Motorcycle in the Suleiman’s van, I’m in the passenger seat. We left the border of Western Sahara and entered No Man’s Land. The length of several kilometers long, unruled by any state. The first impression that comes to mind – the world after a nuclear war. The narrow sandy dirt track winds between minefields which are belongs to nobody. Getting off the trail – a real risk to the life. Sideways of meandering trail littered with skeletons of all sorts of vehicles – those who have not been able to import in one of the countries and was left as is. Cunning people are slowly pulling apart their parts.
Here we again met Christian who was stuck at the border for much longer than us. I got into his bus and I was presented with an icy can of beer. Half-worn paint on the sides of the tin can hinted that it lay a lot of time in the sands in the middle of no-man’s land. Importing of alcohol is strictly forbidden in Mauritania, so that in case of failure all sorts of drinks sometimes befalls the fate of a cars – they remain here until better times. Christian dug some and put in the fridge to the accompaniment of a bottle of Scotch. We were sitting in the bus, imposingly leaning back, smoking and squinting in the sun-drenched wasteland behind the windows …
Later we went with Suleiman to storm the Mauritanian border. In a some way I was glad that my motorcycle in the minivan, as Suleiman knew all the nuances and tricks of local procedures, and I did not have unnecessary spendings and to fend off pesky helpers. But what put me into a stupor – the price of visas. Two months ago, single-entry visa for 30 days was at the price of 50 euros. Now its price is 120 euros. I heard from the travelers about this but refused to believe. For what? Later I realized why. Mauritania – a young country, which, in the long run, there is nothing. When people coming to power – a huge problem of human nature comes out. To grab everything. Rather than develop tourism, business and transit country as a whole, local authorities are more concerned with folding money in their pocket. The whole country is essentially feeds off by the road – because in West Africa it is the only way from North to South. Want you or not – you will go here. And it’s designed everything. Don’t like the price for the visa? Nobody holds you, go try to look for the other way. Oh, you don’t like extortion at every police post? The answer is the same. Asphalt road from north to south, which laid three years ago – all in the cracks. “Economy”. Along the edges of the road sometimes you can see occasional ugly square huts made out of improvised stuff – a few houses along the road in the desert, proudly referred to as a village. Sometimes there are villages richer, but for some reason abandoned-looking. Like this one.
Mauritania was the only country about which I previously searched for information – that contributed to the ubiquitous warnings on the Internet from various embassies of developed countries, urging visit the country unless absolutely necessary due to including the frequent cases of kidnapping. And even though I was prepared for what I will see but still in my heart was hoping that as usual all somewhat exaggerated. And now, after some time, I can say that in general I did not feel the danger in this country. The local population is indifferent to travelers, and all the negative generated by officials and a huge host of the parasites that are twisted around. For them the traveler it’s just a bag of money which should be ripped off.
On the way to Nouakchott, capital of Mauritania, we stopped at a roadside cafe to buy food and water. There I met Mark. The young Swiss, burnt in the sun at first seemed a mirage to me. To reach here by bicycle? Impossible. Surreal. Nevertheless – here it is with peeling skin and his bicycle as well. Man of Steel, no other way to tell. Mark remained in the cafe where the owner offered him to stay for the night, as me and Suleiman, in turn, were in need to quickly get to Nouakchott, so our communication was bright but fleeting. We are back on track.
And after about six hours, in a deep night, we appeared in the capital. Stopped at a mini-hotel Auberge Sahara, as it later turned out to be very popular among various kinds of travelers (it was very entertaining to read about it in Viktor Romantik blog later, hehe). In that place we met an elderly German. He had an old minibus, the same good old Mercedes Benz, and when annual maintenance of minivan became too expensive in Germany – he decided to sell it to the Guinea-Bissau. A good way to spend a vacation as well. However, with the release of the idea it did not look so colorful to him, judging by his face, expressing disgust to surroundings. It was his first time in Africa and he was happy to sit on our tail because Suleiman had all the necessary experience. This place, Hotel Sahara, was to become one of the key points for me, but now we spent the night and early morning moved towards Senegal to border-crossing point Diama. With the orange van of German driver hanging on our tail we forced our way through the center of the capital (the youngest in the world, as it is not even 50 years old). Again I felt myself as if in a post-apocalyptic movie. Destroyed skeletons of cars, rusty, crumpled, welded with scalded bars, barely able to move – here it was the usual type of transport. Ancient container truck with a huge trailer with right door that hanging on one hinge and carefully adhered by the passenger. Ancient universal “Reno” smoking so much that it seems that they consume more oil than gasoline. And tons of garbage around. On the road, on the roadside, everywhere. People just walking on top of it. Picture is complemented by the ever-present puddles and small swamps. Place for the capital was chosen not so smart – below sea level and on the coast, resulting in floods on a regular basis.
