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Mauritania

Camping Mousaffir, Dakhla. It’s raining! Yes we can’t believe it either, fortunately we managed to sort out the puncture, service Grommet, do the washing, et all on Monday, when it was almost to hot to move. Here we met a German couple Lilli and Steffen who are doing a similar route to ourselves except by motorcycle. Lilli has a KTM and Steffen a BMW.

Since they intend to do the same coastal beach route through Mauritania to Nouakchott as ourselves but unfortunately haven’t got the tank range of 500 Km plus, we decided to assist them and take the roll of support truck carrying their spare fuel and water in exchange for a couple of extra hands should we get stuck. Normally for this route people employ the services of a guide, but due to the expense we decided that we had sufficient GPS points and with the sea to our right what could go wrong. We got up earlyish then having said farewell to Stephano, a very friendly and helpful Italian guy now living in Spain and running trips to this part of Africa, we were set to go.

First stop, the local petrol station to fill up and with petrol at half a euro a litre, we filled absolutely everything including an extra 30 litres for Lilli and Steffen. We made arrangements to meet at the last petrol station before the border and camp nearby in order to make the border crossing early. Making good time we arrived at the last petrol station early despite having to stop and clear all the dead, dying and decapitated locusts now blocking the front grille.

To make matters worse when I notice the engine temperature rise I had switched on the electric fan which created a locust in a liquidiser scenario - not a pretty sight. With the grille clear and the seed net in place fortunately no more problems, just the smell of cooking locusts on a hot engine.

At the last petrol station I just happened to mention to a fellow traveller that we were waiting for a couple on two motorcycles, only to get the reply that they passed through here ten minutes ago. So we set off in ‘hot pursuit’, 50 km later and no sign, with the end of the road just 20 km away, we stopped. What should we do? Go back or go on? And as is often the case in this situation no mobile phone coverage! Fortunately I managed to flag down a passing Toyota full of Mauritanians and enquire about our new friends only to be advised that they were just down at the end of the road and the border! They had wrongly assumed that the last petrol station was at the end of the road. Well at least we had found them so set about finding a quiet place to camp for the night al fresco once again and had a good nights rest.

In the morning the mined piste between Morocco and Mauritania so we have to be careful where we stop for a piss. Two Spanish tourists had been killed when they ventured off piste and the remains of the Land Rover is still evident only a few hundred meters from the piste as a chilling reminder of what could happen. The Moroccan border had been a very tranquil affair and we passed through with no problem, none of the chaos of Ceuta in the north. Passing the wrecked Land Rover we arrived at the first Mauritanian border post, more like a stone shack with two guards busy drying out their Kalashnikovs as a result of the rains the night before. One of the guards was very intrigued with Grommet having not seen a 101 before and somehow due to our poor French, assumed I had built the whole thing myself and he was very impressed. Once our details had been noted then it was off to the next check point, this time for a police and customs check. Everything was noted down yet again, the Carnet de Passage stamped, a quick looked inside the truck more out of curiosity than anything else. Ten Euros fee to the police and ten euros to the customs and we were free to go, just like that! It was all so easy that we were taken quite by surprise, no rigorous search for alcohol or contraband of any form.

Next more mined piste. Blanca and Steffen had GPS points for the route, but we were all still a little nervous about the mines especially as the route is not that obvious, with pistes converging and diverging all the time. There is also a short ‘paved’ section called the ‘spanish road’ after the people who built it and I wish they hadn’t bothered as it is more akin to tarred rocky piste! Finally we arrived at the railway line for the Ore train to Choum, this marked the end of the mined section. We crossed the tracks and on to the new asphalt road to Nouadhibou.

Camping Abba in Nouadhibou and our first taste of real Africa. The inhabitants are far more African than Arab, the men very handsome and the women stunning. Having parked and settled in a guy arrived in an old Renault, a sort of a mobile bureau de change, and the opportunity to rid ourselves of our last few dirham in exchange for the local currency the Ouguiya. The dirham is actually illegal outside Morocco, but it didn’t seem to bother the people in Nuoadhibou and a good exchange rate was easily found. Being Thursday and with Friday the Arabic equivalent to our Sunday, in addition this weekend was the end of Ramadan, everything was going to be closed for the three days so we had to move fast. First stop, the insurance office across the road from the camp site and insurance for Grommet. I think that in the event of an accident it is a case of ‘don’t call us, we will call you.’ Still it was cheap. Next the bureau de change to change more money and get an official receipt should we need one later, then on to the Banc d’Arguin National Park office and a two day pass before finally moving on to the local market to stock up with provisions.

We were all completely amazed by how easy going and tranquil this place is, particularly after the hassle of Morocco, especially in the local market where we were the only tourists. Feeling a little peckish and on the look out for a local snack, we spied a woman preparing what appeared to be small round donuts, feeling adventurous we bought eight, they were delicious, very hot and just like donuts, so we went back for more and surprised the woman by buying twenty. Despite the fact that it took some time and with the aid of a number of passers by to convey to her that yes we did actually want twenty ‘donuts’. 

If you are in to phone cards, then Mauritania is phone card heaven, with every man and his dog selling them!

