September 24, 2012 GMT
Mauritania

What a shock. It was as if Morocco was 1st world and Mauritania was 3rd world. I knew that there would be a difference but the contrast was sharp. It reminded me of the movie Mad Max. The Western Sahara was developed in comparison.
In an area strewn with derelict cars and trucks, garbage and unhappy looking travelers, I had arrived in Mauritania!
However, the officials were friendly. Theyoffered me water (I think they thought I was going to collapse on them) and the paperwork performed manually with ledger books and carbon paper. I bought motorcycle liability insurance for 4286 Ouguiya ($14CDN)

The ride into Nouahibou was not anymore inspiring. The sandy main streets, a tremendous amount of garbage strewn everywhere to be gradually being ground down by the traffic was offensive to my Canadian sensibilities. After a depressing ride around town I finally came across Camping Abba. It was similar to Camping Moussa but without the beach. The sun set quickly but the wind persisted which helped but again everyone’s doors remained open that night. I did walk to the market through the dark streets and didn’t feel the least bit threatened. Everyone was friendly and helpful in stark contrast to their surroundings.
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Well, I was getting off to a negative start with Mauritania but I still had a long way to go yet. I laid awake going over what I might expect on the long (one fuel stop in 470kms) run to Nouakchott. From the day before I knew the temps would be high and was expecting the usual wind. I was correct in my assumptions except I didn’t figure on the blowing sand. High wind drifted sand up to about a foot over the road. The sky was hazy and visibility quite reduced from time to time. It reminded me of a blizzard on the prairies.
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As the day wore on I started to question my ability to continue. It was so hot (46C), the wind so strong and the blowing sand made me wonder what I got myself into. But there was no option but to continue. There was simply no place to stop before Nouakchott.

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I bought fuel from a gas station with no fuel but you could buy it from a back shed in containers. And yes they did spill a lot of fuel over my bike.

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With sand embedded just about everywhere, I was happy to stop at Auberge Sahara just outside Nouakchott. It had an air-conditioned room. I felt I deserved the luxury if only to get a good night sleep. I usually don’t like a/c because it is so noisy and often over-chills the room. In this case the large contrast in temps would make my glasses fog over when I stepped out of the room! I met a nice young Dutch couple who were cycling West coast of Africa. They figure it should take a year! How did they manage the desert? I admire bicycle travelers. They are a hardy lot.
I stayed over a day to recover from my trauma of the day earlier and run some errands. That turned into a small adventure. I went to the Capital Marche to exchange money, find a replacement for my broken air pump, and get some photocopies of my “Fiche” (a summary of your particulars) requested by the police at every checkpoint – I had made 30 copies but now had 1 left – that’s a lot of police stops! A “helpful” guy I met at one of the shops took me under his wing and we travelled by taxi all over the city and mission was accomplished and I managed some sightseeing.
Nouakchott seemed just a bigger version of Nouadhibou, sandy and trashy except for the University campus and some areas with government offices. But again everyone was friendly and the place started growing on me. For example, taxis pick up more than one passenger. So when the new passenger arrives he greets everyone individually and shakes hands. They also seem to enjoy talking to each other during the ride. At one point we had a army officer, my guide, and a very poor looking fellow all discussing something together. It seemed very class-less.
I had to wait about 10 minutes until 7:00AM to buy gas at this station because the owner was still sleeping. He is the blue shape on the ground by the car.

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Turning left to head East the next morning, I was pleasantly surprised to see the desert quickly transformed into a more Sahel geography. It had rained recently and there were lots of green patches and scrub brush dotting the landscape. Maybe I was putting the desert behind me now? This also says a lot about my poor knowledge of geography in this region.

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My enjoyment was short-lived as the road was closed for re-paving. As there are no alternate roads, traffic was making its own way off-road through the ditch beside the highway. It was pretty rough going, hot and very dusty for about 20km (which took an hour and a half!). I felt bad for the little villages along the road that were being buried in dust by every passing vehicle. It did give me the opportunity to practice riding the Suzuki off-road. I was very pleased with how well the heavily loaded bike handled the rough track.

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The remainder of the way to Kiffa was heavily pot-holed which made progress slow and the need for constant focus on the road. Just one missed pothole could bend a rim or worse end the trip. There was not much choice in Kiffa, so I stayed at the Auberge La Maison de L’Hotel a Kiffa. It was an odd place. A lot of half finished construction and a constant stream of visitors coming and going in big SUVs. I was given a room in a grand suite with huge double bed, fancy cabinetry, big screen TV, etc, but on close inspection it was all in poor condition and the power went off just as it got dark. I was able to exchange some money with the owner, a nice fellow.

The next day I was starting to see signs of not just more green areas but also flooded fields and roadside ditches full of water. Here the water covered a section of road.

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As in the desert, I saw lots of tent-like canopies that provide shade and a place where people ate, talked and slept. The open sides provided the badly needed ventilation but these were partially covered to block the wind or blowing dust and sand.

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You find shade wherever you can...
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It was a hot, lonely ride on rough pavement to my next stop, Ayoune el Atrous. After an hour of searching, both the hotels in my guidebook had since closed. I assume because of the huge drop in tourism from Europe likely due to the Euro crisis and terrorist activities in the region. I ended up at another place under construction called Auberge Saada Tenzah and was again the only guest. It did have satellite TV and I was able to catch BBC news and the controversy about the anti--Muslim video. There is such a huge gap in understanding between vulnerable Muslims and the West and politicians and clerics on both sides are always quick to exploit it for their own agendas. Very sad and tragic for the victims.

Of more immediate concern to me was the poor availability of gasoline in Mauritania and specifically Ayoune. None of the 5 or 6 stations had gasoline. It took the help of an army official to convince one station to release their secret 20L stash. It cost me $50US (I didn’t have enough in Ouguiya (local currency) as I had to buy all of it including the container. I could use only about 14L so I gave the rest to an old fellow in a farm vehicle who was waiting to buy some diesel. He seemed very happy with the “cadeaux”.

That settled, I headed due South to the border with Mali. The last traces of the desert slowly disappeared and the landscape started to become quite lush and green. The road became progressively more pot-holed as we neared the border which really kept the average speeds down.

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Even a lake had overflowed its banks..

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Posted by Ross Davidson at September 24, 2012 11:24 PM GMT
 
 

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