UK to The Gambia By Road
Stage four: Western Sahara to Mauritania
18th June 2018
So, not the tough day that we had expected, but not the most exciting either.
The road to Dakhla was brand new for the first 150 miles and pretty good (bar a few dodgy patches) the rest of the way. Long stretches of the same scenery. Sand, camels and not much else.
Got another speeding ticket! 15 Euros this time, and actually got a written ticket even though I didn't ask for one.
Dakhla didn't really appeal to either of us, for no reason that we can really pin down - all just a bit small industrial town once you get into the centre. Nice resorts on the way in packed with kite surfers, which is where we came to watch the England game and from where I'm writing. There's a big army presence here, which is fine but reminds you that this is land stolen from the Berbers by the Moroccan government.
Beautiful drive down the peninsula into Dakhla but the town didn't really appeal to either of us, for no reason that we can really pin down - all just a bit small industrial town once you get into the centre. Nice resorts on the way in, packed with kite surfers, which is where we came to watch the England game and from where I'm writing.
On the downside, we can now sleep under the stars, having lost the front skylight cover along the road somewhere before Dakhla! Hope it doesn't rain!
Heading for the Mauritanian border tomorrow...
20th June 2018
So we're still in Dakhla! So glad we stayed an extra day. Hanging out with some really lovely Berbers. Learnt loads about the situation here, grew to love Dakhla and enjoyed their tremendous hospitality. Too much to tell for now, as we're just going to head to the border. As before, not sure when the next internet will be.
Written retrospectively 29th June 2018
21st June 2018
So my last proper post was from Dakhla, Western Sahara after which things became more of a rush and getting online became less easy.
Western Sahara was great! I'd read an article about kitesurfers flying into resorts in Dakhla that are owned by the Moroccan colonisers and foreign investors, while the local Berber and Saharwi people have no schools, hospitals or opportunities and wondered if it was ethical to be visiting the place. Having met some locals who (much like Gambians) are keen to have visitors come, and make a living from the few independent travellers they meet, I'm happy that I did. Great people with a culture that goes back nearly 3000 years and a determination not to be pushed out of their homeland.
We left Dakhla at about 10 am and headed straight to the Mauritanian border, arriving at 4.30 and expecting to be somewhere near the front of the queue for the following morning. As it turns out, we were able to get through the same day, but had to rush because the Mauritanian side closed at 6.30. The process of leaving was a bit disorganised but basically ok. People were friendly and helpful, even if they did send you into the wrong office some of the time. We turned down the offer of a fixer who tried to help us and got on fine, being the second to last through the giant scanner that scans every vehicle leaving the country.
Out of Western Sahara and into No Man's Land was really a bit of a shock! The whole scene was like a post apocalytic nightmare! Cars, old and new, some burnt out, some looking like they'd just arrived parked all along the side of the tarmac. Again we turned down the offer of the same fixer to guide us through to Mauritania. Unperturbed, he jumped into a vehicle in front of us and shouted for us to follow.
Pretty soon the tarmac ran out and we were faced with an unreal scene of abandoned vehicles scattered amongst patches of deep sand and rocky outcrops that could kill an oil sump very easily. The advice we had had was to stay on the track because the area was mined, but there was no obvious track! Some big trucks were taking one route ahead and to the left of us, but very slowly and I wasn't confident that we would make it through the sand at such slow speed.
Our fixer suddenly appeared and started running ahead waving manically shouting for us to follow him. Pretty soon, he jumped aboard and continued to direct us, weaving and bouncing all the way to the Mauritanian border.
The Mauritanian security looked kind of sinister, with their heads and faces fully covered with the traditional desert scarves, dark glasses and AK47s but were really friendly. Our fixer then took me to the various offices, all of which are very close to each other, and paperwork took maybe no more than an hour. Fifty five Euros each for me and Vic and something less (I can't exactly remember) for the vehicle. Our fixer did try to scam me for some smallEuros in the exchange and paperwork process, but really he was a nice guy and a massive help. We tipped him, but with hindsight, thinking about the crossing of No Man’s Land, I wish I'd tipped him more.
As it was nearly dark by time we were through, we settled in for a night in front of the landmine warning sign and Vic cooked rice and veggies. We planned a 5 am start to beat the desert heat and because we were a bit nervous about breaking down and getting stuck out at night on the C road, which is the bit for which the FCO advise against travel.