Saturday, April 29, 2017

Southerly or Easterly Decisions

Cold but comfortable, in a bungalow with views to the sea at Camping Terjit
Beside the Atlantic ocean at Camping Terjit, just north of the Port de Peche with all the fishing boats back
Camping Terjit, excellent food prepared by Ivorians

We woke up deciding to have a day off from driving so I could catch up with my former bosses from Civil Aviation and we could decide what to do next.  Christophe had already made up his mind to continue with me, as far as Bamako hopefully.  We had slept reasonably well in a bungalow at Camping Terjit but it was cold outside.  The shower fortunately had hot water but the plumbing was something else, the base of the shower was almost two feet above floor level so getting into it was interesting, getting out whilst wet on tiles was just dangerous!

Setting off into town, we headed for Auberge Sahara knowing we could probably get advice from people there about the Route de l'Espoir.  It's the road that heads east out of Nouakchott, a road I'd never been on but heard lots about, essentially it was the quickest way to Bamako; we knew Ahmed our Ivorian friend from the border was heading that way too.  We also needed to get Malian visas but it was 24th December and therefore the embassy was closed despite several phone calls to consular officials.  However everyone at Auberge Sahara told us that crossing into Mali via Ayoun al Atrous/Nema and this route was off limits in reality, it could be done but could also be dangerous with AQIM in the region.  Christophe was still keen to go, I wasn't keen on dealing with Senegalese officials which was our other choice, to head south.  

My former colleagues joined us at Auberge Sahara, we all sat around the table for a while drinking mint tea and chatting with a French guy staying there.  Both of my colleagues were vehemently against the idea of us going east.  We were then invited for lunch at a colleagues house and drove off in their two cars whilst leaving Franki on the side of the road, the first time we had been parted from Franki!
Suburbian street view
Derby NHS screening outside Auberge Sahara?!

We drove across town separately in the two cars, my more senior colleague relayed recent updates of the aviation industry in Mauritania.  Finally we arrived at an extended family member's home and I was taken up the street to have my hands and feet henna'd, a present from him.  Christophe went off with my other colleague whilst I spent over an hour just getting my hands done, wondering if this will vanish by the time I return to work!

Arriving at my former boss's own home, the four of us sat chatting for some time then served a fantastic lunch of lamb, bread and various side dishes, Mauritanian style.  They were also unhappy we had spent the night at Camping Terjit saying it wasn't the ideal place to stay due to security.  We hadn't been at all worried about staying there but I was used to this hospitality of being safe in their country; it was agreed that they would pay for us to stay elsewhere for the night.
Beautiful henna with scruffy nails

We were taken back to Franki outside Auberge Sahara and told to wait for a call.  We noticed a Chinese registered vehicle, we presumed overlanders judging by the stickers all over it, but never saw it again.  Opposite Auberge Sahara was a cafe where we went and had some more coffee and waited ... for hours, to hear of where we would be staying for the night.  As it was getting dark, with cars screeching up and down the busy road in front of us, mostly boy racers; Christophe suddenly exclaimed 'there's Charlie' ... sure enough their little UK registered van had just driven past us.  So they had decided to continue south, we were shocked!  Expecting them to turn around as Franki was clear for everyone to see on the side of the road, we waited but they had obviously continued on into town.

Eventually my former boss arrived and called me to his car.  He had booked us an apartment next to Auberge Sahara, we were forever grateful, it was perfect for us and in retrospect similarly priced to Camping Terjit.  Christophe took the sumptious sofa in the sitting room, I got the bedroom.  We had a massive bathroom with hot water and a small kitchen, all we needed for our final night in Nouakchott.  We were still undecided as to which route to take, it had been the only topic of conversation between us all day.

Just before midnight, I was asleep but got a phone call, to be told that a Franco-Swiss woman had been kidnapped in Gao, Mali.  If we went via Route de l'Espoir, he would ensure the military turn us around ... the decision had been made for us, Christophe was particularly unhappy as he had no real desire to ever visit Senegal!  Tomorrow was Christmas Day ...
Chinese overlanders?
Stunning apartment next to Auberge Sahara for the night

Friday, April 28, 2017

Border Business

Setting off around 730am, we headed for the border, refreshed after a good night's sleep and lukewarm shower in Bir Gandouz.  Our remaining stale bread was thrown to the faithful guard dogs as we pulled out.  We got to the border at around 8.20am in time for the 9am opening on the Moroccan side, enough time to refuel Franki and fill the 209L barrel I'd brought along for cheap fuel (totally illegal but it wasn't totally full by any means, we just used the last of our dirhams).  Whilst at the pumps, we had a guy behind us who mentioned he had seen us at Tanger Med Port, listening to him I immediately asked if he was Ivorian.  Christophe's mouth was gaping that I'd picked up on his accent, Ahmed was from Odienne and immediately took to us.  We all went off in search of a coffee whilst leaving the vehicles in the queue to cross into Mauritania.  