After a hundred and fifty kilometers to the south along the edge of the road began to flicker rare overgrown greenery and small groves of acacia trees. Another fifty kilometers the surroundings turned green. My eyes could not get enough!
I have not seen green grass since I left Berrechid, and after many, many kilometers of scorched land, I was struck by the sudden beauty of pure green. Finally, I’m leaving the desert.
In the middle of the route we were once again stopped at the police checkpoint.
Next to checkpoint was hanging around one of “helpers.” Hideous-looking man, the whole shape of which can be described in one word: “impudence”. Despite the words of Suleiman, German man decided to trust him and as a result we split. Orange minivan with the German driver and helper on board flew forward at full speed.
The last twenty kilometers to the border crossing Diama run through the national park, stretching along the Senegal River.
Everywhere traces of wild animals, like those facoheruses.
A lot of birds of different types and the great variety of colorings. Instead of asphalt – a clay track, winding between the marshes. In very dry days you can pass it easily but in rainy ones – not even worth trying. Dry clay is solid, and wet – is sticky and slippery. I had good opportunity to understand that pushing lorry when we accidentally slipped into a rut which still has a little of water. We was only was able to get out with the help of other passers. I stood behind the bus, out of breath, covered in mud from head to toe. Suleiman smiled and said that local clay is good for health.
Finally, we reached the border crossing. Orange lorry was there too. A guy from Germany, hardly dissapointed by the helper, suddenly came up to us and asked if we wanted beer. Suleiman refused but I came to the wild delight! Beer! In Mauritania! Indeed, if you see the German – ask him if he have a beer. And he will. While the import of alcohol in Mauritania prohibited in any form, and therefore not available for sale anywhere in the country (although I heard about Chinese restaurants in Nouadibou, who distill their own brew and can still sell under the counter a bit). But the main thing – thanks to him, I closed my gestalt “to drink in every country” in relation to Mauritania. Hehe.
Mauritania and Senegal divided by the river and in Diama was built by a small bridge-dam. Suleiman quickly settled formalities and we drove to the bridge. I am glad that finally leave the inhospitable and alien Mauritania, a country after which lays “True Africa,” as was told by Christian. I was glad that we were able to settle all before a religious holiday, Tabaski. And the stronger was the blow that followed. I was approached by Suleiman and the Senegalese customs officer. “It seems we have a problem and you have to return to Nouakchott.” I could not believe my ears. What?! Why?! Because they not providing visas at the border despite all official statements. The system is not working. So the only chance is to come back to Mauritania and head to the embassy of Senegal, which, of course, only in Nouakchott. My French friend had no way to go back, his family waited for him to spend holidays. Thick, almost bursting with pride filled him, black Senegalese customs officer with undisguised glee recited to me «Sir! We expell you from Senegal country!». Perhaps it was the only such case in his career. I really wanted to thin out that smile a little bit, but I had no choice but to turn back. We split for an indefinite period – Suleiman went to relatives in Senegal, lorry with a motorcycle remained in the customs parking lot with unclosable door, and I was returning to Nouakchott, hastily grabbed with only a backpack. Hardly I was not stuck on this bridge because a visa to Mauritania was only single entry. Representatives of both sides for a long time deliberated among themselves, making calls for bosses for further instructions. After some time one of them wrote something with pen directly over the exit stamp and this allowed me to go back. And to finish it, due to the lack of any transport the only option to get out of the border were to use the services of that same parasite which spud German guy. For a very long time he tried to persuade me to go to his home and to advance in Nouakchott next morning (taught by observations I knew what the spectacle of ripping me off would follow), and when I sent him off it again – he finally called to a friend who took me to Nouakchott for my last remaining 50 euros from the latest emergency reserve. Given that public transportation from the nearest town (if it was not so late) would cost 7 euros. Such arithmetic here.
I certainly came back to the same Auberge Sahara. Local staff recognized me and gave the key to the same room, which is now cost me twice as much because I was alone. No money, bike 200 kilometers away from me with destroyed rear tire, there was Tabaski loomed on the horizon with its five-day weekend … I spent the evening indulging in melancholy and reflection on the future course of action. Just to make sure once again that the darkest times are always before the dawn. By drinking tea in the morning, I saw the first ray of positive – familiar man on a bicycle rolled into the territory of Auberge. Yes it is that Swiss guy whom we met on the way to Nouakchott! We were damn glad to see each other, we have met like old friends. It’s very hard to describe that feeling when you’re in an alien and hostile country meet a man congenial to you. The second positive news was brought by Positive himself :) I was contacted and informed of the transfer material support, ie money. It was so in time that surroundings suddenly changed their paint faded to bright. I am not alone, I am supported! And that means it’s time to fight back! And we went into battle – storming the embassy of Senegal.
