Sunday, 27 December 2015

Dakar and Lac Rose, Senegal

After spending days searching the net and speaking to other travelers for any information on whether there was a campsite in Dakar. We came to the conclusion there was nothing. We had thought about camping in a hotel car park and spoke to a couple that were currently doing that. After hearing they were spending 20000CFA (£22) a night, we weren't willing to do that! We then looked at Airbnb as an option, but needed somewhere that had secure parking for our homes on wheels. But that would still be a more costly option than we are now used to. So in the end we decided we would head for Lac Rose and catch a taxi into the city to apply for our visas. 

Driving through the streets of Senegal is fascinating! After looking past the rubbish that lines the streets, you start to see the real beauty that this country is. Everyone waves and as we wave back, we get big smiles in return that leaves you with a real sense of happiness. The presence of everyday Senegalese art is everywhere on the streets. The taxis are covered in decorative writing and images; the buildings have colourful paintings (particularly the hairdressers and barbershops). The women are absolutely stunning and wear gorgeous colourful traditional outfits that show off their tall, model like bodies beautifully. They take great pride in their appearance, which is amazing to see! Cat and I keep saying we want a dress similar to what they wear in the beautiful colourful fabrics.

Well we arrived to the Lac Rose and eventually found our campsite (Le Calao Du Lac Rose) after a few sneaky buggers told us their campsite was around the corner and that ours was closed. But we were meeting Dave and Natalie there, so we knew it was open. They certainly do like to try their luck! The campsite was beautiful with a pool and nice facilities!

As we were nursing some serious hangovers from the night before, we were not much fun to be around. Poor Dave and Natalie had to put up with us very sleepy bunch of people. But we had a great time chatting the night away, while enjoying some red wine and whiskey they had bought for us, and sitting under the bright moon which had a perfectly formed circle of cloud or fog around it which non of us could explain. Unfortunately we had to call it an early night as we needed to be up early to get our Mali visa in Dakar. So we said our goodbyes and wished Dave and Natalie a safe journey home. And with no surprise, we passed out as soon as we got into our tents.
The alarm went off at 6am the next morning ready for our taxi to collect us at 7. We got our things together and made our way to the camp enterance where we waited and waited and waited.... Still at 7:30 the taxi had still not shown up. Eventually the owner called the taxi driver for us and he said he would be at the campsite in 10min. Well this only meant one thing... we had to go and disturb Dave and Natalie! So the boys tip toed up to their tent and shook it like crazy! Bet they were wishing they never came to this campsite after all. Nothing like an early morning wake up call when you're on your last day of holiday. Lol!

We got into the taxi, which like all the others, was dilapidated and in serious need of repair. But we drove for ages until we reached the Mali embassy arriving at about 9:15am. Not bad going since the driver had no idea where to go and had to stop and ask people on our way there. The Mali visa was done within seconds (I suppose with Mali's political situation, it was crazy to expect a queue!). All that was needed was to fill out the application form, hand over 2 passport sizes photos, 1 copy of our passport and pay 25000CFA (£28) each. We were instructed to come back at 3o'clock. Perfect!

We strolled up the coastal road and found ourselves at a very large luxury shopping mall. Very strange after being accustomed to stalls on the side of the road, falling to pieces and offering out of date foods. The place was empty and almost deserted. But we strolled up and down looking at all the western shops like Zara and Mango in amazement! We found a grocery store so stocked up on things we couldn't find on the streets. Then it was time for our morning coffee, so we sat down in the food court (on a couch, I might add!!!!) and enjoyed a cup of vanilla latte while watching people start to make their way into the food court. It was strange to see mostly westerners eating and visiting the shopping centre. I suppose this is where the rich and the famous come to enjoy a peaceful meal and a bit of shopping on the waters edge.
We started making our way back to the embassy but decided a spot of lunch was needed so stopped next to the sea to make our sandwiches. We were sat in the baking sun, so we decided to move on in search of some shade! The only place we could find was in the University grounds, so we sat quietly while watching the scholars around us intently studying and revising for what looked like some intense exams. 
Well we went in to the embassy at about 2:30 and we were pleased to see our visas where ready. Such an easy process, so now to wait for our taxi to take us back to the campsite. While we waited a guy came over with a cart that said Nescafé on it, so we bought a cup of coffee from him at 100CFA (£0.11) each. To be more precise, it had 2 and half teaspoons of coffee and 4 teaspoons of sugar in a little cup you would normally get at the dentists to wash your mouth out. It surprisingly was very tasty!

We decided we would spend the next couple of days at the campsite and enjoy our Christmas here. There was one particularly strange Frenchmen who very weirdly would come over and throw water on Cat and myself when were least expecting it. Not particularly bothered by Charles and Robs presence. But we soon got over it, realising he was harmless and just a bit of a flirt. We ended up paying volley ball with him and the owners son every evening at 6. It was actually great fun and got quite competitive when Mr Frenchman wasn't cheating... Lol! 

