Day 14 - Sunday 04/11/07 - Baie de Levrier camping, Nouadhibou
Woke up glad to have already crossed the border and to be surrounded by four walls rather than a tent - quite a luxury to be able to spread our things about and to be out of the wind. Ali's brother took us to a garage where we found a hose the right shape and size for 1500 ouguiya (about £3) and drank mint tea with the mechanics. As a thank you we gave him our travel kettle, which he seemed delighted with (am anticipating another power cut in Nouadhibou tonight). The town is low rise and dusty, with various markets selling hulks of camel meat and a fish market down on the port with crowds of people fighting over the day's catch. It really is a different Africa to across the border. People are much darker here and the clothes too are different - the women are draped in colourful shawls from head to toe while the men mostly where long cotton sheets and turban-style headresses. It also seems much brighter - too bright without sunglasses. People don't seem to take much notice of you (apart from the occasional demand for 'cadeaux') and just carry on with their daily business. Found a fantastic patisserie with tasty meat pastries and pain au chocolat, and did some washing (which dries almost intsantly and is dusty again about five minutes later).
Day 15 - Monday 05/11/07 - Nouadhibou to bush camp
Heard from an Austrian guy that we could get our visa extension in Atar (see Notes & tips) rather than having to trek down to Nouakchott, which is a much better option as we can do the desert track that runs alongside the railway line to Choum, as originally planned. We set off in convoy but by the time everyone had filled up with fuel, water and got lost a few times it was already lunchtime so we decided to push on ahead - didn't fancy getting stopped at a checkpoint with an expired visa. It's a great track, passing through several patches of sand dunes, and challenging in places - especially in 42-degree heat - you really don't want to have to do too much digging. Despite drinking loads of water we were feeling pretty dehydrated by the end of the day. Kept staring at the thermometer and willing the temperautre to drop, but even when the sun went down it was still over 30 degrees - oh for some air-conditioned luxury, eh Phil?
Day 16 - Tuesday 06/11/07 - bush camp to Bab Sahara camping, Atar
Lovely camping out in the desert under the stars - although pretty freaky when the train appears out of nowhere in the middle of the night. At 2.5 km long, it's the longest train in the world, with over 200 carriages. Our second day on the track involved lots more dunes and sandy sections, but the only time we got stuck was when we went to offer help to some Spanish and then got stuck ourselves (the lesson: don't drive over to where someone else is stuck - park up and walk over!). They do this track every year and said it's way hotter than normal and that the sand is a lot softer - good to know we're not just being wimps. We were wilting again by the time we arrived at Bab Sahara - lovely campsite with rondavels and nomadic-style tents with cushions, hammocks etc. We handed over our passports + E10 each and, hey presto, an hour later we had one-month visas. If only they were all this easy.
Day 18 - Wednesday 07/11/07 - Bab Sahara
Rested up again today - it really is so hot, but we have to acclimatise. Lovely place to relax + even a 'pool' (or was it the septic tank?) to cool off in. We were invited by the family who own the shop next door to come in for some tea. They seemed delighted when we said yes and kept saying how kind we were to give up our time. But for us it was fascinating to see where they live - we sat around a very tidy courtyard on mats, while one of the sons made tea. Tea drinking is quite a ritual and lots of time is spent preparing it - the 'froth' is all-important and the tea is poured from one cup to another from a great height in order to achieve it. You always have to have three cups (four on Fridays or for special occasions). Being able to speak French has been so helpful for communication. They think it's really strange that we don't have children, and that we like to use the tracks rather than the 'good road' which is tarmac.
We have found people to be very friendly so far with lots of genuine interest. Virtually all the children ask for a 'cadeau' and can be quite persistent, which makes you wonder if people come through and just hand stuff out. Quite a few of the adults ask too (especially at checkpoints) but they don't seem too bothered if you say no. Also, compared to Morocco the women are a lot more open and will happily approach you and engage in conversation. It seems the men only shake hands with men (and female tourists) but women only shake hands with women. I guess its the African influence rather than the Arabic.
Day 19 - Thursday 08/11/07 - Atar to bush camp near Ouadane
We left Bab Sahara to take the sandy track to Chinguetti, with Roland the Austrian in his Toyota. It was a great drive up through a gorge on fairly decent roads, but a bit too hazy for a decent view. We didn't stop at Chinguetti as we're planning to see it on the way back, and continued on the 'sandy track' to Ouadane - a great drive across the dunes. On arrival at Ouadane we bumped into Annemarie and Dave (a Dutch-English couple we met at Bab Sahara) - they'd had a nightmare with bush taxis breaking down and it had taken them all night to get there. We promised to rescue them and offered them a lift to Chinguetti the next day. After a quick look around the old city (quite picturesque as the sun was setting) we whisked them off into the desert to bush camp. I think they were quite happy to be camping out under the stars... until Annemarie spotted a scorpion just before going to bed...
