Through Mauretania to Dakar
“But Mauretania is much too dangerous!” I kept hearing that statement a lot. The German Foreign Office discourages travelers from Western Sahara and Mauretania. I heard very different stories from fellow travelers and from blogs. And here is what I experienced.
A day after my accident I was happy to finally leave Dakhla. The policemen knew me by now and they didn’t want to see my passport again. The chief fondled the new front wheel and said: what good quality – Schwalbe tires! I had to laugh and asked him if he really believed that one could buy Schwalbe tires in Dakhla? It really says a lot about Schwalbe that they didn’t show wear and tear after 6,500 km.
I cycled back to the national road and had headwinds for those 40 kilometers. At the gas station at the crossroads there was a reward. The royal escort passed: first four BMW motorcycles with another four bringing up the rear. In between the newest jeeps. I asked the man standing next to me if this was the king? “No, that’s only the young prince who’ll probably go surfing. The king is visiting Obama in the USA.”
Phosphate isn’t the only reason why Morocco is interested in Western Sahara. It’s also a giant playground for the royal kids.
And indeed it’s a beautiful region. Often there was a view of sparkling blue bays, ringed by the whitest sands.
0Hilleberg, Magura, Rohloff, Schwalbe, Velotraum
The Tropic of Cancer is always marked by a signpost and many desert travelers put their stickers on them.
The police controls again watched out that I didn’t camp wild. But I didn’t mind because there wasn’t anything and when the wind was howling it was very unpleasant. This way I could camp at the police post next to a gas station.
Every gas station has a room that serves as a mosque where I could put my tent in one corner. The people coming to pray weren’t disturbed and neither was I.
The next stretch was very long. 160 kilometers of nothing! (But it looks as if a new coffee shop might be build). Not even police checkpoints and I really missed them. Thanks to tailwinds it wasn’t much of a problem. As a reward and because I still had local currency, I stopped at the Hotel Barbas. It’s a meeting point for travelers and a good place to exchange information.
Another 80 kilometers until the border. After the long day yesterday, I had a leisurely start but still arrived there at noon. It was hot, windy, and dusty and not a place to hang around.
After I had eaten, I tackled the border crossing. The exit formalities for Morocco were easy. Then came the first challenge: 4.5 kilometers of no mans land where no one feels responsible to make the road passable.
The desert in Morocco was very stony but from now one it was sand. And sand combined with wind makes for a pretty sandstorm. When I didn’t get stuck in the sand, I had to climb over boulders. There is no designated track and everyone went where they liked. I couldn’t see the trail and waited for a car which I then followed.
One gets the visa for Mauretania at the border. It was a very modern biometric visa with finger prints. And it was costly: 120 Euros! And they only take Euros! It took quite a while and was still relatively fast because I traveled by bike. In a car it would have been much longer.
It was after 5 pm when I finally went through. I didn’t want to linger at this place and headed straight on. I was sure that the next police checkpoint wouldn’t be far away. I had learnt that they wouldn’t let you continue unless you could make it to the next checkpoint.
After the border the road turned east and the wind wasn’t so favorable. It was very unpleasant to constantly have sand in my eyes. It really seemed that everything was disappearing in the sand.
I was very happy to finally see the police control which “unfortunately” informed me that I wasn’t allowed to continue. Behind their little building there was a wonderful space sheltered from the wind where I could pitch my tent.
At a curve there were a few ramshackle buildings and a store. It took me a while until I realised what they meant with “boutique”. It was a bit high fetched considering what one could buy there. In many cases the wares simply consisted of old biscuits, bottles of water, rice, onions, and peanuts.
When I was lucky I might find canned fruits or veggies. I was seldom been to a country that had so few things to eat. But then I remembered that I was still in the desert.
In the evening the police let me go a bit further, after I promised that I’d spent the night in an “auberge” that they recommended. There I could buy a SIM card which amazingly was also being sold in the “boutiques”.
I liked the place and immediately felt that only now had I arrived in Africa
I got one of these tin hovels to sleep in. It was just large enough for my tent and my bike. I pitched my tent after I had observed a lot of critters scuttling about.
The policeman called me at night to check that I was staying at the “auberge” and that everything was alright.
Potable water was delivered by tanker truck. The water is transferred to these “waterbeds” which can be found everywhere and come in different colors.
The water is also used to water the animals which are fed dry fodder. Nothing grows.
Close by an Australian company was digging for gold which explained the few clients.
By and large the road was in much better condition than I had expected. That is, when I could make it out.
The first 2.5 days were marked by sandstorms. Here I still dared to take out my camera but later on I didn’t want to risk it.
When the wind died down, I really enjoyed the views of the dunes.
Finally, I returned to civilization. Another traveler had recommended the beach resort “Les Sultanas” which was 15 kilometers outside of Nouackchott. Before that there was virtually nothing. This was my longest stretch, 166 kilometers.
I entered a completely different world. After I had only seen desert people for three days, who were lucky to have a bowl of rice, the resort served culinary delights.
When I saw a huge platter with chicken skewers, French fries, rice, ratatouille, and salad, I had to order one. It was really the best food I had in a long time but no surprise that after 166 kilometers it tasted so good.
The owner is French :-) . He arrived ten years ago and considers it paradise and a safe place. However the police check point in front of the resort made me wonder what security meant and at what price it came.
The last stretch to Nouakchott was very relaxed but I wouldn’t have wanted to tackle it yesterday. The traffic is horrendous! Everyone drives anything that starts. There didn’t appear to be any traffic rules. The main road ran through the city like a dark line and next to it was sand, like in the rest of the country.
