Mauritania, a country the size of France and Spain together.
October 24. 2006
Getting through no-mans land without any big problems we drove up long side the shack being the Mauritanian border control. Inside an officer had to get out of his bed to great us, as hi did so we couldn’t avoid noticing that he actually had a gun under his pillow!!! Finally completing our papers he kindly asked Jens for a “cadeau”, French for gift, where after Jens responded that that wasn’t necessary, something he actually he agreed to. Next stop customs, an equally run down shack, but a pleasant experience as no “gift” was asked for. Final stop was the bank for exchanging money into local currency. The bank building did not invite to putting our savings there, situated in a broken trailer. As the guys outside it could offer better exchange rates, we used them instead.
Finishing all the formalities we headed for our first real off road experience, traversing the Sahara from Nouadhibou to Chom and further down to Atar, 450 km of dessert driving straight east from the coast into the interior of Mauritania! Having limited supplies of diesel and water we had to stock up at a local “station”, of course being ripped off, but it was necessary, otherwise we had to drive the 150 km’s to Nouadhibou town. With 20 spare litres of diesel at the roof rack and 70 litres of water in the tank, we drove into The Sand.
We had waypoints and a track from Tracks4 Africa to follow, however our biggest problem was finding the start of the route, as the first couple of kilometres were penetrated with different tracks heading in every direction. After criss crossing around a while we found our tracks. Starting the piste early afternoon, we only covered 35 kilometres the first 3 hours. It was an extraordinary great feeling eventually driving the dunes of the Sahara! It had to be celebrated and we all lifted our glasses filled with the fluids of a good bottle of champagne that we had carried and spared for a special occasion. Thank you Marius and the Elisabeth’s for that good bye-present!
For the night we found a campsite, situated close to the track, but totally far off from everyone! After the tents were up, we discovered that we had a local neighbour living in his tent only 600 metres away. In the middle of fu...ing nowhere! And before midnight a van approached us waking us up asking if we were OK. After all we were not yet that alone.
The people of the dessert tend to prefer night driving, due to the more comfortable temperature. However it is not, too bad. The temperature inside the car has been around 30-37 degrees Celsius.
October 25-26. 2006
Early nights (bush camping usually means going to bed around nine), means early morning as well and we were up before sunrise. With Jens behind the wheel we had driven in the sand for some hours suddenly getting our first meeting with soft sand, sucking all the power out of the engine we instantly got stuck. Suddenly we realized that there is a serious part to driving in the dessert all alone. Everyone looked at each other smiling quite nervously. All our guidebooks recommend not going solo or without a guide on this piste, and I guess we all had a short moment of a second thoughts. However we had earlier come to the conclusion that the piste should be quite safe for us as we had a GPS-track, supplies of food and water for nearly a week and the security of the piste going pararel with the railway tracks to Chum (the railway more or less represent the boarder to Western Sahara and is a no-go area due to lots of active mines north of it).
There were not much other to do than to start digging the wheels and the under body clear from the sand. With the sun burning over our heads the digging turned out to be quite hard and very much different from the snow digging we are used to from back home. With three sweaty persons out pushing, the central diff on, lower air pressure in the tires and the use of the sand ladders, we got out on the first attempt. Everyone a quite relieved that we got out and that the equipment actually works as it’s supposed to do in the sand.
With air pressure in the tires down to 24 psi the driving was much easier, giving the car more flotation and traction in the sand. As we got further into the dessert the dunes became bigger, even though we were all quite surprised of how varied the scenery and the surroundings are. Another thing that we noticed was that the Sahara is much greener than we thought (this because the rainy season have just finished).
The next day we continued driving across rocky plains and large sandy parts. With low air pressure the rocky parts can be treacherous to the tire’s side walls, making progress quite slow. We also passed two small villages close to the railway where we got the first good sight of how extremely poor a vast amount of the population of Mauritania is. From one end of the village to the other we had an armada of children running after us screaming: “Donnez-moi un cadeau!” (Give me a gift!) or just “cadeau, cadaou!!!” We were not yet aware that this sentence would become symptomatic for almost every child or grown up we were going to meet in this country. Unfortunately there are only four of us and a couple of million of them, making it impossible for us to help them all.
A few hours before Atar, still in the dessert, there was a rather big mountain rising in the horizon. Eager to do some physical activities we decided to climb it. The climb was done in 45 minutes, giving us an excellent view of the dessert. We had a 360 degree view of nothing but sand and rocky plains. Going down turned out to a lot more difficult as going up always is a lot easier and forgetting how to get down again, it was actually quite scary as the mountain was steep and made of very loose stones.
Reaching Atar just before sunset we headed for an auberge (motel/hotel/hostel) for a shower and some food.
