Crossing into Mauritania

Guest post by Louise Wilson.

From various sources of information we were advised to reach the border when it opened at 8.30.
We arrived at the Moroccan border at 9am to find a queue of cars standing still as the border didn’t open until 9.30am. We went off to have a nosey to find a hotel (basic and nasty) a cafe and a shop. I went round to the toilets to find a guy tell me in English that the loo was free. Turned out he lives in Dulwich and Grew up in Peckham. He was hoping to cross the border but hadn’t realised he needed to get a visa in Rabat…

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We also spotted a petrol station right at the border so took advantage and both filled up. With our full tanks and the extra 10 litres we were carrying we would definitely make it through the day.

The queue began to move around 10am but David’s bike wouldn’t start. A slight panic ensued and lots of playing around; a Senegalese guy from in front came to help. I ran off looking for a screw driver but the problem was discovered. There was a loose connection on the battery and it was soon resolved and the bike was moving again.

After buying cookies, orange juice and dates from the shop we were told by a local guy that we should queue jump down the right hand side. I went ahead and sure enough, the gendarme let us through. We had one check to be given a piece of paper to complete (and David was asked about his camera and they deleted the film of me showing the border control!). Once through we had to do a police, gendarmerie and customs controls – each organised chaos, with friendly locals and lots of waiting around. I quickly removed the memory card from the video camera so I could show the internal memory images if asked but it was fine.

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After 4 checks, we bumped into Jule from Quebec, a cyclist we had been told to look out for, and David, a welsh guy who had been riding with Tommy (who’s blog we’ve followed).

The second you enter the no-mans land (5km stretch between the two countries, mostly mined) you’re pestered to change money and have a local escort you through to the border. We decided to change money on the ‘black market’ from a very trendy local (the kind you see in London) but there were disagreements and lots of counting for correct change.

We didn’t cross until 11.30am

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Off we went with welsh David’s advice to stay left to avoid the sand, stay in 1st gear and take it slow. We met up with Jule who was waiting for us in a burnt out car, did some filming and took photos. The desserted cars, broken TVs and tyres were crazy!

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The 5km was fine. There were a few patches of sand but David was great at guiding me through. Some areas you need to paddle through and accelerate out of any big bits.

It was actually quite fun and we were soon at the Mauritanian border where it suddenly got really hot and barren.

The guys selling money were there again high fiving the officials and there were lots of people walking around selling cigarettes. The police in Mauritania have big, nasty dogs but the officials were friendly and relatively helpful. Again, there were a few checks to go through and I tended to sit in the shade and watch the bikes while David sorted the paper work. The last official guy checked my passport and said something in French which I realised was probably asking for a bribe but i asked if he spoke English and he hurried me on. I parked up ahead which was lucky as he asked David for money but he said I had it all…

Even over the Mauritanian border we had to go and sign a tourist declaration form and then get insurance.

Just waiting to buy insurance was interesting. A little hut on the side had a shop at one end where we could buy cold juice (2 for 400crrenrly) and an insurance ‘office’ with lots of people fighting for attention. All of this time I’ve been the only women…some people have been friendly, some have stared and walked on and one asked if I would be going to his tonight! A few asked if I was married and why I didn’t have a child.

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It is now 2.20pm and it’s clear we won’t make Nouakchott tonight. Bob ‘the lone wolf’ suggested we camp behind the Total petrol station if we don’t make it and that probably makes sense. It’s boiling hot and we had an early start.

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