Category: Road conditions

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

© 2011 – 2016, fatman-overland. All rights reserved.

Africa 2010: Morocco

The route:  Sebta -> Tetouan -> Near Meknes -> Rabat -> Beni Mellal -> Bin El Ouidane -> Ouarzezate -> Talouin -> Agadir – > Biougra -> El Outia -> Boujdour -> Dakhla -> Mauritanian Border

Morocco is a country of diversity. The landscape ranges from lush mediteranean to bare sand dunes. And the people who call themselves Moroccans have an interesting mix of ethnic faces. Although it’s an Islamic country, but it does not have the strictness towards woman that many other Islamic countries have. It is wonderful to see in a few minutes woman dressed in jeans and shirts as well as woman dressed in the traditional garments. And although not many woman are driving and even fewer are riding motorcycles (or the more common mopeds), this is also changing.

There is still a strong emphasis on family in Morocco, but with all the changes in the country and children moving further away to find work, they are in danger of losing this, which would be a real shame. We spent some time with a traditional Moroccan family where 4 out of the 7 sons are still living at home. Three of these are married and 2 of them have children of their own. It’s a wonderful mix of generations.

Coming into Morocco was a bit of a shock. We got lumbered with a guide to take us to Tetouan and show us around. Our only excuse is that it’s our first trip to Morocco, but it won’t be the last. At least we managed to get out of buying a carpet (genuine and very cheap of course :)). He did a good job though and we saw parts of the Medina which we would not otherwise have seen, including the bit where they prepare sheep skins into leather. Yuck, it stinks!

If you ever need to stay over in Rabat, make sure that it’s not when an international music festival is on. When we got there (to get our Mauritanian visas), the hotels were full (if you could find them). Those that weren’t full were either in the Medina (where you can’t take the bikes) or were being renovated before the main tourist season. And to make things worse, the campsite we were aiming for does not exist anymore. It is now part of the redevelopment of the marina. Pity, it was such a nice location, and the only campsite in Rabat. But as luck would have it, we ended up staying with the couple wo used to run the campsite. They now own a riad in Sale (across the river from Rabat), which is like a posh B&B (www.therepose.com). A lot more expensive than the campsite though 🙁 But they were very friendly and helpful.

After that we knew we had to scale things down a bit. We found the most wonderful campsite looking down on a river. They even had a tented restaurant on site that was frequented by locals. We were the only people camping there, though. There was this partially fallen down structure that we decided to make into our camp for a couple of days. We had our privacy with wonderful views over the valley. We did a day trip to the Ouzoud falls (a bit of a tourist trap but still worth visiting). Between the camp and the falls was a massive man-made lake Ben el Ouid(??). Absolutely beautiful.

In Ouarzezate we stayed with a couple who does motorcycle tours in Morocco (www.bikershome.com). They suggested we take the gravel road to Tazenacht. It’s about 65km long and is new, apart from the last 10-15km, which is still the old road. Up to the old road, it’s was brilliant riding. We passed quite a few oases and even got wet riding through a ford :). But where the road works started between the new and old parts, things got a bit bad. Isabel fell off in sand (which Adrian managed to negotiate safely). No harm done. A couple of workmen picked the bike up for her and on we went. Things got very difficult, partly due to sand (at an oasis) and partly due to a diversion which sort of just petered out into nothing. But we managed it, and looking back on it it was mainly fun 🙂

We stayed at a campsite outside Agadir to sort out our stuff and send some back as we just had way too much stuff with us. This turned into another epic. The local vilage post office (about 2km from the camp site) could not send anything abroad so we had to go into Agadir to the big post office. Here they did not have a box big enough, so we were sent to yet another post office. Luckily here they had a very friendly guard who could speak a bit of English and helped us get a ticket to get in line. But when Adrian took the tripod out of the bag everyone took a step back and the guard had to examine it very carefully. They thought it was some kind of weapon, until Adrian explained that it was for putting a camera on to take pictures. But after this the guard examined everything we wanted to send back. We think he was just enjoying the change 🙂 When everything was packed he started taping the box up. He must have used 2 rolls of tape! But we did manage to send back about 10kg of stuff. Let’s just hope it all gets safely back home.

Then it was time to meet up with a Moroccan guy called Omar that we made contact with on CouchSurfing. It was only about 60km from the campsite near Agadir. He was waiting for us and of course we stick out like a sore thumb on our big bikes, so he couldn’t miss us as we rode into town. We spent 2 brilliant days with him and his family. Adrian was taught how to make mint tea the proper way and Isabel learnt how to make the bread they make every day. No exact measurements to be seen anywhere. We took lots of photos of everyone and even got the little printer out, which was a great hit. It was very difficult to say good bye to them, especially Omar, his wife and his cousin. We will definitely go back to visit them.

From here on it was south all the way to the border with Mauritania. A very long and hot road. The only respite being from the sea breeze which can be so strong that you struggle to keep the bike upright. Isabel did manage to lose it about 10 miles outside Tan-Tan (on the way to El Outia), but not because of the wind. What looked like shiny new tarmac was actually a whole lane full of diesel! Luckily we were going slow round the bends, experience having taught us that a truck could be coming down in our lane. Her bike is a little bent, but still OK to ride. Will get it checked out when possible.