We decided we would walk around the Lac Rose in hope to see the pink hue the water shines when the sun is high. Unfortunately that morning Rob and myself had a bit of an argument. Robs grumpiness grinds on me sometimes and I guess I then make it worse by rubbing it in. So he decided he would stay in camp and sulk, while the the three of us explored the river side. I really wish he had come with, because we had an amazing morning. 
Lac Rose was the one place I was truly looking forward to seeing. Everyone knows I'm a girl that loves pink, so this would be right up my street! Lac Rose is a shallow lagoon where the water is 10 times saltier than the ocean, and the high concentration of minerals causes the lake to shimmer in a pink light when the sun is high. We watched tourists swimming in the lake, getting out and then being bathed by Senegalese men to wash the salt off. We came across stalls that housed beautiful African art. All sorts of things, like paintings, wood carved African animals and sculptures, decorated cow horns, and fabrics. The sellers were much less forceful that the Moroccans and we were able to walk into their stalls and have a chat and learn more about them without being forced to buy something. 
We stopped and enjoyed a cold beer while trying to decide whether the water had a pink tinge to it or whether it was our mind playing tricks on us. As we couldn't decide we moved onto the next bar where we chatted to the barman and had a few laughs. He thought Charles had two wives, as the three of us sat there. In Senegal it is accustomed for the men to have up to 4 wives if they can afford them. When we explained that Charles and I were in fact brother and sister, he laughed and agreed that would not be a good thing. Cat explained how where we come from only 1 is allowed! 
We made our way onto the jetty where we sat and took in the scenery! It was absolutely gorgeous! The water now definitely was a shade of pink. We watched how the men worked while bobbing in the salt water and churning the salt up for the salt refineries that lined the shores. 
Rob was missing out and I felt awful that he was. So we found out what they were cooking for Christmas and would go back to camp to find out what our campsite was cooking and discuss it with him.
Once back at the campsite, Rob was still not in any better mood. But he soon came round and said to him we would make our way back to let the restaurant know if we were eating there or not, and to see a little of what Lac Rose was all about. We decided we would eat at our campsite as it was slightly cheaper and they were cooking beef steaks!

We wondered back, but as it was late now couldn't stop and look at all the stalls so rushed to the restaurant to let them know we would not have Christmas dinner there. So we enjoy another cold one, where Rob could see the colour of the lake. On our way back we watched the Osprey's flying low and what look like, nesting on the side of the lake. We had a few people come over to us trying to sell their goods. Rob and I ended up falling in love with some pictures made of sand, so we started bargaining. He started at 50000CFA (£55), well at this we started walking away! That was a crazy price for one! After throwing some figures back and forth we ended up buying 4 for 5000CFA (£5.50).... Much better price and he threw in a bag of salt to say thanks. After buying something we were then hounded by others (particularly one woman who was very persistence, almost throwing her jewellery at us) so we swiftly made our way back to the campsite.

Christmas came around and we had an amazing day feeling quite Christmassy in a place that doesn't celebrate it. We spent the day calling our families and friends while sat by the pool side. It's a strange thing to explain, but speaking to the people that you love the most is very special when you are on the other side of the world. While at home, you are consumed by work, bills, and routine, and therefore very rearly make time for the things and people that matter the most! It was a great day and we got to eat like kings!

We left the Lac Rose and are headed south. But first we needed to stop off at the Village for Tortoises (turtles as the guide kept saying). This is a conservation sight for tortoises who get released back into the wild after their rehabilitation. Some come to the sanctuary after being treated badly by their owners by feeding them bad foods, and therefore causing them to deform, or being burned or hurt in the wild. They are becoming endangered, so they are doing their best to help prevent this. The guide was telling us that the Senegalese people don't understand the importance of the survival of these animals and how their waste which is just thrown to the ground is causing such chaos to the wildlife around them. Getting the right help and backing was proving difficult.
We started off with the older tortoises who were absolutely massive, compared to the little baby ones we saw later on that would fit snugly in the palm of your hand. 
We learnt so much about these reptiles like how to differentiate the sex of them, by the shape of their shells. The male's shell being curved inwards underneath and the back of the shell having more of a tail, while the female's shell ended sooner, leaving a gap. They really live the good life if they are in a good environment, with their general activities being eating, drinking, pooing and fornicating (as the guide said), and can live up to 150years old. Brilliant peaceful animals.

Unfortunately We have all come down with a very nasty bug, which means we are 'shitting through the eye of a needle', as Rob would say. Lol! Yes, it's coming out both ends, but hopefully we will get over it quickly! Charles, Rob and I had it yesterday and Cat today. I suppose it's the price we pay for living such an awesome life here in Africa!

Sunday, 20 December 2015

Zebrabar, Senegal

We headed into town on the Monday to collect Charles and Cats tent cover hoping they had done a good repair on the broken zip and a few other jobs they had asked to be done to make the cover a little stronger. Unfortunately, it wasn't quite the repair they had in mind but it would do the job with a bit of fiddling and would hopefully last all the way to South Africa. While Charles and Cat were sorting that out we had a Senegalese man show us his handmade jewellery which Rob ended up buying a copper style bracelet for 1000CFA (£1.10). After he bought it, Rob realised he had lost his phone. Earlier that day we were in the phone shop getting a local sim card so we headed back there to see if anyone had handed it in (unlikely in these parts, but worth a try). We were sad to see it had closed. There were two European girls that said they were staying in the area and could check whether our phone was there in the morning. So we gave them our details, expecting never to hear from them, but worth a try.
In the morning we decided to pack up the tent at 6am to be there for opening time at 7:30am in hope to get it back. We went in and they said they hadn't had anything handed in. So it was gone! The more we thought about the more we thought maybe the Senegalese man with the jewellery had possibly pick pocketed Rob. It certainly wasn't the end of the world, but a lesson learned, so we headed back to camp. 
Then about 4days later I received an email from one of the European girls to say they had Robs phone, but didn't have reception to contact us sooner (we know all to well about that!). Such fantastic news, but the problem was that she had already left for Dakar and then off to Guinnea Bassau, which was not somewhere we were going. We still may never see it again. But still amazing to know that it wasn't stolen and these girls were trying their hardest to get it back to us. 
We then felt awful that we had blamed the Senegalese man, and we took back all our accusations!

While enjoying our lazy days in camp, Cat and I have learnt that fishing is actually such fun! I always thought fishing was boring as hell and could never get my head around it. But there I was loving every second! We spent a number of our days casting our lines out in the hope of catching something. Normally we would catch the odd clam, rubbish bag, shoe, sock and pants (of course we were trying to get a whole outfit)... But every so often there would be a fish! Fantastic, that meant we had another free meal! We have however destroyed our rods in the process, as we possibly need more heavy duty equipment for sea fishing, and will have to buy a new one at some point, as well as replacing the lures that the fish decided to steal while casting our lines. Charles and Cat have been our fish mongers as they gut and descale the fish ready for eating. Rob is not a lover of fish but he did really well and tried everything.