Secondary queue for trucks that we had to get past before getting to the service station

Franki ready waiting to go to Mauritania
Waiting for the gates to open at 9am when there was a massive onslaught of everyone trying to drive through first!
The Moroccan side of the border was a pain.  We were again singled out for the scanner, so it took longer as we waited for a truck to go through it in front of us.  The customs guys were very polite and friendly but it didn't make our wait or paperwork any shorter.  Going from one office to another, the scanner cleared us for any dodgy material on board, we were allowed to leave, or so we thought. Suddenly there was yet another office to go and get paperwork stamped, some German Swiss guys were in front of me and then some Senegalese yet again tried to jump in front.  It was the first rain we had had since arriving on the continent and I took shelter in a doorway.  The customs officials in the final office soon sorted out the Senegalese and said I should have gone to the front of the queue anyway as I'm a woman!  All very sweet, but still didn't stop me being soaked through!

Finally we headed south!  The border has changed, the 3kms or so of 'No-mans land' was clean, no more wrecked vehicles.  This is also where the land mines are, the first kilometre or so was brand new tarmac, I was amazed by the change and upgrade since last crossing.  Then we went onto rock, the sand had virtually vanished, it was bare rock but the buzzing of a helicopter we heard earlier became very significant.  As the only vehicle passing through at the time (others were ahead of us & behind us by several minutes) we discovered that the Polisario were 200m from the Moroccan army, all with guns raised, a few UN vehicles were on a hill and their helicopter overhead.  We had to drive between the front lines ... all a little spooky, Christophe wanted a photo; I decided it wasn't the best idea in the circumstances!

Mauritania in sight, we got to the border control, immediately a gendarme tried to palm me off with a fixer.  I told the fixer I really didn't need him and I'd do it myself.  I had my paperwork from the Mauritanian government department that I used to consult for, which suddenly turned me into someone the gendarme wanted to look after.  He took Christophe and I through all the stages, told the customs agent not too look too deeply into the back of Franki (he tapped my fuel barrel but grinned!). We were through in under 10minutes, including sorting out the expensive biometric visa, complete with photos and fingerprints. Just a SIM card to buy and the Mauritanian vehicle insurance to negotiate, we were able to continue on our way! 

The rain continued anew and unabated, we drove on south to the crossroads for Nouabidhou and Nouakchott just seeing the last wagons of iron ore train from Zouerat.  I'd ridden on this train, believed to be the longest in the world at about 3km, over ten years ago as far as Choum.

Last wagons of the iron ore train from Zouerat to Kosando, the longest in the world at 3km
Road south, luckily we had moderate crosswinds, so not too much sand

More sand ...
Impressive military town just north of Nouakchott complete with solar panels for town lightning
The dunes had diminshed a lot since my last visit

We stopped not far south of the border for something to eat and drink at a small filling station.  The road was peaceful, hardly any traffic, the occasional stop for 'fiches' to hand to the police.  It was an easy day's driving of 535km since Bir Gandouz.  On arrival into Nouakchott we started looking for money, changing on the black market and somewhere to stay.  We initially looked for Auberge des Nomades, of which I had fond memories but it had been knocked down and was now a building site.  Then we headed off to Auberge Menata, the price was outrageous, I decided to sleep in Franki but on inspection Christophe refused to stay there too.  He'd previously stayed at this auberge and wasn't impressed by the new management.  I called my former bosses to inform them I was back in town, whilst we continued to look for somewhere to stay.  Eventually we went to Camping Terjit, a great place on the beach with two lovely Ivorian ladies running the restaurant, yet again their accents gave them away and we chatted for quite some time!  Tomorrow I would know if Christophe was going to stay with me, he had booked as far as Nouakchott & I would be sad to see him go!

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Old mutton tajines


We left the service station and adjoining cafe in Foum el-Oued at dawn, the poor man that checked tyre pressures got a rude awakening with Franki parked outside his shed.  Once our checks were done, we were good to go.  Aiming for Boujdour for breakfast we promptly set off again along the road that could be mistaken for Mars, apart from the odd camel.  It seems the monotony of the endless road played tricks in my mind when I started comparing Franki's early morning shadow to a camel!
Franki Camel

Entrance to Boujdour

Stunning breakfast at Boujdour

We had an excellent stop in the early morning sun in Boujdour, wonderful breakfast and then hit the road again, which quickly became a U-turn as we missed the petrol station to fill Franki up with 0.70€ per litre diesel.  The aim was to have lunch in Dakhla then to make it to Bir Gandouz for the night, just over 80km from the Mauritanian border as it was going to be too late to cross today.  

Quite a few kilometres further on, it wasn't quite midday but we pulled into a service station I remembered from previous trips.  Astonished to find that it was deserted, I remember lots of grand taxis, long distance buses and other travellers always pulling in here.  Still mystified as to why they've lost their trade, memories of the most wonderful mutton tajines; all we could sadly find was a sheep's head!  Two very funny guys keen to serve us coffee and muster up some chairs to sit outside and enjoy the barren 'view'!

What was a thriving kitchen is sadly now becoming part of the desert
It's all gone, nothing to show of it's former busy past!

