Saturday, March 1, 2014

Mauritania (with another travelogue)

Hell broke loose the moment we left Morocco and entered no-mans-land. Demolished, burned, rusty and disassembled car wrecks and parts were on both sides – it looked like in war movies. There were no street only trails and even that is a compliment. There are still many land-mines in this area and according to some locals, officials cleaned some 5 km north and south of that trail collection (I heard later that some years back it was already suicidal to leave the marked trail by even a few meters).

Some of those trails have deep soft sand and of course we took one of those. First Skippy tossed over with the bike. Luckily nothing bad happened. Then we decided to swap bikes. Promptly I drove the Suzi into deep soft sand. With a little bit of anger, we got the Suzi easily out by ourselves. Then it was time for the sidecar and we swapped again for this spot. OMG – I buried the back-wheel hopelessly into the sand.

It was getting dark and the human vultures came to sneak up on us, in other words a great opportunity for local workers to "help". The sidecar was really stuck and since I did not have rods with me the winch was of no help. I started to dig out the shovel when a crowd of vultures surrounded us. The choice was either digging and me sweating or paying?

We settled from 100 EUR down to 40EUR and they worked hard for that money! Good so ;) The sidecar got stuck another time and the guys needed again to push and pull. Finally we were on some hard ground. At that moment I wished I had a light hack with 2WD or 3WD and off-road tyres.

One bandit gave the other one the hand and some guy in a 4x4 told us with heavy gestures that he will take us to the Mauritania border and take care of things there for us. Of course I knew there was a fee attached. We arrived at the Mauritania side around 19 o'clock, it was dark and the guy pushed us in a fast forward mode through the different control stations. I had to be present once in a while and I saw that he gave some money to the officer.

Later I read (again) that the white A4 paper costed anyway 10 EUR and the guy at the police station expected potentially a gift. In the end the fixer wanted 2x40 EUR and I was able to deal him down to 50 EUR. Since I really believe that the border was already halfways closed and we had this great speed, the price was maybe ok-ish in the end and yet it was a rip-off. The last barrier opened and it was pitch black when we entered Mauritania.

We did then what everybody said DO NOT DO! Riding in total darkness in Mauritania. We already passed through a police control and as easy as this goes in the day-time, the more spooky it was now. It was windy and sand flying all around. Occasionally the street was half-ways covered with small dunes and so we shared the remaining space with the other vehicles on the road. Passing was a huge risk and therefore we stayed mostly behind trucks.

We had a choice to go to Nouadhibou where we certainly find a hotel or we ride towards Nouakchott with the risk that there will not be a hotel on the way. We decided against riding 45+ km to Nouadhibou and back the next morning, instead we took our chances. The next "city" was Bou Lanouar some 40 km away and I felt extremely uncomfortable. 

No hotel neither a filling station marked on my map and the city presented itself in pretty much complete darkness. I only saw a shimmer of houses in the moonlight and stars. Then in the near distance I saw many lights along the street and besides me was a sign warning of land mines. I hoped this would be a hotel but the lights came only from the various boutiques. Anyway, I asked if there is a hotel in the city and to our relief the guy said yes.

He even offered to drive ahead with his car to show us the way. I already got horribly suspicious about another guy asking for some fee, but then he was a nice person who really wanted to help. If you ever read this: Thank you!!! There were no lights and no signs at the street. Most likely we would have passed the hotel and continued to wander around.

Our first hotel in Mauritania - no way to find this in darkness.
Extension cable - Mauritania style
Getting ready to leave. Ulpu escaping and we got a new friend.
The view from the hotel towards south
and towards north.
The owner had a room for us and dogs were ok. That sounded promising even though the price was pretty high. We were both dead tired and were happy to find a safe shelter for the night. The owner asked us to move the bikes into the inner yard so the night guard could watch them. There was no road and only very dim light. The owner only seemed to know that his pick-up could drive anywhere and so it happened as it must happen... I got the sidecar stuck in the deep loose sand again! I was pissed and yet too exhausted to express my emotions.