Charles, Cat and myself were out fishing one day while Rob stayed at the campsite. We weren't having much success catching anything, but we were soaking up the sun, watching the crabs make their little homes in the sand and trying to fish. We saw rob in the distance walking towards us along the beach with something massive dangling at his side. The closer he got to us we could finally see what he was carrying... A MASSIVE RAY! 
One of the couples in the campsite had taken the canoes out for the day to the little island opposite from the campsite. He had some serious fishing kit which meant he was able to catch far more substantial sized fish than we could. But he had no idea what to do with this massive ray, so gave it to Rob. Rob and Charles spend the rest of the afternoon figuring out how to gut and skin this massive fish. They did well and we were left with massive lumps of meet that we would have for dinner. So we went over to the couple that had caught it and said we had gutted it and would have it for dinner if they would like to join us.
We had a fantastic evening learning about them and their travels around the world. They were from Germany and had build an old 4WD Peugeot Van which they had converted fr their trip down to Senegal. They would spend a month in Senegal and then drive home where they had their next trip booked to Thailand for diving. We lit a fire and got some veg boiling away in our Dutch oven while Cat made some couscous and Charles fried the Ray as we weren't sure if it would just fall apart on the fire. We were all shocked to see the meat of the Ray looked like rows of segments in an orange piece. We were hoping it would taste good (always awkward when you're trying to cook something new for guests). We dished up and it was gorgeous! Not fishy at all and almost seemed like chicken. Fantastic meal and always a relief when seeing our guests go back for seconds.

During our last few days at the camp a large yellow tour truck called OasisOverland descended on our quiet Zebrabar campsite. It was filled with 21 people from 8different countries and of all ages. Watching them set up their tents and going about their set tasks was definitely an interesting thing to see as it seemed like a military operation.  Slowly one by one we started meeting them and learning about the dynamics of the team. It looked like it was great fun as they all bounced off each other and could see how they would soon be friends for life. We learned that the tour started from London and would go down the west coast of Africa to Cape Town and then back up the east side to Cairo in 40weeks. 10 of the group would do the whole 40 weeks and others would get off at certain points where more people would then join. There were some people that were on their 100th country that they were visiting. Most definitely shows us what small fish we are!
Our last day in the camp we got to know the group a little more as some of them joined us by our cars, while we drank beer and got merry. It was such fun as the banter started to flow. This would be a long evening of drinking and most certainly meant hangovers in the morning! After dinner we joined them around their fire where they showed us some beautiful pics of their trip so far, we spoke about visas and routes through Africa. Then we moved up to the bar where we sat chatting until the wee hours of the morning. Such fun!!
They were a great bunch and definitely sad to have to say goodbye but of course we wished them safe travels as they did for us.

So packing up this morning was most definitely a hard task as we all had very fragile bodies with burning headaches. But it was time to hit the road, so we settled the bill and said our goodbyes to everyone at the Zebrabar. I am going to particularly miss Nora, a 3year old little black girl who had been adopted by the German family who owned Zebrabar. I'm even going to miss their little puppy called Wifi who had mega sharp teeth and loved to nip at your heals for your attention, which meant walking to the ablution blocks was always a relief when you arrived in one piece! It's safe to say that we absolutely loved our time there as we were only meant to spend a couple of days, but ended up spending two weeks there! A perfect spot in paradise!

Saturday, 12 December 2015

Diama Border to Saint Louis, Senegal

Leaving Auberge Menata was sad as it had been a fantastic spot to stop and regroup. We met loads of interesting travellers and had a great time learning about their adventures and where they were headed to next. We met two lovely Austrians, Florian and Sandra, who both worked for Doctors Without Borders and had been to amazing places such as Syria, Irac and now helping out with the refugees in Europe. 
Of course our lovely couple from Belgim, Marlene and Gill who had two log cabins and offered them up for hire while putting on theatre productions for their guests. Their vast amount of travels they had done over the years, offered them new ideas and material for their next productions. 
We had also met a lovely gentleman, Rotger who worked at the Dutch embassy in Moscow, Russia. He had come to Africa for two weeks bussing his way from Morocco to Senegal. We had invited him to have dinner with us while we had a fantastic evening talking about the world and having a good laugh. He brought dessert offering us a huge bag of chocolate M&M's! Cat and I were in heaven!! 

Getting up bright an early on Monday morning, we wondered what the day would through at us with notorious warnings about the fixers and corruption at the borders between Maurintania and Senegal. There are two borders that we could decide between, but after reading about the two options, we had come to the conclusion that the quieter border would be our best bet which would be Diamma. The Rosso border is much larger and the one most people use while moving between the two countries. It is however the one that most overlanders experience the most trouble and can often take days to get through. It also meant we would have to take a ferry to cross the border which only runs 4 times a day, whereas Diamma has a bridge which is open 24hours a day. Diamma, west of Rosso, has its own issues with the road to get there being only accessible by 4WD, particularly not accessible in the rainy seasons as the road becomes one big mud bath. As we are in the dry season, a much better bet.

We were all set to go and head off with our friends, Marlene and Gill. Driving out of Nouakchott would be an adventure on its own as we were right in the heart of the morning traffic. Five lanes were created on a two lane road with cars weaving in and out with the odd car coming up the middle of the lanes in the wrong direction. At that point I was absolutely over the moon that I wasn't driving! Rob however, was absolutely loving this with it's 'no rules apply' kind of driving and used our 'I'm bigger than you' style to slowly weave our way through. Surprisingly, we all managed to make our way out of town without a single scratch!

We stopped on the side of the road to have a quick snack, when Charles noticed a huge thorn in the sidewall of his tyre. Bugger!! A flat tyre is the last thing we needed as we didn't want to keep Marlene and Gill waiting for us. But Rob put a bit of the tyre adhesive stick from our tyre repair kit into the hole, hoping that would do the trick till we got to the other side. Well it worked and Charles was loosing no pressure even after a few days of checking. We will still continue to check, but a brilliant result.

