After our false start in getting our Visa’s for Burkina Faso (see Mud, Sweat and Tears), eventually Monday morning came round, and at 7.30am we arrived at the Embassy in Bamako to submit our applications and of course to pay the fees. We were told to come back at 2.00pm that day to collect our passports with our Visa’s attached.
When we got back we were just getting out of the taxi, just then a small motorbike also pulled up with a western guy riding it, who must have been 6’6’’ tall. As we got closer I took in that it was a Honda CG125 (Honda’s are very rare in these parts), and when we got to the back I noticed that it had a British registration plate! After a quick chat it turns out that he was from Austin, Texas, and had flown into the UK, bought that old “W reg” Honda and has spent the last 18 months travelling down on basically the same route as us. Respect to the guy, thats hardcore on a little bike like that.
Anyway we collected our passports, and at dawn the next morning (about 6.00am) we left Bamako and headed towards the Mali/Burkina Faso border, via Sikasso. We knew that it was tarmac all the way to Sikasso but our Michelin map showed the road through to the border as being much smaller, which would probably mean dirt road/piste for about 60km. As it turns out this road had recently been up graded to tarmac and so we covered it quicker than we thought. We got to the relatively quiet border crossing at about 1.00pm and had a trouble free exitting of Mali. After crossing a few kilometres of no-mans land, we arrived at the Border of Burkina Faso, what a change in attitude!
Don’t get me wrong, we found everybody in Mali (without exception), both in the rural areas and in Bamako to be very friendly and welcoming, but we were very aware, as are the locals of the troubles in Mali, and the threat of kidnap was obviously ever present. Perhaps it was just us, but certainly the urban areas do have a certain edge to them.
The officials at the Burkina Faso side were very friendly, we sat in a tent with the top Policeman, as our details were recorded in the big book (every border in Africa has a big book), and despite him not speaking English we were welcomed into his country (Morocco could learn a lot from this guy). Again the Douane (Customs) wouldn’t accept our Carnet de Passage, and so we ended up paying 5000CFA (£5.55) for a Laissez-Passer to temporary import Colonel K. Before issuing it, a Douane Officer (these guys are dressed and equipped like Military soldiers) wanted to inspect the Daf, so I let him in and showed him round inside, he was gobsmacked that we had electric toothbrushes and couldn’t grasp the concept at all (most people here use sticks to clean and polish their teeth). He was also concerned that we had a pack of “toffee coffee”, surely fresh coffee can’t be toffee flavoured!
Soon we were on our way, the whole border experience taking no more than 1.5 hours, this was a record for us, and though it is a quiet border crossing, it does show that we are getting more used to the procedures that you need to go through at every border.
Obviously there were a few more checks and barriers, then we came to a Peage (toll booths).
With the help of finance from The European Union, some new roads have been built in Burkina Faso, complete with toll booths, the trouble is despite having the prices displayed no one bothered to man them, so we just drove on through without paying! It would have only been 1,000CFA (£1.10) but after all that work you’d have thought that they would have collected the tolls.
We are travelling West Africa in the wet season, and Burkina Faso has had a lot of rain lately, there is water everywhere, places that would have been dry and barren a few weeks ago, are now green, lush and sometimes flooded.
We stopped that night in Bobo-Dioulasso, which is the 2nd largest city in Burkina, in a tiny courtyard of a rather shabby looking guest house (not many places in towns can take Overland Trucks due to their size). We had no choice where we could park as Colonel K would only fit in one place, that was under the mango trees.
So after a cheeky couple of local brewed beers, and our usual dinner of Pasta (of some sort), we headed for a quiet nights sleep. No chance! The first mango that fell went straight through our (open) roof window above our bed, the weight pushing the fruit out the side of the insect mesh blind and landed on top of our mosquito net! Having no possibility of moving out from under the mango tree, this was going to be a long night! Bang, Bang, Bang at irregular intervals all night, we just hoped that come the morning there was no lasting damage.
After a terrible sleepless night, it appeared that we had got away without any damage to the truck (again), and had a quick bit of breakfast, during which we could hear a very noisy public demonstration happening out on the main road near us. It is alway best to steer clear of any sort of public demo in Africa and so we kept our heads down and waited until it passed.
As we left Bobo-Dioulasso we came to another set of toll booths, but this time, though there was no one manning the actual booths, there was a guy (not very official looking, though there were armed soldiers under the trees) with a book wanting us to stop and pay a toll, it was 1,000CFA (£1.10), so we paid it and he gave us a tiny paper slip. It was 370km that day, and every time we got stopped to pay a road toll (quite frequently) we just flashed that slip of paper at them and we were waved on our way! Im sure that we were supposed to pay each time but it was quite time consuming and we didn’t have many 1,000CFA notes, so our bare faced cheek paid off this time.
The traffic on this main road was at times horrendous! ha
But seriously we have seen some horrendous accidents over the last couple of weeks, in Mali there was a huge articulated truck that was on its side in the middle of the road, its trailer was full of sacks of grain, and the sacks, mostly broken open, were spread over a massive area. Then in Burkina Faso there was a terrible coach crash where it had hit a Toyota Hilux head on, and the coach had left the road and was embedded in some trees, the passengers were all over the place when we went past. Obviously the roads stay open, and the coaches are still hurtling past you in both directions, overtaking on blind bends, over crest of hills, mental. Then there is the loading of the trucks, theres no limit to what you can carry on a vehicle in West Africa.
Burkina Faso is a poor country, but the people seem extremely friendly and very welcoming, there is certainly lots of smiling and waving as we drive through the villages. We are liking Burkina Faso.
Later that day we arrived in the capital city of Ouagadougou (pronounced wa ga do goo), and soon realised that we were going to struggle to find somewhere to park and camp in Colonel K. So we decided to settle for a hotel that was close to the Embassy of Ghana (as we needed a Visa for this country). We found a very nice hotel next to Barrage no3, about 1.5km from the Embassy, after checking in we organised a taxi to take us there for 7.30am the next morning.
Before we left for the embassy I went out to the car park to check on the truck, as I got closer I noticed that there was an extraordinary large number of huge flies around. I climbed up on the cab roof only to be engulfed in the heaving mass, it was horrendous! The roof was covered (including the solar panel and roof window) with rotten mangos! It would have to wait until we got back from the Embassy.
Now, we always knew that getting the Visa for Ghana would be a challenge, as they believe that Visas should be issued in the Embassy of your home country. This would never work for us as it would have expired by the time we got to Ghana. so we did our home work, and pre-booked a hotel via Booking.com (this can be cancelled with no cost to us), got some names and addresses from the Brandt guide book, and the four passport photos etc (yes four photos each). Once in the Embassy we filled in the usual form (this time it was in English), gave the guy our passports and photos, and he then gave us a blank sheet of paper and asked us for a hand written explanation of why we didn’t get our visas in the UK before leaving, why we wanted to go to Ghana, and a couple of references in Ghana (we just used the names and addresses from the Brandt Guide). We also had to say how we going to fund our stay while in Ghana! Blimey. After handing over our fees we were told it will take three working days to process the visa’s and to come back on Monday at 11.00am. That meant that we can’t drive anywhere, as we don’t have our passports and they need to shown at every check point (of which there are many), so will need to stay in the hotel until then arrrrrr.
Back at the truck we needed to clean the roof of mangos and flies, so armed with a bowl of soapy water and our cut down broom I ventured back up there. There were thousands of flies on each shattered mango, uck! But at least we got it done before it was too hot.
While talking about flies, we have been having a long running battle with the little blighters inside the living accommodation, we spray inside on regular basis but still they seem to appear. One day I mentioned to Jac that it seemed that sometimes when I went for a pee in the WC, a couple of mosquitos flew out from the cassette (this is emptied and washed out on a regular basis), but I’m sure she didn’t believe me. Anyway, one day the extractor fan on the SOG just packed up (this is an electrical fan fixed on the external access door that as you open the toilet flap it sucks air out through a carbon filter and prevents the smell coming into the bathroom). So I started to find out what went wrong, the fuse was ok, the wiring seemed to be intact, so I took out the actual fan from the access door. The fan was completely jammed with tiny maggots!!! Even the pipe from the cassette to the fan had maggots in it, now Jac believed me. A good clean up and it was working again. How they got in there in the first place is anyones guess, but this is Africa after all. Then there were the maggots inside the plastic that wraps 6no 1.5lt bottles of water together, that were stored under the table, it seems that we bring them into the truck too!
We have found a Roll on Roll off freight ship, that we are hoping to get the truck on. It leaves Sheerness (nice and close to home), and calls into Tema, Ghana, where we are hoping to load the truck on, at the end of August, then will stop hopefully at Walvis Bay in Namibia about a week later. The dates and schedule are provisional at the moment and will be confirmed next week, hopefully it will be good news from the shipping agent that we are using. It will be a shame to miss out of a few of the countries that we wanted to visit, but safety must come first.
We have now been away over 120 days, and on the African Continent for 3 months now, and we have covered over 7,500 miles (12,000km)
Thanks so much for reading, and we have now had 8,000 hits on the blog
After leaving Djifer on the West coast of Senegal, we had to retrace our steps back up the long penisular track to the town of Mbour, and then turn East towards Tambacounda, we thought this would be a fairly easy drive as it is shown on our Michelin West Africa map as being tarmac all the way. Well there is some tarmac, basically just joining up the massive pot holes! The Senegalese are trying to sort out sections of this road, but while they are working on it, these areas remain closed and so you have to follow quite lengthy diversions, that can be busy and quite muddy (we are here in the rainy season).
The journey was over 500km, and took us over 10 hours, in places that tarmac was probably the worst road conditions I have ever experienced. The amount of abandoned lorries and other vehicles along this stretch is testimony to how tough that was. At times it was impossible to travel at any more than 20kmph. Oh and then there are the speed humps, I don’t think Ive mentioned the speed humps in West Africa before on this blog, well, they are extremely large, mostly unsignposted, and quite often along a fast straight stretch of road. But the worst ones are located on the exit from roundabouts, just as you start accelerating! What can possibly be the reason for these?
That night we managed to camp in the carpark to a hotel on the road into Tambacounda, it was our most expensive nights camping since leaving Morocco, after eventually negotiating a price of 12,000CFA (about £13.50) for both of us and Colonel K, but we did use their rather grubby toilets, and showers (we were saving our water for what was to come).
After an early start, and a quick breakfast we headed towards the Mali Border (our intention was to get to the Senegal side and camp there for the night), however, after Tambacounda to our surprise the road surface improved and we got to the border town of Kidira at about lunch time.
So we decided that we would cross the border into Mali, and head to Kayes (pronounced Ky).
Why are these border crossings so complicated? The border here is a bridge over the river, so we pulled up at a Police Post before the entrance to the bridge, took our documents to the very friendly policeman, who took down all our details, and entered them into his ledger. He then informed us that we couldn’t proceed as we didn’t have a police immigration exit stamp and we would have to go to the main police station in the town to get our passport stamped. “Can we walk there?” we asked, “no, drive” was the reply. We then had to negotiate a 180 degrees u-turn in a crazy road and drive Colonel K through the narrow roads until we found the Police Station. Duly stamped, we went back to the bridge to the Customs to get the exit stamp in the Carnet de Passage. I’m sure this guy had never seen one before, and it was up to us to tell him how to fill it in and stamp it. Eventually we were on our way and over the bridge, towards the Mali side.
