Mauritania: December 2010

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Africa » Mauritania » Dakhlet Nouadhibou » Nouadhibou
December 11th 2010
Published: January 5th 2011
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We were excited to hit our second country of the trip – or third official territory! Albeit probably the most dodgy country we would be visiting in terms of current political unrest. The border is notorious for taking a while.... but this time it was the Moroccans who decided to hold us up. We spent about 4-5 hours on the Moroccan side trying to exit, I think Mauritania had us stamped in in about an hour. Ridiculous really being harder to leave a country than enter one!! I think the most interesting aspect of our border experience was the no man’s land – always a place I find surreal. This particular no man’s land was a cross between a car graveyard, an abandoned fridge graveyard and random locals trying to solicit random business. It was desolate to the extreme as we drove through.

In we headed; our first stop the small-ish town of Nouadhibou. Having been 5 days since our last shower it was a race for the showers and being clean again felt like bliss!! Be gone sand!! We spent most of the evening just chilling out really, uploading photos to our netbook, and Martin wandering off for a stroll while I showered. Managed to find a patisserie and get some French goodies while waiting for dinner and that night slept in an open-sided goat hair tent. It’s finally warm enough to start sleeping outside – woohoo!!!!!!!!!!! The next morning the ‘Mosque o’clock’ was about the longest we’ve ever heard, starting just after 5 with a pretty traditional call, and then followed up seemingly by competitors all over town.... for about an hour. Now, we’re quite used to being woken by the call to prayer and then falling back asleep about 15 minutes later as it ends. Actually, it’s quite a surreal way but cool way to wake up. It’s quite a haunting sound. However, this one, as it was taken up time and time again all over the city lasted about an HOUR. Understandably, no one got back to sleep and we were all up very early! (Perhaps this had something to do with the public holiday 😊 ).

We had a long drive ahead, the most dodgy part of Mauritania currently is the stretch from Nouadhibou to Nouakchott so we had been advised to rush through and try and get it done in a day.500+km... Bring it on. It was sad to not be able to stop at a National park and so on, but safety is first priority. We thought we may need a police escort or to find some other vehicles to go in convoy with, but these didn’t happen so off we headed. It was a stretch of roughly 550km, with rumoured police stops every 50km. As it happened, police checks were not as frequent as we had been told and the police were mostly on their best behaviour. We think that they have been told to be careful with tourists to try and stall the steady decline of tourism in the area due to the civil unrest (not that it has ever been that touristy here!!).

As it happened, we arrived in Nouakchott in the afternoon. Grant had been raving about burgers at ‘Ali Baba’s’ right near our Auberge so the afternoon saw most of us hanging there, indulging in COLD drinks (it’s the simple things...) and yummy burgers. We also had wifi at the camp, and having not been on for a few weeks Bunny started uploading photos to our blog and catching up on emails. Kirsten and Bunny also started enquiries into a Dogon County trip from Bamako in Mali. We also set up our mosquito net for the first time (bought it in the UK and then it came down from there with the truck and we forgot to even try setting it up first!) but as it happens it’s actually super easy to put up and we are really pleased we brought it.... even Hasty who has seen a million of them thought it was wicked. Soooo happy that it is finally warm enough to sleep under the stars – with just that thin mosquito netting separating us of course! We’ve had the first mozzy bites today.

The next day Bunny was on cookgroup, so with Tim, Ryan and Martin, headed into the local markets to collect ingredients for dinner. Nouakchott is a colourful, vibrant city and we are stoked to be in ‘proper’ Africa – well, the Africa we came to see on this trip. The locals are a lot less used to tourists but nevertheless fairly friendly. Communication has become harder, even with Tim who can speak fairly fluent French, we had trouble bartering for food and are sure we paid way over the going price in most cases. This idea was encouraged by one time when we asked a lady the cost of tomatoes, and being unable to barter, we handed the money straight over. The stall holder next door immediately erupted in laughter. Mmmmm. FAIL. At least we’re only talking about a pound or two here.