We arrived at the enterance of the Diawling National Park and paid our 2000 smarties each (£4.50) and 1000 gummy bears for the car (£2.20), you have to go through this park to get to the Diamma border. But this was a beautiful park as we tried to pick the best routes on the dried up mud churned road, with beautiful birds, warthogs and monkeys while the land scape now much greener with the sight of water all around us. Such a beautiful way for Mauritania to bid us farewell.

We arrived at the first barrier where our details where to be checked. We handed our passports over and they asked for €10 for compensation. I said no with a smile so we got up and moved onto the next building, while Rob moved the car through through the first barrier. This was the police control where they shuffled you into the small building and closed the door behind you. This was the police control where they would put the exit stamps in our passports. They asked for €10 again before stamping so we couldn't deny this one. We told him we had no euros, only Ouguiya's (Pokemon's). So he said 3000 (£6.70) will do. We reluctantly handed this over, when surprisingly he handed us back 500 smarties for Rob having such a good beard. What, this was crazy! But we certainly weren't going to complain, so we left all laughing and smiling with hands being shaken. (I even got my hand shaken, which is something we have learnt does not happen! Ladies don't get greeted or acknowledge.)

Well it was then onto customs and the next barrier. There was a man asking for 500 Yougi Bears for the pleasure of parking our vehicle between the barriers. We asked for a receipt and he had one. As we were stuck between barriers, we didn't really have a choice so we paid the man. Then it was customs where we would stamp the vehicle out of Maurintania. Rob wasn't with me so I went in first before calling him where they shut the door after me and all smiles and greetings were being made (obviously more sneaky business was about to commence) then Rob entered and they all went very stern and serious. After checking all the registration documents they asked again for €10. Rob mentioned that we paid the guys before, but they weren't having any of it. We had no Euro's and showed them what we had left in Ouguiya's, making sure our dollars were hidden away. We only had 1000 left (£2.20) so they took it without asking for anything else. Perfect! We had gotten away with only paying £10 at this notorious border. We are slowly learning how this all works. 

We drove across the bridge and into Senegal! We got our things stamped and sorted with no corruption. But unfortunately they wouldn't stamp our Carnet. I tried everything, offering to spend money in the northern parts of the country, even a bit of flirting, but they weren't having any of it. We had read that they stopped stamping it at the border within the past year but would still give it our best shot. They instructed us to get it stamped in Dakar within 48hours only. This was awful news as we wanted to spend at least a week in Saint Louis at the Zebrabar for Robs birthday. 

Driving through the border I immediately got the sense that we were finally in Africa!!! Beautiful woman wearing tradition dresses, beautiful scenery, and monkeys in the road. It was a feeling I'd get as a kid, when our folks would take us to the game reserves and enjoy the quiet, wild bush-veld. 

We arrived into The Zebrabar ( after a quick trip into the centre of Saint Loius where we could draw some cash and randomly met up with some of the travellers we saw in the Menata camp site. This is where we finally could enjoy a cold beer!! It went down a treat as spoke to the owner about our dilemma with the carnet. She said it's been like that for 7years now and really effecting the tourism in the north, which is so sad to hear as this campsite and its surroundings were absolutely gorgeous. But she told us that there is a bush taxi that runs into Dakar. So the boys decided they would do that in the morning with Gill. 
We once again met two lovely people called Dave (American) and Natalie (German) and would have dinner all together while enjoying more cold ones. Rob and I started to feel really ill and realised it was because we had only shared a small bottle of water and hadn't eaten anything all day (Rooky mistake!). We had dehydrated in the African sun. I couldn't eat anything and had to give my food to the boys, Cat was lucky and could enjoy the whole bottle of wine to herself! 
Dave and Natalie told us how they met as they ran expeditions with Drakoman Tours, but now had started up their own business ( America where they take groups of up to 16 people up to Alaska to see the Bears and other amazing things. They had both travelled the world loads and told us amazing stories. They were so captivating and we all thought it would be a great adventure to go on one of their tours! 

Rob and Charles got up at the crack of dawn to leave for Dakar at 7am where they would get their carnets stamped. As us girls couldn't join them, I'll have to hand over to Rob to tell you how the day went. (Ps: please forgive Rob's swearing! He normally can't string a sentence together without using a swear word, so it's totally normal. But I promised him I wouldn't edit it)

Me, Chappers (Charles) and Gill got the bush taxi (an ancient shithole Peugeot estate) from St. Louis it would cost 5000cfa(£5.50) each. Unless the taxi wasn't filled with 8 people, we'd have to pay for the empty seats; so we sat and waited at the ranks for an hour or so (with hoards of kids begging for cash and bonbons. I'm starting to hate kids more and more) before it finally filled and departed.  Chappers was sat in the boot with two huge fellas. And me in the middle row with a small woman (that stank like a rhino that's been hitting the gym) and another fella. And Gill got the front seat the lucky old goat. This was a 4 hour drive to Dakar. 

Once in Dakar we needed another taxi to the customs office for the carnet to be stamped. Immediately out of the bush taxi ranks, we were met with hundreds of taxis and their drivers. The fuckers where like flies and all fighting for our attention. This ride would cost 6000cfa (£6.50) between us. And was even more of a piece of shit than the last. The passenger rear shock wasn't attached and I'm quite sure there was no spring in there either. This was fun, going up a quiet toll road at I don't know how fast, as his speedo didn't work. 

Now at the customs 1:30pm, we where told they're on lunch and to come back at 3pm. So off we went in search of food. We ended up in I think, a small shipping container that had a few small tables and chairs inside. This was the restaurant we chose. What a mistake that was. They served up some rank fish stew that would no doubt, give us a dicky belly. It was shit, but Chappers ate it all, as did Gill. Dirty bastards. 