Dakhla had changed also, grown massively, a lot more Europeans there for the winter to kitesurf and enjoy the warmer climate.  We found a Greek/Lebanese cafe in town to have some hoummous stuffed salad buns, strange mix but we enjoyed it.  Christophe went off to find a pharmacy, unfortunately they all had handwritten signs on the door in Arabic declaring something but seemed to be promising to be open at 1pm, it was already past 1pm and it was all deserted!  We presumed there must have been a pharmaceutical convention on, no one could tell us why they were closed so we continued south with Christophe's toothache.

Finally we rolled into Bir Gandouz before dusk 786km covered on our fifth day since leaving France; fourth day of driving. It seems many overlanders like to stop at Hotel Barbas a few hundred metres into town which was probably out of our price range.  We found the most wonderful place just on the edge of town, Hotel Etoilhm Lamhiriz with fuel directly outside and lots of parking. Christophe used the barbers downstairs (loosing his stubble seemed to help his toothache!) and I found the cafe/restaurant.  The 150Dh rooms were clean and newly finished, the shower was luke warm but it was welcome after last night!  An added bonus it had great wi-fi!  We were all set to cross into Mauritania in the morning!

Whilst having a mint tea after supper before the last of the red wine had to be finished for the border in the morning; a UK registered van turned up.  A French/English couple got out with 2 very small children, one was a 8 month old baby.  This was Charlie and his family, having left Spain they were heading for Dakar but he wasn't happy with the 140€ visa cost per person to enter Mauritania with the family nor did he realise he was taking his children into a malarial zone with other nasties such as typhoid ... We talked at length with him whilst his wife put the children to bed, he decided to return north (or so we thought!)
A change of scenery finally, about 50kms after Dahkla
The road does get very monotonous!
Definitely on the right road, beware of the sand ... and the ferocious dogs in the compound next to this roadsign!

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

The desert coast

Breakfast at Hotel Mauritanie, Tiznit

Roast chicken tonight perhaps?!
Leaving Tiznit southbound

Views back towards Tiznit
Incredible changing scenery
The Guelmime side of the hill, the vegetation changes again
Entrance to Guelmim
Another coffee break
Tan Tan
The desert coast south of Tan Tan
Fond memories of this small town, with incredible fish restaurants, we thoroughly enjoyed the platter

We left Tiznit after a bit of a drama with the morning manager who had taken over from Karim at Hotel Mauritanie.  Maybe a miscommunication between the two of them, but he wanted money for breakfast which we were told was included in the room price.  We paid and headed off south towards Guelmim on a mountain road that has incredible scenery but can be extremely dangerous.  Sadly on one of the straighter parts of the road, we came across an accident, a mother who had crashed her car, her young daughter had died and there was an awful scene with a lot of Moroccans trying to help.  We offered to call for help but they had it in hand!  It haunted us for a while, makes you realise how dangerous the roads can really be!

After Guelmim the road is straight and relatively fast in the open plains, we reached Tan Tan around midday and bought a few bits and pieces to munch en route, including a sack full of tangerines!  I remembered staying in this town about 10 years ago and thoroughly enjoyed it!  From this point the road hugs the coast, with dramatic sand blown cliffs, a fisherman's paradise and Moroccan built housing for those from the north, the Moroccan claim to Western Sahara.  Just after Tan Tan is the imaginary border between the two 'countries' and just over that border is a town that I've stopped at on several occasions before, just to eat it's fish!  We ordered the most enormous platter, ate what we could and took the rest with us!
Franki enjoys the coffee breaks!

We finally got to Laayoune and looked around for somewhere to stay, knowing it was pricey!  Everyone kept stopping us and asking to buy the bicycles from us, including small children, but couldn't tell us of somewhere to stay!  We carried on south and got to Foum el-Oued near the port. There was at least one campsite/hotel to stay at but we weren't convinced.  Suddenly a police car showed up, lights flashing and made us pull over.  Having managed to escape any speeding tickets, we were puzzled as to what we had done wrong.  The two policemen were puzzled as to what we were up to, we asked them for somewhere to stay and were told to follow them.  They took us to the first campsite/hotel we had seen and disappeared.  The two of them returned with two other men, the price started at 200€, it dropped rapidly but not rapidly enough for us!!!  We thanked them and said we'd head south overnight, to try to loose the police.

At a major junction 2km away where there were more police collecting 'fiches' (security measure found throughout Western Sahara for foreigners passing through) we found a basic service station which had a truckers greasy spoon attached.  We decided that was the end of the road for the day, the light was failing and we were hungry and tired after 554km of driving in one day.  The cafe provided wonderful mint tea and good coffee all night, there were sofas to sleep on and Franki was safe.  Even the ladies loo had a key that I was allowed to guard all night ... we ate the remains of the fish that we also shared with a few garage cats, polished off some cheese with a glass of red wine and settled down in our ideal camping location!  So happy with this free find, I entered it on ioverlander!
Our 'escort' after not being able to find somewhere to spend the night
Fishy supper from lunch, Foum el-Oued, south of Laayoune shared with the garage cats!