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South Mauritania to Mali

Nouakchott, the capital of Mauritania, was an amazingly peaceful city. We went for a wonder around the Market Capital and apart from a little hassle from guys wanting to change euros for the local currency, there was no hassle.

Steffen was trying to find some shoes like my babouches but this is now the land of the heavy duty sandals and flip flops, so no luck there.

It is also the place to buy a Bo Bo, the typical Mauritanian dress with large baggy trousers, usually in white, and a big sky blue sleeveless top with a huge front pocket for the local currency. The largest bill is 1000 oogs, equivalent to about 3 Euros. This makes filling up Grommet with petrol quite an interesting experience, especially as they only take cash!

Here we got our first dose of food poisoning, although I think it was more of a bug going round as the Dutch couple, Sietzke and Aeron had the same but had not eaten with the rest of us. Strangely enough, Blanca, who normally has a cast iron stomach and is never ill, was dashing off to the toilet in the internet café in between e-mails. Fortunately it only lasted for a day.

The visa for Mali was a very simple process and while at the embassy, we bumped into Stephano, who was also on his way to Mali.

We decide to give Senegal a miss opting to explore more of Mauritania. Most people use Mauritania as a transit between Morocco and the rest of Africa, which is such a pity as it is a fantastic, beautiful and unspoilt country, where the people seem so relaxed, which is a pleasant change. The landscape is stunning with so much sand, desert and dunes everywhere.

In Nouakchott, we exchange our two German bikers, Steffen and Lilli, for three German bikers, Tobias, Luisa and Jan, the Dutch couple and four German guys with a Mercedes estate and a Mercedes van.

We all left Nouakchott in convoy and set off along the Route d’Espoir on the way to Tidjikja, hoping to see the last surviving Sahara crocodiles along the way. It was strange stopping the first night in the desert together, preparing dinner to the sound of Bob Marley.

The following morning we were joined as usual by a group of local kids who we kept amused with games of Frisbee and arm wrestling.

More hot desert road later and another night al fresco with the hippies and the bikers, it became apparent that the bikers had a problem, they were running low on petrol so would probably have to turn back. Fortunately I had two spare jerry cans full so this meant that they could continue at least as far as the crocodiles.

We left the road for Dar es Salam, a piste described as fairly easy with a few sandy sections. It should have read soft and sandy with a few hard sections, there was no mention of the cabbage tree forest or the numerous locals camping on the piste. Surprisingly, we made better time than the bikers, the Dutch couple and the Germans had to turn back at the start of the piste due to the soft sand, and we arrived at Dar es Salam at sunset. We stopped and waited for the three bikers to arrive surrounded by half of the village.

We managed to convey to the villagers that no, we didn’t have a problem, we didn’t need a guide, we hadn’t got pens, food, cadeaux, for everyone, but we were waiting for three motorbikes. When at last the bikes arrived, we were joined by the rest of the village. It was quite a spectacle for all!

When we could, we left the village to camp for the night and in the morning the search for the crocodiles.

What a paradise! Camping in a palm tree lined oasis in a rocky gorge, with hot fresh bread delivered every morning by Sidi Ahmed, a local boy.

A few locals would drop by to watch us and pass the time of day before moving off to catch up with their goats, a sort of Mauritanian Big Brother.

The Germans were by now having a lot of problems with their high tech equipment, as Tobias says, ‘everything gets fucked by the desert’.

Blanca and I left them repairing their things and set off up the valley and hopefully, to see some crocodiles. A few kilometres walk and you arrive at a collection of pools surrounded by very large rocks, which are teaming with fish and are rimmed by crocodile tracks, but no crocs!

While rock climbing, I almost landed on a very large Monitor Lizard which was almost the same size as Blanca. Fortunately it was as surprised as I was and ran off and hid. I then surprised a small crocodile as we made our way back to camp, which jumped quickly into his pool and was gone before Blanca could catch a glimpse.

Following a lazy day, chilling at the camp in over 40 degrees C, Jan, one of the Germans, and I, set off at dusk determined to see a crocodile. It was so peaceful, sitting by the pool, fish jumping and birds returning to their roosts. Again not much sign of the crocs apart from one that we managed to spot cruising up and down its pool in the hope that something or someone would come close enough for it to take a bite.

With the bikes short of fuel and us almost out of water it was time to move on and leave this beautiful spot. We left early in the morning hoping to make the most of the cooler harder sand before the heat of the day turns it to powder. We were all amazed by the difference; a piste that had taken us about three hours to cross a few days earlier was now passed with relative ease in an hour.

We continued to Kiffa with the hope of getting some fuel for the bikes along the way, unfortunately the only available fuel was diesel and the first motorcycle run dry with 60 km still to go. We left Tobias with his new wife Luisa in the desert, with some food and water and continued with Jan to Kiffa. Jan’s bike stopped two kms later, so we tied his bike to the back of Grommet and towed him the rest of the way. Fortunately for all, we were able to fill up at Kiffa, otherwise we would all have been stuck! Jan set off to rescue the others while we settled in to the only Auberge in town with camping to await their return.

We had a very disappointing meal in the Auberge but it was the first meat we’d eaten since leaving Morocco.

The following day we decided to walk the 3 km into town, the 3 km was in fact 10 km, but luckily the manager of the Auberge was passing and gave us all a lift. Kiffa is a typical Mauritanian town with a chaotic labyrinth of little shops and streets, but the only fresh vegetables available were potatoes and onions. We are becoming very adept at creating appetising meals with just potatoes and onions, but any recipes would be welcome.

While passing the time of day with a local guy Ahmed, I asked if he knew where we could have some Mauritanian tea, we were all surprised when he invited us back to his family home and prepared tea for all. This was a particularly special moment for us and pretty soon we were joined by his whole family or in fact the three families that they lived there. Drinking tea, sharing peanuts that we had bought in the market and watching Mauritanian MTV.

Time once more to move on as Mali and black Africa is calling.

The desert is starting to give way to arid scrub land and dried pasture, and the live stock looks a little fatter, not the usual leather clad bag of bones.

Tobias had been concerned by the strange noises coming from his bike as it was sounding more like a sewing machine than a big single cylinder motorcycle.

Following a freak phone call from Steffen and Lilli, the Germans decided to tow the sick KTM all the way to Bamako in Mali some 600 km, most of which is hard piste.

It is hard to contemplate our previous lives in grey, damp, cold, miserable London as it prepares itself for another Christmas. Reading e-mails of snow, baking Christmas cakes, puddings, buying presents with temperatures in single figures, we travel through some sort of utopia with 40 degrees in the shade rescuing German motorcycles surrounded by strange and wonderful sights in a land where Christmas with its extreme consumerism doesn’t feature in the Islamic calendar. Our biggest concern is how to turn onions and potatoes into something appetising and will Mali have any petrol?



Al fresco with the hippies


Born to be wild


Village in the desert


Where are the crocs?


Crocodile Dundee


Camping in paradise


Camping in paradise


Kiffa and petrol at last!


Us


Luisa baking bread


‘Fucked by the desert’


Caveman


Still in the bush


Some of the locals


Some more locals


Baby baobab in bloom


Baby baobab in bloom


Grommet next stop Mali