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.  

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