February 13th: We got going quite early today and reached the moroccan border post at around 13:30.
Apparently it is harder to piss off out of Morocco than it is to come in. It was a complete administrative dogs breakfast.
We were the first to arrive at the visa section but what they do is stamp a mass of visas' before returning them to you. So what eventually transpired is that there were about 40 people waiting for visas before the process was complete. We were one of the first to arrive and inevitably one of the last to leave.
It took about an hour to get the visas done and we were yet to deal with customs. While Pat got the papers organised I had the lovely job of dealing with security while they searched the car. Before the big boss arrived the cop asked me, "Do you have any whiskey, beer, drink?" to which I replied, " no, but I do have some really shitty salty water from Dakhla, you're free to have that if you want." You could see the dissapointment and he made a bit of a grunting noise. After the failed bribe he was going to make us pay. He started searching everywhere, even the frame for the roof-top tent, and more than once pointed at something and went "aaah, explosives!" Unfortunately Sarahs multi-vitamins were the furthest possible thing from explosives, so he left us alone in the end.
After more than two hours, and a few lunch interferences we were through the border and into no-mans land. The signs clearly state, "avoid veering off the road on pain of death." So what do we do, we go off the road and take the one road everyone else seems to be avoiding. We did beat everybody to the Mauritanian border post though by a good half hour.
We were expecting a worse system than that of the Moroccans, but really it was like they had taken their dogs breakfast and turned it into a gourmet 3 course meal. Except for the car search.
Once again the first thing I was asked was "where's my present," I replied, "unfortunately I left it unwrapped and thought it would be a faux pas to give it to you like that," I don't think he understood, and really I believe he was too busy trying to dismantle our sound system for himself to be able to listen to me. He also asked me to give him my tent, I told him it wasn't a tent, good thing he didn't check. Once through though it was a smooth ride out and an easy 50km drive to Nouadhibou where we found a comfy campsite in the centre of this dented Mercedes strewn town. If you want to organise a visa extension this places placement is perfect as it is situated right across the road from the local police station. The owner Ali seems to have some good connections as well, as he got someone to drop in and do our car insurance. The campsite is called camping Bare du Levrier and is a gem. It is also, possibly, the only place in Mauritania that has wifi access (even though I think it is somehow stolen from the neighbouring hotel). It costs 2000 Ouguiya per person per night (4 pounds).
February 14th: Got up while it was still dark in order to organise our visa extensions (across the road). We went there at
8am and only got them done around 9am because the guys were having breakfast. After that we pretty much sat on our
arses for the rest of the day. We did try go see the seals at the point but unfortunately couldn't find the road that led
there, and any offroad tracks came with signs warning us of mines. On the way back we did encounter the iron ore train
which we had to stop for. We stopped for about 5 minutes while all of its 2km length slowly loped past.
February 15th: For the past few days I have woken up at EXACTLY 06:44. Those digits are really starting to freak me out,
it's so weird. We were off at 8am and making our way to one of the only "worthwhile" sights in Mauritania, the bird park.
It took about 2 hours of driving on the main road before we encountered the piste leading to it. Once we were heading in
the right direction along the piste it took all of 10 minutes in the dunes before we got stuck, the problem was quickly rectified
though and we were off again. For the rest of the day we basically wandered aimlessly through the park until we found a
secluded campsite on the lagoon edge around late afternoon. We had to use their tents and I managed to score one for
myself, I finally got to properly stretch out. The camping cost 3000 Ouguiya per tent and a further 1000 Ouguiya to have the
locals cook us supper. The chow was decent if a bit sand laden. It consisted of spiced cous-cous (really nice) with a fresh
fried fish and onion topping. The helping was considerable and I ate really well despite being the only one out of us whose
meal seemed wrought with bones. The only thing that put me off, and I didn't mention at the time due to the tender nature
of my companions stomachs, was that while I was eating and they began preparing the next campers meal, I could've sworn
that I saw maggots crawling over the fish portions (erg - vomit). It didn't give me a moments pause though as I liberally
dished myself a second helping (screw being rude).
