Brighton2capetown - Mauritania

Brighton to Cape Town Overland by Motorcycle

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Mauritania

19th October

The stretch of no-man's-land between the Western Saharan and Mauritanian borders seems to have a fearsome reputation amongst overlanders in the UK - in the past the area between the two border posts was still heavily mined and it was essential to take a guide to ensure your safe passage.  Since the completion of the roads through Western Sahara and from the border post to Nouadhibou however, the traffic across the border (both commercial and tourist) has increased sufficiently to justify a local clearing of the mines in the area immediately around the pistes joining the border posts and it is now perfectly safe, so long as you don't stray off into the areas you have no need to go to - stick to the pistes, and you're fine.  The condition of the piste is also the subject of much conversation, speculation and concern and really needn't be.  When we passed through, we'd been given advice to keep to the left fork which goes towards two used car lots (yes, in no man's land - selling what are probably stolen european cars and probably also supplying the forged papers to get them into Mauritania, too).  The route forking off to the left round the side of the car lots was apparently free of deep sandy sections, and with our heavily laden bikes in mind we did our best to find it.  Unfortunately, with Dan leading the way, doing his best to remember a sketched map he'd seen online a mere two months beforehand and faced with more forks in the piste than had featured in said map, we didn't go far enough left, and ended up tackling the small sandy stretches anyway.  The bikes of course are far too heavy for soft sand, and in these sections it was merely a case of providing whatever control inputs we could to keep the bikes rubber side down, and not worrying at all about what direction they were headed in.  Realistically however, you could get any bike through even the route we took if you tried hard enough and took long enough, and probably pretty much any car, too.  It was hot, however, and something you don't notice about the Africa Twin in the UK is the proximity of the right footpeg to the upper sections of the bike's exhaust, which gently toasts your right foot, even through thick motocross boots, whilst working the bike hard at low speed in a hot climate.  Brings a whole new meaning to the term "hot-footing it".

Our entry into Mauritania was simple enough - there's a police checkpoint just inside Mauritanian territory where they take the details of your passport and wave you on to the rest of the operation.  Once further along the road, you again have to stop, queue in the sun to get your passport stamped, queue in the sun to fill in a temporary import form for your bike, queue in the sun to change some money, queue in the sun to buy some bike insurance from a little wooden hut by the side of the road and then you are free to go.  Sounds simple, but with the intense heat, the people milling around and a pushy auberge owner trying to drum up business it's still quite intimidating. 

The auberge owner (Stelios of "easy-auberge" fame) provided assistance that was more of a hindrance than a help.  He had us stopping and parking in the wrong places for easy access to the officials, and confused both us and the insurance agent by merrily chatting about the delights of his auberge (no doubt decorated in a charmingly delicate orange colour scheme) as we tried to explain which bit on the bikes' V5s was which.  It was interesting that he got a cut of our insurance premiums for doing absolutely nothing to gain the guy any business - we knew we needed insurance, and there was only the one person selling any.  After assuring us once again of the quality of his auberge, (as we battled with the insurance agent's knowledge of French and did our best to explain that the bikes were Hondas) and offering further reassurance that all the formalities were done, he indicated that he'd get on the back of Dan's bike to direct us to his auberge so we could stay there.  With the rear half of the pillion accomodation already occupied by a 10 litre jerry can of tax-free Western Saharan "Super", this would still have been an impractical suggestion even if it had been a welcome one.  As it happened, we already knew where we wanted to stay in Nouadhibou, and getting intimately acquainted with a 6-foot 17-stone auberge owner was not on our itinerary.  Thankfully all it took was an incredulous look and an emphatic "Non" and he wandered off with a slightly hurt "Goodbye then".

