. The area is full of landmines and until 2002 you had to be escorted in convoy. Now you just have to follow the tracks. During a quick toilet stop, we drank our last remaining 2 cans of beer just in case we got searched at the Mauritanian entry point. As we were making our way along the tracks, in the middle of the desert, there was a handpainted sign in the road telling us to take a right for the customs office! It was quite surreal.
The Mauritanian border was marked only by a line of barbed wire and a few small huts by the side of the road. You get past one hut and still have to go through the formalities at the next hut a few metres away. We got through relatively easily in the end, no truck searches or bribes. The road was just rough piste as we headed into Mauritania, towards the first town Nouadhibou. The area is still landmined and so again we had to just follow the tracks and at one point we were following a single set of tracks on our own. Sian was in the front navigating and it was not much fun at all. She would rather have been oblivious in the back of the truck. The guys at the border post told us that a camel and a landrover had blown up just a few metres from the border post, and all along our way we saw burnt out vehicles and the odd set of camel bones. Finally we crossed the railway tracks and out of the danger area where we saw the longest train in the world pass by, it was pretty impressive
Eventually we arrived in Nouadhibou where we stayed for 2 days and we felt as though we had arrived in real Africa. The people were no longer looking Arabic and the women were wrapped up in colourful clothes carrying large buckets and baskets on their heads. The children were shouting and waving and the place had a really nice feel about it. Unfortunately we didnt get to see much of the town as Kev had Giardia for the third time and was on antibiotics, whilst Sian had another curious stomach ailment. The people at the campsite were really good and gave us a room for free to lie down in for the day and recover. Graeme and Alison left the truck in Nouadhibou, they couldnt cope without a regular hotel room and as they were on a budget of 1000 euros per week, they didnt want to camp, but Barbara, an Italian girl joined us and planned to stay until Dakar.
We left Nouadhibou to make our way to Nouakchott, the capital of Mauritania. Soon after leaving we encountered a police check. When you enter the country you have to declare your foreign currency and show the declaration with any money change receipts and your remaining foreign currency to the police. If it doesnt add up they are very unhappy and unfortunately Paul and John miscalculated and ended up having to pay a $50 fine
. Thankfully we made it through the remaining checkpoints without any hassle. Then we headed further across the Sahara desert and took a bit of a wrong turn, we could have turned back as the right track was just a few metres back but to quote Paul "it's okay, this is what the truck is built for!" Everyone got out of the truck to take pictures and Sian climbed into the cab with John and Paul at which point we must mention the second quote, from John " go onto that track over there Paul, we're okay now, the sand is firmer". At this point we sank the truck a few feet into the desert. No big deal, we got out the sand mats and dug out the sand, tried to go further and sank another foot. Local help arrived and many hands were digging. The back of the truck was buried and was listing at a more than slight angle, only the kitchen on the back of the truck was stopping us from sinking further. We tried again and sank a bit more. One of the back wheels had reached wet clay beneath the sand and wasnt going anywhere. Paul went off on his motorbike to find a truck to pull us out. He returned with a digger and we attached a chain to pull us out but it snapped. We tried a rope and it snapped too, so we tried a wire rope, and yes, it snapped. The digger then moved around to the side of the truck, what it intended to do we will never know, because oops yes, it sank too! It was beginning to not be so funny anymore. The cost to Paul before the digger sank was going to be $400 but now it doubled. Paul bought a very heavy wire rope off a local, for $100 and another 6 wheel truck came by. It succeeded in pulling the truck out after being stuck for 7 hours but all in all it was a very expensive day for Paul. The local guy in charge had started quite friendly, but as the situation worsened he became unpleasant and argumentative. Paul employed him as a guide to take us to Nouakchott for a further $250.
