for Police in St Louis - beware how far you push them! A member of our group spend a day in the cells after going a bit too far when they tried to give us a parking fine - all ended well and he did received a souvenir wheel clamp (which he had sawn in half with an angle grider) and a smile when they let him go.
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