Any ways 3pm came and we waited outside a door in the customs office. Then we waited some more. And some more. I think they decided to have pudding or something. Eventually we were seen to and the fella checked our passports, carnets, the temporary, temporary papers(that gives the car 48 hours entry into Senegal) and the log books and put a stamp and a staple in the carnet. Then sent us to another room.
In the next room another guy removed the staple. Give us back our logbooks. Checked the carnet, and the temporary, temporary papers. Gave it another stamp, and sent us off to a third room. (they must be taking the piss now!) 
In the third room he asked for a photocopy of our logbook and passport, he wanted the temporary, temporary papers back, then asked how long we wanted to be in Senegal, gave us another stamp, ripped a bit out of the carnet and said finished. Finally!

Then we had to find a taxi back to the bush taxis. We found a fella, he was a bit slow and after asking for 10000cfa settled for 4 or 5000 depending if we wanted to take the toll roads. We took the quicker toll roads, but this was not very eventful and quite boring up to the rest of the taxis. 

Then for a bush taxi back to St. Louis. There were none! But there was a bus that would cost 5000cfa each. But Gill wasn't happy about this as busses are slower and wanted a taxi. So we missed the bus by a few minutes trying to negotiate prices with the taxi drivers. Then, after all that, decided we should get the bus, but the next one was at 7; 2hour wait. Fuck that, so we got a private taxi at the cost of 15000cfa each, after a lot of haggling. This was fine, a nice merc, so we thought. It was fucked. But he'd try get us back anyway. 
Ther rear wheel bearings and possibly diff bearings had all gone. Making a lovely drone and grinding noise for the full trip. This was ok, as the first bush taxi was the same. And I'd got used to it.
Then it got dark and he put his candles on. Yep, it had no lights. Nice. Only 2 hours to go, maybe even 3 with no lights and going a bit slower than normal. At least that's what we thought. He carried on at 80/90km/h all the way back. He only hit one warning triangle, just missed a second, a goat and a pig. But the speed bump, or speed wall I think is more accurate, was a bit more tricky to avoid as it went across the road completely. So we took off and landed with a large bang. We carried on as normal....80km/h. Then we got pulled. He paid a bribe. We got let go... And back to the campsite. In one piece!

The boys arrived back at 9pm. It was a weird feeling having no means to contact them, so we were starting to wonder if they would even return at all. They joined Cat, Dave, Natalie and myself around the table to tell us the happenings of their day. We were thrilled the carnet was stamped and therefore something we no longer had to worry about.

Cat and myself had a fantastic day with Dave and Natalie who so kindly took us with them into Saint Louis, where we had a nice stroll through the town center and along the river where we could watch the fishermen go about their jobs. We bought a very delicious Senegalese frozen fruit drink which was amazing in the blazing heat! We bought some veg and then back to the campsite for a chilled afternoon reading our books. That night we would make dinner for Dave and Natalie as we so enjoyed their company.

The next day we headed out in the canoes to the little island across the way with Dave and Natalie. We had a fantastic day swimming in huge ocean waves and soaking up the sun. That night we enjoyed another botched meal with veg and spam with Dave and Natalie. Rob mentioned we were having more dinner parties here in Africa than we ever had in England! There is no stress, just fun! It certainly is a hard life here in Africa!!

The next few days we would enjoy more beers, food, swimming, and sun... and who can forget, the big important day, Rob's birthday!!!!. The boys also did a few jobs on the car like changing a wheel bearing, and just the normal checks. Charles fixed his solar panels, bonnet, and also did the normal checks.

We are in Saint Louis today where Charles and Cat have found someone to fix their tent cover. It should be ready on Monday, so we have a few more days to enjoy in Paradise at the Zebrabar before we head off to Dakar to sort out more visas.  

Sunday, 6 December 2015

Noudhibou and Nouakchott, Mauritania

Mauritania would greet us with yet another police checkpoint. There is certainly a difference between the police styles in Morocco to Mauritania; with Mauritania having military men check your details in a very stern and to the point way. They seem much scarier, however with us being very friendly with big smiles they seem to become much more relaxed and wave us through without any hassles.
We drove up the pristine tar roads with the white sand blinding us with the glare, as the wind kicked it up creating a fog like mist which meant we couldn't see too far ahead of us. Unfortunately the desert was still cluttered with rubbish which unfortunately steals the light away from these beautiful countries. Which is strange as they seem so patriotic with their flags flying EVERYWHERE and all decorations and signs being the flag colours of green and yellow, but yet they are not too fussed about living with filth all around them. Perhaps their rubbish removals are not as sufficient as we are so blessed to have in the UK.

We arrived into the city of Noudhibou and were in search of a campsite after a long, interesting, eye-opening and stressful day at the border. We wanted to just rest and hopefully find a warm shower after a day in the sandy wind. The city was buzzing with crazy, mental drivers that were even worse than the driving style we experienced in Morocco. They just drive and hope for the best!! If they were coming out of a parking space into the traffic, they would not wait for a gap but make a gap, pulling in whether you liked it or not. Four way junctions meant that you drive towards on coming traffic, and hopefully you would come out alive on the other side. It certainly makes for interesting driving!!
People were greeting us and waving at us as we drove through the chaos. You can't call this a beautiful city but certainly an interesting one with many colours, fascinating people, dusty roads and rubbish.

While driving down the main road we noticed a bank where we could draw some local currency. This proved harder than it sounds with the banks wifi being down and therefore the ATM machines not working. we tried one bank after another and still no luck. After about 6 times of trying we eventually came across a bank that would finally give us 50 000 Ouguiya's (£110) (We still can't pronounce this so we have been giving this currency all sorts of names such as Yougi bears, Smarties, Drachma's, Pokemon's, Uggums, Gummy bears and the list continues), but the feeling of holding a wad of notes gives you a false sense of being rich! Its a great feeling, if only!

