An irate Mauritanian soldier was our guide through the minefield. The piste was tough going with rocks, soft sand, bumps etc. for the lorries and cars to contend with. Punda was in her element! The Mauritanians insisted on being at the front of the convoy. We originally thought this was because they were slow and didnt want anyone to leave them. We later discovered it was to guarantee assistance from the Europeans if they were to get stuck. The Land Rovers were unfit for the journey and the Europeans were forced to assist during breakdowns because they could not get past otherwise. As soon as we were on the piste Land Rover 2 stalled, rolled backwards and forced the Mauritanian Mercedes off the track. It then got itself stuck in the sand. This was the first standstill. The Mercedes got a push from the Europeans but the Land Rover would not budge despite many pushers. Then the fat ladies got out! Can you believe it we were pushing a car with people inside. It still wouldnt budge so Harry pulled it out using his strong cable. The Land Rover then wouldnt start so Harry agreed to tow it for the remaining 36 km. We were moving again.
The next obstacle was a serious hump. The Mauritanian Mercedes went at it with speed, took off, landed on its radiator, then removed its rear bumper when the back end dropped down. We spent about two hours getting the lorries through this area because a long stretch of soft sand meant that we were digging for quite a while. It was really exciting and the camaraderie between the Europeans was just great. Harry got through ok but the 10 ton cable snapped as the Land Rover it was towing came through. This was because the idiots in the old Land Rover reattached the cable to the end of the leaf suspension which promptly cut the cable in two. The Mauritanians refused to pay Harry for the cable unless he got them to the border. Pah. We tried a jump start on the Land Rover and it came to life. They then continued driving had the cheek to honk to get past Punda. We were in pole position about 100 m ahead of the crowd but because we were helping the lorries (and slightly out of sight) I had locked the car. Of course we were blocking the route and the Mauritanians didn't like it. Both Land Rovers drove around Punda and continued on their way. They had taken up so much of our time and then to quote Andrew "they just buggered off". The Europeans were not amused. The radiator on the Mauritanian Mercedes now needed some attention. Did anyone have any Radweld ??????. The reply doesn't even need reporting. The Mercedes was dumped!
It was unbelievable. The Mauritanians undertook such a journey in vehicles that were unfit and heavily laden. They had no tools and if anything went wrong they sat at the road side and waited for assistance, or preferably for someone to do the job for them. The soldier was really angry that we were making such slow progress and having a laugh at the same time. We all received a telling off.
We reached the checkpoint at around 5pm. It took over seven hours to go 37 km. Gendarmerie and police checks were quick and at customs we had to declare how much foreign currency we were importing. At the campsite that night we were informed that a Mauritanian Embassy had just opened in London !!!! At Nouhadibou the next day we had yet more formalities with police, customs and car insurance. This time everything was at a price. There are two options to Nouakchott train (longest in the world at 3 km carrying iron ore) then road, or "the beach route" directly south. The beach route takes you through a National Park so one has to buy a permit for about £6. It is just another tourist tax but sadly unavoidable. It is suggested that a guide is taken on the beach route at a cost of £10-20 per car per day. Lets get more money out of the tourists! We decided not to bother with a guide as we had a GPS, maps, Harry with his truck and Joel in his car. Between us we would make it and we would take our time. It is possible to complete the journey in 10 hours driving at speed at night through the desert. No thankyou. It is a 470 km journey along pistes and the chance of meeting a dune, camel, bush, nomad is quite high. Four leisurely days is more appropriate.
After a brief visit to the ships graveyard in Nouhadibou (hundreds of ships just left as there are no taxes to pay) we set off on the beach route at about 4pm. On the way out of town we passed the French truckers. They were just about to leave too. Another checkpoint followed where we had to count out the dollars and travellers cheques! It is better to spend time on ensuring all your documents and declarations are correct beforehand to a) avoid the fine b) avoid the search.
It goes dark at about 7.30pm. The sun just drops out of the sky in the fastest sunset ever. We hadnt travelled far because of the official delays and the state of the piste when we had to make camp. The lunch earlier that day was not doing my belly any good at this time. Fortunately there is no shortage of toilets in the desert.
During the next day we managed to cover about 70 km. The initial 30 km were hard going and we were held up for two hours by the gendarmerie as we fixed their car! Soft sand posed a problem for Joel in his car but we got through everything without too many problems. We camped behind a huge crescent shape dune and had dinner with wine in the luxury of Harrys truck which easily seated six in the back living quarters.