Mauritania, judged solely on a day or two in Nouadhibou is a pleasant enough place, at times strangely reminiscent of the set of the film  Black Hawk down.  Sure, there are abandoned shells of cars by the sides of the roads, the people drive everywhere without looking in cars without lights, food is expensive and there is sand everywhere; but the people are less pushy and in your face than in Morocco, the weather is still warm dry and sunny, you notice a refreshing number of women drivers around (a rare sight in Morocco) and there's a really good chinese restaurant (Restaurant Le Merou) next to the campsite (Auberge/Camping Chez Abba).  The wind, as in Dakhla, blows strong and gusty most of the day due to the towns' positions on baking peninsulas surrounded by the cool blue ocean.  The hot sun ensures that it rarely becomes chilly however.
 
On our arrival at Auberge Chez Abba, long since immune to being shown a dusty car park instead of any images the description of a campsite might lead us to expect,  we were immediately greeted by a very friendly and extremely knowledgeable german tour guide named Wolfgang.  We got chatting, had a laugh ("Of course you don't speak good german, we lost the war!") and learnt a lot about Mauritania, Senegal and The Gambia, and specifically about the route we'd planned to take inland towards Choum, Atar and Ouadane, and the implications of having let the border officials fill in our temporary import documents. 

The track that runs alongside the ore train railway made famous by Michael Palin's "Sahara" is passable in a 4x4, or possibly a lightweight bike capable of traversing small dunes, with support carrying fuel (there's none available for over 300 miles) but Wolfgang took one look at our laden bikes and just laughed.  We'd heard similar before, and also that it was possible to actually ride between the rails on the tracks itself to avoid the sandy sections, but without a friendly 4x4 party going the same way to maybe carry some of our luggage and some extra fuel, we already knew that the alternative of riding two sides of the triangle down to Nouakchott on the newly metalled road, and then back up to Atar on another tarred road was becoming the more appealing option.

Unfortunately, when we'd entered Mauritania we'd told the customs officers we were headed to Senegal and they'd given us just five days to get the bikes back out of the country.  Perfectly adequate for covering the ground from Nouadhibou to the next border post at Rosso but not enough time for our inland excursion to Ouadane as well.  Thankfully Wolfgang had a friend who had a friend who could sort this for us and get us new documents in exchange for a few more euros and a couple of days wait in Nouadhibou.  Maybe we'd have got away with putting a "1" in front of the "5" to make fifteen day's entitlement, maybe we'd've got away with even a small fine exiting a couple of days late, but we decided not to risk it and accepted the offer of fixing the problem on a semi-official basis for €35 each .

So as another plastic carrier bag sailed magestically through the air above our heads, an occurrence more frequent than any of the avian kind, we settled in for another day's wait for our documents in West African limbo.

 

26th October

On leaving Nouadhibou on 21st October 2007, we were so excited and relieved to be back on the road that we committed the worst sin in the overlanders' bible.  We left the town without enough fuel to get to the next one.  Prompted by rumours that there was a fuel station outside the town that sold petrol as well as diesel (the market for the local motorists is almost 100% diesel as the ageing Renaults in the towns rarely if ever venture far) we set off in hope only to have those hopes dashed.  Yes, petrol was available from plastic containers, as it seems to be anywhere, but at a price.  That price was 700 Ouguiya per litre (approx £1.60) whereas in town it was a mere 260 Oogs. We turned back and headed back to Nouadhibou, passing on the way what seemed to be a perfectly normal slow-moving land rover, but which as we approached at a closing velocity of approximately 50mph, we discovered the reason it was being driven down the centre line of the road was the steel concrete reinforcing rods being carried sideways across the back (held securely by a bloke sat on the side of the truck body) and overhanging each side by more than the width of the vehicle itself.  Emergency braking on our part delayed the seemingly inevitable, and the frantic beating on the cab by the guy holding the re-bars caused the driver to swerve off the road to let us pass.

We'd made it 50 miles out of town before discovering the consequences of our ill-judged fuel gamble, making it a 100 mile wasted round trip.  Of course, on each trip out of and into Nouadhibou, we passed through three checkpoints at which we had to show various documents - Police, Customs and Gendarmes.  It gets pretty tiresome after the eighth checkpoint to leave just one town...

