We're...NOT..going to score 1 more than Nouadhibou

Trip Start May 08, 2002
Trip End Apr 15, 2003

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Flag of Mauritania  ,
Friday, June 21, 2002

Three days further down the road and we're into our
6th country. (Now that we're into Mauritania, we've
adopted the local mentality of recognising Western
Sahara as a separate state. When in Rome...)

After sending our last account, we returned to our
hotel room for a few hours of much needed sleep,
following our long and disturbed overnight bus journey
from Laayoune. At 19:30 we stirred, tempted to sleep
right through, but forced ourselves up and out in
search of some food. As we made our way towards the
promise of fish, pizza and pasta, we bumped into a guy
who had helped us with directions earlier in the day.
He offered us some advice about how to tackle our
journey south into Mauritania. He reiterated some
advice we'd already heard - "find a lift with other
Europeans. You will pay less. The Mauritanians will
demand up to Euro100 for two people."

Mrs R had said all along that she did not want to
travel with tourists. They would be less likely to
know the arduous route, and we would have no local
advice on how to approach the border patrols. Our
reading over the past few months has given us various
views of Sahara crossings - some of the tales are far
from pleasant. (Mum, don't read "Sahara Unveiled"
just yet - hold out for a few more weeks when we will
cross the Sahel into the Sub-Sahara!). And if Mrs R's
concerns were not enough, we had noticed very few
other tourists in Dakhla during our time there.

As we were ambling along with our new friend, we
bumped into one of his mates. He had many friends
among the Mauritanian community in Dakhla - a
community established before Mauritania's withdrawal
from Western Sahara in 1979. The two of them took us
around several Mauritanian shops, where they asked
about future trips across the border and negotiated a
price for us. The regular asking price is 500 dirham
(about Euro50) per place. We suggested we did not
want to pay more than 500 dirham for the two of us.
We found a guy who was leaving within 2 hours. He
offered us places for 800 dirham, and said he would
have to discuss a lower price with his colleagues. We
agreed to go back half an hour later for the verdict.

While we waited, we sat in a nearby cafe drinking tea
with our hosts and stocking up on nourishment for the
potential long journey ahead. A couple of French men
walked past us at one point, and one of the Moroccan
men jumped up to check whether they had space for us
in their vehicle. Unfortunately they were already
full. As it turned out, it was probably for the best.
Our Mauritanian lift came back with an offer of 700
dirham for the two of us, which we accepted. We
dashed back to our hotel, packed up quickly, explained
to our bewildered hoteliers that we had found our lift
and would be leaving early. They wished us the very
best, and off we went. We did consider passing on
this lift because we were both still exhausted from
travelling overnight the day before, and trying to
find one the following day. However it turned out to
be the best decision to leave there and then. Sharing
our transport was an Austrian guy who had been waiting
3 days for a lift - we'd inadvertantly got ourselves a
lift within 30 minutes of leaving our hotel.

Our party comprised 2 white tranny vans, various boxes
of household goods going home to families in
Mauritania, a truck-load of fresh fruit and vegetables
(worth a fortune in arid Mauritania) and somewhere
between 11 and 14 people. (The number and faces
seemed to change continuously throughout the journey!)

We finally left Dakhla at 11pm, and for the next 16
hours, we moved between various tortuous positions in
the back of one of the vans (along with 3 Mauritanians
and various household items) and regularly enforced
leg-stretches as we passed check-points, border
patrols, and customs.

The Austrian guy spent the journey in the other
vehicle with the vegetables. We would meet up with
him at each stop to marvel at the scenery, the driving
skills of our companions and the general process
involved in crossing this border. The journey to the
Moroccan exit post was relatively easy. There were
tarmacced roads all the way. One of the Moroccan
border guards took a liking to Mrs R. He was clearly
impressed by her jelabba and headscarf, and on taking
down our details for their records, he double-checked
that we had given him our real address.

"Of course," we said. "And are you married?" he coyly
asked Mrs R - Mr R's French was not up to following
this conversation. "Yes," said Mrs R. "Can I write
to you?" "If you want to, of course!" The guard
indicated to Mrs R to ask her husband if this would be
okay. It was only at this point that Mrs R realised
he wanted to write to HER, and not to both of us! Mr
R agreed. The guard beamed. He would write to us
within a month, and then he expected a letter in
return with a photo of Mrs R! We nodded and smiled
and were sent on our easy way. (It is probably people
like Mrs R who, albeit unwittingly, give Western women
a bad name in Morocco!).

