2 days in the biggest nature reserve in the world!

Trip Start Sep 03, 2010
Trip End Oct 27, 2010

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Flag of Mauritania  , Dakhlet Nouadhibou,
Saturday, October 9, 2010

First ive got to say that this was the biggest highlight of the trip so far. I'd only heard of this place briefly and didn't put much interest into it either. On the way down we didn't even discuss the possibility of visiting the place. The banc d'arguin is the biggest national park in the world covering 12,000 sq Km and pretty much every single migratory bird will pass here.

We were about halfway down alongside the park at the height of Chamu, an entrance to the park. After finally having made the decision to enter without any preparation we bought 2 entrances for 1200 Ougiya (3euros) valid for 1 day. It was late again, about 4 o'clock and although we have a GPS and a map from the guides we don't have any way-points to guide us. Not quite organised as always but that was adventure..

We entered and there were a few tracks in the sand so we followed them. The landscape was beautiful and empty. Long stretches of empty land, sand dunes randomly placed and the  greenery that was abundant added a joyful twist. I was very excited and soon we were engaging 4x4 through the sand. I couldn't stop filming and taking pictures while trying to steer through the stubborn sand. We saw wild camels and stopped many times.

Amidst all the fun disaster struck. Obviously being in the desert there was lots of sand in the air. My Panasonic LX3, snapshot camera which is the backbone of this blog and the trip  inevitably got some sand stuck inside the zoom ring. It was now stuck rendering the camera useless. Now that certainly proves murphys law exists. I'm in the middle of possibly one of the most beautiful places on earth and am unable to document a great part of this. I do have my professional Nikon D300 camera buts its cumbersome and has many adjustments to take care of. Not quite a snapshot camera. To make things worse its boiling hot and i have to drive with the windows wound down or else i suffocate. In the process of changing the steering wheel from right to left the cooling system inside the car was not connected properly..

Nonetheless im in awe and totally excited. Conditions change every so often, sometimes sand dunes then salty marshland. Its all fun. After a good drive due west and the sun touching the horizon we arrive at a small shanty town alike fishing village called Ten-Alloul. We want to get Iwik where there is accommodation according to the map. Its a quick drive south through hard marsh land. Its now dark and Jay had been here before sometime but cant remember exactly where he had stayed. Theres what looks like some houses to stay and there is already a car parked outside. Pondering where to go we finally decide to have a look at the houses we passed. Inside there is a young German couple called Matthias and Luise who have let themselves incthrough the window. The place definitely once was meant for accommodation but was abandoned. The couple is very friendly and offers to share the place with us. They're driving an old vauxhall Jeep that they bought off the British Army in Berlin. It is still right-hand drive. We tuck into some food after Jay and myself make a good attempt at repairing an old Bedouin tent. Next moment someone turns up in a Jeep. Its a friendly local who turns out to be an old friend of Jays. His name is Sidi and is one of the guides of the park. He invites us to his camp-site which is the one we were looking for earlier. Sidi is ever so friendly and while serving us some incredible mint-tea we have a very interesting chat and it turns out he is very hospitable, open minded and above all, friendly. He also studied Oceanography and did a course in Ornithology. All very useful for this region.

Next morning we are approached by some people from the shanty town village. One guy called Ahmed is the president of the community and welcomes us to the region. He hangs around all morning without speaking much. A bit odd but we give him a few presents. Next moment Sidi turns up and we agree for more tea later on as he is taking a Dutch Ornithologist for a tour. I go off to the sea shore for a bit to take some snaps. The amount of wildlife is incredible. The most curious creatures are the crabs that exist here in the millions literally. I curse that my Panasonic camera is broken to be able to take a video of all the crabs running away as i approach and hiding in their holes. I walk back and finally Jay has woken up and we get ready. Just as we are about to leave Ahmed approaches us and demands 14 000 Ougiya (35euro /31pounds) for the night for 4 people. An extortionate amount as an Auberge costs 2000 Ougiya/night (5euro / 4.40pounds). We argue that this is not correct and leave for Sidis house.

At Sidis we have some mint tea and try to import some way-points manually into the GPS. A park official arrives with Ahmed in lead. There is a big discussion and its all resolved by paying 1500 Ougiya each. We head off as we have wasted lots of time. Our aim is to get to the outer part of the park way south. The problem is that its about 100km of sand dunes and marsh land. After Mamghar on the outer limit of the park we have to time things correctly as the only way past that area is via the narrow strip of long beach. Thats very tricky terrain and it needs to be low tide. Sidi alerts the post at Mamghar that we shall be arriving tonight.

We hit the terrain with 3 cars now and its more of an intense ride than the previous day. The sun is beating down and the driving is demanding. Lots of gear changing and 4x4 action. My window is down and bucketloads of sand is pouring through the window. Luckily i brought a balaclava and put it over my face to avoid getting sand down my throat. Its pure adrenaline but spoilt by our diesel engines overheating every so often. The problem is that the wind is blowing behind us and the thrashing of our engines doesn't help. Everytime i quickly park up towards the wind to let the air cool the radiators. Mine doesnt have turbo like Jays Jeep and im always last one as the diesel motor becomes even more sluggish in the difficult terrain. Finally there is a change of terrain and its salty marsh land. Jay and the young couple hit a muddy spot and get really stuck. Shame it wasnt me as my tyres are perfect for those conditions. At least  we can use it to tow them out. We stop off at some beautiful sand dunes and make some lunch and relax a little bit and watch some wild camels run past. Its gotten late and we follow the coast. Its only 10km to Mamghar and now getting dark. I'm ahead and hit a really deep and soft sand track. Now its me that's stuck an in an attempt to get out the chassis rests on the sand. One wheeel is in the air. Thats very stuck indeed. We try all sorts of ways to get out and luckily Matthias has a air pump . A sturdy balloon that is pumped by the exhaust and cant lift up to 3000kg. While digging the wheel out i notice there is a scorpion on the wheel. I shout out and Jay almost panics as he is bare foot. I make an attempt to scoop it with the shovel and eventually manage. While im trying to display it Jay wants it dead so i put it on the floor and hack the tail off. I pick it up with the shovel and its still throbbing as if to sting a victim. I don't want to harm these creatures but it was too risky as they are quick and can be dangerous, especially in the dark. The Jeep comes free but gets stuck again very soon. Jay also has difficulty with his car but after some difficult struggling we get out somehow.

At Mamghar we agree with the guards that we can camp out for the night and ask what time the tide is best. 8am is ideal. Bad news for Jay as he loves his sleep. We camp out in the middle of the desert trying to watch out for any scorpions. The wind is howling and we are all knackered and covered in sand. Its baked beans and stale bread for supper.

In the early morning we head off a bit late. Everyone is pretty groggy and not too happy. We hit the beach and its actually quite easy going. I manage 80km/h in 2 wheel drive. Occasionally I drive over a small wave dousing the car in sea water. I watch how thousands of crabs try to avoid the oncoming cars as they scurry sideways into the sea. Must have squished loads but they're so many that its impossible to avoid them. Towards the end the going gets tough, my sluggish diesel makes me change gears a lot 3-4-3-4 and so on. Again the wind is at our backs and i have to stop again. Time for some photos..
At a small fishing village we turn inland to join the Highway to Nouakchott. We pass many police checkpoints on the way and more surreal landscapes. Matthias has a problem with his car as it seems to loose oil.
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