If we thought the Senegal side was chaotic, then what greeted us on the other side was complete mayhem, in front of us were queues of hundreds and hundreds of trucks waiting to cross into Mali. We have learnt that when there is a queue of trucks, you just go around them, and in this instance, this involved taking to the dirt down the side, and jumping this massive queue, until I got right up to their barrier. We stopped and took our passports to the Police/Military checkpoint next to the barrier, after a few questions, these were then stamped, and we were told to cross the track to the Douane (customs) office. Luckily there was a young lad there that spoke a little English (not many do in these parts), who explained that we needed to take the truck back to a building to have it assessed for customs as Mali does not accept the Carnet de Passage. This meant reversing Colonel K back through between the rows of parked trucks to the building we had earlier passed. This is why so many trucks were parked up, they were waiting for customs paperwork. As usual we were processed much quicker, as tourists, than the usual truck drivers, who I’m convinced are at these crossings for days at a time. The Customs office was manic, with so many people in there shouting, and working. But what got us through quickly in the end was the appearance of a fairly high ranking official in a Military uniform who said something that we think was to treat us kindly & not take advantage .We were charged only 5,000CFA (about £5.50) for our Passavant document. Once again no bribes were paid. Then it was back up to the barrier, documents checked (poor Jac jumping in and out of the truck), and we were through. In all it had taken us about 2.5hrs for this crossing, but in this heat and in these manic conditions it seemed a lot longer. Despite the much more military nature of the Mali border post, we were treated with kindness and respect the whole time by all the officials.
Things have changed in Mali, it wasn’t long ago (a year or so), that you needed a military escort to drive from the border to Kayes and beyond towards the capital Bamako, but these days things are much safer, and we were allowed to travel onwards on our own. We got to Kayes, and then turned South towards Kita, the idea being that we would stop for a couple of days at a campsite near the Manantali Dam. It was soon apparent that we would not reach this camp spot for that evening so we decided to find somewhere to wild camp for the night. This route from Kayes to Kita is made up of two almost equal parts, the first half is tarmac, the second half is piste/dirt track, but we had been told by an Italian that we had met a few days before that it was mostly a good piste in good condition so should be fine for our truck. At about 4.30pm we had to pull over as a torrential storm hit us on the road (still tarmac) and we stopped in a tiny village, until it cleared. The villagers were on there way back from the fields, and because of the rain, had just stripped off, so their clothes didn’t get wet!
This road is completely stunning with some fantastic rock formations and heavy vegetation, its very different to places that we had seen before on our trip.
About 30km before the end of the tarmac section we spotted a huge radio mast and figured that there would be a track off the road to it and because of the tall vegetation we would be hidden from the road there. It was perfect, so we parked between the mast (a brand new one approx 50m high for mobile network, and complete with a huge bank of solar panels to power it). Our only neighbours being a few nomads with their tents/shelters about 200m further down. So after cooking dinner we settled down for the night. As soon as we turned the lights out, we realised that in the distance there was a storm somewhere and the lightening was almost constant, but there was no thunder so it was a way off and it wasn’t raining outside. The next thing I knew, was Jac waking me and telling me it was starting to rain, so we got up and closed the roof lights, but left the windows open for some air (it was about 32c in the truck), then we went back to bed. Again I was woken up by Jac saying that the wind was getting very strong saying we should shut the windows. Then Bang! The wind hit the truck like a train ramming into the side, there was rain pouring in through the window over the table area, and we both leapt over to it, pressing on the plastic black out blind trying to stop the water pouring in, Jac reached through the blind to find that the window was not there! It had been ripped off by the wind. The wind was severely buffering the truck, with it violently rocking on its suspension.
We spent the next 40 mins trying to stop the blind being blown in (this was the only thing stopping the worst of the weather now), but eventually the wind started to decrease, and we started mopping up the water with some tea towels, we would worry about the window later. I was at the sink wringing out the tea towels when I happened to look out of the kitchen window just a flash of lightning happened and couldn’t believe my eyes! I looked again, and again, and the scene was the same.
The huge mast was gone!
Luckily the massive structure had gone the other way, away from Colonel K, and when I ventured outside I found our window between the truck and the mangled wreckage of solar panels.
As it was pitch dark, with water everywhere, (and a danger of snakes) we decided that a full assessment of damage and any repairs would have to wait until daylight. Next morning showed the full carnage in all its glory.
We managed to refit the window (completely undamaged), and the only other damage was the tarpaulin that is covering the bikes on the rack got ripped, WE WERE VERY LUCKY! Ive never experienced hurricane force winds, but this must have been very close to it!
Next morning, having a laugh about the previous night now, and being shocked that the nomad shelters are still standing, we headed for the ferry at Bafoulabe. This ferry is at a junction of two rivers and the one ferry goes between three exit points. But we had been told previously that to get to the camp site you need to exit on the piste to Kita, so thats what we told the guy on the tiny ferry, “we want to go to Kita”. This later proved to be wrong, as to get to the camp site you need to exit at the other point (it was too late once we realised the info we were given was wrong).
After exiting the ferry (just floating as we drove off, no tying up here), we got on the piste that was indeed very good for the first few kilometres, but there were soon lots of diversions where sections had been washed away, and new Oued (river) crossings were being built.
After about two hours on this track, we came round a corner and in front of us was a large rigid truck that was sunk deep into the mud, with about 6 guys working frantically to dig it out. A quick assessment showed that there was room around the side of the stranded truck so we went for the gap, and with the deep mud slowing us, we ground to a halt, with the passenger rear wheel stuck deep in the glupe. Closer inspection showed that the lockers and entrance foldaway steps, had beached themselves on the side as we were pitched over at an angle. BUGGER!
You can see how deep it is as these tyres are nearly 4 foot high.
We started digging, and digging and digging, to try to free the stuck wheel, we took it in turns to use the one spade that we had, and Jac also went looking for rocks to place under the wheel, we were getting no help from the guys who were with the other truck, who soon started jacking up the rear of their truck with a bottle jack dangerously balanced on some stones, so they could get under their rear wheels.
After we had been there about two hours, there was an almighty crash from the truck next door, and the rear of the truck collapsed off of the bottle jack, how no one was killed or seriously injured I really don’t know, Jac went very pale!
Eventually after quite a few failed attempts, we managed to get out using a combination of digging out, using stones under the wheels and using our front winch attached to the back of a broken down truck that was further in front of us.
As you can see, once the other guys realised we had a winch, they were willing to help us. So we said we would help to pull them out.
So after a quick pee….
We pulled them out, they were so pleased, lots of shouting, high fives, etc, it was only then that the driver told Jac that they had been there for two days, trying to get out, and the broken down truck had been there for four days!
This is a brutal place. We spent four hours in the seering heat of mid- day sun, digging like mad, and sweating buckets, we were covered in mud, our trainers were caked, and the truck was filthy, inside and out, but we got out.Oh, and Jac got stuck in the mud up to her knees and had to ask one of the guys to give her a hand out!
After that episode we decided that before we drive into anywhere that looks wet we would stop the truck, and get out and look at options before driving into any nasty spots. This served us well for the rest of the day, as there were other bad spots along this route, one with another abandoned truck stuck in the middle. But because of the time we lost with getting the truck stuck, and the vast distance that we still had to cover before we got to Kita, we decided to find another place to wild camp. Jac spotted a disused quarry just off the piste, so we managed to tuck ourselves away in there and settled down for a much quieter night.
After another early start we carried on along the piste, through many villages along the way towards Kita.
Only once stopping at a makeshift checkpoint (steel barrels across the piste), with just one single soldier there to check the documents of anyone that may come that way. Jac jumped out and showed the usual stuff to him before he came out smiling and removed the barrels (you have to be careful with a camera in Mali).
After several river crossings (bridges of different descriptions), and crossing the railway tracks many many times (just drive over the tracks), and through some nasty sticky patches, we got the Kita.
Just before we got onto the tarmac at KIta, we saw a guy standing in the middle of the busy track waving frantically at us as we drove towards him, it was one of the guys from the truck that we had pulled out, he climbed up the side hanging on to the mirror, stuck his hand in through the window and greeted us like old friends.
After saying goodbye and finally getting on the tarmac we were soon at the peage (toll both), and had to pay the princely sum of 1,000CFA (approx £1.10) to drive the 180km to the capital Bamako, though we did also have to separately pay a local tax of 500CFA when leaving the Province of Kayes at Kita.
The road to the end of the peage section is very good and we covered it quickly, however when we got to the end of this road (about 25km North of Bamako), everything changed, it was like a border crossing, in as much as there were hundreds of trucks parked up, many being repaired, there was no tarmac, and all we could do was try to drive round or through the queuing vehicles. At one time we were helped by a guy on foot that spotted that we could use a petrol station as a short cut. Eventually we got to a barrier with a rather large policeman (looking like the prisoner in the film The Green Mile) there to stop us. We showed our documents and he waved us through towards the city.
Bamako is huge, its a vast sprawling city, and really is a city with two sides (like most African capitals), there are some stunning new buildings and memorials in the city centre, like the new Government Building (shown below), and most of the foreign embassies are new buildings, but there are also the more usual residential areas for the majority of Malians, and these aren’t so great.
We arrived in Bamako, aiming to stay at Le Cactus Hotel, on the South side of the river as we ,picked up this info from another travel blog, however after eventually finding the overgrown entrance to the hotel, it was immediately apparent that Le Cactus has been closed for a very long time. We understand that it was owned by a foreign couple, and it might be that because of the troubles here, they might have felt the need to close up and leave there business behind. On the way back in towards the city (we were about 12km out in the suburbs), we spotted another hotel sign down towards the river, so we drove down the dusty track, and saw a nice big set of gates. So we drove in and went to reception, the guy made a quick call to his boss, and said we could park the truck there but could not stay in it, we would have to have a room. the deal was 26,000CFA (approx £28.50) per night for an air conditioned room with a hot shower (not that you need hot water here). So we took that, had a nice dinner on the terrace overlooking the massive Niger River that flows past us (this river amazingly starts South East of us here, towards the sea, then flows inland through Mali, and Niger, and then turns South again through Nigeria, before reaching the sea).
We also arranged for a driver to pick us up at 7.00am to drive us into the city centre to get to the embassy of Burkina Faso to apply for our Visas , the trouble was when we got there (after first being dropped off at the Libyan Embassy!), we were told that as it was the last day of Ramadan the Embassy would remain closed that day (Friday), and wouldn’t reopen until Monday morning.
Oh well, after the last week we could do with some rest and the hotel has got a nice pool. By the way, I had a bottle of Guinness with my dinner, and believe it or not it was brewed under licence here in Bamako.
Once we got the wifi working here, we received the sad news of the death of Avis Ball, from the village where we live, I’ve known Avis and her family since I was a small child, and when we bought our current house there, Avis and Eric made us very welcome and helped introduce us to the “newer” locals. Avis was such a strong character and will be sorely missed. Both mine and Jacqui’s thoughts are with Eric, Jackie, and Clifford at this time.
We ended up staying with Martin and Ursula for 3 weeks at Zebrabar, we really had a great time there, but it was time to move on, but not until we filled in their fantastic visitors book.
The night before we left, a group of American’s turned up to stay in the bungalows, after chatting to them, the 4 young women and a guy (all about 20-24 years old), told us that they are volunteers for the US Peace Corps. I have to admit that neither of us knew anything about this organization (I thought it was to do with the UN), well it turns out that each individual is assessed back in the US, given very basic training in health and hygiene, and then are located in a remote village (in this case in Senegal) and put up with a family, they then are expected to integrate with the community, (without knowing a word of the local language), and pass on the knowledge about clean water, sewage disposal, food hygiene and other health issues to change behaviour for the future, to the locals without sounding too authoritarian. Remember these girls are in a strange country, not getting paid, and are expected to stay in that village for 22 months! Respect to them eh, I’m not sure I could have done that in my early 20’s.
So after a leisurely breakfast, we said our goodbyes at Zebrabar, and headed South towards Dakar. We had already decided to visit Lac Rose, a area of water famous for its high salt content, we had seen pictures of the Pink Lake, and it looked lovely, so we followed Margret our friendly lady inside our Garmin Sat Nav. You had to go further South than Lac Rose to a town on the outskirts of Dakar called Rufisque (this is a suburb of Dakar), this seemed strange for two reasons, first the Atlantic Ocean was now on our left for the first time (as we were at the far end of the Dakar Peninsula), and secondly the traffic was horrendous!!! The sat nav (both Garmin maps and Tracks for Africa) showed us turning right into a dirt track in the middle of town that went through what looked like a bustling market crossed with a bus station, so we drove straight past that and waited until we found an easier route around or the Garmin corrected itself. NO CHANCE!
