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!