Simon & Mike´s Current Location


View Simon's Current Location in a larger map

Thursday, 4 February 2010

Mauritania

The border crossing from the Western Sahara into Mauritania went surprisingly smoothly. All those stories about corrupt guards and greedy border officials looking for cadeau unfounded. The guards were all smiles and we basically laughed and joked our way through immigration and customs. Even the piste leading accross the minefield through mans land was nice and easy and much shorter than expected. From the border we headed to Nouadhibou where we would stay the night before heading to Nouakchott, the capital of Mauritania, the following day.

Mauritania. There had been much talk, both among ourselves and with other overlanders as to the security situation in the country. News of kidnappings and rumours of an Al-Qaida cell operating there had caused quite a few people we had met along the way to alter their travel plans and avoid Mauritania altogether. So we took precautions not to tell anyone the route we were travelling and resolved to try and get through as quickly as possible, travelling only in daylight with as few stops on the side of the road as possible.





The paved road from Nouadhibou to Nouakchott was a long old slog of 450km into the wind through the western sands of the Sahara. The lanscape was at times awesome and we saw plenty of camels along the side of the road.



Hot and bothered, late that day we were all happy to finally arrive in Nouakchott. A cold beer would have been fantastic but unfortunately in the Islamic State of Mauritania beer is pretty hard to come by so lukewarm water had to suffice. We stayed at the friendly Auberge Menata run by a French lady who, when we enquired as to how long she had lived in Mauritania, received the answer, "Three coup d'├Ętats". Interesting measure of time. Other interesting inhabitants of Menata included a hundred year old tortoise and a bloke from Glasgow who had been living in the desert for the last eight years herding camels. His dream was to catch and break a wild Australian camel bare handed and he got pretty emotional just talking about it. We all agreed he had probably gone a bit troppo under the hot Sahara sun and nodded encouragement as he acted out his camel breaking fantasy in front of us.



The following day we had a date at the Mali embassy to apply for our visas. We spent the rest of the day tinkering with the bikes before collecting visas and passports in the afternoon. Enjoying our time at Menata we stayed an extra day and headed down to the beach to check out the fishing boats and fish market there. Wow! It was awesome. A real hive of activity with brightly coloured fishing boats, called pirogues, lining the shore, women cooking fresh fish over open fires and men carrying boxes of struggling silver fish from the boats on the beach to the market.





We spoke to one of the blokes who said he was from Senegal as were most of the other fishermen. Another fella, blacker than coal with high sharp features, identified himself as a Wolof, an ethnic group of people who come from Senegal, The Gambia and Mauritania.



Walking along the beach a bit we saw one of the pirogues about to return from the mornings fishing. I thought the surf looked a bit big for a beach landing but the blokes in the pirogues made it look easy, surfing the waves in then somehow keeping the boat steady in the breaking surf. As each boat came in, laden with fish, the crews worked frantically to bail out the seawater which was getting washed into the boat. If the catch had been a big one there was very little freeboard and the pirogue sat low in the water making it vulnerable to being completely swamped. As we looked on one such boat was getting tossed around in the surf and was very nearly swamped. Then from nowhere about fifty or sixty onlookers, mostly kids and teenagers, rushed into the surf towards the pirogue. We thought they were all rushing to help right the stricken vessel, but no! they were rushing to collect the fish which where by now cascading over the gunwhales of the pirogue back into the ocean. Classic. The fishermen could only look on as a good chunk of their hard won catch was lifted from beneath their noses! The rule being I guess that any fish in the water is fair game.





We finished the day at the fish market haggling for a couple of decent sized fish which looked like massive mullet. We fried them up that night and ate them with chips and tomato sauce. Fish 'n chips for tea. Happy days.

The following day we were back on the road. Destination Mali. We headed east accross the desert towards Ayoun el-Atrouss from where we would head south towards the Malian border. It took us a few days to get there and the temperature as we rode through the desert on the second day after leaving Nouakchott soared to 46 degrees centegrade. Easily the hottest weather I have ever experienced. Even Peter who had spent a bit of time in the outback reckoned it was "a tad warm". Our water consumption quadrupled and our riding gear turned into microwave ovens stuck on high. Hans likened it to riding into a hair dryer. He wasn't far off.

Every 50km or so there was a police checkpoint where we were required to stop and hand over fische with our passport and vehicle details on them. The police were taking our security very seriously and where keen to make sure that we were all okay. Good blokes. In terms of our security we gernerally felt as safe in Mauritania as we had anywhere.



Since Nouakchott we had been camping rough, cooking on an open fire and sleeping under the stars. At the end of each day we'd ride aways off the road and camp out of sight of the main road. The only time we had any issue was when we didn't turn up as expected at one of the checkpoints one day and the police came looking for us, found our camp and made us set up camp outside the police checkpoint. As it turned out this wasn't such a bad thing as we seemed to have set up camp amid a hoard of large nocturnal spiders. Not so much fun for me and Hans, a couple of squeamish arachnaphobes.

5 comments:

  1. Si, I feel for you man! Those spiders look massive, unless its the photograph! Imagine those terrors crawling into your sleeping bag for a bit of a cuddle! ;o) Would have kept me up all night! Try not to stay in the sun for too long or you'll end up like that dude you met who's best friends are camels! I guess if that's the only hump he can get.... hmmm....

    ReplyDelete
  2. Another fabulous post and pictures Simon.
    We no longer watch Coro Street and Shortland Street , this stuff is far more exciting and scenery shots amazing (spider and all).
    Family all well as usual.Good luck on your next stages.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Spiders are a 'BIG NO, NO' for me - so I wouldn't have got any sleep - would have had to stay up to keep watch!! (Then swat 'em)

    ReplyDelete
  4. Nephew
    Awesome, inspiring, magical. Bon Voyage Happy V day Eileen, Laura, Emily and Pete. (computer broke hence lack of contact)I've Applied for job in Seychelles!.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Uncle Dimon..... kidnappings, crazy camel catchers, searing heat and big spiders (ohhh I can just hear your squeal!!). What an amazing read!! You must just pinch yourself somedays. What a freakin crazy cool journey! Much luv xx

    ReplyDelete