I went immediately to the “Auberge Sahara”. It was a hit and the courtyard was an oasis of tranquility.
And I could camp on the roof
The city is still quite young, it was only founded in 1960, and there is nothing that one needs to see or visit. I only left the courtyard briefly to shop. Fortunately, I could buy fruits and vegetables.
Other than that I tried to focus on internet and social media. When internet works, it’s very relaxing but unfortunately that wasn’t the case here. By now I’ve learnt how to use my smartphone as a hotspot which works like a charm.
I continued through the desert. The population and the traffic got less as I went south. At the center of the town it was unbearable. I discovered on my GPS that there was a coastal road and headed towards it.
And that was pure adventure. I had done really well to have spent the previous day in the seclusion of my “auberge”. It was pure chaos out here. First, I came past the market place where dented minibuses and donkey carts were in each others’ way and not pleased that I tried to get through.
The road was piled high with garbage and I couldn’t see if it was paved. Somehow, I made it through but one of the water bottles disappeared. After that I cycled through slums, burning garbage all the way to the beach where there is industry and the harbor. After the city I reached the national road and it got better.
Today the police stopped me quite early on but I had already managed over 100 kilometers. Did I want to continue another 50 kilometers to reach the next checkpoint? No, I didn’t want to do that and turned in. There are always things to do.
There are two border crossings to Senegal: continue on the main road to Rosso or turn right when you reach Diama and head west. From the information I had gathered, I preferred the smaller road to Diama.
153 kilometers from Nouakchott a new paved road in perfect condition turns to Keur Macene. What a dream! No traffic, perfect road conditions, beautiful rolling hills. After 33 kilometers, in Keur Macene, the pavement ends. Shortly afterwards I was on a dirt track next to the Senegal River. The river marks the end of the Sahara and finally it’s green again (after 2,800 kilometers)! At least on this side of the river.
Sometimes the reeds rustled, then I saw a giant warthog that first ran parallel to me. About 50 meters ahead, it crossed the track. Then Mum and a little one followed. I thought, if I already get scared by harmless creatures then maybe it’s best not to go any further.
Diawling National Park was beautiful and I decided to camp there. Of course, there was a police checkpoint and they didn’t mind.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t so pretty any longer. Where there are huts, there is garbage. In Mauretania there weren’t any plastic bags but plastic bottles, cans, and a lot of batteries, not pretty to look at.
Another 10 kilometers to the border crossing on heavily rutted roads.
Seeing that I spent only eight days in Mauretania, the visa had been very expensive. On the other hand, I always had personal protection and many free overnight stays.
I don’t want to judge if Mauretania is safe or not. I guess nowadays no place is safe. But I can say that the police in Mauretania did everything to keep me safe and that I felt very secure.
The visa for Senegal was free of charge, just a stamp in the passport. Hardly to believe that there was a simple checkpoint and then I could continue.
After the border I had about 35 kilometers on a very good paved road to Saint Louis.
I was overwhelmed by this city after all my days in the desert. It was dirty, noisy, and had a lot of child beggars. The beautiful colonial buildings from the French colonial period are crumbling.
I wasn’t attracted at all and decided to continue right away. About 20 kilometers to the south is the legendary “ZebraBar”
This is a meeting point for all overlanders. Back in Morocco I was told that I could get beer here. The official name of Mauretania is “The Islamic Republic of Mauretania” and the country is completely dry. Don’t get caught at the border with a bottle of wine.
This place was also close to a national park and was awesome to recharge, plan ahead, and meet people. After three days I had gathered all necessary information for the road ahead.
I had realized that there was no need to travel to Dakar because I could get the next visa at the border. But then I received an invitation. And because I had left Saint Louis in such a hurry, there were reasons to go to Dakar.
In order to avoid the national road for a bit, I took the coastal road. It was great at the beginning but then there was more and more sand. Before reaching Patòu, the city of onions, I had no choice but to push. It took me 2 hours, 20 minutes for 17 kilometers. But I’d opt for this road again because it was much more interesting.
In Kébernèr there was a road to Lampoul and I had heard that from there a newly paved road leads to Mboro. It wasn’t on the map but I thought if worse comes to worse, I’d turn around.
I arrived in Lompoul at sunset and saw rangers from the “Eco Lodge”. They confirmed that there is a turnoff after five kilometers. I didn’t want to go on and didn’t want to stay at the Eco Lodge. Fortunately, the son of the village chief allowed me to camp next to his hut. Of course, I had to introduce myself to the chief when he returned in the evening. After checking me out, he agreed that I could stay.
Depending on the region, kids in Senegal are quite different. Sometimes they are very nice, interested but cautious. In other areas, especially where there are more tourists, they ran after me screeching, asked for money, presents, candy, ….
Here in Lompoul they were very nice.
The road from Lompoul almost to Rufisque was a dream. And tailwinds to boot which was fortunate because it was much further than expected.
I reached the outskirts of Dakar around 3:00 pm. And then it started! I stayed mainly on the main roads which were 4 to 6 lanes with a lot of space.
Around 7:30 pm I was finally close to my guest family. This city is unbelievable.
My sister had asked me about the western most point of Africa and thanks to her inquisitiveness I discovered that it was almost at the front door where I stayed. That was the only thing I wanted to see after 158 kilometers.
There isn’t much to see at the landmark of the western most point. It’s on the premises of the Club Med and there are a few others luxury hotels around there.
A lot of things changed after Dakar. I’ll tell you about it in my next blog.
If you’ve any questions or comments, just let me know.