Friday, 30 December 2011

The desert didn't stop at the border and continued for some considerable time.  I have to say that Mauritanian roads are not the best and in some places non on earth Steve managed to find his way without road signs is credit to his abilities as a driver.

I noted for the first time that the heat and brightness of the sun seemed more intense since the previous day and it was as though we had crossed some invisible line where sun was one side and none the other.  Mosquitoes were to be a problem from now as we progressed further into Mauritania and we had all started our Malaria prophylaxis.

We stopped for lunch alongside a railway and were told not to wander far due to the very real possibility of landmines being in the area.  These were being cleared by bulldozers but a lot still remained and apparently it was felt to be safe if we stayed where the tyre tracks where.  I had to question how sensible it was then to prepare lunch as most people's inquisitive nature and calls of nature ensured that they wandered off and I had to wonder just how efficiently the landmines had been cleared.  When a two mile freight train came along most of the group wandered well off the track to take photographs.  However, for me it was a stark reminder just how unsafe African countries could be and was pleased when we got on the 'road' again.

Sand, sand and more sand

Wild camels or dromedaries - one hump only

There was a definite difference in the lifestyles of the Mauritanians from the Moroccans.  They were clearly much poorer and lived more simply in straw and mud huts and  a lot of tents.  One 'village' looked for all the world like an allotment with sheds but no produce being grown.

Village in Mauritanian desert

It was not until we reached Nouadibou our first stop in Mauritania that we would see housing as such.  However, the roads are sand and no paths exist as pedestrians and cars, horses, goats etc mix in with pedestrians.  Nouadibou was very sleepy but we were still advised to go out in groups of five or more.  We all found that this actually had the effect of drawing attention to us rather than allowing us to blend in so most started going out in lesser numbers.  On the whole the feel of the place was friendly and things were ridiculously cheap. We managed to buy more prophylaxis here and I was able to buy 'puff puff'.  I bought lots and found it very useful for giving to people when stopping and speaking to them.  Nouadibou had a market but in the main no one bothered you and got on with their daily lives.  

We went to dinner with two rather interesting french guys who were travelling across Africa on motorbikes following the same route as us.  It was really interesting as they were heading to Ghana where they would try and sell their bikes as they had no where to store them.  In the event they were unsuccessful we offered them the opportunity to store these in Nigeria as it transpired they were to return and pick up where they left off.  We exchanged emails so who knows we may be seeing them again.  In any event we wished them  a bon voyage!

We moved on the following day to Nouakchott, the capital of Mauritania where we were to spend several days awaiting visas for our Australian and Kiwi members of the group.

First view of  Nouakchott the capital
Noukachott was vast...a crazy place where anything went, that said we found it to be hassle free.  Those vendors that did approach you if waved off didn't continue to bother you, a stark contrast to Morocco.  People were friendly and helpful and didn't look for tips or money which was a pleasant surprise.   We tried different places to eat each night and enjoyed a happy hour watching the locals wandering by and interacting with them. We left a tip for a waiter and we were a fair way down the street when he chased after us to give us our money we had left thinking we had left it in error...I was impressed but there was a refreshing change in attitude. 

We returned to the same cafe for our last night to try out the Shishas...I don't smoke so I didn't find it particularly enjoyable and just made me cough...although the group were funny taking turns.  An interesting pastime sitting there with a large glass vessle with water in it and hot charcoal of varying flavours glowing away.  Every so often the waiter would appear and give us some more coals.  I decided to stick to the rather nice milkshakes instead and laugh at the rest of the group.

We managed to buy a mosquito net after one night as I heard my first mossie whizzing past my ear in the night. The helpful owner of the Auberge popped out and obtained a mossie net for me gladly. I would liked to have spent more time in Mauritania as I felt it may have had more to offer but alas after three days we moved on.

Camels in Nouakchott

After another night of bush camping in the desert.  This time under our newly acquired mossie net we slept under a clear sky under the stars in the desert.  An amazing experience if you can do it.  However, it does get extremely cold but if you are well wrapped up then it's very enjoyable.  The next day we were up and packed ready to go on our way to the border we were to pass through a nature reserve and at times at 45 degree angle, traversing these roads was akin to being locked in a sweetie tin and being shaken up.  The roads were non existent and as we bumped along we tried to see the various animals in the reserve and take photographs. It was a shame we were not allowed time to get off except for a toilet stop and have a look around but it was really being used as a route to the border away from the main road.

Flamingoes at Mauritanian national park

Birds in flight at Nationaal Park

Once out of the National Park we were back on the main road again...bumping our way along and stopping every few miles for police checks.  Not sure what purpose these served as they never seemed to check us in the back as such and occasionally wandered around the outside of the vehicle and then let on our way.  These are not the jedi's you are looking for - move along   sprang to mind.

Eventually we reached the border between Senegal and another border crossing....

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