We already knew the drill. Skippy rode the sidecar and I was pulling. As we learned that earlier in no-mans-land, pulling the sidecar is much more effective then pushing. Due to its asymmetry one cannot steer when pushing whereas when I pull I can give it also direction. Forget the front steering – absolute useless in deep sand. With a smelling clutch and almost getting the bikes stuck again in deep sand a little later I managed to park both bikes in the back-yard.

Next morning – sunshine and man, we were in the middle of nowhere! Did not miss a thing during our night ride. At least now I could see where the hard surface was and so I had little trouble to get the bikes going and off we went for another day on straight roads.
Another break and we noticed...
that the ground appears to be old sea bottom .
Remains of a goat/sheep with stomach full of plastic! :(
A few hours later we arrived in Nouakchott at Auberge Sahara and got us a nice and spacious room. We did not get much sleep as some Hungarian folks riding on the rally Budapest-Bamako entered the building and made hell of a noise. On our last day, this group had grown even more and basically occupied the entire outer space. The auberge was a good place to meet other overlanders and winter-refugees and getting some useful hints and tips.

We got our visa for Senegal without any trouble within the same day. The embassy was closed on Fridays and Saturdays, but then open on Sundays. Who will understand this! Anyway this meant for us we had one free day :) since we got our visa on Sunday.
Emergency dinner at our first night in Noukachott - fries & salad. Also Skippy's birthday, that's why she doesn't look too happy...
Skippy relaxing in the shade.
Typical "truck" - donkey with carriage.
Goats in the streets - they often followed us, seem to like our girls :)
A very typical picture.
Evening walk to the sushi restaurant, where Skippy finally had her "birthday dinner" :)
Wolfi used the free day to get a holder made for the helmet camera's main unit.
More goats on the way to downtown

Trucks waiting to bring cargo to customers.
One of the many "grand taxis" - this is only good for day rides ;)
Entire streets were converted into junk yards - what a filth!
We left Nouakchott on another hot day. I tried to get the brown insurance card for the bikes but had no luck. So we tried one hint I found from the Hubb – Tammin. When I went there, they told me that they do not do that any longer. So much for that.

It took us quite some time to get out of Nouakchott and our first attempt to get fuel did not work out. No essence here only gasoil. Ok, next filling station then. After some 100km the road became worse and we had to circle around many potholes. At the same time we got really happy since we started to see trees (after some 2000+ km of desert a tree is admirable)! I though I managed to escape one pothole in particular when I heard a loud bang and my sitting position was strangely different. Greetings from my rear shock. This time, the pre-loader had said goodbye.

Lucky for us, we had now trees besides the street and I rode under one to start changing shocks... again. Many locals passed by honking their horns to warn me that they are coming. Suddenly a big bike went bike – a KTM, stopped and came back :) Another overlander from Austria – bonne route my friend! I was finished and we were good to go when a local truck driver stopped and asked if we needed some help. At last – not all hope was gone.

We lost quite some time and it seemed that we are not able to reach Diama in time. At this last kilometers in Mauritania, one police man asked for a 10 EUR gift. I denied, he said ok and we continued. At another stop the police man gave a name and a number - “call this guy, he will help you to get over the border”. Sure and thank you.

Well, the guy was waiting for us at the exit towards the road to Diama. Some other rally truck was there as well waiting and the two of us were supposed to follow him to stay overnight at his place since the border would be closing any minute now. Sounded ok on the first hand. Some 12 km later the rally guys pulled over. Their friend told them the border was open until 22 and they wanted to push their luck. It was getting slowly dark and after  some minutes of thinking we decided to go with them as much as we can and camp somewhere along the way (as we originally planned).