We enjoyed wandering around Nouakchott, the town is dusty, people are busy busy in the markets, the sounds and sights are almost overwhelming. At last we feel true heat – it was in the mid-high 30s and dry heat – bliss! It felt like a fairly safe town, though at first because it feels like the town is very unused to tourists on the whole, we felt conscious about bringing the camera out as we didn’t know how it would be accepted. We wandered through the winding streets and back-lanes just soaking in the place – the town was hastily constructed in 1960 and the city planning is therefore a little chaotic. Interestingly, there seems to be quite a bit of construction going on in the main streets – large new pavements going in and so forth.
That afternoon about 4.30pm when the fishing boats start returning, a lot of people headed out about 5km to the coastline to the Fish Markets which Nouakchott is quite well known for – 6 passengers squished into each taxi which they swear had no working instruments and shattered windscreens. I left it a bit late deciding and later wished I’d made the journey out as it sounded like a sensation overload but well worth the short trip – if you head this way I’d recommend you do head out!

Andi and Grant cooked up their Saffar BBQ chicken recipe over the Braai that night which was divine – and we all enjoyed the change from turkey!

The following day we were on our way again, travelling towards our next destination of Senegal. Heading out of Nouakchott, we passed the outskirts of the city which back right onto sand dunes. Streets running perpendicular to the main road ran off into the distance, houses each side but ending in a sand dune. We soon hit desert proper and that was great, we personally love travelling through desert. The people here are very poor, we passed various shack villages. About the time schools finished, dozens of kids were about and all came running towards the truck, waving their little arms off! One big group ran after us and managed to catch us as we had to stop for yet another police stop. They stood around grinning and showing us their school books. Great fun.

We pulled up to a police check point and asked if we could camp about 1km back. The cops tried to convince us to stay in the village at the check point but Andi says this is always fun for about 10 minutes only. Finally Hasty convinced a cop to come back with him and show him the place, the policeman agreed we could pitch tents there but said for safety we had to have an armed guard of at least three police, with AK-47s. All a bit surreal, we agreed and headed off. With all the troubles lately, the Mauritanian police have actually been very nice during our whole trip and are trying to play it as carefully as possible with us. It’s crazy needing three police armed with rifles to watch us cook dinner and sleep but all part of the crazy countries we’re currently travelling. Through the night various other police also visited and a roadblock was set up right beside us.

In the morning Andi and Hasty had decided we were going to try a quieter border into Senegal. We were right near Rosso but apparently that one has become very busy and the bribery and corruption there is becoming very hectic. So, heading off down the road we quickly turned cross country, heading across dirt roads following the Senegalese River, at first joining only donkey driven carts and women with baskets on their heads until this ‘traffic’ disappeared altogether. The drive took about 4.5 hours, along dirt roads. But this is Africa – it was a superb drive! It was great, Martin and I were up in the ‘beach’ with Ryan and Brian, the sun was baking hot, the earth we passed dry and cracked and the plains stretched to the horizon. Occasionally we’d see villagers along the road or small shacks and villages drying fish they’d caught. We saw a fair amount of wildlife too: warthogs, giant lizards, monkeys and a multitude of birds etc. Other than a few ‘let’s play chicken’ games with a few other vehicles on small rutted tracks, there wasn’t much other traffic on the road. It was a great drive, felt very surreal and out in the middle of nowhere. The other border didn’t seem too bad, out of Mauritania and into Senegal only took roughly 2 hours.

Mauritania is a place apart; the population is almost equally divided between Moors of Arab descent and black Africans. It’s a Muslim country with a black African twist. This striking combination is part of its appeal. It’s one of the poorest countries in the world and yet it does hold a certain captivation.

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5th January 2011

As always - so interesting and fun to read. Need to see a photo of your mosquito net or is that the orangy one? :-)

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