Mauritania is a vast country, but due to a recent FCO advisory, much of it was off limits. Our original plan was to drive from the border crossing to the fishing village of Nouadhibou, and fly from Nouadhibou to Nouakchott, the capital. However, we had no luck with the domestic flight which was initially delayed by two days and eventually cancelled, so a last minute scramble in plans allowed us to drive the well paved route linking the two cities, and onward towards Senegal through the fantastic Diawling National Park where we spotted warthogs, a crocodile, Nile monitor lizards, and countless birds. Overall it was a rushed couple of days but we did manage to experience a little bit of Mauritania.
5 Dec: Today we cross into Mauritania! It was an early morning with 0630 breakfast and departure at 0730. The sunrise looked beautiful next to the dune and we were on the road prompt and on time. It appeared that the key for the lockers was misplaced at some point last night, as we could no longer get into any of the lockers…not good! The wait at the border took last year’s group 8 hours, so we were happy when we were whisked through the exit of Morocco in less than 2 hours! However, the unknown entity was entry into Mauritania, so we sat on the truck and waited, and waited, and eventually Nancy came back with a super friendly official who asked us to raise our hands when he called out our nationalities. Some of the guards claimed they had seen someone on one side of the truck taking photos, so they angrily demanded to see everyone’s photos and scrolled through their cameras, trying to find evidence of the illegal photo. Since no one had even attempted to take a picture, it was a bit confusing as to what the guards were upset about. After examining everyone’s cameras, they asked us to open up the coolers and grumpily left the truck, unable to find a shred of evidence of wrong doing. Welcome to Mauritania! We had a short drive to Nouadhibou, located in the Baie du Levrier. This city is built on a peninsula and is the first substantial town across the border from Morocco. We ended up pulling into the Baie du Levrier camping, which consisted of a small courtyard opposite a police station. Chris expertly pulled the truck in (it was a tight squeeze) and we set up our tents on top of each other. Robby had cook group duties so he, Luke and Mike got busy with that right away, preparing potato, carrot and cabbage soup with a fried egg on top. There were only 3 toilet/shower facilities, so there was immediately a queue. Becky decided to spend her time getting caught up on trip notes and photo backups, which took quite a while. Frans had taken some hilarious photos from yesterday’s sand dunes so she got a copy of that along with a copy of Dowley’s Morocco photos. A quick shower (cold water only) and some laundry later, we had dinner and Nancy announced to the group that our flights from Nouadhibou to Nouakchott were cancelled…gutting! She prefaced her announcement with “this is all I know” so there were few questions. There were only two power outlets so Bree and Becky shared their extenders to allow everyone the opportunity to recharge batteries. After dinner, Bree noticed that her cell phone and charge had mysteriously walked off…not cool! Whoever stole it had done so under the gaze of at least one or two members of our group, and it was a sharp reminder that we couldn’t turn our back on our gear for a second. We both crashed as it had been a long day given our early morning rise.
6 Dec: We had a slight rest this morning as breakfast was at 8 am. Robby, Luke and Mike prepared eggy bread and everyone ate up in preparation for the truck clean immediately afterwards. Lucky created an additional task “you must get one extra hour of sleep” and gave it to Becky to “pull” from the list of tasks as a practical joke, which was quite funny. With everyone’s tasks in hand, the group set about scrubbing, sweeping, wiping, washing and dusting the entire truck, giving it a once over and using up almost all of the campsite’s water in the process. Afterwards, truck duties were complete and we were free to explore Nouadhibou but we decided to relax a bit and head out after lunch (leftover potato stew). Our group consisted of Goodie and MJ, Dowley, Robby and Becky and we decided to exchange 20 Euros (1 Euro = 365 Ouguiya UM) at a nearby Western Union before backtracking on Boulevard Median towards the shipwrecks near Baie du Cansado. We first hit Nouadhibou’s fish market, where rows and rows of shark heads were laid out to dry, in addition to bit of ray and fish…very cool! The shipwrecks were OK, despite being listed as one of the highlights of the city. We sat here and took in the view and the breeze before deciding we were all a bit hungry. On our way back to Nouadhibou’s grand marche, Robby and Dowley met a nice man (Bob) from The Gambia who spoke excellent English. He was extremely friendly and just wanted to talk and made for pleasant company. No luck in finding the yummy donut holes that Nancy had found at the market earlier in the morning (1 bag for 200 UM), even though we tracked around the market twice. Once back at the campsite, we confirmed its just an early morning thing and ate some of our snacks instead. Cook group (Nancy, Marie and George) were preparing dinner already so we just sat back, talked and waited. After dinner was served (beef stew), we sat around under the tent and gossiped, before calling it a night. Katherine stayed up late with the night party people, staying up to 2 am and drinking pure gin shots and eventually earning the nickname “Chuck Master K”.
