Dec 19 2009

photo’s in posts…

We’ve had to alter the way we upload our pics. The photo’s are now included in the posts however you’ll need to actually click on the post  heading to view the pics within the post as a single album can only be loaded on the post preview page. So to view the pics of Mauritania click on Mauritania under Categories on the right then click on the post header, diary 2009-11-30 to 2009-12-08 and the pics will be below the text…

Chat soon..


Dec 19 2009

Morocco – diary 2009-11-19 to 2009-11-29

We forgot to upload this before we did the Mauritania diary. We haven’t gone back o Morocco!

2009-11-19 to 2009-11-22

Kirk and I arrived in Marrakech as very weary travellers but were soon invigorated by the prospects of our new campsite. We had stumbled upon an oasis in Marrakech and all for as little as Dh70 a night (7 Euro). It had a beautiful swimming pool, sun loungers, a swanky bar/restaurant and free wifi. We were in our elements and just what we needed after the hike up Toubkal. We were planning on staying a good few days. We had admin to sort out and we were also awaiting the arrival of Mike, Julie, Alistar and Catherine as they were flying in on the 22nd.

We were not really interested in visiting the Marrakech sites just yet but more interested in catching up on laundry, visiting the local Toyota dealer and catching some rays on the sun loungers. Kirk set off to Toyota and booked his car in for an oil change. It was just too cheap an offer to refuse. They charged DH550 (€55) to change the oil and that included new oil. Kirk had done some shopping around and the oil alone cost DH520 (€52) so it was a real bargain. Better still; when it came to paying they would not accept credit cards even after they had said they did accept credit cards the previous day. Kirk being Kirk didn’t give in and managed to get away with only paying DH400 (€40) for the lot!

I on the other hand had had a much more relaxing afternoon on the loungers reading a print out from the Votespore guys who did an Africa Overland trip from Casablanca to Cape Town.

The next morning was Medina day. We had read so much about the infamous Marrakech medina and Djemaa-El-Fna that we were now refuelled and ready to take on the haggling salesmen. We caught a taxi into the town centre with our new friend, Henning, a lovely and interesting German guy who had had some car trouble in Agadir and was awaiting repairs. We were dropped off right outside the Djemaa-El-Fna and Henning went off to collect his part and go to the Mercedes repair shop to sort his vehicle out. The mosque is a spectacular sight in Marrakech. Its minaret towers above al the other buildings and acted as a good landmark and navigation needle when lost in the medina. Once we had taken a few photos of the mosque we headed to the medina. In order to get to the medina you walk through the Djemaa-El-Fna which is a completely different setting during the day than at night. I was clutching onto Kirk’s arm because the cobras and adders were too close for comfort. I cannot stand the sight of snakes on a piece of paper let alone in the flesh so you can imagine my horror when I saw the snake charmers placing the snakes around an unaware tourist’s neck when they walked by. I would have freaked if they had come within 10 meters of me so we stuck to the perimeter of the square and carefully navigated our way to one of the many range juice stalls where we enjoyed a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice.

We then submerged ourselves into the medina. The Marrakesh Medina is geared more towards tourists than the Fez Medina. It was far more colourful and felt as though we were shopping in a large flea market. The atmosphere was still delightful the salesmen tried their hardest to get our attention to show us their wares. Again, I could have shopped for Africa. My wish list for Moroccan shopping has increased ten fold and I highly recommend a shopping trip to Marrakesh. We browsed around and stumbled upon a culinary treat of slow roasted lamb. We hadn’t had breakfast so were feeling rather peckish and decided to sample one of these snacks. We paid for the lamb in weight and bought a round of bread. They cut the bread open and stuffed it with the lamb. It was delicious and did not last very long. We continued to roam around the medina until we got a text from Henning. We had planned to meet up with him once he had sorted his admin out. We navigated our way to a café where he was sitting and enjoyed a couple of beverages whilst we people watched and chilled out before the afternoon session. We went walkabout again and found our way to the artisan section where you see the craftsmen hard at work preparing their wares for sale. It is quite spectacular to see the tailors hard at work and how quickly their nimble hands work. Henning had been to a silver salesman 2 days previously and had struck a bargain so we were eager to try our luck. After copious amounts of mint tea, serious amounts of haggling and Kirk being called a Berber man on many occasions (renowned for their haggling abilities) the salesman eventually gave in and shook on the deal. We did not leave disappointed! I managed to scoop a classic red granite stoned pendant set in silver with a necklace for a mere DH190 (€19)! This whole haggling process took us just under 2 hours so by that stage we were all starving. We mad our way back to the café that we had been to earlier and sat on the terrace that overlooked the Djemaa-El-Fna. It had come alive with food stands and table and chairs. The smells filling the night air were fantastic. They food vendors had plenty to offer in the means of harira soup, calamari, lamb, brochette…the list is endless. The Marrakech medina did certainly not disappoint and I will most certainly be going back there at some stage in my life.