We camped rough and set off at 7 a.m the next morning, the drive was interesting, through a national park and through what we term 'real sahara' with beautiful sand dunes, but the guide became even more obnoxious telling Paul he wasnt there to teach him how to drive, especially when we got stuck in the sand a few more times, although fortunately these were only minor inconveniences
. After arriving late at a small fishing village, the guide left following another argument and only being paid $200. We stayed in the fishing village until 3 p.m the next day as the next part of the journey was along the beach and we had to wait for the tide to be out. Three children came to our camp site, just to sit and watch. One spoke French as he was from Senegal, visiting with his father to fish. He went to school in Senegal but the local children had no school to go to at all. They didnt want anything and handed back money and bread when it fell to the floor. Later, we took a wander through the village and the local children held our hands, several on each finger. Kev swung them around on the beach and they were a real pleasure to spend time with. The beach itself was surprising clean and the red sand of the Sahara turns suddenly to white sand at the beach. We set off at 3p.m and arrived late in Nouakchott after a trouble free and beautiful drive along the beach. We found a tiny campsite in town where we stayed for 2 nights. The local food was excellent and the town was nice except for the money changing touts who hassled us a lot and dont take no for an answer. We also took a wander to the fish market at the beach where hundreds of boats came back with their catch and the women on the beach gutted them and carried them in buckets on their heads. Sunset there was really nice.
We left Nouakchott early on 8th Jan to head for the Senegal border, we couldnt spend longer in Mauritania as our visas were running out
. We were aware that there were 12 police checkpoints between Nouakchott and Rosso, the border town, but managed to get through them all without much hassle, and without paying any bribes except for a few coloured pens. To enter Senegal you have to cross the Senegal river by ferry and the scene was really nice. The river was deep aquamarine and all along the shore grew tall green reeds and the locals were friendly and colourful. However customs on the other side was a different story. We shouldnt need a visa to enter the country but the official insisted that we each pay $15 for a visa and Paul had to pay another $50 for the truck and $50 as a 'present' to the official. All we got was an entry stamp but we had to pay, there was nothing we could do. We made our way to St Louis to stay at a bar / campsite, the Zebra Bar, run by a Swiss couple. Again we got stuck in sand on the track to the site but we freed the truck and arrived at the site very late after a very long day. We have been there for a few days now as the truck needs some repairs and Paul had gone to Dakar to get spares.
The campsite is really nice, in the middle of a national bird park with pelicans, storks, kingfishers, etc. St Louis is 20 kms away and has some interesting buildings but not much else. The village next to the campsite is another story, not at all touristy and very interesting to walk around. The locals are very friendly and tonight we have been invited to the house of the local butcher who we met on our way to get a taxi into town
. The weather is now very hot and we have entered malaria country so we are taking the necessary medication. A few days ago, the camp site was invaded by a bunch of old cars on the Plymouth to Dakar rally, the rules of which are: buy a car for less than one hundred pounds and spares for fifteen pounds, then drive it to Dakar. It started out as a joke, but more than 40 cars started and Kev really wishes he was part of it!
All is well with everyone on the truck, Barbara has now left as she had to go back to Italy. We are having great debates on whether we should go to Cameroon or not as we will have to go through Nigeria. Most on the truck want to go as nothing has really changed since we originally planned to go there but others are having doubts. We will be very disappointed if we dont as that was a good part of our reason for joining the truck. We shall have to see, at least we are still planning to get our visas for Nigeria in Dakar.
That about all for now, Kev has just got back from the beach in St Louis where the children have been teaching him to count in French. We are now going to the market to buy food for dinner and then bargain a dilapidated taxi back to the campsite.
Take care all,
Kev and Sian
Well a lot has happened since our last update and as you can see we are now in Senegal. After leaving Dakhla and a nice but uneventful New Year, we headed south towards the Mauritanian border. The drive was pretty cool and there were lots of old ship wrecks by the sea along the way. Two people joined us in Dakhla, Graeme (about 50 and always right) and his wife Alison (quiet and doesnt get a word in edgeways). We were turned back at a road block as it was too late in the day to go through to the border, so we free camped at the side of the road. There was a dung beetle making its way across the tent area before finding a spot to dig a nest. It was still shovelling in the morning, it was really interesting and kept our bored minds amused for ages. Anyway, we got through the border and offically exited Western Sahara. The only bribe we had to pay was a copy of National Geographic to the border guy! From here we entered no mans land, making our way towards the official border post for Mauritania