Day 20 - Friday 09/11/07 - Ouadane to Chinguetti
Decided to take a slight off-piste detour to an old volcanic crater in the area. Took a bit longer than planned, but right in the centre of the crater is a 'tent hotel' where you can have mint tea in one of the tents. It was a bit pricey and we were hounded for cadeaux when we tried to leave, but it was good to get out of the car for a bit + a nice experience (+ Annemarie and Dave paid for us, cheers guys). From there we headed back to Ouadane, tried to buy some bread (but were told 'pas de pain' that day - Ouadane really is a ghost town) then headed back across the gorgeous dunes to Chinguetti. The climate is much cooler here because it's up on a plateau - I even had to dig my jumper out at night.
Day 21 - Saturday 10/11/07 - Chinguetti to bush camp near Terjit
Chinguetti is apparently the seventh holiest city for muslims and is famous for its ancient Koranic libraries. Unfortunately, being a Saturday, everything was shut, so we took a wander round the old town - it's set right in the middle of the desert and is Mauritania's no 1 tourist spot. The local children find great sport in mobbling the tourists - it's all pretty harmless but they follow you round as if you're the pied piper. At one point I had about eight kids holding on to me + they were all calling to their friends to come and join them chanting 'stylo, cadeau, no no no no' - quite entertaining as some of them were far too young to even know what they were saying. Headed off to Atar via the stunning Amogjar pass - a very rocky piste in places. Bush camped near the oasis of Terjit.
Day 22 - Sunday 11/11/07 - Terjit to Nouakchott
The village of Terjit is very photogenic but attracts lots of tour groups - we were up quite early so there was no-one else about, and I think Sunday is 'changeover day' (when the charter flights from France arrive and depart from Atar). We wandered through the shady date palms and had a swim in the pool - very refreshing indeed. Roland bought us mint tea in one of the tents by the stream then we said our goodbyes - it's been fun travelling with others for a while. We were very reluctant to leave Terjit, but our car insurance is running out so we set off on the long, hot road to Nouakchott. Found our way to Auberge Sahara but soon after we arrived the Dresden-Banjul ralley turned up making things rather crowded. We headed out for a pizza across the road.
Day 23 - Monday 12/11/07 - Auberge Sahara, Nouakchott
Had to get our mosquito net out last night for the first time - it's been lovely to sit around in the warm evenings without having to cover up. We'll also have to start taking our malaria tablets soon. Headed off to the Mali embassy to get our visas (2 km on the sandy pavements is a lot harder work than on concrete!). Handed our passports in at about 9.30am and were told to come back at noon - all very straightforward. Auberge Sahara has Wi-Fi so a great opportunity to catch up on some emails and update the website. It's been very hot again today - I can see why the infrastructure here is so underdeveloped - it's too darn hot to do anything except lie in the shade and melt.
Day 24 - Tuesday 13/11/07 - Nouakchott to Zebrabar, Senegal
Hooked up with Annemarie and Dave again at Auberge Sahara and offered them a lift to the border. We'd been warned that the crossing at Rosso is a nightmare and that if you have a 4x4 you can head 100 km west to the crossing at the barrage de Diama, which is a bit less hassle. We missed the turning and ended up in Rosso by mistake, where we were immediately hounded by 'guides', hustlers and people selling insurance. Did a very quick U-turn and found the track to Diama tucked away behind the petrol station. Very glad to escape and it turned out to be a pleasant drive through a national park - loads of birds (including herons, ibises, pelicans and flamingos) and a huge warthog ran .
It was about 4pm when we arrived at the border and there were only a couple of other cars there. It ought to be free to cross this border as we don't need a visa for Senegal, but they have implemented various 'taxes', which seem to be obligatory (they even offer receipts). By the time we'd had our passports and our carnet stamped, paid a 'community tax' and a 'bridge tax' we'd forked out about E30... and that was just to leave Mauritania. To enter Senegal we had to pay another E10 each to have our passports stamped (in retrospect we should have refused to pay this as it seems you only have to pay if you have a car and are therefore 'rich') and again for the carnet. Then we had to buy insurance (there are checkpoints on the way to Saint Louis) - a minimum of one month even though we're only here for 10 days - ouch! See Notes & tips.
In less than an hour, and with considerably lighter wallets, we were on our way. It's quite amazing how much greener it is now and so much more populated (Mauritania only has three million people and is 75% desert) - I don't think I've ever seen the scenery change so much in one day. Having forked out for the insurance I was really hoping it would get checked, but I needn't have worried - we got stopped twice on the way to Saint Louis. The police here are a lot less relaxed and friendly than in Mauritania. We had to produce our Carte Grise, driving licence, insurance (phew!), two warning triangles, fire extinguisher and even had to test our brake lights. They were basically trying to sting us for anything they could - even for carrying passengers (fortunately the number of seats isn't stipulated in our documents), which is a joke when all the local cars driving passed have about 20 people crammed into them! They seemed annoyed that everything was in order and we were eventually allowed to continue. It was a relief to arrive at the Zebrabar (16 km south of Saint Louis) - a fantastic, chilled-out campsite where they serve COLD BEER!