Thursday, 24 December 2015

Senegal - St Louis, Lac Rose and a Merry Christmas!

The last post ended rather abruptly.. This was because we had finally found Internet and the blog was going up in what ever state I finished it in.. Luckily my editor (my mum at home) did edit my mistakes! 

So the tent.. Having now been on the road for 7 and a half weeks we have come to realise that things go wrong .. Things break.. You may spend a lot of money on something, but it may still break! The tent has been an issue for a while.. The zip holding the cover onto the tent when closed broke (it took a few weeks for it to finally go). We put out a FB plea on the WTNA page and lots of suggestions came in. We went with the best one, but sadly this lasted only one trip and by the time we got to St Louis it had completely gone. Asking the owners they gave us a name of a local reparation shop and off we trooped in a taxi. Getting there he seemed to understand what we wanted, the zip fixing and also two holes sewing as well as some material to strengthen the top of the cover (sun damage). He told us to come back in two days so off we went. Two days later we came back.. The reparations had been done  some better than others. The holes and material were great.. However he had sewn the zip together.. This would be fine but for the zip to work the two sides need to be separate so that one side can slot into the base of the tent and the other on the cover. We have yet to see if it works so that will be a mission! It only cost us £30 for all the reparations, but we will be looking out for a Howling Moon shop to buy a new one.. Why they couldn't make a sun proof cover with a more hardy zip in the first place I am not sure! 

We stayed at the Zebra Bar for 2 weeks, it was a hard place to leave! In between popping into St Louis we spent our time in and around the camp site and surrounding National Park. We did a lot of relaxing, swimming, walking, canoeing and fishing! Fishing is my favourite thing to do now, and we have even caught a few! Charles has caught 3 now and me two. .they are tasty as well! We met a German couple who caught a sting ray so we feasted on that one night! It has been good to supplement our veg meals with fish! The Zebra Bar is definitely a must, the owners are friendly and helpful, the staff are just wonderful and the food is amazing.. For £7 you can get a three course meal in the evening cooked to perfection by their chef. Breakfast there is also nice, omlettes, bread and coffee for £3. The facilities are basic, they run their electricity on solar therefore a constant electricity supply is not possible however you can charge up devices in their kitchen area. There was no wifi which was a shame however we bought an Orange SIM card in St Louis for £1 and top up which worked fairly well at the top of their tower!

After our little holiday stop it was decided to head to Dakar over the Christmas period for visas. We had a couple of issues with this because there are no camp sites in or near to the centre and we would be staying in a hotel car park (around £20 per night), or in a low budget hotel.. Luckily a camp site was found near Lac Rose. We went from one paradise to another, a pool, wifi and lovely owners (cold showers though). Arriving on the Sunday night we booked a taxi into Dakar for 7am.

We started the morning in the dark, waking up at 6am to get ready for the taxi. The taxi however was an hour late not arriving till 8.. Oh well! The journey into Dakar was amazing, horrific driving, lots of people heading to school and work. Buses full to the brim with colourfully dressed people. In England we forget how lucky we are to have a good education system, whilst there were lots of children with pens and note books heading to school there were also a lot who were not.. Wearing dirty clothing and begging whilst traffic stopped. In Senegal if a child cannot provide a pen and paper they cannot go To school.. I am reminded every day how lucky I am to be a teacher in a school which has so much. 

Getting to The Mali embassy was a mission in itself, the taxi driver did not know where it was however three stops later we were there. Getting the visa was easy, fill out a form, pay 50000CFA and come back at 3. We walked around Dakar, going to a very posh shopping mall.. It was like a ghost town and a real contrast to the bustling streets and markets stalls we have become accustomed to! We did see  a lot of Christmas decorations.. They are few and far between. Getting home was again another mission but the swimming pool was waiting for us!

Lac Rose is an interesting place, it is basically a salt factory in the middle of a tourist destination! The lake, at around 12/1, goes a pinky colour.. A pinky, purple murky colour but if you use your imagination it is pink! We spent a few hours walking around, the locals are friendly, but geared up for tourism! Lots of little side stalls with African souvenirs - I managed to get charles to buy something he wanted - you can swim in the lake, it is 50% water and 50%salt so you can float in it! There are some amazing restaurants and bars along the edge! Once you get past the tourism side and start chatting to the locals they are fascinating and interesting! One man told me on Christmas they have a huge party in the village with dancing, food and festivities! However new year is very busy, lots of tourists and lots of celebrating - here is it a bigger festival! 