However, with the checkpoints behind us, full tanks of fuel and the jerry-cans brimmed too to ensure we could make it the 525km without a fuel station if need be, we were making great progress along the new road to Nouakchott.  The road is so new that the tarmac is still velvet black, and you follow a perfect ribbon of road chasing an ever-retreating shimmering mirage out into the desert.

We learnt a little about desert transport along the way, for instance it is possible to get four small camels into the back of a land cruiser, or one big one in the back of a Series-3 landie.

As luck would have it, the brand new Total petrol station built at the half-way point between Nouadhibou and Nouakchott was selling petrol when we passed through.  It came as such a surprise, we rode straight past and had to turn round to go back to it.  As we did so, Ed's bike found another nice patch of soft sand for a lie-down, and after picking it back up we bought a top up, and with it the peace of mind and lack of hassle that comes from not having to do a roadside fill from the jerry cans.  The new service station was equipped with a restaurant from which we bought a bottle of disappointingly warm water, but with Nouakchott in our sights, no lunch.

The end of the road that leads into Nouakchott is somewhat less charming than the pristine black ribbon through the sandy landscape it starts out as up in Nouadhibou.  Here, the road leads past the inevitable police, customs and gendarmerie road blocks, through what just seems to be a landfill site.  Piles and piles of rubbish of all descriptions are left by the roadside, everything from plastic bottles to car bodyshells, all being picked through by small teams of particularly hardy goats.

Our arrival in Nouakchott was not so simple as we'd hoped.  We had a waypoint for the GPS to mark the location of the Auberge recommended by our friend Wolfgang who we'd met in Nouadhibou, but it when we got there, it was the Hotel Mercure, which would have been a bit more expensive than the Auberge des Nomades we sought.  After a lot of confusion, directions and misdirections, we had given up all hope of finding the place and had decided to head to the out-of-town campsite instead.  It should be noted at this point that the streets of Nouakchott are not like the streets of more familiar capital cities like London or Paris.  Yes, it suffers from the same traffic density and impatience (demonstrated, unusually, by the locals overtaking each other on the crowded city streets) but even central Nouakchott near the government offices and embassies, has a mix of tarmac, sandy dirt roads, and some tarmac streets coated with such a thick layer of sand that you'd never know they'd been metalled.   This mix, and the bucking weaving bikes it produced at the most inopportune moments, made for a particularly frustrating time. With the swearing becoming more frequent over the intercom from Ed up at the front, an almost unspoken decision was forming to head back out to the beach where we knew of a campsite nestled in the windswept, doubtless litter-blown dunes.  While stopped at some lights however, a shopkeeper whose brother had once spent three months in London "playing the drums for the white men..." gave us one last set of directions which worked. 

The auberge was, as promised, a pleasant little place with friendly staff, enough space in the carpark for our tents, and a very cute dog (friendly expression, adorable sticky-outy ears but almost certainly a hazardous flea-count).  The facilities looked promising and we settled for the night after a meal at a fast food restaurant just across the street.  When we got up the next morning however, a power cut had not only rendered the showers useless (no water) but also delayed the opening of the local bakery on which we were relying for breakfast...

Thankfully the local grocer bought his bread elsewhere and we were able to get on the road to Atar bright and early on the 22nd as planned.  We now suspect though that this grocer's influence extends all the way to Atar, as we would find out later.  The scenery on the way to Atar was a varied mix of dunes in many different hues, and certainly more charming than that on the way into Nouakchott the previous evening.

Sticking to our original plan to see more of the Mauritanian interior we headed out of Nouakchott early, hoping in vain to avoid the melee of driving in the capital only to meet all of the usual suspects including the near 'trip-ending' situation of being overtaken by a landcruiser just as we slowed to let a confused goat cross the road (yes, this is still the capital being described here) and hence narrowly avoided being wiped out by a Toyota-goat double whammy.