So we ended up back tracking, and this time turning into the heaving mass of people. We got through only to find the bloody piste was closed with a huge hole in the middle of the track. The road was getting very narrow by this point and turning round definitely was not an option (we are 8.6m long). A woman in a hi-vis vest stopped us and ask us where we were going, we told her Lac Rose, and she said its not possible, so we asked how (in our rubbish French) we can get there then, and she just said carry on then! This happened at 3 points along this very narrow residential piste, first saying we must stop and cannot continue, then saying oh go on then, carry on. I wasn’t very confident of getting out of this place any time soon, but eventually we managed to cross the new road into Dakar, and even a sign to Lac Rose.
When we got to the tiny Village at Lac Rose, we ended up stopping and asking a group of young local men where the campsite was as we were again struggling, and after a brief chat (one guy spoke a little English), in which we had to convince them that we not Norwegian, but British (Jac thinks it was my slightly longer blond hair that did it), one of them climbed over Jac and sat between us in the cab. I have to say with out him we would have struggled to find it as the GPS coordinates that we had were wrong. We gave the guy 2,000CFA (about £2.00) for his troubles (oh and the long walk back to his mates), and he left a happy man.
Le Calao du Lac campsite is another lovely site, with a fantastic swimming pool, once again we were the only people camping. The food here was very good with amazing steak brochettes.
At this point I have to mention the bird life in Senegal, it is so diverse, and we have seen birds, such as many sorts of herons, birds of prey (Kites, vultures), finches, parrots, hoopoo’s kingfishers, etc. And although Im no great wildlife photographer, I’m going to show a few that we have taken since being here.
Right, sorry about that!
So we were near the romantically named Lac Rose, so we thought we would have a walk from the campsite down to the lake to check it out for ourselves and get a photo like the ones that we had seen on the postcards etc.
Mmmmm, its not quite like that. You see, there’s money to be made from the salt, so it resembles a outside factory, more that a tourist site!
The salt is dug up from the lake bed, by hand and placed into one of the hundreds of tiny boats, then brought ashore to be dried. It seems that a whole community has sprung up around this small scale industry. I just can’t imagine working in those conditions day after day.
We are about three quarters of the way through the holy month of Ramadam now, and I for one really can’t imagine not drinking any fluid of any kind from sunrise to sunset in this heat and humidity. We have seen lorry drivers, crashed out on the side of the road, in the shade of a tree, looking like they cannot carry on until they can have a drink. Shops have had to close as theres no one to buy any food or drink, and the cost to the economy of these countries must be huge, as no one seems to work for most of they day because they aren’t allowed to drink water or eat anything.
We spent four nights at Lac Rose, and really enjoyed our time here. Whilst here, the owner got out his old photos of when the Paris Dakar Rally used to stop at Lac Rose, it was massive! This part of Africa must really miss that event, and the tourists that followed it.
After leaving Lac Rose, we again had to negotiate the crazy diversions back towards Dakar, but this time we went a slightly different way, and although again there were a couple of road blocks, we found it much easier.
Once back in Rufisque, we went looking for a bank with a ATM to withdraw some more CFA’s. Jac spotted one on the other side of the road (we again were in very heavy traffic), so she jumped out and crossed the traffic to the Bank, while I drove down the road to turn round and come back and pick her up, it took me about 20mins before I was back on that side of the road and outside the bank. Jac was still in a queue for the ATM! Luckily I was in a slightly wider part of the busy road and used it as a sort of lay-by to wait…. and wait….and wait. I had noticed that there was a senior policeman, bombing up and down between the traffic on his Yamaha TMax, Super Scooter, (700cc I think), blowing his whistle, and shouting orders to his lower ranks. Then he spotted me….. He jumped off of his scooter, shouting and throwing his arms into the air, obviously asking what the hell I thought I was doing parked here, and on “his” road. I calmly spoke to him in English and pointed to the Bank, he said ok, asked me to move back about two foot, and then jumped back on his scooter, blowing his whistle at anyone that would listen to him.
Jac queued for about an hour, only to find that the ATM would only dispense a max of 20,000CFA per card (about £21.00) she wasn’t happy.
We are now on a very narrow peninsula close to the border with Gambia. The last 40km is on piste, and it appears that this will be tarmac road soon, and they are currently upgrading it, and diverting traffic to some more sandy areas in places.
The piste is very picturesque and takes you through some small villages, and there are many ancient Baobab trees along the way.
We also had the odd “natural Roadblock” along the way
Camp Djidjac is a lovely simple campsite, with a decent amount of shade to park in (the downside is the solar panel doesn’t generate any electricity to recharge the batteries).
We have not seen rain for 100 days now (not since we were in France), and we know we are approaching the wet season here in Senegal (the far South has already had quite a bit of rain), but two nights ago, we had a massive storm here for about 3-4 hours, and wow did it rain! And as it hadn’t rained here for about 9 months, all the dust and crap fell from the trees onto our truck. The next morning there was about 15mm of mud on the roof, not pleasant.
The other down side of the first rain here is the snakes. We were told the morning after the rain that there are likely to be Black Mamba’s about now, so to be careful, like I need telling! A couple of hours later, the owner told us that they had just seen a Cobra in the corner of the garden (about 20 metres from Colonel K), so we are being vigilant, especially when walking back from the bar at night. There are also the explosion of bugs that the rains bring, everything from even more mosquitoes, to hundreds of large lacewing type flies to some bizarre bugs, like the red velvety type bugs that is below.
The beach here is truly beautiful, with a fairly smooth sea, and obviously completely empty of humans, apart from a few villagers, and obviously its used to wash the horse’s and donkey’s down. According to Jac, this guy was well fit, mind you all the blokes seem to do wrestling here, so their all super muscular.
And of course every beach has to have its own shipwreck.
Dispite the intense heat and humidity here, we decided it would be a good idea to cycle to the end of the peninsular (a 25km round trip), and as we are British, we had to have our toast and marmalade with tea before we set off. So we didn’t get going until about 9.30am (the temp was well into the 30s c, mind you it doesn’t drop below 28c at night), but we set off down the very red coloured piste through a few villages, past the mangroves until we had the Atlantic Ocean almost all around us.
After negotiating all the kids in the village at the end of the piste, (it was extremely busy with people), and explaining that we don’t have any cadeaux to give them, we decided to try doing the return journey along the beach, as the tide seemed to be receding. It was a good choice, and the sand proved to be firm enough to cycle on.
On a much sadder note, we are hearing a few horror stories about travelling through Nigeria at the moment, a French Couple were attacked and robbed in the South of the country, the husband was shot and attacked with a machete, and died from his wounds, and the wife lived despite her also being attacked with a machete. This incident has nothing to do with Boko Haram or terrorism, it was a brutal attack on two overlander travellers whilst parked up for the night. With this in mind we are looking into options to travel past Nigeria and Cameroon (we met an Italian today that was attacked in Cameroon). Going North around Nigeria isn’t an option at the moment, so we are looking into loading the truck onto a Roll on Roll off ship, perhaps in Ghana, and hopefully unloading it in Walvis Bay, Namibia, or Durban, South Africa and continue our travels from that end of the Continent. We would then fly from Accra to where ever the truck end up.
We always said our plans need to be flexible, so we will keep on trying to sort this out.
In the next day or so we will be heading off East to Mali.
Thanks for reading our blog
We have now been “on the road” for 100 days and our 6th country. Since my last post we have purchased an outside plastic carpet to help cut down on the amount of sand that ends up in “The Col K” and it has definitely been worth Vinnie carrying it back from a Souk in 40+ degree heat in Ouarzazate. We still have our carpet tiles as a floor covering and regret not changing this to lino before we left, but we were in a bit of a rush at the time and it was cold in the U.K and nice on “the feet”. So we continue the daily brushing up of sand and will change this when we get the opportunity. We looked in Morocco, but could not find anything suitable in the Moroccan version of B&Q (Brico something or other).
Whilst in Erfoud we stayed at a campsite that had a couple of washing machines, so I thought great, a few days off of hand-washing. The sign on the wall indicated that one should ask reception before using, but I wandered around for so long without spotting anyone, that I went right in and commandeered 2 machines- how difficult could it be? Loaded them up and settled down to relax. When I went to check on my washing, I noticed “Flashing lights” and both machines had stopped mid cycle. I went to fetch help and the manager found that both of the belts had snapped on both machines- he was not happy and proceeded to show me the sign that indicated I should have gone to reception -whoops! After about an hour they fixed the machines and I was able to retrieve my washing.
Whilst we were in Taroudant, Sally, whom we had met, showed me her “washing machine” on board their truck. Seemed like a good idea, so when we were out in Taroudant Medina Vince and Richard spotted a similar model for sale. We were all cycling at the time, but if you have ever been to Morocco, you know that “the locals” manage to carry anything on their cycles (goats, sheep,ladders, 3 children and the wife) so the purchase was made and balanced on the handle bars, going down the one way system, the wrong way. It was funny how all the locals shouted “attention” to us, but ignored all the other locals doing exactly the same thing! Back at the campsite, I’ve never seen Vinnie so excited, he couldn’t wait to unwrap it (may have been because he didn’t get a birthday present this year!). After it had been unwrapped and plugged in, we filled it with cold water & washing powder and set the timer (this is the only control on the appliance, very low tech, but a lovely red colour). Once washed, you still need to empty the water manually via a tube & then refill with cold water again to rinse, once or twice, quite labour intensive, but will hopefully help a little in getting the clothes a bit cleaner.
Guess what? We haven’t used it since! After leaving Morocco there has not been any electric hook ups, so we have been hand washing again. It seems unlikely that we will use it again, so lesson learn’t, when over-landing keep basic and don’t over complicate things. So back to the “pink” scrubbing brush & green soap!
As we have been cooking on board “The Col”, we have managed to maintain a good standard of food hygiene ourselves. Carefully selecting where we purchase food/meat, washing & peeling fruit and careful when eating out, especially at street cafe’s. Whilst in Morocco there were a few “French supermarkets” so we stocked up in Agadir before we left . This formula seems to have worked as we have been travelling for 100 days now and neither of us has been ill, yet!
Since hitting Mauritania and Senegal food shopping has been in local food markets and stalls. Mangoes are very much in season here in Senegal, so we are eating these for breakfast and lunch.
The change in currency has been a bit difficult to get your head around, as every thing is in hundreds and thousands (1000 CFA = £1.10). I had a very embarrassing time at a local Boulangerie when we asked for 2 baguettes, the guy said 3, so I immediately thought he meant 3000 CFA and said that was too expensive, so he dropped the price immediately to 2 without question. In my mind I still thought that was too expensive (£2) and we were being ripped off as tourists, so we walked away, without any bread. To put this little tale into perspective, it was very hot, we had been hounded by street children & beggars all morning and paid a little too much for some fruit we had purchased. Once we were safely back in “Col K” Vince said to me, maybe he meant 300CFA not 3000.This would have meant about 30p for 2 baguettes, not £3. I did feel awful, as I had made a point that he was over charging us, as we were tourists & was tempted to return to apologise . Well we did return, but a week later and I hid along the road, whilst Vinnie got the bread and guess what, he was charged 300 CFA. So lesson learnt , if unsure always get them to write it down or enter the amount into your calculator on your phone, as they don’t have pens & paper, or ask the price per kilo before you buy.
As a female traveller I have noticed some changes in culture. In Morocco most of the women adhered to quite strict muslim dress, covering head to toe. Again in Mauritania, this was evident , but the African women didn’t seem to cover their heads or arms. Mauritania is very strict about alcohol entering the country and it seems every vehicle is searched at the border.Whilst at the Mauritania border and waiting for our paperwork, a man came and introduced himself to us and shook Vince’s hand,I went to shake his hand as well and he refused, saying he was Mauritanian and it would not be correct to shake a females hand. This was probably the first time it became very clear that its a very dominated “Man’s” world .