I am writing this blog on Christmas Eve. The owners are French so Christmas Eve evening is a big celebration so we will feast like Kings..! This morning we went on a trip today to buy alcohol which you can only buy at petrol stations (a Shell garage!). Beer is very cheap, about 60p a can, wine is £2.50 a bottle (made in Dakar and in a plastic bottle.. But mandy and I are not fussy!), and gin is also £2.50 a bottle.. I have not yet tried it so it may be awful! This afternoon was spent chatting to my parents and brother - they are all in London for the three days - but it was so lovely to see them all together .. My brother bought my Mum some Star Wars Lego which they were building, whilst the dog (Zilla) chews through his new toy! Making time for family is definitely important! 

Senegal so far has been an amazing and vibrant place. A completely different feel to Mauritania and almost immediately crossing from the boarder you can sense it. The houses are different, gone the flat rooves and cuboid structures to be replaced by French looking buildings - burnt orange tiles and window shutters a prominent feature. The people are so friendly and smiley, and the women wear the most beautiful clothing. Bright patterned dresses, looking so smart and attractive. In St. Louis every one wanted to talk to you, not hassle but find out who you are and where you are going. Food is cheaper, not as fresh as in Morocco but equally as tasty. There is more to buy, corner shops have a wider variety of food, still tins but a lot more food we are accustomed to at home. I am definitely looking forward to seeing more of Senegal. 

All that is left to say is Merry Christmas, and probably a happy New Year!

 I am not sure where we will be, somewhere still in Senegal for the celebrations and onto Mali after - which holds its challenges in itself! :) 

Saturday, 12 December 2015

Last days of Mauritania and beginning of Senegal

** before I ramble on below.. I am compiling a list and location of each campsite we have stayed at, please either comment on here or on the face book page - Where to Next Africa - if you would like a copy emailed to you. Mandy has also been keeping a detailed expenses sheet, so again let us know if you would like a copy**

Please ignore any mistakes, I have not proof read it due to only having wifi for a short time! 

Arriving in Nouakchott, the capital of Mauritania, was a bit of a contrast to the previous two days, it was a busy and bustling place, full of street traders and people going about their business. After battling in traffic, we set up camp in Hotel/Camping Menata and were surprised to find we were not the only Europeans. People quickly came over to chat and within minutes we had found another couple, Marlane and Gill, who were heading to the Senegalese border on the Monday! We agreed to go together (safety in numbers!), and settled ourselves in.

The campsite was a lot more expensive than Morocco (it turns out everything is!), however, there was a washing machine! Washing clothes by hand has not been an issue, however it had been almost a week since we had done any therefore there was a lot and you just can't beat washing machine clean!!
We also had wifi, unfortunately I logged on to my online banking to find I have been charged for the transaction I made in Mauritania where the internet connection was lost halfway through. I spoke to my parents in the evening and they advised us to always take out the smallest denomination first to see if it works.. good idea! 

On the second day we headed to a car insurance company who we had been told issued insurance for Senegal, this place was called National D'Assurance et de Reassurance company (come back for whether it is accepted!), and did some food shopping - again was similar prices to England! Time was spent fixing the cars, catching up with family and trying to stem the barrage of mosquitoes (last count I was on 30 bites). We are now taking our malaria tablets but have met lots who are not taking them!

We have had to fix our roof tent, the zip has broken which is very annoying when trying to do the roof tent up, so Charles spent most of the third morning doing that! 

Mandy and I did some research into what we need to get and where, for the onward journey and we are also following a face book page of a NZ guy who is doing the trip on a motor bike, he crossed the border a couple of days ago and had posted how much it cost etc (follow him by searching Wheelie Adventurous).

Monday came around pretty quickly, setting off early we headed to the border. There are two options when crossing into Senegal, each has their pros and cons. We had heard the other crossing, Rosso, was a nightmare.. Possibly run by a family who preyed on the ignorance of travellers.  Apparently they stamp the carnet, although speaking to another couple - Total Overlanders - they said their stamp was not accepted back at the border to leave Senegal so they had to travel back to Dakar to get it re-stamped. 

