Dakhla to Nouadhibou

Trip Start Sep 13, 2006
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Mauritania  ,
Saturday, October 21, 2006

Back in Casablanca I had got myself a 3 month multi-entry visa for the Mauritania which was a complete waste of an additional 20 euros but armed with my new diplomatic powers I brought a bus ticket to Dakhla which was a good 32 hour trip. Luckily the bus was really comfortable as I was feeling pretty tired after Casa which saps your energy.

The first leg from Casa to Agadir I had previously done so didn't hold any surprises, however afterwards the landscape got more and more arid till there was nothing but fields of rocks and sand with the odd plant scattered around. However the sun was going down by now and if was time for everyone to get some food at a remote road side cafe. We carried on after dark and the driver decided to put the radio on which had some guy chanting verse from the Koran. I was really impressed with the bus' sound system as I was hearing from all directions till I realized a few guys around me had joined in, to have a communal chant. This was interesting for awhile and when I wanted to sleep, in went the ear plugs and I went out like a lamp.

In the morning we were traveling along a coastline with abandoned ships every few kilometers. But to the east there were really only plains of rocks to the horizon. From time to time we would come across a breeze block building, or a few tents with a battered car and an old man fishing. This continued till midday when we left the mainland and down off the cliffs and onto the stretch of land that projects into the sea. In the terrestrial elbow were kite surfers making the most of the Atlantic winds.

Within 20 kilometers of Dakhla we started hitting army and police checkpoints. Being the only foreigner onboard I was constantly getting up each time to go fill out a form. It was over the top but was poignant reminder that the Western Sahara is still disputed territory after 350,000 Moroccans walked into this here land. Since which the Polisario have embarked on a 16 year guerrilla against Morocco. The UN is supposed to do something about it but they seem to be dragging their feet for various reasons. However; although the occupation costs Morocco 2 million US dollars a day the army absorbs a lot of the unemployment in Morocco. Finally the bus dropped me off in the middle of Dakhla.

While waiting for my bag, was approached by a guy asking me if I wanted to go to Mauritania as he had a car leaving tomorrow with already 3 French and a Spaniard. Told him I was interested but originally was hoping to spend a day checking out Dakhla and also needed to find out where Antonio had got to, with whom I was going to go to Mauritania. I hadn't seen him in 3 weeks, but heard through backpackergram that he was close. Found the hotel and later that evening was introduced slowly to the group who all seemed to be good people. Finally the Spaniard arrived and turned out to be Antonio who arrived by bus 2 hours before I. Thinking this was turning out pretty well I directly accepted the offer of 400 Dirhams for the nice shiny white 4wd that was sitting by the road side, but the group collectively thought we should reduce the cost and after much debate we got a trip for 300. Little did we know that the next morning after meeting the Moroccan Abdul who was to make up the final member of our fellowship, we had been down graded to a little ute to get to the police checkpoint and later a very old Peugeot. This car, when started up sent out a plume of blue smoke that blocked out the sun. We all looked at each other and started debating the feasibility continuing.

Finally we resigned to going and all piled in. Must of drove for at least a good 2 hours before we broke down for the first time. Engine started over heating and making more and more noise. Abdul told use that whoever was in the front seat had to keep an eye on the driver because he was very tired and liable to fall asleep at any moment. The driver didn't speak much French but told me he had 3 wives, two in Mauritania and one in Morocco and 3 kids. Anyway the car became worse and worse till we had used up all our spare engine oil and was then running without any oil at all as it has all leaked out of the oil filter and was burnt on the exhaust manifold.

The big problem was, we had to get to the Moroccan border before 4:30 because of Ramadan it was going to close early and we didn't really want to have to make the trip all the way back to Dakhla. We started stopping every 15 minutes to let the engine cool off and in this handicapped state we arrived for 3.30 and were hoping that we wouldn't have too many hassles. We went throught the standard formalities and managed to get through by 4. From the Moroccan border to the Mauritanian border is just a couple of kms of dirt track in a terrible condition, and somehow we had managed to pick up another two Mauritanian travelers taking the total number of passengers in the car to 10. The car strained and crashed and ploughed it's way till about 100 meters from the Mauritanian mud shack which they call a border; before the car blew up in a big cloud of white smoke. We all piled out and although the driver was convinced that he could get it going again, we started to make other plans. I think the Mauritanians were quite surprised to see people walking up to their border, still I showed them my shiny new visa and found out that I never had to go to Casa for it in the first place, cos they were issuing them there. Still after talking to a car load of Dutch, Antonio and I got a lift with them for the final 40 kilometers to Nouadhibou.

From the town outskirts we thought would walk into town and meet up with the rest of the group who, but resolved to taking a taxi after 20 minutes. Nouadhibou being my first Mauritanian town consisted of a lot of concrete block buildings with dusty roads and sand for footpaths. The was tons of rubbish everywhere and yet I saw people trying to clean up, so not sure where it all comes from but suspect the population are use to throwing everything out onto the streets. Still once you get use to it: you don't notice it so much and the people are really friendly to the point where to get to the hotel some guy out of the blue offered to take us there without any charge. However in recent years the Mauritanians have learnt a few things for their Moroccan neighbors and are become more and more pushy.

We hanged out here for a couple of days before Louis and Julie left for Mali to film a documentary and Abdul had to go to work. He comes here regularly to buy fish for the Spanish market, and he helped us out enormously with information since we have met him, as well as being a really nice guy.

As a result, then there were 3 and all of us were planning on going on a little train trip.
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