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Friday, November 29, 2013

Mauritania

Before reaching Mauritania we had to get out of Morocco. Don't think it was quick or easy – it seems every department had its own checkpoint and our passport information was hand-written several times into various books. Our vehicle was checked by SMS to see if we could leave. And when we were sure it was over, surprise! There was yet another checkpoint. This being Morocco, no kickbacks were sought, but the process was painfully time-consuming.
Then came no man's land. You can bulldoze a minefield into submission if you try and turn it into a road, or the nearest equivalent. Mile after mile of zigzagging road full of boulders reminded me of stories about off-road experiences near Lake Baikal in Russia. It’s easy for an SUV, but it’s still surprising. The roadside is littered with rubbish and the shells of cars.


Crossing the Mauritanian border went as expected. We hired the Russian-speaking Ahmed to help us, who dealt with everything on our behalf and didn’t even try to swindle us. On the contrary, he was very helpful and attentive, so we were happy to pay for his services. Amphibear was a hit, as always. All the big bosses came to see it. With Ahmed's suave talk and some more numbers from the car's documents we successfully crossed the border.

Mauritania’s an interesting country. It seems to consist of a desert, a road cutting through the desert and people living in tents and huts on the side of said road. A petrol station here means a guy with a barrel or some canisters standing on the side of the road. It’s not only a country that follows sharia law, but a very poor one to boot.

Poverty doesn’t necessarily mean a lack of respect or politeness, but we seemed to have lucked out, since most of the looks we got were less then friendly. As is the way in most of Africa, we were driving with the doors locked and carefully selecting where we stopped. We of course made a stop in the capital, Nouakchott. Our first night there we spent in an expensive hotel, the Theila. The room was shabby and the service somewhat reluctant, but we got the copies of the documents we needed, the WiFi wasn’t too bad and the security level was high.


The town needs feeding: cattle on the outskirts

We decided to go for electronic visas at the embassy so as to avoid the masses at the Rosso border station and to head towards Diama, which is closer to St Louis and where you don’t have to cross the river right there on the border. The Senegal River we could cross by driving on the river if needed – our unique advantage.

The embassy was surprisingly efficient, offering understandable service, and we benefitted from Amphibear being parked right in front of it. There were all sorts of globetrotters there: a Scot touring the world on a bike; two Russian girls; 42 German-speaking rally teams taking part in a charitable race across Africa. The Scot suggested somewhere we could stay, so we entered the destination in our Navigator – and it showed up as being in the middle of nowhere. Which is precisely where it was.



It was a cool place: a B&B of sorts called Auberge Menata. The yard was covered in 10 cm of dust and black sand, like most of Nouakchott. The courtyard was cosy. The furniture was dirty and worn out, and when I moved a bin, something made a quick escape on six legs. But the shabbiness of it all was more than compensated by the cosy atmosphere and good company: an Italian man with a supercar – the Africaraid, built on an Iveco truck – which had its own FB page; the ever-smiling Scot; the modest Russian girls; the German globetrotters; and the seasoned Dutchman who’d advised us on the border. Everybody was friendly, happy, curious and kind.

The proud owner shows off his Africaraid supercar: 600-litre fuel tank, 500-litre water tank and all the mod cons

We ended up enjoying pasta made in the Italian’s portable kitchen, examining one another’s strange vehicles and making the most of WiFi that was every bit as good as in the several times more expensive hotel.

The prices in the B&B started at €6 per night, but we paid €25 for a room for two with an en suite. That said, we were sleeping in our own sleeping bags.




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