In Morocco I decided to buy a couple of long skirts, incase I needed them for my travels. I got a very cheap “Amani” skirt in one souk! Once in Senegal the dress code seemed to change almost immediately & the women wear much more colourful clothes and whilst their legs are covered, their arms, shoulders and heads are often uncovered and they appear to laugh and smile more.
The battle rages on with the mosquitoes. Once we hit Mauritania, we were in a possible risk of Malaria zone, so have put the mosquito net above the bed and commenced Doxycycline, our preferred anti malarial medication. It is a difficult choice for the long term traveller and obviously individuals who live in Malaria areas do not take anti malarial medication for prophylaxis. Anyway despite the risk of side effects from taking Doxycycline, we haven’t experienced any yet and therefore will continue, unless things change. We are lucky at the moment, as we are staying in a campsite, Zebrabar on the coast, with a sea breeze most of the time, so this has helped a bit. As we are entering the rainy season, we are going to hit very humid conditions and more mosquitoes. Hence why we are laying low here for a while ! We cover up in the evenings and liberally coat any bare skin in “Anti Bug spray”. However we have still been getting mosquitoes in under our net at night. We have cello-taped all gaps and holes & have fly screens on all windows, but the little buggers have still got in. We think they manage to get in under the roll of the blind and then under our IKEA sprung slatted base, so we have dismantled that today so our mattress is tight against the base and we can tuck the mosquito net in all the way around. Fingers crossed for tonight.
We have stayed at Zebrabar campsite for nearly 3 weeks now to chill out. Travelling can, believe it or not be quite exhausting and as this place is so nice, we have found it hard to move on. We have the sea,the breeze, nice cooked food and good company and have taken to opportunity to kick back and relax from driving and border crossings. Whilst here we met a group of children who come weekly, for a music session with Martin, the owner, as a project. They were so polite and it is difficult to tell that they have had such a hard start to their lives. They all wanted to pose in my sun glasses, hat and have their photos taken and the boys show off their acrobatic skills.They were even singing “shine bright like a diamond” by Rhianna to us, really nice kids.
Whilst here I have been shown by Ursula how to treat a dog who has unfortunately had flies lay eggs in its skin (I think it may be Cuterebra) and these are small red lumps under the skin, which when squeezed produce a maggot. Not pleasant, but something that needs attention, and apparently the vets here are scared of dogs and are only used to dealing with livestock i.e. goats ,donkeys, sheep and cattle. So Ursula has become quite a proficient “vet”, treating her dogs herself and providing antibiotics and vaccinations (these are Lucky dogs, whom themselves were rescued from Morocco & Senegal).Ursula has also given us a tip, that it can also affect humans and should we suffer the same plight, if you put a piece of salami over the infected area, this will bring the maggot out of the skin, hopefully we will not have to try it out !
Yesterday we were treated to a visit to “The Dunes”, with Martin, Ursula, their 3 children and their friends. We piled into the back of their pick up and Martin treated us to his off road skills. Quite exhilarating sitting in the back of a pick up, on an old sofa going up and down steep sand dunes. We stopped at the top of one to partake in a spot of “sand boarding”. Well I can safely say, the kids were much better than us! Great fun and thanks for a great day.
We stopped for lunch under a huge Baobab tree
Ursula & Martin also having a go
You can tell we have been away for over 3 months as we both now have” travel heads”, my hair has grown and is curly, the grey is now about 1.5 inches from my scalp. Vinnie’s hair is the longest he has ever had it, and we are waiting to be able to put it up in a” footballers top knot “. I’ve given him the option of shaving it off, but the extra hair is actually protecting his head from the sun (well some of it and no comb over yet!) The beard is going well, but gets trimmed regularly (that is Vinnie’s beard not mine).
We stayed at Dakhla, in Western Sahara for two nights, and although its a fantastic spot if you are a kite or wind surfer, the constant strong wind meant it was a problem to sit outside, and almost impossible to cook outside, besides we were ready to move on to Mauritania.
So we decided to do the next 350km leg of Western Sahara, to the “town” (its very small) of Guerguarat, which would then only be about 50km to the border for the following morning. The idea being, that as we didn’t have our Visa’s to get into Mauritania, we would have a very long day on that side of the border (leaving Morocco would be simple enough).
After about 100km of leaving Dakhla, we crossed the Tropic of Cancer, and no, thats not someone driving down the road in Colonel K, we just overshot the very small and wonky sign.
So we spent the night free camping in the front of a Roadside Restaurant/Hotel, it was a very noisy, busy place and stank of diesel fumes from the garage next door, but it served its purpose, and it was reasonably secure (as it was in the BFO “red” Zone, Advise against All Travel to these Areas). The next morning we aimed to drive to the border, and get there for about 9.00am. We hardly saw a vehicle (theres virtually no one living this far south in Western Sahara), so thought that leaving Morocco would be a very quick and easy affair. WRONG! The queue of trucks (all commercial, no other overlanders), was immense! We pulled up behind the last one on the right hand side, (there were two lanes of them, completely blocking the road), and we sat and waited (for how long we really didn’t know). After about 15 minutes, a Soldier/Policeman appeared and signalled to us to drive up on the bank, around the queue of trucks, and behind the 4 smaller vehicles (a couple of vans and cars). that probably saved us about 4-5 hours. How these truck drivers do this journey on a regular basis I’ll never know. So now we just needed the barrier to be lifted then get to passport control for our exit stamps in our passport. About 30 minutes later, the guard let our queue of four vehicles and a truck through, and we proceeded to park up and join the queue for Immigration for the elusive exit stamp. The queue was actually a passport queue! Meaning that you placed your prized passport on the cill of the window, and waited until it magically reached the window opening (a very small opening), it was very frustrating, only one passport window was open, and the Officer was very slow, even going out for a coffee and cigarette for 10 minutes at one point. Despite this, no tempers flared, and it was all in good humour. Eventually we had our stamps done, and moved on to find an official to check over the truck (inside, to check you weren’t smuggling anything out of Morocco). After telling them we had nothing to declare, the customs officials (3 of them), entered the living accommodation and generally had a good nose about! Once they had all finished, they sent in the dog handler, and sniffer dog. The Labrador type dog went mad, leaping on all the furniture including the table (sandy footprints everywhere), then the handler apologised about the amount of searching but insisted it was for our own security. Then onto the Douane (Customs) Office, to get our vehicle papers stamped to say that we haven’t left the Colonel in Morocco. Then another couple of police checks and we were done! Just over 2 hours just to leave a modern African country, this was going to be a long day!
Then we had to drive the 5km over “no mans land” to the Mauritanian Border post. We had previously read about this off road section, and had indeed read a couple of blogs where they had got stuck in deep sand, or damaged their vehicles. It was amazing, just a series of sand tracks going in various directions, with the odd section every so often over large rocks. There were abandoned vehicles every where, some had been there for years, others were probably going to get towed to one side or the other for repair. We saw a Fiat Estate car with the bottom of the sump completely ripped off on one rock. We had no one to follow, but there were a few odd vehicles coming from the Mauri side (including a couple of very carefully driven Artic Trucks), and so aimed in their general direction, as and when we spotted one!
Eventually we spotted the border, with its ramshackle assortment of buildings, and various barriers, so pulled up behind the first barrier. There were a few other vehicles either side of this barrier, and a few “fixers” milling about looking for business. We had already been told to have a chat with the fixers, and try to find one that might speak a little English, and as this was our first time over this difficult border, without Visa’s, it might be worth our while using one to help us through. We met a Mauritanian called Cher, and we agreed that we would only pay him anything if we found his services worth while, and an amount that WE thought appropriate. Taking on Cher was probably the best thing that we could have done, he took us straight to the front of the queue for our (very high tech) Biometric Visa’s to be processed, to the various Customs, and Police buildings, each time jumping the queues (highly embarrassing for us, but it seemed acceptable for all the officials and locals). We had to pay a ridiculous sum of money for the temporary importation of Colonel K, as they won’t accept the Carnet de Passage in Mauritania, and of course we bought 3rd party insurance from a broker in a cafe at the border. This whole episode at the Mauritanian Border took a total of 2 hours, but without Cher’s help we would have been there at least 5-6 hours I’m sure. We paid Cher 50 Euros, which is a lot for these people but it was worth it, and we learnt an awful lot in those few hours at the two borders.
After a thorough searching of Colonel K for Alcohol, and another Police officer checking we had the right papers, we were through!, No bribes given, but a very expensive border crossing, made worse by the fact we didn’t get our Visa’s in Rabat (the Visa’s alone cost us 240 Euro’s), and they won’t accept the Carnet de Passage. Anyway it was good to be back on tarmac again, and we headed off to the coastal town of Nouadhibou, this is on a very similar sandy peninsular to Dakhla, the only difference this time is that it is split down the centre by the border.
The first campsite that we found (and the most well known), Camping Abba, was closed with the big gates chained and padlocked, so we retraced our steps back through the town’s main street for about a kilometre to another Auberge, that also offered you to park in their courtyard. The entrance was right in the corner of a lay-by that was full of cars, and it looked a pretty narrow gateway, but we squeezed the Colonel through and parked up in the Courtyard. We then went for a short walk up the main street to get some fruit and a bit of veg.
While paying for the camping (we were only staying one night!), the owner suggested a route down through the National Park on the coast between Nouadhibou and the capital Nouakchott, and produced this map that looked to me to be hand drawn, complete with GPS Waypoints.
His instructions were to get to his favourite campsite, its best to take the tarmac main road for 120km and then turn off the road onto a track (clearly marked) and then enter the GPS Coordinates for point number 23. The distance from the tarmac to the piste at waypoint 23 was about 30km, ok sounds easy, we’ll do that!
Next morning we left early to make the most of the cooler morning, and after several check points and handing out “fiche’s” each time, we were very soon in the desert, and with virtually no traffic. When we got to 120km as instructed we looked for the track, nothing, just every so often a vehicle track heading off in that general direction. Now bearing in mind, we were on our own with a copy of a map (which was a photo on an iPad), in the middle of the desert with the thermometer showing 48c, with no decent tracks visible, oh and in a 10 tonne truck, we decided to head to Nouakchott and if we saw a decent piste heading that way we would take it. We didn’t see a track going off to the right for miles. Obviously with the winds in the desert, tracks get covered by the shifting sand very quickly.
This really is a very inhospitable environment, the heat and sand really must be taken responsibly and seriously, without another vehicle with us, if we got into trouble we would be on our own! The chances of another overland vehicle crossing this section of desert and coming across us is very slim. Mauritania is big, its twice the size of France! And it seems like we are the only people travelling South at the moment.
After about 500km we hit Nouakchott, the traffic was unbelievable, every car (and I mean every car) is smashed up, dented, windows smashed, and the taxis are worse!
For the first time in my life, I’ve actually seen gridlock happen, proper gridlock! At this one particular crossroads, there were cars, mopeds, donkey and carts, mini buses, and of course us, just jammed together, even the mopeds couldn’t move. This believe it or not is only 2 lanes wide, with 2 way traffic, and by using the pavements etc, 6 lanes have been created! By the way we managed after a lot of hooting of horns to turn left by the Star Petrol Station in the photo.
We found a nice little Auberge (no sign outside),that we were allowed to park in their secure courtyard, very close to the centre of the City, and after a bit of research managed to find the address of the Mali Embassy (thank god for local Sim cards and 3G connections).