Once underway again with beautiful scenery rolling past and the cooling air flowing around us it became apparent just how much hotter the interior was to be and stopping for a drink was only bearable with the shade of thick thorn bushes, as per the locals.  These moments stood in the incredible silence of the desert gave us opportunities to ponder questions such as: "Where do all these people come from who frequently appear in the remotest places?",  "What are they doing out here?" and also gave us time to look more closely at the rocks and plants that we speed past on our way to the next destination.

With Atar becoming a closing possibilty in the afternoon heat we had only to contend with a horribly bent and 'crabbing' toyota truck, (driver in his lane, tailgate in ours) before a cold drink and reliable shade would be ours.  Sure enough we arrived, located the Auberge les Caravanes du Desert, and settled in before heading into town on foot to enjoy dinner at a café.  It was soon after we left the café that the "influence" described earlier became apparent in a way that had both of our Ourazazate alarm bells ringing.  Say no more.

Expectations were high as we set off to conquer the piste to Oudane. Ancient, inaccesable and steeped in history the city had been ear-marked as a highlight of the trip and rightly so. Important provisions in the form of bottled water and chocolate biscuits were hurriedly puchased by Ed inside the shop leaving a hassled Dan to confront the inevitable crowd of inquisitive children that form at a moment's notice whenever the bikes are at rest. Having lashed and stashed the provisions, the "spacemen" readied themselves and their impressive machines for departure. The short-lived illusion however was shattered by one small child nipping infront of Dan's now slowly moving machine resulting in a dropped spacecraft (Dan's first of the trip) which the spacemen quickly scuttled to right before regrouping and sheepishly making good their escape.

Optimism led the way despite the intial setback of missing the "road" - surely all inaccessable places have roads, don't they? A quick recalculation and we were making good progress over the open gravel track, eyes peeled for the turning required to reach Ouadane.  Up until the turning we were enjoying our newly adjusted off-road skills and making good progress. One left turn followed by 120km of open dusty piste. How hard could that be?  Well, the piste turned left but our progress went from hero to zero within metres as we faced a surface unlike any we had imagined.  The beautiful landscape was open, sandy and flat around us and, stretching off to infinity (120km) lay a perfect strip of speedhumps lying edge to edge  as far as the eye could see. The simile of rolling a coin across a washboard describes the ease, level of control and comfort to which we now became accustomed. 

With optimism flagging after a mere 7km we experienced our first piece of collateral damage.  Whilst traversing a sandpit which appeared across the piste, Dan's chain oiler was wrenched from its mountings and after a lap of the rear sprocket was pronounced dead. Dishearteningly soon and with a vast distance still to cover we collected ourselves and proceeded amidst the incecessant clattering of laden motorbike over bump after bump.

Radio silence seemed inevitable as each rider dealt with their own private corrugated hell, until this was broken around the 20km point by Dan announcing another first for the trip so far - a punctured front tyre.  The timing also fortuitously coming at around midday which anyone with even half an eye on the Discovery channel will know is not a great time to be standing around in the desert.  With no other damage sustained, photos were taken, a new inner was quickly installed and we were on our way again.

Having experienced every emotion in those four long hours the only mechanisms of hope consisted of the thought of a cold coke at the end of the journey or even the slight feeling of achievement as each tenth of a kilometer was conquered. And so the battering of man and machine continued until we feared something would fail and in fact it would not be until the very end of the journey that anything would.  Having reached the outskirts of Ouadane, ascended the alternately rocky and sandy road to the top of the escarpment and almost collapsed wearily from our bikes, Ed's sense of humour finally suffered a catastrophic failure.  For there, all around us in the rays of the late afternoon sun, lay not the glory or the splendour of a city with a once great past but piles of rubble and a few grubby inhabitants who had come to see what all the fuss was about.  And no cold coke.