Diama, the second choice, is smaller and less known for corruption, however there was a rumour going around that they do not stamp the carnet ,giving you 48hours to get to Dakar (200km) to get it stamped before your car is illegal. We chose Diama - arriving there was easy, we had to pay to go through the National Park, and then pay for the car tax (receipts for both), and then we had to pay a few incentives (we tried not to but they would not give us our passports back..sneaky!).  Despite all our efforts,  they would not stamp the carnet - it seems it's an official thing from up on high, not a border thing. The insurance (bought in Nouakchott) worked a treat.  As we headed to the border the officials wanted to see our insurance, for both Mauritania and Senegal, and at the border they were most annoyed we had already got insurance (meaning they couldn't rip us off), they were keen to know where we had got it from! 

I liked Mauritania, the scenery was much more stunning than Morocco, with a lot less rubbish! The people were very friendly in most places, not wanting money, but presents or water. In the villages people were more 'grabby' (coming up to the cars and asking), but in the city people were so friendly, wanting to talk (a lot more English spoken).  We went to a printers to buy more copies of the fiche and met a man called Brahim who was an engineer and had travelled a lot and he was so interesting. The police were completely fine, never an issue and when asked really helpful (lots of fiches needed to hand out). 

I feel this country has really suffered from the outside perception from other countries, all the Foreign Offices (of many countries) say not to go there due to the risk of terrorism etc, however we never felt unsafe. In places where money was once spent it is now poor and run down due to lack of investment. It is a shame!

After the border we were given 48 hours to get to Dakar. This was a decision we decided to make at the campsite, the famous Zebra Bar. After getting cash, we arrived there, checked in and ordered beer. Wow it was good! The camp site was stunning, right by the sea with lots of space (the downside being that the wifi was not working, despite it being advertised. I think this may be an ongoing problem!). We ate in the campsite with another couple Dave and Natalie, and found that they run a tour company in America, with a big converted school bus which takes people on tours of various lengths from Las Vagas to Alaska. It sounded amazing, their passion and their knowledge of travelling really sold travelling through America for us all, something for the future maybe (their website is so check them out!). 

The boys also decided they would spend the next day getting a bush taxi into Dakar with Gil to get the carnet stamped. 

The boys set off at 7.15am the next morning.. And got back at 10pm, a long day. They had taken the bush taxi there which was completely fine (4.5 hours), if a little squashed and another taxi to customs in Dakar. By this point it was lunch time so they had to wait until 3pm. Getting the carnet stamped was easy, however a lot of people to deal with very little paper work! Getting back was difficult because they missed the bush taxi so had to get a private taxi back.. However this was all cheap - less than fuel - about £28 (including lunch). It meant the girls could relax! We hitched a ride into St Louis with Dave and Natalie and spent most of the day wandering around - bought some food (fairly cheap) for veg stew dinner  - then came back to wait for the boys!

The second day we spend out on the estuary on kayaks, we crossed to the other side to be rewarded with the most stunning, spotless beach, white sand, and roaring waves! All of us got in! The boys and Dave went off crab fishing. This was not difficult, on the sand they have swarms of purple crabs about the size of the palm of your hand, they have one big white pincer and are fairly fast. They come up and down with the tide and are fascinating to watch.. They take in the sand, filtrate the nutrients and then discard a ball shaped piece of sand. The boys caught a few to use for bait and we tried, unsuccessfully, to catch fish! Dinner subsequently was stir fry and spam! Could have been worse! Since being in Senegal we have all got burnt, mainly on the day spent on the water. We feel this is due to us being neglectful in covering up however also due to the malaria tablets (side effects include a sensitivity to the sun), so in the subsequent days we put on more sun cream and more clothes!

Rob's birthday was Thursday, Mandy decorated the car! At lunch we made him a biscuit cake with candles and then had some beer! The food served here is amazing, and is about £7 for a three course meal. We decided it would be good to have it that night and we were rewarded with salad, then two steaks cooked to perfection with a sauce and pasta, and a lemon egg tart! We were all very happy! A few bottles of beer finished the day! Just amazing! 

The Friday was spent fixing cars, Robs wheel bearing had gone and our bonnet won't close.. And then the tent zip finally gave up.. Our efforts to fix it failed! 

