Africa Overland Part 4 - Talaru
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Africa Overland Part 4

AFRICA OVERLAND PART 4

TUESDAY 17TH SEPTEMBER

 


We are about to leave Dakhla – into Mauritania. We are waiting for an army convoy (apparently it’s a load of rubbish but to keep things official it has to be done). There are two Land Rovers with 4 Aussie guys from Bendigo. I haven’t had a good chat with them yet  – but I did try and find out who won the AFL Grand Final.

Just to backtrack to how we got to Dakhla…….

 

After Layounne we continued south. We spent one night camped near the edge of the cliffs. We stopped for a coffee along the way at a bizarre little town called Tan-Tan. The Tan-Tan Club wis a country-club type place in the Arab style. It as decorated in 70’s décor and there was night club music playing really loud. The TV was also on and we all plopped in front of the TV, staring like zombies and watching a very bad Arab soap opera.

 

The next night we camped in a quarry and it was very windy. While we were stopped for lunch along the way, we were surprised to see a little mini van coming along the road. Then suddenly it blew over and flipped onto it’s side.  A few of the guys ran over to assist and right it, and luckily nobody was hurt. Must be a common occurrence as none of the locals were worried. They just heave-ho’d and righted the van, then drove off.

 

We ended up spending 2 nights in Dakhla. It is the last main town before Mauritania – a real outpost; all dry and dusty. The people here are really friendly. A few of us set off to find the hammam one morning and found ourselves hopelessly lost. We asked a guy for directions and luckily he turned out to be a student, studying English. He directed us to the hammam and ended up escorting us there. We saw him the next day in the street, and stopped to say hi. It’s nice to be in a place long enough to meet someone you know. We had to get rid of our Moroccan currency so we went on a spree and bought a coffee, and I also bought 50 boiled sweets for 10Dihram.

 

We got stuck into the red wine and vodka last night. Because Mauritaniais a ‘dry’ country we cannot import alcohol. So we had one last go at the grog to prepare us for the next 10 days of abstinence. Another windy night but it seems to be the norm now. Probably not too much to write about for the next 2-3 days until we are well into Mauritania.

Driving convoy – Sahara Desert

Driving convoy – Sahara Desert

FRIDAY 20TH SEPTEMBER

 


Writing from Nouadibou, Mauritania.

 

Well, Mauritania is a dry and dusty place. It took us 2 days to get across the border. The convoy was small and it was a very long day. We camped in a compound near the border, and only arrived there at about 8pm. As usual it was windy and the ground was hard. We had an early start the next morning. As you drive further into the desert the landscape becomes quite bizarre – almost surreal. The sand looks like grains of silver and lends a moon-like quality to the place. It is very rocky and there are moving sand dunes. We were driving along the one and only road when the road disappeared under a huge dune. We drove around and I expect that in a few years the dune will have moved on and the road can be used once again. We went through a small sand storm which caused a bit of excitement. They are annoying but also somewhat exotic, sort of reminiscent of Lawrence of Arabia (or rather Lawrence of Western Sahara).

 

The border post is rustic, to say the least. Just a little shack near a well. Apparently there are land mines all along the border, which runs along a peninsula. After visiting the shack we had to then continue on to a lone table – sitting in the middle of the road. This was where we were all processed. The scene was funny – a guy in uniform sitting at a table in the middle of the desert. He opens this big book where he records our details. The book must contain the details of the last 10 year’s worth of visitors who went through this border.

 

Our arrival into Nouadibouh caused a frenzy among the local kids. When we stopped we were mobbed by about 50 of them. They were really friendly, until ‘the international chant of the child’ started up – ‘donnez moi cadeaux’ they cried at us. We ignored them as best we could and shook off the hangers on as we wandered off in search of the supermarket. Inside the supermarket we found the treasure of all treasures – Mars Bars and ice cream.

 

We camped on the beach that night and ended up with a few visitors. There was a northbound overland truck that had broken down in the desert, some 250km from Nouadibouh. A few stragglers made it to town and a few more remained at the truck. They needed help getting their truck going and then getting the rest of their group to safety. I could see that we would spend some time in Nouadibouh.

Desert Outpost – Somewhere near Mauritania

TUESDAY 24TH SEPTEMBER

 


Well, it’s been a while since I last wrote – a bit slack really, since we haven’t really been doing much. Our first full day in Nouadibou was basically a matter of waiting around. We stayed in a ‘campground’ which was really only two rooms and a driveway, but we managed to fit 45 people in there. There were the 4 Aussies, 2 South African travellers, a few from the other E.O. truck and our group. There were people sleeping under trucks, on the roof, on the roof next door, in the truck – just all over the place. Some people from the other group had malaria so they were allowed to sleep inside.

 

We had to cook for 40 people that night. I did chicken in a marinade of garlic, soy sauce, coriander, chilli and a few other things. It went down really well and we managed to feed all the people in the group using just two chickens.

