January 21, 2004

In Another World

I now at last find myself here in Nouadibhou, Mauritania!
This town has no paved roads leaving in ANY direction, just tracks in the sand. It feels very different from Morocco, and there is sand blowing everywhere.
It's quite a disconcerting change, and I feel somewhat on another planet.
The journey here started straightforwardly enough, after a very crap night of sleep on a crappy mattress in the corner of a concrete box at the campsite.
We left at 8am, and drove pretty much till 2pm down a nice modern highway through some amazing desert scenery. The police checkpoints had become army checkpoints, but they were friendly and polite and pretty hassle-free.
At the exit point of Morocco, the Moroccans had obviously decided it wasn't their job to provide a road through the 8km of no-man's land between the 2 countries, and we found ourselves on a mix of sand and gravel.
There were 3 exit checks out of Morocco. Customs, Immigration, and a third one who perhaps thought he was 'Comedy'.
'You have commited an infraction', he said. We looked blank. He pointed to a battered, crooked STOP sign, about 5 feet before the van had stopped. 'The STOP sign is there', he said, 'You have passed it'.
We mumbled a brief apology. 'Are you prepared to pay a fine?', he asked. By this time I was pretending not to understand any French, and letting Dave handle the business. 'How much is the fine?', asked Dave cautiously.
'Zero Dirham!!! Ha! Ha! Ha!', the border guard was cackling with laughter.
'Ahh, you are very funny', I ventured.
Apart from this minor, hilarious diversion, leaving Morocco was pretty straightforward, even with the paperwork for Dave's van. It was speeded along by Dave handing out a few pens to each officer's 'Do you have a present for me?' request.
From this point on, there was no road, and we continued down a dusty track to reach the Mauritanian entrance post. This consisted of a chicken shed with a desk and 2 beds. A guy came out to wave us over. We wandered over to the shed, and he went in and GOT INTO BED. He mumbled something to another guy who was alseep in the other bed, and the second guy got up, said hello, and went over to the desk. Obviously it was his turn.
Formalities were at a minimum here, though I was glad I had got my visa on the way down, as Dave didn't have one, and had to pay 65 euros for one on the border. Dave must have been running short of pens, because this time he gave them tins of tuna fish. 'Is there any pork in this?', inquired the guard.
Feeling jubilant with our successful crossing, we sped away from the border post, and after dismissing the many offers of a guiding service, we promptly got stuck in the sand. Help was close at hand and we got towed out by a guy in a Landrover. He was very nice, and pointed us in the right direction, and he didn't even want any money.
It was 50km of sandy track through the desert to reach Nouadibhiu, and we only managed about 15km before we got stuck in the sand again. Starting to get mildly worried, we began digging the sand away. After 15 minutes we were still stuck in the middle of nowhere, and I was getting slightly more than mildly worried.
Next thing you know, a man in blue robes appeared from behind a sand dune. 'I am a guide', he said. Some negotiating later, Dave had struck a deal with him to show us how the hell to get to Nouadibhou, including getting us out of the sand we were stuck in.
An extremely bumpy 3 hours later, we had arrived. The guide was very good at his job, and had us out of the sand pretty quick. He then took us across country a bit to join another road, and we slowly made our way there. He took us straight to a campsite in town, and we arrived about 7pm.
I was very tired...

Posted by paul at January 21, 2004 12:21 PM