The early call to prayer was announced by a large number of very loud mosques, and went on for some time – but we are in a totally Muslim country!
We set off for on the very good tar road for Atar (which now goes all the way to Atar) in the north east of Mauritania. On the way we took a side trip on a rough track to the oasis of Terjit. Here water drips from the west facing walls of a canyon. The canyon walls plus the evaporative cooling effect of the water plus the shade of the palms dropped the temperature by ~ 15oC, from the +45oC outside. We had a nice lunch in pleasant surroundings and the locals left us alone to enjoy the calm.
It was still very hot when we got to the campment Bab Sahara in Atar. We camped under some large shady trees. The fridges are working overtime and it is hard to keep our water intake up.
Avril driving. 465 km. 8 hrs . N 200 31’ 09.1’’ W 0130 03’ 42.2’’
Day 4 – 12/5/12
We started early to try and get the desert driving completed in the morning. We drove to Chinguetti via the Ebnou pass. (R5 in Chris Scotts Sahara book). The lead up to the pass reminded us of the Sinai, with some dramatic mountains to either side of the road. The pass is spectacular with the valley you ascend out of gradually climbing and becoming narrower. The road is gravel and generally corrugated (paved through the pass itself) but they are manageable. We proceeded straight through Chinguetti to drive via the “Dunes Route” (R7 in C.Scott) to Oudane. For the 1st ~ 5 km the sand is very soft and we managed to get bogged once – not driving aggressively enough. There are some nice dune sets in the initial 20 km. After that, the drive does not hold a lot of interest. Driving by yourself in the middle of the Sahara is a little more stressful that going for a weekend with friends in the Egyptian desert. C. Scott recommended 2 vehicles for this trip – but at least we have a sat phone. We are well & truly in the Sahara now and from a temperature perspective at the wrong time of the year. There is little vegetation, occasional acacia trees and low level grass tussocks. We managed to completely cut the side wall of our last remaining Dunlop tyre, which was supplied with the vehicle. These tyres have done a marvellous job. Fortunately we had a track to follow (thanks to Jan & Mariska). The description in the Sahara book is insufficient to make your way through the route.
We arrived in Oudane Oasis in the early afternoon and checked into the Auberg Vasque, run by a lovely lady; Zaide. It was too hot to look at the ruins so we relaxed in the Auberge salon.
At ~ 18:00 we went with a guide to visit the ruins. Our guide only spoke French, so we did not get a lot of information. It seems that, similar to Siwa, the town was destroyed by torrential rains. The ruins are impressive, seemingly falling off a large hill. Like Egypt, they are protected be a military/para military presence.
Mauritanians in the tourist industry are upset with the portrayal of the country in the western media. Even, every day people will also comment that there are no security problems in Mauritania. The number of tourists has dropped from 70,000 people 4 years ago to ~ 2,000 now. Our impression was that this is a totally safe country. There are lots of road blocks, but for tourists you hand over a “fische” (a A4 sheet with passport & vehicle details) and you are on your way quickly. The road blocks also increase the feeling of Mauritania being a safe place.Zaida cooked dinner for us; soup & chicken tangine.
Ray driving. 192 km .8 hrs . N 200 55’ 37.5’’ W 0110 37’ 27.4’’
Day 5 – 13/5/12
Many punctures – 1 day. We left Oudane for Chinguetti along the plains road. C. Scott R9. He jokes that your car will fall apart when you finish this route and it is certainly rough in places. The 120 km to Chinguetti took 2.5 hours.
Chinguetti is the 7th holy city in Islam. (Mecca, Medina, Jerusalem, Cairo; debate on places 5 & 6 between Fes, Damascus, Marrakesh etc. But Chinguetti is definitely #7). We visited the biggest document depository and we given a wonderful “tour” by the main man. He said he did not speak English and then in a mix of English and simple French took us through the history of the city and repository. We then looked at some ancient scripts, books of poetry and Koranic dissertations. The calligraphy was stunning. He ended our visit by reciting some poetry for us. A very charming man. We then walked around the old town and visited another smaller repository. We have lunch at a local diner.
On the way out of town we punctured a tyre – too badly to repair. Then when we stopped at a road block we noticed a noise and this the spare was now punctured. .Fortunately we had 3 spares, so we managed to get back to Atar.
Back in town, Ray went in search of tyres. This was not a simple matter. There are NO new tyres in Atar. So the 1st decision was whether to wait a day and get new tyres from Nouakchott or take a risk on used tyres. We decided on the 2nd hand as we want to get a full set of top of the range tyres when we get somewhere that actually has a good selection of new tyres. Then there is the negotiation to buy the tyres and then the negotiation to have the tyres fitted to the rims (no balancing here!). When the fitting was taking place we noticed that another tyre had a slow leak – and it could not be usefully mended with a plug, so we put a tube in it (yes, we know, but need is the mother of innovation).This involved a trip to the market to buy a tube, with the accompanying negotiation. Finally we had all the tyres in a ready state to take on the Sahara on the morro. Ray drove back to the accommodation and lo and behold, another puncture on the way home. Another trip back to the man who puts tyres on rims and a quick plug repair is implemented.
Exhausted, we had a very quick bite and went to bed.
Avril driving. 216 km.. Bab Sahara, Atar
Day 6 – 14/5/12
We were up early to get on the piste to Choum and along the well known east – west railway line in the north of Mauritania. C. Scott R2.
But before hand, Ray had arranged to see the tyre man to make a final check. And yes, the plug repair did not hold so we put a tube in that tyre.
The drive is neither technically challenging nor really visually interesting. For us it was a long drawn out day ploughing through sand tracks. Our impression was not helped by the lack of visibility due to the heat haze and dust, this with the glare off the white sand made for a very closed in feeling. Also, of course, we picked our hottest day so far, + 46oC, to make a Sahara crossing.
There is a reasonable amount of activity beside the track, nomads with camels (yep, even right out here), track workers, police etc. At one point we were waved down by an elderly nomad – nice old fella just wanted to have a chat. On another occasion we were waved down and it seemed there had been a bad accident. Unsure of the language we drove back 9 km to the previous gendarme station and asked them to come along. The gendarmes needed to connect the vehicle battery, get some water, get weapons ready etc. This all took a little time.
Finally we reached Bou Lanouar at ~ 19:00. The overall piste had taken 453 km and around 11 hrs (to this must be added the 18 km for to get the gendarmes). We had managed not to get bogged and ripped the wall out of another tyre along the way. We pumped up tyres and Avril drove into Nouahibou on a fine tar road. We had been waiting for the coastal breeze to drop the temperature and it did not fail. We camped at ABBA camp – which is a little more basic and not as clean as some overlander had reported.
Ray driving. 556 km. 12.5 hrs . N 200 54’ 29.8’’ W 0170 03’ 12.3’’
Day 7 – 15/5/12We made a latish start to the day and then drove to the Mauritania – Morocco border. We are not entering the debate of Western Sahara or Morocco.
The police and customs formalities were completed very quickly with no hint of a bribe.
We loved Mauritania. It is a low/no hassle country. The officials were unfailingly polite/courteous/friendly and professional. The sights and driving were nice & worthwhile. There was practically no cadeauing i.e. begging. The towns had electricity and water, which is unusual for Africa. For us it was very safe and we did not have any security issues. There are not a lot of people around and we wondered how the nomads survive in the middle of no where in this day. It seemed to be a place where things worked.
The only downer was the very hot weather.No rating for the guides as both Kindles had frozen! Riese Knowhow map for the Sahel countries = 6/10.