After a long day, we arrived at the campsite which was small but to our great pleasure it had HOT WATER!!!!! It would be 5000 smarties for the night, which is almost UK prices at £11! I had read that Mauritania would be one of the most expensive so I suppose this was to be expected.
We had an early night without dinner, but with a cup of coffee before bed enjoyed in the campsites lounge type tents. When I say an early night, this is nothing like back at home with an early night being 10pm! Here in Africa an early night is 7:30, with us normally hitting the sack before 9pm. It is what happens when there is no booze, comfy couches or TV to help occupy the time.

In the morning we would start our course of Doxycyline Malaria tablets as we would be nearing the malaria area soon. We packed up camp and would head off to the Cap Blanc where we would hopefully see some Monk Seals. Unfortunately we weren't so lucky as they were all out fishing for the morning. We did however enjoy the beautiful views of the coastline and enjoyed a rather interesting route up the hill back to the information centre via rope. We watched swarms of sea gulls, crabs and snakes while enjoying a tranquil walk along the beach. On our way out of Nouadhibou we had to cross the train tracks where we saw one of the longest trains in the world pass us by. It was incredibly impressive while we waited for it to pass... eventually.

Our next point was to visit the National Park Banc d'Arguin which I had read offered beautiful spots for bird watching and had amazing dunes and beaches, but was only accessible by 4WD vehicles... Well, this would be no problem for us since we had well kitted vehicles that would do the job nicely. Well it turned out to be nothing like expected as the tracks that were pointed out on the Tracks for Africa maps on our Garmin were seriously out of date, and therefore found ourselves mapping out our own route through the desert.  The boys did so well driving through the soft sand until after lunch when we started getting more and more stuck. Rob did quite a lot of off-road driving back in the UK so his practise was coming in handy as he seemed to know just what to do, even if the sand was a new experience. We enjoyed getting the sand ladders and spades out when Charles got stuck and occasionally Rob as well.

We found a campsite for the night in the middle of nowhere next to the antlantic sea, where we were welcomed by 6 gorgeous Moroccan wild dogs. They were so friendly and just wanted a cuddle and a bit of love; unfortunately they are mostly very skinny which is difficult to witness! They would sleep under the cars and keep guard all night by barking the whole night long, so unfortunately we didn't get much sleep!! Just before jumping into bed we turned off all our lights to see the amazing clusters of stars. That's when we noticed the plankton in the sea which would shine in each wave as is barrelled over. Absolutely beautiful.

Well we were off into the dunes the next day and travelled more miles into the wilderness. Eventually I t was soon starting to get late and we were still miles away from civilization. We passed through a fishing village and were stopped by two men to ask for gifts. One was looking at me through the car windows very strangely and made me feel very uncomfortable. I did not want to get stuck here, but the boys managed to get out safe and sound. We had reached really big dunes and were still going nowhere fast. Panic set in and I started feeling very scared! We were in the middle of nowhere, getting stuck, running out of fuel at this point with no phones, and of course we had just pasted that village that looked as though they hadn't seen woman in a while. But I was stressing for nothing, working myself up and not looking at finding a solution but drowning in my own sorrows. Well I soon snapped out of this and joined the others for their support.
Well we came together, worked as a team and came up with a plan. We were on a roll after this and decided to head to the beach away from the dunes where we could rely on the harder beach sand to get us out of this rut. I loved this and being able to rely on each other was just the ticket!

When we got to the beach the tide was in and coming right up to the dunes, so we had some calculating to do. Cat and I would run along the beach and around the dunes (like Baywatch girls, of course) to see whether it was safe on the other side. The boys would wait for the waves to wash out and then make their move around the dunes after we gave the thumbs up. This worked well and the boys were doing great by avoiding getting pulled in by the sea.

The problem was we were still running out of diesel and Charles ran out first putting the only filled jerry can into the car. Then ours went, so we filled up ours leaving a little in case we needed to put more into Charles' tank.
We reached the main road after dark, thank goodness for that!!! and after going passed a police checkpoint we asked him where the next garage was. Well his answer was about 100km away. OH SHIT! It was dark and we had been told from day one never to drive at night for safety. What were we going to do now with Charles having about 15km left and us having just enough to get there. We spoke on the CB's and had come to the conclusion that we would tow when Charles had run out and hope for the best. While driving we noticed a small petrol pump next to a little brick house. We pulled over immediately as asked if they had diesel. They did not..... but said that there was a lady down the road that had a few jerry cans that she could sell to us. We were in luck and she sold 20L to Charles at a crazy price!!! £1.70 per litre!!! Ouch. But it meant that we would get to the next campsite without any worries. Cat had made friends with these ladies as they tried to converse in French. They got their English speaking families on the phone so that they could practise their English with her. It felt as though we had left as best friends!
Later we talked about them being so happy because Christmas had come all in one day for them!

We arrived at the campsite at about 9pm, had a hot chocolate and straight to bed after another night of no dinner. What a stressful but incredible day as everything fell into place after we had put our minds together.
The next morning we would head to Nouakchott, the capital city, where we would head to a campsite called Auberge Menata (5 000 pokemons(£11) per night per couple) where we met up with more amazing travellers. We will stay here for three nights and make our way to the Senegalese border on Monday in tow with a couple we had met in the campsite. They seem incredibly knowledgeable and seem to have travelled all over the world. With their help and guidance, hopefully this next border we will avoid all fixers and do it without paying much money! 

While in the centre of the city we decided to sort out a few things before we got to the border. So we headed into town to get insurance for the vehicles to avoid getting ripped off at the border. On our way we had children hanging off our arms and clothes asking for food, money, clothes, anything. Sad to see but we had to keep moving so we prised them off which was actually quite hard as they were strong and determined!!!
We paid for 3 months that would cover some of the other African countries (hopefully) at 13 495 Yougi bears(£31). And of course needed to get more copies of our fiches.
We popped into a store on the side of the road where we would try ask if they did copies. There was a gentlemen who was a customer of the shop but was interested in us and our travels. He helped organise a price for us for 50 copies each totalling 8 000 Uggums... but he ended up paying 2 000 to the shop owner to bring our total to 6 000(£13). What was happening? We were not being begged for a free gift? We were being offered money? This was very strange but of course we thanked him for his generosity!! He spoke about some of the travels he had done around the world, and of course about our own adventure. Another crazy moment that restores your faith in humanity!!! 