2009-11-22 to 2009-11-25

The time had come to leave lovely Marrakech and head towards the coast again. Julie, Mike, Alistar and Catherine had arrived safely and we had planned to meet them on the road to Agidir. We set off in convoy after lunchtime and drove the 200km towards Agidir. En-route we had the opportunity to witness some of the worst driving possible. There were a few close calls where taxis would attempt to overtake a series of 6 cars and not consider the oncoming traffic. Only when they saw the oncoming lorry did they attempt to push their way into the right hand lane and cause everyone a lot of stress and worry! Luckily we arrived safely in Taghazout and made ourselves comfortable in the apartment. We went out for dinner and again were impressed by the Moroccan cuisine. The Calamari tagine was superb as well as the beef and date tagine.

We awoke to another glorious day in Morocco. The weather has most certainly not disappointed us. The boys went off to do their thing on the surfboards and the girls and Kirk had a slower start to the morning before we set off in Mvubu to find the surfing crew. They did not seem to have found any waves and were heading back to the apartment to surf off the point there. We followed and enjoyed the entertainment as we watched them fling themselves off the rocks into the sea and surf the waves.

That evening Kirk and I had arranged to do a fish braai (BBQ). We had been to the supermarket that afternoon and hung around for the delivery of fresh fish. When it arrived the fishmonger brought out the most gorgeous stump nose that ranged between 2.5 to 5kgs. We were so excited and though we were going to have the most unbelievable feast until they told us the price…Dh190 (€19) a kilogram – a bit out of our budget! This however did not deter the buyer for the royal palace. He wanted 20kgs! We settled for a cheaper similar looking fish but were not let down by freshness or flavour. We visited the spice section and bought an array of traditional spices for the fish dinner as well as a chicken dish we were going to cook the following evening. When we returned the gin and tonics had been flowing so Kirk and I had some catching up to do. We prepared everything that needed to be done and then sat back and let the braai do it all. The food was absolutely delicious and one of the most memorable meals we have had!

The following morning we all woke up feeling rather jaded! Far too many beers and G&Ts. We managed to get our acts together and again made our way to the beach. The waves seemed to be getting smaller and smaller but this did not deter the surfers amongst us. A relaxing day was had by all. Kirk and I prepared another Moroccan dish that evening – chicken tagine and cous cous. It went down very well. Kirk was the only brave one amongst us who tucked into the beers again. The rest of us were wise enough to stick to the soft drinks! Kirk things we were just soft!

The time had come for Kirk and me to say our farewells. We had 1600km to cover in 5 days due to the car insurance expiring and my visa coming to an end. We tackled the long road south and spent our first night in a small village called Sidi Ifni. It was very basic but all we needed to rest our heads for the night. The trip down was spectacular. Coves and cliffs dropped sheer into the turquoise Atlantic Ocean. This is most certainly a surfers’ paradise. As we entered Sidi Ifni there was an eerie sea mist that covered most of the village. This mist is renowned for sometimes spreading 30 kilometres inland.

2009-11-26 to 2009-11-29

After a good rest we headed off early to beat away the relentless kilometres that stood before us. Tan Tan – the gateway to the Western Sahara – was our destination for the day. We were not expecting the roads to be so good and so quiet so we actually managed to get further than that and spent the night 35kms before Laayoune. The campsite was unique as it was set on the southern edge of a salt depression. It had a calcified waterfall with stalactites and a small trickle of water. The landscape was breathtakingly beautiful and there wasn’t a sound to be heard.