We were told by the young lad taking our camping money, that the best way to get to the Embassy was to walk back to the main road, and stop a taxi. After trying this a couple of times (the first not knowing where it was, and the second telling us we need to be on the other side of the street), we crossed over and a guy stopped in an old Merc (a private car), and asked where we wanted to go, after telling him he said he would take us. After a quick weighing up of the risk’s (kidnap is a threat here), we decided he looked respectable and at least the car looked in fairly good nick, we jumped in the back, and thanked him. Ten minutes later we saw the Malian flag outside a building and paid him 500 Ouguiya (about a pound) for the ride and thanked him profusely.
We were told at the campsite that the Embassy didn’t open until 9.00am but we needed to get there early as its a Friday and they will close at Noon, and to get near the front of the queue. We arrived at about 8.20 and thought we would just hang about the entrance, then a local appeared from round the corner and pushed the door and walked straight in, so we followed. After about a 5 minute sit down in the very grim waiting room (floor to ceiling in plain white ceramic tiles, and looking like an apocalyptic operating theatre), we were given a couple of application forms, and filled these in (in French). These were given to a very pleasant man, with copies of our passports, two passport photos for each of us, and of course our actual passports. He said they would be processed same day and to come back at 11.00am. After a couple of coffee’s and a croissant we went back to the Embassy at about 10.30, and was done and dusted by 10.45am, all in all this was a very pleasant experience, and the staff at the Mali Embassy were very helpful and polite.
After leaving the Embassy we decided to walk back to the Auberge, about 1.5 miles away. And whilst we stood out like a couple of sore thumbs, we felt safe walking back, stopping only to buy a couple of Baguettes. After quick lunch at the Colonel we thought we need to catch up on some clothes washing, as we hadn’t done any since leaving Agadir in Morocco, and it was building up big time! So Jac washed in the truck, using hot water, and I rinsed on the outside sink (theres no hot water in these places).
After finishing our chores, we sat down with the map, and done a bit more research into the border crossings into Senegal. There are two options, Rosso or Diama (pronounced ja-ma).
The first option Rosso, is by far the bigger main border crossing, that involves a ferry across the river, and tarmac roads both sides of the border, but it is known as the “armpit of Africa”, and is generally recognised as the most corrupt border crossing on the Continent. We also know that the Daf will fit on the ferry, but can’t find out how much we will be charged for it.
The second option Diama, involves a 100km off road piste to be driven, in order to reach the dam that you drive over. This is a much smaller border post, and we are unsure of the condition of the piste (we know it becomes impassable in the wet season), or indeed if they will let a 10 tonne truck drive across the top of the dam. It is also known for its corruption, but at a much lesser extent than at Rosso.
So Rosso it is! At least we know we can cross there. Another early start to get to Rosso as early as possible (about 200km South), and after topping up with 100 litres of Rim Oil (yeah I know) we headed out of town and to the border, and through the many road blocks/checkpoints. Check out the loading on this truck at one checkpoint.
And we saw this one van, full of onions, that had to empty his load to be able to jack the van up to change the wheel.
At one road block, we were approached by one guy who was selling insurance for Senegal, so after a brief discussion and a lot of haggling we followed him to his “office”, this was about 20km away, and was a very very scruffy room on the side of a petrol station (also very scruffy). Obviously this guy was acting as an intermediary and took a rake off of the premium, we eventually agreed for 3 months cover for not only Senegal but all the countries that use the CFA currency (Mali, Burkina Faso, Togo, Benin, Niger, and of course Senegal). As the old bloke behind the desk was writing out the document, I noticed that the registration number had been entered wrong and the expiry date was in August and not September. It took us ages to convince him that it should be September for 3 months (or he was trying to pull a fast one! mmmmm), anyway we were soon on our way, but not before the salesman tried to convince us that it was a legal requirement for each person entering Senegal to have a minimum of 120,000CFA in local currency, we weren’t having any of that crap! But we did change up our last small amount of Mauritania Ouguiya for a stupid rate.
He also told us that there was a problem with the large (truck suitable) ferry at Rosso! Bugger, all our plans gone to rack and ruin then! By this time we were at the beginning of Rosso and parked up across a dirt track between two buildings, I asked him where the piste to Diama left the road and he pointed to the truck, that tiny little track was it. The piste is fairly easy to follow as you are literally along side the Senegal River, as long as you keep that immediately to your left you can’t go wrong, but it is very corrugated most of the 100km (about 60 miles), and we left the main track a few times when it was really bad and dropped down the side to drive on the slightly better route, if available.
The Photo’s really don’t show how rough and corrugated this track is, but although the suspension of the Daf T244 is firm in the extreme, and the shaking through the steering caused by the corrugations was quite punishing, both us and Colonel K survived unscathed. The piste takes you directly through a National Park, and though it was in the heat of the day, we did see the odd Warthog, Baboon, and lots of long horn cattle. In places it is very lush along side the river (though you never once see the actual main body of water as the rushes are about 3 metres high and very dense). The flocks of small birds (finches, warblers etc), flying up in front of us, was amazing, and there were Kites wheeling about above us.
After about 65km we had to stop to pay for travelling through the national park, we didn’t have enough CFA or Mauritanian UM, (it wasn’t a lot of money, about £2.00 per person I think), and they wouldn’t accept US dollars (the world is changing…), so we ended up giving them a 20 Euro note, and obviously they didn’t have change in any of these 3 currencies! If you are coming to North or West African make sure you bring lots of small Euro notes or coins. Then after taking the left fork in the track, you carry on to the Mauritanian Border post.
We were the only vehicle there, going in either direction (our suspicions confirmed after only seeing about three 4×4 vehicles on the entire 100km stretch, all coming towards us), the trouble was when we walked into the first building the officials were all sitting on the floor around a big pot of food eating their dinner!, (the only guy not eating was laying on his bed watching TV). We were told to come back in a bit, this was going to be a long day. But 5 minutes later, one of the officers came and took us back into the “office” and we had our details taken, passport stamped, vehicle papers stamps, very quickly, about an hour maximum. We never paid any money, and although we were asked for “presents” we gave none, even to the top man. It was all quite friendly, if a bit chaotic. As we were leaving one office approached me in the driving seat and once again asked for a “cadeaux”, (a present in french), of course I declined, he then persisted and asked for “a cadeaux for the General”, at this point I decided to change tactics and use my complete lack of French to my advantage and replied “Canadian? No I’m English”, with this he looked at me with astonishment and just went and lifted the barrier!
The Diama Dam was plenty big enough for Colonel K to drive over, and at the Senegalese border we took on the services of a “fixer”. As the border was quiet, very quiet, we probably could have got away without using him, but he spoke a little English, and it made sense to take him on. Again several buildings and various officials later, we ended up standing outside the Customs building waiting for our temporary import document to be sorted (as its a small border post they can’t deal with the Carnet de Passage). Through the window Jac noticed that the top man had run out of Marlboro cigarettes these were the same brand that we bought four packets of in Western Sahara “to ease our passage through certain situations”, so Jac disappeared off to the cab and returned with a packet of 20. She gave them to me, I discreetly knocked on the office door, entered, dropped the cigs on his desk and left again. Before long we were invited into the air conditioned room (the first air-conditioning we had experienced for a few weeks), having a bit of banter, Jac was sitting on his bed (obviously in the office), and the paperwork was being completed. Apart from the cigarettes, no bribes were paid and, as Senegal dropped its requirements for a Visa for EU citizens at the beginning of May, it proved to be an easy and cheap border crossing (not what we were expecting). We paid the fixer 40 Euros, and continued onto the town of St Louis to find a bank with a ATM so we could get some CFA without being ripped off (obviously the rubbish we were told about each person having to have 120,000 CFA in cash at the border, was just that, rubbish).
The difference between Mauritania, and Senegal, separated only by a river is astounding, both culturally and geographically, the land on the South side of the river is covered in very lush vegetation, and the people are running around, laughing, wearing the brightest colours possible, though both countries are predominantly Muslim.
The quality of the tarmac roads is also quite impressive (so far), compared to Morocco, and Mauritania, with very few pot holes, or broken edges, they are also wide enough for two trucks to pass easily.
After causing small mayhem in St Louis town centre, we drove back out to find a campsite. We had already read online about a place called Zebrabar, just South of the town, a popular stopover for overlanders, so we headed there. its about 15km out of town, then about 3km down a track, passing a few other campsites along the way.
Guess what? No other overlanders! But what a fantastic place, right on the beach/river front, and run by a very friendly Swiss couple, that have built the place up (literally from nothing) over the last 18 years. There are also beach bungalows here if you are on a bike, or fancy a bit of comfort. The dinner (a 3 course meal) in the evening is excellent, it is also inside the national park. So our plan is to chill here for a bit, before heading off again. The only spanner in the works is that our Temporary Import Document, is exactly that, TEMPORARY!, it only lasts for 3 days. The only place we can get our Carnet stamped is in Dakar, nearly 300km away. So we acquired the services of Arona, and his trusty Dacia Logan for the day yesterday, to take us to Dakar Port, sort the Carnet out and get us back to Colonel K for the evening. It cost us 90,000CFA (£100.00) to do the nearly 600km round trip, and Arona proved invaluable in the customs building, we had to see 5 different officials, on different floors, and none spoke English at all. But within an hour we were completed and had the first page of our Carnet completed. We got Arona to stop at another ATM, to top up our CFA’s (we can use this currency in quite a few countries that we plan to travel through), and we stopped at a street seller to purchase a local Sim card for the iPhone, and buy a few gb of internet use. The owner of the site also asked us to stop on the way back and buy her some mango’s (3 bowls worth), so we did that and bought ourselves a bowl, and Arona a bowl. Mango’s are in season here at the moment and they are everywhere, you get between 8 and 10 mango’s in a bowl, and each bowl was 1,000CFA, or fractionally over £1.00. They are fantastic!
Dakar was exactly what we thought it would be, a huge sprawling city, that is packed to the gunnels with traffic, and people, lots of street hustlers at lights, so been there done that!
As we had already had lunch on the way back from Dakar, we declined dinner, and just settled down for cheeky evening Gazelle beer (63cl for about £1.20).
This is one of the residents of Zebrabar, apparently they have recently moved in and are proving to be a bit of a nuisance.
Hopefully Martin and his family won’t think the same about us!
We have been away nearly 3 months now, and have covered nearly 6,000 miles (9,600 km), met some fantastic people, and are having some great experiences. We have not seen or met other Overland travellers since we met John Barratt in Dakhla, including the drive to and from Dakar yesterday.
Our plan is to stay at Zebrabar for a bit, then cross into Gambia, then back into Senegal, then head East over to Mali, to the capital Bamako to obtain a couple of Visa’s (Burkina Faso and hopefully Ghana). After Senegal, we will have to be a bit more careful again in Mali due to the on going security situation there (we are watching this closely).
Anyway thanks for reading, and I hope its not too long and boring!
We finally got our Carnet de Passage through to the DHL office in Agadir, it only took 3 days for the package to get to Casablanca, Morocco, then another 8 days for it to get through Customs, (during which it was opened), and then when we went to pick it up, DHL wanted another 1200DH (£80.00) before we could take it. Bearing in mind the whole value of the items was about £65.00 (the Carnet is only paper so doesn’t count), this was a crazy amount of duty to pay. Once I had started “kicking off” about it, it turns out that 600DH was charged by DHL for clearing the package, and believe it or not 150DH was for storage, again charged by DHL. When we accused them of charging us more as we were Western tourists, the Manager just shrugged his shoulders. Its in their small print that basically they can charge what they like at the other end!! Lesson learnt.
Anyway, although the campsite at Agadir is a very nice one, we were glad to move on after being there for 10 nights (the longest we have ever spent on one place in Colonel K).
So the next morning we were up early (ish), and had planned to head South to Sidi Ifni, on the coast, about 200km away. We filled up with diesel, and called into a cash and carry type Supermarket. While loading the shopping into the back of Colonel K, we noticed a small leak of diesel coming from a joint in the fuel line. We had passed a Daf dealer on the road out of Agadir, so we decided to drive back there as it was only a few kilometres. The Manager came round the front to look at the problem, and despite the fact that they had 2 mechanics standing around doing nothing, he said that they only work on tractor units (the cabs that pull the artic trailers)! This is so unlike the usual Moroccan attitude, where they normally seem to find it impossible to say no to a job.
