October 21. 2006
Another early wake up and breakfast at Villa Ocean and the lovely French
host, who provided nice showers and more useful tips and hints about Western
Sahara and witch route to take. We are planning to go east from Layoune and
cross into Mauritania from Galtat Zemmour to Bir Mogrein; however the
information is confusing as some say you can and some say you can't Anyhow,
we have decided to give it a shot, but get some more information in Layoune
which is our first stop en route. Layoune is the official capital of
West-Sahara, since 1991 annexed/ occupied, by Morocco. The guerrilla
fighting for independence is called the Polisario. West Sahara is currently
divided by a 'sand wall'' referred to as the Berm by the locals, 2/3 is
controlled by Morocco and the remaining 1/3 by the Polisario, partially
backed by Algeria and Mauritania. To get to Layoune we had to pass 10
police/military checkpoints and exhibit our passports at least half a dozen
times, every single time to be asked for the purpose of our visit, our
professions, - then write it all down on a piece of paper and wave us
through. The checkpoints, only a couple kilometres apart witness a slight
paranoia on behalf of the Moroccan government, even though there has been a
ceasefire for the last 10 years. Apart from the frequent (and rather
annoying) check points, the West Saharan desert has little on offer. During
approximately four hours of driving we passed two people, 15 camels and more
sand than you can imagine. Given our first impression, one might ask 'West
Sahara, - what is the big deal?''. No one seem to be able to give a straight
answer, however, the guidebooks states that there are valuable phosphor
mines to exploit.
October 22. 2006
We have used the day in town to get Odd III some new oil and oil filter and
just walking around, and we also had a trip to the beach. Layoune is quite
special as it's full of police, military and UN vehicles that all seem to
drive more or less randomly around.
This gives the town an eerie feel We decided to go to the UN headquarters
that also lies in town to get some information about West Sahara and the
security situation together with some hints and tips about were to go and
were it would be possible to cross the border to Mauritania.
The visit to the UN headquarter turned out to be a quite an experience.
Showing up at the camp started a long chain reaction with Moroccan guards,
UN security guards, and the occasional UN observer . The Moroccans wanted
us far away; the UN security guards couldn't or wouldn't talk to us
'What situation?'' 'There is no situation here!'' responded the Moroccan
guard outside the UN bastion as Knut had rather causally asked for a comment
on the current status on the 'situation'', - intending exactly what the
Moroccan government are aiming to veil - the fact that the West Sahara is a
still an issue. Ops, Odd III were in trouble and more than a dozen military
guards kept a close eye on us. Odd III (and it's rather insensitive crew)
was clearly unwanted. After a few minutes in uncertainty, a white UN pick up
halted next to us and asked if we needed assistance. Knut explained that we
were overlanders and was hoping to get some updated information on the
accessibility of the remote Northern board crossing between West Sahara and
Mauritanie. 'Ask to speak to Mr XX (name withheld because of the sensitivity
of the situation)'', said the helpful officer, that we later got to know as
XY (name withheld because of the sensitivity of the situation). More
confident, we returned to the 'Access Security Control''. 'We have an
appointment with Mr XX'', said Andreas. 'Hmm, so you are here to see
someone, that's your problem'', said the security guard as he walked off to
find Mr XX. Several people, both locals and UN personnel, had now joined our
little group. Knut shot off some more questions. 'So, is the UN only
represented in Layoune, or does the organisation have representation around
West Sahara, - intending UNs wider involvement in the conflict. 'No
comment'', said the UN representative - at the same time putting up a big
smile. In distance, the Moroccan military was eyeballing us. The guard that
left to find Mr XX was back. 'Mr XX'' cannot be found at the moment He'll be
here at 1430. Please come back then.'' 'You have been to beach???'' Not
really sure what he was asking, we responded negatively. 'Go to beach, beach
is very nice'', he said, - portraying a rather toothless smile. So we did,
we headed for the beach... After a few lazy hours in the sun, we were back
by the UN bastion. Uncertain that this Mr XX actually existed, we approached
the Access Security Control for the third time this day. We were met by a
pleasant lady that could tell us that XX was expecting us in his hotel, the
Al Masira. A petit man, not much older than us, turned out to be XX. XX
agreed to share some information after stating a long and learnt-by-heart
disclaimer - in short that all the information that he shared was his own
personal opinions and not the official observations of the UN. Fair enough!
Knut and Andreas explained (again!) that we were overlanders and that we
intended to cross the Bo Grain border crossing. XX's eyes were wide open...
'No, no, no, - that's not possible. Very dangerous Landmines everywhere!
You will need authorisation from the Moroccan military and the Polisario.
And who are you? You don't represent an organisation or country - you are
nobody, hence you will not get the authorisation.'' XX speech was picking up
speed as he went on. What he told, was not really news to us. We knew that
crossing the Berm would be a long shot; however, we were keen to try, knowing
that other overlanders had previously taken this route.
XX was now on the
roll... 'Even if you did, crossing the Berm would be very dangerous. You
should not attempt it, - curiosity kills!!!'' Mr XX was probably right in
his observations; however, in all honesty, amongst the crew of Odd III, he
will be remembered as a 'wimp''. Meeting Mr. XY outside on the parking lot
after our meeting with XX, the impression of XX were confirmed even though
XY said more or less the same it was the way it was said and formulated that
made a difference. So all in all, even though crossing the Berm and heading
for the Bo Grein would be rewarding, we were not willing to risk our lives
on a landmine or for a silver bullet.. (Maybe next time around).
October 5. 2006
Our plan for crossing Western Sahara to the east being crushed by Mr. XX and
XY we now headed south on the 'milk'' route towards the boarder to
Mauritania. Not much to say about this day, a lot of sand, rocks and road
going on for miles and miles. Dahkla was a nice surprise do even do we ended
up with bush camping close to the military control post at the intersection
for the Mauritanian border, Dakhla or Layoune.
October 4. 2006
More driving and actually a border crossing without to much hassle, we had
expected to use quite some time at the border but it all work out quite
smoothly and we were off and on our way through no mans land in about an
In total we have covered some 3 870 km in Morocco and Western Sahara in only
24 days, which makes out a lot of driving.
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.
Oooops, danger MINES
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.
Filling up the reservs...
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.
Being followed through a village with wild kids wanting a cadau!!
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.
Camel boy and his camel or more correct: dromedar
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).
Queen Vibeke of Oudane...
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.
The librarian of Chinguetti
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.
Boys without toys
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
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.
Inside temperature, the outside temerature feeler has died...
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
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.