Another day of driving awaited us. We planned to drive all the way to Dakhla, one of the last big towns before we headed into Mauritania. The long straight road took us through a vast expanse of dry stony desert. It sometimes veered inland where we passed some huge salt pans and then back to the coastline where we saw the beautiful ocean. Some of the beaches were exquisite with long miles of white sand.

As we got to the Dakhla junction we were stopped again at an official check point. This was one of the many checkpoints we had gone through since entering Western Sahara. We were anticipating some awkwardness from these officials but we did not have a single problem. They were always polite and friendly. I suppose it helps to be organised and have the required fische document when they ask for it. Along the route we were only asked for a cardeau by one official. He got nothing but a smile!

Not one of the guidebooks that we had read prepared us for the beauty that Dakhla had to offer. The approach was simply stunning! The peninsular stretches south which allows for stretches of water and sand to meet. It was paradise! The water was a clear colour of blue and the sand was sun bleached white. Dakhla is also renowned for its wind so there were some entrepreneurs who had set up kit boarding schools and campsites. It really was a welcoming drive and even better to know that we were going to spend a day or two relaxing in this paradise. We stayed at a campsite a little bit closer to the town but the water was still crystal clear and the sand still bleached white. We had planned to have an early night; as we had covered quite a substantial amount of mileage – the most we had ever driven on the trip; only to be woken at 2am by a rowdy group of unruly Spanish humanitarians. They arrived in a convoy of several trucks and 4×4’s and wanted all to know they had arrived. They were honking their horns and shouting at the top of their lungs. Kirk and I were aghast at their inconsideration and selfishness. They did not stop any time soon so Kirk took it upon himself to hush them by shouting out of the tent. He managed to get their attention and they eventually got the hint. We also complained to the campsite ‘guardian’ who was not too impressed with our complaints. I think the copious amounts of alcohol that he had consumed were impeding his judgement!

The following morning we got an apology from the guardian and a free night of camping. The ‘humanitarians’ did not offer an apology to anyone and were on the road by 11am. We were happy to see the back of them and were hoping that they would cross the border at least a day and night before us as we really did not want to encounter them again. The weather again was beautiful. The sun was out, the sky was blue and the beach was awaiting us. We strolled down the white beach and found a quiet cove where we swam and relaxed in the sun. The rest of the day was spent looking at maps, reading up about Mauritania and speaking to other travellers and finding out about their experiences. That evening I cooked a delicious meal of chicken and cous cous. All of the flavours were typical Moroccan spices bought from the supermarket. The last Moroccan supper for the last night in Morocco.

Morocco has been a great introduction to Africa. In some places like Marrakech things work. They have good services, the infrastructure is excellent and the buildings are impressive, however, whenever you move away from the big cities the services seem to die. The refuse becomes a huge problem and the sanitation becomes almost non existent.

It has been a Geographers dream travelling through Morocco. There was evidence of physical, human and environmental geography all around me and I am slowly building on my teaching resources.

2009-11-29

Today we crossed the Tropic of Cancer! We left as early as possible to get a head start at the border. The previous evening we had discussed the border crossing with Thomas, a Swiss guy who is building a house in Senegal and who frequently makes the crossing, and he had said that we may need to spend the night at the border depending on how busy it is. We decided to have an early start as we really didn’t want to have to sleep at the border in no-mans-land. The drive down the last stretch of Western Sahara was dry and barren. We did cross the Tropic of Cancer as I said before which was probably the highlight of the day! We stopped for the mandatory photo and were on our way again. Along the route we passed a couple of signs warning people and motorists of the danger of mines that still lurk in the surrounding terrain. It is a wonder that the free range camels and goats have not set any off. Perhaps they have a sixth sense that allows them to detect these mines and avoid standing on them. We covered the last 300kms from Dakhla to the border in good time. We filled up with diesel at the last petrol station because at DH5.5 (E0.55) a litre it is just too good a deal to resist.

