On the final leg to Mauritania, through the Western Sahara we have formed a convoy with a French family in a 4x4 and a couple of german students in a VW combi.
Jan and family were going to be met by a friend at the Morroco/Mauritania border who would be their guide to the capital, Nouakchott, and they agreed to let us follow. Although the road from the northern border town, Nouadhibou, in Mauritania to the capital is now 2/3 asphalt, there is still some pretty tough offroading to be done so we were glad we were not doing it alone. Its strange how all that bravado seems to disappear when faced with a desert crossing!
The Western Sahara border was fairly straightforward but slow, spent most of the time outside the police hut with Zoe picking up the border captains underpants every time they blew off the washing line. Yann shamelessly used his 7 year old son to soften up the security guys which was cool because it helped us as well. We really should find a small child to carry around with us for just this purpose.
After exiting Western Sahara we started on dirt road looking for the Mauritanian border post, but before we found it we got stuck in a deep sand pit and also aquire an over zealous campsite owner who offered to guide us to the border and then on to Nouadhibou. Anyway, whiulst looking for the Mauritanian border post we past a small stone shack which looked fit for sheep or goats.
As it happens this was border security, so after getting some stamps in our passports and giving away some money for god knows what we moved on. Soon we passed an even more ramshackle hut, this was customs. So now we were in Mauritania, and it took as about 2 hours of riding on a piste consisting mainly of soft sand to get to the border town.
Here the campsite owner who had been acting as our guide took as to his 'campsite' which was actually a guesthouse which had the option of camping in the carpark. Needless to say we took rooms and spent the night discussing the big desert crossing we were to undertake the next day. We had to cover 550km, 1/3 of which was still piste. The guide estimated 7 hours, I thought more like 12. After the first 20km it was obvious the 4x4 was not going to have any problems, the VW (Patina) bus could get through most of the sand with enough of a run up and myself and Zoe would bring up the rear. With the bikes being so loaded, and Zoe barely reaching the ground with her feet she did not feel comfortable taking the sand at speed. After 7 hours we had only done 120km, Zoe had fallen off about 3 times, I had come off once and the Patina bus had got stuck a few times. The most frustrating thing was the arabs coming flying past in their banged up old peugeots driving as if they were on newly laid tarmac! We were all getting frustrated and the guide had a go at Phillipp and Christoff because he kept waving them to go a certain direction and they would wave back and drive straight into the sandpits he was trying to make them avoid. Finally we hit asphalt again, I think all of us, especially Zoe, wanted to kiss that long line of black stuff. We drove until dusk and then the guide stopped us and said the asphalt is now finished and there is 100km of piste before the capital. Zoe, me, Christoff and Phillipp decided to camp in the dunes for the night but Yann with kids in the car decided to press on with the guide. We had a nice night in the dunes and Christoff set up a slide show on his laptop of his photos he had been taking with his digital camera. The next day we made it to the capital in good time and found a campsite right on the beach with an awesome view of white sand and blue/green sea. I have not up to now given an opinion of Mauritania, but if I were to describe what I have seen in the few days I was there in a few words I would say it was poor, barren and unpopulated.
After a quick freshen-up in a bucket of water....the showers weren't working....we went to explore the town in the Patina bus! It is really pricey in Mauritania, but we made at least 50 or 60 new friends! The next morning Yann came to meet us and we went to stay with his family for the remainder of our time in NKT, although not before a dog pissed on our tent and Phillipp has had a 30min battle over the campsite bill and the broken showers, which was only halted by a call to the Police!. It was nice to unpack, wash and fiddle with the bikes at Yann's, although we did find 5 broken spokes on my back wheel and we spent the evening discussing the dreaded Senegal border, which we were tackling the next morning, hailed as the worst in Africa.........
We left Nouakchott (NKT) early on Weds 1st September and headed south for Senegal. We wanted to get the border crossing out of the way as quickly as possible!
First we need to get some petrol for the bikes, which proved to be a more difficult task than either of us had anticipated, when we eventually found the only 'Super' seller in NKT we realised I had spent all our oogs (the local currency) phoning home the night before.....ooops! Too lazy to ride back inot the city, we managed to get the worst exchange rate for dollars ever seen, since records began and we were on our way!
As soon as we left NKT the scenery started to change......there was a bit of grass and then even some trees! By the time we reached Rosso and the Senegalese border it was lush green countryside.
To be honest the least said about the border crossing the better. We had read advice from previous travellers about how to get across without being conned out of all your cash and patience. After 5 hours we were through the otherside, out of Mauritania and into Senegal. We still had some of our cash, but had lost so much of our patience we had to use some of our left over cash to buy more!!! All I can say is that I hope there is a special place in Hell for the touts who hang around borders and i hope it is REALLY hot!
By the time we left the border, it was 6pm ish and we started to make our way south to St Louis, where we had been recommened a great campsite. We had been told about it by an overlander in Casablanca and he said it would be just what we needed after the border! He was right! We arrived after dark at ZebraBar about 20kms south of St Louis. Freindly faces greeted us as we came through the gate tired and jaded, Martin the owner and Guido a biker, both Swiss and Arne another biker from Germany, and we soon had cold beers and good conversation to take our minds off the day we'd just had!
The next morning we woke to find we were on a beautiful island (riding through water the night before, should have given us a clue!) in the middle of the Parc National de la Langue de Barbarie. It is beautiful, with sandy beaches, blue sea, palm trees and lots of lots and lots of crabs.
Arne turned out to be a mechanic and so had a go at fixing some of Pauls spokes. He found more were broken than we originally thought and snapped one trying to tighten it....... our fate was sealed, we would have to hang around until some replacement spokes were sent from the UK.
We had been travvlling for almost a month and had covered 5000 miles without a break, so this was a welcome excuse to stay put for a while, chill out and get a tan!
We have been here for 10days now, still waiting for the spokes! Paul decided to take up windsurfing and has become quite good.
Although in the beginning he fell off quite alot and kept hitting the water head first, which has given him an 'ear canal infection'(.....his diagnosis!), so now the sea is off limits and he has taken up fishing instead. His first attempt at sea fishing in a kayak, went quite well, but he had to cut it short due to sea-sickness! Subsequent river fishing in the kayak has proved less sickly, but produced a similar amount of fish.......none!
While Paul has been engaging in all these activities I have been working on my tan, which is going pretty well! I wouldn't normally allow bikini shots to be placed on the web, but it proves to our parents that we are still eating well!!!
The local land crabs are keeping us company, while we stay in St Louis! We have one who lives in our luggage and keeps an eye on both of us during the day and then rummages through our possesions throughout the night, keeping us awake! The National Park is mainly for the protection of birds and so there are lots of herons, and other such bird like creatures ( i think you can see we are experts on birds now!).
We have also seen the tail end of the massive swarm of locusts, which has been rampaging through West Africa.
I think they had become a little bit tired of rampaging by the time we saw them, but it was still very impressive and they pack quite a punch when you ride through them....and leave a bit of a mess!
So next once Pauls bike is fixed we are heading to Dakar......to complete our own little Guildford - Dakar rally and then on the Gambia, Southern Senegal and then Mali. We are still in discussion about whether to go to Timbuktu......not sure if I can hack all that sand again! Paul has got plenty of time to try and talk me around though!!!!
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