Feb 2 – 4, 2009
During our first evening at Zebra Bar we were invited to join other travelers in the morning on a boat ride into the city rather than going by taxi or driving ourselves. So in the morning we all boarded the boat and spent a fun but wet 2 hours getting to St. Louis. We spent the day in town with seven other travelers from around Europe and collected invitations to visit when we explore Europe later in the year.
The next day it was time to catch up with some minor maintenance on the Fuso. But of course it ended up taking all day.
The next day we took a hike in the national park next door to do some bird watching and had a great local fish dish for lunch at the locally run restaurant at the park entrance. When the tide went out the Fiddler crabs came out in the thousands to comb the mud for tidbits of food. The Blue Herons were also being very lucky.
Finally it was time to leave this incredibly peaceful spot and head back toward Mauritania.
Feb 5, 2009
In the morning we filled up with fuel as it is less expensive in Senegal than in Mauritania and did some last minute shopping. So that we didn’t have to actually drive into St. Louis, we parked on the north side of the Senegal River and walked across the bridge into town. As we sat in the fuel station we watched a large crowd of Senegalese waiting to exchange their empty propane/butane bottles for full bottles. As we watched, it became obvious that there were not enough bottles and that the crowd was becoming agitated. We hurriedly completed our business and got away before things got ugly.
We then drove a short ways to Djondj National Park for some bird watching. This is one of the world’s premier migratory bird watching spots and it includes a fun boat ride. Along the highway, we found our path once again delayed, this time by a herd of camels being driven along down the center line.
In the park, we saw lots and lots of birds, even some crocodiles and a big monitor-type of lizard. Just some of the birds we saw included the African Darter, the Long Tailed Cormorant, the Great Cormorant, the Great White Pelican, the Purple Heron, the Yellow-billed Stork, the European Spoonbill, the African Spoonbill, the African Fish Eagle and the African Dwarf Kingfisher (which is a rare sighting.)
When we drove into the camping area at the local hotel, the Fuso broke through the crust of the parking lot into some soft ooze. Luckily, we are able to pull ourselves out of the goo using the low gears of our four-wheel drive. We parked next to a couple in another vehicle who had just arrived from Mauritania through the border crossing we planned to use. We got information on the crossing, including the costs demanded by the border guards for every stamp, and even for raising the road barrier.
Feb 6, 2009
We got an early start to try to get to the camp spot we had used in Noakchott in November on our way south into West Africa.
The Senegal side of the border went smoothly, other than the ridiculous fee of 20 Euros just to cross the dam across the Senegal River. The Mauritanian border side was a different story completely. Everybody had their hand out and demanded 10 Euros for each step of the border process. Stamping the passports – money, stamping the carnet – money, raising the road barrier – money, driving the public road through another National Park – money, no vehicle insurance (nobody to buy it from at this border) – money. Money, money and more money. And this border crossing, Diama, is supposed to be much better than trying to cross at the main border on the highway at Rosso. This was bad enough we couldn’t guess how bad the other crossing must be.
Then it was time to drive close to 90 km (55 miles) of nasty washboard, sand and more. We followed a turn off for a new road that is being built that will make a more direct route to Noakchott, bypassing Rosso, but found that we were driving on the construction road. Slow, sandy with a little 4x4 driving thrown in just for good measure, but we reached the highway shaving off a bit of time from our drive and avoided the mess at the Rosso border where the old road would have come out.
Since we didn’t have valid vehicle insurance yet, we took out our old policy (from our drive south through Mauritania three months ago) and placed it on the dashboard with the hope of discouraging nosy police from asking for proof of insurance so that we can make it to town and buy a new policy.
Everything went smoothly, our “fiche” documents got us through some twenty police and customs checkpoints on our hundred mile drive to the capital and we finally reached the city and got to our familiar camp spot right at sunset.
Feb 7, 2009
Today was an ugly, windy sand-storming type of day. Checking the Internet we read that the high winds were likely to continue for the next week so we decided to wait out the weather in town for a day. We ran some errands, bought our vehicle insurance, visited the local fish market and stocked up with seafood. We had lunch out at one of the small fish restaurants, and bought some French pastries at a patisserie – what a treat.
