Africa 2010: Mauritania

The route:  Nouadhibou -> Nouakchott -> Rosso -> Diama (Senegal)

Mauritania is a strange country. Apparently the main town (Nouakchott) was just a fishing village until the country was formed. Then it was made into the capital and swelled from 50000 people to over 1 million. And it shows!

Our first introduction to Mauritania was the border officials. Just after Adrian hurt his ankle in no-mans land. They were all quite friendly. One even made a joke about our surname saying since Isabel is North, Adrian should have been South. How refreshing to find an official with a sense of humour.

Shortly after leaving the border post we encountered sand on the road, part of a dune. Koen took Adrian’s bike through and helped Isabel through. At the next dune on the road confidence has been restored and we made it through OK and unaided. But that was not the last encounter with sand.

In Nouadhibou we found a campsite with a very nice manager. We stayed there a couple of days to allow Adrian’s ankle to rest a bit. On the second day we decided to go to a restaurant for dinner. We were told that the seafood in Nouadhibou is very good. Two restaurants were mentioned in the Lonely Planet guide so we went to the closest of the two. We were walking and Adrian still could not go very far. Outside it looked like a large shack. Inside it looked really nice. Lots of tables that can seat 6-8 people, comfy seats, cool. We were given the menu. The only one they have. Not a lot on there: starter (not sure what), langousstines, crevettes, calamari, chicken, meat and dessert. Adrian wanted chicken, but that was out. So was the meat. Isabel ended up with langoustines (very nice) and the boys with calamari (also not bad). Koen and Isabel had high hopes of chocolate mousse for dessert, but there was no dessert. And then the waiter needed to go out to find change when we paid. What an odd experience.

The road between Nouadhibou and Nouakchott is, to say the least, hot, windy and boring. We left Nouadhibou very early but still the wind was really bad. We were blown all over the place and you could see the sand moving across the tarmac. The riding was very hard. And there wasn’t even anything to look at. We stopped halfway at a service station (the only one on the road) to escape the worst of the days heat. When we left it was still 43 degrees Celcius, but we had to make a move. It was still a long way to Nouakchott. We reached that in the semi-darkness of dusk. That was frightening. They might have traffic lights, roundabouts and driving schools, but that does not make for good driving. We though Rabat was bad, but this was much worse. Traffic signals were ignored and people were driving on the pavements (such as there was) to escape the congestion. And to complete the nightmare sand on the roads! And we were trying to keep 3 bikes together. Not an easy task. We managed to get to the auberge we were aiming for (Auberge Menata), with the help of a friendly cyclist. And what a wonderful place. It’s like an oasis of calm in a sea of madness.

We were going to stay 3 nights, to get our Mali visas, but ended up staying 4 because of a problem with the ignition switch on Isabel’s bike. Koen had left after 2 days with a couple of French guys, so we were on our own again.

We had done some research about the border crossing between Mauritania and Senegal and by all accounts the crossing and Rosso was to be avoided at all cost. You could be 150 USD down per bike in bribes. Everyone said to use the Diama crossing, but the downside of that is the road between Rosso and Diama. We were in two minds about that, but when we reached the outskirts of Rosso, where the turn-off is, our minds were made up. If we get hassled that much this far from the border, it would be much worse at the border. So we took the dyke road to Diama. But that was far from easy. Sandy at the start (which we managed OK apart from a fall by Isabel in front of a school). Again no harm done. Then the road got a bit better, but it was very hot. Then it got much worse: wash-board. Going slow you felt like you were being shaken apart. The screen extension on Adrian’s bike came off, it was that bad. Going fast, you didn’t feel the effect of the corrugations, but stopping was a problem. And we had to slow down frequently for animals, e.g. warthogs and donkeys. It took us nearly 4 hours to do the 60 mile road, but it was worth it.

At the border, according to our research, we should not need to pay anything. We just need to get our carnets stamped by customs and our passports by the police. But we were told that both will ask for money, but if you just play dumb they give up and let you go. So that’s what we did. The customs guy tried all sorts of angles to get us to pay, but we just said we didn’t pay for these formalities when coming in to the country and it very confusing that he’s asking for money now. By the time he asked he had already done all the work without mentioning any money so it turned into a game to see who would back down first. We just played it cool as though we had all the time in the world and were eventually told to take our documentaion and go to the police. Same story here, but we ended up paying nothing. Both officials were very friendly though. It’s a shame that they need to do that. Either they are greedy (which I doubt) or they don’t get paid enough (far more likely). Then someone else wanted money for some community fund. He won’t open the barrier (which he only closed when he saw us) unless we paid him. So we went round the barrier. The policeman came out of he hut smiling and indicated that he would have opened the barrier for us. Oh well, we managed to get through witout paying, which is good.

What awaits us at the Senegal border?

Adrian & Isabel

& Mr Teddy

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