Anyway we carried on driving out of Agadir, through a couple of small towns, until I spotted a large garage on the side of the road, so we stopped, a very helpful guy told us that they only test vehicles here (to get a Certificate, a bit like our MOT, I guess). I was convinced that they couldn’t have such a thing here as the state of some of the cars, has to be seen to be believed. Anyway he rang a friend of his and arranged for him to drive over to us and take a look, so we parked up and had lunch and waited for about 45 minutes. The mechanic turned up and after putting poor Jac in the back of the truck, he jumped in the front and we drove round to his “garage”.
We had 2 mechanics and an apprentice working on it for about 90 mins, the total cost about £15.00. They were great blokes and we soon turned into a bit of a tourist attraction (this was down a narrow broken road in a mostly residential area), and it wasn’t helped by the fact Jac kept giving out sweets to all the kids.
The leak has been sorted, almost, and it seems to only drip a small amount when the fuel tank is full. Anyway I think our little pit stop, has done no harm for Anglo/Moroccan relations.
So after our little detour we had to rethink our plans for the night, so after looking at the map again we decided to head for Tiznit, a fairly large town about 65km South of Agadir. We found a Riad on the outskirts of town that offered parking for motorhomes. Its mostly used for wedding events and the like, but they do have toilets and showers for campers, we were the only ones there, so a nice quite night in store. Not a chance!! In the camping area, there were about 8 peacocks, 10 geese with young, ducks, turkeys, etc etc. The racket was unbelievable, and not helped by an enormous German Shepherd dog that was tied up at the front of the property.
Again, next morning we set off early, and planned to get to Laayoune across the pseudo border in Western Sahara, about 550km South of Tiznit. Now you might think that 550km isn’t much to do in a day, on tarmac, but I promise you that on that road, (with quite a few diversions), in a 2.5m wide truck, it was a long 10 hours drive. Western Sahara is a huge place with lots of nothing but camels and sand. There is a huge military presence here, with lots of check points, all asking the same questions, where are you going?, Nationality?, Passport?, Vehicle documents? etc. To speed up going through these check points, we have printed off a “fiche” for each of us, which has a photo, passport details and vehicle details on it, so they can take these and then fill in their paperwork, once we are on our way.
That night we pulled off the road and drove about 4km down a dirt/sand track to a place called Camp Bedouin, wow what a place, the view out towards the Atlantic (about 4km away) was truly stunning.
They have a number of Bedouin tents for hire, which looked nicely furnished and again offered great views.
Again of course we were the only ones there! I think that maybe on the way back we will stop here again and stay for a few nights and explore the area a little more. The showers (cold on this occasion as we arrived late in the day,) are fed from the local spring and this means that the water is quite salty, a strange sensation when you are used to clean unsalted water.
The disputed territory of Western Sahara used to be governed by Spain as the Colonial power, then in 1975 the Spanish left, both Morocco and Mauritiania laid claim to the area, then Morocco organised a 400,000 strong unarmed movement of people down into Western Sahara, and this was accepted as a stake to govern the area. Mauritania then later dropped its claim, but the native Saharawi people have been in conflict with the Government through their Polisario Movement. This was first backed by Mauritania, and then later by Algeria. A referendum has been promised by the Moroccan Government in Rabat, but they are not going to hold it until more Moroccans are moved down into the ever growing towns further South. Meanwhile Morocco’s answer to the on going security issue with Algeria is to build the “Berm”, this is a defensive structure thousands of kilometres long, towards the Algerian border, and along the border with Mauritania. You can see this on the picture below taken from the British Foreign Office website.
Obviously we will have to travel through the red zone, to get to Mauritania, and we are hoping that the British F/O are being over cautious.
This is the first view of Laayoune as you drive Southwards, and is quite typical of the money being spent down here.
There are some amazing sights to be seen on this long road, including hugely overloaded vehicles, sand dunes right up to the edge of the road (and sometimes over the road), and of course more camels.
The next night we spent in another town, again further South, called Boujdour, this is right on the coast, and as it was a Saturday, there were a few families on the beach.
Its not quite Camber Sands, but that is a life guard on Surf watch, and although these ladies are covered up, it was very hot in the sun.
As a sweetener to get more people to move into the area, Morocco has reduced the price of fuel in the Western Sahara, in Morocco its 63p per litre, down here its 47p per litre, but its too far for them to drive down to fill up, so its only an advantage if you live here or are travelling through. Today I bought 127 litres, for 900DH (or £60). I’m not sure how much diesel is in the UK at the moment, but I guess its probably nearly 3 times that amount! I’m also convinced that they have sold off a load of old, very old, Army Land Rovers down here, because there are hundreds of them.
After leaving Boujdour, we continued South for 350km to the Beach resort town of Dakhla, the journey included some fantastic views out to the Atlantic, and of course Camels, lots of Camels.
About 11.00ish, we decided if we saw somewhere for a coffee we would stop for a bit, and soon enough we came across a fuel station, with a ‘cafe’. It wasn’t much of a place but we were pretty sure that there wasn’t going to be much else for the next 200km.
We were, so we thought the only ones there, then a guy appeared from nowhere and pulled up a chair and sat with us. He spoke no English, but it was obvious he was carrying out some building work there. Suddenly he stood up took my hand, and led me off (still holding my hand) to show me the work that him and his mate are carrying out. It is completely alien to us in the UK to walk around holding a mans hand, but here it is a very natural thing that they do. Anyway back to the coffee, we asked him if he would like one, and so he went off to get a pot of tea, and three glasses (one for each of us). He then insisted that we both follow him up some stairs to show us the view from the roof terrace.
We were then taken into his room (while he was working there), and then we all returned to the tea to finish it. Now, if you’ve ever been to Morocco, you will know that nobody does anything for nothing here, and I thought ‘here we go’. After him giving us his phone number, if we ever needed it, I went off to find the guy to pay. I had 2 x 20DH notes (each worth about £1.50), and was going to give the owner both of them for our 2 coffees and tea for 3. Our builder friend came in and said 20DH is enough, and took it to give the owner, so I offered him 20DH for showing us around (as I was sure he was expecting something). He very quickly pushed it back into my hand refusing to take anything, we shook hands and he wished us Bonne Route. A thoroughly nice guy, that goes to show not everyone is looking to take money off you because you are perceived to be rich.
We are now in Dakhla, parked on the beach, about 25km north of the town. Its supposed to be a hot spot for kite surfers, and indeed it is one of the first views you see as you enter this strange peninsular, you have the Ocean on the right, and the beautiful sheltered lagoon on your left, and the peninsular is about 35km long.
We visited the town first yesterday, and stopped for coffee and watched the kids jumping off the banks into the shallow waters here.
And even here in the lagoon there is the ever present show of Morocco’s military.
As you would expect, being a haven for kite surfers, its quite windy here, and last night Colonel K was getting buffered quite hard. When we pulled up to the beach yesterday there was a guy on a motor bike putting up a tent near to us. We soon noticed it had English plates, and went over for a chat. This was the first Westerner we had seen since leaving Agadir, both vehicle or person. It was a bloke called John Barrett, whose web site http://www.john-barrett.uk and details his travels from Wales to Ghana and back. He joined us for a cheeky wine, having agreed to help us get rid of our alcohol before the Mauritania border, and we spent a few hours talking about his trip, and ours still to come. John is supporting the Ebola Orphan Street Child Appeal, and had been to Sierra Leone to see the work being done on the ground. He was originally planning to travel to Cape Town and then fly his bike back, but when in Ghana, he parked up and flew home for 5 days to surprise his girlfriend and propose to her! So now he’s riding home and going to get married later this year. Congratulations to John and his fiancé, and enjoy your honeymoon in CapeTown later in the year. Not sure what time John left this morning, but I got up to say goodbye at 7.00am and he was already packed and gone! Safe Journey back, John, and don’t hit anymore goats!
We woke this morning to a flock of Flamingo’s on the beach! Our total mileage done on trip so far is 5118 miles (8236 km), and we’ve been way for 78 days.
Next stop Mauritania.
We have been asked by a few guys for a few stats on the fuel, etc, so here goes:
We have been away for just over 70 days now and have covered 4,300 miles (6920km).
Fuel economy is a 12.8mpg, or 22lts per 100km in new money, this is very accurate and is almost exactly what we achieved on our 5 week tour of west Scotland and its Isles.
Fuel here in Morocco is much cheaper at about 63p per litre, so fuel economy is not quite so crucial.
In 4,300 miles, I have topped up with engine oil, on a couple of occasions, and the total used is a meagre 1.5litres. Pretty good considering the huge piston size and the challenging climbs that its done. In one day we went from sea level to over 7400 ft, up and over the Atlas Mountains. The truck was faultless on this day, and the brakes performed well on the long descent back down (no exhaust brake fitted).
In the desert heat (over 44c in the shade), both our fridges are going flat out virtually, but if the truck doesn’t move (no alternator charging the leisure batteries), the solar panel on the roof is enough to replenish the batteries during the day, this includes us using the water pump, a bit of charging of phones etc, and interior lights. Its not possible to use the Dometic Aircon unit unless we are plugged into a DECENT shore power, or the generator is being run all the time that its on. As we don’t have a shore power lead, the Aircon is a bit of a waste of time.
The cooling system seems to be working fine now, after the fan episode in Portugal.
The airline that came with the Viair Compressor decided it wasn’t man enough, so we have adapted our Air tank air line so it fits both compressor and air tank take off ( see http://www.lorrywaydown.com for full sorry tale).
We are still using our 1st UK spec gas bottle (we have 2no 6kg on board), but most of our cooking is being done on the diesel hob, which is proving worth every penny spent on it. The gas is mostly used for boiling kettle, and when we need quick heat (as the diesel hob takes a while to warm up). We were hoping to get our nearly empty bottle refilled in Agadir, this has proved impossible, as the main man (Mr Casa) does not have an adapter to fit UK bottles. We have also purchased a couple of smaller (3kilo I think) gas bottles for using to cook outside, just with a large burner head on the top. These bottles cost about £5 each and cost less than 80p to exchange for a refill.
When we had Colonel K built, Ed Perry plumbed the hot water calorfier (insulated tank) into the cooling system of the engine, this ensures that we have about 2 days of hot water when we park up. This “free” hot water also means that we don’t have to fire up the diesel hot water boiler very often.
I wanted to know how much water we used when taking a shower, so after we had both finished, we measured the water from the grey water tank and it was exactly 10 litres, so about 5 litres each, not bad eh, especially considering the 30psi pressure in the water system.
The gas struts have failed on one of the crappy Dometic roof windows, so are having 4 new ones from SGS Engineering sent over. It seems this is a recurring problem. The Dometic windows are crap too, the stays don’t seem to be replaceable, and the blinds I’m sure won’t last the trip.
Costs wise, we have budgeted at £60.00 per day for the two of us, for the whole trip. During our time in Europe (France, Spain, Portugal, and back through Spain), we averaged £72.49 per day. We always knew that this was going to be the costly part of the trip, though this was kept down to some extent due to us “wild camping” quite a bit, especially in Portugal.
As I write this we have been in Morocco for 40 days, and including the ferry from Spain, and our truck insurance (bought in Morocco), and a few extra items (such as a submersible pump and hose, an outdoor rug, a hookup lead and a few smal items), our average daily spend is £52.47. This also includes a trip to Carrefour Supermarket in AgadirAgadir today, where we topped up our stores and fridges, and will last us for a couple of weeks. The costs in Morocco have been kept down by the fact that we have not been “bombing” around from place to place, and indeed we have been at the same campsite in Agadir for just over a week.
I hope this goes some way to answering some of the questions that have been sent.