When you see the desert on TV you think of sand, sand and more sand. The reality is quite different. It is a mixture of stones, rocks, soft sand, softer sand, old exhaust pipes and flip flops that have lost their partners. There is the occasional camel and a nomad feigning illness to get an aspirin and du pain (thats bread, mum).
Along the route there are tracks to follow and the GPS tells you where you are but day 3 turned out to be quite a challenge. The start was great and we welcomed corrugations. With a bit of speed you could cover some miles quickly and comfortably. Then we hit the soft stuff! It is necessary to let the tyres down until the rubber flops under the wheel. This effectively enlarges the footprint area increases the grip in the sand immensely. A short stretch of sand is ok if you can get some speed up. With not knowing what is ahead and with the floppy tyres reducing the ability to turn it makes for a bit of a hair-raising trip. We all got stuck at some point. It was particularly difficult for Joel in is 2 wheel drive low clearance car. However we did get to use every piece of recovery gear we had (with the exception of the winch and high lift jack) and we were delighted. Even Harry got stuck and that was a serious excavation job. The temperature was increasing 42 degrees in the car (post air-con) and 68 degrees under the bonnet with the engine OFF. People were starting to flag and morale was getting a bit low. Then we hit more soft stuff. Andrew and I just drove around to find the best route through Punda was the least likely to get stuck. That night we reached the beach but were sad because there was so much seaweed that swimming was out of the question. We had sand everywhere even in our belly buttons. The tyres were reinflated for the hard terrain. Fortunately Harry carried a compressor in his wonder truck so deflating and reinflating the tyres was never any hassle.
It was getting dark. The track ran out. We hit seriously soft sand and the wind was howling. Joels car got stuck. The route was uncertain and we couldnt see how long the soft stuff lasted so we made camp. The wind kept shifting the sand so occasionally the car would creak and lean a little bit more as the sand was blown from under the tyres. The fact that two local Land Cruisers passed us confirmed that we were pointing in the right direction. They also informed us that the soft stuff lasted for 20 km! The view in the morning without a track in sight was just like the Turkish Delight advert.
Day 4 and only 200 km to go! At 8am it was 28 degrees. With the tyres down, a bit of speed and a few words with Allah we were off and soon we reached the fishing village which marks the end of the National Park. The park is meant to be a bird sanctuary and we had seen two pelicans, a stork and a couple of little flappers. My guide book says that the only reason to visit the country is for the Park. Wolfgang, quite correctly said "tiz nozing, only dezert". Yep. At the fishing village the police insist that you stop at their checkpoint then hand you a bill for parking your car! (about £3). They then ask you for gifts. The next part of the journey involves the beach drive. We met the French truckers with whom we waited a couple of hours for the tide to go out. In fact the tide does not go out much because the beach is so steep. The 135 km drive along the beach was quite hairy dodging waves, soft sand, occasional rocks, villagers, boats and fishing lines. It was great fun though. The exit off the beach was interesting a 45 degree turn then a 50m dash up and through soft sand followed by a thud as the front bash plate hits the concrete on the step up to road level. The 45 degree turn posed some problems for Harry who was faced with a big dig, and super tyre deflation to get out, before the tide came in.
A welcome hot shower and then dinner at Phenecia followed. The next day Harry and Mariam left en route to The Gambia where Mariam is due to be married. We hope to meet up with them again in a few weeks. That evening we visited the "fishermans beach" where the local fishermen bring in their catches. Fish everywhere. Such a colourful glorious sight of buzzing activity. This is what we came to Africa to see. We ate hot tuna ball sandwiches (not tunas balls!) and bought mangoes - a refreshing change from oranges.
At the market the next day we were assisted by a local woman called Rania (a friend of Joel & Nadines) to buy a turban for Andrew. Thought it might be a good disguise and reduce the number of children at the car asking for gifts. Now he looks like a tourist in a turban!