A few moments passed before Dan could administer a life-saving shot of optimism to a broken man.  With guide book in hand we retraced our steps to the nearest auberge where we were fantastically received with sweet mint tea and cushions in the shade onto which we collapsed lifelessly.  The Auberge Verigny had welcomed us, and as their only guests, we were treated to a tour of the town by the curator of the city's library.  This included presenting ourselves to the Gendarmerie, a quick scramble through the rubble (or ancient ruins), and an opportunity for photos of the famous mosque.  "Authentic" Mauritanian spaghetti followed for dinner and after a spot of inner tube repair (so many firsts for one day, we were quite spoiled) we retired to the sauna (or chambre) to await our fate on the return journey to Atar the following day.

Having likened ourselves the previous evening to two frightened schoolgirls in light of our pathetic floundering on the piste to Ouadane, on the 24th October the sun rose to shine instead on two very different, apparently re-masculated adventurers with a new found commitment to "man up" and "gas it" on the return leg.  Sure enough, the resulting two-wheeled tour de force put the same 120km of corrugated carnage behind us in a shade over 2 hours.  Where the day before we had been struggling to see double figures in first or second gear, we were now merrily blasting over the peaks of the corrugations with the speedo needles rarely indicating less than forty and the transmissions locked in fourth gear as the bikes bucked and yawed below us.  With this new commitment and confidence in the abilities of our bikes, even if not yet ourselves, control and even comfort were both remarkably improved. 

The feeling of elation on reaching the better section of piste after the turning was moderated only by the adrenaline withdrawal symptoms associated with the end of such an exciting, involving, rewarding ride.  Not long afterwards we were relaxing in the shade of the Auberge veranda in Atar with two cold cokes in hand and a real sense of victory and achievement about us.

The victories continued as Dan spent an increasingly happy half hour resurrecting his chain oiler after its untimely demise.  Never before has any man been so happy to see oil dripping freely once more from the underside of his bodged-together motorcycle.

 

6th November - Update!

When we'd first parked up at the Auberge les Caravanes du Desert in Atar, we couldn't fail to notice what appeared to be a goat carcass hung upside-down from a wooden frame, apparently maturing.  After Dan had finished the "repairs" to his chain oiler and both of us were stood around the bikes discussing the day's riding, one of the auberge staff wandered over to us and the goat, picked up one of our discarded plastic water bottles and asked if we had a knife.  We cut the bottle in half for him as he indicated and were shocked when he then untied the cord around the goat's neck, tipped water out into the half-bottle, splashed it over his face and neck and then drank thirstily from it before liberally wetting the fur of the goat.  Suddenly all became clear - what we were looking at was merely a goat skin flask.  The water evaporating off the wet fur outside, kept the water inside cool.  This made us think about the hotter than ambient water we'd been drinking out of our plastic bottles all day, and made us realise there was a better alternative. We could put wet socks round the bottles to keep them cool, and if they were white, it'd work even better.

The ride back to Nouakchott on Thursday 25th was of course more of the same, but this time the heat seemed even more imposing.  Thankfully most of the checkpoints along the route waved us through so we could keep cool by keeping moving, but each of the three checkpoints on the entrance to Nouakchott had us stopping, and trying hard to keep cool without shade at the roadside.  The 33 degree heat we'd seen overnight in Atar the night before had nothing on the heat we were experiencing now, and we'd not yet had a chance to put the water-bottle-sock theory into practice.

Our tasks for the afternoon were to locate and liberate our fresh rear tyres which had been sent to the airport from the UK, and locate the Mali embassy so we knew where to get our visas from the next morning.  We arrived at the airport still hot, parked up and were denied entry to the nice cool, shady terminal building by an officious policeman.  Our sketchy mastery of the French language permitted the following exchange, repeated several times under the unforgiving sun for about ten minutes.


"We're looking for Air France Cargo"
"You can't come in, there are no flights today"
"We don't want a flight, we want the Cargo office"
"Read the notice, today's flight has been cancelled"
"Our cargo arrived on Tuesday.  Is there anyone here from Air France who we can talk to?"
"No".


