Day 139: The Mauritania Disaster

Day 139: The Mauritania Disaster

19.05.09:

Yawning and creaking, I staggered off the bus. It was still dark in Dahkla. After a particularly weird conversation involving the local police and a desert taxi driver (implying I would have to wait three days for a shared taxi to the border), I parted with 130 Euro [CHINNNNG! See those gold rings fly!] to hire all six places in the desert taxi.

It’s four hours drive to the border, so I kinda justified the cost – there is no real public transport, it’s shared taxi or nothing, and if you ain’t got nobody to share…

Only (I found out later) I think the cop meant that I would have to wait three hours, not three days. Heures and Jours aside, it was a looooooong trip. Then I had to wait in the baking sun OF THE SAHARA DESERT NO LESS for an hour to get my stamp out (oooooh, they love taking their merry time about things, don’t they, border guards?). There is 3km of MINED no-mans land between the two borders (keep to the track!) and so I hitched a lift in an oil truck through the barren, littered track that joins the two countries (who haven’t seen eye-to-eye since Morocco’s great land grab of 1975) – we CRAWLED at 4kph.

Finally… dirty, sweating and tired… I get to the Mauritanian border.

In my 2006 edition of Lonely Planet West Africa it clearly states… you can get your visa on the border.

In my 2007 edition of Lonely Planet Africa it clearly states… you can get your visa on the border.

I checked this on the internet last November, before I left… you can get your visa on the border.

Visa, s’il vous plaît…

No. Not here. Rabat.

WHAT? The desert SHOOK from the barrage of expletives that issued forth.

Rabat is 2000 kilometres away.

A shrug…”the rules have changed. Here are all the people I have turned back…” – a list of perhaps a hundred or so names, passport numbers. Smug. Ha ha silly westerners cannot break into Africa.

I try to bribe him, but he’s not shiftin’.

Sorry, Mauritania, did I miss something here? Let’s get this straight… YOU ARE ONE OF THE POOREST COUNTRIES IN THE WORLD. Over 90% of your population live on less than a dollar a day. I (thank my lucky stars) come from the FIFTH richest. I have a wad of dollars in my pocket ready to spend on your transport, your food and your accommodation – AND YOU WON’T LET ME IN. Instead, that money is going to be spent in MOROCCO – you know, those ne’erdowells that ‘STOLE’ Western Sahara from you.

Africa already reminds me of the joke about the man who asks God if he can win the lottery; God agrees, but after three weeks go by without a win, the man asks, what gives? God suggests that it might help if the man went out and bought a ticket.

God damn you, Mauritania. God damn you to hell.

I turned around and headed back over no-man’s-land. This is the ONLY viable overland route into Sub-Saharan Africa. I had no choice.

I got a shared taxi back to Dakhla. I had to share the front seat with this guy who had NO volume control and an amazingly irritating Peter Lorre-like voice. Christ, I have never wanted to throw somebody out of a speeding car so much in my life. I actually looked at the handle a couple of times to see if I could make it look like an accident.

I tried to close my eyes and go to sleep, but this utter —- kept on tapping my shoulder EVERY FIVE MINUTES to show me some utter CRAP animation / music video / MENU(!) on his mobile phone. Oh man, you have NO idea how much I wanted to throw that damn thing out of the window (and the phone). On top of that, he kept getting a picture of himself out of his pocket, pointing at the picture and then pointing at himself, like I was meant to be impressed by this new-fangled technology.

I had to put up with FOUR HOURS of this jerk.

Then he sat there with the crappy tinny distorted phone speaker blearing RIGHT NEXT TO MY EAR that utter bobbins Middle Eastern music that sounds like a cartoon character being thrown down a VERY deep well.

AIIIIIEEEEE-AIIIIIIIEEEE-AIIIIIIIEEEEE
AIIIIIEEEEE-AIIIIIIIEEEE-AIIIIIIIEEEEE
AIIIIIEEEEE-AIIIIIIIEEEE-AIIIIIIIEEEEE
AIIIIIEEEEE-AIIIIIIIEEEE-AIIIIIIIEEEEE
AIIIIIEEEEE-AIIIIIIIEEEE-AIIIIIIIEEEEE
AIIIIIEEEEE-AIIIIIIIEEEE-AIIIIIIIEEEEE
AIIIIIEEEEE-AIIIIIIIEEEE-AIIIIIIIEEEEE
AIIIIIEEEEE-AIIIIIIIEEEE-AIIIIIIIEEEEE
AIIIIIEEEEE-AIIIIIIIEEEE-AIIIIIIIEEEEE

etc. Ad Nauseum ad infinitum.

By the time I got to Dakhla I was ready to kill, kill and kill again. And I’m a lover, not a fighter.

And just to add injury to insult, the tooth filling that I had done a few days ago in Barcelona FELL OUT.

Any lesser mortal would have given up at this point. But I realised what I needed was a POWER-UP KEBAB…

A tasty shawarma and a coke increased my hit-points to 125 and I started to see the funny side.

Is this the best Africa can throw at me? Ha! Even if it takes me the rest of the year, I’m going to crack this nut, no matter how many sledgehammers I get through. Going back to Rabat is just like having to start again on level 1-1.

I grew up in a time in which you could not save your computer games. I’m used to this kind of nonsense.