Then this guy came again. He saw business running off and asked whether we have insurance. The rally guys did have and we did not have. He said, that you cannot buy an insurance on the border of Diama. Nice try! A guy who drives a car without a license plate and gets his customers from a police man. The rally guys called their friend again and they took off. We followed them and it felt the right thing to do. When looking back, I need to say and admit that I need to listen much more to my gut feelings. In hindsight, those were good choices when I followed and “learnings” when I did not follow it ;)

The paving of the street was brand-new and we could ride with 100km/h – no potholes! It was getting now seriously dark and we wanted to find a place to sleep. We used the rest of the day light to find a decent spot. It was ok except for those nasty little stingy balls and thorns everywhere on the ground. They would pinch a hundred holes into our tent floor! Time for the hammocks and the first official duty of my winch was to hold Skippy's hammock :D
First night in the hammocks. Wolfi sleeping with Lyra and Ulpu.
The night was really cold, I was not able to sleep at all even though when I took Lyra and Ulpu with me into the hammock. Well, at least girls were warm. The next morning was again a bright day and we headed towards Diama. Bad for us, the excellent asphalt road ended pretty soon and for the next 80 km it was a terrible sand road for me and rather ok for Skippy. We swapped bikes once more in the beginning of this street (because of the soft sand) for a short time until Skippy felt ok with the street. However... my poor sidecar – I really got worried things would fall apart! It was really hot and the motor temperature was almost in the red area.

The landscape changed and we saw lakes(!), haven't seen those for a long time. Besides the cows and wild hogs that crossed our way, we also saw many kinds of birds. We paid the entrance fee to the national park and a few kilometers later we finally arrived at the border station at Diama.

A few thoughts in hindsight:

On a positive note, there were not much plastic bags polluting the environment. As we heard later, the government forbid those brown bags some time ago. Therefore the amount of empty plastic water bottles were huge - beyond imagination!

As soon as we stopped somewhere kids came and started begging for gifts and money as well as old people begged for money. Yes, we read about this, however it was another thing to experience this. At some point it became annoying and I needed to remind myself to stay calm.

People asked us several times whether we have our dogs with us for eating. First I thought this was a joke or a misunderstanding due to my poor French language skills. Obviously when one has more then one dog, the dogs are considered as livestock and then it fits their own pattern - to carry their livestock for eating during a long journey. Who really knows..?

Skippy made another travelogue. Enjoy number eight (Since we still have limited internet it might take some time before we can upload the HD version).

~ Wolfi


  1. Briljant Story, what an adventure ! Keep your side together Wolfi...I understand very well about the weight...I wish I could turn the clock back, you understand what I mean.

  2. Thanks for the mental support. More will come ;)

  3. Nice update! It has a really positive vibe :)

  4. Travelogue drive through Nouachott was hilarious! I had to laugh at loud.

    1. Yes that was an experience :D Great that we could make you laugh :)

  5. Hei, ystävät! Olen käynyt alusta asti lähes päivittäin kurkkaamassa blogianne. Hienoa että jaksatte pitää tätä :) -ja toivottavasti traveloque 7 tulee tänne joskus kokonaan katsottavaksi. Onnellista reissun jatkoa! <3

    p.s. Jos roskat kauhistuttavat.. älkää menkö Intiaan!

    1. Tervehdys Hanna! Mukava kuulla :)
      Nettiyhteydet tökkii aika usein, joten blogin päivittäminen ei ole aina niin helppoa, mutta parhaamme teemme aina kun pystyy!

      Intian likaisuudesta olenkin tiennyt ja se tai oikeastaan koko Aasia ei ole koskaan pahemmin kiinnostanut. Suurin osa suunnitelmista vielä kuitenkin avoinna, joten katsotaan mitä tuleman pitää...

      Oletkos itse taas Intiassa? Voi hyvin! Me jatketaan auringon lämmössä paahtumista... :D

  6. Tänä talvena Intia jäi väliin koska päätin opiskella hierojaksi :). Kesäkuun lopussa valmistun, katsotaan sitten..
    Kaikkea hyvää kaikille teille!

    1. Okei, hienoa, tsemppiä opintoihin! Itse taas alan tässä matkan ohella opiskeleen ravintoneuvojaksi (näin helposti suomeksi sanottuna, kyseessä kuitenkin amerikkalainen nimihirviö...), kunhan vaan saan materiaalit tänne jonnekin lähetettyä... Tuosta oon jo pitkään haaveillu ja toivottavasti saan hieman muuta ajateltavaa, kun maisemat ei tuo paljon iloa.

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