2004 Mauritania
September 06, 2004 GMT
2004 - Mauritania - God bless asphalt

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.........

Posted by Paul Jenkins at 12:37 PM GMT

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