 

We had to get up early the next morning and make breakfast for the members of our group who were going out into the desert to rescue the other truck. After that we had a leisurely day. We went into the markets to buy our food. They are real bush markets; the meat hangs outside and is covered with flies.There wasn’t a great variety but we managed to buy enough food to eat well. The bread here is pretty good – very French, soft and fresh. Our camp spot is near the camel markets. Down towards the beach was the slaughter grounds – there were camel carcasses strewn all over, with various other types of rubbish laying around. We saw a camel being slaughtered one morning. They bend its neck around to its side then slit the throat. Then they skin it – I got to see what is inside a camel’s hump. Not much, just fat mainly.

 

We went to the hammam the night before leaving Nouadibouh. While Pat & I were waiting for one of the Aussies to come and pick us up, we were invited to sit outside and chat to one of the ladies who ran the hairdressers next door. She was from Ghana and so could speak English. I had with me some Mauritanian cloth that I had bought earlier that day. The hairdresser took the cloth and wrapped me up in true Mauritanian style. They were calling me ‘Cassandra’- which apparently is a compliment, but I’m not sure. It was a good laugh anyway. I slipped back into our camp dressed as a Mauritanian, but everyone knew who it was.

 

The broken truck got back on Saturday night. In the meantime we filled in our days playing cards and backgammon with the Aussie guys. We left Nouadibouh on Sunday morning. Our first night was in the desert – the only place for 100’s of miles that had any trees growing. I rode in the Land Rover with some of the Aussies and two of them joined our truck – a bit of variety for all of us.

 

That night I sat down with our Mauritanian guide and had a few cups of tea with him. He wears this long blue cloak and a turban and has a long pointy beard. He only speaks French and his local language, so it was a bit difficult to work out what he was talking about, although he talked just the same. It is amazing how the weather changes here. As soon as the sun begins to set the winds pick up and soon sand is blasting across the desert. We haven’t had a real sand storm yet but I’m sure it will come.

Campsite in the Desert

Campsite in Nouadibouh, Mauritania

We left fairly early the next morning in the hope of reaching Nouakchott that night. Unfortunately this was not to be. We drove all day through the desert and reached a place where we had to wait for the tide to go out so we could drive along the beach. We stopped for dinner at 5pm and went for a swim. We played cards and walked along the beach, then after eating we got going at about 9pm. It was a very bumpy drive from all the corrugations in the sand – big, undulating humps not just your average road-like corrugations. By 1am we were still going and then we managed to get the truck bogged in the middle of a big mud flat. For an hour we tried to dig the truck out and then decided to wait until it was light. By about 3am we managed to pitch our tents and grab a few hours sleep.

 

We were awake again at 6am, got the truck out and continued along the beach. We had an ETA at Nouakchott of about midday, but while driving along the beach we saw a little figure down by the shore waving his arms. It was an American guy who had come off his motorbike. Mind you, this was pretty, much the middle of nowhere. A place where few cars came by and the sun was extreme. We went over and got him sorted out. We contemplated putting the bike in the back of the truck but eventually we got it going. Audu (the bike guy) came in the back of the truck and Bruce drove the bike the rest of the way to Nouakchott. Audu had been working for the Peace Corps in Guniea Bassau for the past 2 years and was on his way home. So why was he laying injured on a Mauritanian beach? Apparently he had hired a guide to take him from Nouakchott to Nouadibouh, but foolishly paid in full up front. So not long after they got onto the beach the guides took off and Audu decided to try the crossing himself. He had the accident and had been laying there for a few hours in the hope that help would come.

 

We arrived at Nouakchott that afternoon and went to buy some drinks and sweets. Nouakchott is a very grungy town for the capital city of Mauritania but at least it is not desert. Our camp site is at the beach and there are showers. Pat and I sleep in a big hut shared by about 15 other people. The Aussies had their own hut and Pat and I went over to play cards with them that night. Did some laundry the next morning and then went into town for a wander around and a hamburger (very bad) for lunch. After getting back to camp we went for a swim and had a general lay around on the beach. Chris (one of the Aussie guys) came down and we all hung around chatting for a while  and playing with the local kids. I went with Chris in the Land Rover in search of the port – apparently the fishermen come in at 4pm with the day’s catch. We stopped at a ship wreck and had a look around there for a while, then drove into town. We eventually found the port. The fishermen go out in these long boats. They come back with a small catch and divide it amongst the crew. It was a very busy, crowded place with little shacks (restaurants) everywhere selling fried fish with chilli and bread. The women are beautiful and they wear really colourful clothes. They have blue gums which seem to be dyed as a result of chewing some sort of stick. Not sure what it is – maybe indigo. We went back to camp and then the Aussie guys left us to camp along the beach. The next day we left Nouakchott at about midday. One of the Aussie guys had his passport stolen so they will be delayed for some time trying to get that back. We may see them again in Bamako.