So tomorrow we will head to Senegal, wish us luck for the border!

Friday, 4 December 2015

The Desert, Morocco

This would be our fifth week since leaving the UK. Time really has flown by and it certainly doesn't feel like it's been that long. The days and nights go so quickly, but I suppose it's like the saying goes, 'time flies when you are having fun!'

Well we headed off towards the desert and the unknown. It certainly wasn't as we expected with all kinds of different terrains awaiting us, not just sand as I naively expect. We drove up a large hill that gave us a beautiful view of where we had come from. Beautiful colours and shades of brown as far as the eye could see until we arrived in a town called Mhamid el-Ghizlane where we would meet the end of the road as you saw it on the map. Here is where we would venture in-land and experience the forever changing rewards Morocco was to through at us once again. 

Since we had left Marrakech we had not come across a supermarket and we were starting to worry about our food levels, well particularly lunch foods. We still have our rashons box which would come as a relief that night. We looked for shops in the town of Mhamid as we drove through, and decided to press on as we were getting waved down by every man, woman, child, donkey and camel trying to sell us all names of things and to part with our money. Children particularly wanting pens, then asking for Bon-bons(sweets) once they realised we had no pens. Rob mentioned that he had heard that children aren't able to attend school if they did not have a pen, so this was an important piece of kit to have. 

These small towns offered little hole in the wall shops where you could find random things like tea, out of date passata, sometimes Coca-Cola or very unhealthy looking luminous orange drinks (Rob's favourite of course, lol!), flat breads (which Moroccans pretty much have with every meal), different grains in sacks and some other strange bits that you couldn't really do anything with. Often we would come across stalls that sold fruit and vegetables, however you had to choose carefully and decide who had the fresher range. Driving down south and further into the hot desert meant that these stalls were becoming less and less. We had realised we should have stocked up in Marrakech, definitely a learning curve for the future. Stock up on the more luxurious things like cheese, yogurt, biscuits, wraps, etc. when we can!!

We didn't have to drive far before we came to our first small dunes. Well this only meant one thing...  we had to stop the cars and jump out to run on the dunes and feel the sand between our toes. This was something Charles and I were particularly over excited about and acted like little school children running around like crazies. Cat and Rob looked at us with bewilderment and puzzled by our behaviour, but Cat soon joined in and we were in heaven. Rob still had his trainers on, so in my eyes he  was missing out on great fun!

The boys decided to let down their tyres so our journey through the sand would be a little easier going. This would increase the surface area where the tyres met the sand and therefore decreasing our chances of getting stuck in the dunes. (That's the theory anyway!)
While the guys were doing that a man slowly walked past with camels on tow. Where had this man come from? There was nothing in front of us? We were getting used to seeing people walking for miles in the middle of nowhere, but still puzzled as to where they had come from and where they were going.

After the tyres were set, it was time for some dune bashing and the guys did marvellously without getting too stuck. It was soon time to have some lunch so we found a tree where we could have some shelter from the heat of the sun. Once we got out the car we realised that actually there was quite a strong chilly breeze so eating our lunch in the sun was just the ticket. The breeze blew the sand over the dunes and created a beautiful white spray over the mounds. Quite a beautiful sight, but it did mean we had a crunchy lunch.

We were back in the cars and said goodbye to the dunes and hello to a vast open plain where there was nothing for as far as the eye could see. We drove for hours without seeing any hint of life, and then there was this tree in the middle of the plain. A very random, lone tree. It certainly does baffle the mind! But the boys were having a blast as we could get up to some crazy speeds with no road in sight as they zigzagged next to each other and driving wherever they wanted. The gigantic mass of land was our playground. We had music blasting, wind in our hair, with the sun beating down as we left behind big dust clouds. 

Eventually we had come to the end of this magnificent plain and found a dirt road that brought us to a sign that had a very unusual name for a camp site... Twat Camp! Of course this called for a photo moment!

Well we ignored the sign as we would do some free wild camping that night and found a suitable place under the stars in the middle of no where. We had a visitor that walked for miles to come see us. Such a strange man as the conversation went as follows:
Us: Bon jour
Him: Bon jour, ça va
Us: Wee ça va
He then guestured for a cigarette, and as we had none. He turned around and walked back into the vast desert. We were all shocked! How random!? Such a long walk, to just turn around and walk back.

We set up camp, had our rashons and would enjoy fiddling with the camera settings while enjoying watching the stars, satellites and shooting stars. We were shocked to see the moon had lit up the desert and we almost had no need to use our lights. There was utter silence as nothing was around. We had gotten used to hearing cats fighting through the night, dogs barking till the sun came up and cockerels cockle doodling at all hours of the night. Our first night camping in the wilderness would be interesting. Rob was waking up ever half an hour to any hint of a noise or rustle; the wind picked up throughout the night, so the tents were flapping and keeping Rob awake. It soon died down and we were able to get some shut eye. It was exciting and thrilling; and not nearly as scary as I thought it would be.

We packed up camp as usual and continued into the desert that changed between sandy and hard rocky terrain that certainly felt as though the cars were taking a beating. We had to join some of the dirt roads that had been created from people who had ventured into these parts in months before us to try avoid some of the large rocks and boulders. Most of these roads were corigated, so it was certainly a bumpy road. We reached some sand dunes again and with that a big relief as it was smooth once again. We couldn't resist again and had to pull over for some fun in the dunes. We ran up one side and jumped to see who could land the furthest on the other side of the peak. Rob still had his shoes on and was missing out on the fun.
For miles we drove in the sand until Charles eventually got stuck... Twice! But we all got stuck in and with our spades we tried prizing out the sand under his tyres. Frustrating work this, as the light fluffy sand would fall into the holes we created. Eventually it was the sand ladders that did the job! They worked a treat! 

