Monday, May 1, 2017

Long Christmas Day with border troubles

Pulling out of Nouakchott in the early hours, we got a good start.  Hardly any traffic on the roads, we took a while to get out of the sprawling southern suburbs of the city with a quick stop for a coffee and omlette.  The N2 heading south wasn't in good shape, there were potholes all over and parts of the road vanished leaving us to drive along the side, our first bad road since leaving home.  We continued on with crazy minibus drivers racing down to the Senegalese border at Rosso, overtaking us at the most inopportune moments!  Apart from that there were sand dunes, camels and the odd beat up car to contend with; we had both forgotten it was Christmas day until about midday!

National road N2 in the centre of Tiguent heading south towards Rosso & Senegal, first real settlement after Nouakchott
Small Nomadic settlements dotted all over

We finally found our turning to the right, we knew it existed and would take us to Keur Macene but every small right road we found we wondered whether to take it.  Finally there was a fairly major turning with a concrete post (presumably for the police) with quite a few touts around who flagged us down.  They wanted to sell us ECOWAS insurance, the 'brown card' for Senegal and the rest of West Africa, we politely declined and headed west on an impeccably surfaced road.  Very straight, smooth just a few donkeys to contend with.  Franki's fuel gauge was getting rather low, so we tried to find somewhere to pull up and refuel her from the barrel in the back.  The landscape was so barren, there wasn't any shelter or windbreak to get behind the wind that was blowing the fuel out of the funnel. 

Desert refuelling stop
Christophe emptying the barrel, Franki was full again!

Finally we got to Keur Macene, Christophe went off to find lunchtime food and returned with a few bananas and bread.  We continued on, heading west on rough roads that had been graded, either at 15kph or 60kph it was fine, certainly better at 60kph as we entered the Parc National de Diawling where suddenly wildlife was abound in the form of birds and warthogs.  We were on the grated road that ran through the park but noticed Chinese involvement in the park.  We came across warthogs that seemingly weren't too scared of a vehicle then we were flagged down by Jah.  He was a park ranger and wanted a lift 12km away to the headquarters of the park. He gave us a brilliant explanation of the park, the seasons and what could be found in the park.  We had already seen flamingoes and all matter of wildlife, but it was a birdwatchers paradise.

Jah, a park ranger we picked up
Charged 2,000 UM, but tried to get 3,000UM for taking Jah to the HQ of the park!  But we were glad he had been with us!

Having dropped off Jah we only had a few kilometres or so to get to the border at Diama.  We went through Mauritanian immigration and customs fairly simply, however we found that we had to pay to park Franki at the border which intensely annoyed us!  

Getting to the Senegalese border was easy, across the bridge and we were there!  Passports stamped with a suggestion of money which we totally ignored.  Next was customs ... 

Customs was another matter, we knew we could get a 48h transit that could be renewed for up to two weeks in Dakar, we only needed 4 days or so to transit Senegal.  But immediately they wanted 250€ which we weren't prepared to pass over.  Over 5 hours, we even invited the head of customs to join us for coffee.  He came to the back of Franki, sniffed at our camping gas and kettle and walked off again,  I'm someone that NEVER pays any official without an official receipt.  It was Christmas Day but there was a guy in St Louis that would get us over the border with an official receipt, it was for 250€.  Having explored all avenues to get out of paying this knowing we weren't keen on parting with the cash, I've never paid before and I certainly wasn't keen paying now, but apparently the NGO donations were also susceptible and customs were getting sniffy about those too having inspected the back of Franki, we were at a dead end alley!  I managed to get a Senegalese SIM card and rang a few aviation friends in Dakar and just south of St Louis, all disappointed that we were stuck!

We waited a few hours for this man to show up, we were wondering if he would show up at all, St Louis is under an hour away.  Watching a lot of foot passengers passing us to board a boat that apparently was going to Bamako and trying to help out an American-Mauritanian family who spoke very little French. Eventually he arrived, just as Charlie arrived from Mauritania with his family, yet again we were amazed he was risking this trip.  However, he wasn't impressed there was more to pay, his van was also over the 8 year age limit. Having paid we were free to go, we left Charlie in the hands of the 'monster' customs official and hit the road, 5 hours after arriving at the border!

Again we ended up driving in the dark, amazingly I managed to remember the way to Mouit, where the overlanders campsite, Zebrabar, is located on the coast near my friend's house.  I'm not sure if Christophe was convinced by my directions but when we got to the village we were thrilled.  Finally pulling into Zebrabar, we parked Franki under the first tree and got out all our food, chorizo, ham and chocolate from Spain, avocadoes and tangerines from Morocco, bread and 'vache qui rit' cheese from Mauritania ... ordering a beer, we toasted ourselves on Christmas Day!

We also met Oleg, the Russian biker who was very interested in our border troubles!  He hadn't had any bother!  Charlie and family were nowhere to be seen, we wondered what had happened to them!

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