In El Outia we met Koen, a Dutch guy on a 3 month motorcycle trip in West Africa. He was looking for petrol. We had a chat and he went off to the petrol station. When we reached Boujdour later that day the wind was so strong it nearly blew Adrian’s bike over so we decided to take a room at the campsite rather than pitch the tent. Waking up the next day Isabel had a nasty headache so we booked in for another day. And what a good thing that was. The day was very foggy and actually quite pleasant. Early in the afternoon another bike turned up with Tom and Nina. They had been travelling by motorcycle from the Middle East, via South Africa, for the last 14 months. They’re on their way back to Europe. How nice it was to talk to them. And later on Koen turned up there as well. So we hooked up with Koen for the ride to and through the border. His French is so much better than ours that it made quite a diffirence when finding places to stay and finding out the rates etc. And to top it all he’s a really nice guy and easy to get along with.

We’ve heard horror stories about the border crossing between Morocco and Mauritania: it’s a horrible road and you need a guide. Tom said it’s not that bad, just wait for a car you can trust (foreigner) and follow them. At the border Koen started talking to one of the guards who eventually said that it’s not as bad as people say, you don’t need a guide, just follow the track. It’s pretty clear and if in doubt, take the left route. He was spot on. The first bit had some sand and Adrian came off. Isabel struggled, but Koen helped to keep the bike upright so she managed to get through. Then it’s mainly very rocky but standing up helps a lot. About 500m from the Mauritanian border there is some sand again and Adrian came off, this time hurting his ankle quite a bit. Luckily it seems to be just a sprain or bad bruise.

Then we had to deal with Mauritanian officials, roads and traffic. But that’s for another edition.

Adrian & Isabel

& Mr Teddy

© 2011 – 2016, fatman-overland. All rights reserved.

Europe 2009: Mile 1531

19th April 2009

A low mileage day today.Since Isabel’s screen will be replaced in Poznań on Tuesday and we have been told that the old part of the city is pretty we decided not to go any further north but rather spend a couple of days in the city. So after a (very) hearty breakfast at the hotel (which we needed when we had to carry the panniers down the stairs!) and a chat to an Australian guy with an arm in a sling. Apparently he has two sons who are going to ride speedway for the local Leszno team. The breakfasts here seem to be buffet like affairs where you help yourself to as much as you can eat which is great because I do! 🙂

Breakfast (and chat) over had a bit of a problem putting one of my panniers on – it was the pannier on the side the bike landed during the crash of the other day. Took it off and saw that the lower locating plate (I use SW Motech Panniers and rack) had bent slightly and had difficult “locating”. Not anything that a little force couldn’t put right (I leave all the subtle stuff to Isabel). Luckily it doesn’t cause too may problems at the moment.

Off we went and when we got back to the main road the GPS said we needed to take a long detour to get back onto the same road – Why? Luckily I used what little intellect I possess and decided not to follow itand just headed towards Leszno. Later the GPS tried to fool us into taking a road that had been closed. Not its fault this time I will admit but still slightly annoying. Then I managed to miss a slight kink in the road and headed instead down a country lane which,pleasantly, proved to be a nice ride. I am, of course, going to take the praise for that and not admit it was a mistake – Oh bummer I’ve gone and written it down now – oops!

Eventually we got back onto the main road and once again we had to fight it. Basically the roads here are worn out and have two well defined grooves in them where the cars and lorries have ridden. The problem is that the “ridge” between these grooves is usually in a very bad state and cannot be ridden (it is full of potholes etc.). Therefore you have to ride inside one of the grooves (which can be up to about six inches deep). If you ride in the nearside groove there is a very big edge on the kerbside which could get really nasty if you hit it. The offside groove is usually OK but puts you too near oncoming traffic. This, coupled with the propensity of drivers here to overtake when there isn’t really an overtaking opportunity means you have to concentrate hard at all times which is exhausting. Luckily at Gostyń we turned off onto a much quieter road towards Dolsk.

Which brings me to the next time the GPS annoyed me: One of the roads it took us on was errr not a road as such but a country track along the edge of some fields! After the incident the other day this basically made me very nervous indeed. Anyway there was nowhere to turn round so onwards we went. The quality of the “road” went downhill even though it hadn’t started all that well but we made it in the end without falling off even though I did stop a few ties when I felt my nerves were getting the better of me and I needed to calm down. 🙂

From there it was tar the whole way. We rode through Śrem and on to Poznań. One strange site was more “Ladies of the night” in the middle of nowhere. Well in the middle of a forest actually – They were stationed at the junctions of forest tracks and the road but far away from any town or place where there was seemingly enough traffic for them to carry on their trade effectively. Very strange and with the amount of clothing they weren’t wearing very cold presumably.

Once in Poznań we negotiated the traffic and ended up at a very nice campsite at Malta which is part of a hotel. Very nice and we awarded this

Five sarges

The campsite/hotel is situated near a lake used for rowing regattas but which also has many other facilities. Since the weather was superb there were lots of people out. On bikes, rollerblades, feet. A brilliant place. We went on a ride built like a bobsleigh. I hate to admit it but I actually enjoyed it! Had a hamburger and a wander (Oh and a large waffle 🙂 ) and came back and did some washing in the campsite laundry. After that we had a walk around the lake (about 2km long) and came back to the campsite restaurant.

After some difficulty getting in we got a table. We were practically the ones there. I didn’t expect much from the restaurant but we needed something to eat. The waiter, a friend and the chefs were behind the bar having a chat and a cigarette when we arrived. I ordered Eisbein and Isabel ordered Pork Fillet. To be honest I was totally blown away by the food! Absolutely brilliant and a very very high quality and beautifully presented. That will teach me not to have preconceptions! After to that we went to bed very tired but very happy. A good day!

Lessons Learnt:

  • Be prepared to be flexible in your journey. If you take the wrong road enjoy it!
  • Do not prejudge other cultures and places – They might surprise you!
  • Adrian & Isabel

    & Mr Teddy

© 2010 – 2016, fatman-overland. All rights reserved.