From there onwards, it became much harder. The road
disintegrated into pistes. To the untrained eye, it
was impossible to see which route to take, or even
where the route lay at times. The no-man's land
between Morocco and Mauritania, locally known as
Kandahar because of the prevalence of landmines until
very recently, must be only a few kilometres wide.
Nonetheless, it took at least half an hour to
negotiate the bumps and troughs and flows of sand.
When we reached Mauritania, we made our slow way past
3 guards. The first checked our passports, and let us
drive on a further 100m. The second checked our
passports, stamped them, took down our details, and
let us drive on a further 100m. The final guard
checked our passports and let us drive on. It was an
interesting process to witness, and we were pleased we
were travelling with a group of Mauritanians familiar
with the formalities. We did not encounter any
problems. Our bags were not even examined, in sharp
contrast to what we had come to expect from other
people's accounts. Perhaps travelling with
Mauritanians eased our passage through.

From this final border post there were another 60km to
Nouadhibou, all on rough pistes. We got stuck in a
small sand-drift...just once, much to our amazement.
It was hard work to push the van out, and took several
attempts of shovelling the sand from the wheels,
forcing caterpillar tracks under the back wheels and
pushing the van a few cm further forward before the
wheels started to spin again.

But at around 3pm (about 6 hours later) we arrived at
the check-point into Nouadhibou. We stopped for a few
minutes, for our fellow travellers to observe the
afternoon prayers. While we waited, the train passed
us. The train is famous for the being the longest in
the world - that is, the train itself is the longest
set of carriages and tugs. We were amazed. As we
marvelled at it, one of the Mauritanian men told us
that this was only a short version of the train - it
had only two engines at the front, and no vehicle or
passenger cars!

We entered the city a few minutes later, and were
dropped off at a camp site on the outskirts of town.
Unfortunately, things started to go downhill a little
after this. (But not for long.) The campsite we had
been dropped at was run by a very astute, but somewhat
dishonest guy, and both Mr & Mrs R and the Austrian
soon ran out of patience. We spent the evening
together at a Korean restaurant in town, enjoying some
beautiful fish and rice dishes. The following
morning, at the first opportunity, we packed up and
left for some more central (and less
cockroach-infested) accomodation. We found a superb
campsite on the main street. The owners have been
very welcoming - the owner even invited us to disturb
him at 6am this morning to watch the England-Brazil
(D'oh) game in his salon. After settling in, we went
out for food, money and orientation. Everyone we met
was extremely helpful and interested to hear who we
are and why we are here. Later in the afternoon, we
chartered a taxi to take us and our Austrian friend
out to Cap Blanc, a beach some 20km away which is
famous for its seals. After another difficult journey
across pistes and some more digging our way out of
sand-drifts we arrived. The cape is quite incredible.
The desert quite literally falls intothe ocean:
...sand, sand, sand, sea, sea, sea... Unfortunately,
we were unable to spot any seals. We had picked a
very windy day, when any sensible seal would be
staying far from the shore.

We chose instead to sit on the beach, watching the
fishermen and chatting to our taxi driver. He was a
very interesting man, who had done much travelling
throughout Africa, and was impressed that we had
undertaken such a difficult journey. He recognised
that our life on the road was somewhat different to
living in London! He demanded to know where we
intended to travel in Mauritania. When we told him,
he insisted that by not taking the route towards Mali
we would miss out on the "real Mauritania". So we may
alter our plans ... but ... this may mean missing
Senegal and The Gambia if we extend our stay in
Mauritania and go out towards the Malian border. But
not to worry, we have another week to decide. The
longest train in the world beckons this afternoon and
we are heading east, further into the desert. All
being well we'll be in the capital, Nouackchott in a
week's time, and then decisions have to be made about
heading south or east.

Later everybody,

Captain Marvel and The Boy Wonder.

Mr and Mrs R On Tour -

Hello Mauritania - sand, sand, sand, wind, wind, wind, sun, sun, sun... """""""""""""""""
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