February 01, 2004

Scary Border

Africa Blog
And so it was, that the day had arrived when I was to cross from Mauritania to Senegal. Fearing the hassle of money changers at the border, I had wisely equipped myself with some Senegalese currency (African Franc or CFA), so I could I make a swift getaway once I was on the Senegalese side.
The day started on the wrong foot, by the old codger of a taxi driver taking me to the wrong garage. Another taxi ride later I was at Garage Rosso, and due to previous extreme discomfort, I paid for 2 places, so I could have the front seat all to myself. I felt like a king. Well, no I didn't really, more like a 'normal person in the front seat of a car', which is quite an unusual feeling in Mauritania.
3 hours later, I arrived at the border, and was immediately set upon by a gang of touts offering to change money, and help me across the border. 'No thanks', I said, and headed for the entrance to the crossing. The policeman at the gate then informed me that the border was closed for lunch. 'Borders don't eat lunch', I said, or perhaps it came out more like an enquiry as to when 'lunch' ended. '3pm', he said.
It was 2pm, and the touts had come back saying that they could get me across anyway. Feeling a growing sense of just wanting to be the hell out of there, I gave one of them about 4 quid, and off we went. The policeman waved us straight through, and the tout disappeared into a building with my passport. 5 minutes later, he was back, and I had been stamped out of Mauritania. So far, so good.
The next part was the scary part, seeing as the Senegal River was between me and Senegal, and no, of course not, there is no bridge. I found myself on a decrepid wooden row boat, praying that it would make it across. 'No problem', said the tout, 'This very good boat'.
We thankfully arrived safely, and now had to deal with Senegalese immigration. 'They are also closed', the tout said, 'We need money for them'. Wishing I had never embarked on this 'during lunch' crossing, I gave him another 3 quid. 10 minutes later, he was back, and I was officially in Senegal. Both sides of the river were swarming with people who seemed to come and go as they please. I noticed that I could have easily just walked into Senegal without anyone checking my passport. I imagined though, that doing so might present problems at a later date.
By this time, another tout had found me, and was trying to get me on his minibus to St. Louis, my final destination. As he was quoting me absurdly high prices, the original tout was now asking me for his commission. I declared that he had already been paid, and as he started to kick up a fuss, the new tout gave him a quid, and said 'No problem'. The first tout disappeared, and I am left trying to explain to the new tout, that I don't want his minibus. He gets all pissed off, and demands the quid that he gave the other tout. I tell him that I didn't ask him to give anything to the other tout, and he should go and get his money back himself. He then started shouting at me, saying he would 'get me', and, 'this is not your country'. I'm starting to get quite stressed now, and thankfully the original tout appeared again, and I persuaded him to give the angry tout his quid back.
So, I'm finally almost out of this mess, and knowing that the Peugot Taxi to St. Louis is less than two quid, I gave the original tout 2 quid, and he found the taxi for me.
Just before I head off the tout bizzarely wants to swap email addresses. Finally 2 hours later I have arrived in St. Louis, and the scary border day is over at last.

Posted by paul at February 1, 2004 05:44 PM


How exactly did you manage to persuade the original tout to give that quid back? I would imagine that would be nearly impossible and likely to lead to violence or at least the threat of it.

Posted by: Kev at February 1, 2004 06:03 PM

I think the original tout had already made money, and so was willing to give back the money to avoid a scene. He seemed more professional than the other tout, who he described as a 'crazy man'.

Posted by: Angry Beaton at February 1, 2004 06:09 PM