We decided to head on towards Senegal rather than to go back into the desert. We had originally planned to go back into the desert to visit a couple of towns but we couldnt face another 1000 km of sand and didnt want to buy a saddle (silverware and saddlery were the skills in the towns). The route to Senegal was good tar road but when we turned off on to the sand to camp for the night we got stuck very stuck. It made our trip through the desert look easy. The wheels had dug in so much that the underneath of the car was resting on the sand. However, hero Andrew and his magic high lift jack soon rectified the problem. At last we used the jack. Only the winch to go. We then towed Joel out of the sand backwards but when we stopped he didnt! Not a scratch on Punda but the Peugeot received a bit of a rear end problem. With spirits a bit low I got out the Gin as we joined the local tradition and kicked the remains of Joels light unit into the sand.
Senegal was calling. With delight, relief and still with the cadeaux chit clean we left Mauritania.
|We said goodbye to Michael and Mikka||Our guide in Nouhadibou with some dead ships||Please scuttle your ships here !||Camping in the desert||Joels car springs an oil leak Harry to the rescue|
|Some of our French friends who made it through the desert to Nouakchott||il y a un singe dans l'arbre, par deux malheureusement||They're green, broken, very old and everywhere||Good time girls hanging out by the port. Doing favours for sailors!||When the boat comes in. They wobble them up the beach|
The national dish is "tieboudiene". This is rice and fish. The rice is cooked in a savoury sauce which Andrew really likes but makes me think of desert toilets (that is where I was after a meal of this stuff). A chunk of fish is placed on top. It is a small chunk and one has to wrestle with bones for 10 minutes to extract two forkfuls of fish. It is served with a piece of carrot, turnip and a cabbage leaf. I like the cabbage leaf.
The local drink is "bisap" which is a juice made from hibiscus flowers. It is dry like cranberry and is delightful
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There aren't many roads - about one actually. To travel south you either have to get on a train or drive through the desert along a number of pistes which range from poor to poorer in condition. We just drove south, almost along the coast.
Nouhadibou - Nouakchott via the beach route (468 km). The GPS coordinates are above. These, unfortunately, we got after the trip. It is probably best to use these as they were apparently ones used by a taxi which only took 7 hours to do the trip. The co-ordinates came from a print of a web page. Unfortunately I don't have the full URL but it was entitled 'atlantic.html' and the page had 'The Atlantic route' as it's title. The page had a full description of the route.
Basically at the start it is tricky to find your way as there are so many tracks and the going is very soft in places. You have to deflate your tyres to get through the sand even with a 4x4. There are rocks around so watch your tyres. A lot of the trip is motorway piste. The main very soft stuff is at the end, with deflated tyres we were ok. Take plenty of water and diesel - the sand sucks both. At the start I had my diesel tanks 3/4's full (normally good for 650 kms) but, I needed to use one of Harry's 20 litre jerries. I would advise you to fill both jerries and fill the tank.
The road to Rosso was good. Turn right after the second fuel station onto a 90 km piste to Diama where the border formalities are less aggressive than in Rosso.
Buy a visa in Bonn, Germany or, if reports are true, at the new embassy in London. Say you are taking the boat to Nouhadibou to avoid losing commission on air tickets.
This country is very expensive.
There aren't many roads and there is a lot of sand. I wouldn't undertake any journey unless I had 4x4 backup. The locals tend to think differently.
The locals are unable to think about "tomorrow". There are endless requests for assistance at a time when it suits "them". These people are not interested in any inconvenience they may cause. They leave you to fix their problems for them - and then ask for a souvenir from England. (A black eye would be most appropriate!). Keep all tools and spares hidden and pretend you don't have any.
A lot of patience and a sense of humour is essential
Nouakchott is the largest town in Mauritania. It is full of people that dont know what they are doing.
The town is separated from the beach by a rubbish dump. In fact, the place is literally is a rubbish tip. Mauritanians just throw their rubbish on the floor or lob it out of a window.
Shops are open until very late 3am and have supplies galore in their shops, most of which is imported. You can expect to pay UK prices in this country.
Guide books report poverty but it is far from the truth. People have a lot of money to spend.
The second hand car trade is huge, particularly for Mercedes and Peugeot. Joel had endless requests from people who wanted to buy his car. Cars sell for approximately three times their value in Europe. There are Land Cruisers galore here too.
This country is where Islam meets black Africa. The Mauritanians have very coarse features, rugged skin and wear blue. The black Africans are incredibly beautiful and colourful.
Alcohol is banned in this country but it can be bought from embassies! The Ukraine Embassy has drums of vodka of which you can buy a bag full.