While staying at the campsite, there was great debate about whether or not to attempt the desert crossing to the national park followed by the drive along the beach. In the end we decided to have a go, if the route was impassable due to the rains we could turn back and take the road. As a result of the rain, the first part of the piste was impassable due to flooding, so we took the main road for about 75 km and then turned off into the desert. We had GPS points for the route so made for the first one and then it should be just a matter of joining the points. The motorcycles were obviously making better time across both the hard rocky desert and the softer wetter sand, but somehow we managed to keep up, despite frequent stops in order for Grommet to cool down. At one point Steffen was charged by a small desert fox which was feeling very brave and territorial. We watched in amazement as this fox first charged the bike then turned tale and ran for the hills!

With a very hard day’s driving behind us and a harder one still to come with the dune crossing, we parked for the night in the shade of a very tall dune. Menu for the night cous cous with curried vegetables, washed down with a small glass of Moroccan whisky. The vastness and beauty of this area is breathtaking but you are reminded every now and then of the risks you take with the wrecked vehicles that dot the landscape and the bones of the unfortunate that have perished there

The following morning, yet another early start and the dune crossing, but first more mixed desert and hard rocky planes. Lilli and Steffen were both concerned about crossing the dunes with the heavily laden motorcycles. The first and supposedly the hardest dune, we all crossed with ease, despite Grommet having to follow in the deeply rutted soft sand.

Three more to go, with added confidence, the two motorcycles disappeared into the distance towards the next point which we somehow managed to miss, arriving at the next point having taken a different piste. Seeing motorcycle tracks in the sand we continued unaware that they were waiting for us at point 14 and we had by now crossed the fourth and final dune and were at point 16 on the flat plane before the village and the beach.

Unfortunately no sign of Lilli and Steffen so we decided to stop and wait, as it was easier for them to find us than us to find them. An hour passed before they finally emerged, surprised and relieved to see us, as we were to see them. Following this incident they made sure that we were never out of sight. Some 350km of hard desert driving behind us, we had arrived at the small fishing village of Nouamghar. Here the tickets for the park are checked, then we decided to try and buy some bread but were immediately surrounded by all the village children demanding ‘cadeaux, cadeaux, bonbon and stylo’ with no bread available until 5, we left with the children running behind desperately trying to climb on to the back of Grommet a quick burst of speed and we were safely at the police check point. Formalities over with, we headed for the beach and a stop for the night.

Emerging from the dunes and the very soft sand there before us was the sea and the perfect spot for the night.

The beach route can only be taken once the tide has gone out, which at this time of year is between 3 and 7 pm. At last we could have a lay in, the first for some time, and the chance to swim in the emerald sea. This is paradise and not a Bounty bar in sight. This area of national park is abundant in wild life, bird life and sea life. We saw dogfish so close to the shore you could have caught them with your bare hands.

While eating dinner we were joined by the local desert mouse population that didn’t seem particularly bothered by our presence, and were quite happy to run in amongst us all the evening, scavenging for bits of apple, bread and crisps. There were also crabs, pelicans and flamingos. We were careful not to swim out too far as this area has quite a prolific shark population.

Since we had some spare time, we set about repairing Lilli’s KTM that had broken its stand, fortunately we were able to drill out the old bolt and replace it with a new one.

Once again the inverter came into its own. By 2.30pm there was just about enough hard beach to drive on so we set off once more. Again, the motorbikes were quicker so we agreed to meet up at the first campsite, just outside Nouakchott.

The beach drive was incredible and of course the navigation simple, just keep the sea to your right. Grommet was very happy on the hard beach, but the areas of soft sand were very slow going. It was a race against time, as time and tide wait for no man and Grommet is not up to racing anything.

Every now and then there are small fishing villages with brightly coloured boats and one is always on the look out for the ropes tying the boats to the shore. We wanted to avoid collecting a boat as well as the two motorcycles. At one point passing a particularly rocky part of the beach we hit the incoming sea spraying water all over the truck, but fortunately managed to keep going, otherwise it could have been a completely different story!

Parts of the beach are crossed with small dunes which creates a steeplechase effect and a sea-saw effect in Grommet, taken too fast Grommet becomes airborne, some 4.5 tons!

Neither of us could believe, how beautiful and exhilarating this final leg of crossing the Sahara was. We pulled in to the campsite, we had made it, we had crossed the Sahara and were safe and sound.

Grommet is still in one piece, the volt meter that had stopped working had decided to join us once more. A weld in the windscreen has broken, and both screens are loose, with most of the screws either missing or loose, but we had made it.

To celebrate we had fried freshly caught local fish with chips and onions in the camp restaurant accompanied by loud German folk music that the chef assumed that Steffen and Lilli would appreciate… not!

The following morning we moved on to a new site, Auberge Menata, right in the heart of town, this Auberge had been specially recommended by Ibrahim in Agoudal back in the High Atlas Mountains in Morocco. Here we met up once again with a group of Germans and a Dutch couple with two Mercedes campers, an estate car and three KTM motorcycles. We will probably spend a few days here making the usual checks, running repairs, washing the clothes, visiting the internet café and getting the visa for Mali - in preparation for the next stage of the trip.



Camping in Dakhla


Hitch hiker


Before the land mines


Desert


Steffen, Lilli, us and more desert


Crossing the dunes


Cooking on the beach


Dinner guest


Sunset on the beach


The route along the beach