Once the policeman had lost interest, Dan was able to sneak into the tiny terminal building and
obtain a pair of cold cokes from the kiosk to refresh the minds sufficiently to allow the formulation of a new plan.

Air France have an office in town which opens at eight, we now planned to talk to them first thing the following morning, before going to the embassy for our visas.  This worked - sort of.  Once we'd produced the documentation for our freight booking they were able to tell us where the freight terminal was, and tried to call ahead.  They had no joy however, and recommended we went there at about 12, by which time someone should have showed up for work.

We arrived at the Mali embassy a little before 10, where we bumped into Chris Bone, also applying for a visa.  We'd met him before at the Horizons Unlimited travellers' meeting in Ripley.  He was on a two-man anti-clockwise trip round Africa on two much smaller bikes (CCM 404Es), and we'd thought it odd that his travel buddy hadn't also been at Horizons.  We'd heard since that his mate had let him down completely - allowing Chris to get all the way to Morocco before not just failing to show up but also failing to return phone calls, emails or text messages.  He was looking for a travel buddy or two, and we quickly arranged to meet him at our auberge later that evening to compare plans.

With our Mali visas in hand, we set off for the airport freight terminal to collect our tyres.  We arrived at 11.30, half an hour before we'd been recommended to, just as the place was closing for the weekend.  Ed was able to convince the staff to let him pay all the import duties levied (which came to 100% of the freight value and shipping costs combined) but it was not possible to take the tyres - we had to wait until Monday. 

Now that we couldn't leave for Senegal the following morning, we had to extend our Mauritanian bike insurance which would expire before Monday.  This achieved, we headed back to the familiar surroundings of the Auberge des Nomades to wait for Chris, safe in the knowledge that we'd be able to get the tyres out of the airport shortly after 8am on Monday, and be on our way to Senegal by nine.

When Chris arrived at the auberge that evening, he also had with him another lone motorcycle traveller, Nick.  Nick was an American with an extreme adventurous streak.  He had bought a fifteen-year-old bike in the UK, and set off to Africa, optimistically omitting to give the bike a once-over, take tools, spares, a first aid kit or anti-malarials, or even wear specific protective gear other than a helmet - despite showing cuts on his arms from a crash in Spain.  He had suffered an engine failure in France, and replaced it with a twenty-year-old second hand unit so the numbers on his documents nolonger matched those on his machine (a superb excuse we thought for an African official to request the payment of a fine).  His strange take on the risks of his trip was reflected in his overwhelming concern about the risk of abduction in Nigeria (the abductions all involve oil workers or their families, for the purpose of extorting money out of the oil companies) whilst at the same time merrily planning to take a trip up the Congo river deep into the Democratic Republic of Congo, to the parts where the Kinshasa government have little influence, the place is ruled by the local warlords, the UN peace keeping forces travel exclusively in armed convoys and conventional western healthcare is simply unavailable.  This was a long way removed from what we had planned, and gave us a real insight into the fact that African travel takes all sorts.  We came away with a feeling that whilst we could appreciate his spirit of adventure, making an attempt to research and manage the risks of a trip like this does not necessarily destroy that spirit.

Chris had some natural affinity with Nick on grounds that they were riding bikes of similar engine capacity and off-road bias, but felt that our plans fitted better with his own, and perhaps that we had a better idea of what to expect in each place we were visiting.  Despite the fact that Chris, like Nick, had planned to skip Senegal and The Gambia and head straight to Mali, he liked the sound of our plans and decided to join us for the ride, at least for the next couple of weeks.  For Nick on the other hand, it was clear that our plans were not compatible.  He was keen to head east, and left for Mali the following morning.