7 Dec: Breakfast consisted of “bubble and squeek”, a British term for leftover mash potatoes and cabbage…surprisingly good. We had toasted bread and nutella and filled up. Afterwards, we joined Nancy to the local market in search of fried dough balls (1 bag’s worth for 100 UM….bargain) and sauntered back to the campsite to indulge. Since we were feeling restless, we grabbed Luke and forced him to march with us down to the harbor, where we saw colorful fishing boats and were snapping away until a security guardsman forced Becky to delete all of her photos (quite arbitrary as many of the photos were of mundane things such as fish or donkeys). Feeling a bit put off, we headed back towards town and the same guardsman came to shake our hands and make sure there were no hard feelings…quite bizarre. For lunch, we decided to grab a cheap (and quick) bite to eat from a nearby restaurant but they didn’t officially open to 1 pm and even then, didn’t have our chicken sandwiches with chip (400 UM) ready until 2:30 pm, so it was quite a long wait. At 4 pm, we decided to do a pilates workout, but Bree’s computer was acting finicky, so Robby led an impromptu power flex class with MJ, Luke, Bree, Becky, Dowelly, and Mike attending. Our cold showers were quite refreshing and we relaxed until dinner (vege stir-fry that was really yum) where Nancy briefly introduced Steve, a co-owner of Oasis. After dinner, we worked a bit on the website while sipping on rum and coke, while the rest of the group watched “The Hangover” on the truck.
8 Dec: Pancakes for breakfast at 0830, yum! Since we had to meet with the Gambian lady for our 10 am fishing excursion, everyone ate in a hurry and then headed down to the harbor. Our group consisted of Sara, Sean, Matt, Lars, Marie, MJ, Goodie, Dowelly and Luke. It was an exercise in patience as we had to head over to the harbor to register and get permission to depart and return to the port. Robby and Dowelly had to take a taxi over to another official building to get the permission slip, and in the end, after almost 2 hours, were told that the officials refused to take responsibility for the safety of a bunch of tourists and had denied our fishing excursion request. Sad times! To thank our Gambian friend, Olu, we headed back to the port and bought some fish from her (bargain priced at 400 UM for a large fish). 1900 UM and 8 fish later (a few were thrown in for free) we headed back to the campsite, splitting up into two groups as Robby, Luke and Dowelly decided to wait for the fish to be gutted and de-scaled. In the meantime, although it was almost noon, Becky, MJ and Goodie decided to try to find the donut doughball lady at the market, and discovered that Bree and Lucky had beat them to it, scooping up some of the last doughballs (which they shared). Luckily, there were several other vendors that still had available balls which we picked up (200 UM for a double bag). The rest of the afternoon was spent lazing about, with a brief stop at a nearby internet café (200 UM for an hour), where we had an OK connection which froze up at times. Goodie volunteered to filet the fish, and Norma fried it up, serving it with a tomato based pasta…delicious! Over dinner, Steve broke the bad news that our onward flight to Nouakchott was cancelled yet again, but Cambell Irvine had agreed to insure us through the drive so we could, in theory, leave tomorrow morning at 7 am provided we could find George and Kendra, who were holed up in some nearby hotel somewhere. Thus commenced an infuriating search which yielded no results. Finally, when we had given up hope and were planning for the worst (another day in Nouadhibou), Chris and Frans reported that George had been found and informed of the change in plans. Hoorah! Everyone excited packed up excess junk in their tents and got ready for an early morning departure tomorrow.
