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!

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