Having spent Thursday and Friday evenings as happy patrons of Restaurant Snack Irak and chatting to the very friendly Iraqi proprietor we were finally on the receiving end of the anti-western abuse we'd been warned we could expect in Arab Africa.  The proprietor's friend, not an Iraqi but an Arab nonetheless, was keen to befriend us and mouth off about the actions of our government and that of the US in slightly unequal measure. 

"I buy you a drink, I like you, but I f--- England and I f--- America". 

Well, awkward political discussions were not on our agenda at 11pm on a Friday evening, so we quickly requested our bill, made our way back to the auberge, and I'm sorry to say, never returned to Snack Irak.

Back at the auberge we befriended a great Israeli couple who had back-packed their way down through Morocco and Western Sahara to Mauri and not really known what to expect.  They had a different approach and pace to their travel too, having bought a donkey to carry their packs in northern Morocco and sold her in the south when she started flagging.  They shared their brew of Moroccan coffee with us as we idly chatted the rest of Friday evening away.

Saturday and Sunday were spent back in the already familiar West African Limbo.  The frustrations of spending whole days just waiting rather than seeing new places and discovering new sights were offset by the fact that Nouakchott is an easy, pleasant place.  We employed one of the many street hawkers to find us some white football socks for our water bottles, and on another evening were able to buy some hair clippers (the well-known Shuanghou brand) for about £10.  These could be used to prune back Dan's now month-old "Adventurer's Beard", and provide regular haircuts whenever required.  Most evenings we ate at Restaurant Le Prince, who provided excellent meals at keen prices and a choice of seating outside (access to more street-hawkers than you could possibly care to imagine) or inside (access to air-con).

On Monday morning, we rose half an hour earlier than usual to ensure we could get to the airport in time for the cargo terminal to open and be on our way to Senegal as soon as possible.  At half past five alarms went off in both tents and bleary-eyed adventurers emerged looking for showers.   By quarter to eight, everything was packed up, Chris had arrived from his auberge across town and the three of us set off for the airport.  On arrival, Ed still in posession of the papers from Friday made his way to the terminal to face obstruction after obstruction.  Further fees were to be paid, the tyres had to be located in the warehouse, bartering on the fees was time consuming and the people who'd been dealing with it all on Friday were not yet in the office.  Having taken up the post of official hand-shaker, Ed found himself discussing the pros and cons of polygamy and large families with the baggage handlers who for their part worryingly invited him for lunch.  Once the tyres were in Ed's posession, without so much as pausing to tie them on he rode triumphantly out of the airport.  By this time it was 11.30am, the task of liberating the tyres having taken a full two and a half hours longer than we'd guessed, and Dan had had time to get into town and change yet more money to pay for what was now to be our even more extended stay in Nouakchott. 

Once again defeated by west African timescales, we returned to the auberge for one more night.  At least we had a Princes' feast to look forward to that evening, and the surety of being able to leave the following morning. 

On Tuesday 31st October, we were finally able to leave the admittedly pleasant environs of Nouakchott in favour of the welcome of black Africa in Senegal.  We had heard many things about the crossing from Mauritania to Senegal at Rosso, none of them good.  All three of us were keen to avoid the hassle and hawking of Rosso by going via a piste to the dam at Diama, which has rapidly become the favoured route for overlanders ever since it became available as an option a few years ago.  The piste to Diama is not challenging, but was longer than we thought, at about 90km.  This 90km does take you towards St Louis however, so there's less road riding after the border than after a crossing at Rosso.  There's not a lot of traffic on the piste, which is reassuring to those looking to avoid hassle from hawkers and border "assistants" as it's simply not worth their while taking the trip to hassle so few tourists when Rosso still carries all the commercial traffic.  The piste takes you through a national park, which you can tell both from the scenery and also the fee that is charged halfway along (1000 Oogs - about £2.50 - per bike).  On arrival at the border, we were charged €10 per passport stamped out of Mauritania, a rapidly diminishing community tax which ended up at 800 Oogs (under £2) between us, and finally a bridge toll of 4000CFA (a bit over £4) per bike to cross the dam into Senegal.