The process of obtaining a visa took two days (one day to apply, to another day to get). Nothing special, a completed form, three photos, a photocopy of the passport and money …. Contrary to official Senegalese statements – in its own consulate me and Mark was stripped for 10800 ougiyas (this is 30 euros) each. So it goes. But the main goal was achieved – there was a visa in my passport. Now I had only to wait out untill the main day of the Tabaski is over and hope to be able to find some transport to Rosso, largest border crossing to Senegal. From there I must advance in St. Louis to reunite with Suleiman and begin the operation to rescue the motorcycle from captivity of Diamal. But soon Tale told, but not soon things are done.
The day before the festivities Mark woke up before me, woke me up and said that “some russian” arrived to Auberge Sahara. I was asleep and thought he was joking but he assured me that it is absolutely serious. Intrigued, I went into the courtyard and really found there another participant of future events and companion – Yuri. Yura, as well as Mark, replied “do not know” to the question “where are you going” which impressed me. He quit his job, rented out the apartment, took his savings and hit the road. That reminds me something :) The only difference between us was just that Yuri travels by public transport, but at the moment it was good for me – he was just as I going to Senegal and it will be easier to overcome this way together.
Tabaski began. We farewell to Mark who decided in advance to go in the direction of Senegal. The picture: Yury on the right. In the center, with the bicycle – Mark, the other – the other guests.
Stores do not work. The streets virtually deserted. Celebrating. Frankly, I didn’t noticed any sign of celebrations – I thought it would be something public and universal as we have a in new year, for example. But, apparently, in this case, this holiday was family-related. Local staff with whom we had become friends invited us to enjoy one of the traditional dishes for the occasion. Beef and potatoes, simple in general :)
The next day, when public transportation started its work again me and Yuri followed Mark’s route. For 6 euros each easily flew to Rosso which is a border crossing point along the way, and, waving away all sorts of “help”, broke through to the customs office for pedestrians. At first all went well, customs employee copied data from passports, asked passport photocopies (why? you’re already rewriting data, come on) aggressively offered to exchange ougiyas to CFA – western union Franks, the West African currency union. And then we were brought to the Customs boss that impressively lying on a mattress in the middle of the office and told us to wait. What exactly wee have to wait was unclear to us. By asking and clarifications we still were managed to find out that brand new fancy biometric visa system (fingerprints and everything else that was taken when we received the visa) does not work because … there is no electricity. On the question of what should we do now – they looked at us expectantly so literally telepathic transferring the idea wrapped in crispy ougiyas. But by the time we were so annoyed by this whole system of levies, both official and not, that we firmly decided – no penny more than necessary. We must wait – okay, we will wait.
We came to the courtyard of Customs which partitioned off the river from the rest of the city and saw Mark. Our joy knew no bounds – the three of us together again, and thus the burden are three times less. The only thing that clouded Mark – he was abused by some helper and gave him 5000 ougiyas (almost 15 euros) for “ferry transportation”, as in Rosso there is no bridge, only public and private ferries. Given that the official price of the ferry – 40 ougiyas … Helper disappeared. Mark furiously cut through the courtyard and fro, trying to discover that helper among others but all in vain. The helper probably already resting got enough for the whole day. Here also we met a family from Belgium who were just totally pissed of by the Africa. In a bad way. Very strange people. They sold the house in Belgium, collected all their stuff in a huge trailer-camper and decided to move to Senegal. Never visiting it before. And now they were on their way back to Europe, in a total frenzy of it all. In addition, the head of the family was caught by malaria (we immediately drank a pill of Lariam). Sometimes it like this…
The sun had long gone behind the horizon, the deadlock was not moving. Several people that were in parallel with us and had the same problem was already on the other side, apparently with the help of bribes. Electricity has not appeared. Shrugging, we got the tents and placed them next to the customs house and went to sleep. The night was very hot and, thanks to the river, very generous to the hordes of mosquitoes, even a mosquito net was useless. Well, it is good that this whole situation is happening now, I thought. It’s time to get used to such embodiments of border crossing. I once again remembered the words of the Christian: “Africa teaches to wait.”
The following morning, electricity did not appear as well. But there were hordes of shuttle local that dragged all sorts of stuff for sale in another country. They were literally flooding the yard, and it played into our hands – the authorities ordered the guards to slap us passport stamps and let us go still not able to get from us any money. After waiting a couple of hours before departure, we finally waved the shores of Mauritania, not forgetting to spice it up with gestures a pair of sharp words.
Mark and Yuri.
Before us was now the other side, the coast of Senegal, and we are mentally prepared to spend as much time on the other side as it needs. And surprisingly, sending away the helpers we have applied to the customs office and 10 minutes later had a passports with entry stamps. And that’s all? We could not believe it. Even went to check with the officer – everything exactly okay, we can to go? Yes, we can go! Hooray! FRRREEEDOOOM! We went through the big gates of the boundary point. Senegal.