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Saturday, October 5, 2019

MOTORING THROUGH MOROCCO & MAURITANIA


It is time to head back to GR2 in Casablanca. I know we have been home for only a very short while, but GR2 is only allowed to stay in Morocco for 6 months and it is time to make the huge drive to Namibia. Somehow John has convinced me to give it a go. I am still a bit dubious, but we have been busy planning and getting as many visas as we can before we leave.

Monday 23rd we fly out. The long night haul to Dubai, then on, in business class courtesy of an upgrade on points, to Casablanca. After experiencing the A380 upstairs, it will be hard to lower my standards back to cattle class. No customs check on our bags full of carparts, we head outside the door to see GR2 sitting in the carpark waiting. She starts first pop and we are back on the road. We are tired, so simply grab a few groceries & head to the motorway. A few hours later we are at our favourite campground – Le Relais – at Marrakech.

In the morning we finish sorting & fill up with water. Then a stop at Carrefour & a petrol station. By mid-day we leave the city. We are on our way. Sadly, no back roads and exploring this trip – we are on a tight schedule, so it is back to the motorway. Although it does take us through the lovely Anti Atlas Mountains. Finally, we reach Agadir, head through the surrounding towns and on to Tiznit. We can drive right through the town walls and through the main market streets, before heading out to the beach. We find a quiet spot well off the road for the night.

We are ready to leave as soon as the sun rises (our clocks haven’t adjusted yet) and follow the desert coastline – rather like miles and miles of great ocean road. The main crop around towns here is the prickly pear. Their fruit is for sale everywhere. When we stop for coffee or lunch, we drive out to gawp over the cliff edge at the shear drop and the crashing waves. There are crazy fisherman’s huts clinging to the cliffs, and of course, there are plenty of fishing villages with lots of wooden “pirogues” or boats. Our final stop for the day is at Tarfraya with its crumbling Spanish buildings and an old English fortress sitting in the surf. We stop for the night a few miles on looking out at the almost complete wreck of the Armas (it was a ferry boat between Morocco & the Canary Islands.) Two military guys check we are OK, but overwise a peaceful night.

Again, an early start at sunrise, which is at 7.40am (so unlike home). We are now following a narrow back road along the coast, but it is sealed. As well as wild coastline we now have some gorgeous dunes. It is only 9.30 by the time we arrive at Laayoune – a very modern (mostly) city set on a river. Very hot and sticky. We explore, get diesel and water and eventually leave. We return to the main road (actually that is the only road) down the coast passing the town of Bonjdour and some massive phosphate mining areas - the main income of this area. We end the day at Chtoukane – a stunning beachside spot near a fishing village as recommended on i-Overlander. Here we meet Christine, an amazing French lady who is heading to Mauritania too. She is arranging for a little girl to go to France for an operation. She has offered to help us at the border.

More desert driving before we head out to Dakhla, set on a long peninsula with amazing scenery. We are surprised by all the kite boards in the shallow lagoon, while the city itself is pretty basic. We drive right out to the tip to the fishing village, but the police don’t want us to get out or take photos. Then back to the main road, more desert, more camels & more dunes. We end our day at Hotel Barbas carpark, about 80kms before the border. It is here we had arranged to meet Christine. We have dinner inside with Christine and another amazing lady – Pam who runs a clinic in Mali.

Anyway, an early start for the border. It opens at 9am. We enter and the process starts. Queue here, then there, then over there. Finally, all the boxes ticked we can actually leave Morocco. Then it is 8 km drive through no man’s land. Morocco has sealed their side, but Mauritania hasn’t even bothered with a road. It is rock and sand the whole way. We weave very slowly across. The other thing here is the humungeous line of overloaded trucks waiting to enter Morocco and the mountains of wrecked cars laying around. We have never seen anything like it.

But now to tackle Mauritania. There is a visa on arrival system in place here, but the guys haven’t turned up for work yet, so we, and numerous others, wait & wait. By midday they arrive and the slow process starts. Photos, finger prints and eventually visas. More offices, more stamps & we think we are finally free, but there is a police stop just after the border. Tinting on the front door glasses is illegal. The French guy who joined us gets his tint torn off his window. We refuse, John says I have a medical condition and the tint must stay and we finally get away, windows intact. Our solution is to open the windows before every police stop (of which there are many) so they don’t notice. And yes, it works!

After that we are more than glad to follow Christine to a friend’s camp spot on the beach not far from the grubby, sandy town of Noucidhibou. In the morning the whole coast is shrouded in mist. We head off in to the desert. Firstly, following the famous Iron Train route (amazingly it is a tourist thing to do – ride on top of the iron ore in the carriages. We actually met a couple you did it yesterday I thought it sounded horrible – 14 hours stuck on top of iron ore). And then further in to the desert. How people live here I do not know. There are goats, camels and people, all eking out an existence. Midway to Nouakchott we pass through a service town. All sand, pulsing with people, travellers in sky blue robes & turbans, and countless shops repairing vehicles.  Then back to the desert. When a sandstorm brews we feel as if we really are in the Sahara. Many miles later, and with an awesome road, we reach the big smoke. It is late afternoon, perfect time to visit the famous Fish Markets right on the beach. There are hundreds of brightly painted pirogues pulled up on the beach and more coming up. People everywhere. The colours are gorgeous & garish, the noise is deafening & the sink – well mainly fish. What a spectacle. Then on to our camp for the night at Auberge Terjit. Sadly, no other campers there, and sadly too many dogs barking in the night.

In the morning we head in to the city & straight to the Mali Embassy. We need visas, and amazingly walk out merely an hour later visas in hand and our pockets not too much lighter. By now the city has woken and the traffic is mayhem. Markets bulge over the sides of streets and parking is hard. After a few attempts we find an ATM that will give us cash and we head to the Mosque. It’s rather ho-hum, so we walk through the phone market (John left his go-pro behind & we want a replacement). No go, but the market is a new level of stench – both the human kind and rotting rubbish kind. I am more than glad to get back to the air-conditioned comfort of GR2 and leave. My detour through town winds us through markets and back streets. Sorry John! But it is an eye- opening look at the city.

Eventually we get out of the maze and in to the desert. As the sand slowly changes to green the number of villages increase, until they are almost continuous. The road has deteriorated to massive potholes, so it is a long slow drive. And there are numerous police stops. We have given out countless fiches (paperwork, in French, listing all our details) As we get nearer to the border, we are met by 2 supposed official (in hind sight we realise one of the police at a stop alerted them we were coming) and they basically take over. They tell us the road to the Diama border is too wet and we must cross at Rosso (reputedly the most corrupt border in Mauritania). We end up camping by a police checkpoint about 10km from the border. We have been told not to talk to the locals (as we have no French that is unlikely anyway) and to arrive at the border early tomorrow.

More to come…….. (how I love borders!)

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