Mad Max in Mauritania

Trip Start Nov 01, 2012
1
12
86
Trip End Jul 31, 2013


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Flag of Mauritania  ,
Friday, November 30, 2012

A very early morning to hit the border ASAP. The wind and sand were still buffeting the tents, though nowhere near as strong as the previous evening. We were up. Tents down, a quick breakie and on the truck by 7am. A beautiful red sunrise  guided our way and by 8.15 we had hit the traffic jam at the road block. Mercifully the line began to move at 8.35am. We had just enough time to grab a quick coffee at a rickety cafe before heading into the fray to get stamped out.

At first it seemed there was no system at all but we soon realised there was a line up of sorts and most of the locals were enforcing the order. Lucky for us, Kim gathered up all the passports and stood in line, Dave and Tim watching her back. The rest of sat on a sheltered seat and watched the proceedings. The people had definitely changed in almost 1800km. A lot darker and with long flowing robes it seemed we had finally moved away from Europe and into Mother Africa. Drew and Mabel had undergone a thorough going over including an X-Ray. Thankfully they hadn't found anything untoward and she was all ready to go to the next step. About an hour and a half later we all formed a scrum around the window to show our faces and collect the passports back. By the time we all boarded the truck there were ONLY three more checks (about 20m apart!!!) before we were off into no man’s land.

Well I have to say I have never seen a No Man’s Land like it. A fierce wind had blown up and visibility had dropped to about 50m. The road totally disappeared and it seemed there were a multitude of sandy tracks to take. Burnt out cars and trucks littered the landscape and plastic rubbish rolled like tumble weeds across our path. The guide book indicated this area was mined so we didn’t want to go too far off into the wilds. It looked as if we had just rolled into a Mad Max Movie.

With a multitude of paths to take and no markers to guide our way, Mabel soon stumbled into dangerous territory and we were bogged in soft sand. As we jumped out and began to dig, four locals appeared from nowhere offering their assistance. At a starting price of 100Euro we laughed them off and continued getting ourselves out. Their faces and their price dropped when they realized we knew what we were doing. When Dave appeared in a snorkel mask to keep the sand out of his eyes I though Mel Gibson would surely appear across the horizon to help us out. Once the air was out let out of the back tyres, we did gratefully accept the use of the side panels of some of the burnt out cars as sand mats and thankfully we were on our way in less than 30minutes.

During all this we seemed to have picked up a "facilitator". A tall Arabic man in a turban, driving a Mercedes led us through the maze to the border and then assisted us in jumping the queue that appeared to be at a total standstill. The immigration guys were having lunch but we lined up in anticipation of getting through fairly quickly. With the help of our new best friend it was not too bad at about an hour.

A few more checks and we were finally in Mauritania, country number 86 for me and 83 for us. The road was unexpectedly good after our experience between the border posts. The wind was still howling, buffeting the truck fro side to side as we headed down the peninsula to Nouadobou. I couldn’t wait to pitch the in a sand storm once again.

As we entered the town it was very obvious we had left Morocco. None of the neat red mud houses on clean boulevards here. Buildings were ramshackle and rubbish lined the streets. The people looked so much poorer and the vivid colours of their clothes were in stark contrast to the drabness of the houses.

We arrived at Chez Ali campsite which was enclosed within high walls, almost completely blocking out the wind. The rooms didn’t warrant an extra payment for an upgrade so we all pitched out tents closely together near the wall. While some went off to investigate changing money, I jumped into the cold but refreshing shower. Layers of sand washed down the drain and after the bedding had been shaken free of most of the grit we had a lie down.

Dinner was a lamb casserole with pasta and after chatting with a British girl travelling by herself we dragged our tired and sorry arses to bed. Ear plugs in to stop the noise from our fellow traveller’s snoring and we drifted off into a sand free, warm slumber. Exploring the city could wait til tomorrow.

We enjoyed a leisurely breakfast before heading to the harbour. Slightly off track we were helped out by one of the locals who came back about 5 minutes later and piled us all into the back of his ute and dropped us right in front of a number of locals selling fish. A bit of bargaining and we had ourselves a lovely big fish for under $10. We entered the harbour area and walked along soaking up the chaos of the port. Row upon row of small fishing boats lined stretched out for ever. The business of fishing created a vibrant buzz. Arabia meets Africa in costume, manner and person. We were something of an anomaly but no-one seemed to mind us wandering about snapping pictures.

On our way back to camp we dropped into the local stadium where the end of an international marathon was being played out. Kids of various ages had been competing in the 5km, 10km and 21km races, including girls I’m happy to say. We chatted with a few and danced with some others. Happy snaps all-round before we made our departure.

My general impression after 24 hours is that Mauritania was much poorer than Morocco but the locals were friendly, colourful and generally helpful, boding well for the next week or so.
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