We headed to a large lake which was indicated on the map called Barrage Irike. Well we arrived and found ourselves still driving; on our satnav, our little Homor satnav character was walking in water. Yes this lake was a brown, sandy, dusty plain. No water in sight! Quite a cool feeling driving on the river bed, while noticing the floor had a crust over it that was cracking in the harsh sun. 

Unfortunately Cat started feeling like her dreaded travellers bug was making a reappearance. So we decided we should head for a town where we could make use of camping facilities and get to a pharmacy. This turned out just great as we were able to get some food in one of these holes in the walls to stock up our empty fridges. We would stay in Foum-Zguid and Tata the next couple of nights and if all went well some more wild camping the next.

We started nearing Western Sahara and with this all the police checks we had seen in Morocco that didn't bat an eyelid at us, was now intensely interested in our travels. And one police check after another they wanted to see our Fiche's. These were documents we had prepared in England with all our details on like a copy of our passports, personal info, Daisy's details and finally our country entry details. We had prepared about 25 of these each... I certainly underestimated how many police checkpoints there would be. After giving out about 15each in Morocco alone, we hadn't even reached Western Sahara yet. We needed to find a town with a photocopier and fast! We were being asked to show these as we entered and exited a town. Sometimes these checkpoints were even a few feet away from each other. But the police officers were extremely friendly and just wanted to find out about our travels. Some of them even made fun of us as we can only speak one language... Cheeky buggers! But I suppose they have a point!?

We arrived into Laayoune and this is where we would try find a photo copier. We pulled into the only campsite and the owner would direct us to the nearest one. Well, he said it would be 7km up the road. So we headed in that direction, but as much as we had experienced of Western Sahara already, there was NOTHING!!! Only a scattered array of houses... So we headed into town. We saw a post office and would try our luck there. Cat and I went in while the boys stayed in the cars. The gentlemen said he would print 10 for us for free. When I said we would need way more than that, possibly even 100copies each that we would be happy to pay for. But he was adoment that he did not want money from us, so we settled for 50each. He quickly hurried us into his office where he closed the door and slyly called for someone to fetch paper. This was obviously something he shouldn't be doing, but wanted to help us out. We were extremely thankful and sorry at the same time as we watched him run out of paper... again... Then ink.... Then the power going, twice! We learned he was 33years old and had a wife and young boy who was going to visit London in 2016, and so we told him a little about ourselves too and enjoyed our broken conversation switching between French and English. 
Then, very unexpectantly, he started crying. This grown man who was incredibly well dressed and obviously was someone senior in the office was crying in front of us. He asked us why we thought he was being so helpful at no cost (remember, Morrocans do nothing for free). This of course was a rhetorical question and therefore would continue. He mentioned sadly about the shootings in Paris by Muslim terrorists and said how he was Muslim, but as he was crying, he couldn't continue trying to explain his emotions, so we assured him that we did not think of him that way. He was trying to say that all Muslims are not terrorists and thought that all Europeans believed this. This got more and more awkward so we sat in silence while he dried up his tears. After getting all our photo copies we shook his hand in thanks and left a bit shocked and overwhelmed by what had just happened. 
It's sad to think how people that were using his faith causing such chaos around the world would effect the good people, like him, so profoundly! 

So we headed back to the campsite, where we had made friends and would play with the local dogs and of course, would get ready for the next few days of incredibly boring driving! Western Sahara was flat with nothing in sight besides sand, small bushes, lorries and police checks. We wanted to get to the border first thing in the morning as we weren't sure how long the border crossing would take. We drove and drove with no campsites in sight. Eventually we arrived at a hotel and asked if they wouldn't mind us camping in their car park. They were extremely helpful with a guard during the night for our safety. Perfect! So we would stay for dinner as compensation which was brilliant as the place turned into the local sports "bar"... Where the men would drink coffee and tea and watch the soccer. 

We made sure to fill up with Diesel before making our way to the border as we had heard fuel is crazy expensive in Maurintania compared to the £0.60 a litre in Morocco and £0.40 a litre in Western Sahara. We had spent 4 weeks in Morocco and loved every second of it, but we were itching to move on  and see more of Africa.  

In the morning we got to the border of Western Sahara and No Mans Land as they call it. Our first overland African border and we were obviously sticking out like sore thumbs as we had all sorts of people hassling us to help with the procedures. No, we would do it on our own and we managed just fine! As awful as it sounds!!!! I soon learnt that fluttering my eyelids at the officials and smiling like a dumb helpless girl would help with the progress...
We had our passports stamped, our car checked (particularly for drugs as they used a very cute black Labrador that was having the time of its life wagging his tail profusely), the vehicle's paperwork done and of course the waiting. But soon we were on our way into No Mans Land.
This area that belonged to no one was scattered with rubbish, car wrecks, and dirt roads that were created from what looked like the vaste number of lorries passing through. We were followed by fixers trying their luck in their dilapidated Mercedes. We still were having non of it. Then there was one guy that came up to us, that seemed to know all about our travels and said he was told to meet us here by our friends in Marrakech, Patrick. Patrick had called the fixer and had arranged for him to be there to help us. Out of courtesy for their help in Marrakech we felt obliged to use him, however feeling very unhappy about it. For what it's worth though, he did manage to get the job done and organised for all our passports, vehicle insurance and other regulations to be done and stamped. All this for a very pricey fee. $50 for vehicle insurance, $50 for the vehicle entry fee and $50 for his services. Ouch!!!
We had our car checked again by a very stern looking military officer as he went through every box in search for alcohol... To our surprise he did not check the fridge. But we had no alcohol anyway and the last place we had a drink was in Marrakech... The poor boys continue talking and dreaming of a cold one! 
4 hours later we were in Maurintania!