On our last post we mentioned that we were in the large Oasis of Skoura, well the next day we went off to visit the oldest, and best preserved Kasbah in the area. We set off on foot and had to cross a dry river bed, it was extremely wide, and we wondered when the last time water actually flowed down this part of the river, it was about 200m wide.
The Kasbah itself is simply stunning, and is in amazing condition for something that was built around 1670, and is constructed from mud and dried grass.
The main purpose for the Kasbah is to house and protect the rich learned teachers of the Koran & their extended family that owned it (probably about 30 people), but outside each Kasbah would be a Ksar (or general village), this is where the poorer families would live in much more modest homes, but when the area was threatened with attack, the inhabitants of the Ksar would move into the Kasbah for protection. All the grain for the area would also be stored in the Kasbah, there was also room for goats, cattle, chickens etc on the ground floor.
This is the view from the ground floor and up through the central light well
The photo below was taken from one of the window slits and shows the ruins of the old Ksar
And the following was taken from the roof top, showing the dried up river bed on the right hand side.
We had a young guide showing us round, and I asked him about the river. He said it was last full of water last November, and he proceeded to pull out his mobile phone and show us a video clip that he took . I couldn’t believe the amount of water and the ferocity of the flow, it was bubbling and churning like a white water rafting spot, and was right up to the top of the bank. Walking back across the dried up river bed afterwards, was not quite so relaxed knowing that!
When we got back to the campsite we received a message on the lorrywaydown from a couple called Richard and Sally, they had heard that we were travelling down through Western Sahara, Mauritania, Senegal etc, and though they had not planned to go that far South, wondered if we fancied meeting up, and maybe go down to Senegal together. So, we found out that they were about 200km West of us in a campsite in Taroudant, and arranged to meet them there the following evening.
The road was once again quite mountainous, and as usual simply stunning.
We spent the day with them visiting the town (on our cycles), and spent the evening discussing our travel plans, and the logistics of them joining us (such as visa’s, medication, yellow fever certificates etc). Yup, despite the hassle, Rich and Sally are joining us for the first couple of Countries after Morocco. We had still to pick up our Carnet de Passage in Agadir, so we decided to all travel to Agadir together to a site about 12km North of the City, that Rich and Sally had stayed in when they were with some other friends that had flown out to Agadir to meet them.
Richard and Jocie, back in the UK, had kindly posted the package via DHL Express at Staples in Canterbury, and within a couple of days, it had gone to Heathrow, Brussels, Paris, and then on to Casablanca. And thats where it has remained for the last 4 days, stuck in Customs. We’ve tried everything to get it released, sent them copy of passports, driving licence, and pictures of every item in the box (documents, replacement window struts, a UK 3 pin plug, fuses, and a roll of insulation tape). After a brief visit to the Agadir branch the day we arrived, we left feeling “that was easy” and what we thought a very slick process. They promised that they would forward all of the details to customs along with copy of passport etc and confirmation from the manager that they would then contact us to let us know when the parcel arrived in a couple of days. How wrong we were! We have since had lots of phone calls to customs and the Agadir branch, which has been extremely frustrating and can safely say we are not at all pleased by the service that DHL have provided.
Whilst in Agadir, we have sourced a submersible pump and hose, as recommended by Bruno and his wife (the french couple we met in Erfoud), as essential for getting low lying water into our water tank, such as when low tap pressure won’t push it high enough, or for pumping from wells. We have also been to a Carrefour supermarket, to restock with items that are harder to find else where. Oh and there’s a booze section hidden in the dark and dingey basement!
In the meantime Rich and Sal have been using the time to sort out some Anti-Malaria tablets, making up and copying Fiches (a sheet of paper containing your personal, and vehicle details together with your photo, these are used at check points etc), and sorting a few bits on their truck, Oh and fixing his BMW GS that he has on board (the clutch actuating lever had snapped). I’ve put photos of their truck in the Overland Vehicles section of this site.
We have been promised that the package will be released today, but with DHL Agadir only open half a day tomorrow (Saturday), and closed on Sunday, its looking likely that it won’t be able to be picked up until Monday. Thats Africa!!!
We have been taking it in turns to cook in the evening, with Rich doing us a fantastic slow cooked Pojki (I’m sure the spelling is wrong, but its a South African dish), with Lambs neck, and veg…….. mmm lovely.
Sadly as I’m finishing writing this blog, Richard and Sally have decided to have a rethink about their travels plans, and have now decided to go to Zagora, which was their original plan, rather than go South across the border into Mauri, and Senegal with us. The reason is, that the vast distances, and time that it was going to take them to get down there with us, and get back, was proving too much. It was also going to be a very expensive few weeks, with Visa costs and fuel etc. We wish them all the best on their travels (they are also about 2 months into a 24 month trip), and thanks for their fantastic company for the few days we spent together.
So we are now back to being “Billy No Mates” again, and are itching to get that package from DHL, and move on to the next chapter of our adventure. In the meantime, I need to get the factor 30 out, then maybe a trip to the pool for a cool down…… frustrating, yeah I know but thats Africa!
Zagora was a shock, with very pushy people outside virtually every shop. The trouble is, the whole town has geared up to sell to tourists and once again we seemed to be the only Western tourists in town. Its strange, because even in our 16 year old Morocco guide book, it is mentioned about the hard sell that is done in Zagora. Every man and his dog wants to sell you a night out under the stars in the dunes of the Sahara. So after a quick bit of shopping, a couple of coffee’s and a visit to an ATM machine, we walked back to our campsite (obviously the only people there for a second night).
We had already decided to head South from Zagora, to the end of the road to the dunes of Erg Chebbi, at the village of M’Hamid, this is a fairly short drive of about 100km from Zagora.
The drive down the “road” to M’hamid is very picturesque, and takes you over a range of hills called Jbel Bani, from the top, the view back towards Zagora show the desert that we had just driven through.
At the very top of the highest peak, was an old abandoned fort of some description, we couldn’t find any information about it, but the fact that at sometime it was used as a defensive position and the effort that went into building it right up there (it looks very inaccessible) is amazing.
When we got to M’Hamid, we of course drove right to the end of the road, only to be faced with a load of lads selling excursions, or pots, or scarfs or ………….. well you get the idea, it was like a mini Zagora, only this time we were definitely the only tourists in town. It was also very windy and very dusty, so we decided to stop in a cafe for a drink and a bite of lunch on the terrace and to decide what to do. There was no point in staying at the campsite in M’Hamid, it was completely encircled by a massive dust cloud.
M’Hamid is extremely close to the Algerian border (approx 20km across the dunes), and for this reason there is a huge new military base just outside the town, with several watchtowers, and vehicles (mostly motorbikes and the odd Landcruisers). It does illustrate the tensions that remain between the two countries.
After a windy, dusty lunch, during which time virtually the whole male population of M’Hamid stopped what it was doing and entered the Mosque opposite to pray, we decided to back track up the road to another village called Tagounite, to find somewhere to camp for the night. We found a site at the back of the village, and was warmly welcomed by a young lad that was obviously looking after it. We found a semi sheltered spot and set up for the evening, and yes you guessed it we were the only ones there again.
The young lad appeared again after about half an hour, to ask us if we would like to use the pool, which apparently he built himself!, this we just had to see!
Mmmmmmm, apart from the odd fork and spoon, oh and empty can in the bottom it wasn’t too bad…… really! It turns out, his “swimming pool” was actually a holding tank for an elaborate irrigation system. Each day it is filled up with water pumped up from the deep well next door, and then when the heat of the day starts to reduce (from about 44c in the shade), it is released into the network of channels to water the very small scale crops, the pump then continues for a couple of hours, trickling more water into the channels.
You can see the drive belt powering the pump, and the well is under the timbers. The best bit of it is, that I’m sure this lad charges his mates from the village to use the “swimming pool”. Very enterprising.
The next day we set off for the town of Erfoud (or Arfoud), after looking at the map, we thought we would head across country and avoid the main road back through Zagora. On our map we could see that it was either a very minor road or a dirt track, so we set off in that direction. We very soon came to a sign telling us that ahead was 54km of “piste”, or dirt/gravel track. We pressed on and sure enough the tarmac road disappeared. It wasn’t a difficult route, but it was slow going and very rough, max speed we could do was about 35kph in places, but most of the time it was more like 20kph. After a couple of hours of Colonel K doing his best to damage our spines, we came across the N12 tarmac. The truck was unscathed, and so were we, we will have to get used to this.
Being out in the middle of the desert on your own, off the road, with no other vehicles, really can make you feel very vulnerable, but it was a good exercise for us.
After getting involved in near gridlock in a small town with other vehicles not being able to pass, we stopped for lunch in a local cafe, the guy that served us spoke a little english, and he said he would get a mixed omelette made for us, perfect. When he brought it, it was more like 4 fried eggs with olives, cooked over onions, tomatoes and herbs, all served up in the frying pan, no cutlery, just bread to scoop it out with. It was delicious.
On leaving the town there was a small diversion through the Oued (river bed), due to the complete collapse of the road bridge, I’m just glad it didn’t happen with the Colonel on it.
An old derelict abandoned village on the hills above the road.
We arrived in Erfoud, late in the afternoon after doing about 350km, and quickly found a campsite about 7km outside of town. Its a nice site with a pool that so long as you don’t mind sharing it with a few dragon flies, pond skaters, and a bit of debris, is very inviting.
Best to keep your ears, and nose out of the water then.
On the way to M’Hamid, Jac decided to buy a water melon from a tiny kid miles from anywhere, the cost for this huge fruit? About 75p.
It was massive and will last us many days as long as it stays fresh, trouble is its filling up both our fridges!
We decided to catch a taxi into town, to get some bread etc. So we walked out of the site and stood waiting for a taxi to hail down. After about 3 taxis went past (completely packed to the gunnels with people and goods), we realised that all the taxis heading into town were going to be full. So I changed tact, and thought I’d try thumbing a lift with a normal car, first car was a VW Golf (old one, obviously), he stopped, we piled into the back, and thanked him and the young lad in the passenger seat. He drove us right into the centre of Erfoud and when Jac offered him some Dirhams (local currency), he refused, and seemed a little offended. What a nice guy, and it goes to show how safe Morocco makes you feel. I’m not sure I’d do that at home.
Whilst in Erfoud, we decided to make use of the washing machines at the campsite, so Jac loaded both machines up, and set them to work, after about 40 minutes she went in to check them, both machines had broken! The manager wasn’t happy! But eventually after replacing the belts on both machines, our bedding and clothes were clean and hung out to dry.
The lot was completely dry in about 30 mins!
On the evening of our second day in Erfoud, another Overland truck pulled into the site, together with a Toyota LandCruiser, the truck was an immaculate MAN, German built, but on French plates (you can see the truck in the “Overland Vehicles” section on this blog). The truck parked quite close to us, and before long a game of “Truck Top Trumps” ensued! I lost big time!!!
Jac was especially jealous when Bruno revealed what was inside one of the locker doors…..
Yup a built-in automatic washing machine!
It wasn’t long before we joined Bruno, his wife Francois, and their friend Pascal, for Champagne, beer and wine, oh and a few french nibbles. Bruno was great fun, and although he knew we weren’t fluent in French, and he couldn’t speak much English, he insisted to talk to us at 100kph in French. He is also convinced that we will be eaten by cannibals in Cameroon!!
They told us about their previous travels in a 30 year old Unimog, when they drove across Asia, including the sad tale of them losing their dog to a tick in Kazakstan, the dog died within 4 days of them finding the tick.
On the last evening in Erfoud, we felt a few drops of rain, very large drops. There was a violent storm in the distance, coming from the Sahara that got even more dramatic the darker it got, we could see the sheets of rain over the hills, but it still missed us. When we left the following morning, we took the small direct road that took us up into the hills, and we could see the result of the storm. Less than 20km from Erfoud, there were flooded areas of ground, and flowing water in the normally dried up Oued’s (river beds). It was very isolated and it wasn’t long before we were back in the dry barren and open areas that they usually are.
