Day 15 – Dakhla | Nouadibou, Mauritania

Dakhla - Nouadibou, Mauritania

September 16th, 2011
Early start and manage to have breakfast – bread and the Laughing Red Cow spreadable cheese (La Vache qui rit – yes I think it’s hilarious too!!). Hit the road around 10am and head back out to the main road south. There’s a very strong cross-wind form the ocean which makes it difficult to ride. More windswept dunes and we pass the camps where windsurfers and kite surfers come to from near and far. Apparently this is one of the most popular, and cheap, spots to do this and it is a mecca apparently in kite-surfer circles. There is a lot of blowing sand, but it’s noticeably hotter than further north – this is definitely not the place for an open-face helmet. Sand hits your arms like a thousand little pins, coming in gusts. Time to put the jacket on again I think.

As we rejoin the main road south there’s our 1st sign post for Dakar – 1430km to go. We motor south across the barren expanse. This really is big sky country with endless horizons marking the boundary between the void above and the void below, sliced through by a ribbon of tarmac stretching in a straight line from the front wheel to the horizon. Fortunately as we’re heading south the wind is behind us and the biking is much nicer, 120km/h and it feels like you’re hardly moving. However this also means that the cooling effect of the radiator is diminished so I’m glad I installed the manual over-ride switch for the cooling fan – gotta keep the old girl cool.

Stop for gas and a bite some 200km from the border, the people are really starting to look distinctly exotic, long flowing Saharwi robes at the gas station. I refill the spare fuel tank just in case! A Mauritanian in flowing robe robes asks me where I’m going on the bike, “Dakar” I reply, “ah he says, you must come and stay in my Auberge (hotel) in Nouakchott”, the capital of Mauritania. “Just ask the last policeman as you enter the city” he says. Off course, I forgot the name of his auberge within ten seconds of him getting back into his battered Dutch registered Mercedes 190 diesel! This is virtually the only car that anyone drives in Mauritania as I am later to find out.

By mid afternoon we reach the border. The policeman is annoyed that I rode up to him and stopped, apparently I should have waited at one of the “Halt” signs about 20yrds back. However I chose not to mention in my defense that he was clearly snoozing or “resting” behind the barrier and I couldn’t see him when I was at the halt sign, ergo why I kept on going ….. I opted for “Sorry chef” instead! Visits to the various levels of government represented on the border went without a hitch, and also without a fixer as well, and it was pretty smooth. Just endlessly showing the same documents to guys with different colored uniforms. If I did this regularly I would need to have the documents laminated. I suspect that if someone is not showing you documents then you cannot be very important, ergo everyone wants to see them, I suspect same applies in the West a well, it’s just a little more efficient. Justyna encourages me to keep my philosophies of the usefulness of government people to myself, until at least we’re in no-mans-land. She has also made the observation that when it comes to “big things”, such as being stranded on a desert road with no chain and few options, I’m remarkably calm, patient and solution orientated, but when it comes to government people and little niggly things, I’m extremely lacking in the patience department!!! Can this really be true ???

We’re through, the last guy checks the same papers, the gates open … and ………. a nasty looking dirt road with a bunch of money changers and sweaty taxi guys awaits. We know, thanks to the great sage “Lonely Planet” that there’s approx 3km of no-mans-land between the Moroccan side of the border and the Mauritanian border post. We also know that on either side of the road there are minefields. However, not close … although we’re not sure, how close by! Heard that a French lunatic went off piste and managed to arrange a swift meeting with his maker back in 2009. But apparently he was a lunatic and asking to get blown up, according to his badly injured former friend at the time!

After a few meters we change some Moroccan Dirhams into Mauritanian Ouigia (I still can’t pronounce it and my counting in French still sucks so I think we got ripped off) – one of the happy thieves, I mean money changers, then tried to see if we wanted a taxi! In hindsight this would have been a good idea for JJ but neither of us likes being hassled. So we head down the road slowly on the bike. After a few meters it’s clear that we’re too heavy for 2 up with luggage on this road and it’s looking like non motorcyclist will have to walk ….. however 20 meters further on the “motorcyclist” hits soft sand with 200kg of bike and luggage and, for the first time finds himself horizontal on the ground. A quick dust off and time to avoid any soft sand, as I have little offloading experience – and I’d like to get our stuff there in one piece. So slowly does it. I’m able to take Justyna over short stretches that are half decent, but she ends up having to walk a fair chunk of the 3km to the Mauritanian border post. There are burnt out shells and hulks of cars on either side of the road as reminders that this was a war zone some 35 years ago.

We reach the Mauritania border post, it’s like a small patch of civilization in an empty and barren land. They’re courteous and there’s an “agent/fixer”, who for a few euros helps with paperwork, registration of the bike and insurance. the percentage of black faces has dramatically increased, really giving the feeling of getting close to sub-saharan Africa. The process here is pretty painless to be honest and surprisingly straightforward as well. Quite efficient in fact, a world away form a Nigerian border crossing. We finally mount up and we’re about 50/60km from Nouhadibou, the 2nd city (ok, out of only about 4 or 5) of Mauritania. The scenery in the twilight is astonishing beautiful, endless vistas of sand and dunes meeting the sky. There’s an extreme serenity about it, this is a place where all the distractions and troubles and issues of normal life do not exist. Only simple existential questions remain, where can I eat and where can I sleep!

We make it to Nouhadibou in the dark and eventually, after consulting the great sage lonely planet again find the Al Jazera hotel. It’s a place of faded glory and apparently used to be a Novotel before they quit Mauritania a couple of years ago. 17,000 Ouigia (I’m not sure there’s even a currency sign for this) later and accommodation is sorted, only need to find something to eat now. The guy behind reception suggests a Spanish place about 200yards down the street. Head down there and there’s a small restaurant with some locals in there and the management appears to be a Spanish family, and dad is watching a huge flat screen satellite television mounted on the wall with a gaggle of locals. A strange place. The Spanish influence lives on in this part of Africa.

Obviously fish is the local dish here, so I order the fish soup and Calamars. When the owners daughter, who’s’ serving us, asks what we’d like to drink I ask for a coke but make a joke about really wanting a beer. According to the great sage, Mauritania is a dry country, and searches at the border for illicit alcohol are common! She looks at me and laughs, “off course we have beer, we also have wine and whisky, everything thing here is possible with a little money” she says still laughing. It tuned out it was English beer. So I had 3 with dinner. A long and tiring day. Perhaps we should inform Lonely Planet about this place, but then again perhaps it’s better left under the radar 😉 A long but super day, really feel like we’re in an exotic place I also notice that we crossed the Tropic of Cancer today, but there was no signpost on the highway – that would have made a great picture!

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