We started border procedures and were pleasantly surprised that the whole process took a mere 45 minutes! We were through into no-mans-land and made sure to stay on the most used track as again there is a danger of mines. We arrived safely and made our way through the formalities. We were beckoned to hand in our passports at the ‘bureau’ and told to wait outside.  Minutes of sweltering heat later Kirk was called into the office and told to close the door, I was to wait outside. After a couple of minutes Kirk emerged with both passports in hand. The ‘officials’ had requested a cardeau and Kirk had acted ignorant. He had a DH20 note in his pocket and offered them that but they were only interested in Euro. They actually wrote €10 on a piece of paper and Kirk politely refused them. He asked them how they would feel, when they go to watch the Football World Cup in South Africa, if they were asked for a cardeau when they got to the airport. This was received with blank stares and Kirk was told to go. So, to date we still have not had to pay any bribes!!!

We were in a new country and it was clearly evident that Mauritania is one of Africa’s poorest countries. It is such a harsh environment with very little water and vegetation. One thing I can say is that the road to Nouadhibou is fantastic – a perfectly tarred strip of road that allowed us to drive at a good speed and cover the 100kms in no time.

We arrived in the fishing town of Nouadhibou and were astounded at the difference between Morocco and Mauritania. Litter is strewn everywhere, there does not seem to be any formalities in town planning, goats run free on the side of the road and eat the rubbish, there are no street signs anywhere. This was Africa at its best! We found a good campsite/auberge called Camping Abba. Kirk managed to negotiate a good price for the 2 of us and we have since discovered that camping in Mauritania is far more expensive than Morocco. We were in no mood to cook and were absolutely starving as we had not stopped for lunch. We walked the streets of Nouadhibou and decided to have inner at a patisserie called Restaurant-Patisserie Pleine Lune. It was delightful. We walked in to see at least 20 locals sitting down to watch the premiereship league football match. We couldn’t see who was playing as the text on the TV screen was in Arabic. The atmosphere was lovely and we made ourselves comfortable and ordered a whole chicken with frites and salad. It was cooked with an African twist and was delicious. We managed to somehow devour the entire chicken as well as have space for a coffee afterwards. Bellies full and happy travellers we headed back to camp where we met MC – the campsite guardian. He could converse in English and we chatted to him about what to do in Nouadhibou – the answer – not an awful lot! He did however tell us about a Spanish group of ‘humanitarians’ that arrived the previous night at 2am in a similar fashion to that described in Dakhla. We could not believe what we were hearing. MC had said that they had woken up all the locals as they were honking their horns and shouting in a gregarious fashion. We were pleased that we had missed them and knew that they would be at least one day ahead of us! We went to bed to the sound of the African drum beat.

[book id=’11’ /]


Dec 14 2009

Mauritania – diary 2009-11-30 to 2009-12-08

2009-11-30

We woke up to some bad news this morning. The campsite guardian had heard over the news that 3 Spanish Aid workers had been take hostage along the Nouadhibou – Nouakchott road at 8:30pm the previous evening. They had been driving at the back of the convoy when gunmen had taken them hostage. We didn’t know if it was a ploy to get us to hire a guide so we took it with a pinch of salt. We headed to the Parc National Du Banc D’Arguin office to purchase a permit as that was where we had planned to head over the next 2 days. When at the office Kirk asked the head honcho if the news about the Spanish Aid workers was true and he confirmed. We now needed to be a little vigilant although we were not too concerned because there had been numerous Police and Gendarmerie check points the previous day so we were certain that the checks would be more vigorous and thorough and that they would be looking out for the tourist’s best interest. We headed south and encountered no problems. The drive itself was pretty mundane. Mauritania is a vast area of desert and not much more to see. We were hoping that that would change as we headed into the Parc National Du Banc D’Arguin but alas it didn’t – still nothing but dunes, camels and the odd shrub. This is true Sahara landscape and a real marvel. We headed to the coastal fishing village of Iwik where we were to spend a night camping in the National Park. The waters edge had a calming essence about it. There was a little bit of birdlife but not much more. The occasional fishing lanche made its way back to the shore but part from that we were just happy to enjoy the serenity of the wild Sahara.

We made dinner, enjoyed a cold shower and went to sleep only to be awoken by the howling wind later in the night. It was relentless and continued for the rest of the night.