We are now in a small town called Skoura, which is just West of Dades Gorge, we plan to stay here for a couple of nights, and tomorrow we are going to walk into the town to visit the famous Kasbah here that was built in the 1600’s.
Our Carnet de Passage (basically a passport for the truck) has been paid for, the RAC has printed it and had it delivered to our friends Richard and Jocie back in Kent, they are kindly going to send it by DHL (together with 4 gas struts for our roof windows, as two have already failed, and it seems a common problem), to an address in Agadir. We will then hopefully just pick the package up, and can then take the long drive down to the Mauritanian border. We are going to take a chance and hopefully obtain our visas at the border this time, as otherwise we would have to drive back up to the Mauritania Embassy in Rabat to get these. We know it will cost more for the visas at the border, but it would be at least a 6 day round trip back to Rabat in the North. Fingers crossed that they are issuing them at the border or it will be a massive drive back to Rabat for them!!!
It has been 60 days since we left a cold damp Hastingleigh, and in that time we have covered 4,000 miles (6,400km), met some great people and are absolutely loving it!
Once we had left Oualidia (previous post), we headed South towards Essaouira, travelling through the busy industrial town of Safi (the smell from the sardine canning plants was horrendous), and had previously seen a campsite on the beach in the small town of Souiria Kedima. Once we got there it was very strange, although the Garmin (Margret) got us to a small area with a sign showing “camping”, the whole area (all tarmac’d) was deeply covered with sand blown in from the lovely beach, and it was deserted, all the houses were closed up, no shops or cafes, very weird.
Just as we were leaving we spotted a tent further down the very wide promenade, so we thought we’d go and check it out see if we can fathom what is going on, as we got to it a Dutch couple with their daughter arrived at the same time, it was a night club….. the place just gets stranger. They a coffee machine, so in we all went. We had a great chat with Mike, Dany and Alise, and they very kindly bought our coffees, thanks guys.
We decided that its probably a holiday destination that isn’t really open yet, so moved on.
Further down the coast we could see way off in the distance a village with a fishing port, called Moulay-Bouzerktoun, so before we drove all the way down , we got the binoculars out and had a quick reccy, it looked like there was a newish hotel in the centre of the village, and as we were looking for somewhere to have a spot of lunch, it might be perfect, so we drove down the steep narrow winding lane to the village. Once we got there, it became apparent that it wasn’t a hotel but actually some sort of Government building, so we drove past it and parked up to check out the large fleet of very small traditional fishing boats, some at moorings, but mostly on the beach.
A local guy came up to us, and told us that the government now provides, a type of co-operative for the fishermen to sell their fish, and the new buildings that we had passed were rooms for the fisherman to sleep in. The only downside to this, is that the very tiny original village has not been kept as well as it would have, though obviously the Mosque is still in use.
We decided to drive down to Essaouira, a few days before meeting our friends , and stay in an out of town campsite. We found the perfect place in the “forest” about 4km off the main Marrakech road. The dodgy sounding Camping Nature Esprit, is a French run campsite that is in a different league to most Moroccan campsites, immaculate showers, and toilets, clean swimming pool, and beautiful surroundings. We were there for 3 nights, and we were virtually the only guests (apart from a biker in a tent, and a camper van). It really deserves to do well. The down side (for most campers I guess), is the price, its nearly double most sites, but that still only makes it about £7.80 a night!!! It was well worth the extra money.
Whilst here, we went for a couple of fairly long walks, one taking us through the forest and eventually arriving at a local village, where a few children decided that we need to learn a bit more french.
We have also noticed that the further South we go, more camels are appearing.
We also spotted this little fella, protecting her baby, but I wasn’t quick enough to catch the little one before it disappeared down a hole.
After a few days Chilling in the forest, it was time to head into town, and find a campsite so we could walk in to meet Rich, Jocie, and Kate on the following day. We found a scruffy campsite close to the beach, and about 30 min walk into the Medina. Only trouble was, yup you guessed it more cute puppies. This one we named Ed, after Ed Miliband, as he had just quit as labour leader (and he wasn’t the brightest pup!).
Jac even bought Ed a box of Markies (dog treats), and he quite liked my smoked meat!
The next few days we spent with Rich, Jocie, and their niece Kate, and it was great to hear about the news back home, and chat to familiar faces.
They very kindly brought us out some provisions that we couldn’t get here, and we left Jocie with two rucksack of washing that she kindly put through the machine at their apartment, cheers Jocie x. We had some great meals over the next couple of days, but one in particular, was very special, it was on the roof terrace at a place called Taros, which is just inside the Medina in the old town. There was a fantastic live band playing on a mezzanine floor, with a real fusion of different sounds. A very nice place. As it was on the coast, and while we were there it was quite breezy, it was quite chilly once the sun went down, and I have to thank Kate for lending me her shawl (lovely colour that matched my eyes), to stop me shivering.
We had a couple of meals in the beach cafe nearest to both of us called Beach & Friends, where the food was good, alcohol wasn’t an issue, and service was very friendly. Kate decided that she would like to see Colonel K before they left, so we all walked back to the campsite (with 2 rucksacks of clean and dried washing), and had a quick cheeky beer round our table. They also kindly left us half a bottle of whiskey and gin. Once again guys thanks so much for coming out to see us.
From Essaouira, we decided to have a long days dive to Ouarzazate, about 420km, the journey would take us via Marrakech so we thought a break there to stock up in a super market would be a good idea, as its about half way . On the way we saw a terrible road accident, with a woman lying (probably dead) in the middle of the road. It brought to mind how dangerous the roads can be here.
After filling up the fridges on board, and the diesel tank, we headed South East towards the Atlas Mountains, over the Tichka Pass. This was a very long climb, taking us to 2260m (over 7400 feet). It is a beautiful place, and is so high that there is still snow on the peaks, even in mid May, and in this heat.
The road was very narrow , and in a few places had been badly damaged by landslides, and these were being repaired as we drove up them. Very hair raising in a 10 tonne truck!
Check out Colonel K making a panic call in the bottom of the photo.
And then the health and safety aspect, at least this guy was awake with his red flag! Flip flops not shown.
Yup we really were doing only 31km per hour
Eventually we got to the summit
After a quick coffee break on the way back down, and some stunning views , we continued on to our campsite in Ouarzazate. We found this eventually after following a dirt track for a couple of kilometres. When we got there, I took one look at the archway into the site and thought “no bloody way”. So we walked in to find a very nice manager that insisted that he has Overland trucks in here all the time and that it would fit. So slowly I started edging in though the arch, very slowly, Jac was not looking convinced in front of me, but the manager just kept beckoning me forward……… Crunch! yup the protection rails had got stuck against the side of the arch supports!!!. Only thing to do was to take out the tyre valves, and deflate them until it was low enough to drive though.The overhead ornamental lamp also got stuck onto the air conditioning cage & I had to climb up on the rooftop to ensure its release (a few sparks !).
After a long day that really wasn’t what was needed, but we got in, set up camp and had a couple of days relaxing in the heat.
On the second day, We could hear a lot of banging and hammering, so I went to find out what was going on.
Horse, bolted comes to mind!
Whilst here, we had a long and very hot walk into Ouarzazate, were we bought a rather fetching 3mx2m outdoor rug to use around the entrance to Colonel K to stop so much sand and debris getting walked into the living area, its what the French do! It seems to work, and the cost for this rug? About £8.00!
Jac has used her milk frother to great extent since Jocie bought out her “luxury item”.
So we drove out of the campsite at about 9.00am, with the intention of driving to Zagora that day (about 200km away), but first we had to re-inflate the Michelins. We have 2 methods to inflate the tyres on Colonel K, firstly we can use the on-board air tanks that are mainly used for the air brake system, and is driven by an compressor in the engine bay, but this will only inflate them to about 90psi (approx 6.5 bar), this is fine for the front tyres, but the rears are run at 125psi (approx 8.5 bar). So to top up the pressure we then have to use a portable compressor, with a separate airline (as the fittings are different to our on-board airline). This has proved in the past to be an excellent piece of kit (it should be it cost about £400), but in the heat of Southern Morocco we suffered 3 blown airlines (always near the compressor end), a real pain, and its only going to get hotter in the months to come. We decided after speaking to a really nice guy from Senegal, Pere, that it would be better to get it sorted here rather than in Zagora, so we drove into town and found a garage/tyre shop. After a couple of aborted attempts to sort us out, and lots of running around on his bike for parts, at about 4.30pm we settled for a few adaptions to our on-board air line, so it now also fits the portable compressor. Job done! we hope.
The guys in the shop were very friendly and patient, (it was 40c in the shade) and it must be said that Moroccans will always try to find a way to resolve something, even if it is a “get you out of trouble fix”. We did go off for a bite of lunch, but the delightful Doreen made sure we were happy, and made us Moroccan tea (very sweet mint tea), and a local guy, an older Berber, that just seems to be there to pass the time of day, certainly kept us laughing. He decided that the Mint Tea, was actually “whiskey Maroc”, he was a real character that took a shine to Jac! The grand cost of this work, and all that running about £22.00. Thanks everyone at Ouarzazate Automotive.
We headed off from town, and decided to look for somewhere fairly quickly on the Zagora road, and we spotted a place up above the road, up a short dirt track called Dar Alfourssane. Oh no another bloody low arch!! But this time a normal gateway was alongside the arch, and this was the entrance into the camping area, no one else here, but it looked ok.
In fact we eat dinner in really nice surroundings, and although they don’t serve alcohol you can take your own to the table, the food was good,Chicken tangine with Lemon for Jac, and I had Beef brochettes , we both had fresh fruit cocktail for dessert, again we were the only ones there, but we were treated really well and made most welcome. We were shown around the rooms that they have built , and they are very good. The total for 1 nights camping, inc showers etc, and evening meal in a great place, approx £16.00.
After a very hot night, even with all the windows and blinds fully open, we got up early for the drive to Zagora (the last town before the Sahara dunes in the South), all we needed to do was put a 100 litres or so into the water tank, have breakie and head off, only trouble was we found out we had a stow away!!
This must be the quietest, un-talkative, shyest stow away ever, he just climbed into the back of the truck and sat himself at the table! Jac gave him two huge marshmallows that he promptly stuffed into each cheek, turning him into a hamster type creature. He seemed genuinely upset when we drove out of there.
The drive to Zagora takes you up over the Anti Atlas mountains and again is pretty steep, but a better road, its very fertile land once you get lower down the Draa Valley. The palm trees in places go for miles. Its a really stunning area.
About 20km before Zagora along the Draa Valley we came across this beautiful old Kasbah just off the road, as its a Friday (the main Holy day for Muslims) we decided to keep our distance and not try to enter, but its a stunning example of traditional building methods using local mud and straw. There are lots of these in this area, but many have fallen into dis-repair, but this one appears to be immaculate.
The Draa River used to be one of the longest rivers in North West Africa, nowadays it just soaks way into the sandy desert. The last time it ran its course into the Atlantic Ocean at Tan Tan was in 1989.
On entering Zagora we decided to top up with 800dh of Shells finest diesel, 85 litres for about £56.00 (its a bit more costly in the South), while filling up Jac got chatting to a local that recommended a campsite in the town centre, but before he would take us there he wanted us to take the truck to his garage so he could have a photo of it outside for his collection. So we followed him first to his workshop.
Once we had a guided tour, next stop was the campsite, after a drive across the local football pitch, it was a short steep decent along a narrow passage but sure enough there was a reasonable campsite. He obviously gets a cut for taking us there!
After setting up camp, including getting the awning, and chairs and table out, we decided its too hot to walk into town (its over 40c in the shade), so we opened the Moroccan White Wine that Jocie and Rich had left us with. It was lovely.
Tomorrow we will set off to explore Zagora, as I’m writing this at 8.30 pm its still well over 30c degrees, and not a breath of a breeze, its gonna he a hot hot night in the K!