In englishEesti keeles

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Senegal, final destination in Africa

In the morning we took off from the capital of Mauritania Nouakchott fearing how much time we have to spend on the border with Senegal. We were driving in the direction of Rosso, as GPS showed it is the shortest way to Diama border station. While roads in northern Mauritania were as good as in Morocco, southern Mauritania had roads dotted with holes and our drive turned out to be nerve-wracking and full of surprises.

About half the way to the border two local guys with Volkswagen were trying to stop us. We did not react relying on our 3 tons. In the next checkpoint these guys approached us. One of them introduced himself as Mamodov Sy. The guys promised to get us through Rosso border station. When we mentioned that we were going through Diama, they phoned to a "policeman from Diama" who informed us that the road is blocked by a large truck. If I said that we were ready to take the risk and take a look at the truck, we were informed that we cannot buy insurance in Diama and we cannot cross the border without the insurance. Mamodov told that he was going to drive with us standing on the doorstep to Rosso border station and the police would tell us about the insurance. As soon as a policeman saw Mamodov, we were not allowed to move without buying Senegal car insurance. As we showed the documents, Mamodov slipped our Mauritanian insurance into his hand and voluntarily went to buy for us Senegal insurance. So we couldn't drive away either. At the same time policeman was asking for a giveaway and we gave him Amphibear souvenir compass. Mamodov returned with the insurance, €137 for 10 days. He didn't lose his nerve while we were laughing him out and after stressful negotiations and trying to fool each other we gave him €50 and drove away.

That was the beginning of our African safari. Because the terrain we were driving could barely be called a road. It was more like following unknown tracks in the nature, looking for smoother surface. Amphibear's high center of gravity and protruding pontoons provided us extra challenges.

Sometimes so called road was so bad, that the tracks were forming a path next to the place where road should be. And the roadsides were full of surprises for us as well.

We were driving close to Senegal River through the national park. Desert was replaced by savanna.

Savanna was alternating with marshlands full of puddles of different sizes. Some puddles were covered with blossoms. We saw all kinds of birds and a lot of warthogs: they were everywhere like hares in northern Europe.

Even while driving through what seemed to be untouched nature we saw people applauding us when we passed. Feels like proper Africa. There were few checkpoints, but less and less when we moved further away from Rosso. Then came feared border: three different checkpoints and two boom gates. We paid 10€ everywhere, some of it even left impression to be official fees. After we had left Mauritania, we crossed the dam until we reached Senegal border. First we paid 7€ fee for crossing the dam and got a receipt for that. Then again an entry in border guard book and then to feared customs.

I have never seen such joyful and intelligent customs officers. Amphibear attracted attention, some respect and the papers were completed very fast compared to our previous experience in Africa. We paid a 5€ fee and I got a receipt on top. We saw police patrols on the roads in Senegal, but nobody was hoarding copies of passports. The patrols were actually checking if we had driving license and if the vehicle complied with the rules.

Finally we reached St Louis: dusty, dirty, colourful and vibrant.

When two larger cars meet on a narrow street in Senegal, somebody always comes to organise the traffic, show the way, smile joyfully or just wave friendly at you. Expectations are high. St Louis is an important milestone on Amphibear's journey. We have arrived without any incident or scratch and ocean is waiting for us.

Friday, November 29, 2013


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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