Friday, 4 December 2015

Moving into Western Sahara and Mauritania

SSo from Zagora and still feeling the effects, good and bad, of spending so much money on the car the desert was our next stop and port of call. Driving to M'hamid on the outskirts of the desert we were hounded by people advertising their luxury camping (something, due to the car incident we were not allowed to entertain!), but we set a course and spent 4 hours driving on the most amazing terrain! Despite the fact it felt like we were siting in a washing machine, the drive was rewarded by motoring up and over sand dunes, across flat, dried up river beds and serious 4 wheel drive roads (if you can call them that!). The wildlife included many camels, birds and also lizards! Setting up camp for the night we stopped by a large hill and dug into our rations box as we were not quite organised enough to get fresh food! It is amazing, you think you are by youself however within 10 minutes of being there we were approached by a man asking for cigarettes, and then by a group of French men in a car asking if they could buy food off of us if they couldn't find a camp site open. They didn't come back, just as well or it would have been tesco value super noodles! The most amazing thing was we could still get full 3G signal in most places!

The second day we drove to Lake Iriki, it was dry so we drove through it - possibly an interesting watch on the SPOT?! After this it was decided to head towards the nearest town for some fresh food, not before Charles and I got stuck in the sand twice! The town was a military town (possibly due to the proximity to Algeria), and we were asked for our passports before we were allowed in. We stopped off for more eggs and veg, and found a campsite. The boys were more than happy as it included a fire pit and a whole tree they were told they could burn. We had veg stew and BBQ'd spam.. Only made better if we had had a beer! In the morning it turned out that staying in a campsite was the best idea as my stomach bug had returned with vengeance! Having messaged my Mum asking for advice the boys and Mandy were sent on a mission to pick up metronidazole - a type of antibiotic, bottled water and Coke, accompanied by a letter I had written in French to give to the pharmacist! Luckily in Morocco pharmacists are common and very competent, so this was no problem. I think stomach issues are a normal thing!! This changed our forward plans which were to head to the desert again and we ended up in Tata for the night at a campsite which was fairly busy (mainly French). Driving through the town it was amazing how clean the roads were, this has struck me throughout Morocco, the roads are generally spotless however the surrounding area is not.

Leaving Tata we headed to Tantan, this was a gruelling 8 hour drive along the main coastal road and ended up in us driving after dark and camping in a bay. The views were pretty spectacular in the morning, however again a lot of junk and rubbish about. One thing we weren't expecting when coming into the South was we were of more interest to the police. Up to that point we had been flagged through with no issues, however now with our number plate being so uncommon we were being stopped at every checkpoint, with fiches and passports being asked for. Initially we thought it was because it was early evening, however the next day it was the same. We did not have any issues with the police apart from one wanted to know why we had spent so long in Morocco! For anyone travelling the same route I would advise at least 100 copies of the fiche, we initially took 30 then ended up in a post office where the manager took us into his office to copy us another 50 (for free!).

Western Sahara was a real shock, we were expecting rolling sand dunes, flat plains...we got rain, rubbish and some interesting smells! The drive for the boys was long, with not a lot to see. I think we were all disappointed! There is a real Moroccan presence there despite it being contested territory, flags everywhere and pictures of the King and Primeminster. The photo below has been our constant view since arriving!

As I write this (30.12.15) we are gearing up to cross the boarder into Mauritania! Morocco has been amazing, full of completely different experiences. When reading Mandy's lonely planet Africa guide it wrote that despite it being so close to Europe it was a world away culture wise. I completely agree, the culture, living and technology are worlds apart, however the Western world is creeping in - iPhones everywhere, I am presuming Facebook and lots of selfies. There is a real difference in generations, mainly the women in the main cities who were wearing more Western style clothes. This is contrasted however by the living and accomodation. There is still in some places no running hot water or constant electricity, or sitting toilets! Many of the buildings are unfinished or derelict, but the roads or main high streets are perfect, spotless with street lights! The people are so friendly and welcoming, but as I have previously written a lot want something (money or gifts) and will ask constantly, especially if they perceive to have helped you. This is a shame because it taints your opinion of people's welcome.. A lot of people want to just practise their English and find out about you. I guess this will be the same in a lot of counties we visit and indeed our own, a few can change your opinion of the majority. 

I have loved my time in Morocco, would we visit again..? Charles' reply is: yes, but on a motor bike and spend more time in the desert!  Mine.. Maybe, however it would be in a hotel with a hot shower and decent toilet from which to explore the area.

The boarder and no-mans land!

