UK to The Gambia By Road
Stage five: into Mauritania
Google Maps states it does not provide routes for this area
22nd June: 2018
So our alarm went off at 5am, but it was still dark and we promptly fell asleep again until 7.30. This wasn't really ideal as it meant that we'd missed the coolest hours of the day and would still be on the long drive through the desert road between Nouadibou and Nouakchott as the sun was heating up. The road to Nouakchott was mostly ok but with short stretches that were bumpy and potholed and some longer stretches that were under construction and pretty bad. The checkpoints were about 50km apart and no problem. The officers were polite and we only used about 6 of the 30 fiches that we had prepared.
The van did fine and we pressed on without even stopping for coffee for about five hours, trying to balance the need to not push the engine too hard in the heat with the fact that the longer we took, the hotter the road would get. By midday, the engine would heat up to slightly worrying degree on the uphill sections before cooling to a less worrying point on the downhill stretches. By about 1pm it was becoming a bit too hot, and only 30km from Nouakchott we decided to stop at one of the checkpoints to let the engine cool.
It was a nice stop. One of the customs guys was very chatty, telling us that the area was fully safe now and that things had changed since nine years ago when the three Spanish NGO workers were kidnapped. He spoke unguardedly about his views and really surprised us with his openness, even in front of his colleagues. Vic made him some undrinkably strong coffee, which he politely took a few sips of before bringing Attaya for us all instead.
A few minutes after setting off again for Nouakchott, we hit a patch of colder air that must have been blowing in off the coast. The engine was back at normal temperature and we were buzzing that we thought we'd done the toughest part of the journey.
Nouakchott was interesting and mostly not in a good way. All but the very main roads were potholed or deep sand or both. The ones that were under construction – which seemed like about half of them – were the worst! On top of this, I think that Mauritanians take the prize for worst vehicles and worst drivers that we found along the way.
We headed towards the beach area, looking for somewhere to park up for the night, only to find that the beach area doubles as the heavy industrial area and one of the areas of shanty housing. It was fairly grim! Huge battered trucks jostling down potholed roads between large areas of litter strewn shacks.
We'd planned to spend the night in Nouakchott but having seen the 'beach' and failed to find any of the accommodation that we had read about, we found a place for a cheap and adequate lunch and hit the road South.
Despite the horror stories about the crossing at Rosso, it seemed like a shorter drive (although actually it might not have been much different in hindsight) and the roads were bad so that was were we headed. About 30km short of our destination, a battered Peugeot overtook us and waved us to stop. The driver jumped out and started to tell us in a mixture of very broken European languages that the ferry at Rosso was 'Kaput' and that we 'go Diama' or we'd wait for three days. He claimed that the police at the last junction had asked him to let us know. Neither Vic nor myself were convinced by the guy and a friendly young Mauritanian hitch-hiker that we'd picked up confirmed our suspicion that he was going to try to scam us in some way. We carried on towards Rosso, dropped our hitcher and noticed a white Mercedes following us, trying to get our attention. Having been warned by our hitch-hiker that Rosso was full of these people, we made a last minute decision to stop at a hotel we saw a few km from the border and while Vic enquired about parking I went through the 'No, I don't need anything thank you' palaver with the occupants of the vehicle who'd pulled in behind us.
We eventually agreed on about 12 Euros to spend the night in the secure car park with use of a toilet and shower. After a few attempts the staff did eventually manage to find a toilet and shower that worked.... Sort of. We arrived at Rosso at about 8.30 the next morning and a man in civilian clothes and with a clip board asked for our passports. We asked him what his job was, and were told that he was police. When we asked for his ID, he pulled out a dog-eared business card saying 'Customs Officer'. We decided not to deal with him and found a uniformed officer who took our passports and immediately gave them to the same not-a-policeman!
Not-a-policeman told us that he'd sort all of our papers and his fee for 90 Euros, so we thanked him and headed off to do it ourselves. Not-a-policeman's friend, who had been in the white Merc the day before hung around and when I tried to go the wrong direction pointed me the right way and waited while I dealt with each office before again pointing me the right way. Eventually he had become our guide despite the fact that we didn't want one and by time we were driving on to the ferry he had gained our trust. Police, Immigration, Customs, Customs accounts office, community tax, ferry ticket and back to the Police all done for not more than about 40 or 50 Euros. When he also joined the ferry we were hopeful that he'd see us through into Senegal with the same efficiency. How wrong we were....