 2009-12-01

 Breakfast was enjoyed looking out over the water watching the lanches set sail into the Atlantic Ocean for their daily catch. Anything touristy in Mauritania is expensive so we decided that we had had enough of the National Park/desert and headed out back to the road to Nouakchott. We drove along some time-consuming pistes and really put Mvubu to the test. Both Kirk and I are confident that we will almost certainly be able to get out of any mess with the powerful engine of Mvubu! We eventually emerged out of the park and still had over 200kms to drive before reaching our resting place for the evening. The drive into Nouakchott was interesting. For a capital city it sure resembles nothing of the sort. There were goats everywhere. We saw one goat munching on a long piece of plastic. Kirk asked how they still managed to poo out little pellets when they ate indigestible things like plastic. I did not have the answer! We followed the GPS to a beach campsite apparently favoured by overlanders but when we arrived there was no-one to be seen, eventually someone emerged from one of the derelict buildings and wanted to charge us an arm and a leg to camp. We could have stayed in an auberge for less and that is exactly what we planned to do. We made our way to Auberge Menara and were pleasantly surprised to see that the entire parking courtyard was filled with overlanders. We too pitched our tent and made ourselves comfortable in the facilities. We met a British couple who had been travelling through West Africa for 3 months and headed out to get some dinner with them. We found a cheap ‘take away’ place that specialised in schwarmas and African samosas. Dinner was great as we again had skipped lunch and were starving!

 2009-12-02

 Nothing was really grabbing us in Nouakchott and we were in 2 minds as in whether to head to Senegal and skip Mauritania or if we should persevere and see the sights in the Adrar region. Kirk has done all of the driving and feels the need to chill a bit. We are also a little bit tired of the desert for now and need some refreshing vegetation to refuel our souls. We decided to persevere and headed into the Adrar region. Atar was a long barren 400kms from Nouakchott but at least the road was good. We managed to get by listening to the end of Bill Bryson’s ‘In a Sunburnt Country’ and the beginning of Wilbur Smith’s ‘River God’. The landscape did change along the way and it got a little more interesting. Atar is situated on a plateau and is surrounded by many oasis villages. The drive here was exhausting but we are excited about the prospects of chilling out at one of these palmaries and enjoying the sights. We spent the night at Auberge Bab Sahara and enjoyed the company of other fellow travellers. I cooked putanesca style pasta for dinner which was received well. We discussed the possible route that we would follow in the next few days and decided that it was worth giving Chinguetti a visit and following a piste route from there to see a crater, gorge and eventually end off at the oasis village of Tergit.

 2009-12-03

 It is always a pleasing feeling to be woken up by a rooster! At least this rooster had it right, not too early and not too late. Kirk and I had to do some rearranging in the car before we could set off because we had agreed to take give Steven (a traveller we had met in Rabat and who was now in Atar) a lift to Chinguitti. We managed to make ample space and were on our way. We stopped off in town to pick up some fresh bread and fruit and then headed in the direction of Chinguetti, one of the more attractive caravan towns of the Sahara. We didn’t get that far because 10 km’s up the road we were stopped at the bottom of the pass. They were doing road maintenance and the pass would only be open at 2pm. We had 2 ½ hours to kill. We hadn’t had breakfast so decided to have an early lunch and brew a pot of tea. That lasted all of 30 minutes. Kirk and I decided to take a walk to the top of one of the mountain/hills. It wasn’t the most breathtaking view but it gave us the opportunity to stretch out legs and get some much needed exercise. It is amazing what one does when they are bored. Kirk found a stick that resembled a golf stick and decided to teach the locals how to hit a stone with a stick in a golf like style. This was very amusing and the locals seemed to enjoy the interaction. The road eventually opened and we were able to ascend the pass and drive the 10km along the plateau. Chinguetti appeared from the dunes and we navigated our way to an auberge recommended by the owner of Bab Sahara. We were welcomed in by Cheik, the owner of Auberge La Rose des Stables, and shown around. Kirk and I decided to camp in the parking area and Steven took one of the rooms. Cheik offered to take a stroll with us through the village. This proved very helpful as he had a lot of knowledge about the old town and he helped to communicate with the locals who always, at any opportunity try to sell you something. The Le Ksar was very interesting. This is the oldest part of the town that once home to 20 000 people. Most of the ruins are unoccupied today as most of the 2000 residents today prefer to live in the new town. The number of residents has also decreased as they have migrated to the cities in search of work. Some do however still have a holiday home in Chinguetti and visit it in the summer. The principal attraction was the 16th century stone mosque which has been preserved and maintained through the years. There are also many ancient libraries in Le Ksar. These are more like museums and house many ancient manuscripts and old caravan items.