February 16th: We attempted to leave the bird park today via the route at the very bottom of the map. Ha, like a bad joke
someone actually mapped the beach as a route out of the park. This day can honestly be termed "the 1st misadventure of
the stooges 3". We started the route at 1pm, got 5 kms before Pat started freaking out. I honestly believed the wildlife
would be my undoing on this trip, as it actually happens it is the high expectations the captain has of his crew that will do
the job. He started to mumble something about having to stop, that we couldn't continue on the incoming tide. So, who the
hell knows why, he tells me that we need the sand ladders off the roof, and, that it needed to be done while still moving.
What this "menial" task required was that I climb out the car through the window (while going over tidal created speed
bumps) loosen the spade and ladder, and still hold on for dear life. I have never grunted, sworn, cried and screamed for
gods mercy more than I did then. For some reason as soon as I got onto the roof he decided that there was a chance to
carry on, so he put his pedal to the metal and started plowing down the beachfront. I was bouncing around like an
over-anxious stallion at a sperm milking, and managed to rip the back of my industrial denim pants I was straining so
hard. The front bonnet seemed to be getting closer to my face after each bump and eventually, petrified, and on the brink
of losing my grip and soiling myself in the process, I screamed that I was about to go overboard. In a manic rush he
launched us into the beaches sand bank, accelerated a safe distance, and came to a grinding halt. The rest of the day
was spent stranded on the beach fighting with gale force winds, attempting to keep sand out of every crevice, and waiting
for the painfully slow tide to recede.
February 17th: We didn't manage to leave the beach yesterday. Because of the wind I nearly didn't get fed either!
oh man was I worried. Eventually Sarah and I managed to whine enough that we tempted a meal. Everything was cooked in one pot. We did the rice first, then added garlic, chilli, onions, peppers, tomatoe, herbs and spices, and then finally tuna. When it was completed I'm not sure if it was just starvation, but it truly was one of the best meals yet.
I didn't want to attempt pitching my tent so decided sleeping in the car was the best bet. I don't know how Sarah sits in the passenger seat all day, but trying to get comfortable enough to sleep was utterly impossible. At one point I was literally arched over the handbreak with books stacked underneath to avoid disengaging it. That only lasted so long before my leg would go dead and I had to attempt another contortionist style position.
Then as I fell asleep at around 1am what happens, but some crazy daredevil comes bucketing along the beachfront in front of me! All I could think was jeepers! That guy must have some weighty brass balls! Before re-contorting myself.
This morning we got up at six hoping to find that the tide was out, it wasn't, so we sat. I was envisaging another evening of this and started chewing my nails. Fortunately, after watching Pat walk up and down the beach until 10am, all the while being harassed by little piccanins who would steal his markers in an attempt to get us stuck again, We grew ourselves a set of those heavy brass balls and decided it was time to tempt the contemptible.
We braced ourselves (for me all this necessitated was being in my seat) and were off. My word what a rush! 50 kms of beach, bumps, waves, wind and cursing. We literally had about 5 metres between the dunes and the waves to work with and had to time it perfectly so that the waves didn't slam the side of the car or we'd be bogged down. Gunning it down the coast at 40 miles per hour we must have looked like real brass ball touting, brains in the seat of our pants, adrenaline junkies to all the other beached travellers.
It was great! Well that was my feeling anyway, by the vivid shade of red on Pats face, and the green on Sarahs, I don't think they shared the sentiment. I totally lost track of time but we did eventually come to the fishing village that was to be the marker for the route off the beach. We drove through the village and found the TAR road.
After pumping our tyres we were off to Noukachott. On the way there the temperature just continued to rise. At one point we were driving through heat of 45 degrees celcius!
Eventually, sweaty, smelly, dirty, hot, bothered and grumpy we arrived in the city. After a further hour of driving around in this desolate place we managed to find the Sahara Camping and hotel (it was right at the entrance to the city that we drove on). It's a really decent place, it's relatively cheap and the facilities are good. They also offer a good meal (more Tajins - yes!) as well as the opportunity to sleep in Berber tents set up on the roof of the building. The view wasn't great, but hey, this is Africa! leave idealism at home!