No this is not an episode of highlander but a short story on our adventure across the Sahara.
By now you should have read Simon’s account of the minefield and we would like to apologise to our parents respectively for omitting to mention this aspect of our journey. Apart from the two French ladies strolling across the field at one point, it was quite safe.
That Monday turned out to be a slow, tedious kind of day with us arriving at Nouadhibou late that night. The lead car had picked up a local at the border who wanted a life home in exchange we got a guide. He also took us to an auberge (type of hotel) where we could spend the night. Simon and I camped out in the courtyard. Shortly after our arrival “friends” of the owner turned up to exchange money for us. Nice little set up they have, also supplying guides and insurance salesmen. But it was safe and we were too tired and to top it all, there was hot water in the shower.
The next day Simon and I took a stroll around the town, we were expecting to be hassled but it was quite sedate and everyone just let you get on with your own business. So we bought insurance, entry to the national park which is compulsory and tried to read some emails. All in all it was a mellow day and we caught up on much needed rest.
We had decided to go on alone and not hire a guide, the rest were going to stick together and go with a guide. As we had GPS points we were confident that all would be well.
Wednesday Simon and I set off to cross the Sahara; we do very well initially and give the man from the camp a lift back to the border. Nouadhibou is on a peninsula and so one has to backtrack, at least with the guy in the car we got through police controls fast.
Today was the day we found out that driving on the beach is no training ground for the desert and we got stuck 3 times. The first two were not too bad but the third time we managed to bury the axle. At some point during the digging I hurt my back quite badly and so poor Simon had to do most of the digging. Let’s just say that he did extremely well under very stressful conditions. It was around this time that a Mauritanian man and his wife happened upon our situation. It was near 5pm and we were close to giving up for the night and trying again in the morning. We were in a sandy patch and could just not get out. So this man hops in our car and as easy as you please drives out of the sand onto the hard bits. We learnt a thing or two from him.
He in a 4×4 Toyota pickup and was traveling with a couple of guys in a Bedford van loaded with carpets. They had got stuck about 100m behind us and so once we were on the hard sand we let them use our sand ladders to get unstuck. They bid farewell and set off and we followed their tracks for some time. Then it started to get dark and we stopped for dinner and bed. It was an amazing night and we sat for a while just enjoying the view. We did see lights of a convoy passing about 800m away and there seemed to be a road ie dirt track there. So we went to bed planning to head in that direction the next morning.
Approaching car, lights in the tent, getting closer and closer, we start getting concerned, and can they see the car in the dark? Are they going to drive into us? The car stops, men’s voices outside the tent, Simon sticks his head out, man saying “this place is not good for you”… “bandits”.
Yes we were scared – until we realised that they were the guys from earlier who became concerned when we did not reach the stopover point. The man let his friends drive the Toyota and he drove jenny as it was dark by this time. They took us to a spot where there are some shacks at the base of a sand dune. We set up our tent again with strict instructions to be ready by 5am.
5am and we are packed and ready to go, following our new found friends into the dessert. We kept track of the GPS points we had and since they coincided with the route we were being taken on, we were relaxed. We made much quicker and smoother progress than yesterday which is a good thing because my back was killing me.
Simon’s driving improves minute by minute to such an extent that we are able to drive over dunes, something we would not have been able to accomplish earlier. Finally we arrived on the beach for the last 70km stretch to Nouakchott, we had to get going as the tide was coming in and there is no place to go once it is in, the bank is too high to get up and so you end up stuck in the surf. There are also potholes in the surf so you cannot drive in it as one poor polish couple found out. We came across them about 40km down the beach, their car awash and them carrying all their possessions to high ground. We managed to get them out using our cable and the Mauritanians 4×4. We found out later, when they asked us how much they owe us, that he charged them 150euro to help.
The beach trip was hair-raising as you had the incoming tide, the beach was sloped toward the sea and the sand was shale and kept causing the back of Jenny to fishtail. We were swinging out toward the sea quite badly when Simon applied brakes and we promptly got stuck, our friends were ahead of us but some local guys helped us out for a small fee. I told Simon that if we got unstuck, not to stop until he reached hard sand, I was quite happy to walk the rest of the way just to avoid having Jenny stuck again. The locals who helped us out were none to please when Simon stopped 2km down the beach as their money was in the car and the only way they could get it was to walk and help me carry the sand ladders and shovels.
Now as if this has not been a hard enough time, our water which we got in morocco was salty, fine for the occasional glass but not when you are sweating in the sun and then trying to quench your thirst. So finally we reach Nouahchott, dehydrated, thirsty and generally worn out but the day does not end here. The van got stuck in the soft sand coming off the beach, it took ages to get them out and they broke our cable in the process. Simon and our new friend joked about payment, he claiming money for guiding us and Simon claiming money for rent of equipment, they parted on friendly terms.
We drove into town, not much to see so went to the campsite where we had chicken and chip, boy were they good; and lots and lots of water and coke. To end the day a taxi pulled up delivering two freshly scrubbed polish people looking much better than the last time we saw them, they came looking for us to say thank you and invite us to dinner the next night. All in all there could not have been a better end to the day.