After some faffing about with photocopies of my passport (so everyone on the bus didn’t have to wait for fifteen minutes at every police checkpoint while they took down my details), I hopped on the bus back to Agadir. It would be 2 days before I arrived in Rabat.

Here’s the video round-up of the last seven days:



Day 144: Er, Why Are You Here?

Day 144: Er, Why Are You Here?

24.05.09:

I stayed in Auberge Du Sahara camping in Dahkla and would thoroughly recommend it. It only cost about a fiver and they even made me dinner. In the morning, twas another bit of shared taxi malarkey to the border. There I met Michel, a French guy heading to Dakar in his van. He took me the killer 3km over no-mans land, and there we waited.

And waited.

And waited.

The Mauritanian Border

The Mauritanian Border

We had arrived at the border around 11am. By 4pm we had finally got our passports stamped into Maur-f-ing-tania. Seriously. Was the border very busy? Was it hell. I’ve seen more people at a pro-paedophile rally in a sink estate in Croydon.

There is an old Moroccan proverb, A guest is a gift from God.

I think there’s also a Mauritanian proverb. A guest is about as wanted as blood in your stool.

Can I recommend you NEVER go to Mauritania? Seriously. 0/10.

The worst of it is, Michel didn’t have a visa.

THEY CHANGED THE RULES AGAIN.

You can now GET A VISA ON THE GOD-DAMN BORDER!!!!!!!

I screamed, but the desert didn’t seem to care.

But every cloud and all that jazz, I did get to see the Iron Ore train made famous by Michael Palin in ‘Sahara’…

The Iron Ore Train - Mauritania

The Iron Ore Train

…which was pretty cool.  It’s over 4km long, making it the longest train in the world!!

Iron Ore Train

Thomas And The Fat Controller

Michel took me as far as the bus ‘station’ (the side of the road) and I got on the coach to Nouakchott, the capital of this inhospitable land. The road was good and the desert scenery was nice.

Desert Road

Desert Road

That night, I stayed in a really good camp site/youth hostel on the edge of town and in the morning headed over to get a ‘sept place‘ (a shared taxi) for the border with Senegal.



Day 145: It’s Gonna Cost Ya…

Day 145: It’s Gonna Cost Ya…

25.05.09:

And so my journey took me to the most expensive country so far. More expensive than Japan, Norway and London PUT TOGETHER. I am talking, of course(?), about Senegal.

The Sept-Place taxi that took me to the border (as any who half a brain cell should be able to work out) is designed to take seven passengers.

Mine took FOURTEEN.

After a good few hours of that (and the fact we stopped every few seconds to pay some corrupt policeman a bribe), I was ready to kill, kill and kill again, but now I had the border to negotiate.

Sorry mate, it’s closed until 3pm. What?

Yeah, closed. What for? Lunch?

I looked at my watch. 12:15pm.

A calculation in my head – if I wait until 3, I’ll get into Dakar about 11 at night.

Dakar, first time, by myself, at 11pm. Hmm…

Okay, how much will it be to go through now?

Twenty dollars.

Is my ass worth twenty dollars? Of course it is. I got let through the gate. With the money wedged into my passport, I got my stamp out.

Good riddance Mauritania, you dreadful little place. Never going back there.

But then I had to pay some swine to row me over the Senegal River. Only the five Euros that I gave him wasn’t enough for his five minutes of hard work – his station as a toothless rower of chaps across a tiny river had somehow led him to believe that he was a Lawyer or Top Surgeon who deserved more than 60 Euros per hour, 480 Euros per day, 124,800 Euros a year…

The Senegal River

Don't Forget To Pay The Ferryman...

So he followed me around for the next half-hour blabbing in some language that I (thankfully) didn’t speak.

Ah, but now I have to get into Senegal, the most expensive country on EarthTM . I was greeted on the far shore by a turd or several, which I negotiated with aplomb, I then went to talk to the border guard, who had better things to do (like watch the telly).

You want to come in? Wait until 3pm. I bribe. Twenty bucks? Nah. Forty? Nah. FIFTY? Nope. Try Sixty.

Yep, that’s how much the guard wanted. More than a day’s wages in the West. Oh, you poor impoverished Africans with your AIDS and your malaria and your turds all over the ground, I’ve found where all your money has gone! (this isn’t rocket science). Try looking in the back pockets of your officials.

It was pay up, or get to Dakar in the middle of the night.

I chose to pay, at an exchange rate that would make Mary Whitehouse swear like a docker.

But at least I’m in Senegal now!! Here’s the video of the arduous journey down here:

Squeezed into another Sept-Place, I made my way over the pot-holes and through the police bribery-points (we could call them check-points, but that makes them sound like they aren’t just there to stiff the people out of their cash). By the time I arrived in Dakar, my arse was numb, my back was killing me and my family jewels felt like somebody had put them in a pressure-cooker for several hours (which, on reflection, they had).

I rang Mentor, the contact that Lonely Planet had hooked me up with, on my new-fangled Senegalese Orange SIM card (my UK SIM cards are blocked here) and he asked if I want to stay at his place. I said yes and thanked him for his generosity. It wasn’t ‘til I got there that I found out it would be 30 Euro a night to sleep on a thin sponge and have a cold shower. Couchsurfing this is not.

Welcome to Senegal, the most expensive country on EarthTM .