We had managed to camp about an hours drive from the boarder in a hotel's car park! It was called Hotel Barba and the staff were lovely, the food was amazing and very cheap (meal and countless drinks cost us £14), and a night guard. We had breakfast and headed off with a positive mind! The Moroccan side was fine, minor issues with the paper work but nothing serious! Crossing into the 3km of no mans land between the two countries was other-worldly!  It was like a car junk yard with no real road, goodness knows how the Lorries were navigating it! The problem with the boarders is there is always men hassling you (one man had made a very convincing badge on his computer and said he was obligatory!). The Mauritanian side of the boarder was quite imposing, it had gone from police to military, with a rather scary guard checking our car looking for alcohol. Many people we had met advised us to not take any alcohol, reports of up to 1000 euro fines were being given! We had someone do our paper work and insurance and we were free. Fiches at the ready we headed to Nouhadijbu and arrived there at 3pm. We all needed cash however the first bank informed us the Internet was down across the whole of the city so we would be lucky to draw any! After trying 6 banks we were rewarded with 40000ug you divide every thing by 450 to find the £ so approximately £88! I felt rather rich with so many bank notes... Charles improved me it would be a better feeling in Zimbabwe! Our campsite was nestled behind the bustling Main Street with hot water! We were all knackered and I was in bed early reading Game of Thrones!

Day two and Mandy had read about the southern most tip being home to seals. We drove into the middle of know where and reached a beautiful beach. Met by a man who could speak French only, who toured us around the beginning of Mauritanians national reservations. Sadly the seals were all out fishing but the scenery was rewarding in itself! Here we bought our tickets into the national park and set off to find a campsite across some quite random terrain! This caused a lot of problems for our car which got stuck twice.. Again!! This makes the score 4 time stuck for Charles and none for Rob! 

We arrived at the campsite at 7.15 just after dark, we could hear the waves, turns out they were 20m away! Us arriving so late was lucky as we saw the  phosphorescence for the plankton in the waves! Charles being Charles was in the water and splashing so the splashed turned ultra violet! I had never seen this before and was amazed, Charles assured me it gets better! Waking up to the beach with no rubbish or stuff lying around was a great joy! The water was freezing! 

(Rob doing repairs to his CB radio which has been fairly temperamental. It's amazing, you can do so much work on a car before you go however we have had lots of things along the way going wrong. Our electrics are playing up meaning we have varying degrees of mood lighting in our tent at night, the back door is a pain to close, the tent cover zip is threatening to come off - if anyone knows where we can get a new Howling Moon tent cover let us know! - and we have a resident mouse who is chewing the wood work and probably the electric cables).

Driving through the park the second day was a nightmare! It is not like the National Trust reservation parks (would have killed for a bit of cake!), just sand, and sand dunes and tracks that were probably put onto the Tracks4Africa at the turn of the last century! No tracks and just sand.. And rapidly running out of fuel Unlike yesterday when frustrations were showing, we banded together and used all of our brains! Digging it a car is far easier when there is 4 people! And easier when you can laugh about it! We ended up driving along the coast where it was flatter and let the tyre pressure out! Mandy and I ran ahead to scout and would run after the boys.. Hard work in the heat! We managed to get onto the main road with litres between us of diesel. Speaking to a local policeman he said fuel was 100km in Nouchitt.. Slight dilemma! Luckily Rob saw a pump at the side of the road he asked.. Two very lovely ladies told us it was 15000 for 20L.. Expensive.. However we had no choice! Whilst the cars filled up they have me a mobile phone so that I could speak English to all their relatives so they could practise! A great meeting however not for our wallet! To anyone thinking of driving through the park, do it but plan you route in and out, making sure you have enough food, fuel and toilet roll!! 

Considering my apprehensions about Mauritania it has so far been a beautiful country, much nicer than Morocco scenery wise. The people are friendly and are shocked when you say you are English (I want to say it's because my French is so good but I think it is lack of English venturing out). As a woman I feel we are treated differently, they shake hands with the boys and don't really acknowledge me until they realise they have to speak to be because charles doesn't speak their languge - even then they look to charles for a response. The beaches in the national park would make it an amazing destination for a holiday, it just possibly need to upgrade its sanitary facilities! I am told however it is already a popular destination for bird watchers?

I am sorry about my spelling and grammar, I did proof read it however writing in a bumpy car is never easy!