 

Our first night out of Nouakchott was spent camping rough – we just turned off the road and pitched the tents a  few hundred metres away from the road. I decided to sleep out this night, which turned out to be an unfortunate decision. A huge sand storm hit us at about 2am. It was so strong that I could hardly stand up and I was blasted with sand for about an hour. I tried to tie myself up in my sleeping bag but the winds were so strong that I couldn’t even get it done up. A few tents blew down and I found Pat sitting in our tent, with it collapsed around her. She was OK. I ended up sleeping on the floor of Grant and Kirk’s tent.

 

The next day we headed up into the mountains.We found a nice camping spot along a rocky escarpment. Pat and I were sleeping in the cook tent and so managed a little wash after everyone had gone to bed. Using a mug full of water each we managed to wipe off some of the dirt that was by now crusted onto us.

 

We sat in the cab the next day and got a different view of everything. We had managed two flat tyres in 24 hours and were glad to be near the border with Mali. This part of the country was low on food and all we could buy in the markets was tinned food, onions and bread. We turned off the main road and cut down to the Malian border. At about 5pm the weather changed from searing heat to amazing thunder storms. We could feel the wind pick up suddenly then waves of sand came pelting through the desert. The rain came with the cold winds and then the lightning storm started. It was an amazing experience. The land is very flat and it was dark. There was sheet lightning and fork lightning and thunder. We just sat in the truck and watched it as we drove along. It was a bit like being in a mobile theatre. It was really nice to have a change of temperature. We camped on the side of the road that night. Pat and I had to cook and we didn’t eat until about 10pm, by which time we were utterly exhausted. We had to be up at 5am the next morning to cook breakfast.

After breakfast we had an early start but were soon stopped by some terrible road conditions. The road was really muddy and we got bogged quite a few times. At one stage it took us 3 hours to go 5 kilometres. The truck was bogged right up to the axles – at one stage I was down on my hands an knees digging the tyres out with my hands.

Campsite in the wilds of Mali

Bogged to the axels in Malian mud, middle of nowhere

That’s me, standing off to the right. Must have been looking for oncoming traffic 😉

We finally found our way out and camped up for the night. Luckily we were able to fill up with water so we all had showers that night. I can’t remember ever being so tired. By this stage it was five days without a shower or wash and we were caked in mud from the digging. The next day we continued on along dusty roads to Bamako. The landscape became more and more tropical as we drove along. The air was more humid and it seemed to get hotter again. The storms of the last few days were now just a pleasant memory.

Passing traffic, Mali

We finally found our way out and camped up for the night. Luckily we were able to fill up with water so we all had showers that night. I can’t remember ever being so tired. By this stage it was five days without a shower or wash and we were caked in mud from the digging. The next day we continued on along dusty roads to Bamako. The landscape became more and more tropical as we drove along. The air was more humid and it seemed to get hotter again. The storms of the last few days were now just a pleasant memory.

 

Our lodgings in Bamako are a Catholic Mission. Bamako is a very ‘Frenchified’ city with wide streets lined with trees. You can see the colonial’s attempts to recreate the France from where they came. My immediate impression of  the people of Bamako is that they are aggressive- as soon as we stepped outside the mission we were followed and hounded. It was a bit of a culture shock after the deserts of Mauritania. Pat and I went to get the mail and five guys ‘escorted’ us. They waited for two hours outside the post office while we collected the mail from the poste restante. Then they followed us back. We stayed inside for the rest of the afternoon, just sitting around enjoying being stationary. One of the group members had to arrange a trip back to Austria since her father was really sick. I think also she felt a bit out of place and never really fitted into the group and so was not at all hesitant to take any opportunity to go home. Pat and I went to the travel agent’s office and booked her a flight home and then found her a hotel room, since we were heading off soon. We went to one of the many pubs and sat around drinking beer all afternoon. Then we went back to the mission and got changed. We went out for dinner at the King Cafe, where they serve food which vaguely resembles western food. I had a burger and chips and a few beers. Then we moved onto the ‘Evasion Bar’ – a hip, happening nightspot. In reality it was a grungy dirty place with about 10 chairs and an air conditioner. Prostitutes wandered in and out all night. We were fairly drunk by the time we got back to the mission.

 

We left Bamako the next day and headed towards Mopti. We spent a night just outside Segou and went into Mopti the next day – and boy what a hole of a place Mopti is. It is on the Niger River but the place it so hot and aggressive. The people aren’t half as nice as elsewhere in the country. Must be the heat. We bought some supplies there are got out of there as soon as we could. We reached Bankass that night. The campground was OK and it had a shower and a bar. We had a few beers that night then slept on the roof.

Malian Villagers

Malian Village