What we have done

Four Days in // Mauritania

Although the border crossing into Mauritania had ultimately been easy, but not stress-free, we found ourselves at the end of a long day without a spot to camp. So we did what any self-respecting overlander does, pulled out the iPhone and clicked into iOverlander. The bible of places to camp – paid, free (occasionally in the form of the front yard or spare room of retired overlanders), and wild – is one of the most used resources on our travels. And fortunately, it came up with the goods that day because we spotted a wild camp about 100km south behind an old iron ore. In the car, and south we go…

We pulled in just before the sun slid behind the horizon, and made our way around the back behind sand dunes formed by Saharan winds to catch the sunset. With nothing but sand for miles, the sun lit up the desert a bright orangey-tones, contrasting sharply against a turquoise sky. Choosing to enjoy the moment, we opted to leave the camera in the car, and with another night planned here, we’d take pics then.

As the sun vanished beneath the horizon, dark set in quickly and so we too, quickly set up our OzTent and hopped into bed. Exhausted, we turned out the lights and feel asleep almost immediately. No sooner had we fallen asleep, that we were woken by bustling winds. Not a haunting, howling wind, but sheets of wind that slapped sand against the tent and somehow caused it to puff out at all angles. With a full-length window at the back of the tent secured along the bottom by velcro and not a zip, we soon found our pillows covered in a fine layer of sand, lifted and thrown into the tent by the wind. Unsure what to do, but knowing that taking down the tent in these winds in the pitch dark wasn’t an option, we lay in bed trying to sleep against the fear of the tent getting damaged.

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In the morning, you can still see how ‘swollen’ the tent is with wind

In the morning we had hopped that the winds would have died down, but alas, they were blowing as much as ever. Knowing we wouldn’t rest easy with the risk of damage to the tent, we packed up to head south for hopefully less windy climes. With all four limbs used to hold down this bit and that bit of the tent, we quickly unpegged cables and folded down the frame, trying to avoid anything flying around!

mauritania-2 Visibility was pretty low for the next few 100 kms, as the winds carried sands across the road. The road was in excellent condition, those ‘humps’ are just sand blowing around

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Because the best way to deal with a bad day is to snack

We found ourselves in Nouakchott, the capital of Mauritania, sooner than anticipated. Without any plans around town, we grabbed some bread for lunch, a small amount of local currency (AUD$20) to get us through the country including a necessary National Park fee, and kept to the road.

The road from Morocco to Nouakchott runs almost straight from north to south, and is in near perfect conditions after recently upgrades. We’d been warned that despite great roads in the north, our travels in Mauritania would be slow because of the gendarmerie stationed along the highway regularly. To maintain security, and arguably your safety, they are stationed to make official requests for travellers’ details (we noticed taxis and private local vehicles also regularly pulled over), which you provide in the form of a ‘fiche’ (basically, a slip of paper you print out before hitting Mauritania with your details such as name, passport number, vehicle rego etc). They also make unofficial requests for a ‘cadeau’ or a gift/tip. There are some horror stories about being held up by someone asking for a bribe, but between the 10 or so times we were stopped to hand over a fiche, we were only asked for two cadeaus, which we gently refused. Both times, this was accepted with fuss and we were sent on our way… which possibly has something to do with the King’s recent orders to stop bribing foreigners!

From Nouakchott to Senegal, the road is in dire need of upgrades and slowed us down greatly. Cars, trucks and motorcycles swung widely across the highway, and often at times, right off it to avoid huge pot holes and worn roads.

At around 4pm, we slipped off the highway and headed along a dirt road towards the coast to camp for the night. A few kms in, we spotted a clearing that was hidden enough from the main road, and snuck in there to camp.

Because our earlier plans to spend two nights in northern Mauritania had changed, we decided to spend a few nights here instead and catch our breath. We watched The Grinder, finished off the rest of our Aussie junk food Kev brought back from Aus, and tinkered with the car, all the while surrounded by grazing goats and camels.

Plenty of overlanders complain about having to stop and hand out ‘fiches’ along their travels, but aside from keeping an eye on travellers, they also prove useful for security. We had last handed out a fiche back near Nouakchott, two days earlier, and had advised the gendarmerie that we were heading to Senegal. After a few days of us not ‘checking in’ along the road, it must have raised alarm bells, because on our last morning camping, we were greeted by a couple of friendly police officers. Pulling in beside us, they were quick to ask if we were ok and needed any help. While we’re not sure if they just spotted us from the road, or if it was the fact that we’d been ‘missing’ for a few days, in any case it was a reassuring offer of assistance. By this stage, we’d already packed up our 4WD and were about to head off, so we didn’t chat much more beyond letting them know we were ok and had no troubles.

We followed them back to the main road, and watched them head off while we checked the tyres for any of thorns before heading off ourselves towards Senegal.

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Home sweet home for a few nights

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We never know how to deal with our rubbish in Africa: back in Spain, we resolved to stop using plastic bags for our rubbish, instead filling and emptying a washable travel bag. But when we find local communities without proper rubbish removal services, we wonder how much of an impact we’re making

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Goats grazing in the rubbish piles

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We loved the pastel pops, contrasting against the strong, simple colours of the desert

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How do you get your drinking water?

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L to R: Kev’s thongs took a serious beating by the local bushes (he could feel them through his cheapie Primark thongs!), a camel grazing beside our 4WD, the road is made our of crushed shells!