We decide to let Cheik cook dinner for us that evening so whilst Kirk and I rearranged the car Steven and Cheik went into town to shop for ingredients. We enjoyed the cold showers and freshened up before dinner. We sat in the communal area and drank green tea and ate lovely dried dates whilst Kirk went trough some map routes with Cheik. Dinner was cooked to perfection and consisted of chicken with vegetables. It was a delicious meal…it always tastes better when somebody else has prepared it! We enjoyed the evening and enjoyed meeting Cheik. He didn’t speak much English but it helped having Steven there as he could translate for us.

 2009-12-04

 It felt as though we had slept in an animal farm that night. We had been woken up by numerous roosters, a braying donkey and a very noisy goat kid! I suppose it beats the sound of traffic or your neighbour banging the door! We had a slow start to the morning and enjoyed one last stroll into town with Cheik before we said our goodbyes and drove off into the desert. We drove through the village and along the very wide wadi (dry sandy river bank) in search of the Zagra Mountain. It was interesting to see how the vegetation springs up in areas that have water and at one stage we drove along a plain that resembled that of a lush savannah and not the dry Sahara desert as we know it. We passed numerous shepherds with their herds of goats and camels. We were able to help a couple out as they flagged us down and asked for some water. After we had found the mountains we continued on our track to find the crater that they say is a result of a meteorite. After seeing the ‘crater’ I was not convinced of anything of the sort. It looked to be a slight depression in the landscape surrounded by some stony dunes. We had spent most of the day driving and decided to make camp in the wild. We found an outcrop of stones and rocks and decided that it was a good spot for us to sleep for the night. It was quite eerie being alone in the middle of nowhere. The only sounds were those of a hooting owl and the faint patter of a small jackal. We both slept like babies.

 2009-12-05

 The thought of a lush oasis was enticing us so we got an early start and tackled the very slow bumpy track ahead. It took hours for us to eventually reach the top of the canyon that lead down to Tergit. We were rewarded with beautiful views of the entire canyon and the promise of some more greenery around the corner. We descended into the valleys and drove into the sleepy town of Tergit. It unfortunately didn’t meet our expectations at all. Between the Rough Guide and Lonely Planet  we were promised trickling waterfalls, a hot spring which feeds two other springs and loads of people. This was not the case. We seemed to be the only ‘tourists’ and we could not find the springs. We left disappointed and headed back to Atar where we spent the night at Baba Sahara again. We splashed out and ordered steak and chips for dinner. We have a long drive tomorrow as we head back to Nouakchott and then on o Senegal. We are both really looking forward to chilling on the beach maybe doing some fishing. Mauritania has been an interesting country to visit. It has allowed me to see how people manage to survive with so little. The desert amazed me and I have thoroughly enjoyed witnessing how it manages to provide for the herds of goats and camels. It is not how I envisaged the desert to look. It has dunes and sand but they are not continuous. There are more rocks and mountains than I imagined and a lot more water than I would ever have thought. I am pleased that I have seen Mauritania but am looking forward to seeing the more lush countries of the South.

