We crossed the Sahara from Morocco to Mauritania in January. Unlike countless adventure rider predecessors, it was an easy ride for us along an excellent sealed road that runs parallel to the coast through the disputed zone of Western Saraha.
We camped in coastal towns all along the coast. The days were sunny and warm and the evenings were cool and perfect for camping. These coastal towns were small, only a few shops and restaurants were geared for tourists so on the pricy side. We decided to make all our meals because we set up in each town for a couple of nights and had the time an inspiration. Generally it was scrambled eggs for breakfast, fruit for lunch and then a tuna Couscous concoction for dinner. Supplies in the mini supermarkets were basic, theres no Trader Joes, Coles or Aldi's.
Before we knew it the Sahara was gone. We didn't die of thirst or heat exhaustion, we didn't sink in sand dunes and it was really very pleasant. It would have been fun to deviate from the road and head in to the isolation for a few days, stocked up with supplies, but we'd spent 5 weeks in Morocco waiting for a parcel (new GPS) to arrive - which never did - and we had a lot of countries ahead of us before the wet season. Its the reality of travelling that things don't go to plan and there are too many places to see.
We pretty much didn't deviate from the main highway and towns in this section except to wild camp over night in Mauritania. We never intended to wild camp, in fact we tried very much to avoid it, but a long and tedious border crossing in to Mauritania had us riding at sunset, a long way from anywhere. Just before twilight diminished we pulled off the road and on to a compacted sand and dirt, solid and easy to ride on. We rode a couple of hundred meters to a point behind a communication tower where we were not visible to drivers and thought nobody would find us. Setting up our tent took no time and then we were on to dinner. It was really exciting cooking porridge (our emergency food) under billions of stars. We'd never seen so many stars. But we had 2 visitors this night. The first, a tiny mouse who must have smelt our porridge and came to investigate. The second, a man flashing a light on our tent at midnight calling out in a language we didn't understand (French). The first visitor was entertaining and welcome, the second was terrifying. Of course we thought we were going to be robbed and murdered. The girls were silent to the calls of the man outside, possibly hoping, like us, that if we didn't make a noise they'd go away and forget we were there. This didn't happen so the 3 ladies grabbed our SPOT (emergency tracker) and kicked Stu out of the tent to scare off this stranger or fight to the death. It seems all very dramatic and at the time our hearts were beating a million miles an hour, about to explode out of our chests. But nothing bad happened to us, in fact the strange man was a local guy tasked with the security of the communication tower. The next morning we all got a good look at each other, plenty of smiles were exchanged and we gave him some money for leaving us be and not causing a fuss. Tired and hungry, we were on the road in record time, happy to be headed for sure to our campsite in the capital, Nouakchott.
It was Australia Day, 26 January 2017, and we spent it camping beside the Ocean in Nouakchott. It was beautiful, relaxing but alcohol free as Mauritanian is an Islamic country so its very difficult to find. The bar at our campsite had some icy cold non-alcoholic beer, coupled with a vegetarian pizza and hot chips, we watched the sunset and talked about our friends and family back home, wondering how they had been celebrating.
Mauritania to Senegal was another difficult border crossing. We chose the sleepy border crossing of Diama instead of the Rosso border crossing. The road to Diama takes you through a national park. Its a dirt road, heavily corrugated, but fun to ride. There are plenty of warthogs to see and local birds. We lost a few screws, shaken lose from the corrugations, and Janell broke a fuel line. She only realised because the fuel was pouring on to her foot and it got really cold.
We pulled in to Diama just as the last light was fading. The Mauritania border was closed and with nothing for miles, the officers let us set up our tent in front of the customs and immigration (Douane) office. Lucky, because Janell rolled in to the border, she had no fuel left and Stu was on empty with possibly 10 miles in his tank. We had to push Janells motorbike over the bridge between the two countries.
Next morning, with little sleep, we got all our stamps out of Mauritania but not without drama. We knew the Police and the Immigration Officers would ask for bribes. On cue, they refuseed to stamp our passports without a payment of 10 Euros. Same old same old. We got our camping chair out and waited. It took a few hours but they got sick of us and pushed us through. No bribes paid. What took us for surprise was the Senegal Police Officers asking for a bribe of 10 Euros. I guess if you see your neighbours getting away with it, pocketing that kind of money, why would you not give it a go yourself. We didn't pay it though and we passed through the Senegal border with all the stamps and documents we needed.
Tired and hungry, we found someone to get us some fuel while we had an egg roll and coffee at the only restaurant around. Feeling a little more humane, we rode the 30km to St Louis where we spent the next 2 relaxing nights staying with Fanny from Airbnb and her husband. A really lovely experience.