9 Dec: Goodbye Nouadhibou! We happily loaded up on the truck and pulled out of the parking lot for our long drive day to Nouakchott at 7 am. It was cold in the morning (even more so since one of the flaps was left open), and everyone froze in silence for the first few hours. Refusing to press the piss buzzer, we stoically held our pee until Nancy caved at last around 10 am, calling for a brief pee stop. We gratefully emptied our bladders and reloaded on the truck, waiting for a midway gas station stop to have brunch (boiled eggs, leftover pasta and bread) topped off with icecream (300 UM each). The scenery on our drive was quite picturesque, and the road was well paved. Herds of camels could be seen in the distance, and massive sand dunes surrounded us as far as the eye could see. By 3:30 pm, we pulled into Nouakchott, and Becky found out (after pitching her tent) that she had to go shopping with her cook group. Rushing around the market was a pain, as the fruit and vegetable section was quite difficult to find, but the clothing market was endless. After wandering around for about 20 minutes, we finally found some vegetable stands and filled up our shopping bags with potatoes, tomatoes, carrots, cabbage, peppers, and cabbage (5500 UM). Bread was 100 UM for a baguette, and 30 eggs cost us 1300 UM. We loaded up and headed back to camp to offload the groceries before heading back downtown to take some photos (the clothing market was particularly picturesque) and eat a delicious “big burger” at the corner burger joint “Ali Baba” across from our campsite, Auberge Camping Nomades. Nancy informed us that tomorrow morning we’d be having a long drive day to cross the border to Senegal, so today was our last day in Mauritania.
10 Dec: After a breakfast of toast and beans, we were on the road by 8 am, bidding Steve (Oasis owner) goodbye as he was headed back to the UK for an onward flight to New Zealand. The scenery leaving Nouakchott was cool, with lots of herders and their goats by the side of the road. Since there were a lot of green-clad security guardsmen lining the streets, we were cautious about taking photos. Our plan today was to drive to Senegal via the Diama dam road bridge, passing through the Diawling National Park in the process. We lunched at the beginning of the park, attracting some curious locals in the process. The people here weren’t as reluctant to pose for photos as their counterparts elsewhere in Mauritania, and the scenery was fantastic. We saw lots of long-horned bulls and cows, and a large lake which facilitated irrigation channels and lush greenery, quite a change in scenery from Nouakchott and Nouadhibou. The wildlife was quite impressive, and we spotted warthogs (they looked yummy!), herons, black storks, flamingos, two Nile monitor lizards, and a crocodile (spotted by Lucky). The truck died twice, and Chris eventually discovered that the dirty fuel purchased at the last gas station had collected in the fuel filter and needed to be replaced. So we entertained ourselves by spelling out “Oasis Overland Trans Africa 2010” with our bodies, resulting in some cool photos. Since the road leading through Diawling Park was a dirt track, the going was slow but we eventually reached Diama where the park’s guards charged us an entry fee (1000 UM per person which was negotiated down by Nancy and Chris). We set up our campsite nearby but after erecting tents and prepping dinner, a local came by to talk to Nancy. He was adamant that we were not allowed to bush camp off the road, stating that security was an issue, specifically Al Qaeda. That resulted in us having to quickly tear down and move out, backtracking to the park center. One of their representatives led us to a nearby campsite, but their arch entrance was too low for Nala to fit under, so Chris and Nancy made the call to make a late night dash across the border into Senegal. What a day! Dinner ended up consisting of crackers and peanut butter and happily, the border crossing was as smooth as could possibly be, taking all of 30 minutes to depart Mauritania and 40 minutes to enter Senegal.