 2009-12-06

 The rooster woke us again this morning and we set off towards Nouakchott. The drive was pleasant as the sun was obscured by the clouds that had provided some relief for the past 5 days. We enjoyed the animated reading of Wilbur Smiths ‘River God’. Audio books are a godsend and can turn a dreary desert road into so much more. We arrived in Nouakchott safely and headed straight for xxx for lunch. Kirk had been dreaming about these fatayas from El-Karama since the last one and was pleased to see that they had stock and would be ready in 30 minutes. It is amazing how simple the food is yet is so tasty. We headed back to Auberge Menata and again were astounded to see that it was so full! We managed to squeeze Mvubu into a parking space and were pleased to see some familiar faces (Mohammed the Scotsman!) and to meet some new people. The first car we noticed was an old Land Drover that Kirk had seen in England. It had a Footloose 4×4 sticker on it and an Eezi-Awn tent mounted on its roof rack. We needed to do some admin in the form of washing. The desert sand gets into everything and th clothes I had been wearing for the last 3 days were filthy. It was very hot In Nouakchott and the washing dried in no time. We settled in and relaxed for a while before hitting the streets to find some money exchangers (black market) who would be able to exchange some ‘Oogs’ to CFA. We were unsuccessful and so thought it a good idea to head back to El-Karama for yet another meal. When we crossed the road we saw Noel and Reka sat at a table enjoying a Chawarma too. We joined them and found out that Noel owned the Land Drover parked in the Auberge and that they too were travelling to South Africa. Reka was from Hungary, living in London and Noel a Brit with Sri Lankan roots. It was good to have a conversation in English and immediately we struck up a rapport with these similar minded travellers.  We decided to try the falafels this time and again were not disappointed. We headed back to the Auberge to enjoy a few games of rummy. Kirk and I decided to hang around in Nouakchott for another day as we had decided to drive to the border in convoy with our new found travelling friends.

 2009-12-07

 A cart brune/brown card was our mission for the day. We asked around for car insurance offices but had no success with the locals. Reka and Noel were off to the Senegalese embassy to sort out a visa for Reka. We asked our best source of information – Mohammed – for directions to an insurer and he was helpful in directing us to one just around the corner from the auberge. We set off and managed successfully to get the necessary paperwork which would cover us for the next 3 months and included most of the countries we would be visiting in West Africa. Lunch time had long gone but we were ravenous so again asked our good friend for some ideas for lunch…we had overdone the food from El-Karama and were in need of some good tasting local cuisine. Mohammed took us to a small Buvette that specialised in a Senegalese fish dish called Thieboudienne (pronounced chey-bou-jen). A platter of this meal is quite a sight – it had carefully arranged pieces of fish, stuffed with parsley and spices, carrots, cassava and other vegetables, served on a tasty bed of rice that had been cooked in the same juices that the fish had been cooked in. It was truly the most flavoursome dish we had tasted in a long time.

With our stomachs full we headed back to the Auberge and enjoyed the coolness of the afternoon breeze. We decided to take a walk to the Senegalese embassy to collect Reka’s passport so that we could get on the road as early a possible the following morning. The evening was fun filled with the start of the UNO tournament that would run for the next 4 days.

 2009-12-08

 We said our goodbyes to all the travellers at Auberge Menata. It really is a fantastic place where many overlanders descend upon to find friendly faces and comfortable accommodation. We knew we would be seeing many faces again as 2 other vehicles were heading towards the Diama border that day as well. We still had not solved the problem of the ‘Oogs’ to CFAs and so decided to fill Mvubu with as much fuel as possible. At just under 60 Euro cents, it was still a steal! We then had to take a low exchange rate to change the remainder of the money. It is illegal to leave Mauritania with any of their currency so the Exchange Touts push their luck. CFAs are also quite difficult to get in Mauritania. Whilst waiting in the car for the money Sidi, a Mauritanian business man greeted us in perfect English and invited us into his office for tea. This was surprisingly very enjoyable as he told us stories about his adventures in Europe and his travels in South Africa. We drank the mandatory 3 cups of green tea and were on our way to the Diama border post. The drive was pleasant. The sun had not shone for one single day that we were in Mauritania – a blessing gin disguise- and the weather was cooler than it had been for the last 10 days. As we headed further south the landscape and vegetation changed slowly and when we entered the national park we were treated to some bird watching and the spotting of a bush pig and a huge monitor lizard. E descended upon the border in no time and had a fairly stress free crossing. No bribes paid, only the ridiculous ‘custom fees’, ‘community tax’ and ‘police fees’ that they demand but fail to give a receipt for. The Mauritanian side cost more than the Senegalese side for some strange reason. We paid the bridge toll (€10) and CFA2500 for the Laissez-Passser. We were officially in our 3rd African country!

We drove to Saint Louis and navigated our way to Zebrabar where we made camp for the evening. We ate at the restaurant as it was too late to cook our own food and enjoyed the first cold beer! The UNO tournament continued until midnight where we decided to call it an evening as we looked forward to the sights of the new country the following morning.

[book id=’12’ /]