The Mauritanian Desert


The real adventure begins!

When I arrived, Mauritania was a real unknown to me, both mysterious and dangerous from a security point of view. The various testimonies of Moroccans met on the road are unanimous, it is a country of another world, another dimension, without civilization.

I am looking forward to forming my own opinion, and I choose to spend the night near the Moroccan border post of Bir Guendouz in Guerguerat. After a cool and starry night, I took my courage with both hands and presented myself to the Moroccan customs officers, with a big smile. First problem… my papers are in order but one of the documents on my motorcycle has not been stamped in Tangier. The customs officer calls the port of Tangier to confirm that I have passed through there before inspecting the motorcycle and my bag. Stress rises for my drone hidden between the suitcases, the policeman asks me « What’s here? »

I would like to point out to the customs officer that the bag [where my drone is stored] simply contains computer equipment and, by a miracle, it works!

I warmly thank the customs officer for his professionalism and I cross all the Moroccan offices necessary to leave Morocco.

A crazy road with hundreds of trucks is coming to me, it is No Man’s Land, a lawless area that belongs to no one.

I drive on this uninviting road dodging trucks and holes and then, suddenly, the road is no longer paved: just sand, and hundreds of tracks left in the sand by cars until the finish.

Modern Touareg !

The passage of No Man’s Land

I go on the gas when an incident breaks out between Sahrawis and Moroccan customs officers. The Sahrawis decided to block the passage of trucks between Morocco and Mauritania. I learn that one of the truck drivers was injured in the face after trying to force his way through – he is in a sorry state. I still cross the door of the Mauritanian border post, wow! Saved! Saved! A young Mauritanian courier named Lamine, who I met earlier at the Moroccan border post, offered to help me with the administrative procedures, in exchange for a commission of 10 euros. The character seems friendly to me and I accept. He then helps me with the Mauritanian visa and the pass – a document that authorizes my motorcycle to travel in Mauritanian territory. First surprise! I am French but my family name is of Maghreb consonance: the price of the pass is multiplied by 10 (!!!) and I am compelled to have an escort to Senegal. Reason: many French people of African origin organize vast traffic of stolen or second-hand vehicles to sell them in Mauritania, the French with a very European name are free to travel for the modest sum of 12 euros…

Lamine, the young courier reassures me…. He’s going to negotiate with Mauritanian customs officials so that at least I can escape the escort.

This is the first time I have felt any form of discrimination in Africa, and it is also against Africans and bi-nationals!

Nouadibou, a timeless city

The clock is ticking, it is now too late for me to reach Nouakchott, the capital. Lamine offered me free accommodation in Nouadhibou: « You are my guest, » he said. How fortunate!

When I arrived in Nouadhibou, I discovered a second surprise on the road: the longest train in the world, an interminable train measuring more than 2.5 km that transports iron ore from northern Mauritania to the port of Nouadhibou. It circulates slowly and seems excessive.

The longest train of the world…

Lamine lives in a beautiful and richly decorated house near the exit of Nouadhibou. We share our meal together and he tells me about his work as a dealer of European cars, sometimes stolen (insurance fraud) or second-hand, in Mauritania. Everyone has their own business!

The next day I warmly thank my host for his help and prepare myself for 300 km of road in the desert with only one gas station between Nouadhibou and the capital. The road is paved but narrow, a lot of sand sweeps the road which makes the trucks skate…

Petrol station in Maurtitania

Sand seeps everywhere, into the lens of my camera, my Go pro and even my jaw. There is a characteristic squeaking noise between my teeth because of the grains of sand every time I chew….

Nouakchott, urban chaos

Mauritanians are ultra-connected

The arrival in the capital is strange: the roads are clean with no traffic lights. After a few minutes I realize the complexity of the traffic…. People drive in any way, sometimes in the opposite direction, without slowing down. I quickly understand that I must not stay in the capital if I want to survive and continue my journey. 

However, I finally get used to driving without rules, without traffic regulations, and I find a rather nice hotel where I can spend the night.

I asked the receptionist if there were any other guests in the hotel and he replied that a Belgian had been there for three months, he was called « the bearded one ». Great, I’ll be able to share a beer with my room mate! What a disappointment when I realize that his beard is as long as my arm. Indeed, the Belgian is in Mauritania to study Islamic sciences… Failed for beer!

After crossing the city in search of Mauritanian silver jewellery, I saw the French Embassy. It is gigantic, one of the largest in Africa, I am told… Some streets are even closed to Mauritanians… long live to »the France Afrique » (ironic)!

The next day, I thank the hotel staff and started looking for a bank to draw some Ouguiya the local currency. The nearest ATM is not far from the hotel but the GPS takes me through the Fulani market; stifling heat, chaotic market, the Fulani are a lower class in Mauritania, I pity the people who live in this hell… The bank is only a few meters away. A right turn and I’m there but, stupor, the road suddenly changes and I now drive in the sand softly like Paris-Dakar.

I fall like a lamentable stone, get up and try to wave to a truck approaching dangerously close to my bike to stop it. The driver, inattentive to my calls, quietly rides on the back of my recumbent motorcycle before my eyes….

I collapse mentally « my journey is over », all the onlookers take my side, ready to lynch the Fulani driver. A Moor helps me to lift the bike up and park it… Miracle it is almost unharmed, the steel suitcase has taken the blow. Only the license plate came off. The Moor gives me rubber bands and hangs up my plate. Whew I can go back.

Sub-Saharan Africa Direction

Neither one nor two, I take the road again to leave this hell, towards Senegal.

The road to leave Nouakchott is under construction, so my troubles are not over. 20 km of deviation with sand as the only road, I end up getting out of this quagmire with a dry heat but around 40 degrees. I find my way to the fabulous Diama Nature Park. A magnificent route awaits me, between a natural lake and warthogs, to finally find the border post of Diama at 17h30. Half an hour before closing time. Senegal has never seemed so close to me, on the eve of December 25….

At the bend of a track, a warthog appears….

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