While over-landing West Africa we covered the desert area in three different countries: Morocco (Western Sahara), Mauritania and Mali. I loved most the desert in Mauritania. Maybe because thats where we first meat some wildlife or maybe for the reason that the desert in Mauritania looked most like the desert I have imagined – you know like they show in movies – Big sand tunes and nothing else but sand sand sand…. and huge areas without any population…. Well the desert in Mauritania looked most like that – Mali and Western Sahara not so much. (Mali haf already quite a lot of plantation and Western Sahara was too rocky.)
If I would ever get to travel to the East side of Africa I would start from Burundi. Seems place worth seeing according this Burundi travel blog by 197 travelstamps. but as sayd – in West side my favourite place is Mauritania!
But before we could enter to this amazing country we had to deal with some landmines. Yes you read correct LANDMINES. After exciting Western Sahara you dont get to enter Mauritania straight. You drive out from Morocco (Western Sahara) and the border of Mauritania is like few kilometers ahead. Which way ahead exactly – you dont know. Cos there is no signboards. There is also no roads. There are just tracks in the sand, and landmines, and burned car wreckages all over (literally as an evidence of the forgotten landmines are still there). In those burned cars live people. The residents of “No Man Land”.
We knew about the landmines. The bikers of Kudu Expeditions we meat earlier in Sahara had told us about them. They advised us to stick close to them in this area but we could not do it because the border procedures while exciting Western Sahara took too long time, so the Kudu Expedition bikers could not wait up and crossed the land mined “NoMansLand” without us. They had explained us that the landmines had been forgotten there, between the borders, by the military long time ago and that they weren’t dangerous to pedestrians but they reacted to the weight of the car. It would sound like a myth if only there weren’t all those burned cars all over…..
We carefully tried to follow the tracks and drove with help of compass towards the border point of Mauritania. At one point we just stopped. The tracks in sand were just too many . And the burned cars all around were also bit too many. The tracks in sand leaded literally everywhere but border of Mauritania could not be everywhere. After moments of thinking what to do and which direction to drive next, a mini van from Mauritania side drove to us and the driver offered us to show the direction for 20 euro.
“Oh, we are just fine. We have been here many times” My ex-boyfriend refused the offer.
“Yes, Really! We know the way!” we lied and immediately regretted the decision.
The mini van drove off. Towards Western Sahara,
I dont know why we refused the 20 euro deal. 20 euros were very small price for our lives.
Damn it! just few days ago we had bought tea for a double price, based on some Morocco guy suggestion!!! And now we could not pay 20 euros for our safe arrival to Mauritania??!!?
I believe now when you are reading this you might consider us crazy… but at that point we had our reasons. I guess we just had meat way too many African-Arab businessmen by this time, who all had tried to rip us off and just chop our money so we did not trust anyone.
I think that today I would most probably accept the offer but that day we had major trust issues. Who knows if the “tour-guide” would have really shown us the correct way to the Mauritania border or maybe he wanted to rob us or trick to follow to even ore complicated place and then ask for more money????
We had our reasons for not trusting cos in desert checkpoints even police workers had tried to cheat us, and the immigration workers in the border and then the “friendly guy” who sold us super expensive Chinese tea.
Luckily we did not need to wonder and regret the refusal for too long cos soon one local Mercedes passed by and from the window the driver waved us suggestion to follow him, which we did. In this area most popular car wetr old diesel Mercedes – strong and reliable. All of those Mercedes’s were light blue or white by color. But this one was big exception – it was black. Very unpractical color for such hot country :).
But anyway – we were happy to see some locals who did not ask for anything – they were just wanted to help! Not everyone in North-West Africa is corrupt!
Compulsory visit to Nouhadibou
At border point we tried to offer the tea we had bought from Tanger by suggestion but nor the immigration officers nor custom workers did not care about the tea. They liked much more an old car radio we had forgotten in the boot after we changed it to the newer version in Europe. And from our Spanish friends luggage they liked one full gallon of petrol. From here one suggestion for the over-landing trip on West Africa.
Do not top up you spare petrol gallons BEFORE the border. Better do it in first possible station after crossing the border of new country!
At the border we were also told to make local insurance for the car in first city. That first city was Nouhadibou – completely off our route. But we had no choice – we had to go there. Soon after the border was a crossroad. From that crossroad we would have needed to turn left towards capital Nouakchott and Mali – but this way was blocked by police. They did not ask us for any papers – they just directed us to turn right towards Nouhadibou for our insurance.
At Nouhadibou we meat again with the Kudu Expedition bikers. The were camping in same place that sold insurance. How convinient haaaah? Insurance, food, shower, accommodation – all from one business. 😁
We found the accommodation there bit costy. 12 eur for mattress in shared, crowdy tent?? No thanks! So we just used the chance to shower and drove off after getting our local insurance papers. We set our own camp outside the city borders in desert. That was the last night we camped with our Spanish friends and in the morning we went in different ways. They took off to Famous Banc D’arguin National Park and we hurried towards Ghana. We still had a deadline to meet. The Estonian-Ghanaian Wedding in Cape Coast.
The Banc d’Arguin National Park (Arabic: حوض أركين) of Bay of Arguin lies in Western Africa on the west coast of Mauritaniabetween Nouakchott and Nouadhibou. The World Heritage Site is a major breeding site for migratory birds, including flamingos, broad-billed sandpipers, pelicans and terns. Much of the breeding is on sand banksincluding the islands of Tidra, Niroumi, Nair, Kijji and Arguim. The surrounding waters are some of the richest fishing waters in western Africa and serve as nesting grounds for the entire western region.
The Banc d’Arguin National Park is a Nature reserve that was established in 1976 to protect both the natural resources and the valuable fisheries, which makes a significant contribution to the national economy (Hoffmann, 1988), as well as scientifically and aesthetically valuable geological sites, in the interests of and for the recreation of the general public. The park’s vast expanses of mudflats provide a home for over two million migrant shorebirds from northern Europe, Siberia and Greenland. The region’s mild climate and absence of human disturbance makes the park one of the most important sites in the world for these species. The nesting bird population is also noted for its great numbers and diversity. Between 25,000 and 40,000 pairs belonging to 15 species, making the largest colonies of water birds in West Africa (IUCN Technical Evaluation, 1989).
Sheshells in the desert
When driving from Nouhadibou to Nouakchott we noticed that the sand in desert was very pale. Like almost white. We stopped the car to explore around on foot. The reason why the sand looked white was in seashells. The sand was full of seashells. Was funny to walk in desert and collect seashells. Were was I after all? At the beach or in desert? The correct answer is: I was in the bottom of the sea! Now the sea was nowhere seen but in old times the desert area between Nouhadibou and Noakchott used to be sea. Now when the sea has gone back it has become the desert! Desert full of seashells!
Closer to the cities we could see trucks in the roadside and men shoveling the sand from desert to the trucks. Ofcours – seashells or sand full of seashells comes handy in construction. Later when in cities I noticed scrambled seashells used in pavement. Looked nice and I guess seashells made the road material stronger.
If in Western Sahara we could only see warning signs of camels crossing a road, then in Mauritania we also saw it happening! I tried to sneak closer for photo but the camel kept his distance. I guess he was not as excited getting on photo with me as much as I was 🙂