October 27. 2006
Being the largest settlement of the northern interior of Mauritania we expected a fairly modern and large town, though it’s not. Still the town was full of energy being used as a staging post for excursions to the vicinity, especially to Chinguetti and Oudane, and also containing an airport were French charter tourist fly in. Using the town to re-stock our supplies we spent the day wandering around and relaxing.
October 28. 2006
The drive to Oudane was anything but interesting. Three hours over a rocky plateau on a very corrugated piste seeing nothing but small rocks. Still Oudane was worth the uninspiring drive. The village is one of the oldest settlements of Mauritania and we were lucky to arrive before the French tourists (the tourist season with French charter plains started the day after). However there was a flip side to the coin: we had 100 kids running after us at all time wanting or asking for a “cadeau” or “stilo” (pen).
Oudane once had a university and we visited the old library too watch the old writings and books. The oldest being from the 1200th. century, as far as we could understand with our somehow limited French language.
October 29. 2006
Oudane-Chinguetti on desert piste
Following Chris Scott’s route R2 the piste was easy to follow but still with some difficult parts covered with soft sand and some “new” dunes to traverse... ODD constantly getting an overheated transmission case/oil (or at least we think so as the warning lights flashed on and off like a Christmas three) made the trip longer than necessary, but the sun was shining (off course) and the views were nice. Finally arriving in Chinguetti, the single most visited place in Mauritania due to its proximity to Atar and its ancient mosques, libraries and old town. Arriving in the town we were immediately approached by a young man. Starting to be used to such approaches, we instantly brushed him off as the usual hustler. However it soon turned out that, Sidi as we got to know him, was a really kind young man and of invaluable resource. His excellent English and good knowledge was very much appreciated. We ended up spending the rest of the day walking around the old city (a UNESCO site) with him, going to one of the ancient libraries (again) and relaxing in the shade eventually having dinner. At dinner we met three French guys, Arno, Benjamin and Pierre, travelling the world painting and playing music (www.terre-de-notes.com). They were all really talented and you should visit their homepage! We ended the day sleeping at the roof top of Sidis auberge.
October 30. 2006
From Chinguetti we drove to the capitol Noukachott. The temperature the last couple of days have increased remarkably, making the temperature inside the car between 40 and 47 degrees. This off course made the stop at Terjit, an oasis called the paradise of the dessert with a small waterfall and hot and cold springs exceptionally nice.
We arrived the capitol after dark and we discovered why driving at night time is not recommended in Africa. People are driving like crazy, many times without lights. It was actually a lot scarier than driving the dessert pistes.
October 31. 2006
Not much to say about this place, the most uninteresting and uninspiring capitol we’ve ever been to. Although the beach was nice the city in it self gave us little other than some rest and dirty clothes. The place is really a dump, but the nice thing to say was that we actually got one of our best eats so far at the Mexican restaurant Fiesta, recommended by the guidebooks as one of the few musts in Nouakchott, something we actually agree!
November 1. 2006
Spending half the day repacking/trying to get rid of excess luggage (especially Jens over packing ( he strongly disagrees but can still not fit al his stuff into the same space as the rest of us….)) so Vibeke could take it with her back home, we sat out to reach the Mauritanian-Senegalese border a little to late. Being warned by several people about the notorious border at Rosso we decided to go to the supposedly less hassled border crossing at Diama. Driving on the edge of what Odd is capable of we reached the Mauritanian side of the border half an hour after closing time, resulting in a 5000 Ouguiya (15€) “gift” to the border guards to get things sorted out, but we actually passed without any hustlers in sight! Crossing the Senegalese side of the border proved to be a little bit harder and we had to spend more time and some money there as well.
In total we covered 1 930 km in Mauritania..
Religions: Muslim 100%
Language: Arabic (official), Pulaar, Soninke,
French, Hassaniya, Wolof
Area: 1 030 700 sq km
Population: 3,086,859 (July 2005 est.)
Borders: Algeria, Mali, Senegal and
Visas: Required for most nationals.
Should be obtained before departure. May need a letter of introduction from
your embassy. No visa issued at border.
Carnet: Recommended by the embassy in
Berlin, we bought a liazzon-passe at the border for 10€
Insurance: Yes, we had to pay 20€ for 10
Other: Expect to be pulled over by
police and military requiring a ''fish'' (copy of your passport and with
information about the car and your occupation). Many asks for 'gifts'', its
not necessary to give any, just smile and be polite.
Currency: Ouguiya (MRO) US$1= 270 Ouguiya
1€ = 310-350 Ouguiya
Visa transactions: There are no atm in Mauritania at the
time of writing.
GDP-per capita: $1,800 (2004 est.)
Highlights: Driving from Nouadibou to Choum
through the dessert continuing to Atar and then to Oudane and Chinguetti
Driving: Drive on the right side of the
Fuel costs: 272-300 Ouguiya pr.litre
Distance driven: 1 930 km
Days spent: 8 days