Feb 8, 2009
The wind abated a bit overnight and in the morning we could actually see the sky. This bode well, so we got ourselves set to go, filled up with water from the hotel, and hit the road.
The drive north through Mauritania is not what could possibly be described as exciting. Once we left the coast behind, much of the drive is through undulating sand dunes which was very beautiful, most of the road passes through true desert with not a single living thing visible – no trees, no camels, nothing.
By the end of the day we had driven across the country and found a quiet bush camp about 30 miles from the border with Western Sahara (Morocco). From our camp we could watch the famous ore trains pass close by. These trains can have so many ore cars that they are known to stretch more than two kilometers (1.6 miles) in length.
Feb 9, 2009
In the morning we rose with the sunrise, it was beautiful as it lit the sky and the surrounding dunes. Though we didn’t rush to get to the border, we arrived early in the morning. To our surprise, there was a group of 10 French motorhomes waiting in line before us. These tourists came down in a caravan to tour the country.
Now maybe it was because we were right behind the tourists, but the border guards didn’t charge us any fees to give us the required stamps – unlike at the southern border a few days ago. It did take about an hour for the officials to process everyone’s documents, and then it was time to cross the no-man’s land, with its alleged land mines, back into Morocco. Everyone seemed to follow their paths and the vehicles were all over the area.
Then the fun and games began. For some reason the officials on this side of the border, although legit with no demands for money, were so slow that it seemed that they must be deliberately dragging their feet. But it was just the slow pace of bureaucracy.
We had to stand in line to surrender our passports to get stamped, we had to stand in line to have the police take down our vehicle info, drivers license info and passport info, then stand in line to get our vehicle import papers, get our vehicle inspected for contraband, and then get everything double checked for error before being allowed to “enter” Morocco. All in all the process took about 3 hours, so it was good that we had arrived early in the day.
At the end of the day we glimpsed some campers set up on a beach that looked inviting. We found our way along a track down off the cliffs and onto the beach. Although it was still windy, it looked great. Then as we explored the beach, surprise, we found rocks at the surf line covered with large mussels. We “harvested” about ten for a snack, and to make sure that they were edible before possibly stocking up. The mussels steamed up easily and tasted great. We also had some time to meet two of our neighbors, a couple from Austria who just completed a two year driving tour around the African continent. They were a friendly couple, peter and Seline, and we swapped travel stories until late at night. We also picked up an invite to visit them when we travel through Austria.
Feb 10 – 11, 2009
Before leaving the beach in the morning, we returned to the rocks and collected about 60 (ok 58) mussels to have for our lunch later.
Today’s drive only lasted about an hour as we returned to the secluded beach, accessible only by 4x4, that we had camped on in November on our way south. We set up camp about 10 feet from the high water line and settled in for a couple of days of rest. This beach is on the upper reaches of a huge bay, on the other side is the town of Dahkla. When the tide goes out, the bay turns to mud flats and the bird watching is incredible. Our favorite pastime was watching the tide go in and out, and oh yes, watching the flamingos and other birds was a close second.
On our second day, one of the fishermen working at the nearby oyster farm came by to say hi, and brought us two huge fish that he had caught earlier in the day. That made our dinner choice for us, so Don filleted the fish and we set them aside for later.
Feb 12 - 13, 2009
Yet another driving day as we made our way back north across the Western Sahara towards Morocco proper. We were looking forward to bush camping on a beach we had heard about from other overlanders, at one end of the beach are two shipwrecks. But when we arrived at the turnoff, there was a police check point and the officers told us that the beach was closed for camping, bummer big time!
We had no choice but return to the campground we had used in Boudjour. As we drove through town, we stopped at a vegetable shop and bought a ton of great looking fresh vegetables. We then visited the butcher across the street and bought some camel meat. We were surprised to find the meat very lean with the look and coloring of pork. We cooked it up in a stew for dinner, it was fantastic.
That night the wind really kicked up and it even brought a little bit of rain. The next morning was still blasting wind so we decided to take a day off and just hang around.